“Her Esper Level is… 5? That’s certainly…”
“It’s strange, isn’t it?”
Principal Aizo leans over the back of Ms. Kelly’s chair in the Teachers’ Room, scanning the information on the datapad in the young teacher’s hands. He hardly seems to believe what he’s seeing. Why should he? Looking at her record, the Esper Levels of students she’s beaten… It simply doesn’t make sense.
Kelly even flips through the list of Mio’s allies.
Kikuchi Ragyou - Around EL-1700
Charlotte Altair - Just over EL-1900
Diana Quinn - A whopping EL-2500.
“Esper Levels can fluctuate, but hardly ever more than maybe a hundred points over a person’s entire lifetime.”
Aizo takes the datapad, skimming through Mio’s shortlist of victories. Only a small handful, but the numbers speak for themselves. Even her first match of the Royale against that Serizawa boy… “EL-2100. And she beat that, right away. How… curious”
“I don’t know what it could mean.”
Aizo continues flipping through pages in the file before handing the datapad back over to its owner with a smile. “I understand your concern. I’ll keep an eye on it. For now, though, it means your students may actually have a rather decent chance of making it through, doesn’t it? You can find some relief in that, at least. It’s all right to be a little improper sometimes, no?”
Kelly takes back the datapad and stares at the file. Perhaps she doesn’t notice how tight her grip on the device becomes, looking at an image of one of her students. Yet another one dragged into all of this. “Maybe…”
One school day goes by and another one drifts into the stream of time. Then another. So many students go about the mundane flow of their daily routines. Things stay quiet for a time. The usual inane chatter fills the halls and the classrooms. That is until those class doors slide open and the clicking heels of the teachers intrude upon their students’ leisure.
This day, though… the shoe is rather on the other foot. Mio checks her Link for the time. Late. Several minutes late, at that. Her hand stops just shy of touching the pad to open the door. She already feels them. The eyes that await on the other side, hungry for any kind of liberation from the boredom of another lecture.
All that attention…
Why does she have to be at the center of it?
What does she do if anyone says anything to her?
As if she doesn’t know the answer. She’ll freeze until told to sit down. Anything beyond that is pure imagination. Fiction.
“Oi. Boke. You’re worrying about stupid things, again.”
The little reptile is right, of course. It’s a silly thing to worry about. Especially now. And yet…
She forces herself to hit the button and the door slides open. When it finally finishes opening, what seems like an eternity later, she steps inside, head down, eyes to the floor. That’s the way. Pay no attention to anyone. Unfortunately, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. A suspicious lack of a shrill greeting sees to that.
As if by habit, she raises her head to respond to it before it ever comes. In fact, it never does. Now here she is, looking over the class, a sea of eyes looking right back.
She’s stuck. Paralyzed. To the point where even her breathing halts. All she’s able to do is hope, pray that anyone would save her from this. Salvation comes from a sharp voice at the front of the room. “Morioka.”
Ms. Kelly. Not exactly a happy tone, but…
Kelly puts up a hand. “I’ll hear it later. All Esper students should be at the auditorium.”
Audi-… Oh. The rally is today, isn’t it?
Upon taking a closer look, that’s the reason. Ragyou is missing. Diana and Charlotte as well. Even a handful of other students appear to be absent. Faint sniggering catches her ear, not that she dares to seek out its source.
“Y-yes. Ah… sumimasen.”
The girl pulls an immediate about-face and leaves the room, her entire body warm, buzzing from the sensation of all those eyes on her. Such a prickly, gross feeling. One she’d likely never be used to.
Just as she rounds one of the corners on her way, she stops in her tracks. Hunched over in the middle of the hall stands a girl, panting.
“Paaah…! This place… is big…”
“Um…Are you all right?”
Mio steps back as the girl just about jumps out of her skin, throwing up her hands in a judo stance. The dull girl blinks as she backs off. “Ah… I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“O-oh. Sorry. You’re really quiet. Y-yeah, I’m fine. I was late, so I was in a hurry.”
That sounds familiar.
