Chapter 1:

The Story Still Stuck on my Mind

A Saint’s Guide to Reading Dangerous Fiction

Young Saints in Protochara have gotten dangerously impressionable. I know I sound like a pretentious teenager saying this, but please consider my thought process for a moment. Before leaving home, one of the local kids said they wanted to take a weapon from their favorite Draftant series and use it against their “Rival”. Weirdly enough, the weapon part of the conversation wasn’t my biggest issue. Yes, weapons are dangerous, but Saints are also born very durable from the day they’re born. But what happens if the weapon isn’t the only thing from the fictional world that is brought back with them. And even worse, what about their futures as Saints? The thrill seeker label is not one that is easily overcome. Bookmark here

That being said, I hope I can begin this semester without too much spectacle.Bookmark here

As I make my way through Patron Saint’s Academy’s gates, I’m greeted by some not-so-familiar warm faces. Well, sorta anyway. First, the two chatty female students who make a habit of disguising their mouths with their hands. Guess it works for the average onlooker, I suppose.Bookmark here

“It’s Akira from Doorstopper. Try not to get too close.”Bookmark here

“Is it true that he nearly killed his best friend? How scary?”Bookmark here

As I passed by the two girls, I felt the small scar hidden by my applied gauze ache. By habit I caressed the white bandaged surface, hoping the bizarre ritual of touching it would ease the pain. It thankfully waned a bit before coming to the more familiar faces I recognized from Doorstopper. For the first time since that incident a few months ago in the summer before, I decided to interact with someone that wasn’t my flesh and blood.Bookmark here

“Hey guys, it seems I wasn’t the only guy that had the brilliant idea to attend Patron Saint’s Academy.”Bookmark here

“Oh, Akira, it’s–good to see you bro.”Bookmark here

Wait, what’s with that pause? Doesn’t our family go way back?Bookmark here

“It’s a shame we didn’t get into the same homeroom.”Bookmark here

These two were more fidgety than usual. They said something about homeroom, but that can’t be right. I walked, then broke into a small run, the other students scattering as I approached.Bookmark here

I stood face-to-face with the bulletin board. I scanned my finger over the first board with all of the “a” names. I found the shortest of my acquaintances first. The jumpy Akechi.Bookmark here

But no matter how many times I scanned my name over the first row, I couldn’t find my name. Another kid with a tattoo on his left arm and unruly, long black hair huffed with hot air when he found his name. I read the fourth bulletin board the delinquent read from out of morbid curiosity. The brown cork board read Remedial Classes. I read down the first row and found my name almost immediately. I tried my best to contain the tension building in my closed fists. I couldn’t be the only one in remedial classes. I checked for my friend’s name. I scanned through the second row for any E’s. Eric, Esther, Evan, but no Erina. I was definitely cheated.Bookmark here

I tried scanning the area the regular students gathered but I couldn’t find her. Erina should have been in the crowd, but she wasn’t. I couldn’t report to homeroom until I resolved this matter. My entry exam grade doesn’t justify remedial classes.Bookmark here

I heard an audible whimper next to me. I turned my head to find the tattooed delinquent shrinking away from the remedial board, stammering the words “Don’t hurt me.” That’s right. My current position has nothing to do with my grades.Bookmark here

I walked ahead to the courtyard still filled with chattering students. Several groups gathered around a friend in their group that held a book with a shimmering diamond crystal contained in a hollowed out etching in the front cover. Most Saints know these magical books as Draftant, fantastical worlds with living, breathing characters. These books weren’t written by fellow Saints, but by mysterious Creators from another world. With a palm-sized device called an Archiver, you could even take the protagonist’s place if you wanted.Bookmark here

As for me, I don’t really do it much any more.Bookmark here

I overheard a couple in my year discuss their after school plans. A taller student with a defined jawline showed off the book in his hand to his girlfriend. Bookmark here

“Listen, babe. All we need is an Archiver and we could have the date of a lifetime.”Bookmark here

“I don’t know. It sounds fun, but what if the characters escape the Draftant. We could get in a lot of trouble,” the girlfriend said.Bookmark here

The chiseled male student interrupted his next sentence to shoot me a couple of daggers. When his intimidation tactic didn’t work he resumed jovially talking to his girlfriend. I was tempted to object, but it frankly wasn’t my business anyway. The adventurous couple had already made up their mind. Live out your youth and all that.Bookmark here

