Mahō no Gakkō: Chromatic
We stood in the static for some time, waves of grainy nothing washing over our ears. I reached up and triple-tapped the device— silence. “We gotta get moving.”
Aubrey tore her eyes from the neon abyss and met my gaze. “Where would we go?” she sighed. “The maps were fake. We don’t know anything.”
I didn’t have much of a response. “Yeah, but…”
“No, I get it. You’re right, we gotta get outta here.” I thought her accent had returned for a second, but no— there was no southern rasp, just an informal dialect. It was a sort of in-between.
“Is there an emergency protocol or something?” I asked.
“Then why haven’t we done that?” I questioned.
She growled. “Gah– let me finish. We can’t do anything ‘cause we’d have to give a codeword to Atlas.”
“And why can’t we give the codeword to– oh, we needed the intercoms,” I realized.
“Yup.” Aubrey hung her head.
I looked back, examining the hallways. There were dark tinted glass corridors on either side, reflecting the dim lights in the ceiling. The tiled grey floors spanned endlessly— that is, until the end of the hallway, which led to another window.
There were offshoots of the main hallway, of course. The spirits had to have a way to ascend and descend through the building, so some form of elevator or staircase was bound to appear somewhere.
The only issue, then, was the chance a spirit would find and possess the two of us. I steeled myself and began my trek forward. “I’ll set a shield in front of us. If I see anyone, I’ll… uh, hold up a hand, I guess.”
“That’d break your focus,” Aubrey said. “Just tap the ground with your foot.”
“Got it.” I put out my hands, closed my eyes, and reopened them to see a cyan shield a meter or so away. We started pushing further into the base, passing the storage room and rounding any corners we could find.
We began to notice signs scattered all around the hallways, always strewn with a language I couldn’t read. Its triangular symbols reminded me of the runes scrolling across the shield in front of me.
“How far ahead do you think everyone else is?” I asked quietly.
I heard Aubrey’s voice close behind me. “You want me to guess?”
“They’re probably possessed.”
I stopped. “What?”
Aubrey bumped into me. “Ow,” she said, backing up a little. “If that Destiny spirit was possessing Ms. Copper, she probably led ‘em into a trap, right?”
“So what you’re saying is,” I groaned, “we can’t get back to the rest of the group because they’d kill us.”
“And we have no idea where we are in the tower, and we don’t know how to leave.” I turned back around and kept moving. “This is…”
“Yeah, but I was looking for a better word.”
We kept moving down the halls. By now, we were pretty certain there weren’t any spirits on this floor— at least, not yet. We found an elevator and decided to take a short break beside it before we went further.
Aubrey sighed. “Y’know, I met most a’ the sector in Atlean class. Are you taking that class yet?”
“That’s hella random.”
She smiled, her sharp teeth sticking out a little. “I hated that class, man. I didn’t know anyone, and I always sucked at language classes. Back on Earth, I failed Spanish in elementary school, and half my cousins speak Spanish.”
“Where are you going with this?” I asked.
“Well, in Atlean class, I met Aka. We were barely passing, so the teacher held us after one of the classes. She taught us this word, ‘nordell’, and told us to get our grades up.”
I blinked. “Didn’t Ms. Copper say that in a class once?”
“Yeah, it’s the name of a holiday, but that’s not all it is.”
“What does it mean?”
Aubrey looked across the hallway. “It roughly means ‘to make the best out of a bad situation’. The holiday’s the day we won the Atlas War.”
I grimaced. “Make the best out of a bad situation, huh?”
“Yeah, so me and Aka made it our goal to ‘nordell’ Atlean. We studied together and managed to get an A in the class.”
“So you’re saying we should… uh, ‘nordell’ this whole mess?” I asked.
“Exactly. We just gotta keep a positive attitude and work hard. ‘Cause Milliheim’ll find out eventually, right? We just gotta stick it out.” Aubrey gave me a thumbs-up.
I pushed myself against the wall to stand up. “Or finish the mission.”
“Or finish the mission, yeah.” Aubrey held a hand out— I clasped it and pulled her up. She walked over and pushed the call button on the elevator. “Get a shield ready just in case.”
