Mahō no Gakkō: Chromatic
When I could see again, my vision was going black for other reasons. A couple of the mages leaned in to steady me. “Inhale, exhale,” one said. “You’re fine.”
I stepped off of the platform a little wobbly. I clutched my head and groaned, taking deep breaths. You could have warned me about that, dumbass.
Yeah, half a second before I left!
Time is a construct.
I came to my senses and observed the area I’d been transported to. There was a high stone wall behind us, centuries-old and laced with runes. Opposite the wall was a vast expanse of cracked terrain, each floating piece flooded over with the bluish-green grass of Dianoct.
These used to be the Atlas Flatlands. A small river once cut into this area, you know. The Empire used it to boat supplies to the Atlas River.
Cut the geography lesson. I made the deal for the magic powers, not the history teacher in my head.
Aubrey came off the platform behind me. “Lovin’ the teleporter yet?”
“Oh, hell no.”
“Ya never will. Thing sucks. Wish they’d try an’ find a better way.”
“Hey, at least you guys have teleporting. Even if it sucks,” I mentioned, kicking the tall grass out of the way.
Quite unlike you to look at the bright side.
Shut up. You barely know me.
I know more about you than I do any other human in the galaxy. You’re my frame of reference now.
That’s a shitty frame of reference. You should inhabit literally anyone else on Earth.
By the time my inner conversation cut off, the rest of Sector 53 had made it through the teleporter. Nearby there was a small base camp set up— in it was an unknown face giving harsh orders to groups of students.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Certainly not over there,” Sydney replied mockingly.
“Anyone other than you.”
Aubrey shrugged. “We gotta go over to the camp ta find out. From then on, it’s all new ta me. Never been in a real war.”
“None of us have,” Aka added. “I mean, well, border skirmishes don’t count.” He tried to push aside his slick green bangs, but his clunky bracelets hit him in the nose, and he cupped his hands over it. “Ow.”
Reyna scoffed. “This is why the staff is the superior form of casting,” she said, twirling her wooden rod adorned with a crystal. “Graceful. Elegant. No nosebleeds.”
“Hey, my nose isn’t bleeding!”
“As if that changes anything,” she said.
We set off for the base camp in a hasty jog. By the time we arrived a few seconds later, the man addressing orders had turned to us. “Sector?”
“Fifty-three, sir!” Aubrey reported.
“Guard the wall at bearing 330. You’ve permission to kill any who approach, spirit or not. Get to it, cadets! That’s an order!”
Our whole sector replied with one hearty ‘Yes, sir!’ before we jogged away following Aubrey’s lead. Apparently she knew where bearing 330 was. After a minute or two, we slowed down.
“Is this it?” Wes asked. “I was always shit with compasses, you know. Got lost in the woods once, reckon it took them a day to–”
“Not the time, Wes,” Aubrey said. “Tryna find my bearing.” She stepped up to the wall, standing with her back flat against it, and lifted a hand behind her back to grab her axe. The axe’s head emitted a faint magenta glow.
“What is it?” Aka asked.
“Uh… it’s sayin’ 329. Gotta go back about a hundred meters, then it should be right.”
“What the hell is a bearing?” I questioned. “They keep talking about them.”
Aubrey took her hand off the axe and began to run back. “Bearings are an Earth thing!”
“Cool, great, that clears up everything!”
“They’re real simple! I’ll tell ya about it once we get to where we need to go!”
We made our way back about 100 meters, then stopped and caught our breath. Wes took this time to begin another anecdote. “I was on the track team once, you know. They made us run 100 meters around the track until we–”
“Wes,” Aubrey snarled.
“–collapsed, and then they’d make us run a hundred more, so this kind of run is nothing compared to–”
“Wes! Shut up!” she snapped.
“It’s fine, I just need ta find the bearing again, and it’s kinda hard ta concentrate when yer yappin’ yer mouth.”
She realigned herself with the wall and held her axe in front of her again. “Yep, we’re at 330 now. Y’all can chill out for a second.” Immediately, Marissa collapsed and laid back on the blue-green grass.
“Are you dead?” Aka asked, kneeling over her.
Marissa rolled to make room. “Yeah. Be dead with me.” It came out as more of a command than a suggestion.
“I think I’m good, honestly…”
I set my sights on Aubrey, who’d finished casting. “Aubrey.”
“Oh, yeah, gotcha. Like I said, real easy,” she began. “Start by imaginin’ a compass, right?”
The image appeared in my mind. “Okay?”
“Now you know where north is, right?”
“Yeah, it’s straight up.”
“Now east is ninety degrees from that, right?”
I paused to think. “Yeah, like a right angle.”
“Yup. Then south is a hundred-eighty.”
