He isn't the retired Great Master's son, so he may be less skilled than Mine.
Look, the Golden teacher is walking with him.
“Breathe in… breathe out…” Mine hummed to himself while passing through people at the university with his cousin.
Mine looked at every single person's whispering lips, judging eyes, and twisted mouth. No classes that afternoon, Mine decided to accompany his cousin until he entered the Practices Arena. His students begged him to let them go to a Conference in another sector of the magic dimension – which would take a week – and they promised to bring reports of the lectures and workshops. So, the teacher accepted but added one more condition: more questions in the upcoming written assessment.
The other cousin looked at the candidates enjoying their temporary robes, how they laughed at the feeling of being in the university, and how it would be cool if they passed the test. Mashitsu was filled with happiness as they marveled at the vastness of the university. It was a hard battle to find a suitable evaluation uniform for him at the students' council - where they sorted the uniforms for the candidates.
The university was less crowded due to the congress, so candidates strolled carefree along the main street leading to the Practices Arena. Each candidate had their own lucky charm – a colored pencil, a bracelet, an earring, a stuffed toy, a coat, a blouse – among other items they carried with them. Mashitsu had the little herb bag that his mother made. It fits in the palm of his hand, and the fabric was made of cotton (probably from the neighborhood's first harvest). The bag was sewn by hand, and his father made the seal with a type of ink in the center of it.
Viewing from a different perspective, the candidates at times appeared like a group prepared for battle and at other times like a group ready for defeat.
“Cousin, aren’t you nervous?” Mine asked, still gazing at their surroundings.
"Nah, I'm at ease!" Mashitsu beamed. "I've studied enough, and Zuroke helped me with a few things yesterday. So, I'm confident enough!"
Mine let out a relief sigh as a shy smile sketched his lips. “Well, I wish I had your eyes.”
“Oh, here’s the overall candidates’ papers,” Mashitsu approached the enchanted wall near the arena. "Look, there's fewer candidates."
The names were crossed out in red in a very rough way. Originally, there were five columns with about ten students in each, but the candidates were able to be summarized in just two columns.
“They attended to their respective courses evaluation site,” Mine recalled. “But this evasion is absurd.”
“It means I need to work hard here too,” Mashitsu cheered himself. “Oh, they’re about to call my name,” he noticed his nametag glowing.
“So let me give you tips!” Mine grinned. “You’ll probably be the fourth to be called, so we have some time!”
“Let’s review!” he beamed, showing his cheeky smile.
And they were not the only ones to review a few subjects before the test. The other candidates sat down near each other, each finding a minimally satisfactory spot to study. They formed groups, pairs, and trios - and some even studied alone. A minority of them waited their turn for the test while observing the trees or doing nothing. Others prayed with their amulets in hand.
Next, candidate nº 12930.
Mashitsu began to feel his hands getting colder.
Next, candidate nº 30942 and candidate nº 09348.
The other candidates felt the jolt of shock in their stomachs.
Next, candidate nº 30494.
Mashitsu began to disperse in the reviews until they finished the last topic.
Next, candidate nº 2033-
Mashitsu and Mine froze.
Sorry, it was candidate nº 39485.
They sighed in relief, but Mashitsu couldn't review anything anymore.
“Oh cousin, I’m so nervous I could shit my pants,” Mashitsu cold-sweated, hands telling his nervousness was present.
"Don't fret. Let's do what my sister taught me once. Gimme your hands," he said joyfully, and Mashitsu did as told so. “Ok, now… breathe in… hold a sec… then breathe out.”
And that's what Mashitsu did, following Mine's instructions and guidance. Mashitsu's hands were bigger than Mine's, and they were more calloused from yardwork days and gnome-hunting nights with his parents. Once warm, they turned cold that day, so Mine started heating them up with his smaller and slender hands, just like they used to do when they were kids.
