Chapter 4:

I don't want to be a coward anymore!

pretty Loli defender

      “I still don’t get it!” Lii-San said as she viciously attacked a potato chip. Miko snickered as she continued clicking away on the computer. The chip was small but, in comparison to the pixie, it was nearly as big as Lii was! Lii-San squeaked and tugged on it with both hands. “You shall not defeat me, foul creature!!!” Miko stifled a giggle. She couldn’t remember the last time she had genuinely laughed.
     The two were sitting in the loft of the school’s library. School was over, so Miko had headed off to her usual hideout. She liked this area of the library because it was the no-talking zone; no one ever came up. This loft was the oldest part of the library, and required the climbing of quite a few stairs to reach it. Even the librarians hardly bothered to make the trip up the rusty spiral stairs unless necessary, so the place was dusty and odd-smelling. The fact that they were at the building's highest point meant that there were few windows and the floor and ceiling sloped at precarious and uneven angles.
      Miko simply loved it! It was so warm and cozy! It was old fashioned, and reminded her of her father’s private office at their mansion. She liked things that other people hated. That luckily meant that she had total solitude to surf the internet or browse the ancient collection of long forgotten books removed from circulation.
      Today, though, she had stopped beforehand to buy some wasabi flavored potato chips and a bottle of strawberry milk from a vending machine at Lii-San’s behest. Miko hadn’t eaten during lunch that day, so her new friend had pestered her non-stop all day long about needing to eat something. Miko had stopped to buy the snacks just to pacify Lii-San. She still wasn’t hungry at all. She had only taken a few sips of the milk and hadn’t even touched the chips. Lii seemed fond of the spicy chips, though, despite claiming that they were rubbery and hard for her to bite into.
       “Got it!” Lii took a huge chomp out of her snack. “So,” she said from her perch on Miko’s shoulder. “Anyway, I still don’t get it. Why don’t you do anything about the bullying? It just seems illogical to me to just suck it up. This technically counts as harassment, you know! If the teachers know about it, that means that the headmaster and higher-ups must know about it and just chose to ignore it. If that’s the case, you might have grounds for a legal case or bringing it to the committee that runs the school. What does the school code say?”
Miko massaged her forehead. Lii-San may have been a nice person, but she was too simpleminded and idealistic! It neared the point of stupidity. Besides, she had had the feeling earlier that Lii-San was the type of person who would keep nagging and not shut up until she got the response that she wanted. Darn stubborn pixie!
      “It doesn’t work like that, Lii-San. The codes are intended to prevent child abuse, student-teacher relationships, or unethical grading practices, not bullying. There is nothing in the codes about that. Besides, don’t you get it? Doing more and reacting more makes it worse, ignoring it and doing nothing acts like a ceiling. How can you understand this? It’s obvious and logical. I can’t do anything to stop it, because I can’t control other people and tell them how to think or feel, but I can do some damage control so that it isn’t so bad for me.” Lii shook her head in confusion.
      “I still don’t get it. What’s that law called, the scientific one? An object at rest will stay at rest and an object in motion will stay in motion, unless acted on by an outside force?” “That’s Newton’s First Law.” “Newton’s law…” Lii appeared to turn the name over in her mind. “Okay. Anyway, that law may be talking about science, but it can be applied to normal life, as well. If you don’t do anything, you won’t get anywhere at all. If you do something, sure, there’s a chance that you could end up getting pulled backwards, but there’s also a chance that you could get pushed forward, too! You don’t know until you actually do something! If you want something to happen, you need to do something, or you’ll be stuck in the same spot forever! Don’t just sit around and wait for a push that may never come, make something happen!”
      “Yeah well…sorry, but the world doesn’t work like that.” Miko said sadly, taking her hand off the mouse and ruffling her hair. What she felt like doing was banging her head against a wall. Lii-San was so annoyingly ignorant! All the pixie seemed to do is talk in circles over and over and over again! It was all rather exhausting. But…it would be nice if the pixie was right. Her ideas of how to fix Miko’s problems were highly unlikely to work…but nice. If only humans were more logical! What would it be like to be respected? Not liked or loved, but just respected?
What would it be like to not spend the whole school day looking over her shoulder to make sure no one tried to trip her? What would it be like to at least get a respectful, somewhat disinterested hello in the morning instead of being slapped around? What would it be like to have people sit around her; not as friends, but just casually as classmates, like everyone else in her class? To not constantly be teased? To have the teacher just ignore her totally if they were not fond of her instead of singling her out? To feel like she had a family, a real family? To have someone give her a smile and a ‘good job! I’m so happy for you!’?