“Isn’t west also ninety?”
Aubrey spun her axe on its point, picking it up each time as it inevitably fell down. “Yeah, but it goes clockwise, so it’s two-hundred seventy.”
“Wait, so that’s it?”
“Yeah. I mean, they use it on Earth, so, can’t be that complicated, right?”
I was baffled. Flabbergasted, even. “Why the hell do you need magic, then?”
“Dianoct’s magnetic field is kinda funky, so it’s easier to use magic than it is to use a compass.”
Aka overheard this and called, “Compasses work fine!”
For a moment, we just settled in the silence. A calm wind from the west carried faint murmurs from the next sector down, but not enough to understand what was being said. Aubrey kept fidgeting with her tank top’s straps— snap, snap, snap.
“Would you stop that?” Reyna said.
Snap, snap, snap. “Stop what?”
“You are– the elastic of your shirt! You are pulling it! Stop!”
Aubrey blinked. “Oh. Sorry. Kinda just a thing I do.”
“Thank you.” Reyna sat down and crossed her legs.
Another moment of silence passed. Suddenly, Aubrey stood up. “We should do group introductions!”
Aka groaned. “We already know each other.”
“Nooo. Shiera doesn’t. And Sydney doesn’t. And what about Reyna?”
Sydney snorted. “I already know all of you.”
“Still! Shiera an’ Reyna!”
“Aubrey, you know that the only people they don’t know are each other, right?” Aka questioned.
“So just make them introduce themselves to each other.”
“Uh…” Her gaze had turned up from Aka.
“What? Am I wrong?”
Aubrey did a little twirl with her finger. “Not the time ta worry ‘bout that.”
The sector turned around to match Aubrey’s sights. Off in the distance was a legion of translucent purple and metallic silver, floating closer and closer.
“That… doesn’t look good,” Wes remarked.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I said.
Aubrey stepped forward. “Formation! Now!” Her accent was replaced with a snappy snarl, like a survivalist who hadn’t had a sip of water in days.
Everyone hopped up to their feet and started scurrying about, organizing in some kind of pattern. “What the hell is formation?” I asked.
“Four circles, me and you are on the second one from the outside. You get behind Marissa, I’ll cover Wes.” It was still a bit off-putting listening to her without her southern rasp. I couldn’t tell whether or not she’d been faking it.
I found where Marissa was crouched down and moved behind her. She was glancing sporadically at the oncoming spirits, trying her best to concentrate on casting a shield. It kept on fizzling, then sparkling out. “Augh! Just work!” she wailed.
“You need help?” I asked.
“How would you–” she tried again, and suddenly, a cyan shield surrounded the seven of us. “…help?”
“Seems like that worked.”
“Stop goofin’ off, you two. We got a whole-ass legion on our hands,” Aubrey snapped. The spirits were getting close enough to see individuals in the crowd.
There were a lot of individuals.
Sakira, what do I do?!
You know what they say about going into everything with a positive outlook.
I’m about to die!!
That’s not a very positive outlook.
Piss off! There’s a whole army about to wipe our asses, and you’re making stupid quips!
They’re not all headed for your sector. They’re trying to engage as many sectors as possible to overwhelm the army.
Why the hell’d you make it so hard on us?!
I read Milliheim’s plans when you gave me that glance— he falsely believed I would send a small battalion to attack the city wall. He then decided that because the student army wasn’t prepared to deal with the full force of my legion, they would send you out against only a fraction of it. With that in mind, I’ve deployed some of my best soldiers and largest sectors to overwhelm the student army in numbers.
What happened to keeping me alive?
I still have my priorities in order, you know. If I can take Atlas in one surge, I won’t need you or your brother. Besides, I’m rather certain you could fly away were you critically injured.
I looked back at Aubrey. “How do we fend them off?!”
“Remember the arena?”
“Push ‘em away with whatever you got! Your weird floaty shit, cyan magic, whatever!”
The spirits were closing in. 200 meters off, they looked, and they were only getting closer. By now, they’d split off into their sectors, since there were only around 20 actively approaching us. I saw Aka and Reyna ready themselves in my peripheral vision, so I did the same.
Just do what I did in the arena. Easy.
Suddenly, a bullet whizzed by my ear. The cyan dome around us shattered as Marissa slumped to the ground.
“RUN!” Aubrey screamed.
I watched as my entire sector left for the city wall. My legs wouldn’t move. My legs wouldn’t move. My legs won’t move. Move! Run!
Then I did. Towards Marissa.
“Get up! Dammit, you’re okay, just come on!” I groaned, gunfire drowning my voice. I picked her up by the armpits and started dragging her away, totally forgetting everything I’d learned about magic.
