What… is going on? This utterly otherworldly girl is talking to Mio, of all people? And what in the world is she asking? An Alliance? Mio hasn’t the faintest idea how to respond. Her mind still… loading, the only sounds she seems capable of making are befuddled stammers. But Ragyou doesn’t stop there. Releasing Mio’s hands, only to put her own on the stunned girl’s shoulders, she grins wide with that blinding smile of hers. “Hey! Micchin! You ‘wake?”
The cheery gyaru cocks her head to one side, still beaming at Mio with the most quizzical of smiles, a question mark practically floating over her head. “Hm?”
“Why me?” Mio grasps at the scarf wrapped around her neck. Her head dips further. Not unlike a turtle trying to retreat into her shell. “There must be tons of other Espers on Campus you could ask.”
It makes sense. It’s no secret that there are plenty of Espers around the school. Some of them had to be in the Royale aside from Mio, right? And yet, when faced with that reality, Ragyou shrugs. With a bounce, she plops herself down backwards in the seat in front of Mio’s and leans over her desk, pointing at her with one of those long, neon blue nails of hers. “Totally! But I’m askin’ Micchin, y’know? So whataya say?”
Completely ignored. Mio’s dull, grey eyes slowly track upward, scanning the bright, grinning face of the creature across from her. There’s really no helping it, is there? How does one argue with a complete non-answer like that? Perhaps it’d be easier to simply agree to it. And maybe this could work. An ally would mean help in the Royale, right? Right. So, though slight, Mio nods her head with the faintest little “Mm…”
It’s not a dedicated yes, but the cute little noise of confirmation is enough for Ragyou. “Yay!” she cheers, delicately curling a hand into a fist and raising it in front of her new partner. Mio stares at it, eventually raising a fist of her own, meeting Ragyou’s in a pitifully sluggish and limp bump. And though her head is still foggy, a light, bouncing tone cuts through that haze. “We’re a team now, Micchin! We’re totally gonna win this thing!”
Win. Right. That’s the aim now, isn’t it? Not just surviving, but winning. What Jun had asked of her in that holo. “Yeah…”
It only takes a minute for the girls to go through the official process, registering each other as partners in the Royale and exchanging Link Contacts to keep in touch. But even with all of that out of the way, Ragyou isn’t done with the girl, it seems. Not yet. She gives Mio a bit of a start when, right as they wrap up, she suddenly sits upright and claps her hands together. “Oh hey! Let’s show each other our Familiars! Ah, more like… if we’re gonna be a team, we gotta know what each other can do, right?”
Oh. That had completely gotten by Mio. But thinking about it, she hadn’t called her Familiar since back then. It disappeared on its own after the fight and she put it out of her mind. Now she feels compelled to cover her Link with her hand when Ragyou brings it up, meekly avoiding further eye contact. Should she have told Ragyou before they became teammates? She’s seen holo-vids. Espers with Familiars that let them crush cars or bend lightning or fly. Compared to that, her tiny little lizard creature…
“Here, I’ll go first! Maron!” Not a beat missed. Wait… Maron? Mio readies herself for what she might be about to see as glimmers of white light gather together at Ragyou’s call, giving shape to… something unexpected. A small, luminescent, rabbit-like creature with long, upright ears and a large cotton ball of a tail. The adorable thing scratches at its round face with its tiny mitts and sharply turns its head to stare at Mio with it’s beady, red eyes. An ear-to-ear grin spreads across Ragyou’s face and she reaches out, petting her little friend with a single finger. “Ahaha! I’nnit cute?”
Mio eyes the critter. It’s not completely like a rabbit. Given a closer look, it has claws. The tooth protruding from its mouth is sharp. Even its ears seem to have a pronounced point. Like floppy swords. Still, Ragyou’s not wrong. It’s definitely cute. Mio tries to reach out and pet the little thing, but the instant her hand nears its head, it pulls an about-face and hops straight at Ragyou, disappearing into her body like a ghost. “Eh?”
“Eh?” Before long, a pair of floppy ears appear atop Ragyou’s head and she laughs it off. “Oh no, I became a bunny girl! Maron, what’re ya afraid of Micchin for?! Soz, Micchin. Don’t worry about it. She’s real timid, y’know? Anyway, what about yours?”
“M-mine…” Mio stares at her Link. What would Ragyou say about hers? Maron is small and cute too, so… maybe it wouldn’t be so bad? But what if it’s secretly really strong? Or it gave her really strong abilities? The dread from lack of foresight - or perhaps too much foresight - creeps over her. Though it can’t compare to the feeling that comes next. Familiars come out with just a thought, right? Yet, when Mio thinks hers up, nothing happens. For several seconds there’s no sign of anything at all. Huh? But…
Ragyou cocks her head and looks around. “What’sa matter? Did you already call it?” But before Mio can get a word in, the girl gasps. “Wait wait wait! Is it, like, invisible?! Or maybe it’s really really tiny, right?” Well… that second part isn’t completely false.
