Chapter 27:

From Your Future

Mahō no Gakkō: Chromatic

“…Ticking.” The intercoms cut out, and that word echoed through the hallways, relentlessly attacking from all angles. I shoved my chair out and stood up with a jolt.

Aubrey followed suit, ready to run out at a moment’s notice. Aaron, of course, was already standing up, but Aka didn’t seem too intrigued by the announcement. “I’ll meet up with you guys later,” he grumbled. “Or maybe I’ll be dead or something.”

“I’m makin’ an executive decision! Aka, yer comin’ with us!” Aubrey growled, grabbing him by the collar of his jersey. She practically dragged him along as we made our way through the crowded cafeteria.

When we reached the hallway, we found it was even more packed than before. Students were going every which way, bumping into each other and freaking out. “We’re going through the courtyard!” I called. We pushed our way through and, after a bit of struggle, entered the code to open the cyan gates.

The sun was close to the horizon, or at least, it seemed like it over the halls of the school. The four of us rushed through the significantly less crowded courtyard and reached the doors at a blinding pace.

Aka went ahead and pushed on the doors to the cathedral. They didn’t budge. “They’re locked. We should just leave it be. Y’know, maybe give it some space, just in case I–”

Aubrey shouldered him and turned the handles to open them. “Yer gonna be fine, Aka. Sydney said it was somethin’ a couple days from now. And it’s today, not a couple days from now.” She continued to push him along as we squeezed our way into the cathedral.

As per usual, Aubrey made a point to get in one of the small balconies. We managed to snatch one before another group could get it, and as we watched from above, we noticed something strange.

There’s… something on the stage. What is that? It was an angular-looking machine, steel edges welded with a substance dark as pitch. It looked just big enough to fit five people in it, if they were crouched down, and its door wasn’t very large, either. Claustrophobia nightmare machine, I guess.

Aka was intentionally closing his eyes and looking away. “I can’t die if I don’t know what kills me, right?” he whimpered.

Aaron manifested a bat of yellow magic and lightly hit him on the head. “You struggle with object permanence.”

The spectral lights in the cathedral began to dim, like stage lights before a play. The door to the machine creaked open— smoke billowed out from the inside, a wispy waterfall spreading onto the stage. Whoever it is, they sure know how to make an entrance.

Out of the machine emerged a sleek figure, her form outlined by her tight black robes. She stepped confidently onto the stage and shut the door behind her. It seemed she already had a microphone in hand— she brought it to her fox-masked face and looked out into the crowd.

“I’m not gonna keep you waiting. Atlas is under attack,” she said. Her voice was… familiar, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. I felt like I’d heard it in the hallways before. “I know, I know. You guys just calmed the war down. But this is serious.”

Aaron was getting ticked. “Who does she think she is?” he whispered, eyeing her angrily. “She doesn’t look much older than us, but she’s acting like she’s the Queen.”

“I also know that there are some of you doubting my authority,” she continued, as if calling Aaron out. There’s no way she heard that! “Let me clarify. Me and the others— there are five of us— are time travelers. This… attack, bombing, whatever you wanna call it, it happened to us. And we’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.”

Time travelers? There’s no way that’s right. Only Teresa can… oh. The request. That’s what that was. Aubrey glanced at me. “Do you believe her?”

“…It makes sense,” I replied warily. “We accepted a time travel request, and now there are time travelers. Cause and effect.”

Aubrey nodded. “Yeah. That’s what I think, too. But… how?”

“That’s probably a time machine,” I guessed. “You see the weird black stuff on it?”

“Key magic. Yeah, that’s it.”

The fox-masked time traveler paced as she talked. “This attack is set to happen at seven at night on October 1st. If it’s the 29th, then that’s almost exactly 48 hours to prepare. The five of us will be going around the school to set up the defenses. We might enlist some of you to help, so do your part, alright?”

I looked back to check on Aka, and I found he was now actively observing the situation, rather than hiding away in the corner. His sharp orange eyes were locked onto the traveler. “I don’t like this.”

“Aka, fer the last time, nothin’s gonna happen,” Aubrey hissed.

