Chapter 20:

Copper Doesn’t Rust Red

Mahō no Gakkō: Chromatic

“So, what’s the objective? Are you trying to distract the spirits at Ensilion so we can invade Reapra? Or are you planning to win Ensilion back, too?” Aaron questioned.

Ms. Copper laid out a parchment map. “Reapra is our priority. If we take them out and end the war, we can easily reclaim Ensilion.”

The map showed the border of the territory through the fissures— there were a couple outskirt islands sitting on the edge of Atlas. One of them was labeled Ensilion. It was a strip of land that split the fissure, and it sat a bit off to the north.

The map also displayed the locations of certain points, being the capital, the war school, the wall’s entrance, and Reapra. It was relatively close to the border, only a few kilometers out. It would still take at least thirty minutes to reach on foot, not including the massive fissure in between the two territories.

“Then we have to make them believe we need Ensilion. In fact, I’d recommend we put out our actual troops,” Aaron said.

Milliheim shook his head. “Our elite troops are only to be deployed in desperation.”

“Don’t you think this is a little desperate?” I asked.

“Have they surpassed Phasma?” he said.

“Uh… I don’t think so?”

“Then the situation does not call for them.”

Ms. Copper made a face. “Sir, we are pushing into Reapra itself. If that isn’t desperate, then nothing is,” she said.

“I’ll consider it,” Milliheim replied, irked.

“Consider it? We ought to be calling for them now!”

“Lieutenant Commander, have patience.”

Ms. Copper placed her hands across her lap and sighed. “Yes, sir.”

“Back to business. DeAndrick, you want to heavily fortify Ensilion. What troops will that leave us for the attack on Reapra?” Milliheim questioned.

“You misunderstand,” Aaron said. “We will not be conducting an all-out attack on Reapra. Our goal is just to sneak in and take back Beta before Sakira can use him for his own purposes.”

“But that’s illogical. Beta is right here,” Milliheim scoffed. “What is your intention?”

“Not me. My brother, Kori. He got kidnapped about a week ago,” I explained.

Milliheim clasped his hands on the table. “Would it not be better to take full advantage of the opening and storm Reapra?”

“No,” Ms. Copper interceded. “Sakira is as powerful as ten thousand soldiers. Bringing the fight to him would doom us all.”

“We have Beta, though. She’s held a thousand spirits off just as well. Surely she could distract him while we storm the city.”

No. “No.” My voice and Sakira’s interlaced.

“Why not?”

“I’m literally sixteen! He’s basically a god! I can’t just take him on!”

Aaron turned to me. “You wouldn’t need to kill him. Just distract him for long enough. That’s easy.”

Easy for you to say. You don’t know him. “He’ll kill me the second I walk in!”

“It’s honorable to die for your country.”

“This isn’t my country!” I spat.

Aaron groaned, brown eyes narrowing in contempt. “Fine, then. We’ll take a stealthy approach.” He turned to Ms. Copper. “You led the recon operation. Do you have a layout of the military base?”

She nodded. “Not a map, but we have recordings. I could have one of the students piece them together.”

“Please,” Aaron said.

Milliheim reclined in his chair. “What, exactly, do you believe Sakira is doing with your brother?” he asked me.

“I dunno. Ms. Copper, did he look any different from his photo?”

Ms. Copper whipped out a small holographic projector and tapped on her wrist a few times. “I took notes on it,” she said, waiting for it to load. “He looked more gaunt than his picture, likely as a result of malnutrition. The spirits don’t understand our consumption needs as humans.”

“Is that it?” I asked.

“No,” she replied, scrolling. “His hair is noticeably longer than in his photo. Considering the photo was taken only a matter of days prior to the mission, it’s highly possible genetic experimentation is being done. It wouldn’t be surprising. Sakira’s done it before.”

“Genetic experimentation?” Aaron repeated. “In what way?”

“He came along a sample of the Han Hito vaccination and found it was highly effective for engineering living beings. He’s used it for all manner of experiments, though recently he’s been focused on the source of lycanthropy.”

“Do we know why?” he questioned further.

“He seems to think the werewolf menace cannot be stopped, and has taken interest in using them as soldiers. Nothing is for certain.” She tucked the projector in her uniform pocket.

I contemplated whether I should say it. “…what if he’s trying to turn Kori into a werewolf?”

“Are you mad?” Milliheim laughed. “That isn’t how species work, Ms. Beta. That would require rearranging thousands of genes very precisely.”

“Sakira has time,” I said.

“Yes, that he’d rather not waste. Come now, Ms. Beta, do not suggest the absurd,” he chuckled. “Is there anything else we should consider in the plan?”

Aaron raised his hand, which Ms. Copper was quick to point out. “This isn’t my class. Here you’re seen as an equal, not a subordinate. You may speak.”

