Academy Showdown – Book 0 – An Urban Fantasy
THE GIRL TOSSED AND TURNED as her dog-shaped alarm clock reverberated on her nightstand, creating a deafening sound across the bedroom. She wrapped her polyester headrest over her ears in an attempt to tune out the noise, but to no avail. Her eyes shot open as she could no longer ignore the incessant ringing. She then quickly sat up and glared over at the alarm clock.
"Hey," the girl uttered in her morning voice. The clock continued its audible assault.
"Hey," she said once again with a more stern tone. The ringing did not cease.
She clenched her right hand into a fist and smashed the stupid thing through her nightstand. That finally put a stop to the ringing, but now she needed a new clock… and a new nightstand.
The girl grumbled as she sat up, wiping the drool, eye booger, and snot residue from her face. Staring down at the mess she made, she made a mental note to inform Mr. Pete that the “new state-of-the-art” alarm clock he got her was a big fat dud. She wished he would stop to test these new products, or at the very least, check an online review before just carelessly throwing away a perfectly good wad of cash.
"Voice recognition, my ass..."
She then climbed out of bed and began her usual morning stretches; pushups, situps, butterfly stretches, and jumping jacks. After working up a good morning sweat, she let out a sharp exhale as she made for her bedroom window, opening her blinds to the sight of a bustling metropolitan city.
"Good morning, Marlia City!" she beamed proudly with her hands on her hips. The girl showered, dried off, and braided her thigh-long neon pink hair into a single ponytail. She threw on her Requiem School for Girls uniform; a purple short-sleeve blouse with the shielded emblem of the academy adorning the breast pocket. This was paired with a black collar with a gray ribbon, a black skirt with a purple line at the bottom, a gray petticoat, black knee-high socks, and brown dress shoes. The girl grinned as she struck a heroic pose in her large standing floor mirror.
Lookin’ pretty good.
In her kitchen, she prepared three sandwiches, one with sliced vegetables, and two with hash browns and eggs. She marked them before packing them neatly in her school bag. Checking her watch, she darted over to the genkan entryway, walked into her brown dress shoes, and made for the front door. As she opened it and stepped over the threshold to the outside, she turned to face her empty home with her clenched fist against her heart.
"Freshman Hotaru Hyakuya," she reported, "preparing to depart from Home-base to acquire knowledge at Requiem's learning facilities!! Awaiting permission to deploy, captain!"
"Permission granted, private!" Despite the silence, she could still hear her father's reply. This exchange was their morning routine for as long as she could remember, and even on her worst mornings, he always managed to make little Hotaru smile.
"Boy, I miss doing that," she said, giggling to herself as she closed the door and locked it before turning on her heel. She had made for a nearby stairway when something in the distance was caught in her periphery, stopping her dead in her tracks. She slowly turned her head and gazed upward.
In the sky, hovering just below the sun, was a deep blood-red sphere. For thousands of years, the red sphere known as The Yolk was believed to be responsible for the existence of magic in this world. It was just as responsible for taking her parents away from her when she was small. Her body grew hot and her breathing turned ragged as images from that fateful day began to vividly resurface in her mind's eye. She knew it was foolish, but it felt like the red ball of miasma was somehow gazing back at her. Mocking her.
Hotaru looked down at her hands. They were trembling violently. She quickly brought them together, interlocking her fingers, and clasping them tightly. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. After taking some time to think of her parents once more, she exhaled, slapping her rosy cheeks for good measure, and forming a smile on her face.
I know it's been five years, but don't worry about me, I'm doing just fine. Wherever you are... I'll go out there and bring you guys back home… I promise.
Hotaru took a moment to stretch out any cramps left in her legs and back before rushing down the flight of stairs. Okay… First day of school... Let's do this!
The downtown streets of Marlia City were gleaming from last night's rain, some cars still had their lights on well after sunrise. All manner of people crowded the sidewalks. Many of them were human, while others possessed green skin, red skin, wings, tusks, animal ears, and other bizarre features. In the Holy Kingdoms of Taqora, this sort of diversity was commonplace.
"Hotaru!" called out a familiar voice that made Hotaru's heart flutter in her chest.
