Chapter 11:

symphony of stray lights

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

After chatting together for a bit longer, it becomes clear that in Hiro’s world, there are no such things as exorcists. There are only witches, clay monsters, and the one sorcerer that makes the monsters to cause trouble for whatever reason. But Hiro isn’t able to elaborate on that much because apparently he also never paid much attention in witch cram school.


Shun asks him what he knows about Saori from middle school, skirting delicately around the topic to make sure he doesn’t say anything that would give away her secret. Hiro only says that Shun and her were always friends with a glazed, far-off look. Shun knows that look.

It means he’s really not looking forward to lunch tomorrow.


Hiro is late to class the next day, as per usual. But this time, Shun is very aware of the entire reason as to why—ugh, he never even asked to know! At least Saori put in the effort to keep him out of her world. His stupid desk partner just straight up blurted everything out without giving Shun a choice.

Even worse, he’s told that his mind has built up resistance to Hiro’s strongest memory counterspells after too many years of constant exposure, whatever that means. Shun has heard something similar before. It’s starting to sound like an excuse specifically designed to antagonize him.

And maybe, just maybe, Hiro isn’t telling the truth. Hiro’s a great guy, but he might have an overactive imagination and chuunibyou delusions floating around in that head of his. Shun manages to convince himself that before class starts, just as he happens to glance out the window and spot Hiro levitating several feet in the air—

Shun blinks the tiredness out of his eyes. When he looks again, Hiro is still there, but this time he’s upside down.

Shun has decided to give up and just not look at anything ever again.


At lunch, Shun sits between an exorcist and a witch, questioning the choices he made in his life that have led up to this moment.

Saori’s fake personality is as sickly sweet as always, Hiro acts exactly the same as ever, and Shun is going crazy wondering if his lunch is going to transform into something magical too. Before he completely loses it, he excuses himself and gets up to go to the washroom.

In front of the sinks, he splashes icy water on his face and blinks the stinging sensation out of his eyes. His haggard reflection stares back at him. Droplets of water bead at the choppy ends of his brown hair, and Shun gives his head a forceful, determined shake.

This is his life now. It’s not like he’s expected to do anything different other than being respectful of his friends’ secrets. They are still the same people—and even Saori used to be a friend, which brings everything full circle. His own life is still normal.

When Shun manages to pull himself together and heads back to the classroom, he finds that Miwa has replaced him at his desk, chatting animatedly with Hiro and Saori. She waves at him with an impish grin, and Shun shuffles over warily.

“You look like you’re dying, Takeuchi,” she pipes up unhelpfully. “Is studying taking a toll on you? You should just not study.”

“And fail the upcoming midterms?” he asks. He slides into an empty chair next to Hiro and reaches over his desk to grab his lunchbox. Everything is normal, everything is normal, everything is normal…

“Dude, you’ve got to be the smartest out of all of us,” Hiro says. “What’s gonna happen to us if ya fail?”

“If you fail, that’s not my problem,” Shun grumbles, falling into the easy banter more naturally than he thought would be possible. “Um, what are you doing here, Miwa?”

She leans forward, putting her hands together gleefully. “Did you know Ichkawa got seven correct answers on yesterday’s mock exam?”

“Hey,” says Saori from her seat on the other side.

“It’s okay, your secret is safe with us,” Miwa says seriously, though her sly smile says otherwise. “Tell you guys what, I got eight and a half points.”

“Dude, did I get the highest? I guessed half the questions and I got nine!”

(Shun decides this is not the best time to point out that the mock exam was graded out of thirty…)

And then, the disappointment that flickers over Saori’s usually calm and unperturbed face is so unexpected that he has to fight the urge to laugh. He covers it with a cough, because her eyes flash dangerously with the same deadly precision as the edge of her sword.

“Shun is smart,” Hiro says abruptly, and both girls turn to look at him. “He says he wants to be the top student at school, and he’s better at explaining things than the teachers sometimes.”

Shun scowls. He isn’t smart, he’s just average. But in this group, if everyone else is getting failing grades on their mock exam results, maybe he isn’t so average after all.

His friends probably aren’t actually that bad at academics—Saori and Hiro are likely so preoccupied with the supernatural part of their lives that they don’t have a chance to focus on school. Although Miwa might be an honest-to-goodness idiot…

She’s looking at him hopefully, her eyes sparkling like the turquoise shallows of the sea.

“I remember you told us you hated studying,” Shun points out, a little wary. “What do you want?”

Miwa just giggles. “Kunihiro says you’ll tutor us! Right, Kunihiro?”

“Wait, I never agreed—”

“Oi, what’s the point in being so smart if ya aren’t gonna help your friends out?”

They’re joining forces against him, all of them. They sure are making a compelling argument, and he supposes he doesn’t mind having something to do to take his mind off everything. And the last straw is seeing Saori’s hopeful gaze peeking at him from behind Miwa’s hair.

“Fine! You win,” Shun says exasperatedly. “What kind of person would let their friends fail, right?”

“You’re the best, Takeuchi!”

“Just do what ya always do, no pressure!”

Out of nowhere, he’s reminded that there’s a time limit on this friendship, an expiration date on these sunlit moments in the classroom with friends he made by accident. He casts a glance toward Saori, and he’s surprised to see that the fond smile that curves her lips is subtle and genuine.

Maybe if he proves to be useful to her, she’ll change her mind before the end of the year.

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