Chapter 1:

Starts with a D!

For the Love of Research!

I adjusted my book bag for the sixth time as I stood in front of the door. This is it. You’re finally here. All those nights you spent studying until your fingers bled have led to this moment! Starting at a new school is always nerve-wracking, but this was the first time I was nervous about joining a club.

None of my other school activities had come close to making me feel the pressure. I usually had a friend already waiting for me, so we could sit at the same table. But this year was different. This was my first year at Koneko Academy of Higher Magic, and joining a club is mandatory. So, naturally, I chose the only one that could make the effort count, even without my friends to back me up.

I checked the sign above the door and looked at my map for the seventh time before opening the door. “Hello?”

It’s still the first day. It’s perfectly normal for students to get lost on a campus this big. There’s no reason for me to feel nervous! Yet my palms were sweating as I took in the room. It was one of the biology/science/magical formula classroom during school hours. I wasn’t sure why this room was used for three topics, but it was large enough to make me feel small.

The blackboard took up most of the far wall, with several rows of tables neatly lined in front of it. I looked around, but there was no sign of a desk or a podium for a teacher anywhere. Maybe the club put it away to conduct their meeting? I couldn’t imagine any other reason, and more importantly, I couldn’t see anyone!

“Hello?” Am I too early? The pamphlet said club meetings start after the last bell. Did I already miss my chance?! I hoped not. I worked too hard to let this stop me. But I’d never been to this wing, and I hadn’t seen any teachers around for ten minutes. My heart pounded against my ribs as I let the door close and headed for the nearest window.

This classroom is on the third floor. At the very least, I should be able to get a good view. I clutched my bag closer to my side as I stared at the lush green lawn spreading into the horizon. The campus wasn’t deserted. I could see people walking around, and someone had started a broom race! I couldn’t tear my eyes away as the racers did everything from loop-de-loops to shooting so close to the ground or buildings that they could feel the friction.

One racer zipped by the window, grinning like they were possessed as their school robes hid the rest of their body from my view. “That was awesome!”

“It was alright. Mind you, broom races are frowned upon on school grounds, and I doubt those guys asked a teacher for permission.”

I yelped, spinning around to see a boy two years above me with short brown hair and an easy smile as he studied me. When did he get here? I know I closed the door! “Um, I um…”

He picked up a table, easily balancing it on his shoulder as he looked at me. “Are you here to join the club?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak, as he chuckled. “I see. Don’t worry. You didn’t miss anything. Our president decided what our school project would be and decided to start right away. Come with me. I’ll make sure you don’t get lost. Did you already fill out the paperwork?”

“Um… yes. I have it. Right here!” I pulled out the paperwork, three sheets of paper that controlled my life, and held them triumphantly. The boy reached for them, and I handed them over, praying he didn’t notice how sweaty my hands were. The boy looked at the top sheet and let out a whistle.

“It looks like you filled every inch of available space. Are you always like this… Max?” He looked at the top of the sheet before looking at me. “Do you prefer to be called Max? Nicknames are allowed as long as they don’t break school rules.” He tucked the papers under his arm and pointed to the door. “I’m Rake. The vice president. Sorry for not shaking your hand, but we’re on a bit of a time crunch, and I have to carry this table…”

“Oh! Let me get the door for you, and yes, Max is fine!” Rake smiled as I hurried around him, opening the door and following him into the hall and down the stairs. My bag thumped in time with my steps, but I couldn’t stay quiet. “What’s the project going to be? I have a lot of time on my hands, so I’m ready to learn about anything!”

Did I seriously just say that to the vice president? He’s going to think I’m weird! Rake hummed, not stopping except when we came to the door leading outside, and I had to open it. “It sounds like we’ve found a good newbie then. I’m not allowed to talk about projects before the president gives the word, though. She doesn’t like outsiders getting our secrets for free. But it sounds like you won’t be an outsider for long if the other sheets match the top one.”

“They do! I believe in strong first impressions and going beyond expectations! I look forward to studying with you, Vice President Rake!” I resisted the urge to slap myself as I mentally screamed. Someone kill me now! Why am I being so stupid? This is not how I expected this day to go!

Rake laughed. “Dude, chill out. I love the enthusiasm, but it’s not like we’re going to solve world hunger, you know?”

I nodded, hoping the ground would swallow me as Rake led me around a corner. A small pond came into view. It looked like a perfect place to hang out on sunny days. Rainbow ferns rang the lake, and I could hear insects and frogs singing… But there was no one else around.

“Is this the right place, Rake? I thought you said the president was here?”

He sighed, setting the table down, and took out his wand. “This is the right place. Stay here, Max. Those idiots are up to something…”

I kept looking around, but nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Rake kept his wand in a ready position, his shoulders tense as if expecting to be attacked. If this is some kind of hazing ritual, it’s not a very good one. I have no idea what’s going on. I leaned against the table, expecting to feel the air against my back and neck, only to feel a warm body lightly press against me as a soft voice said. “Hey, are you joining the club?”

I jumped, letting out a scream as I spun around. A girl around Rake’s age with long red hair and bright green eyes grinned evilly. “I’ll take that as a yes. Welcome, New Blood. Kiss your brain cells goodbye because they belong to me now!”

“Huh?” Is this the president? What’s up with my upperclassmen scaring me today?! Rake must have heard me because he ran back to my side with a scowl.

“There you are! What are you up to this time? I brought the table and a new recruit. Don’t scare them away before they have a chance to get to know you!”

The girl shrugged, grin never faltering as she picked up the paperwork and looked it over. “You worry too much, Rake. This kid isn’t going to run away. You can see their passion for research in every sentence!”

She held her hand out and shook mine before I could register what she was doing. “Welcome to the Research Club, Max! Together, we shall uncover the secrets of life, death, the universe, bald people, and the greatest mystery of all… Do you know what that is?”

“Um… why do some people have magic, and others don’t despite bloodlines?” That is one of the things I want to focus on. I saw Rake shake his head from the corner of my eye, and the president sighed, letting her grin slip as she stared at me.

“Ah. You’re one of those… That’s not a problem. Let me try this again, and don’t forget to show some passion!” She leaped onto the table, snapping her fingers to make a spotlight shine, and raised her arms like a preacher before her congregation and said. “Welcome, dear Max, to your new life at Koneko Academy and the Research Club! I am your president, Carol. And I will be your guide to the finer things in life! Tell me, What is it that you wish to learn?!”

I looked at Rake, hoping for a hint, but he shrugged. My first day is now a disaster!