Similar conversations were held throughout the courtyard. One group of friends vouched for a night of Draftant Bystanding, and opted to observe their favorite characters from afar. In other words, fictional voyeurism. Another group wanted to live out a fantasy adventure by the time they graduated. If the urge to adventure typically wasn’t fulfilled by the time a Saint reached adulthood, there was a consequence for the larger world of Protochara that was larger than any label like thrill seeker. Bookmark here

It was this phenomenon of craving adventure, even more than the label of thrill seeker, why I would never again enter a Draftant book.Bookmark here

I searched around for Erina in the school’s hallways while I still had time before homeroom. Maybe with any luck, she could convince the school staff that my placement was a mistake. Bookmark here

Before I felt any more foolish, I heard a distant commotion coming from an adjacent hallway. A robed silhouette with musculature jutting out of his clothing rounded the corner. I could see a tanned face with wavy black hair, and mouth concealed by a jet-black face mask as he approached closer. He braced his arms in front of his body as if he was prepared to collide with me. I instinctively raised my guard, but it was too little too late. He barreled over me with little effort.Bookmark here

My vision split into two and then into three. As I struggled to stay conscious, a ringing reverberated across my body. Conveniently, the scar beneath my facial gauze began to ache as well. It seems I can’t escape this level of danger. Bookmark here

Another slender, but tall figure rounded the adjacent hallway. I could see a blonde ponytail in my struggling vision. So this was where she was.Bookmark here

“Running will only make things worse for you, you know!”Bookmark here

My best friend said that so casually to a clothed assassin. I guess I should be grateful he didn’t use the dagger around his waist. Yes, even through my splitting vision I could recognize the long but graceful figure that was my best friend, Erina Saint.Bookmark here

She knelt down to face me, recognizing my bandaged face.Bookmark here

“Akira, are you alright? You probably want an explanation, huh?”Bookmark here

“Ugh, I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Where were you?”Bookmark here

“I’ll explain later, after your rest that is.”Bookmark here

I wanted to protest her keeping me in suspense, but then I felt my eyelids close slowly but surely. Before my grip on consciousness slipped from my fingers, I heard an argumentative female voice dueling with Erina that was accompanied with a blurred, vague silhouette. This was sure to be another individual who would give me headaches. Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

I opened my eyes to the image of Erina, patiently waiting for me to regain consciousness from the comfort of a pleather chair. Once she saw my eyes lazily roll around as I scanned the room, a playful smile lit up on her face.Bookmark here

“You’re finally awake. It was getting really hard holding in the news that I wanted to tell you.”Bookmark here

A slow scan with my lethargic eyeballs confirmed that I was in the nurse’s office. Glass cylindrical containers of cotton balls and swabs sat on a cold, sterile metal table next to my bed. But there was a distinct lack of nursing staff in the air conditioned room.Bookmark here

“How long was I out? I hope I didn’t miss too much class,” I asked, surprised I didn’t feel any pain when I touched my bandaged cheek.Bookmark here

“You were concerned about something like that? If you want to know, classes have concluded for the day.”Bookmark here

“So what did you wait so long to tell me, Erina?”Bookmark here

Truth be told, after spending an entire summer away from her, I wanted to know a little of what was going on in her head. There was an uncharacteristic pause from her. Then she stood up and extended a hand to me, with her trademark smirk that caused her dimples to create their usual impressions.Bookmark here

“I’ll tell you once we get to the clubroom, hehe.”Bookmark here

She remained as busy as ever. Ever since she met me, she always found a way to stave off the boredom of the local kids. As she guided through the academy’s hallways, then taking me through one of the stairwells, I looked at the sharp scar riding her forearm.Bookmark here

“Hey, Erina. Sorry for everything back then,” I said.Bookmark here

“Hey, now. Wait until we get to the clubroom before you say sorry.”Bookmark here

Erina didn’t turn to acknowledge the apology. We kept walking in the hallways of the third floor, the tension building in my stomach until we stopped at a room in the middle of the floor. The tension that knotted my stomach instantly unraveled once she opened the clubroom’s doors. A banner read “Patron Saint’s Book Club” in bold black letters that hung over the open back wall. Bookmark here

