Defeat. Total and absolute defeat. Ranma gawks in utter dismay, his body stuck to a school wall by some sort of weblike substance, his face flushed of all color and eyes wide with total despair. Specks of unearthly light fizzle out around him as the result of this clash sinks in, not only for him, but for the two onlookers in the back row of the amphitheater. Mio and Ragyou watch in awe. Mio, in particular, barely grasps the scene before her. It’s… already over?
Standing tall across from her former opponent, with her back to him and a small moth-like faerie creature floating just over her shoulder, Charlotte flips her hair and sighs. “Honestly. This was always going to be how it went. Why make us all waste our time, like this? It’s a small mercy I could end this quickly.” Quickly? An understatement, if ever there was one. How long had that taken? Thirty seconds?
The young man hangs his head, gritting his teeth. “T-this… can’t be right.”
“Don’t be such a child. You lost.” The synthetic voice from either combatant’s Links recites the closing to their match, confirming the result. “There you have it. Little Moth, back.” Upon its master’s command, Charlotte’s familiar reverts to a mass of psychic energy that retreats into the shimmering blue aura around her, taking the silky restraints around Ranma with it. “Now get out of here.”
Charlotte walks away, ascending the amphitheater stairs and leaving Ranma on that stage, wallowing in his failure. Further and further he watches her get, his stomach about ready to collapse in on itself, or so it seems. Then a faint noise seems to reach out as if grabbing her by ankles to make her stop. “I won’t let this be…” Come to find it’s the dejected sobbing of this broken young man, trying his best to act tough and hold it together. He smacks his cheeks and rushes to the foot of the stairway, calling out to the girl who still refuses to face him. “Charlotte! I challenge you to-!”
“Stop it,” she interrupts, her back still to the boy as she lowers her head. “Someone is better than you. All this blubbering is pathetic and annoying.”
Ranma’s fists clench, veins popping in his hands, even as the rest of his body shakes all over. His head falls. “I can’t…” He holds a hand over his Link - a living record of his life, accomplishments and all. How many aced exams? How many accolades? Getting into one of the top schools in the city - in the world, even… for all that’s worth. Yet one girl… one uppity brat can tear it all down. With something in him reignited, he lifts his head. “As you’re rival, there’s no way I can accept that!”
But the instant Ranma lays eyes upon Charlotte once again, it’s like that fire in his core gets doused with ice water, a dismissive “Rival?” sliding from her lips. “Oh, right. I’ve been meaning to ask.” Then she finally turns her head, keeping her back to the boy but glancing over her shoulder with uncaring eyes that look down on him from her higher position atop the amphitheater aisle. “Who are you again?”
With just a question, Charlotte does more damage than in the entirety of the actual battle between the two, leaving Ranma utterly stupefied on those stairs. He has no answer. No response but for his eyes to glaze over, settling into a thousand-yard stare. When she finally decides she’s finished with him, she continues her ascent. The closer she gets, the tighter the knot in Mio’s stomach becomes. Until she’s right on top of both Mio and Ragyou. “And just what are the two of you doing here? I don’t remember calling for spectators.”
Ragyou throws up both her hands to wave the problem off with that chipper smile and infectious energy of hers. “Hey, hey, we didn’t mean nothin’ by it! I swear! We were just on our way to get some food and we saw you guys about to throw down, y’know?”
Charlotte stares at Ragyou. But this time Mio is certain of it. Those chilling, blue eyes meet Mio’s own, just before the girl sighs and walks between the two of them to be on her way. “Well, I dealt with the issue quickly, so you can go ahead and eat now.”
But even as the pressure of this one girl’s presence bears down on her, Mio comes back to Ranma, locked in his stupor, further down the stairs. First Alice, earlier in the day, and now this. The same glass-eyed stare, both of them. But what now? Does Mio say something? To Charlotte, of all people? Even if her body’s rapid shaking distorts her words? So many warning bells blare at their loudest in her ears. She turns, opening her mouth. She doesn’t lift her head. And eye contact is an impossibility. But she turns, taking in the breath to say what she thinks need be said. Then out comes a meek little “U-um… Char-”
The words never fully make it out. By the time she’s fully facing the spot where Charlotte had been, the only thing in that place is air. The ice cold class rep is already gone. Ragyou glances down at her. “Eh? You say somethin’, Micchin?”
Mio shakes her head, tugging the wrap of her scarf up over her lower face. “N-no.”