     “People…really don’t work like that. If it were that easy…” she stumbled. “If such stupid ideas really worked…if things were different…then my family…” She dropped off. She didn’t feel like bringing her family up right now. Thinking about them always wore her out. Besides, the way things were going today, she just might start crying like a weakling in from of Lii-San
     “Yeah, what about your family?” Asked Lii-San suspiciously, tossing her head back thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s me, or the fact that we just met not even ten hours ago but, you don’t really talk about your family like most people do. It’s hard to explain, but the vibes you give off…you talk about them so distantly, as if they were strangers. I’ve noticed that refer to them so formally, too. Why? Are you adopted or something?”
    Miko sighed. She might as well give Lii-San something, otherwise the pixie would probably not shut up about it until she gave her some sort of answer. Not that Miko really felt like spilling her guts but… that didn’t mean she had to go in depth! Her problems were business, and no one else’s.
     “Well, fine, if you must know.” Miko leaned her head forward on her hands and sighed gloomily. “My papa is always gone. He is an artifacts dealer. He’s always traveling, making sales, dealing in old rare items, and stuff like that. He also has a degree in archeology, as well. He’s really into history and items that are unique and random, so he constantly likes to go on expeditions to all sorts of old sites and ruins. He calls it quality sourcing. His wife calls it being an idiot. He’s hardly ever home. He only comes back for two or three full days a month on average. Most of the time that he’s home, it’s like he's still gone because he’s either locked in his office or running everywhere else in town but home. He never really has any time for me.”
      Lii-San smiled sympathetically. “I’m sorry to hear that. I guess that explains the detachment. You hardly even get to see him, huh?” Miko nodded. “Not like it’s that odd for us. I mean, it’s been that way even since…well…as long as I can remember. I guess my mother died when I was a couple months old or something, so I was mostly raised by the staff. A lot of them have come and gone since then. I’ve always more or less been on my own. Not that I mind; I actually enjoy being alone more than anything.” She traced her finder through the puddle of perspiration that her cold drink had made on the wooden desk. It secretly did make her kind of sad though. while some of the staff may have liked her, they were usually too busy to play with Unmiko or give her much attention. She had more or less raised herself.
     “Okay,” Lii-San said, brushing chip crumbs off her dress. “So, who is this Ishiki woman that you keep on mentioning? I get the feeling that you are scared of her. Do you two not get along or something?” Miko sighed in distress. Ishiki was the one person whom she absolutely loathed talking about.
    “She’s my stepmother,” she said in a dull, dead voice. “Papa married her when I was five, so they have been married for about five years, give or take?” She shrugged. “Whatever. All she ever does is yell at me, harass me, blame me for everything…her kids, of course, are perfect angels and I am the demon spawn who has a grudge against the poor, poor stepmother who just wants to understand me and be treated like my real mother!” Her voice dripped sarcasm.         “No matter how hard I try, no matter how nice I am, no matter what I do, it’s never enough for her! She has everyone convinced that I’m a spoiled and ungrateful little brat who hates her! She should look in the mirror, because her kids are a thousand times worse than I could ever be! Sure, she does get upset with them and yells at them sometimes, too, but she treats them a thousand times better than she does me! I don’t get what else I’m supposed to do to please her! I-I-I- ” she buried her head in her hands. “I just can’t take it anymore! All this pressure…I-I…it’s like I’m constantly waiting for the next disaster. Just when I think there is no way things could get worse…and the…the panic attacks…I just…I just can’t-can’t cope any more.”
     “A-a-are you okay?,” Lii-San trembled nervously. She didn’t think that Unmiko was capable of getting that mad! And she was so broken! Miko massaged her head. “Sorry if I upset you.” She slumped down in her chair and Lii jumped down onto the desk. “It’s not like she abuses me or anything she’s just not…not nice…or kind…to me at all. She’s so negative. All she does is point out my flaws. I can tell that she know what she does to me and purposely does it because my suffering makes her feel better for whatever sick reason She never gives me praise and I can’t remember her ever smiling at me, let alone giving me a hug.” Miko said sadly. “I’ve gotten used to it by now, but it is still annoying and exhausting to have to deal with her! I just wish that monster would shut up and leave me alone!”
