Mahō no Gakkō: Chromatic
“Listen up, soldiers!”
Lunchtime had passed quickly, and with only about two hours until our deployment, the higher-ups had organized a mandatory training to teach anyone who was unfamiliar with war. A tall woman with red-brown hair was lecturing us, pacing back and forth like a teenager having a mental argument with himself.
She certainly didn’t sound like one, though. “You will be grouped into sectors based on your magic experience and combat proficiency. Those of you who operated the drafting already know the sectors. If you are a drafting operator, please begin unifying sectors.”
A few students— more girls than boys— stepped out of the line, walked across the courtyard, and each took a clipboard from the woman. I noticed I recognized two of them: Arctin, from the tournament, and Marissa. One by one, they each began to call names.
“Are you all dimwits?! When they call your name, get next to them, dammit!” the woman yelled, her copper-green eyes piercing the lot of us. Suddenly, many of the students started moving all at once.
All sorts of names were being called out. I focused on what Marissa was saying, only because I knew her better than anyone else calling names. “Aubrey Sumisu, you’re the general. Eliana Andershire. Shiera Beta. Aka Cryojen. Marissa Kyona– wait, I’m on here! Reyna Pharaoh. Sydney Wilron. Wesley Winchester.”
I stepped over to her, along with all my respective teammates. I was glad I knew anyone at all— I could just as well have been put on a random team. I wasn’t excited about Sydney being on the team (she gave me the creeps), but having Aka, Aubrey, and Marissa there was comforting.
I watched Marissa weave her way through bustling students to the woman in charge and ask her what she should do if she was on the team she was assigned. The woman told her to stay with her group, and before I knew it, she was back.
“Who is she?” I asked her. The crowd was chattering loudly, so I had to raise my voice to communicate.
She responded, similarly loud. “That’s Ms. Copper! She’s the military director for the Atlas Army. She interns at AIM during war efforts.”
I smiled. Her name was the same color as her eyes— that wouldn’t be hard to remember. “So she gives orders and stuff?”
“Well, Aaron gives the orders, but she and Milliheim are the ones who give him the orders to give.”
“Why does Aaron get to give orders? That’s dumb. He’ll probably end up killing us.”
“Have a little more faith, will you…?”
“Faith? In Aaron? Pffft!” Aka laughed, somehow butting his way into the conversation. “I like to say I’m the kind of guy that trusts people, but not him.”
“What‘s wrong with Aaron?” Marissa asked.
Aka snorted. “He doesn’t care enough about the people he’s sending out to fight. Makes stupid decisions that risk people’s lives all because they ‘provide a slight tactical advantage’. He only sees the numbers.”
“That’s not true! Aaron cares about his troops!”
“I kind of hope the school gets attacked head-on so he can see the consequences, but I also don’t want to die, so I’m torn.”
“Aka, jeez!” Marissa groaned, lightly punching him on the biceps. “We’ll be fine!”
“I hope,” he replied.
I looked over to my right and called for Aubrey. She was talking to a couple others I hadn’t seen before— a boy with short brown hair and pale skin, and a girl with silky black hair and tan skin covered in bandages. “Hey! Who are those two?”
Aubrey flashed me a look that said “I’m busy right now!”. In fact, my idea of what she’d meant was on point, because she had also actually said it.
I groaned, turning to see Aka and Marissa enveloped in their own conversation. This was definitely not the orientation I was hoping for.
“Fun, isn’t it?”
I turned around.
“Dammit, Sydney, go away.”
There she was, her fire-bright hair and everything, intruding on the twenty-meter personal space barrier I had set specifically for her. I could have thrown her up in the air with Sakira’s magic, but I didn’t want to make a scene.
“That’s no way to treat someone you’ve only just met, Shiera.”
“The arena, remember?”
“The arena doesn’t count.”
“What counts as counting to you?”
She snorted. “Abandon your scathing postmodernism for a moment, please. I’d rather our first proper introduction not go poorly.” Her British accent was getting on my nerves. Just pronounce your r’s, dammit.
I lowered my voice to a harsh whisper. “Last time you saw me, you talked about knowing Sakira was in my head.”
“That hardly changes the situation.”
“Yeah, it does!”
“Well… uh, you didn’t make a good first impression.”
She sighed. “I’m afraid I had no control over that.”
“Yeah, you did.”
