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Rivals No More

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"I always believe in doing the right thing and standing up for others. Glad you're safe," Zeri said with confidence.

The fleeing stranger was well gone by now after falsely accusing a child of stealing his pocket watch. Zeri, sensing trouble, intervened on the child’s behalf. He proved the child’s innocence by figuring out that the pocket watch belonged to him and that the stranger was trying to steal it.

"Thanks for getting my watch back, Zeri!" The child was grateful for this person helping him just now.

“You’re very welcome. I know the world can be a scary place, but don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.” Zeri was reminded of the one time someone stood up for him very much the same way when he was younger. “Can you make it home from here? Just be careful.”

“Of course! It’s not too far. Seeya!”

“You too.” Zeri waved the child off. He was never the best with farewells, resorting to those two words as a default.

The blue-haired, blue-eyed, bespectacled young man was now by himself. Only for a few moments, however, as he heard slow clapping from behind.

“You did very well out there, Zeri. You were rather reckless in how you stepped in, but you looked like you knew what you were doing. I could see it in your face and body language.” This person spoke with a smile he wore by default.

“I appreciate the compliments,” Zeri spoke with sincerity. He turned around to see a man with rather disheveled brown hair, which belied his calm and collected demeanor. “I’ve seen you around, but I don’t think we’ve properly met before.”

“Oh right, I forgot to introduce myself,” the man scratched the back of his head, before pulling it away, “The name’s Hubert Brixham, a teacher from Lanseal Royal Military Academy.”

Zeri perked up. His tone and posture changed as soon as he realized who the teacher was, addressing him formally. “The name’s Zeri, sir. I’m familiar with your name from back during the war. Aside from teaching, I know you serve as liaison for the academy, scouting potential candidates and being a point of contact for people in high places. Somehow you’ve always eluded me. I’m honored to meet you, Mr. Brixham.”

“At ease, Zeri. Hubert is fine since we’re well outside the school.” Zeri’s posture eased up. “Anyway, I’m here to officially let you know you’ve been accepted to Lanseal. You’ve made quite the name for yourself here in Randgriz, more than enough to catch the attention of the school. And you’ve definitely done your homework. We’ve kept a file ever since you expressed interest a long time ago. What I observed today by chance will be another thing added to that file. Letsee here,” Hubert fished an envelope out of his bag to hand over, which Zeri took, “I already know your answer, but formalities and all. That sort of thing.”

Zeri brightened up while getting the letter out of the envelope and borrowing a pen. He showed enthusiasm as he signed his name at the bottom of the acceptance letter, folded it back into the envelope, and handed both back to Hubert, returning them to his bag.

Hubert held out his hand. “Congratulations, Zeri, you’re officially a Lanseal cadet.” Zeri returned the gesture to make a handshake.

Once they broke the handshake, Zeri said with sincerity, “I was starting to wonder when I’d hear back from the school. You must have been really busy if it took you this long.”

Hubert laughed, glad to have that formality out of the way. “You’re not wrong, Zeri. Lanseal is pushing to get things done sooner to prepare for a civil war. Normally these things would be sent by mail, but they want whoever is available to hand them over in person.”

Zeri felt comfortable enough to express wit. “If I didn’t know any better, I thought you’d be lost.”

Hubert was more than happy to match Zeri’s wit with his own. “Saves me the trip of finding your home, as nice as it would be to see it for myself. Oh right, before I forget,” he rustled through his bag. “I should give you these papers. They’ll tell you everything you need to know before heading to Lanseal. Make sure to look it over and bring along when you arrive week from now.” A sigh of relief followed. “I’ve lost count of how many people I met with today. You were the last person on my route today, though this meeting was even sooner than expected. Luck of the draw.”

“At least you saved the best for last.” Zeri couldn’t help himself.

“Good thing Juliana isn’t around to hear that. She’d have words with you, especially with the ball coming up soon.”

“Oh, plenty. I already have enough for her. It would be a waste to not hold on until then.”

“She never passes on an opportunity to bring up your name into our conversations. Makes me wish I could put you in the same class as her to see what would happen. If only I had control over student placement,” he said half-joking and seriously.

“You probably have better things to do than to hear the both of us in the same room, classroom or ball.”

"I want to say I have better things to do than to attend this ball. I'm not one for these social functions, preferring to meet people more privately. Not only is the school making me run around like this, they want me to represent them at the ball, thinking I'm the best person for the job. They're not letting me out of this one," Hubert spoke with disappointment, "I am however looking forward to all the conversations you and Juliana will have,” he said with a smirk.

“It’ll be nice to have another familiar face there, in any case.” Zeri already appreciated Hubert’s company in this short time. “This will be a good opportunity to get to know you better.”

“The feeling’s mutual. Want to meet up at the gate, time come Friday night?”

“Sure thing. I look forward to seeing you there.”

“Likewise.” Hubert glanced at his watch. “As much as I’d like to stay around, I need to get going. The school has me running all over the place. Until then, Zeri,” he waved.

“You too.” Those two words Zeri liked using for farewells.

Zeri, once again by himself, was lost in thought as he made his way back home. He worked so hard to get to this point, but he’s finally there. The upcoming ball however would be a respite before he began the next chapter in his life.