Chapter 17:

The One To Beat


Another day, another perfect score.

Charlotte stares at the holo-screen in her desk, projecting her results on the latest test back to her. Her bespectacled… friend? Perhaps a strong word for their relationship. Her bookish devotee hovers over her, admiring her good work. “Flawless as usual, Charlotte. At this rate, you’ll have every school in the city fighting one another to have you.”

But Charlotte, stoic as ever, closes the projection. “As long as the best one is among them, Paige, the rest of that list is pointless.”

“O-of course. It’s the only thing that’d suit you.” Paige bows her head and sits back down in her own seat, just behind Charlotte, staring at her own marks on the same test. 91. Good. Better than most of the class, even. Most of it. This person in front of her is just… on another level. She swipes her hand across the screen, flipping the digital page. Something else. Anything else. Her hand stops just before passing by the page for the Royale Tracker. Even there… “You know, you really are amazing.”


Paige blows up Charlotte’s profile. This many wins for their team, already. “I… nothing. I just meant that it’s really amazing how many wins you guys have been able to get, already. You must have contributed to most of them.”

Charlotte opens the Royale Tracker, staring at the win counter under their team. The stats don’t really provide a great picture. They don’t say who got the final blow in team battles. They don’t even record which matches involved multiple members of an alliance. Only the combatants and witnesses know. Herself included.

The remainder of the day seems to drift leisurely on by. At one point, in the middle of a lecture, the schoolwide alarm goes off for another Royale match. The instructor carries on with their lesson and, even as the classroom shutters around them, the students continue staring at the material, absorbing the droning speech. Come the day’s end, Paige and the rest of Charlotte’s followers among the class gather around her. More of the same. A hefty dose of praise, almost always balanced by something being asked of her.

Help with some sort of assignment, questions about class material, advice on academic pursuits of one form or another. She answers them all and rises from her seat when she’s finished, departing for the day. “I’m leaving. Keep up your studies.” Her followers wave as she disappears through the classroom door, save for a listless Paige, peering off into the ether.

The purposeful stride of the First-Year Academic Empress is such that nearly everyone on campus, even many upperclassmen, know to move. With her steely gaze, unsmiling face, and head held high, her presence pierces through the rabble. Yet there’s one person. Just one person in her entire year whom that presence means absolutely nothing to. And as she rounds the bend on her way to the entrance, there that person stands, flanked by both Mio and Ragyou.

“Awww, fer real? C’mon, Di! Come back! We totally miss you at the dojo! Right, Micchin?” Charlotte stops silently at the end of the hall to watch as Ragyou whines to Diana, hands folded and everything. There’s no way this ends well.

Diana glares at Ragyou. But then she takes one look at Mio and… nope. Not well at all. She turns with a scoff and shrugs as she struts off. “Why? We won, yesterday. We’re fine, right? Whatever. I’m going to a party. You wanna go get all sweaty for nothing, have fun, I guess. See ya later, Ragyou.”

With the Queen of the First Years gone, Ragyou’s left there to pout. “Boo.” She runs her hand through her hair as she turns to Mio. “Haaah… Di can be real difficult to work with sometimes, y’know?”

Mio nods. Not that anyone need tell her that, of all people.

Ragyou looks up to find Charlotte standing at the far end of the hallway and puts on her biggest smile, waving to her other teammate. “Chaaarlie-chaaan!”

Charlotte’s brow twitches. This girl… But there’s no helping it. She sighs and marches forward, passing both of her teammates without so much as looking at either of them. “Skip the pleasantries. Let’s just go.”

“Brrrrr! Frosty as ever.” Before she follows suit, Ragyou loops around behind Mio, taking the girl by the shoulders. “Miiicchin. Let’s give it our best shot again today, yeah?”

It isn’t like Mio can possibly say no as Ragyou pushes her along. “Y-yeah.”

“All right! We’re totally gonna beat Ms. Yen, this time.”


If only reality were as simple as declaring things into existence. At the dojo, the story is entirely different. With their speed, Mio and Ragyou run literal circles around the lackadaisical gym teacher. Meanwhile, Charlotte hangs back to observe. All we have to do is force her to dodge once, but… The woman just makes it look so effortless. Ragyou charges in with kick after kick, only to be blocked nearly every time. Every other time, Ortiz grabs her ankle and throws her away like a pebble. Charlotte sneers.

Kikuchi can kick with the force of a bus. What on Earth is this woman?

Kuroi Dangan!” Mio darts around behind Ortiz while she has Ragyou in a throw, her hand formed into a finger gun. Bang. The same attack from the last battle, firing Kuro like a bullet at the teacher’s back. A good effort. Effort being the operative word. Ortiz pivots and swats at Kuro, forcing him to veer off, skidding to a stop on the dojo floor. When she tries again, Ortiz succeeds in knocking the little lizard away, sending him flying across the dojo and back at Mio, splatting into the poor thing’s face.

Morioka has a ranged attack, now, but it just gets knocked out of the air, even though it’s as fast as a real bullet. That reaction speed can’t be human. Off to the side, Ms. Kelly oversees the match with a timer running on her Link. A fact that Charlotte is very conscious of. Less than a minute. We have to make something happen. I have to make something happen.

“Tch. Little Moth, pin her down.”