“Fate is a complicated thing.” She shrugged. “Regardless, it appears we’ve been grouped into a sector. We’ll inevitably have to intersect paths.”
“Can we keep it to a minimum?”
“Not an option.”
“What if I just walk away now?”
“We’ll end up talking again in a little while. You could say it’s like a small chapter of your life flying past.”
“Alright, bye, Sydney.”
I awkwardly backed away from her again before returning to Aka and Marissa’s conversation. “Hey, isn’t there supposed to be one more kid?”
“Huh?” Marissa asked.
“There’re…” I paused to count the heads in our group. “Seven people here, right? Didn’t you call out eight names?”
“Oh, Eliana was on the list.” Her face went somber.
“What’s wrong with her?”
“She got expelled.”
“Wait, you can get expelled here?”
Aka crossed his arms, his clunky bracelets getting in the way. “I mean, duh, it’s a school. There’s war, but, like, if you misbehave, you can get thrown out. They’re not super strict, though.”
“Then why’d what’s-her-name get thrown out?”
“Oh, only because she–” Marissa shushed Aka with a finger to his lips.
“Aka, I can handle it from here, okay?”
“…Fine. Your version of the story. Gotcha.”
Marissa rolled her eyes. “Ahem. This past full moon, Eliana attacked her roommate and almost killed her. She was a werewolf, so she got deported to Lunett.”
“Yeah. Gotta watch your back nowadays.”
“What happened to her roommate?”
“She’s over there. Her name’s Reyna. You might’ve noticed her bandages.”
Aka groaned. “She’s probably fine now.”
“Aka!” Marissa sighed. “You can’t rush a recovery! And you know I’m a medic, so–”
“Bullshit. There’s healing magic and everything.”
“It’s not that simple!” Marissa said, turning to me. “Kinda like you, Aka’s from a world that’s not super used to magic…”
“I’m a chroma-key wielder! I know all there is to know about magic! You want me to go over there and heal her right now?”
I blinked. “Chroma-key?”
“It means I can use all three types of magic, which Marissa can’t do, so she doesn’t get to talk.”
Marissa stomped her foot. “Okay, maybe she just doesn’t want to do the magic healing!”
Aka held his tongue for a moment. “…Ugh. I dunno, maybe. Whatever.” He seemed defeated.
“What were you trying to argue anyway?” Marissa chuckled. “That Reyna likes the look of bandages?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Attention, sector leaders!” Ms. Copper yelled. Her voice was loud enough to shatter the Mirror Hall. “Please assign sector roles to your students! Drafting staff, please hand in your clipboards now!”
The crowd began to bustle again, and Marissa stepped away with a quick “Be right back!”. Aubrey turned around, bringing her two other students with her.
“Aight, y’all just waitin’ for Kyona?”
“I mean, yeah, what else are we supposed to do?” Aka replied.
“Nice. Oh, Shiera, real quick. These guys are Wes and Reyna. Reyna transferred from Eukar a few months ago, and Wes an’ I go way back. Say hi, guys.”
“…Who the hell are you?” Wes asked tentatively.
I did a little awkward wave. “I, uh, I also, uh, transferred here. A few days ago.”
“Yesterday,” Aubrey corrected.
“No wonder I’ve never seen you then,” Wes said, shrugging. “Where’re you from?”
“Uh, I, um…”
Aubrey took the chance to speak on my behalf once again. “We found ‘er out on the border skirmish yesterday. She’s from Earth.”
“Oh. She must be… pardon, um, really new, eh?”
“Yup! She’s learnin’, though!”
Marissa hopped back into the group. “What’d I miss?”
“Nothin’ important,” Aubrey replied. “Alright, sector roles for good ol’ Sector 53. Wes, no objections ta defense, huh?”
“None. Who’s my partner?”
“Uh, we had someone, but, eh. She ain’t here no more. Er…” Her head snapped to Marissa, and she glared at her with ravenous intent. “Marissa you can defend right please tell me you can defend please?”
Marissa hesitated. “…Yeah.”
“Arright great thanks,” Aubrey said quickly. “So Marissa and Wes on defense. Anyone wanna volunteer for long-range?”
“The casts will not impede my casting,” Reyna spoke, rather softly. After Aka snickered a little, she added, “No pun was intended.” I couldn’t pin her accent. Middle-eastern? North African? Whatever it was, it was from Earth, at least.