I recast the shield and stood to the side of the elevator. As the lift came down, I heard murmuring. Spirits. “We can’t fight them,” I spat.
“Shh!” Aubrey held her hand on my shoulder and grabbed her axe. Magenta began to drip-drip down her arm, over my body and into my clothes. My eyesight began to fade, and suddenly, the world was pitch-black.
I held my breath as a conversation between spirits floated by. Tick, tick, tick— I couldn’t hold my breath forever.
I heard the drawing of a sword and shook a little. I didn’t know what was happening, nor why Aubrey had just blinded me, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to move.
Finally, their voices began to fade. It seemed like they were about to leave— dammit, they got louder again. I held the air in, but my lungs began to ache for oxygen.
The moment their voices rounded the corner, I let out my breath. Aubrey took her hand off of me as the two of us gasped for air. We slipped into the elevator and closed the doors.
“What the hell was that?”
“What was what?”
I blinked in astonishment. “You just blinded me.”
“Oh,” she snickered. “I turned us invisible.”
“Wha– then why did I go blind?”
“If light passes through your eyes, you can’t see it, can you?” Aubrey explained.
“Could’ve warned me,” I groaned, turning to the dashboard. “What floor?”
Aubrey peered at the array of buttons with her lightning-green eyes. “One of them says ‘Sa’. Go to that one.”
“None of them say that,” I replied. “They’re all in the weird triangular language.”
“Sorry. Hit the second one from the top,” she corrected. I tapped it and leaned up against the wall. “That’s the one.”
“How’d you know?”
“Atlean class taught us the alphabet.”
I turned around and looked through the window in the elevator. After all, looking at the floor we were on, it appeared we’d be here for a while. I watched the neon below us descend as we rose higher and higher up, my reflection staring back at me.
I glanced over. “What do we do once we get to Sakira?”
Aubrey’s ears perked up. “What?”
“We’re gonna have to fight him, right?”
She looked back out the window, putting a hand in her pocket. “Eventually.”
“So how do we do that?” I asked her. “He’s, like, all-powerful.”
“We’ll find out when we get there,” Aubrey replied. “Take it one step at a time.”
“They didn’t ‘nordell’ the Atlas War one step at a time,” I muttered.
Aubrey nodded. “Fair.”
“So what’s the–” the elevator came to a halt. Someone was getting on. Aubrey dashed over and covered me with her body before the doors opened. A flash of magenta blinded me instantly.
Ka-clack, and the doors slid apart. I heard the clanking of armor. “If you don’t comply, we’ll possess you too,” a spirit said.
“What do you want us to do?” someone replied. I recognized her voice— Sydney. Was she being taken hostage?
“Are there any more of you?” another spirit, this one female, spat. The doors closed behind them, and the elevator began to move.
Sydney cleared her throat. “Two, yes.”
“And where are they?”
“I don’t know.”
Another sword drawn. “Liar.”
“I’m no liar,” Sydney replied calmly. “Last I saw, they were in the storage room we entered from.”
The click-clack of buttons hit my ears. “The tracker says there are no lifeforms in the storage room,” the male spirit said.
“They’ve left, then,” Sydney answered.
“Wait a moment,” the female spirit called out, “the tracker says there are four lifeforms in the elevator.”
“Are there not?” a new voice spoke— Aaron.
“Spirits don’t usually register on the tracker,” she explained. “I don’t know why we would be now.”
A moment of silence passed as the spirits tried to figure out what was happening. “You know,” Sydney said, “we’re faced towards the window. If the doors opened and those two took you out, you’d be none the wiser.”
“What are you trying to say, kamunai?” the male exclaimed. “Your friends couldn’t kill us if they tried.”
“Correction. One of them is the only reason your storm on Atlas failed,” she continued. “She held off a hundred spirits at Wall Phasma. She could easily take the two of you if you aren’t ready.” She cleared her throat again.
“Why are you warning them?” Aaron hissed. “Those two are our only hope!”
“Some hostages are clearly more loyal to their captors,” the female spirit laughed. “Yes, let’s turn around. If their friends decide to attack us, they’ll have quite the surprise coming.”