“Welcome, Akira, to the Patron Saint’s Book Club,” she said.Bookmark here

“Just what were you doing this summer break?”Bookmark here

I basked in Erina’s handiwork that adorned the clubroom. Four bookcases total that towered over me were lined against the left and right walls in the room. All of them contained Draftant books that glowed from their diamond adorned center on their front covers. Several foreign weapons, such as brass knuckles, naginata, long broadswords, and staffs decorated the gaps between the bookcases. None of them appeared to be Saint manufactured, so that could only mean they were manufactured from a fictional Draftant world. And what about that suspicious masked stranger from earlier? Bookmark here

“You see, while you were recovering, I took on some new hobbies, and one of them may have incidentally hurt you. Sorry.”Bookmark here

“So what happened to the masked jerk then,” I asked.Bookmark here

“Look at the desk in the middle of the room.”Bookmark here

I zoomed in on a particularly fussy Draftant book on a wooden rectangular table. A few small arcs of blue electricity discharged around the diamond gem in the center of the front cover. I leaned closer to better examine the magical book, and within the blue arcs of electricity, I could hear the faint sounds of a masculine voice screaming. The book’s title was “Assassin’s Lost Edge.” Huh, weird coincidence. I pitied the poor Draftant Soul that stumbled across Erina.Bookmark here

“After our last adventure, as weird as it sounds, I wanted to recapture the thrill of the Draftant series that we couldn’t finish.” Bookmark here

And to think that guy that nearly destroyed our hometown was still out there. Opening that Draftant book was a mistake. I tried to maintain my composure, but I couldn’t stop the twitching that traveled from my left eyelid to my hands and legs.Bookmark here

“Uh huh. So you were still trying to scratch that itch,” I said.Bookmark here

“Exactly! Which is why I need your help, Akira.”Bookmark here

“Me? What can I do for the great Erina Saint?”Bookmark here

“Please join the Patron Saint’s Book Club.”Bookmark here

“That phase of my life is over, Erina. I will never enter a Draftant book ever again. If you don’t want to be labeled a thrill seeker, I suggest you do the same. For your own sake.”Bookmark here

There was a small wrinkle in her eyes from my response, but my decision was final. For the next few years, I just wanted to be an unproblematic student. I tried to walk past her, but then she outstretched her arms and stopped me in my tracks. Bookmark here

“I looked back on the days when we played with the other kids back in Doorstopper. For a plain town like ours, which didn’t have a popular Draftant series to read in years, entertainment was everything. Don’t you want to connect with a story like you did back then?Bookmark here

“You’re going to make this difficult aren’t you?”Bookmark here

I hate it when she’s right. Not even an ounce of hesitation either. What should have been a question was a surefire statement. I took off my backpack and rifled through its inner contents until I felt the weight of the book’s spine. I laid out the old copy of The Darkworld Tourist next to the active Draftant book that Erina used to recapture the masked assassin. By stark contrast, the Darkworld Tourist was unnervingly tranquil. I understood why it wasn’t active, because the Draftant Souls inside already escaped, but I felt a cold sweat regardless whenever I looked at the novel. Bookmark here

“I knew you hadn’t forgotten. I created this club not to be a thrill seeker, but to help you,” she continued.Bookmark here

“Whaddya mean? How does chasing weird Draftant help me?”Bookmark here

“I want to prove your innocence to the school. I want to find the escaped Draftant Souls and prove your worth as a Saint.”Bookmark here

Is that why she endangered herself and gathered all these Draftant? I felt several droplets of sweat crowd my forehead. Sheesh, now I had to accept. It’d be irresponsible otherwise.Bookmark here

“Okay, I’ll join your club, but on one condition.”Bookmark here

“Hmm, and what condition is that?”Bookmark here

“Please let me know before you recklessly jump into another Draftant book. It’d be a real problem getting back home without someone to bring you back on the other side.”Bookmark here

She nodded without hesitation. That arm that forcefully pulled me from world to world hadn’t lost any of its crushing power. Her dainty feminine handshake quickly devolved into the vice grip that I remembered from several years ago. But if she didn’t have that level of strength, coupled with the uncanny charisma and organizational prowess, I definitely wouldn’t have trusted her to guide me into the Draftant books she would somehow get possession of. Bookmark here

She took out three registration forms from an open box on the floor and slammed them on the table. Seeing the snobby formal language on the forms brought out the contrarian in me. I still had a chance to walk away from this situation, but before I could take charge of my own fate, I heard a familiar female voice at the door. Bookmark here

“Excuse me. I’m coming in.”  Bookmark here

Taylor Victoria
Briar Rhodes
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