“I’ll go for long-range, too,” Aka added. “And we’ll pretend I’m the commander.”
Marissa fussed at him. “No, we won’t! Aubrey’s the leader!”
“Calm down, it was a joke.”
“I can never tell if you’re joking!”
“Settle down, y’all,” Aubrey interceded. “Melee casters… Shiera, you wanna give it a go? I’ll do whatever you do.”
“Nice. And, uh, you. Orange-hair. What was yer name?”
Sydney turned, twirling a strand of hair. Her eyes looked almost glazed over. “Wilron, ma’am.”
That was a bit unenthusiastic, wasn’t it?
Dammit, couldn’t you have stayed out a little longer?
It’s been an hour, to the second. I’m a man of my word.
“Arright, Wilron, yer gonna be our melee soldier. I know it’s gonna be weird bein’ the only one, but…”
“Yeah, roster issues, you wish I had more support, you wish me luck, I get the gist.”
“Uh– …yeah. Cool. So we’re all good then.”
“Silence, soldiers!” Ms. Copper shouted. “Return to your linear formation! If your roles haven’t been decided, make them up later!”
The crowd condensed once again into a couple of rows across the courtyard, though we were now loosely organized into our respective sectors. With this short silence, I focused my thoughts.
Care to tell me what happened to our hero last episode?
How do you know that line?
Eleven thousand years is a lot of time to gain useful knowledge. It’s also a lot more time to gather knowledge of… lesser priority.
…Whatever. We just had lunch. I’m more worried about what you did.
Nothing of your concern. Just–
Sorry, um. I can’t get the image of you chilling on a couch watching cartoons out of my head. Give me a second before I can take you seriously.
Shit, it’s really vivid. Am I having a vision?
Dammit, Shiera, you’re going to give me an aneurysm.
Spirits can get aneurysms?
With you, it sure feels like it sometimes.
Ms. Copper cleared her throat. “I’ve been informed that a spirit legion is approaching Atlas from the northwest, bearing 332. They’ve already laid siege to the town of Tobayal. Witness accounts say it’s Sector 17, a prestigious Sakirite faction. They’ve not killed anyone, but that’s soon to change if we allow them to invade the main city.”
It’s wonderful to hear they’ve already seized Tobayal.
“Based on how quickly they infiltrated Tobayal’s defenses undetected, they’re on course to attack Atlas’s outer walls within the hour. We will be deploying shortly, and although it is sooner than expected, you will be allowed to train on-site before the spirits arrive. Be prepared for a much more intense battle than usual. That is all.”
Above the faint, worried murmuring of students around me, I felt my own heartbeat. It’d been a while since I’d made the analogy of war and a double-edged sword, but I felt it was inaccurate still. War was much more like a broken lottery machine. You go in expecting a chance to win, only to realize the only option is a loss.
You’re quite pessimistic.
I’m a sixteen-year-old going into war against immortal spirits. If anything, I’m optimistic about not getting thrown out as bait.
I ordered Destiny to hold her legion’s punches on the students. I can guarantee your life, but your fellow students may be fending for themselves.
She’s one of my sector leaders. Similarly to how you have Aubrey and Aaron in your leadership roles, I have subordinates, too. It isn’t a one-man show.
“Students, you will step single file into the teleportation bay. In the case an error is made, the first student will make a round trip to ensure nothing is amiss. Is that understood?” Ms. Copper yelled.
“Yes, ma’am!” I couldn’t even hear my own voice over the chorus of other students. The small elevated platform in the center of the courtyard seemed to be the teleportation bay Ms. Copper had meant, since students were lining up in front of it.
It’s just occurred to me you’ve never teleported before.
Well, it’s a very common thing in Dianoct. It’s almost been normalized.
Ahem. Teleportation is a bit complicated— cyan magic wasn’t initially equipped for such capabilities, so many casters have to keep the bay open all at once. You’ll see them when you come out the other side.
Anything else I should know?
Stay still while teleporting.
Duh. Do you think I’m gonna, like, run around? I’m not stupid.
As the students blipped away one by one, my turn creeped closer and closer, until Ms. Copper called Sector 53 and I stepped up first. I braced myself and locked my limbs in place.
Oh, and it hurts like hell.
Wait, it wha–