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In this world, Ai had been taught that fantasy was for books, not reality. In her world, she was taught that magic was only for miracles and thus did not qualify.

So when she said her brother had been stolen by a boy with bandages into a shiny portal, they had claimed she was grieving and too young. That whatever happened, which must have been awful with all this blood everywhere, too much for a young child to bear with properly.

She wanted to believe them. She was seventeen now and wanted to believe the adults through her rebellious phases. But in this she couldn't. In this she remembered hazy knives and sweet smells and leftover flower petals mixed in the blood. So she couldn't believe and thus didn't. But she didn't know how to prove it, except for finding him. But it had been ten years ago. Her only clue was the scent of an impossible flower.

It was best to put it out of her mind.

So Ai walked into high school expecting more of the same. Sure, her parents had work and we're no longer trying to follow her to school in the most unsubtle of ways to make sure she was safe. She didn't think it was because they trusted her anymore, their jobs just depended on them actually, well, being there. It probably also helped that this high school was everything they had hoped for,that she had worked for. This was, inevitably, everything like a new beginning.

Ai touched the black skirt brushing at her knees and let out a heavy sigh. Come on Ai, baby steps.

If not baby steps, then nowhere at all. If Makoto was here, he would have been far ahead of her probably. She didn't know. A lot changed in ten years, right?

She tugged on her hair and then let out a heavy breath. Then, she slapped her cheeks. "All right," she whispered. "Let's go."

With a forced smile, she looked up at the towering building, and went inside.

Students chattered all around her, already gravitating away from the assignment board. Clumps of threes and fours moved towards her and no one gave her any mind. She hitched her bag further up her shoulder and smiled in relief. Better to be out of sight, to pass through these important years quietly. She didn't want another three years of bad whispers behind her back.

Ai scanned for her name and nodded, lifting her head high and looking for it. As she walked, a smaller teen darted around her from the entrance, nearly colliding with her side. Ai stumbled and caught herself, watching a taller man run after her, calling something in what had to be Chinese. Ai quickly looked away. A couple classes would never make her fluent, and it was rude to eavesdrop. The other girl didn't even seem bothered by all the staring however, even as the young man put his hands on his hips and continued his tirade. Then, after a good few minutes of looking, Ai's eyes went wide. She took a hesitant step forward, then another.

"Ah… uhm… Li-san?"

This made them both pause, the girl's pigtails almost perking with a life of their own. Ai tugged on her own hair, flushing with embarrassment. So much for not knowing anyone.

The older man, Jenrya-san, she realized after a moment, immediately smiled. He looked a lot like his father, well, what she remembered of him. They hadn't interacted in years. "Ai-chan," he greeted. "It's been a while."

Ai felt around her bag without thinking and touched the soft plastic of the D-Arc. "Yeah," she agreed, faking her own smile. "It has."