Suddenly, there was a searing pain in the center of my left arm. I couldn’t hold onto Marissa any longer, so I let go and stumbled back, still not ready to accept defeat.
In the hail of bullets, a single spirit swooped forward and knocked me back, pinning me to the ground. I had a knife to my throat. I could only imagine Marissa was in the same situation.
I struggled, flailing my legs at the intangible being above me. “Help!” I cried to no avail. This would be the end of my story. I finally had a chance to make something of my life, and here I was, about to kick the bucket before I could be anything meaningful.
I don’t want to die!
I shot up from my bed, sweaty and cold. I looked to my left and right. Was it a dream? Was I in a time loop? The tiles on the walls and the medical equipment all around told me I was still in Atlas.
The hospital wing was more filled than when I’d last seen it. Almost every bed was taken up, including the ones just next to me. Had I somehow survived the attack? I still wasn’t sure if it was just a dream, so I tried pinching myself.
As it appeared, I couldn’t quite move my left arm yet. That was enough of a confirmation.
The hospital staff, whoever they were, had changed my clothing out— I wasn’t wearing Aubrey’s suit anymore. Instead, I had on a medical garment with the AIM logo embroidered on it. It was a little itchy.
I went to brush my hair out of my eye, but noticed that, at least on my left side, my hair was far more curled than normal. I twirled around with my strange case of bed head for a moment before the padded door opened.
“Make sure you check vitals on Beta and Kyona, alright? I want them up and training within the week,” said a voice. The deep undertone gave me a strong feeling it was Aaron’s.
“Gotcha,” said another, this one clearly Aubrey’s. She walked through the door and nearly dropped the clipboard she was holding when she saw me upright.
She turned back and hissed to Aaron, “Shiera’s up!”
“Then what are you doing talking to me?”
Aubrey turned back and closed the door behind her. “H-heya.”
I sighed. “What happened? Did the spirits get through? Is Atlas in ruins?”
Her look was a little confused. “I don’t think so. Wouldn’ta called that mission a success, but, uh…”
“At least we survived, right?”
“W-well, I mean…” Aubrey stammered.
“Wait, is Marissa…”
“Naw! She’s stable. Might not wake up for a couple days, but she’s gonna be arright.”
I sighed again, this time in relief. “How long’s it been?”
“The attack was yesterday afternoon. It’s, like, nine at night.”
“I was in a coma for a whole day?!” I gasped. “How bad did I get stabbed?”
“Stabbed? What’re ya talkin’ about? Ya used so much energy fightin’ off them spirits thatchya knocked yerself out!”
“Fighting them off…?”
“Yer sayin’ ya don’t remember goin’ apeshit on those spirits fer thirty minutes straight?”
I scratched my head, then my shoulder. The garment was still itchy. “I forget things when I get really mad sometimes. Did I hold them back?”
“Nope. Better. Ya wiped out the entire sector but the leader. She was runnin’ tail between her legs, except spirits don’t got legs or tails.”
“Cool. How long does a gunshot take to heal?”
“With magic? Ten minutes. But we kinda don’t have Marissa right now, and I only know really basic magenta stuff, so I don’t know how ta help ya. Once Marissa gets up, we’ll get ‘er ta heal ya.”
She stepped over to a bed beside me and recorded the vitals listed. The person in the bed had their head turned away from me, but the brown hair and pointed ears made it clear it was Marissa.
“Make sure ya get some sleep. ‘Cause a coma don’t count.”
Aubrey walked back over to the door and walked away, closing it behind her. Anything she told Aaron was completely muffled by the padding.
How do you feel about sending your full army against some teenagers now, Sakira? Do you feel good about it? Did you want to almost get a bunch of kids killed?
I know you’re there! What was that about us humans being unreasonable?! You’re the unreasonable one! We’re kids, you know that?! We haven’t died or killed anyone to deserve death! So why?!
I made a mistake, alright?
Mistake? Mistake?! Let me tell you what a fucking mistake is, Sakira. It’s sending your best battalion out to kill a bunch of unarmed kids with no training who barely know what they’re doing! You thought that’d be such a good plan, huh? So how’s it feel?
None of you died! And Destiny didn’t follow my orders!
Oh, so if I stabbed someone with a knife, but they survived, I’m innocent, huh? And if I tell someone else to go attack someone, and they end up killing them, I’m innocent, huh? You know, your logic makes a whole lot of damn sense! If only I weren’t an unreasonable human capable of understanding morals!
Yeah, you’d better be quiet. Reflect on that shit while I get my beauty rest and bitchslap the rest of your army. You’re no better than the rest of them. I hope you decide to kill yourself before you get any worse than you already are.
I turned in my bed and shut my eyes as tight as I could, trying to block out any response he might give.
I’m sorry, Shiera.