Her face glowed red as she quickly fastened the ribbon of her uniform before turning to see a much taller teenage girl of the same ethnicity waving at her. The girl had an hourglass figure, long ash-blonde hair that flowed down her shoulders, round hazel-colored eyes, and a head-turning smile that lit up just about every room she stepped in. She wore the same school uniform as Hotaru, the only exception being a color-coordinated wide-brimmed steeple hat, signifying her witchhood.
"Chiaki!" Delighted by the sight of her best friend, Hotaru ran into her arms at full speed, nearly sending them both to the ground. The young witch cried out as she caught her.
"Chiakiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!" The pink-haired girl whimpered, nuzzling up to her, face buried deep into her large chest. A large smile spread across her face as she caught a whiff of her friend's usual scent.
Ahhh, cherry blossoms.
"Hotaru, careful..." Chiaki cautioned with a strained voice. "you're...hurting me..."
Hotaru gasped before she quickly loosened her hug. "Whoops! Sorry about that."
"Honestly, did you miss me that much?"
"You have no idea..."
"But we saw each other three days ago."
Hotaru locked eyes with her. "That doesn't matter! If I don't get my daily dose of Chiaki, I honestly think I'd go insane! Never leave my sight again!!"
Chiaki shook her head back and forth as she laughed. "You're so goofy!"
Hotaru pouted. "Hmph, I'm dead serious, you know. I don't see what's so humorous about my aching heart, Chi-Chi." She pulled away from her. "But if you don't want my affection, just say so... I still have Will."
"No, no, no!" Chiaki cried playfully, throwing her arms around the smaller girl before pulling her back towards her. "I'm sorry. I missed you, too."
Works every time, Hotaru grinned.
"Well, you two are certainly lively this morning," said a deep, monotonous voice with a youthful tinge. Hotaru's eyes lit up as she gazed from Chiaki's bosom to see a tall and lanky teenage boy with dark skin and long black cornrows walking toward them. He donned his orange and midnight blue Phoenix Military Academy uniform, a rival school also located in Marlia City, just southwest of Requiem. Like Requiem, Phoenix was renowned for molding students who were adept at using magic and other supernatural abilities into protectors of the realm. However, in the academy's 370-year history, it had only been a century since they started allowing girls to attend. By that time, Requiem School for Girls had existed for more than 150 years and had since engaged in a long-standing crosstown rivalry with Phoenix known as the Hullington derby.
"Oh, heya, Will!" Chiaki greeted the boy, waving him over with a smile.
"Willy, you're here!" Hotaru beamed as she pulled away from Chiaki and bounded towards the boy, wrapping him in her second large embrace of the morning. All too familiar with the smaller girl's tight squeeze, Will did the necessary calculations in his head before using his mana to prepare a gravity field and braced for impact. Her face tilted upward to meet his only to see that it was much further up than she remembered.
"Hey there, mister,” Hotaru grinned playfully. “You went and got taller on us, didn't you?"
"Maybe," Will answered nonchalantly. He was quite tall for his age, so much so that people often mistook him for an adult just as they mistook the smaller Hotaru for a child. However, Will had been taller than Hotaru for as long as they’d known each other, so if he had grown at all in their time apart, he could hardly tell the difference.
"Aww, Chi-Chi, look, look!" Hotaru's grin grew wider. "Our wittle Willy is gwowing into a big stwong man!"
"Mind chilling out with the baby talk, short stuff?" Will didn't appreciate her teasing one bit. "You're only a month older than me."
"Hmm." Chiaki inched closer as she squinted hard at her friend. After fully taking in his appearance, her eyes went wide. "Say, I believe he did! A whole four inches if my estimate is correct. Male puberty is quite something, isn’t it? Color me impressed!"
"Our boy… Our baby boy..." Hotaru said, tears streaming down her face. "He’s growing up so fast… At this rate, the girls will be all over him before too long."
“There, there. Let it all out, Hotaru.” Chiaki reached over to pat her best friend's shoulder before handing her a handkerchief.
“Oh, thank you…”
The tall boy rolled his eyes in annoyance, though the purple hue washing over his face made it obvious that he was blushing. "Gods, knock it off, will you?"
