Another day, another training session. But Mio catches herself staring at the Royale Bulletin on her Link’s holo-screen during a break, and at her two wins specifically. That second one… some guy. Another first-year from another school. But she hadn’t done a thing. Reliving that battle in her mind… it was Diana. The First-Year Queen had shown up and beaten that guy for her. All without looking at Mio, even once. Nor had she said a single word, back then.
But Mio recalls the feeling of that moment in vivid detail. The feeling of being suffocated by Diana’s mere presence. Her knees weak, even as her injuries from the battle rapidly healed. The uselessness of watching someone else fight her battle. The look on that boy’s face as he realized what he was up against when Diana appeared… and the look he wore upon his defeat.
“All right.” Kelly makes her way over to where her three attendees rest up. “We’re going to try a different exercise, now. You girls are going to try and force Ms. Ortiz to dodge you.”
Ortiz raises a lazy hand from her position, leaned against Kelly. “No worries. I won’t be attacking, this round.”
Not attacking? That would mean no more additions to the highlight reel in Mio’s mind of her getting ejected from the mat, right? But… would she really be able to do something like that? No. That’s impossible, isn’t it? She isn’t fast, like Ragyou. She isn’t smart like Charlotte. Or strong, like Diana. Honestly. Why… am I here?
But as she sinks further into that place, a little black tail waves in front of her eyes from atop her head. Kuro lowers himself into her field of view. “For someone with such an empty head, you sure get lost in there a lot, don’t you?”
“Kuro. I just…”
The little creature’s snout stretches into a spiny grin. “What’re you worrying for? You have the best little helper in the city, after all.”
Elsewhere, Diana emerges from a convenience store in the city’s East Quarter, munching on a fudge-pop. Just as she steps through the sliding door, her Link sounds off with a familiar beep. Sure enough, when she opens the holo-screen, there’s a profile on it, along with a blip to this person’s current location on a mini-map. Another boy from a different school, huh? Though something catches her eye. This is…
“Di?” That voice. Maddie. Not a good time. “What’re you doing here?”
Diana takes another nibble out of her fudge pop and shrugs. “I had a craving for something cold and sweet. You’d think since the whole city’s climate-controlled, they wouldn’t need to make artificial summer so hot.”
“Right?! Hey, you got more? Gimme one!”
Diana backs up a step, turning her body from her right-hand girl and holding her bag away from her. “No way. Do I look like a charity, to you? Get your own.”
“Whaaat? You’re way too stingy, Di.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re just a freeloader. Whatever. I gotta go.”
But as Diana makes to leave, Maddie points down at Diana’s still-open Link holo-screen. “Seriously? Again? How many matches do they want you to win?”
Diana immediately closes her Link, not that it’d matter, now. It’s been seen. She huffs and continues on, turning her smug nose to the sky. “I dunno. It’s so lame, though. Isn’t it supposed to be random? I bet they’re just using me to get rid of all the weak ones like some sort of cleaning service. I feel like the maid.”
A sniggering Maddie follows close behind. “They totally don’t wanna upset you or your parents, right? Hey, isn’t the Extra on your team? She’s gotta be glad. They pro’lly would’ve thrown her at you by now if she wasn’t. Still, it’s gotta be rough, carrying someone like that around. Didn’t you help her with a match, the other day?”
“Ah. That. Man, why’d you have to go and bring that up? Seriously.” Diana takes another bite from her fudge pop. The biggest one yet, in fact. “So annoying.”
The pair makes their way to a nearby park at the heart of the quarter, Diana looking around. There are a few people around. None she knows. That includes her opponent, though. Not a trace of him. “Heeeh? Maybe he’s gonna forfeit, save you the energy?”
Diana twirls one of her honey blonde locks around her finger without projecting even a passing interest. “Maybe. Ah, this is a pain. You can go on home, you know. This is probably just gonna be another waste of time.”
Maddie waves the issue away. “I don’t have anywhere to be. Besides, this is gonna be quick anyway, right?”
Diana sucks her teeth. “If that’s what you wanna do.”
