Tuesday – 12:30
With help from his brother, Timothy got up from the ground and started probing his face to feel for an injury. After spitting out a little blood, but no teeth, he glared at me with a murderous look. "Well, well, well, Thomas. It looks like we get to have a little bit of fun after all." He proceeded to crack his knuckles while getting into a fighting stance. His brother circled around, placed himself on the opposite side of me, and put up a similar stance.
"I don't want to fight either of you," I said, hoping for them to see reason. "If you apologize to me and my pupil, then I will go on my way. I will even allow you a free shot beforehand. But if you insist on fighting, I won't hold back." It was hard to focus on two sides at once, but that didn't worry me much.
Unfortunately, my hope was in vain. The twins had their pride wounded, and they wouldn't be satisfied with just giving me a bruise or two. The two brothers cautiously started closing the gap in sync with each other.
They began to attract a crowd and very soon were surrounded in a large circle. Terry and Tamari tried getting through to lend their aid but made little progress against the tight formation. That worked out in my favor since I would have a harder time protecting them if they joined the fray.
While I was distracted, Thomas lunged forward with a feint while Timothy delivered the real attack from his blind spot, but I wasn't fooled. I dodged the punch from behind and delivered a quick jab in return, causing Timothy to jump back to a safe distance. At the same time, I got down low and swung his leg in a low kick towards Thomas, who was in the middle of a roundhouse kick. While the roundhouse flew over my head, the low kick I aimed toward him landed solidly, sweeping Thomas to the ground with a grunt.
Instead of pressing the advantage, I stepped back a couple of paces, hands up in the air. "I implore both of you once again. Please stop! We don't need to fight. Just apologize, and I will leave you be."
Thomas slowly pushed himself off the ground, and after testing his foot, he got back into a stance. "Not a chance. You got lucky. This next round will go differently." The twins took out pocketknives and rushed me at the same time from the front.
The twins likely didn't plan on seriously wounding me; rather, they just thought to cut me a little and then land a few punches. However, knives were far more dangerous than many people were led to believe and could easily lead to a fatal injury if they weren't careful.
I quickly weighed the options. Normally, a two-on-one was a major advantage to the larger side, and the twins felt confident for a reason, as taking down multiple skilled opponents at the same time was more fiction than reality. However, there was one factor that they couldn’t have considered. I had been a part of the most disciplined department of ISEKAI for a few years and learned an extensive amount of martial arts, particularly in hand-to-hand combat. However, even I had to be careful. Not only had I been out of practice for years, but facing two opponents with weapons was still very dangerous. The trick was to keep them at a distance and not let them attack in unison.
As they rushed me, I took off my jacket and whipped it repeatedly toward Timothy, who was on his right. The large cloth interrupted the arc of the hand, batting it away, and got the two knives out of sync. With that done, I unclasped my belt with the left hand and grabbed the other end with the right, just in time to raise it up to block Thomas' strike. Once blocked, I wrapped the hand with the belt and pulled downwards while kneeing upwards to crush his hand, causing the limp and injured hand to release the knife.
I kicked the knife away and ducked in time to avoid the slash that Timothy delivered from behind my back. I reached up with both hands, caught the assailant's wrist, twisted the knife free, and landed a nasty uppercut to the solar plexus. Timothy went down like a puppet with its strings cut.
I took another step back and again held up my hands. "Last chance, twins. Apologize for what you said about my pupil."
To my begrudging respect, Timothy got up from the devastating blow and moved towards his brother. "If he means so much to you, Tobias, then why don't you call him by his name? Saying "pupil" or "trainee" doesn't make it seem like you care about him. What? You can't think of a nickname, so you continue neglecting to call him anything? That is pathetic. You should apologize to him yourself instead of asking us to do it."
I froze in place. Timothy was right. What I was doing was hypocritical. What right did I have in reprimanding them when I myself didn't treat the kid properly. Even now, I named him "kid" in his mind. My resolve wavered, and my form slumped.
The twins saw their opening and took it. They rushed forward and were about to deliver heavy blows when a loud voice interrupted. "Stop this instant!" The twins, myself, and everyone else in the room turned in shock toward the voice that they all recognized.
It was the manager. "Never have I witnessed this sort of violence on these grounds, and from the top agents no less. All three of you should be ashamed. Timothy and Thomas, one more toe out of line and you will both be demoted to C-rank. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," they said.
The manager turned to me. "Tobias, come with me to my office. You might just lose your job today."
* * *
Tuesday – 13:00
I sat nervously across from the manager for the first time in five years. The cryptic message from before and this rare summons didn't bode well for my future. Nobody has ever been called into the manager's office twice.
The manager looked at me with a stern expression for a few seconds before exploding into laughter. "Hahaha, that was too much fun."
I definitely wasn't expecting that. "I am sorry, sir. What is going on?"
"Please call me by my name," the manager requested. I didn't tell it to you for nothing, you know."
I gave a half-smirk. "Sure thing, Theo. I assume that I am not actually in danger of losing my job then?"
Theodore didn't answer right away. He first went to the cabinet and poured himself a shot of whiskey. "Would you like some?"
I shook his head. "No thank you. I don't drink." Not only did I not like the dullness of his senses, but I also preferred not to spill all of my deepest feelings unconsciously.
"That's a shame," Theodore sighed. "Well, it won't be easy to tell you, so I will just cut to the chase. What you pulled in the cafeteria was uncalled for and mustn't be repeated. However, that's not why I brought you here. To be honest, I have been waiting for you to fail for a couple of years now, and now that you have, it's a sign that you have passed your prime and should move on to better things. I am getting old and will be retiring soon. Therefore, I need a qualified successor to replace me as the manager of TRUCK-KUN, and I have chosen you for the job, Tobias."
That left me speechless. I had thought of retiring before but had never given any thoughts towards promotion. I didn't know how to respond. The thought of managing TRUCK-KUN was thrilling, yet it turned my stomach. I had considered retirement due to the negative feelings that had been building towards the job. Being promoted would mean continuing to work in a job I had been starting to dislike.
Or would it?
What if I could change how the department was run? HI could perhaps run the place as he wanted and change things as I desired.
But could I?
Even the managers had bosses. What if being promoted just made my predicament worse for myself in addition to not being able to change how things were run? I couldn't risk it. I opened my mouth to tell Theodore, but the manager beat me to the punch.
"Of course, you don't need to decide now," he said. "You still have two more attempts to Isekai your target. You have until then to make your decision. Until you do, take this." Theodore handed me a key card, identical to the one that Theodore carried on him at all times. It was inconceivable!
"This is a temporary key card to my office," Theodore continued. It will work only two times, for each of your next attempts for this target, and only until the expiration of your target's Isekai date, which is in about two months, I believe. You have until those deadlines to give me an answer."
"I am honored, Theo," I replied, getting up to leave.
"We aren't finished yet, Tobias," Theodore explained. "Before you go off to contemplate your future goals, you need to have a glimpse of what being a manager of TRUCK-KUN truly means. There is an ISEKAI board meeting happening in an hour which all managers are required to attend. You will be tagging along. Let's go."
The thought of getting a glimpse behind the curtain was too enticing for me to ignore. However, after leaving the office by Theodore's side, I started second-guessing the decision. I had already decided that I needed to get out of this business, and here I was trying to dig myself into a deeper hole. That act alone confirmed the twin's accusation and made it very clear what I truly was.