Chapter 12:

The Weak Link


By now Mio should be well-acquainted with the floor of the dojo where the girls undergo their training. For the latest in a series of instances too numerous to count, she lands hard, rolling to a stop only for an alarming buzz to let her know she’s out of bounds and therefore out of the match. Meanwhile, the rest all continue about the mock battle before them. First. Again. No matter how many times they perform these drills. Always the first one out.

From here, it’s just a decision on whether or not to ever raise her head. Whether or not she dares risk looking up, only to catch those disapproving or pitying looks. Not that opting against it would spare her the sensation. Already the pressure seeps out from her partner. Pushing her down, crushing her. Nevermind deciding to lift her head. Could she?

Still engaged in the sparring match, Diana glances over her shoulder at the pitiful thing and sucks her teeth, muttering to herself. “Seriously. I told you to stay out of the way.”

“Look alive, Di!”

The golden blonde mean girl focuses forward with just enough time to see Ragyou bolting through the air in her direction, position to level a kick at her head. However… “Defend.” Like that, Honey Bee’s red lens eyes flash and a swarm of bees spawns in place, erecting a wall of their own bodies that shields Diana from the attack.


The next thing Ragyou knows, a hand reaches through that wall and grabs her ankle. Then the swarm disperses and Diana slams the girls into the floor of the dojo. “Sorry ‘bout this. Bee.” Her Familiar primes itself, locking onto Ragyou’s. But just before it takes off like a bullet at its prey, a line of silk gums up its wings and drags it away. “What?!” The instant Diana turns around, something strikes her. A wave of inexplicable weakness. Drowsiness. Her body loosens, turns somehow light and heavy all at once. She’s fully alert. So what is this sudden feeling of physical drunkenness?

Of course. Just across from her, Charlotte stands with her arms folded, looking down her nose at Diana. At her side, Little Moth beats its wings, sending a cloud of fine dust wafting Diana’s way. Diana tries to raise a sluggish arm, pointing to her opposite number. All she needs to free herself is to say but a single word. Attack. That’s all. But she never gets the chance. Up springs the rabbit. Without Diana looming over her, Ragyou pops up and kicks her in the back, sending her sliding along the dojo floor and stopping right out of bounds.

Charlotte looks back at her, but ultimately flips her hair and joins Ragyou without a word. The match can speak for itself. Once Little Moth retreats back into its host’s mind, its spell over Diana evaporates and she pulls herself up, scowling at the floor.

Soon the four students convene with their observing instructors, Mio lagging behind the others, rubbing her arm. Diana won’t even look at her, naturally. Not that it was something that happened often. But there’s a stark contrast between her existence not being acknowledged and… this feeling. But intruding her latest trek into her own mind, Ragyou sneaks over, poking her in the cheek with one of those long, colorful nails of hers. “Ki-Kikuchi-san?”

“Sorry it turned out like that, Micchin. I didn’t hit ya too hard, did I?”

“Um… no. I heal, so…”

“Sure. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt, right? You should let people know when they do somethin’ that bothers you. S’what I think, anyway.”

How does Mio respond to that? Come to think of it, that’s a question Mio finds herself asking often when it comes to this girl. “I’m… fine.”

“M’kay. Ah! But don’t worry about the result too much! I just got kinda lucky, y’know? You’ll totally do better next time!”

“Mm…” Will she?

Kelly and Ortiz wrap up their own conversation and the former steps up to address the girls. “Charlotte, Ragyou, I wouldn’t call it the most graceful victory, but you did well. Good job adapting to what your teammate was doing.”

“Right?!” Ragyou pops up beside Charlotte with a hand on her icy teammate’s shoulder and the other flashing a peace sign. “We’re totally in sync! We’re like twins, right Charlie-chan?”

Charlotte’s eyebrow twitches but she takes a breath and removes the hand from her shoulder with a delicate touch. “I would prefer if you didn’t rush ahead and make me cover for you on the fly.”

“Whaaat? Oh man, for real?”

But then Kelly’s attention falls on the losing pair, one glaring off to the side and the other staring at the floor. “Diana, Mio…” Neither one looks back at her. This would be a challenge. But, then, she already has an idea as to the issue with this exercise. “The result speaks for itself.”

Diana huffs, twirling a lock of her hair along her finger. “Yeah. It does.”

Uh oh. Kelly lowers her datapad. “You have feedback you’d like to share, Diana?”