“And I haven’t actually been on campus before, so I also got kinda lost on the way to the auditorium. Ehehe…”
“Yeesh. This kid’s even more of a space case than you are.”
Mio raises a finger and points at the cybernetic band around the girl’s wrist. “You could’ve asked your Link which way to go.”
“Morioka-san, arigatou! You’re a lifesaver!”
The girls make their way to the auditorium entrance without incident, Mio stopping just outside. “I didn’t really do anything, Asahina-san. I needed to come here too, so…”
“No, no, you kept me company too, you know! I don’t know anyone here, so it was kinda scary, trying to find my way around the place. I’m supposed to represent the cheer squad but I’m the only Esper on it anyway so no one there would’ve been able to show me either… Ah, and you can call me Sadako. Really! We’re friends now, right?”
The dull stare is the only real response Mio can offer for the moment. Such a strange girl. Not that she’s one to judge. “Mm…”
With that, Sadako swivels around to try and find the rest of her class. “Great! I’ll see ya later, then! Mio-chan!”
Sadako takes off, leaving Mio at the door. Everyone seems to just be standing around, waiting for things to get started. At least in a crowd like this, hardly anyone would even notice her entry. Not when the students all seem so enthralled in their own worlds. Even so, raising her eye level proves almost impossible, as if gravity itself conspires to keep her head held down.
She drifts around to the outskirts of the crowd to find a quiet spot, perhaps against a wall or some such. An effort entirely in vain, it’d seem.
Not at all the first voice she’d expected to hear, but…
The domineering academic approaches the dull girl with her arms folded, looking down her nose on her diminutive classmate. “You’re late.”
“I… wasn’t able to sleep well, so-”
“I’m your Class Rep, not your mother. I don’t need to hear your excuse. We’re all grouped by classes or clubs. At least, we’re supposed to be…”
That remark… even Mio can sense it isn’t about her, this time.
“Come with me.”
“Huh? A-all right…”
Follow, she does. Mio trails just behind Charlotte, tucking and weaving through the crowd of chattering students whilst only ever looking at people’s feet. Thinking about it, Charlotte stands out even like this. The way she walks with such purpose at all times whilst Mio seems to just glide through the current of the day.
A sudden halt snaps Mio out of it, just as a familiar laugh demands her attention through the crowd. Head still down, Mio glances up and, sure enough, there stands a certain gyaru at the heart of everything, chatting with a couple of other girls that Mio doesn’t recognize.
The tallest one, with jet black hair and a stylized uniform even more risque than Ragyou’s, checks her make-up in a small, compact mirror. The shorter one, sporting a head of bleached-blonde hair like Ragyou’s - albeit shorter - and with a tan, carries the whole conversation.
Right. Ragyou is extremely popular, after all. Of course she’d have plenty of friends. There’s no way she’d only hang around someone so gloomy. Yet the sunny girl spots her two nearby teammates and waves to them both before rushing over.
“Charlie-chan, hi! O-ha-yo~ Micchin!”
Charlotte’s brow twitches, her voice dropped to near inaudible. “…My name is not…”
Mio raises a meek hand. “Kikuchi-san, ohayo.”
“Kikuchi, I’ll assume you and your friends didn’t hear, earlier. We’re supposed to be with our classes or clubs, right now.”
“Heh? S’fine, s’fine. I was just gettin’ caught up with some buds of mine! This is Fu-”
Without giving her any time to finish, the smaller of the two pops right up in front of Mio. “Oooh! So this is Mi-chan!”
Mio arches back a bit. “H-huh...?” Mi-chan?
The girl gets right up in Mio’s face, looking square at her… at least it appears that way. Difficult to tell when her eyes seem perpetually closed. Still, she flashes those pearly whites of hers, beaming just as brightly as Ragyou.
Somehow produces an old film photography camera. The question of where she’d been keeping it, though, is a mystery.
“Kawaii na! She’s just like you said, Kikucchi! Hey, can I get a picture of you two?!”