“D-Diana.” Diana and Maddie turn around to where an overweight young man lumbers up, bashfully showing the red ring around his Link. “I-I’m here, so… we can just get this over with. Um…”
Her hand on her hips, Maddie looks the boy over. “Hey, don’t I know you from somewhere?” The timid giant backs away from the abrasive girl, but she just pushes forward driving further the depths of his unease. “No way! Crybaby?! Holy crap, that’s totally you, isn’t it?! That scared kid from Junior High, right?” Looking up at the obviously meek boy without a modicum of care and a meanspirited smirk on her lips, Maddie pokes him lightly in the stomach. “Daaamn. You got biiig, huh? What happened? Too much comfort food?”
For her part in this, Diana stands back with her arms folded, letting Maddie repeatedly poke and prod the boy, making her jeering little remarks. She sighs. Such a pain. “Heeeh? Is that who this is? The one who cried and slobbered all over himself at every little prank? Sorry, I always forget the workers.” The remark turns the blood running through the boy’s veins cold, even as it rushes through his body, making him a human sweat machine. “Hey. But you remember me, though. Right?”
How? How could he ever forget that hell? The haunting echoes of that raucous laughter, beating against his eardrums. The pointing. The lack of anyone there to help him. Worst of all, though? That smile. The malefic smile that followed him everywhere. The one that he’d moved to a different quarter, just to finally be free of. And here it is again - the ringleader’s grin.
Moments later, both he and Diana stand across from one another in an open area. A playground where no children are playing, at least for now. It’s good enough. From the sidelines, Maddie calls out to her friend. “Careful, Di. He might smother you if you get too close.”
“Don’t make fun of him, Maddie. He might cry again!” There it is. The feigned kindness with the edge of a sword. “Besides, that’d be silly. At worst I’d probably just bounce off.”
The boy’s Familiar appears just over his shoulder. An admittedly adorable little thing. Like a teddy bear. With button eyes and stitches formed into a smile on its snout. A shame to get rid of such a cute thing. But rules are rules. The synthetic voice projects itself from each combatant’s respective Links, announcing the beginning of the match.
The boy jumps when Diana calls out to him from the other side of the playground. “Hey.”
“Honestly, this is a pain, so I’m just gonna win quickly, all right?” Confident as ever, this girl. But to someone like her opponent that cavalier nature is… nervewracking. “Ah. And one other thing.” Diana snaps her fingers and Honey Bee spawns into place, hundreds of bees swirling together in an instant to give the little sprite form. Yet more surprising to the boy is Diana’s odd and sudden shift in tone. “Try not to cry, got it?”
Taken completely off-guard by Diana’s sudden and brief pivot towards the grim, versus her expected cruelty, the boy has no words. Not as Diana utters exactly one more of her own. “Attack.” Her command is met with Honey Bee darting through the air at its target, the little bear on the boy’s shoulder, with a swarm of bees materializing in its wake.
The boy thinks quickly, grabbing his Familiar in his large hands and tucking himself to shield the little thing. Diana raises an eyebrow as the cloud of stripes and stingers engulfs her opponent. But even when the swarm disperses, the LED of her Link doesn’t change back from its red hue. He opens up and reveals his untouched Familiar, even as his own hide is covered in stings. “Hooo? I guess all that extra padding is good for something.”
Maddie whistles. “Hey, Di. Careful he doesn’t balloon up even more. He might fly away, then you’ll never get him.”
“Maddie, what’re you talking about?” Diana removes a hand from her pocket. Several bees appear and swarm together, eventually merging into a single, solid shape. A large, drill-like stinger, floating in her palm. “Balloons pop, don’t they?”
Diana takes one step. Then, with mammoth strength, launches herself forward. She lobs her stinger at her mark. But he swats it away, just before it can sting him. But it becomes very apparent that he’d forgotten about something. Honey Bee buzzes in from another angle, driving one of its stingers into his shoulder. He cries out and swipes at the sprite, only for it to fly out of reach. But with just the stroke of her arm, Diana wills more stingers of her own into being, firing them through the air like missiles. And he tanks them all, shielding his Familiar with his body.