“Have we accounted for who specifically will be going?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” Milliheim responded.

“Sector 53 on Reapra. I thought it was decided.”

“Goodness, no! If you want elite teams on the border, I’ll send elite teams into Reapra, too.”

I leaned forward. “No. I’m going in there and getting my brother back. However the hell you have to account for it is fine.”

“Alright,” Ms. Copper said. “Sector 53 will be taking the hostage back. I’ll send its members a map of the military base when I get it.”

“Have I no agency in this situation?” Milliheim said, annoyed. “We should not be sending children into Reapra.”

“We shouldn’t be sending children into war,” I shot back, “so if you’re not prepared to leave the fate of a hostage to us, you probably shouldn’t leave the fate of Atlas to us, either.”

Judging by the expression on his face, he wasn’t expecting that. “That’s quite different, Ms. Beta. Reapra is dangerous.”

“So is the battlefield! My sector got shot!”

“The arrows flying on the battlefield are easily negligible. I’ve no idea how your sector managed to get hit by–”


“Yes, your defense casters were hit by arrows before they could properly set up their shields.”

I tensed up. The imagery was still fresh in my mind. The bullets flying straight through our defenses, the blood splattering the ground. “Our shields were up.”

“Then how could you have been hit?”

“They had guns.”

Milliheim stood up suddenly. “Pardon?!”

“I couldn’t tell you what type of guns they had, but the bullets went straight through the shields. They shot our defense so they could swoop in and kill the rest of us point-blank.”

He sat down, shocked. Aaron was shocked too, but for the opposite reason. “You thought we crumbled to arrows?!”

“I had no reason to believe the spirits had ammunition.”

I lowered my brows and swiped a stray hair out of the way. “Sir, they take hostages for genetic experiments, and you thought they used arrows?”

“Last I was on the battlefield, it was bows and arrows.”

Aaron pondered this. “Shiera, you came here during a skirmish, right?”


“What weapons were they using?”

“Bows and arrows. I hauled a concrete slab out there to block them.”

“So why would they switch to ammunition now?”

“Because we’re in a war now,” I replied. “They wanted to catch us off guard.”

“First it was the size of their army, then their weaponry. They’re pulling out all the stops. If we get attacked with that again, even our elite forces might not be able to hold them back,” Aaron said.

Ms. Copper nodded. “What do you suggest we do?”

“There are two options. We can either plant bombs in the military base while we rescue the hostage to slow down their army, or we can start teaching our kids more powerful magic.”

“How could we teach them ‘more powerful’ magic? You can’t teach an ability.”

“Key magic,” I blurted.

Milliheim waved me off. “I’d much rather plant bombs in a military facility than teach the children black magic.”

Ms. Copper seemed hesitant. “…But what will happen if plan A fails? Do we surrender? Or do we use plan B?”

“We’d be forced to use key magic, yes. But I trust that won’t happen, else Sector 53 will be punished heavily.”

Aaron brought a hand up to his cheek. “What would that entail?”

“Manual editing of grades, extended in-school suspension, and, depending on how badly they fail, expulsion.”

I groaned. Pressure, pressure. Oh, how I’ve missed you.

Ms. Copper looked from Aaron to me. “Are those all your questions?”

“No,” I said. “One more.”

“What is it?”

“When is the mission?”

She looked at Milliheim. “Oh, it’s planned for Wednesday.”  Six days. Was Sydney wrong?

Aaron cleared his throat. “We have a mandatory meeting on Wednesday.”

“Thursday, then. Early in the morning,” Milliheim corrected. Welp, that’s seven. Prophetic bitch.

“Any more questions before we dismiss you?” Ms. Copper asked.

“None here,” said Aaron.

I shrugged. “If he doesn’t have any, then I don’t.”

“Wonderful,” Milliheim said. “I’ll have Sector 53 assigned to recon training. Your schedules will be updated shortly.”

As I got out of my seat, Ms. Copper tapped my shoulder. “I’d like to talk to you in the hallway before you go.”

“Gotcha.” What’s this all about?

Aaron and I walked out of the grandiose office into the relatively constructing hallways around it. The moment the doors closed, Aaron was off, back to whatever class he had that block. Ms. Copper cleared her throat.

“Ms. Beta, I– you know what, I’ll just call you Shiera, it’s easier that way. Shiera, I knew your mother. Myla and I grew up together on Earth. So trust me when I say I won’t say a word.”

That was sudden. “A word about what?”

“You met with the Queen earlier today, didn’t you?”

“Uh… yeah.”

“What did she tell you?”

Why the hell do you want to know? “Oh, I dunno. She wants some heirloom back by next week. I have to go find it, and she said it’s probably in my old house somewhere,” I explained.