Signal received, Ragyou pats Mio right on the head and steps between the two, laughing the whole thing off. “Soz, Fu-chan. I don’t think Micchin likes gettin’ her picture taken.”
Just then, the taller of the bonus gyaru reaches out and yoinks the camera right from over her friend’s head, holding it high up in the air for the girl to try and reach. “Heeeh? Oi, Fubuki. Whataya want Ragyou’s picture for when I’m right here? Man, I’m offended now.”
“Eh… soz Momocchi.”
“Haha! Fu-chan, Momo-chan, no fightin’, ‘kay?”
Charlotte remains unamused by the trio’s little routine and makes to leave. Before she can utter another word, though, a new voice breaks its way into the unfolding scene.
“Ah! Gundou-san! There you are!”
Fubuki does her best to hide behind Ragyou and Momo, but to no avail. Up to the lot of them marches a fairly short but put-together girl. She glares with green eyes as sharp as daggers, forcing Fubuki to writhe from behing her gyaru wall.
“H-heeey, Kikacchi. How goes it?”
Ragyou’s premature sniggering comes to an abrupt end when she catches just one glimpse of the look Charlotte seems to be leveling at her. The mischievous laugh turns, all too quickly, into a nervous one.
Fubuki has no escape as the little Class Rep grabs her by the wrist. Though Kikaijima stops, bowing to the others present. Her eye travels to Momo for a spell, sizing up the much larger girl. A quick glance at the stripes in her necktie and the girl sighs. “Senpai… You really ought to be setting a better example for your juniors…”
“Hah? What, for real? That’s such a pain.” Momo makes one passive glance in Ragyou’s direction, letting that gaze linger for just a moment. Then she swings over with a flippant grin and gives a light knock to the back of Ragyou’s skull. “As if I could influence this airhead!”
“Is that so…? In any case, excuse us.”
As Kikaijima drags Fubuki away, a nagging feeling snares at Mio. Like trying to remember something. Charlotte, though, puts a stop to that train of thought.
“Come on. We’re joining our class.”
“Haaai… Later, Momo-chan.”
Momo walks off, waving over her shoulder. “Yeah, sure. See ya.”
Charlotte leads the others to the group consisting of the Espers from their own class. There stands Diana, just across from a rather easygoing yet unfamiliar young man. His relaxed nature, though, stands in stark contrast to the agitated First Year Queen.
“Did I give you permission to talk to me, Victor?”
“No? But you know me. I’m pretty bad at reading the room. Aww, you’re being so cold to a family friend! I just wanted to talk to you since I haven’t seen you around, lately.”
Diana huffs. “Did it ever occur to you that I might be avoiding someone?”
“Aha! That’s fair!”
It doesn’t take long for Diana to decide the dialogue’s over. She breaks away from Victor the moment Charlotte and the others enter her field of view. A lateral movement, rather than a proper upgrade, but it’s better than this conversation. “Take care of yourself, Victor.”
Victor shrugs without much care, taking off to rejoin his own class. Though he gives Mio a brief look as he passes by, topped with a smile.
“Would you believe for once I’m actually glad to see you?”
Charlotte knows better than to respond to that jab. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less annoying. She just turns from Diana and opens her Link to check the list of classmates who should be with them.
Meanwhile, Ragyou slides over to Diana and elbows her in the arm. “Hey, hey. Di, I didn’t know you were in with the Second-Year Ladykiller.”
“Ew. Don’t call him that. He’s just some bug from my neighborhood.”
“Heeeh? Childhood friend?”
“Nuisance, more like…”
The girls settle into their place as Charlotte wraps up her check. From the looks of things, everyone’s present. Just in time, too. Right when she closes out of the list, the lights go dim. All but those illuminating the front of the house.
There, before everyone, Principal Aizo takes to the stage, hands behind his back, camera drones following to ensure that everyone can see him on the large screens around the room. “Hello, East Lumos Student Body Espers!”
Hardly any of the chattering students pay the poor man any mind. Surely it’s to be expected. It is high school, after all.
Things change in a heartbeat, however, when out to the dejected principal’s side steps the ever-popular Ms. Ophelia Tate. The beautiful counselor need only clear her throat to pull the undivided attention of the student mass.