"Oh, don’t take it to heart Will. Hotaru’s just proud to see how much you’ve grown this past year. As am I," Chiaki smiled as she nodded, akin to that of a proud mother. Not long after that warm statement did tears begin to stream down her face as well. “Oh bother, I... promised myself that I wouldn’t cry when this day came… Now, look at me… How embarrassing...”
She reached down into her brown leather shoulder bag and pulled out another handkerchief.
"Ugh. Chiaki, not you too…" Will sighed heavily.
“There, there. Let it all out, Chi-Chi.” Hotaru echoed as she reached up to pat her best friend's shoulder.
“Y-You’re... crying... too, you know!” Chiaki retorted. She was practically blubbering.
“Nuh-uh! I was… just… k-kidding around!”
As this was going on, the commotion incited a few passersby to make sideways glances at the trio.
"Oh, sweet Mother, now people are watching. What is this, some sort of manzai routine?" Will sighed. The girls both looked at him silently. Their blank expressions only served to confuse him.
Suddenly, the two girls broke into hearty laughter, wiping away their tears. Will’s Brookville accent coupled with his deadpan delivery was almost guaranteed to get a chuckle out of anyone.
"Sorry about that, Will," Hotaru giggled, pulling him back into her tight embrace. "That got kinda mushy for a second, didn’t it?"
“Disturbingly so, yes.” Will was never the type to pull any punches. “Say, how much longer are you gonna hug me?”
“‘Til I’m satisfied.”
"We have quite the long day ahead of us," Chiaki said, still chuckling. "A good laugh once in a while should help boost morale. Well needed, Will. Thanks."
Will shook his head. "Wasn’t my intention, but you’re welcome, I guess.”
A sudden growling sound interrupted the light-hearted exchange. Will’s face flushed purple once again upon hearing it.
"Oh!" Hotaru's head was perfectly aligned with Will's abdomen, making it easy to hear the rumbling from his stomach which immediately reminded her of the food she had packed earlier. Will was also incredibly thin, always leaving home without breakfast despite his mother's pleas, so Hotaru always made sure to pack some extra food for him.
"I almost forgot!" she said, releasing Will from her embrace and sinking to her knees. She removed her backpack and set it on the ground. A split second later, Hotaru pulled out one of the sandwiches she packed, it was neatly wrapped in brown kitchen paper, supported by clear strips of tape. She handed it to Will.
"Here ya go!"
"O-Oh, thanks," Will bowed slightly as he removed the wrapping, "Forgot breakfast, again. I didn't want to be late."
"No problem!" bubbled Hotaru as she stood up, using her left hand to dust off the side of her skirt. She then glanced over and caught a view of Chiaki's face. Hotaru was normally bad at reading faces, but even she could tell that it was a look of anticipation. This made her smile.
"And for the pretty witch lady..." Hotaru grinned playfully as she brought her right arm from behind her back to reveal another wrapped sandwich. Chiaki's eyes lit up like a child's on Terramas morning.
"Sliced veggies with salad dressing? Just like you asked."
"Oh, Hotaru, you're a lifesaver!" Chiaki opened her bag and placed the sandwich into one of its compartments. "Thanks a lot! I didn't want to be late, either, so I forgot to pack something for lunch."
"Honestly, you two..." Hotaru smiled, shaking her head playfully. "What would you guys do without me? Really, though, it's no biggie, I'm just glad you two are satisfied."
"Why wouldn't we be?" Will asked between a mouthful of scrambled eggs and bread.
“Will, don’t talk with your mouth full,” Chiaki scolded, now sounding like a disappointed mother. "It's quite rude."
"But he is right, though,” she smiled, placing a hand on her best friend’s head, “eating your cooking is a privilege, Hotaru."
You guys... Hotaru felt as if her heart were about to explode. She blushed heavily as a warm and fuzzy feeling coursed throughout her body. She had to credit her mother for being such a magnificent teacher in the culinary arts. Thanks to those lessons, her friends were always eager to try whatever new dish she had cooked up. They were truly the greatest friends anyone could ask for. Just seeing their smiling faces was enough for her.
"Oh, enough already, you two!" Embarrassed, she rubbed her cheeks with both hands. "You're making me blush!"