“No. I mean, she’s suspicious as fuck, and the fact that she– whatever, I’ll tell you later,” he explained, shutting up as the microphone came back on.

From the rafters, another black-robed traveler fell, being caught only by cyan magic from Foxmask. He was more sturdily built, but he still seemed young— a bit older than us. He wore a mask resembling a wolf, his silvery-brown hair poking out from beneath his hood.

Foxmask handed him the mic, and he began to speak. “Each of us is in charge of a different part of the operation. You can identify us by the masks we wear. Fox leads shields, Tiger leads lookout, Dragon leads backup defense, Angel leads reconnaissance, and I lead attack. You can ask us if you have any further questions.”

Aaron shoved me aside and got out on the further point of the balcony. “What the hell’re you doing?” I whispered angrily.

“You think you can just storm in here and order us around? Leave the students out of this! Talk to Milliheim first!” he shouted. “If anything, you’re making things worse!”

Foxmask took the mic back from Wolfmask and turned to face Aaron up on the balcony. “We’ve already talked to him. That’s why the request got accepted in the first place.”

Aaron stepped back from the balcony, puzzled. “How does she know that?” he said to himself.

I grabbed his plated shoulder. “Dude, they’re the ones who requested it. Of course they know it got accepted. They’re here.”

“B-but still…” he sighed. “Fine. This just seems… unorthodox.”

“In conclusion,” Foxmask said into the mic, “you should keep on living out your day-to-day lives. But when the time comes, we want everyone to lend a hand in keeping this place safe. That’s all. You can finish dinner now.” She and Wolfmask walked offstage into the Mirror Hall, their footsteps audible even after they’d vanished.

The lights brightened again, and with them came chatter and panic. A reasonable reaction to being told your school’s about to get bombed. The four of us stayed on the balcony for a second.

“Let’s get a few things out of the way.” Aka spoke first, standing firmly in the middle. “We all agree that they’re actually time travelers, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. Aubrey nodded along, and Aaron let out a soft ‘yes’.

“Great. Next thing. Did any of you recognize voices? If these are time travelers, they might be people we know,” he suggested.

I was going to speak up, but Aaron made his point first. “The voice on the intercom sounded familiar,” he said. “It’s somewhat higher-pitched, but the verbal inflections were similar to yours, Aka.”

“That one we can rule out as a coincidence,” Aka replied. “No way my voice gets higher as I get older.”

“I recognized the Foxmask girl’s voice,” I mentioned.

Aka turned his head to face me, his green hair waving. “Whose was it?”

“I don’t know, I just… it sounded familiar. I don’t know who has that voice. Maybe I’ve heard it in the hallways before, but I think it’s someone that goes here. And same with the Wolfmask.”

“Thanks,” Aka said. “Any last calls?”

Aubrey hung her head. “Nope. You’d think I woulda been able ta pick up on somethin’ with these ears, but nope…”

Aka crossed his arms. He wasn’t wearing his bracelets, so for the first time, they actually crossed properly. “Alright. Big question. Do we trust them?”

“Yup.” “No.” “Yes.” I was surprised to find myself alone in my suspicion. Aubrey and Aaron both gave me a look.

Aka seemed shocked, too. “I’m with Shiera on this one. I don’t know how you guys think they’re safe.”

“They evidently talked with Milliheim. That alone makes them our allies, doesn’t it?” Aaron proposed.

“Heck no it doesn’t. Ms. Copper talked with Milliheim, and she almost got us killed.”

Aaron shook his head. “That was different. What would they be planning to do, anyways?”

“Oh, I dunno, maybe they’ll use the defense as a cover while they go in and do the dirty work themselves? Maybe they’re the ones trying to blow us up.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” I added. “And if they can’t show us their faces, there’s always the chance they’re possessed, right?”

Aubrey growled. “It’s probably a time travel thing! If ya went back in time, wouldja wantchyer past self seein’ ya and freakin’ out? No!” She glanced back at the stage. “And besides, we’ll keep an eye on ‘em. If they slip up, we’ll wipe the floor with ‘em, easy.”

