Chapter 13:

as the crow flies

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

Shun is absentminded and distracted during aikido practice the next day. This has consequences, and he forgets to execute a proper break-fall and slams painfully into the mats. Jinpachi apologizes over and over even though it’s entirely Shun’s own fault, and he all but bodily drags him to the infirmary despite his protests.

“If you broke a bone, I would never be able to forgive myself!” Jinpachi says dramatically, and the limp in Shun’s step isn’t helping his argument that he’s perfectly okay.

He supposes it’s a miracle he’s stayed out of the nurse’s office for this long since starting high school. He’s always been in there for borderline ridiculous reasons, the aftermath of constantly getting knocked out cold during class or club activities. Now that he thinks about it, a lot of those incidents might’ve been Saori or Hiro’s fault.

That’s one thing he doesn’t miss from his previously ordinary life.

Shun has only been in the high school nurse’s office once before, and it’s refreshing when the nurse on duty doesn’t sigh in exasperation when she sees him. He mistakes her for Miwa for a fleeting moment—round glasses, short stature, reddish hair cut into a bob—and nearly addresses her as such.

But he catches himself just in time.

“You judo kids are always too rough,” the nurse scolds them as they stagger through the door. “What happened this time?”

“Aikido, ma’am!” Jinpachi corrects her hastily. “We’re from aikido!”

“It’s the same in the end if all you do is get hurt!” she snaps, sounding so much like their middle school nurse that Shun hangs his head in shame. “Come, sit down. What happened?”

After he sits obediently, the nurse checks for sprains and injuries. She brings some ice for the bruise blossoming on Shun’s knee, and she concludes that he didn’t break anything.

“I told you, Captain,” Shun says, letting a note of smugness filter into his tone. “I’m perfectly fine.”

“It’s important to check,” he says stubbornly. “What if you passed out later?”

“You’re a good kid,” the nurse says to Jinpachi, whose ears turn pink. “Run along now, Takeuchi will need a bit of rest before he rejoins practice. My recommendation is that he goes straight home, but since when have you muscle-headed teenage boys listened to my advice?”

“Muscle-headed?” Shun mouths, as Jinpachi bows, low and embarrassed on his way out.

Then the nurse turns back to him. “You are Shun, right? Shun Takeuchi?”


“Ha, I figured. I read your note. And Miwa talks about you.”

Now he gets why she looks so familiar, as a recent memory flashes through his mind of the last time he was in this very room.

“Oh, you’re Miwa’s aunt!” he blurts out.

“And you,” she says with a playful smile, “are the dashing young man that broke my niece’s heart, eh?”



Fortunately, Ms. Akagi is referring to how much Miwa hates studying and not a romantic tragicomedy that Shun has absolutely no recollection of. She laughs when he mentions they haven’t even had a chance to study together yet—Miwa is already complaining about him when she’s the one who asked him to tutor her in the first place?

“I can’t believe that girl,” Ms. Akagi sighs. “Last time I asked, she told me she was doing fine in school. Lying through her teeth, that’s what she was doing.”

Shun can’t refute that, and he can’t bring himself to lie either.

“Well. Um, I’ll be going now,” he says awkwardly, rising from his seat. “Thank you for looking after me.”

“Dear me, I took up too much of your time, didn’t I?” Ms. Akagi waves him off as he exits the nurse’s office. “Make sure to go straight home, and stay out of trouble from now on!”

He didn’t get into any trouble in the first place, but somehow it feels like she’s seeing right through him.

There are only five minutes left until aikido practice ends, so he decides to follow the nurse’s advice. Instead of returning to the dojo, he gathers his things and prepares to head out. As he’s slinging his bag over his shoulder at the entrance of the school, he notices a familiar figure standing in the middle of the road.

It’s Hiro, and he’s waving his blue pen—wand—madly around like he’s trying to catch the sunlight. It’s really awkward, because Shun can neither see the magic he’s casting, nor can he ignore the flailing in the corner of his eye like a normal person. He’s getting secondhand embarrassment from just watching.

So Shun tiptoes quietly to the other side of the road to give Hiro a wide berth, and something damp and sticky smacks him in the face, knocking him into the grass.