Ms. Copper peered at me, her rusty-red eyes meeting mine. “Anything else?”

“Something something about werewolves being terrible, maybe some ranting about my mom. I don’t remember all of it.”

“Nothing about the war?”

“Wha… well, yeah, she said the war was pointless, I think.”

She never said that, Sakira mentioned.

I know.

Why would you say it, then?

Hell if I’m telling you.

Ms. Copper turned, staring at the doors. She kept moving her fingers around in her fists like she was trying to crack her knuckles one-handed. “Huh. I was just wondering if she’d said anything about your father.”


“Don’t worry about it.” She walked down the hall back to her classroom. The slam of the door echoed through the empty halls.


Sakira cut through the air, dodging and weaving around the rain of bullets. His tendrils licked violently at the sky as he spun and flipped. Suddenly, the machinery’s whir died down.

He took off his three-fingered gloves and set his hand on the water table. “What is it now?” he asked, eyeing the subordinate who’d shut off his practice. Her nyura flapped in the wind of the open sky.

“Sir, they’ll be launching an attack on Ensilion in a week from today,” Destiny answered. She leaned against the doorframe with the steel bracelet on her wrist; anywhere else and she would have phased through it.

Sakira lowered his stance, concerned. “Where did you get that information?”

“Your journal.”

“That’s off-limits to you, Destiny.”

She rolled her eyes. “You left it out on the balcony. It’s not my fault you forgot to close it.”

“Don’t look at it next time,” Sakira sighed. I don’t remember putting that in my journal, but then again, I was writing it while Shiera was talking to Copper and Milliheim. Maybe it slipped in there.

“I was coming to ask you how you found out,” Destiny said. She approached him in the training room, looking up at him even though she could have easily floated to his level. “Do you have a mole?”

His hand absorbed some of the water. “No. I bugged the headmaster’s room while I took Kori.”

“You’re good at planning ahead,” she complimented, circling around him. She put her arm around his shoulders and leaned close.

Sakira stared at her, unimpressed. “What are you trying?”

She backed off. “I’m testing the persuasive act of seduction. Is it working?”

“It would have worked had I not known you a lesbian.”

“Yes, that’s the caveat. I’m still working around it,” she laughed. “Maybe I can find a way to charm the ladies instead?”

“Maybe someday,” Sakira said. “So is that all?”

“I was just going to suggest you meet with the commanders to set up a plan for the attack on the 29th,” she said. “Oh, and I wanted to ask you about the experiments.”

He turned his head to the locked metal door just down the hall. “I gave you permission to access them, yes?”

“Yes. I wanted to know what your plans were.”

“The research on Kori and his genetics is done. Any day now I could implement our findings on Han Hito and edit his genome.”

“And on Andershire?” Destiny asked. “She was a favorite of mine. She would ramble all day about how terrible the system is. I can’t help but root for her.”

Sakira nodded, armor clanking. “She’ll be back in Atlas soon enough.”

“I imagine that transition won’t be smooth,” she giggled, “after what she ‘did to’ Pharaoh.”

“Quite,” Sakira said. “And before you ask, yes, Twilight testing is progressing smoothly. As it stands, though, it would be far better to start with an existing vessel than to create one from scratch.”

“I see. Do you want me to gather data on prime subjects?”

“Please do.”

“I’ll see myself to it, then,” Destiny said, slipping out of the doorway. Her phantasmic lavender body still showed the door to that cursed laboratory through it. “Have fun dodging bullets.”

Sakira took his hand out of the water table and waited for Destiny to leave. Once he was sure she was gone, he floated to the metal laboratory door, reached for the key under the doormat, and opened it. Its dark, chilling corridor looked as if ripped from a horror movie.

He closed the door behind him as he flew, his eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness. He rounded a corner and eyed all his tests— blue-tinted glass covered everything, coloring the scene a cyan hue.

Next to Kori’s test tube was a small cabinet which held all his possessions. Sakira hesitantly opened it and saw the sickle. Was it glowing blue, or was it just the reflected light? He couldn’t tell.

I need to give this to Shiera. But I can’t. She would kill me. Perhaps she would kill all of us. After the bullshit Teresa told her, she won’t believe a word I say. He set it back in the cabinet.

Everything I tell her she’ll pin down as manipulation. I can’t even use reverse psychology, because it’d only prove her point. My whole plan’s been derailed because of that stupid Queen. She did it to Nathan, too.

I remember watching from her mind when Destiny shot at her. Never had I been so angry at my own commander. He raised his whisps, the closest thing he had to a smile. I thought saving her would solidify our bond. But, as always, humans are unreasonable. She thinks she drove those legions away herself.

He looked up to the ceiling, smiling to himself. Humans are so unreasonable… but if they’re all like Shiera, maybe they’re not so irredeemable after all.
Steward McOy