"Girl, please, you've been red since we got here," Will pointed out, gobbling down the last of his sandwich. "Either you're coming down with something, or you're just happy to see someone. My money's on the latter."
Chiaki tilted her head. "Hm? What are you talking about, Will?"
Is this revenge from earlier?!
"D-Don't mind him!" Hotaru assured her, stumbling over her words, feeling her face burn an even brighter red than before. She walked over to Will and rapped him hard on the back with her palm, forcing him to cough up the remnants of his sandwich. “I'm probably red in the face from all this damn pollen in the air.”
“But, pollen season ended a month ago.”
She made a face at Will before mouthing a quick “shut up” in his direction. When they were children, the always quiet and introverted Will was not known for having such a sharp tongue, but he developed somewhat of a knack for it due to being in Hotaru's presence for nearly a decade. She knew that he was just paying her back and would never actually go spilling her secrets, but too often was he treading on thin ice. He may as well have had a megaphone.
“Alright then,” Chiaki said, exchanging looks with her two friends. “Shall we get going?”
They nodded in unison. Hotaru immediately hooked Chiaki's arm with hers as they began their stroll down the busy sidewalk with Will following close behind. Cars and transit buses swept through the city street as older witches mounted brooms through the skies above while dragon-kin and avians loomed relatively higher, their wings beating hard against the air as they soared in from the east. A jackhammer could be heard clacking away at the ground from around the corner where a group of road workers tended to incomplete intersections.
“You know, it's been a while…” Will said, taking in their surroundings. “...since we've walked to school like this.”
“Yeah, for real,” Hotaru agreed, hugging Chiaki's arm to her chest. “I'm glad we agreed to stay together in Marlia.”
Chiaki giggled. “It feels like we're in Hullington Primary all over again.” She paused for a moment, then sighed. “We're just missing John... I know he has to be in the capital, but it still feels weird that he's not with us.” She used her free hand to twist the ends of her hair. Upon seeing this, Hotaru could feel the weed twist and turn in her stomach, thorns pricking at her insides as it continued its relentless cycle.
“Well, he does have a family legacy to uphold,” Will affirmed. “Can't be a mystic knight if you don't attend St. Magnus. If Phoenix provided the course for knighthood, he'd be here, no doubt about it.”
Chiaki let Will's words marinate for a spell before nodding. “Yeah, you're right,” she smiled. “Still, I wish he'd at least give us a call once in a while…”
“Jonathan Wayland Shepherd, using modern magitek?” Will shook his head. “Nah, I don’t see it. Never knew him to be tech-savvy.”
She nodded. “True. At times he can be a bit old-fashioned.”
Will raised an eyebrow. “A bit? He's probably the only person in the entire kingdom who still travels by horse and carriage. Heck, Lord Arthur Vermilion is nearly a hundred and twenty, and even he rides in a car.”
That much was true. Over two centuries ago, the world as they knew it was a different place entirely. Traveling by horse on land and ship at sea was still a prime method of transportation. Weapons like firearms, assault rifles, or bayonets weren't even thought of, and sporting events like Academy Showdown could only be experienced at home via sound orb broadcasts. That all changed over a century later when a group of strange humans suddenly emerged from beyond the yolk. While mingling with these folks and learning of technology from their homeworld, inventors from far and wide began to realize the creative potential of mana. They thus worked to change the everyday lives of countless civilians. Before too long, the great continent of Taqora had undergone a widespread technological evolution.
However, many groups and tribes preferred the more archaic way of life before magitek and mana machines, doing everything in their power to uphold these beliefs and pass them down to this very day. The elves, druids, witches, oni tribes, and religious warrior and marksman class families are common practitioners.
“Okay, okay, he can be very old-fashioned,” Chiaki admitted, trying her best to contain her laughter. “But that's all part of his knighthood training. He said it's all about the experience of those who came before him... Understanding how they lived will help him grow into the knight he strives to be.”
“I see,” Will said. “Can't knock that, I guess.”
“Our little lamb is truly incredible,” Chiaki said fondly.
