Academy Showdown – Book I – Rise of the Phoenix
THE YEAR WAS 3144. Forty-fourth year of the Contemporary Age. Summers end. Today was the day. The day she had been dreading for a long time. This day would define her future moving forward and that thought alone was driving her to the brink of insanity. After completing her morning routine, Emi sighed as she packed up her things, stacked her books, and exited her dorm room, locking the door behind her. At the moment, she was the only one there. Her additional roommates would be arriving at intervals. Three of them. Their names and backgrounds still hadn’t been specified to her. Living with strangers, now that was something else she dreaded. Perhaps in an ideal scenario, they wouldn’t be too problematic and the four of them could all get along, but Emi wasn’t one for optimism.
As she stepped outside the girls’ dorm, a cacophony of noise rang in her ears. Just a single block over was the daily hustle and bustle of Downtown Marlia City. Car and truck horns could be heard blaring throughout the city streets, while a news anchor spoke passionately about a story on a nearby big screen. Emi was too far away to make out any of the details, so she decided to make her way over to the courtyard.
A deep blood-red sphere, commonly known as The Yolk, loomed overhead in the bright blue morning sky, just below the sun. Its intimidating presence created a sense of foreboding, something that wasn’t doing any real favors for Emi’s current psyche.
Dammit… She thought, her teeth clenched. I am so not ready for this…
Minutes later, Emi walked past the gate and through the garden between the boys' and girls' dorms, her schoolbooks in hand. Looking around, she noticed plots of grass that encircled the cobblestone patio. The large fountain in the garden's center held an eight-foot-tall granite statue of Gaia, Mother of Terra. The fountain was surrounded by well-maintained greenery and a few mahogany park benches for students to sit and prattle on about their daily lives. It was also a popular meeting place for lovers, earning it the moniker "Leman’s Footpath".
As she circled the fountain and made for the West Exit, Emi couldn't shake the feeling that she was being watched. Perhaps it was Mother Terra herself, keeping a watchful eye over her beloved children? Come on, girl, get it together, she told herself, shaking her head in self-admonition. It was only a statue after all.
You’re just nervous. That’s why you’re seeing things. There’s no way that… Hm?
When she reached the end of the garden and looked around, she caught sight of something… or rather, someone. Kneeling on the ground nearly a few feet away, sporting the Phoenix Academy midnight blue and orange, was a lonesome girl—but not just any girl—one with black hair in a short bob and large cat-like ears with tufts of white fur at their respective tips. Her arms and legs were noticeably wrapped in gauze.
A feline beastkin? Emi’s eyes lit up. This was her first encounter with a beastkin her age. Demi-humans were still met with hostility in the northern parts of Empyrea where she grew up. Books and manatite telecasts (MT) were the only available sources of information for a young girl back then. Marlia City, on the other hand, was known as one of the most racially diverse cities on the continent of Taqora.
“Ugh…” The catgirl was hunched over, favoring her left arm. A spilled can of coffee lay next to her foot. Her hair was sopping wet, and her uniform shirt was splattered with large wet stains. Someone appeared to have poured the contents of the can all over her head.
Sweet Mother… Who did this to her? Emi thought, gritting her teeth. Bullying this poor girl and making such a mess so early in the morning… And for what? She could feel an angry heat rising within her petite frame. The catgirl’s breathing was ragged. It didn't take a doctor to see that she was in a bad way. She needed medical attention, and fast. Without another thought, Emi approached the girl.
"Um, hey there, are you…?" Emi trailed off as the young beastkin raised her drooping head from the ground and stared back at her. The girl's face was almost human, eyes large and round with beautiful greenish-yellow irises and black diamond-shaped pupils. Emi found herself momentarily entranced.
There was also gauze wrapped around the catgirl's head, which made Emi wonder what a girl her age could have gone through to sustain such injuries. She knew better than to pry into the life of a complete stranger, no matter how strong her curiosity was. Emi set her books down beside her. First things first, she needed to dry the girl off.
“Now, let’s see, where did I keep that… Ah-ha!”
Rummaging through her bag, Emi produced a round metallic capsule. In the center was a blue crystallized orb. The catgirl eyed the foreign object suspiciously, leaning further away.
“Oh, there’s no need to worry,” Emi reassured with a warm smile, “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just gonna use this to dry you off. Promise.”