“Wha– but they’re clearly– fine. We’ll just… keep an eye on them for now. But we don’t have a lot of time, okay?” Aka muttered.

“Understood,” Aaron said. “For now, let’s just go and finish our dinner.”

“Yeah, I’m hungry,” Aubrey added. Her stomach verbally agreed to this— quite loudly, in fact.

We made our way back to the cafeteria and found that our food hadn’t been taken. After quickly eating up, Aka and I ran up to Milliheim’s office to ask him about the intruders.

In front of the office was a new face— it was another traveler, his black robes tightly fitted to his slender body. His mask was in the shape of a dragon’s face. “What are you two doing here?” he questioned. His voice was the one we’d heard over the intercoms.

Aka walked up to him and gestured to the doors behind him. “We’re gonna ask Milliheim about this weird thing you guys are up to.”

Dragonmask shook his head. “Milliheim’s doors aren’t open right now.”

“Tell him we’re from Sector 53.”

“That won’t change anything.” It was weird hearing them argue— Aaron was right, their voices were pretty similar. There were distinct differences, enough to say they were definitely two different people, but…

I pulled Aka back. “Is he busy with stuff?” I asked.

Dragonmask nodded his head fervently. “Super busy, yeah. He’s working on logistics for defending against the attack.”

“Why won’t the shields keep ‘em out?” Aka questioned.

“Oh, they should work, yeah. It’s just…” Dragonmask paused. “Sorry, I don’t know whether I’m allowed to say it. Time travel’s way harder than I thought it would be.”

Aka sneered. “I don’t like you.”

“Wha– well, okay,” Dragonmask said, looking away. “I mean, it’s not like I can get everyone to like me.”

“Bullshit,” Aka said. “And that’s not the point. Something’s off about you. You and all the time travelers.”

He held his hands up in resignation. “I mean, that makes sense, y’know? We’re from the future. That’s–”

“Listen here.” Aka poked a finger into Dragonmask’s sternum. “You’re gonna let us into that room, or I’m gonna rip off that mask like it’s Persona 5.”

Dragonmask backed up against the door. “H-hey, we can talk this out.”

“Three seconds,” Aka hissed.

“I can’t let you in there. Milliheim’s busy, and I’m on guard for him, alright? He won’t be happy if you–”

“Time’s up.”

Aka swiped the boy’s mask with one quick movement. It snapped back on quickly— it had an elastic strap on the back, apparently— but the opening gave him enough time to swing open the doors. He and I snuck inside while Dragonmask fixed his mask.

The two of us ended up face-to-face with Milliheim, sitting at his desk. Beside him was another time traveler— Angelmask, by the looks of it. Her mask had wings wrapped around it, but apart from that, she didn’t look much like an angel.

“Cryojen and Beta. Surprise seeing you here,” Milliheim said. “What’s the matter?”

Aka shot a glance at Angelmask and looked back. “What the heck is up with these time travelers?”

Milliheim gave a warm smile. “They’re the ones who sent that request. Our friend here was just explaining to me how they managed to travel back in the first place.”

“Our friend?” Aka spat. “Who says they’re our friends?”

“Cryojen, I know you can be distrustful, but really, they haven’t come to hurt us. Without them, we wouldn’t have known there was an attack coming,” he replied.

I spoke up. “His point is, what if they’re the reason the attack is going to happen?”

Milliheim tilted his head. “Pardon?”

“Maybe they’re setting everything up to blow up the school themselves,” I suggested. “We can’t see their faces, so they might be possessed, right?” But Sakira wouldn’t do that, would he? Not after everything that’s happened.

“Would you like me to show you my face as proof?” Angelmask asked. She put her gloved hand to her mask and slid it off. Sure enough, her eyes weren’t red. In fact, I couldn’t tell what color they were— they were glazed over, as if she were blind.

But she clearly wasn’t blind. Her fiery orange hair was tucked into a loop under her dark hood, which she promptly lifted off. Her ashen white skin glowed like a phoenix. I didn’t even have to recognize her British accent to know who she was.

“Fate is a strange thing, isn’t it?”

Steward McOy