Hotaru rolled her eyes. An incredible cornball, maybe. She'd rather them talk about anything else. Just the mere mention of that pompous, overbearing, troglodyte's name made her blood boil. For seven long years, he had been a thorn in her side, proving to be better than her at just about everything. Whether it was test scores, one on one combat, sponge cake-eating contests, or getting Chiaki's attention, she felt as if he was more of a dragon than a knight. It seemed as though Goldie was going out of his way to make a fool out of her.
Geez, Hotaru. Get a grip, will you?
She was reunited with her best friends for the first time in weeks. Weeks that felt like an eternity. There were far more important things ahead of her. She didn't have the time nor energy to spare getting hung up on an absent adversary. If Hotaru wanted to get stronger, she needed to qualify for Academy Showdown, so she had to be ready for whatever Requiem was willing to throw at her. The last thing she wanted to think about first thing in the morning was him.
Deep breaths, girl. He isn't even here, so relax. Besides... You have her all to yourself...
“Hey, why so quiet?” Chiaki's question pulled Hotaru out of her thoughts.
“Yeah, seriously,” Will agreed, shooting the smaller girl a knowing glance. “Where'd all that energy disappear to?”
“Hm?” Hotaru looked up at them before shaking her head. “I-It's nothing. I'm alright, guys, I promise.” Concerned looks were exchanged between her two friends, but they decided not to pry any further.
The trio turned a corner and sauntered down a few cobblestone steps leading to a narrow street where many local businesses were opening up for the day. Hotaru scanned the area and noticed that Ramos Bakery had yet to open its doors, much to her disappointment.
“Man, I could go for some mochi,” she sighed. “I haven't seen Carlos and the baby in forever.”
“Same here,” Chiaki confessed. “We could always head over after school and say hi.”
“I'm down,” Will said.
They were halfway down the path when suddenly, a girl emerged from an alleyway near the end of the street. She had a petite build but looked to be more athletic than Chiaki and was still much taller than Hotaru. Her hair was long, around neck length, light blue with an asymmetrical fringe, sporting a single yellow strand shaped like a lightning bolt.
The girl didn't seem to notice the trio as she turned the corner in front of them and zipped down another alleyway. At the end of the street came a group of young men in black leather jackets. They walked swiftly and with purpose. Hotaru counted about six of them; three humans, a spotted feline beastkin, a Red Oni, and an automaton. Not an odd bunch in a place like Marlia City. The Red Oni sniffed the air, then quickly pointed down the street. The others followed him as he stopped to regain his scent. He let out a small grunt before pointing to the alley adjacent to them, where the girl had just run down. The group made haste, quickly filing into the alley, ignoring Hotaru and her friends.
“Monarchs...” Will said in a rather grim tone.
“Monarchs?” Hotaru’s eyes widened. “What the hell are they doing back here?”
“That’s odd,” Chiaki said, straightening her hat. “I thought the school factions ran them out years ago.”
“I don't understand,” puzzled Will, shaking his head. “This route was supposed to be safe. How'd they find it?”
Chiaki loosened herself from Hotaru, closed her eyes, and placed two fingers on her chest. “I’m only sensing at least two vessels with a scarce amount of aura,” she confirmed. “They may have just stumbled upon the barrier when that girl ran through it. It seems that they also have someone who can dispel barriers.”
Safe routes were passageways designed by school prefects to assist students, particularly freshmen and sophomores, in navigating the large city and arriving safely at school. This was just one of many safe routes set up throughout Marlia City. Some say that more than twenty of them have been discovered. Data magic is used to recognize students within the school system and allow them passage, whereas outsiders are met with a powerful barrier. In response to reports of over 100 students going missing in the last decade, both Phoenix and Requiem have implemented this strategy in order to keep those numbers as low as possible.
“Hmm. She wasn’t wearing a uniform,” Hotaru recalled, “but she has to be a student if she was able to pass through the barrier, no?”
Chiaki nodded. “Exactly. She must be new to the city if she got herself turned around like that. Anyone else would've been more careful.” She rubbed her chin in thought. “Perhaps the Monarchs were waiting in the wings for someone like her to come along.”
