Ragyou, Diana, Maddie, every breath stays held. Kuro rams into the little Teddy Bear-like Familiar, chomping down on the psychically generated stuffed animal. Even driving his tiny fangs into his prey, Kuro’s beak stays marked with a smug grin. His fangs seep that same burning venom into the critter as before, back when he took a bite out of Lycan. And as Mio lands, opposite their opponent, recalls how that went. She observes, but she never drops her guard. This should work. It has to work.
It works. Something does, anyway. Smoke. From the little bear’s ears. Followed immediately by the creature bursting into flames the second Kuro releases it from his maw. And the Familiar isn’t the only one. The psychic aura around him now raging like a fiery prison of his own making, the young Esper flies into a burning frenzy. A familiar sight to Mio, as the image of Lycan’s rampage after being bitten flashes through her mind.
The boy roars in agony, the psychic flames charring not his flesh, but his mind. He flails about, stumbling around and randomly demolishing anything in his way. A nearby rock gets pulverized to rubble under his swinging fists. Ragyou leaps out of the way as he nearly runs her over. All the while, the little bear runs around on its own, trying to set the fire out as Kuro watches with a satisfied snicker. Though it goes away immediately when he turns his head. “Boke! You’re spacing out again!”
Oh. Right over her, fists raised and eyes filled with a savage combination of fury and pain, stands her opponent. He swings down, not even granting the girl a chance to brace herself. Then, just before the blow is struck… “Stinger Missile.” The little bear gets itself run through by a stinger larger than its entire body, bringing its master to a freeze. Then, following a brief delay, the impaled little bear wilts away, burning up in the blaze that consumes it and impaled on such a large spike. When the last particle of its presence drifts away, its master loses his psychic resonance entirely. His fury evaporates and his strength leaves him entirely, dropping him to his knees. It’s… over.
He turns his head, joining his gaze with Mio, Ragyou, and Maddie. Behind him, Diana stands with her arms folded, looking down on him with a deep scowl etched into the lines of her face. The combatants’ Links all change from red to blue and flash. Then that voice again. “Royale Battle Concluded. The Final Result is Victory by Familiar Incapacitation in favor of Diana Quinn. Theodore Bruin. Due to your elimination, you will be given 24 hours to gather any personal effects and vacate the city. Your participation helps make Beacon the bastion of safety that it is today. Thank you for your cooperation in the United World System’s Royale Initiative.”
It’s impossible to get used to it. The absolute indifference of that synthetic voice as it informs a person of the sudden upheaval of their entire life. Mio covers her own Link with her hand. As if that would mute it. Not that it would change anything.
“Micchiiiin!” The next thing Mio knows, her hand is seized by both of Ragyou’s as her energetic teammate rushes over, an enormous smile on her face. “You did totally awesome! That was a new move, right?! Hold up, it’s your first one, i’nnit?! I had no idea you could use Kuro like that! More like, ain’t you way too full’a surprises?!”
“Ki-Kikuchi-san, my hand is… you’re crushing it.”
But her focus on Ragyou’s excitable gesture doesn’t last. Her mind instead wanders over to their defeated opponent, still on his knees where he’d fallen. Theodore… Bruin. A familiar name. Theodore. Teddy. Teddy Bruin? That short, somewhat chubby boy from Middle School? And a punching bag for the popular kids - Diana and her posse in particular. It must have been awful. To spend all of Middle School like that, eyes constantly red with tears, knowing that not one soul would help.
When Ragyou releases her hand, Mio steps over to the defeated boy. “Um, Teddy? About how this all turned out. I’m… sorry. H-here. Let me-”
“Help?” The apprehension in his voice reaches out and whips the girl’s hand away as she extends it, leaving her at a loss. His body shudders, a forced and terrified laugh forging its way from his lungs. “You’ve gotta be joking. Now? Now someone wants to help?” Mio backs away, keeping her eye on her increasingly unstable adversary. His head, once held down in his anguish over defeat, pops up, tears flooding from his eyes. “How is anyone supposed to help me now?!”
Mio stands and gapes at that remark. She takes in the fearful look in his puffy red eyes. He… isn’t wrong. What can she do? This is just how things are. He still lost. He still has to leave the city. He still has to pray he can survive outside. There’s nothing to be done about it. Then an old friend returns to wrap her in its cold embrace. The hollow sensation of helplessness. “I…”
“If you wanted to help, you would’ve stayed out of it. You would’ve let me beat her.”
Diana scoffs. “Hey.” When Teddy turns his head, there she is, right in his face, the intense levels of sheer scorn and derision emanating from her nearly crater him into the earth. And her eyes. She’s going to kill him. She’s finally going to just kill him. “Who the hell said you could blame the Extra? I’m the one who beat you, loser. Got it?” He can’t bring himself to say anything. But the tears keep flowing, joined by a cold sweat and a bad case of shakes. “You’re part of the reason I hate it, you know. The crying. Damn, it’s ugly.”
“Hey, Di.” Ragyou stands behind the furious queen. “That’s really enough, isn’t it? He already lost, so…”
Diana pauses, staring into her victim’s streaming eyes, and sucks her teeth. “Whatever. Beat it, loser. Before you flood the whole damn city.”
Releasing the grass and dirt, clutched in his hands, Teddy flings himself to his feet and barrels off as quickly as his legs can carry him. With him gone, Ragyou reaches for Diana’s shoulder. “Hey, uh, Di…”
No sell. Without another word, Diana struts off, leaving Maddie to stumble after her. “H-hey! Di! Wait up!”
Ragyou pouts at Diana’s dismissal, but there are other things to worry about, at the moment. For starters… “Micchin.” Lost in her own sea of thought, a light pierces through the storm clouding her mind, guiding her to shore, where she finds Ragyou. “Good job.”
How is this person always so… bright? “Arigatou.”
“Ah, there’s the beautiful Ms. Quinn! You’re becoming just as lovely as your mother.”
“It’s only natural that Diana outshines the rest.”
“Diana really is the pride of her family, isn’t she?”
So many echoes of so many conversations past - all of them unwanted - scraping at Diana’s mind, nearly pounding on her actual eardrums. She strides in silence along a busy downtown street. Maddie marches on in lockstep behind her, rambling on about the day’s events. “Seriously! Did that loser think he’d actually beat you, for real? Talk about hilarious, right, Di?”
Not a peep.
“But, man, that was so annoying to watch, though. You didn’t even need Ragyou or the Extra to step in to help you. You’re Diana.” That assertion. Something about it makes Diana wince. “I mean, you were the one who took him down in the end, anywa- oof!” Right into Diana’s back. Not paying a shred of attention, Maddie walks into her friend and fumbles back a bit. “S-sorry. Eh… Di? You okay?”
“Go home, Maddie.”
“Hah?” But Diana isn’t someone in the habit of repeating herself. All she does is turn her head, giving Maddie a clear look at her unamused expression. A signal, if ever there was one. “Uh… r-right. I’ll… see ya at school, then. Later.” She’s off.
With Maddie gone, Diana sits on a curbside bench, hunched forward and holding her head in her hands with her bag from earlier in her lap. Her body won’t stop… jittering. The echoing conversations all meld and blend together until they’re nothing but a continuous stream of noise. But one of them stands out amongst the others. “In the end, Diana, Mio isn’t the weak link. You are.”
“Seriously.” She reaches into her bag and removes another fudge pop from its contents. Peeling away the wrapper, she breathes a sigh and takes a bite. Mistake. That’s a mistake. A cold surge rushes straight to her skull and she writhes in place. Brainfreeze. Great. “Such a pain…”
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