“What’s the point?”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, Ms. Kelly, I just don’t get what this showed us that we didn’t already know. A team’s only as strong as its weakest link, right? Then shouldn’t we be focused on getting the extra caught up to the rest of us? The way she is now, she’s only going to hold everyone back.”

Mio barely reacts. Not that can be clearly seen. Her blank expression doesn’t even change. But anyone paying close enough attention would probably notice. Her hugging her arm to herself tighter with every word, shrinking more and more inward. This qualifies as something that bothers her, doesn’t it? So say something. Speak up. But then…

Isn’t Diana’s right? Right now isn’t she just a burden? Always making the others mind her. Always losing first. The way things are now… winning the entire Royale is nothing but a cruel joke, isn’t it?

One person does appear to be paying attention, though. Kelly sighs and hands her datapad to Ortiz. “Your correct,” she says, only deepening that growing well of hopelessness in the pit of Mio’s stomach. But then she continues. “Her abilities could stand some significant improvement. There’s no disputing that fact. But there is one thing you got wrong, Diana. You were the problem here. Not her.”



“You’re kidding. I’m the strongest one here!”

“You’re the most offensively powerful, yes. However…” Kelly removes her glasses, giving Diana a flat, glacial stare. “This was a team exercise. You lost. As a team. Charlotte attempted to cooperate with you before. You refused. Mio attempted to work with you now. But who was it that said ‘just don’t get in my way’ before the match began?” No answer. Not that Diana could possibly respond in any way that’d be sufficient. But such silence from her speaks volumes. “I thought so. In the end, Diana, Mio isn’t the weak link. You are.”

Indignant. The only word that matches with the look on Diana’s face. But when she at last recovers from that shock, it settles into a bitter glare. “Whatever.” She turns around without another word, strutting across the dojo, grabbing her bag, and leaving.

Kelly puts her glasses back on and turns to reclaim her datapad from Ortiz, who doesn’t let go of it right away. “Tay…”

“I know.” The homeroom teacher sighs and turns back to the others. “Today’s session is done. Go home. We’ll review this tomorrow. Mio.”

“Heh? Y-yes?”

“Everyone can stand to improve. You’ll be fine with a bit of work. Don’t… let what she said get to you.”

Mio nods. “Mm…” But all the way home it hangs over her, drowning out whatever mindless chatter Ragyou tries to engage her in. Don’t let it? How couldn’t she? Even after what Kelly had said to Diana, this feeling won’t go away. The evidence is there. Diana… wasn’t wrong. She reaches a crosswalk where she stands entirely by herself, stopping despite an empty street and green light. “Kuro.”

“Call and I shall answer.” And so he does, materializing atop her shoulder.

“Am I… a burden?”

The little black gecko grins the question off. “What a silly question.”

Then the light turns red.


Later that night, Kelly sits on the floor of her colleague’s room in her pajamas, leaned back against the bed and poring over the readings from the datapad in her hand. That is until her aforementioned colleague lazily plops down on the bed and yoinks the pad from over her shoulder. “Wha-?! Yennifer!”

“I’m letting you stay the night, so house rules. Wow. This lesson plan’s for months down the line. That’s my studious upperclassman for you. Always the hard worker.”

Kelly snatches the datapad back. “Hardly. You’re just lazy.”

“Ehehe. Guilty. So do I have to guess what’s on your mind, or…?”


“You always make yourself busy when something’s bothering you.”

Kelly turns away from her inquisitive friend, staring at the datapad to avoid the subject. It doesn’t work. She can just feel the prying eyes on the back of her neck. Soon she drops the device and brings her head down into her newly freed hands with a sigh that brings a dim smile to Ortiz’s face. “Hehe. Right again. Careful, or I’ll hug you again.”

“What am I doing, Yennifer?”

“Hm? What you think you have to, right?”

“That’s not what I mean. Today. I really am no good. I didn’t handle that right at all, did I? Too harsh? Or, no… maybe my approach was just all wrong. Maybe I could’ve given examples of what they should’ve done? Or- ah.” A hand. Atop her head, all of a sudden.

Yennifer, of course. The lackadaisical one ruffles her senior’s hair a bit. “You’re such a good teacher, Tay?”

The red color in her cheeks notwithstanding, Kelly calms herself down. “ Oi. I told you I don’t like headpats.”


Meanwhile, somewhere a fair distance away, Diana waits at an empty mag-train station in one of the wealthier sectors of the city, leaning against a pillar by herself with her bag over her shoulder. Stewing.