Chapter 1:

The Magical Girls Club


When the bell rang the end of the seventh and last period, no one left Astella Academy. There was something shameful about leaving so early, scandalous even. Who would do such a thing? Who would squander the opportunity to use all the bleeding edge laboratories, train in one of the top-of-the-line sports facilities, or browse the dustless shelves of the third largest library in the world? An idiot, that’s who. And August was no idiot.

Though he sure felt like it sometimes. For half an hour now, he’d been pacing up and down the Dawn Wing’s hallways, alternating between checking his watch, his phone, and the football field out the window. As per usual, Oliver was running late and he wasn’t replying to any of August’s texts. For a second he wondered if something had gone wrong in a spectacular and convoluted way, but only for a second. Really, the most probable explanation was that Oliver simply forgot.

For all his qualities, the long list of which August currently struggled to remember, Oliver had one fatal flaw. Even at the best of times, his head was in the clouds. Usually even higher – it would float somewhere in the ionosphere, the only atmospheric layer capable of withholding all the brainwaves spilling out of his mind. Really, how many times did Oliver have a crazy idea that August just went along with? A school Wednesday round trip to the beach. Three consecutive all-nighters just to 100% some dumb JRPG. Getting their ears and navels pierced. August swore that each of these misadventures would be his last, and he always intended on keeping that promise. But then Oliver would always ask the most annoying question in the world.

“Are you in the mood for some fun?”

And August couldn’t say no. For a dumb, stupid, borderline insane reason.

“There you are,” came a voice from behind him. Turning around, August came face to face with Oliver’s dimpled cheeks, his warm boyish smile, and that tuft of brown hair no comb could even think of taming. “I thought I told you to meet me outside your classroom.”

“You said the usual spot,” August snarkily corrected. “Which, if we were to tally up all our previous rendezvous, lands us somewhere in the middle of – well, here.”

“Really? I made you climb up three flights of stairs so many times?”

“And I haven’t even complained once.”

Oliver rolled his eyes, “Real trooper you are,” and chuckled. They both did, then they both stopped at the same time with the same kind of relaxed sigh. The silence they lapsed in was thin and candid; August wouldn’t have minded sitting in it for a while longer. But Oliver had different plans. “Ready, Oggie?”

August nodded, biting down his lip to hold in a happy yelp. Three years ago he’d received that nickname, yet even now his heart skipped with glee when he heard it. It was special – special to him, at least. For Oliver, who never referred to anyone by their government name, it was probably nothing. Scratch that, it was definitely nothing, and it was foolish to think otherwise.

“Lead the way,” August said, already slotting behind Oliver. In turn, Oliver spun on his heels, and started down the stairs, not even once checking that his friend was following him.

The Dawn Wing was a wonder of modern architecture, inasmuch as it was a big and confusing mess. It was built like a fractal – T-shaped corridors feeding into T-shaped corridors, all of which looped back on each other and themselves. You’d think such a place would make use of extensive directional aids to help make it navigable, especially to students whose default speed and attentiveness was ‘rushing’. You’d think that, and you’d be wrong. There were no maps in the main lobby, no arrow signs on the walls, not even labels above the doors. They would’ve ruined the aesthetic. If August ever needed a reason to be glad Oliver was with him, he had one: he would’ve definitely gotten lost if he were alone.

“So, what’s the plan?” August asked once enough time had passed with no indication they were getting close to their destination.

“Hmmm…” Oliver gave his chin a pensive rub. “Secret.”



“Well,” August said, slightly off-kilter. “That is certainly new.”

“Yeah, I – thought it’d spruce things up, you know? A change in the formula.”

There was something stiff in Oliver’s manner, in the way he walked as if his legs were rusted stilts. August sought Oliver’s gaze, but couldn’t easily find it. Especially now that Oliver slightly upped his pace.

“Are you really not gonna tell me?” August asked.

“Will you get mad if I don’t.”

“Should I get mad?”

“Hmmm… tell you what. Let’s meet somewhere in the middle. Will you be happy with a hint?”

Not exactly, August wanted to say, but decided relenting would be wiser. Better something than nothing. “Go ahead.”

“Think of something very gay. And I’m not talking billionaire CEO meets twink undersecretary, none of that degenerate shit. More classic, you know? Like Elton John, Bowie and Prince.”

August gulped, but the knot in his throat didn’t go away. It was the implication – God, the implication. A slideshow of mental pictures played before his eyes, sending him on the thin edge between excited hyperventilation and a bonafide panic attack. At that moment, he would’ve paid money to be able to calm down, but nothing short of a bucket of ice-cold water would’ve helped him cool off. Which, naturally, never came. Instead, he got struck with the sudden realisation that Oliver stopped in front of an unmarked door in some obscure corner of the building.

“Go in,” he said, his tone calm, yet demanding. A gentle force, but a force nonetheless. August glanced at him, hoping to find some explanation, a silent detail that would help him make heads or tails of the situation, but he found nothing. Oliver was stalwart as a statue.

August gripped the knob, but didn’t turn it. He couldn’t. As soon as he did, he would have to go in, and as soon as he went in – he didn’t know. And he didn’t even know what he didn’t know. It was an unknown unknown and he wasn’t ready to welcome that on the long list of things that gave him grief about Oliver.

“Something wrong? Is it locked or –” Oliver leaned over. He was wearing a strong cologne, oak with musky undertones, the combination of which made August black out for a moment. When he came back to, cold sweat drenched his shuddering back.

“No!” he yelped. “It’s just – I’ll be honest, your plans are a little hard to deal with sometimes. I can’t even begin to imagine what your surprises will be like. Is that weird?”

Oliver paused. Not to think – he seemed to have seen this coming from miles away – but to respect August’s apprehension. Even if, when he finally spoke again, he didn’t sound too content. “No, that’s fair enough, actually,” he said, then gave a blank laugh. “I was always surprised you could keep up with me. But I guess there’s limits to everything. Take your time,” he added softly. “It’s not like what’s inside will vanish if we’re late.”

That didn’t help put August at ease, quite the opposite. He believed Oliver, he really did. But at the same time, he couldn’t help feeling that the longer he took to steady himself, the more he’d be letting down his friend.

Deep breath. Count to three. His fingers gripped the old, splintery knob tight enough for his knuckles to blanch. Pleaseletitnotbeanemptyroom pleasepleasepleaseplease. Then he turned, and pushed.

There was a piercing scream, followed by a bright flash. As soon as the stars subsided from August’s vision, pink flooded it. The windows were a light rose, the cabinets cotton candy, the carpet a tepid fuchsia, and the sofa a fluffy raspberry. And on said sofa sat a girl. A girl in a dress that seemed to be made entirely out of ribbons and frills. A girl sitting on all fours, with a camera pointed at a place August was convinced cameras should never point at. A girl that, despite her reaction, seemed not embarrassed by his and Oliver’s sudden arrival, rather just mildly startled.

“There you are!” she sighed, straightening herself to a more proper position for receiving guests. “Do you know how late you are?”

“What,” August said, his eyes almost instinctively sliding to the ceiling, where they found a whipping cream white banner strung between the lighting fixtures. Something was written on it in flowery cursive, which August had to squint at to make out. Though really, he wished he didn’t do that.

Magical Girls Club - New Members Welcoming Party, it read.

He turned towards Oliver, expecting an explanation. All he got instead was a wide, mischievous grin.


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