Chapter 15:

In Your Own Way


What is it? Mio always finds herself wondering. Kikuchi Ragyou. What is it about this girl? What is this effect she has? That she can cast such a brightness through the gloomy mess of black and white noise that is Mio’s world, holding her head high. Even though she’s in the same awful a situation, she can smile like that. She can approach Diana’s opponent without a care, and say something like “No worries, Di! We’ve got this!”

Mio takes one look at the large, rampaging Esper, overcome with the fury of an agitated bear. Her head fills with an awful static, like the grating chirp of a million cicadas, scraping at the walls of her mind. She nearly takes a step back, away from the impending battle. This and training are entirely different, aren’t they? If she loses here… even if she wins here…

But then Ragyou turns back. “Right, Micchin?”

Why? How come you can she look at me so confidently? Mio wonders that. But it stabilizes her just enough. Kelly’s own encouragement rings through her memory and she lifts her head. “I’ll do my best.”

“It’s all you can do, right?” On her shoulder forms her little black partner, a grin spread wide across that reptilian beak of his.

Speed is the order of the day. None of their group is particularly slow. But Ragyou and Mio exist in a whole different category from the others. They slip in and out of the bear’s reach before he ever comes close to catching them. Both seem to be acting independently, each doing their best to distract him and create as many openings as possible. Yet Mio never seems to make a decisive move - a detail that doesn’t go unnoticed by Diana, on the sidelines. When she has a clear shot, in comes Ragyou, throwing several times her body weight in kicks powerful enough to snap bone and shatter concrete, only to bounce off and disappear into one of her rabbit holes.

She backs off with Mio, still keeping up her footwork in place as to not lose her momentum. “Phew! Bet we did some damage, right?!”

Wrong. The boy stands with his guard up, shielding his face with his arms. But when his arms come down, he growls at the three girls, every bruise on his body healing. No. Not healing. This isn’t like Mio. Those injuries are just disappearing. The chipper one blinks at this. “Hah?”

Diana glances to where Maddie stands by, watching with the look of a confused child. She doesn’t miss a beat, scoffing and stepping forward. “What did you expect?”

“Well, I kinda thought he’d fall over, ehehe…”

“Tch. Seriously?” Then Honey Bee respawns near Diana’s head as she looks over her shoulder, joining its gaze with her own. Her steely blue eye and its glowing red lenses merge for a look that bores straight through Mio. “If I couldn’t hurt him, there’s no way you could.”

No. This feeling. It’s coming back. This weight on Mio’s body, pushing her. Diana wastes no more time, rushing back in. Ragyou, not content to let her throw herself back at this alone, leaps forward. “Whoa! Hey, Di, wait up! Micchin, come on!” Mio remains where she is for a moment before she finally wills herself to run back into the fight.

The battle, at this point, is a mess. Each of the girls ducks and dodges from any swings of this brute’s fists that come their way. Each of them fights to create their own openings. Diana rails him with Stinger Missile after Stinger Missile. When those don’t work, she throws all of her might into a brutal haymaker. But nothing. Ragyou just manages to avoid having her leg grabbing - and likely crushed - on the back of a flying kick. The damage from either attack, though? Gone in an instant.

Then there’s Mio, just barely avoiding any blows meant for her, like a fly, veering from the path of a flyswatter. It’s strange. Ordinarily, her evasive ability outdoes that of even Ragyou, doesn’t it? Yet her movements here are different. Sluggish. Like she’s sinking into the earth as if the ground beneath her feet is quicksand.

Meanwhile, Kuro analyzes her quarry, grinning when it all clicks. The little teddy bear critter zips around its master, from place to place, hiding on his head, his back, behind his leg, it refuses to sit still, even when not under any direct threat. “Oh. I get it. An Enhancer.”


“That kid’s Familiar.”

“Enhancer?” Mio just leaps up into the air when her opponent slams his fists into the ground, stirring up a shockwave that ripples the earth, churning up slabs of rock and sending dirt flying in every which direction.

Ragyou dives into one of her rabbit holes as Diana protects herself with a swarm shield and sneers. “What the hell? Did he get stronger?!”

Mio lands on her backside nearby but manages to pull herself up. Enhancer. That’s a Familiar type, right? They’d learned it in school. Three types; Supporters, which share abilities with their hosts; Guardians, which have all the power, themselves; and Enhancers, giving all the power to the host. Come to think of it, that bear hasn’t attacked even once, the entire time. The trade-off of an Enhancer is Familiar vulnerability, right? So if that’s the case, then…

“You get the picture now? All I need, then, is to get close enough.”

“O-kay…” This is it, then. This is her shot. Mio darts in. The way things have gone it’s probably a power like the ones in those comics, right? He’s absorbing the damage and turning it into strength. Surgical precision. That’s what this calls for. With Kuro as the scalpel. But her mind is still clouded with a murky fog and her movements continue to lag. She skirts around several glancing strikes, a close shave, every time. Now. She’s nearly close enough.

Kuro crawls down to the back of her hand, ready to launch. But then something changes. A break in her momentum. Mio glances up, ready to throw Kuro at the little bear on this brute’s head. Yet she gets a closer look into his eyes and… hesitates. Like training. His eyes. Behind all that rage is just fear. Just like the first time. Just like… Jun.

“Boke! Snap out of it!”