Taking care of his youngest cousin reminded him of the nights when the noises of owls scared the toddler Mashitsu, who ran to his older cousin's bed on the floor, hiding in the sheets and disturbing the sleep of his other cousin Zuroke – who was stepped on. Mine tucked him into the sheets and stroked his hair while Zuroke grumbled, trying to go back to sleep.
Mine would smile and say nice words, distracting him from the ugly noises. His older cousin used to light up the ceiling with mana stars – which Zuroke helped make them shine. The little fiery-haired boy closed his eyes calmly, only waking up the next day with Mine on one side and Zuroke on the other, both hugging him like he was plush.
The sound of footsteps on the gravel nearby caused Mine to turn his gaze to the source of the noise, but there was nothing there, and another sound filled and drowned out the chatter of the other people.
Next, candidate nº 20335.
“Ah! It’s me!” Mashitsu gasped.
“Good luck, cousin!” Mine beamed. “Keep calm. Mrs. Hera and Lydia are capable teachers, so your test will be marvelous!” he cheered.
“Thank you,” he finally beamed again.
And so Mashitsu went to the arena's entrance, being searched, and admitted to entering the place. Before he disappeared from Mine's view, he gave a thumbs up and smiled, which made his cousin laugh and be less anxious about him.
Sitting on the same bench he was on previously, he sighed deeply and began to ponder where the candidates would be after the evaluations since none of those who entered left through the same gate. But, before he could get up from his seat, something approached and left a paper bag at his feet – which made him jump.
“Meow,” the thing that approached meowed.
“... Umbra?!” Mine recognized the cat in another random encounter. “And what is this?” he took the paper bag from the floor.
It was small, the size of a regular notebook, and it was full, so much so that whatever was inside had partially deformed its original rectangular shape. Mine lightly shook the bag, and there seemed to be more than one item inside it, and they seemed to be small, no bigger than the lid of a glass. Intrigued, he sat down again and rested the package on his lap while Umbra watched him eagerly as if waiting for something.
“… oh,” he voiced, his mouth turning into an ‘o’ shape as he opened the paper bag.
Different sizes. Different scents and colors.
Some had sprinkles on top, others had none, and an ambitious attempt to put strawberry jam on one seemed to have worked.
The smell of flour baked with butter and sugar permeated his nostrils and soon made his taste buds receive the message that he wanted to eat, so he took one of the cookies and removed it from the packaging, taking a bite immediately after the chosen flavor: chocolate with salted caramel on top.
The flavor was intriguing, but whoever made it knew what they were doing. The bitterness of the chocolate, the sweetness of the few grains of crystal sugar sprinkled on top, and the light saltiness of the caramel placed in a thread on top of the whole complemented each other. Still, Umbra watched him with the same expression, and her whiskers twitched.
“I can’t give you these,” he chuckled, “they’re poisonous for cats,” he caressed Umbra’s ears.
Then, he grabbed the next flavor from the variety of options: traditional with chocolate sprinkles on top. The crunch of the sprinkles complemented the softness and velvety of the dough. The taste was as expected, so Mine was very satisfied with the pastry chef's result.
“They’re delicious! Who baked the- wait, did you steal it?” Mine cold-sweated, but the cat meowed in a certain direction a bit close to them.
“I found you!” a panting voice came from the direction Umbra was staring with grieving whiskers and eyes. "I swear! You love giving me trouble. Look at my arms!" the person approached the cat and crouched, scolding the feline whose eyes were closed as if she was terribly sorry (or choosing to not pay attention to her owner).
Mine blinked, looking at the person who reeked the same biscuit smell and held the cat in his arms.
“Look how much you scratched me today,” he grumbled, still not noticing Mine in front of him. "It's a pain to take a shower this way, and next time you scratch me, I'll cut your nails!" he threatened, and the cat looked at him in disbelief, meowing dissatisfaction. "No, I'll not take your dissatisfaction meow, let's go ho-"
"Addai?" Mine voiced.
"..." Addai fixated his gaze on Mine.
Their eyes met.
"Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit...," Addai cold-sweated.