Wallow though he may in the unfairness of it for a brief moment, Aizo gathers himself and carries on as if nothing happened. “Welcome to this year’s All-Esper Student Rally. I won’t take up too much of your time… I know where I stand with you all now, after all… We’ve got some big announcements to make so I’ll just let you hear them from someone you actually all want to hear from. How’s that sound?”
Not one of the girls can help giving the man the flatest of stares from where they stand.
“Even Di and Micchin can see it. That’s pretty impressive, right?”
“It’s actually pretty pathetic, honestly…”
Then… “That’s your cue.”
That one sound triggers something in every single student standing in that auditorium. The sound of a heel meeting the hard surface of the stage, echoing across the entire room. As if automatic, every single student practically stands at attention. A head of lustrous black hair waves through the air as the tall body it belongs to whips around and faces the psychic throng.
At the center of the stage, a beautiful and refined young lady with three stripes in her necktie and a gaze as sharp as a hawk. Setting eyes upon this titanic presence jars Mio’s memory, then and there. The girl from before. Kikaijima. Comparing the two in her mind, it’s clear as day. This person is that girl’s elder sister. Kikaijima Kikyou - Student Body President.
Charlotte scoffs. “So the Number One finally shows herself…”
Kikyou brushes her hair back and takes up the mic. “0.1%… Did you know that? The condition that makes us what we are affects a tenth of a percent of the population. We are small… Few… Rare. However, a jewel is not valuable because it is common. Fellow students… Rather… fellow Espers of East Lumos Academy! This is a celebration. Of us. Of that 0.1% Of the contributions that we make to this world. And the sacrifices we make to preserve it…”
That phrase… without really knowing what she’s doing, Mio clutches the base of her scarf. Jun’s scarf.
Is that… what it is?
Kikaijima looks over all the banners around the room, each with the symbols and names of different clubs emblazoned across them. Every student listens. Intently. From Sadako to Fubuki, Momo to Victor, each one represents one thing or another. A class. A club. Something bigger than each of them.
“I’m proud to be an Esper. To see us represented across so much of this campus. I wanted to show you that in my last year as a student, here. And for you to be able to show it as well. That’s why, during this year’s Club Fair, we’re doing something new. A new competition exclusive to all the Esper students. We’re calling it the Club Wars.”
That gets the room humming. If Miss-100%-Approval-Rating is behind it, then who wouldn’t want to get involved?
“We’ll work hard to make sure it’s an overwhelming success. With your support, I know full well that we can achieve that goal.”
With the room abuzz, Principal Aizo once again takes the stage, joining the passionate student official with an enthusiastic clap. “You certainly know how to get the students all riled up and raring to go.”
Kikaijima then steps forward. “That said, there is one further announcement.”
“Hm? Ah… Madam President?”
“Concerning the Royale. The break is about to end, as you all know. The next stage is called the Class Rumble. During this period, all matches - every single one in the city - is exclusively between students. But this year, there’s… a new rule.”
Mio isn’t the only one going tense. This has shades of the would-be match between Diana and Charlotte all over it. Even Ragyou seems to be watching intently, for a change. Just like back then.
“For the duration, all matches… are to be one-on-one.”
There they are. Words that send a bolt straight through the Going-Home Club. Diana and Charlotte both sneer at this sudden change. Mio barely reacts. Not on the surface. Ragyou, though… she sees what others don’t. The way the girl retreats into herself, looking off into space. No question about it. The girl is terrified.
None, though, are more mortified than one Ms. Tay Kelly, sitting in her homeroom chair whilst her students complete an assignment. Listening in on the rally, she’s unable to keep herself from sitting upright.
It takes her a second to realize her students are all looking right at her. She puts herself together and gets up, making for the door.
“I’ll be right back. Finish that up, then silent study.”
Once outside, Kelly makes it to her desk in the Teachers’ Room and drops herself into it.
All that training.
All the work.
"Pointless. For the next several days it’ll all be completely…"