     Miko lay her head on the desk and Lii figured that getting off of the topic of Miko-Chan’s stepmother would be best for the girl’s sanity. She was just going to make her new master very stressed out by dragging out that particular conversation. “So!” she said cheerfully, “You have step-siblings I take it?” “uh-huh.” Miko said tiredly with her face laid on the desk. “Four of them. Alex, the oldest, is in eleventh grade. I don’t really know much about him, and I can’t even remember if I ever have actually met him. He got a full ride scholarship to a prestigious high school in Tokyo. He’s supposed to be very smart. He lives on-campus in the school dorms and he’s real serious about his studies, so he never comes home. ” Miko pushed a short, frizzy red curl out of her eyes.
      “Then there is Kyoko. She is in tenth grade. She is this really gifted musician; she can play the piano, the guitar, the flute, the organ, the keyboard, the violin, the viola, the trumpet, the oboe, and the trombone! Alex got the brains, but she got the dramatic talent.” Miko shrugged. “And she clearly knows it. Seriously, if her ego was any more inflated, then I could pop it with a pin.” Lii-San giggled. “Nice description!” “Well it’s true! Miko shot back defensively. “She brags all the time about how she is going to be a songwriter and professional classical musician.” Lii turned the information over in her head. ‘Okay,’ she thought. ‘This might be useful for the future. I don’t know if I will ever met any of Master Miko’s family but knowing this stuff will help me be able to understand and work with her better.’
     “Okay. You have two more step-siblings, right?” Lii-san asked aloud. “Yep. They are both in eighth grade. Non-identical twins. Sakura is an even bigger diva than Kyoko. She has enough clothes and makeup to stock several small stores. She wants to be a model. The last one is Yuna. She is a bit of an Otaku. She has so many anime figures and stuff! She still gets good grades and stuff, though, and is real pretty, just like the rest of my family.” Miko sighed longingly. “She’s not nice, but she is the least not nice of everyone. Sometimes she yells at me or teases me or pinches me, other times she’ll make manga-style sketches for me or want me to come sit in bed with her and watch anime. She’s the hardest one to read.”
    “Wow your family sounds like…something?” Lii-San commented. “Yeah, that’s putting it mildly,” Miko said, picking her head up off the desk and massaging it. “A big, screwed up something! And let's not even get into my step-grandparents! They are a pair of stuffy old farts who hate papa and think he wasn’t good enough to marry into their family.”
     ‘Actually,’ Miko thought suddenly. ‘I’ve always wondered why papa decided to marry Ishiki-Sama but, now that I think about it, I wonder why she married him? I’m pretty sure that it reinforced her status and wealth but she could marry much richer men to do that and it’s not like she’s exactly strapped for cash. Her family is one of the six wealthiest families in Japan! She seems to like him somewhat, to an extremely limited extent, but she also thinks he’s a fool and gets so annoyed with him so easily! Love couldn’t have been the reason! But…her family hates papa with a burning passion, so it couldn’t have been because her parents wanted her to because it was politically advantageous. So then… what would would Ishiki get out of it? There has to be something. Knowing her, she would never marry anyone, much less a man her family disliked, unless she could get something good out of it.’
       While Miko lay across the desk brooding, Lii-San decided that it was time to get off the topic of Unmiko’s family. Now she could somewhat understand why her new master was so odd. She could sense a bit of an unbalance in the young girl’s mind. She could tell that Unmiko was suffering from some sort of mental health problems. This girl…she couldn’t understand why this girl was chosen. She liked her and thought that she had great potential but…she…she could remember nothing of her own past…but she had a feeling that someone like her wasn’t a person who she was meant to be bound to.
     From the moment she awoke in her master's flower garden, she was aware that her memories had long since been wiped. She had a feeling that she had been around for a near infinite amount of time, and she knew many things about the side of the world that most humans denied existed, But...she had no clue when or where or how she learned them. She didn’t know why she was meant to become the servant of whoever awakened the mirror, yet here she was. She had a whole host of information about the task that lay ahead of Unmiko but she didn’t know where she had learned it. She had the distinct feeling that this had happened before, that she had been bound to another master at some point, and that’s how she knew many of the things inside of her head. 
    Earlier, when she’d talked to Unmiko about how she wasn’t the first one to have an annoying lack of knowledge of what she’d gotten into… She had had a brief flash of memory and recalled that she had appeared to at least two or three insecure and timid young people who had unknowingly entered into a contract of some sort. She knew that fact to be true…but she couldn’t remember the specifics; she couldn’t recall anything beyond that simple fact; no names, no faces, no specific memories. There was definitely something about this situation that seemed oddly familiar.