“Please, they aren’t nearly as crafty as you give them credit for,” Will said as his arms tensed up, fists clenched. “They’ll pick a fight with just about anyone if they look weak enough…”
There was venom to the boy's words, which prompted the girls to exchange looks. Hotaru was aware that the Monarchs originated in Brookville, Will's hometown, but that was their only real connection as far as she knew. However, there was always a strange faraway look in Will’s eyes whenever the gang was mentioned. She didn’t dare pry despite her growing concern, fearing that his story may only serve to reopen old wounds.
This wasn't Hotaru’s first time seeing the gang in person, however. Though the members from her first encounter were nothing to write home about, recalling the six they had just seen, notably the automaton, the Red Oni, and the human mountain of a man in their ranks, Hotaru found herself itching for a fight. Her brain decided to put her thoughts on hold when she saw Will heading for the alley.
“W-Will, wait!” Chiaki stepped forward and grabbed him by the arm. He tried to ignore her and press on, but her grip held firm. “What on Terra do you think you’re doing?!”
“What’s it look like? I’m gonna go help her.” Will shifted his gaze from the alleyway to Chiaki. “We aren’t gonna let this happen right under our noses, are we?”
His face fell. “Chiaki?”
She didn’t respond. Her sudden silence following her earlier protest was odd, to say the least. Will furrowed his brow and shook his seized arm slightly to get her attention.
“What’s wrong?” worried Hotaru.
“H-Huh?” Chiaki let out a sharp gasp, breaking out of some sort of trance-like state. At that very moment, Hotaru caught a glimpse of what looked to be a harrowed expression across her best friend’s face, but only for an instant. Noticing Hotaru’s gaze, she quickly tugged the brim of her hat over her eyes as she began to speak.
“Will, you can’t be serious…”
Her grip tightened. “Y-You were just going to rush in there and take on six men, alone?”
“I think I can take two mages, Chiaki. And no, not alone, I’ve got you two, don’t I?”
“That isn’t the point, Will. They still outnumber us. We don't even have a plan!”
“Sometimes there won’t be time for a plan when there’s someone in need.” He shot Hotaru a glance, then continued. “I learned that from a certain someone.”
Chiaki shook her head. “Will...”
“Look, if we act fast, we can get the jump on them. But it's going to have to be a group effort.”
“Alright, how about this: I’ll subdue the two mages,” Will nodded confidently, striking his chest with a single pound of his fist. “Hotaru can fend off the other four while you grab the girl. Then you two will make a break for it while Hotaru and I—”
Hotaru flinched. She knew it was coming, but that didn’t stop her heart from nearly leaping out of her chest.
“Let me guess: You and Hotaru are to stay and fight this group of unpredictable criminals?” Chiaki was agitated. Tears began to well up in her eyes and her words were practically expelled in a hiss. “Gods, do you have even the slightest idea how ridiculous you sound?! If you think I’m just going to leave you two behind, you’re insane!”
Chiaki… Hotaru's eyes widened. This was a side of Chiaki that neither she nor Will had ever seen.
Will looked away from her, eyes back on the alleyway. Chiaki bit her lower lip, perhaps upset with herself for sounding so harsh, but she had made her feelings known. Due to her tendency to get into trouble, Hotaru had grown accustomed to Chiaki’s nagging and scolding, but never in all her years of knowing her did she ever raise her voice to Will. She didn't even do that to Goldie, who Hotaru felt deserved it more than they ever did.
The tension between them was emanating and Hotaru had never felt so uneasy around her best friends before.
What’s got her so…? And then it hit her. Oh! Wait, did she…?
Chiaki took a deep breath, her pointer and middle finger rubbing against her temple. “Look, I understand how you feel, but we aren't certified to rescue civilians yet. We could get in a heap of trouble with our schools and The Board if we act on our own. It’s best if we leave this to the proper authorities.”
“Do you see any MPF officers around?” Will asked Chiaki without looking at her. His tone of voice gave her pause. It was not harsh nor irritable, but apprehensive.
“W-Well, no,” she stammered, a slight tremble in her voice. “But, they ought to be close by. We could—”
“They won't show up, Chiaki,” Will insisted, “not in time to stop this. If we don't do something soon, who knows what might happen?” He took a breath before finally turning to face her. “We have to help her. I wouldn't be able to live with myself knowing that I could've done something.”