So it is spoken, so it shall be. The moth sprite flutters into the battle, snaring one of Ortiz’s hands with a silk line as she raises it to defend. “Hm?” The blase trainer stares at this, even as she uses her free hand to knock Ragyou away. The girl stumbles back, reaching the tip of the line on the dojo floor and struggling to keep her balance just enough to keep from falling over it, breathing a sigh of relief when she manages to stop herself.

Little Moth tries to yank on the line, struggling to maybe manipulate her movements, but… she doesn’t budge at all. On the contrary, she reaches up, grabbing the line and dragging Charlotte’s Familiar down to her level. “I’m not a puppet, you know.”

There. “Little Moth.” No further instruction needed. At this range, the little sprite spits a sticky, gummy mess of silk in the face of its aggressor, leaving the woman blind.

I can do this. I’m as good as she is. We don’t need her.

That momentary disadvantage for Ortiz is the go signal. Even as Mio and Ragyou continue their own attacks, Little Moth swoops in, tangling Ortiz up in more and more lines of silk. Eventually, she doesn’t have a single limb left to fight back with. Charlotte points upward and Little Moth flies high, yanking on all the silk lines and dragging Ortiz up with it. With an aerial loop, the little Familiar swings Ortiz up above it before sending her straight back down, fully intent on throwing her out of the fighting area.

Kelly removes her glasses and wipes them off. “Well, that’s certainly something. But…”

We’ve gotten so close. Naturally, it doesn’t amount to anything. Ortiz shifts her weight to manipulate the arc of the swing, leaving Charlotte utterly baffled. Especially as Ortiz lands right back on her feet. But this is…

Ragyou attacks the gym teacher while she still has no use of her limbs or eyes. Her head, however, is another story. She knows exactly where Ragyou is coming from, meeting the girl’s kick with her skull. “Heh?” On her follow-through, she knocks Ragyou back into an attacking Mio, both of them stumbling out of bounds. All of that… with her head.

This is…

All that’s left is Little Moth. Ortiz takes a deep breath. Suddenly, through sheer strength, frees one of her arms, using it to grab all the lines leading up to the fluttering Familiar. Before there’s even a chance to respond, she drags the little thing from the air, slamming it straight into the floor. The instant Little Moth makes impact, it scatters into psychic energy, retreating violently into Charlotte’s mind.

Defeat. Absolute defeat. Again. And with seconds to spare.

Charlotte stands there and hangs her head with a scowl fixed on the ground. “Impossible. This is absolutely impossible.”

Later, the girls all listen as Kelly reviews their performance. At least, two of them are listening. The third, however… “Charlotte.” That gets her attention back. “Your little stunt. It was clever, but ultimately not helpful. Why did you suddenly stop working with the others?”

“I… don’t know.”

“The objective of this training was to force Ms. Ortiz to dodge an attack. You tried to eliminate her. You’re a smart girl. What was the thought process, there?”

Charlotte doesn’t respond right away. But when she does, it’s barely a mutter. What I thought… “I can beat her.”

While Charlotte broods to herself, Kelly steps forward. Without a word she raises her datapad, then lightly brings it down, bopping the top of her student’s head. “And did you beat that person?”

The million-dollar question, that.

The session concludes and the girls all step out to head home, or wherever they may travel. Though it takes several attempts by the chipper one to gain the attention of a very absent-minded Charlotte. “Charlie-chan!”

“Hm? Kikuchi-san? What is it?”

“This is super rare, right? You’re actually walkin’ with us, today!”

True enough. They all go the same direction, every day. Ordinarily, though, Charlotte hurries herself along, not slowing down to chat with the others. “That wasn’t really the intention. Don’t look too far into it.”

“Ahaha. Man, you’re icy. Oh! But since you’re here, that was mega cool, today! You have a name for that move, yet!”

Charlotte blinks. “A… name?”

“Yeah! A move like that has to have an awesome name, right? Micchin named her new attack from the other day!”

Mio winges and looks away from her teammates, drifting back a few steps behind them as her face turns beet red. “Um… w-well… it helps… make it easier to remember. So…”

Ragyou snickers and slips back, pulling Mio back to the front. But that grin turns to a pout in an instant. “I totally thought you were actually gonna do it, too. We had her on the ropes, didn’t we? So laaame. I wonder if we’d be able to do enough damage if Diana was around.” Charlotte stops cold, forcing Ragyou to run into the back of her. “Heh? Charlie-chan? What’s-?”

“Don’t waste time worrying about that.”


“Focus on your own self-improvement. That’s what you can do, right here and now. Anything more is wasted energy.” Charlotte continues on, putting some distance between herself and the others. They follow, but the rest of the trip to the nearest station is unnervingly silent. Honestly. That girl is…


“Such a pain.”

Diana sits among her posse in homeroom after school on the next day of classes, going on about their latest assignment. Once they’ve had their fill of the place, they all make to leave. Maybe get in a karaoke session. But the instant their leader sets foot through the classroom door, a voice meets her ear. Perhaps the last voice on this Earth she’d ever wish to hear. “Diana.”

“What do you want?” Her troupe of mean girls gathers around her. But there Charlotte stands, completely alone, not a member of her clique to be found. Whatever brief spell of boldness this absence brings Diana’s group dissipates the second they catch a good look at the no-nonsense scowl on Charlotte’s face, threatening to turn them all to ice.

“A word?”