     But the one thing she did know was that Unmiko had great potential. This girl…there was something about her, something strong and brave. She was timid and fearful now but…Lii-San’s eyes darted to the compact mirror sitting on the desk next to Master Unmiko’s school bag. She knew that the girl was young and fearful but, given enough time and training, she could become a great hero. If she wasn’t strong of heart and powerful, she never would have awakened the mirror. The mirror only awakened to make contacts with people who it accepted; if she had been offered a contract, she was meant to do this. Lii-San may not be able to see why now, but Unmiko-Chan clearly had something that no one else had.
     “ Hey, Miko-San, if you could change your life, would you?” “What do you mean?” “If you could become stronger, if you could become someone you would like instead of despise, would you?” “well…I guess, maybe?” Unmiko shrugged. “I don’t…I don’t know. If I could I-I-I’d just disappear from this world all together. I’d just fade away like a dying flower and let everyone forget me. I wish I could be different but…I’m not strong enough. Change…the future…it scares me! What if things just get worse? I just wish I could turn invisible! I just want to be left alone! I don’t want to be forced to keep living in this stupid, pointless world anymore!” Umiko unexpectedly burst into tears. “Hey-HEY!” Lii-San flew up in Miko’s face and kicked her across the forehead, causing her to yelp and cry even harder. For someone so tiny, Lii-San’s attack hurt!
    “Don’t you act like that! You can change! Anyone can change! Don’t you want to have friends? Don’t you want to not be alone? Don’t you want to become a person that you can be proud of, even if you live a rather simple and dull life otherwise? Do you ever wish you could quit being scared?” Miko sniffled.
       Well…did she, did she really? As must as she wanted to deny it…Lii-San was right. She was always so angry, so sad. She spent so much time locked inside herself, imagining how life would be if things were different. She couldn’t ever take joy in anything. She felt so isolated and useless; she lived most of her life curled up in a ball on her bed, cloaked in despair and self-loathing. But, if she was being honest…it was herself she really hated the most. She constantly wanted things to be different, but she never tried to do anything. She spent her whole life so enveloped in self-pity that she had been able to delude herself into thinking that this wasn’t her problem, that everyone else was the reason for her suffering. But, deep down, in the most secret part of her soul, she knew that there was no one else to blame but herself. At the first hint of difficulty, she locked herself up like one of her venus flytrap plants. She never tried to do anything and never tried to put in effort and change herself. Most of all, she never tried to be happy with what little she had. She was her own worse enemy, the real reason her life was a living hell.
     “Y-y-y-y-yes. YES!” Unmiko finally screamed out. “I’m a coward! I make myself miserable! I want to change, but I hate myself too much! I’ve spent my whole life acting like a martyr when I’ve really just let myself be hurt! I don’t know how to change and not be such a wimp, but I hate myself, and I’m sick of being miserable! I WANT TO CHANGE!”
     Lii-San smiled and floated triumphantly in front of Unmiko’s face. “Good! That’s just what I wanted to hear!” She dived down and picked up the compact by the end of the ribbon. She hovered over Unmiko who looked up in wonder. The mirror…what had Lii-San called it earlier…the heart compact? She had totally forgotten about the compact and the other mirror after meeting Lii-San!
     “This is it. If this is what you want, if you really want to struggle and suffer and change yourself, this is your chance. Who knows, this may be the only chance you’ll ever get. This is going to be hard, almost like torture; do you really want this? Are you going to keep going and not give up? You may have made a contract, but this is your final chance. You will not be able to take this back later, no matter how much you want to. Do you accept this mirror compact? Do you intend to honor your contract with the mirror? Do you want to become powerful and accept this responsibility for not only your future, but the future of others?” 
     Miko blinked. “W-well… I still have no clue what’s going on, and I’m probably going to really regret getting into this later but…sure. Yes. I want to do this. I’m going to do this, and I’m going to change!” “Awsome!” Lii-Chan chirped, dropping the compact into Miko’s outstretched hands.
     ”This is going to be a pain, but I’m glad to be working with you, Miko-Chan!” She grabbed one of Unmiko’s fingers and, with a mighty yank, she pulled the girl from her seat with the force of a hammer and pulled her towards the door. “GAHHHH!” Miko shrieked as they ran down the stairs of the loft. “Let’s get started!”

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