Aubrey pressed a finger down on my shoulder and started moving it. I recognized she was spelling out letters. A… T… T… A… I got the message and ducked out from under her. Immediately, my vision returned, and I cast out my hands—
BLAM! Both the spirits slammed against the wall and slumped to the ground. “Glad you caught on,” Sydney said, her orange hair rippling as she turned around.
Aaron whipped over his shoulder, his mouth wide. “Wha–?!”
Aubrey reappeared. “Heya,” she chuckled. “Didn’t expect ta see y’all here.”
“Neither did we you,” Aaron replied, still flabbergasted. “And thank God for it.”
“Any idea where we’re headed?” I asked. “And what happened to the rest of the sector?”
Aaron crossed his arms. “Aka happened.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Aubrey snarked.
“He thought he could get all commander with us, so he took charge and ended up leading us into a room full of spirits,” Aaron answered. “Only reason Sydney and I aren’t possessed is because we said we would give them information.”
“Were you planning to?” Aubrey questioned.
“Yes.” “No.” Aaron and Sydney stared at each other for a moment.
“Alright, whatever. Where are we going?” I asked again.
Sydney looked at me with her glazed-over eyes. “The planning room. It’s right next to the labs.”
“How do you know?”
“The maps are fake.”
Sydney smiled. “That spirit didn’t change everything, trust me.”
The elevator came to a halt again. “This is the floor,” Aaron said. “I’ll stay here and look for the others. Be careful.”
When the doors opened, I was fully expecting to be bombarded with spirits. As it turned out, no one was waiting for us. The three of us— Aubrey, Sydney, and I— stepped over the unconscious spirits and braced ourselves as we pushed onward.
The red carpet led us quickly to the planning room. It looked similar to Milliheim’s, with a tall ceiling and pillars to compliment its steel sheen. Just beside it was a dark metal door— that had to be it, didn’t it? I walked up to it and turned the handle.
To my surprise, it was already cracked open. The three of us snuck in and made our way down the dimly-lit hall. “Shiera, slow down. Why was the door unlocked?” Aubrey hissed.
“Does it matter?”
“It might be a trap,” she whispered. “If Sakira catches us off-guard, then we’re–”
“It’s not a trap,” Sydney blurted, “so quit worrying.”
Aubrey looked back. “How do you know?”
“Same way I knew you two were invisible in that elevator. Foresight.”
I rounded the corner and stared in awe at the rows of test tubes. Various specimens floated inside each— I made my way through, trying to find Kori in the cyan light, but I couldn’t see him anywhere.
“Hey, look at this!” Aubrey snapped. “That’s Eliana!”
I turned around to see what she was looking at. In one of the tubes was a white-haired girl with messy clothes, completely unconscious. “Who’s that?” I asked.
“She’s the… um, the werewolf that got kicked out of Sector 53. Why is she here?” Aubrey sighed, confused. “Atlas said she got sent to Lunett.”
Sydney opened a cabinet next to the tube. “Says here she was intercepted from a Lunetian caravan, pleading her innocence.”
“Anything else?” Aubrey asked.
“There are some notes on her from interrogation,” Sydney said. “They say this: ‘she knows she never attacked anyone, and that she locked herself up on the full moon. When she left the bathroom in the morning, she couldn’t find her roommate and was soon arrested for reasons unknown to her’.”
Aubrey’s ears flattened out. “So she was a werewolf.”
“But she was also innocent,” Sydney added.
I groaned. “Guys, we’re here for Kori. Help me find him.”
Aubrey tore herself from Eliana’s tube and started searching. Sydney looked through the cabinets beside each tube, reading up on the subjects.
After a bit, while we were examining an empty test tube, I noticed one of the drawers was ajar. “Hey, Sydney, did you…?”
“Haven’t checked that one yet.”
“Thanks,” I replied, peering into the cabinet. There was a strange reflective blade inside— I picked it up and inspected it. It was a sickle with a sharply curved blade and an ornate leather handle. It was unnaturally light.
Aubrey tapped my shoulder. “Is that the sickle you were looking for?”
“I think so, yeah.”
“That’s actually really bad, then.”
I tilted my head and turned around. “Huh? Why?”
Sydney put her hands on her hips. “It means this was Kori’s test tube. And he’s not in there, so now we have a lot more to worry about.”