“It’s not showing up.”
“Hm. Maybe yours is really shy too, Micchin.” Given what Mio could remember from the other day? Doubtful. Extremely doubtful. But that thought’s interrupted by Ragyou springing up from her seat, planting her hands on her hips. “Then maybe if you give it a name!”
Mio blinks. “Name?”
“Yeah! Like how I named mine Maron! It’s super cute to name ‘em o’course, but it’s also really helpful, right? Like, it gives ya somethin’ to latch onto when you wanna call your little buddy!” It’s an idea. Naming the Familiars had caught on and become trendy, especially with other teens. Maybe there was actually a benefit to it. That said… what to call the little thing? “Hey, I could even help you come up with something! My names are super cute, right?”
Mio stalls out. Maron… Micchin… “That’s…”
“So what’s it like?”
“Like? It’s…” Mouthy little gecko doesn’t sound great, does it? Mio shakes herself, grabbing her sketchpad and backpack and standing from her seat. Naming it can wait. For now, there’re more pressing things to understand. “I’ll work on it so I can show you later. I should really get home now, before my mom worries.”
“Hm? Oh, okay. Sure thing.” Gathering her own things, Ragyou gets up and walks with Mio to the school’s train platform. The whole way there, she fiddles around with her Link, probably talking to some of her actual friends. How in the world had Mio wound up in the company of someone like this? Eventually, her train pulls up. She glances over to Ragyou, busily tapping away at her interface without a care. Rather than interrupt her, Mio quietly steps aboard. But just before the doors close behind her, a cheery voice turns her around. Ragyou, of course, flashing a peace sign Mio’s way with that happy-go-lucky smile of hers and a friendly farewell chime of “Later, Micchin!”
Flummoxed, Mio stares back at her, finally raising a hand with a timid little wave and a quiet “Bye,” under her breath as the doors shut. Then the train pulls away from the platform.
Later, Mio steps onto the curb right outside the little shophouse she calls home, with the Pageturner Books holo-sign illuminating the front window. “Tadaima…” she says as she walks through the door to the sound of a jingling bell.
No sooner does the door shut behind her than she’s ambushed by a shrill, piercing noise and set upon by a weight not her own. “Miooooo!” A pair of long arms reach around and wrap her up as snugly as can be, pulling her into something tall and soft, a fleshy part like someone’s cheek pressing against Mio’s own. “Mio, Okaeri!”
“Mom, what if a customer walks in?”
No dice. This loud woman - Mio’s mother - stays right where she is, snuggling her girl like a life-sized doll and poking her tongue out at her. “Nope. Not budging.” But despite this, Mio barely reacts. At this point, it’s routine. Mio’s eyes wander as this woman who looks like her squishes the girl into her soft bosom. There really is no escaping this. Mio’s mother is surprisingly strong. “I missed it before you left so now I gotta let my battery recharge with my daily dose of Mio energy.”
Well… one thing is certain. Mio isn’t going anywhere for a while. May as well ask now, while she’s in this position. “Mom? Do we have any books on Familiars or Xenos?”
A curious look overtakes her mother’s face and she pulls herself back a bit, touching an index finger to her chin and cocking her head. “Hm?”
The girl’s room is shockingly more colorful than the person who dwells there, even as the blanket of night darkens it. It’s nothing but four walls of manga posters, lined with shelves of anime and video games, all sporting such bright hues. Mio, herself, sits at her desk, having fallen asleep over an open book. But that doesn’t last especially long. Something - a pulling sensation in the back of her skull - stirs her awake. She sits herself up with a yawn, swiping the interface of her sleeping holo-computer to wake it up. Once its digital display is back online, she squints at the clock in the corner of the screen. So late. Does she even bother going back to sleep? A drowsy mumble of “Bright…” slinks out just ahead of another yawn as she rubs her eyes and shuts the holo-computer display, once again.
“I prefer the dark, myself.”
Still groggy and barely awake, Mio nods in agreement, squeaking out a little “Mm…” Then she rests her head against her fist, likely to fall asleep agai-... Wait. Suddenly, the girl jumps back to life, squealing in surprise as she jerks her body and sharply turns her head to the little gecko creature, sitting on her shoulder, looking right at her. She covers her mouth to stifle it and not wake her mother or neighbors, but the pale, wide-eyed expression on her face says it all.