In time, the pair sit down on a bench outside of school building, each with sandwiches from the campus store in had. True to their vastly different personalities, Mio quietly nibbles into hers whilst every bite from Ragyou seems like a huge chomp, immediately followed by her bringing her colorfully manicured hand up to the rose-tinted cheek and squealing in delight. “This is seriously good! More like, it’s stupid delish, i’nnit?”
Barely anything. A faint nod and an absentminded murmur of “Mm…” is the best Ragyou’s able to drag out of the girl.
“Ehehe. Still not real talkative, are ya?”
Mio almost seems to shrink, holding her sandwich and turning away. “I’m sorry.”
Ragyou laughs it off, giving Mio an unbothered wave. “S’fine, s’fine.”
Soon the peppy gyaru wipes the crumbs from around her mouth with her thumb, followed by a dramatic “Haaaah!” as she leans forward, stretching her arms out in front of her. “Micchiiin.” Such a phony whine. “What’re we gonna dooo? Ev’ryone else is, like… super strong, y’know? S’gonna make the Royale mega tough.”
She’s not wrong. Mio stops pecking away at the remains of her sandwich like a gerbil just long enough to process that question. Today, alone, both Diana and Charlotte made some major statements. What would happen if either she or Ragyou had to go up against them? A quiet mutter sneaks out under her breath. “At this rate…” That thing Kuro had done to Jun’s Familiar. Would that even work on enemies as small and mobile as Diana and Charlotte’s? It certainly wouldn’t be optimal.
“Don’tcha think we could maybe grow our team a li’l more?” What? “More like, we got some spots left. Let’s make some friends. There’s gotta be some other Espers around, right? Yeah?” With a snap of her fingers and a cheeky grin, she turns the whole tone of the conversation around in a heartbeat. “Hey, maybe we can ask some upperclassmen! I hear there’s a lot’a super strong ones, up there.”
Mio returns to her sandwich, taking easily the smallest nibble yet. Though it feels like her stomach is somewhere in her throat. More teammates. Anyone who could rival the likes of Diana and Charlotte would be a welcome addition. Still, Kuro’s snide little voice sneers at the idea. “How stupid can you be? A pipsqueak like you? Strong people like that are out of your reach, aren’t they?” Is that right? Could a pebble ever reach up to a pillar? Or maybe, with any luck, those two would just take one another out, somehow.
“Micchin.” Mio looks up to Ragyou as the lively girl springs to her feet from the bench and flashes her little partner a peace sign. “You ‘n’ me? We totally got this!”
Mio stares at her, sandwich still held between her lips. Going through her mind exists a single thought. Such a sunny person. What could possibly attract someone like this to someone so… gloomy? The only thing she can think to do is nod.
“All right! First the school, then the whole Royale! Let’s go!” Suddenly, a bell tolls over the campus, taking both Ragyou and Mio by surprise and freezing the two of them in place for a time. “Ah…”
The next thing either girl knows, Ragyou has Mio by the wrist as the both of them race inside. “To class! Let’s go to class!”
Some hours pass and finally this long day comes to a close. As always, Mio sits doodling in her seat, even as everyone else floods through the doors, headed home or wherever they may travel. All but one person, that is. “Miiicchin!” Those dull, grey little eyes track up from her sketchpad at the bright, beaming face leaned over her desk. “Let’s walk to the station together!”
Moments later, the pair stroll through the largely emptied halls of the school, Ragyou going on about… something or other. Makeup? Nothing Mio particularly understands. It slides straight in through one ear and out through the other. Then, all at once, both those ears find themselves assaulted with a sharp shriek, pulling her back into the moment. “Ragyou!” Eh? One of Ragyou’s friends? She rushes up to the two of them, bending forward to catch her breath with her hands to her knees.
“Eh? Whoa, whoa, Fu-chan, what’s up?”
Without missing a beat, this Fu girl seems to just appear directly in front of Ragyou, grabbing the woman by the shoulders and looking her square in the face. “You gotta come quick! Somethin’ amazin’ is happening!”
“Hah?” In seconds, the trio makes their way outside and a bit up the path towards the station where a large group of people seems to gather, even more impressive than the mass of people from this morning. “HAH?!”
Mio shares that sentiment. A third time in a single day? What is going on? It doesn’t matter. Any questions about that fade away the instant Mio pushes her way to the front, with Ragyou and her fellow gyaru. There, at the center of this enormous blob of raving teens, two heads of blonde - one honey, one golden - stand proud over everyone present, perhaps not in stature, but in sheer presence. Diana and Charlotte - the bee and the butterfly.