“Hm?” The catgirl tilted her head in confusion.
Emi tightened her grip around the capsule. The orb glowed brightly as the capsule began to levitate, hovering just inches away from her palm. She then closed her eyes and lowered her hand near the coffee-soaked catgirl, taking a deep breath and channeling her mana.
“Fortis Acqua Inversa…”
She uttered an incantation in Ancient Laphtalian, and with a wave of her hand, the capsule transformed into a palm-sized sphere of water. It remained suspended in midair, eventually lowering and lengthening itself as it made contact with the catgirl.
The timid girl flinched and tightened her eyes shut, bracing herself. She slowly opened her eyes again after a few seconds and gaped in awe as she watched the floating water twirl and dance around her hair, shirt, and skirt.
It washed over the coffee stains, shifting to a brown color before quickly dissipating. Emi rotated her hand gently before clenching it into a fist. As it floated back to her, the water returned to its round shape and shrank in size. When the conflux with the spilled coffee was finished, the capsule then reverted to its original form.
“There!” Emi shifted her spectacles, beaming proudly at her work. “That oughta do the trick.”
The young catgirl stood up slowly as she examined her clothes. She began by shaking her head, testing the dryness of her hair. Sure enough, it was just as dry as it had been since she left her dorm room. She then ran her hands over her freshly washed uniform shirt and skirt. Her eyes widened as she realized they were both dry as well.
“I… I am… dry?” Her bewildered gaze flicked over to Emi. “B-But, how…?”
“Hm. The answer to that question is simple,” Emi grinned, holding up the capsule. “Not only can this mana capsule perform aqua spells, but it can also use them to extract moisture from any surface in just a matter of seconds. Isn’t magitek a thing of beauty?”
Emi had been traveling around Taqora with her mother since she was a small child. During these adventures, she was exposed to a wide range of cultures and even witnessed the use of magic in ways she could never have imagined. Emi can only cast minor pyro and defensive spells and is unable to learn other types of magic due to her limited mana pool. This disadvantage drove her to seek support from magitek in order to be useful in this magically dominant world. The use of practical magic for daily chores was once commonplace in the Middle Age, but with the rise of magitek in the Industrial Age, the practice had all but died out.
When she visited the Great Forest of Everwood, she saw forest elves still using practical magic for everyday tasks. Emi had never seen aqua magic used in such a way before. This would inspire Emi's invention of "mana capsules," a device that allows those with limited mana pools—be it beastkin, orcs, or rarest of all, humans—to use multiple forms of magic.
Emi was confident that with a little more effort, these mana capsules would allow even the most unskilled mages to keep up with their more magically gifted peers.
“Mm? Oh!” Realizing that she was still holding her mana capsule aloft, Emi’s cheeks flushed in embarrassment. “S-Sorry about that. Got a little carried away there.”
“Th-thank you,” the catgirl managed, bowing deeply. A Hōjinese gesture. Perhaps she was raised in that particular culture, Emi figured.
“No, problem! I just… Oh…” Getting a closer look at the catgirl, Emi grit her teeth in disgust. Not towards the girl herself, but to the sad sacks who left her in such a miserable state. “Gods have mercy, girl, who did this to you?” As Emi examined the catgirl's injuries, she noticed blood seeping through the gauze on her left arm. “Hm, it looks like one of your wounds reopened. We need to get you to an infirmary. Come.”
“Wh..!?" When the catgirl noticed Emi's outstretched arm, she jerked back several feet with surprising speed and grace for someone in her condition, beastkin or not. She sank to one knee and shuddered.
“P-Please… stay away!”
“Huh? But you're hurt! I was just…”
“No, no, no! I… Agh!” Her body continued to shake as she yelped in pain, covering her head with her hands. “I... I’m sorry if that sounded rude… and I'm thankful for your help, but… I don’t want to hurt you…or anyone… So I beg of you…”
She raised her head, her limpid semi-gold orbs emitting a faint glow as they met Emi’s gaze.
The catgirl jumped to her feet and scampered away toward the girls' dorm, still favoring her left arm.
Emi’s arm fell to her side as she watched the girl leave.
I wish I could’ve done more to help, she told herself with a heavy sigh, but if she doesn’t want it, then who am I to overstep?
With a shrug, she picked up her books, turned on her heel, and resumed her long walk to the main building of the school.