He tries to fight back. Or, at the very least, he tries to defend himself, knocking aside what stingers he can. But laying a finger on Diana is absolutely out of the question. Compared to him, her speed is overwhelming. He swings at her several times, just to make her back off, but she stays forever out of range, peppering him from a safe distance. Eventually a brutal reality sets in. There’s not a thing he can do. Rather than even try to hit her anymore, he turtles up again, weathering this storm.
Then… nothing. It all just… stops. It can’t be over. Can it? The boy opens his guard for just a moment, and his eyes to survey the situation. But there Diana is, right in his face with the most serious expression he’s ever seen her wear. “Sorry.”
Diana dashes back just as he realizes his situation. Stingers. A ring of them, hanging in the air around him. There’s scarcely a moment to react. The second he understands, they all fire themselves at him, detonating on impact and leaving only a cloud of smoke. Diana stares at the impact site and sighs. “Hm?”
It catches her eye almost immediately. A faint glimmer from within the smoke. What’s more, her Link is still red. “For real?” When the dust settles, he remains standing, his guard no longer up but his hands still clapped around his little friend, protecting it from the blast. But the strangest part? The amber aura emanating from his body. “Just lose, already.” She points a finger and another stinger missile materializes before her. But this time the story’s different. As soon as she fires it, the boy raises his head, revealing a pair of enraged, glowing red eyes.
In a near-instant motion, he snatches the stinger out of the air and crushes it in his palm, the explosion fizzling in his grip. Not only that, but every bruise from up until this moment just… vanishes. This isn’t healing like the Extra. It’s entirely something different. Diana lurches back. “What the hell?!” Another sweep of her arms spawns more stingers, but she never gets the chance to launch them. He’s on her in a flash, that little critter riding atop his head and looking down at her with those soulless little button eyes.
Diana sneers, catching his arm with both her hands as he brings it down on her like a hammer. And, sure enough, her feet sink into the ground like a pair of nails. This freak isn’t thinking anymore. He’s trying to crush her. He’s absolutely trying to crush her. Through her grimace, Diana shouts out. “Defend!”
Her command is heard. And her bees swarm into a wave to aid in pushing the raging boy off of their master. But nothing is over. Not yet. He only staggers back. He’s right back to it in a heartbeat, however. “Defend!” Again the bees swarm, now forming into a wall to shield their master. But this doesn’t go over nearly as well. He breaks through it like tissue paper, the heavy aura around his arm smacking her across the playground and through every single monkey bar, landing in the mulch.
More and more this aura around the boy takes a definitive form, resembling something like a bear, walking upright. Diana picks herself up. Maddie no longer having any snide remarks to spare, watches in shock. But Diana sneers. When the brute attacks her again, she jumps, landing on the playground. She glides down the slide when he crashes through that, dashing around behind him and firing another Stinger Missile into his back. But it only seems effective at agitating him further.
“Defend!” Another wall of bees erects itself. He punches through it just as easily. But this time she’s gone before he makes it through, once again in his blind spot. “Attack!” The swarm comes alive, swallowing the boy completely in a flutter of black and yellow, drowning his enraged roars in a chorus of buzzing. He breaks free, of course, swiping the bees away with just the gust from swinging his arm. However, the second he’s out, Diana flies through the air, right at him, driving her knee square into his nose.
The boy’s Familiar falls from his head and he stumbles back… but only just. Right when Diana touches back down, he stomps the ground, causing her to lose her footing. Then his fist plants itself firmly in her stomach. She goes bug-eyed as the hit forces her to gag. Still, she lands on her feet, but in no condition to do anything after taking that blow. And he knows it, drawing back for another, this time aimed higher.
The fist roars through the air but Diana can’t seem to move a muscle, watching it come. It never does. Right before it can hit her, the ground seems to fall out from beneath her feet. There’s… a pitch-black hole beneath her. The next thing she knows, a hand reaches through it, dragging her in by her ankle. She pops out elsewhere, pulled by none other than that smiley gyaru. “Heya, Di!”
A coughing fit restores Diana’s ability to breathe, once she’s back on land. “R-Ragyou?!”
Not just Ragyou, either, but the Extra too? The gyaru winks as she passes her hotblooded teammate, with Mio right behind her. “Need some help?”
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