The witch girl’s eyes shimmered. “Will…”
An awkward hush fell over the trio, angry horns from passing cars blared through the narrow street, ringing in their ears. Chiaki lowered her gaze to the ground, the brim of her hat still hiding her hazel-colored eyes.
The pain and experience in Will's words were palpable. Hotaru felt the same way and deep down, she knew Chiaki did, too. Hotaru's gaze then flicked over to Chiaki. Her once cautious and urgent expression had since dissolved. In its place, a look of dismay and worry.
Hotaru faced Chiaki and gave her a consoling pat on the shoulder.
“Hey… Talk to me, Chiaki. What exactly did you see?”
Without looking at her, Chiaki shook her head.
Hotaru heaved a sigh, she’d expected this much. Whenever Chiaki had her visions, she always remained tight-lipped. Not even her closest friends could get a clear answer. All they knew was that these visions were usually bad. Very bad. How many of them came true in her young life was anyone's guess.
If Chiaki's vision involved Will's gyro magic in some way, Hotaru could see her concern. Will’s Gravity Field was dictated by his psychological state. If he wanted to keep his powers in check, he needed to carefully manage his strong emotions.
Will was fearful and easily rattled as a child, capable of upending an entire city block should something set him off. On one occasion, it took Hotaru’s super-strength to muscle through the destruction he had caused. After a great struggle, she barely managed to approach the boy and calm him down. Since then, they have both trained together under the watchful eye of Mr. Peterson, Hotaru's legal guardian, and mentor. With his help, they finally managed to control their powers to a certain degree.
Over the years, she had grown accustomed to Will's weaknesses and triggers, but judging from Chiaki's expression, she was beginning to think that there was more to worry about than a simple mishap with his abilities.
And that’s not all...
There was also the matter of the Terra Edict, a set of rules that applied to all students in Taqora. As the third rule states, per The Board's agreement with the Marlia Patrol Force (MPF), there would be severe consequences should a student interfere in matters best left to the authorities. They could get slapped with a month's suspension or worse, a felony. If the girl was a student, then only school faction members were certified to take action. Out of all of the rules in the Terra Edict, rule three made Hotaru's head hurt the most.
Yeesh, what a load of bull! What if there’re no officers or certified students to speak of? What then?
Shifting away from her jumbling thoughts and back to reality, Hotaru's uneasy feeling returned as she searched for a way to ease the tension between her friends. She looked at Will, then over to Chiaki, then back to Will again before taking a deep breath.
Her mind had been made up.
She reached over to grab the boy’s still-clenched fist and squeezed it tightly with both of her hands, an old method that her father would use to calm her down as a child. After meeting Will, she began using it on him. He nodded and relaxed his hands after a few seconds, letting her know that the method was still effective.
“I'm sorry Chi-Chi, but I'm with Will on this,” Hotaru said sadly, standing beside him. “I get where you're coming from, I do. But I can't just stand by and let someone get hurt, not when I can do something about it.”
“Hotaru,” she sighed, “not you too…”
“We can't do this without you, Chiaki,” Will said. “We’ll be in and out of there so quick, we won’t even have to worry about the MPF… so long as we keep the damage to a minimum.” He cleared his throat and shot Hotaru an expectant glance. In response, she playfully stuck her tongue out at him. Once he felt that his silent warning was made clear, he turned back to Chiaki.
“So how about it?”
The young witch mulled it over in silence, still facing the ground. Hotaru could practically hear the cogs whirring in her best friend's head as she and Will awaited her decision. Then, with a heavy sigh, she finally let go of his arm.
"Fine." Chiaki bit her lower lip again as her gaze traveled upwards, locking eyes with Will, wearing an expression far more intense than before. "But Will... whatever happens... I need you to promise me that you won’t lose control. Understood?”
“Chiaki, we don’t have–”
"Will, just–” She cut herself off before her voice could get any louder. She exhaled, nostrils flaring, then continued. “Just… promise me, okay?”
Hotaru sighed as she quickly glanced over to Will. The desperation in his eyes had vanished and determination burned in its place.
"I get it, Chiaki,” he started, “You have my word. I'll–”
Suddenly, a high-pitched scream came ringing out from the alley, followed by a powerful surge of mana. Without another word, Will rushed in with Hotaru and Chiaki following close behind.