“Oi, watch the flailing! I’m sitting up here!” The tiny lizard sneers at her with its mouthful of itty bitty points. Then it crawls down her arm and onto the desk.
The little critter huffs and turns its head down, eventually taking notice of the book it’s standing on. It pores over the open pages at all the complicated terminology and graphs. “Eh? What’s this supposed to be?”
Shifting her gaze away, Mio retreats into herself, little by little. “I… wanted to learn more about xenos and familiars, so I got some books.”
“Heeeh? So even a space case like you can think ahead a little, huh?”
Curiosity has to be expected, right? Her experiences so far have already been so… so different. From Jun’s ravenous Lycan familiar to Ragyou’s cute little Maron, how much more is there to know about these things? They’ve only ever been glossed over in school. “Ever since all of this started, I’ve had a lot of questions, so…”
Mio’s words fall away as she observes her partner, seemingly paying her no attention at all. But… here’s a good opportunity. She could just ask him whatever she’d wanted to know, right? He would know. He should. And he could answer her. “Um… honestly I’ve never heard of a familiar talking.”
“Of course I can talk!” The little gecko glares at Mio with its burning orange eyes. “You think we’re all just wild things like that mutt from before?”
Mio dips her head. Perhaps this isn’t the best idea. But still, if this is her partner, shouldn’t she know as much about him as possible? Then something occurs to her. That mutt from before? Jun’s familiar? “Ah… come to think of it, I didn’t know where you went after that. I tried calling you out yesterday, but…”
“Eh? Oh yeah. I was resting up after that little snack.”
Mio blinks. Snack? “O-oh. Then, to make it easier to call you, in the future, I was wondering if you, um… had something you wanted to go by. A name.”
“Name?” The little gecko cocks its head, staring up at its human with a squint. “Hmm… Oi, Boke, you come up with something!”
“Hah? Me? Um…” Back to this again? “Well… maybe Kuro?” Would that work? It… he’s black. And he said he liked the dark. Ah. Naming things is always the hardest part. Almost by instinct, she reaches for a notepad and a pencil. “Or perhaps maybe-”
“Yeah, fine. That works.”
Eh? Mio’s hand stops shy of getting a writing utensil and she looks to the little guy. Just like that? “Oh. Okay.” Then… nothing. The two of them sit there, staring at one another without so much as a word passing between them. There’s still so much to figure out. Where does she even begin? He talks. He seems to feed on other familiars’ energy. He can choose when to come out on his own. What else could he do? Then the question pops into her mind, clear as day. “So, um… there are others like you, then?”
Kuro sits there on Mio’s desk, beaming up at her. Then, those tiny white spikes lining his mouth curl back into what can only be described as a little grin. “Geez. What are you, stupid? There’s nothing else like me.”
And now, back here - the East Lumos campus. Last night certainly had been eventful. But now, as she steps out from under the shade of the school’s station platform, Mio shields her drooping eyes from the intense artificial sunlight, beaming down overhead. The regret of staying up for answers she never even got washes over her like a tide, the beams like a wave crashing against her face. She grimaces, but nevertheless, she trudges on toward the main building.
But something is… off. Perhaps she’s just more aware, now that she has to actively keep herself awake. But this definitely seems like more people huddled around near the entrance than usual. And isn’t all this chatter a bit louder than the norm? Then a loud tone pierces through the noise and several heads turn.
“Micchiiiiiin!” That voice parts the throng of high schoolers like the red sea and at the center of that divide, in the front of the crowd, stands Ragyou, waving with her other hand on her hip, grinning at to new partner. “O-ha-yo!” What an enviable power to have.
Mio tugs her scarf up to hide her face as best she can, then proceeds to the front with Ragyou. “Ah. Good morning, Kikuchi-san. What’s going…?” Turning to see what all the commotion is about defeats the need to ask the question. At the heart of the crowd, the scene is clear as day. It’s Diana. And across from her? One of her entourage. The short one. Alice, was it? She holds up her arm, showing a glowing Link with a rather determined look about her.
Diana doesn’t look to be even the slightest bit amused. She just stares at her little peon with folded arms. “You wanna run that by me again, Alice? Just wanna be sure. I think you just told a totally funny joke, but…”
But Alice grins. “Believe it, ‘Di.’ I’m kinda sick of you lookin’ down on me. So this is a challenge." She raises her arm and points at her target. "To an official Royale battle.”
“See, that’s what a thought.” Then the blonde diva pushes her hair back. But just before it settles back over her left eye, she flashes her opposer a viciously sharp glare. “Hilarious.”
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