She does. Just in time for a reinforced fist to roar through the haze in her mind and land square in the middle of her chest. Her eyes white out instantly. Broken. Ribs are definitely broken. Organs are probably punctured, if not instantly crushed. And as she flies off of this brute’s fist, the whole world turns black, silent, and cold. Nothing hurts. Her entire body is just in shock. For a moment. Then the pain hits. Right. Healing. Now everything hurts.

She opens her eyes to find this titan looming over her with his fists raised. But just before he can bring them down on her and turn her to paste… “Useless!” Diana dashes in, grabbing both of his arms and using all of her strength to keep from buckling under them. The ground under her, however, received no such memo.

Only the challenged individual is at any risk of elimination, even if teammates arrive to help them. It’s what makes the alliance system so appealing. Allies can help at no cost to themselves if they wish. But by the same token, none are obligated to come to the aid of an ally if they don’t need to. In Mio’s second match, it was Diana who appeared to save her, despite having no reason to. And now here, where she has even less reason to stand between Mio and an opponent. Where she now risks elimination as she uses her swarm commands to help her push this monster back.

This is what she meant. I’m still…

“Pretty pathetic, huh? Serves you right for losin’ your head.”

I can’t. Though the physical pain recedes, a pain of another kind gnaws away at her. I don’t want to keep holding everyone back.

Even in her mind, Mio can see it. The glint in Kuro’s beady red eyes. The shine of the pearly white spines in his beak, stretching into a grin. “Idiot. You don’t have to.”


“I’m still right here, aren’t I?”


“I have some tricks I can try. All you have to do is say the word.”

Silence. The recesses of this girl’s mind turn hollows, even as the world outside is surging with noise and movement. Mm…

Diana can hardly stay on her feet. Her arms feel like pudding. Nevermind that. Her entire body is sore and her mind is humming. “Dammit. He’s too strong. No way my barrier survives something like that again.”

Ragyou does a double-take. “Heh?! Hold up! That’s, like, way bad, right?! You don’t heal fast like Micchin! You’re tough without it, sure, but if he gets through your barrier like hers, he’ll totally kill you, won’t he?! You should hang back and let us-”

“Please. I don’t have to be anywhere near him to attack. Bee.” At its master’s behest, Honey Bee primes both its stinger arms.

“Eh, Di, isn’t that more dangerous, though? If Bee gets swatted, you lose.”

While the blonde pair exchange their back-and-forth on what to do, keeping away from the juggernaut student as best they can, Mio sits up. “His Familiar.”

“Micchin! You’re up!”

“What’s she muttering about?”

Then Mio points straight at the bear, riding atop its master’s shoulder. “I think… we should focus on the Familiar.”

“I tried that, Extra. It just keeps movin’ around. Or he protects it.”

But while Diana glowers at Mio, Ragyou senses it. A difference from just moments ago. It puts a smile back on her face and she heaves out a relieved sigh, stretching her arms a bit. “No way. Is that all?” Then she walks around Diana. “If that’s the case, then no worries, Di. You really can leave it to us. No sense, riskin’ yourself. We got this.”



Mio nods and Ragyou races off, leaving her behind for a spell to take a breath. “Kuro.”

“Just trust in me.”

“Right.” And she’s off, right behind Ragyou, leaving both Diana and Maddie to watch. Again Mio and Ragyou bolt around their target. Mio winces through some close calls, the wind of a punch blowing through her scarf behind her. I’m not good at speaking my mind, like them. As she moves, her body falls more and more into a rhythm. All the while, Ragyou springs in, kicking the big guy at off-angles whenever she sees a chance.

I can never tell someone when something’s bothering me. Pure instinct guides her through the danger zone of oncoming attacks from their overwhelmingly strong opponent. It’s as if her body moves by itself, long gone by the time any blows come anywhere near her. No. As if something outside of herself is moving her body. But what Diana said… It does bother me. It bothers me a lot. Because I don’t think she’s wrong. Any time she gets close to the little bear, it moves elsewhere, like a game of high-stakes whack-a-mole. “Kikuchi-san!”

“Boing!” Right when it looks like Mio might take another hit, Ragyou leaps up from a rabbit hole and kicks the brute’s arm, forcing his punch to whiff completely.

Not being able to tell her that… I don’t like it.

“So why not tell her in your own way?”

One punch might have gone by, but another one thunders on through. Ragyou flinches. No way. There’s no way she stops that one too. Then… this is how I’ll say it. Up she springs, landing on the monster’s arm as it rumbles on by, using the momentum as a springboard to launch herself high up into the air, well over the battle. Everyone stops and gapes as Mio soars overhead, the tails of her scarf like a pair of amber wings against the sky. That I don’t want to be the thing holding everybody back.

Barely able to contain herself, Ragyou pumps her fist skyward. “Go for it, Micchin!”

Mio extends her arm, pointing her index and middle fingers like a gun. At their tips forms a small black mass. A small black mass that sprouts a pair of beady red eyes and a pointy little smirk. “One in the chamber.”

That I don’t want to be a burden! “Fire!”

The mass lets loose a shot with a resonant bang. An umbra bullet with a face, speeding toward the little bear its gaze is locked onto. “You’re mine!” The bear and its master both look up, the former scrambling to get clear as Kuro’s body reassumes his regular, reptilian form, the closer he gets, opening his jaw and bearing his fangs. Then…

Direct Hit.