“Oi! Ya little rascal!” Hiro yells loudly, his thundering footsteps echoing across the asphalt. “Get back here or I’ll turn ya into a pancake! Ey, Shun what’s up? Sorry, I’ll get rid of it in a moment—take that, ya punk!”

He points the tip of the blue pen directly at something at Shun’s feet. Nothing happens.

“Uh, did you do anything?” Shun asks, staring at the empty space and waiting for Hiro’s magic to take effect.

“Yeah!” Hiro sounds proud as he twirls his pen between his fingers. “Blasted that thing back into the earth where it belongs! I tell ya, the little ones are the worst. Can’t tell where they’re coming from and by the time ya aim your spell, it hits ya straight in the eye.”

Shun heaves himself gingerly to his feet, his eyes suddenly watering a little. “Do you usually fight your clay monsters in broad daylight like this?”

“Nah, I try to stay out of sight,” Hiro says. “On the rooftop, and that sorta thing. Ya okay? It didn’t get ya or anything, did it?”

Gingerly, he touches a hand to his face. The phantom sensation of mud hitting his cheek lingers, but there’s nothing there.

“Is it poisonous?” Shun asks warily, wondering if he absorbed some of the creature into his skin or something.

Hiro bursts very rudely into disbelieving laughter. “It’s just clay, dude. You’ll be fine. Now I gotta go after some stragglers. Catch ya later.”

Before Shun’s eyes, he pulls out a rickety-looking broomstick from thin air (which is more impressive than anything he’s seen him do so far) and clambers on.

“Whoa,” he says. It’s actual magic right in front of him, not the pen-waving nonsense from earlier.

Hiro grins. “I’ll take ya for a spin someday. But first. Witching duties.”

With the delicateness of a bird spreading its wings, Hiro takes flight and vanishes into the wide open sky, as if he was never there in the first place.


Not even twenty-four hours later, Shun gets roped into helping Saori with an exorcism.

“Ah, good timing, Shun,” she says. “Can you help take these books with me to the teachers’ office?”

Her request for assistance is slightly offset by the fact that she doesn’t seem to be struggling to carry the heavy stack of books in her arms at all. But Shun goes along with it, because he’s the kind of person who would die first in a horror movie.

Saori motions for him to drop off his armful of books on their homeroom teacher’s desk. Then she leans over to examine the edge of the computer monitor.

“You’re not…trying to peek at exam answers, are you?”

She ignores him. In the next half-second, she moves so swiftly that Shun’s eyes can’t follow, materializing and stabbing her shortsword into the ceiling directly above him in a single motion. Crumbling drywall rains down on their heads and Saori coughs, then withdraws her blade.

“A demon?” Shun asks, trying to keep his tone very casual even though his heart is thumping loudly in the quiet office. “Did you get it?”

She nods, her eyes flickering overhead and back to the desk. “They’re most troublesome when they hide in out-of-reach places.”

“Were you using me as bait again?”

Saori is about to nod again, but then she presses her lips together and shakes her head. “A distraction.”

That’s a nice way to put it, Shun supposes.

Saori reaches into her blazer pocket and pulls out a small, battered wallet. Then she fishes out a few bills—oh, talismans, actually—and hands him two. An unpleasant shock of static electricity jolts through his fingertips when he takes them, and he winces slightly.

“Help me ward the door,” she says. “One on each side of the entrance.”

“Sorry, what?”

Impatient, Saori yanks on his arm and all but drags him toward the door of the office. Then she shows him how to put up the talismans, which is pretty straightforward because they stick to the wall as if by magic.

“These will keep lesser demons out,” she explains as she puts up more talismans by the window. When she’s done, she slides the window open, lifts her leg, and hoists herself up onto the ledge.

“Um, now what are you—”

“I have work to do,” she says. She ducks through the opening and prepares to jump. “Shut the window behind me, will you?”

And then she’s gone. It’s the second floor so it’s a little alarming, but Saori has superhuman powers so she’ll probably be fine, right? Even so, Shun hurries over to the window to check, but she’s already gone.