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Take Me Down the Rabbit Hole

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Dim, white light from my computer monitor illuminated my bedroom. With a flick of my stylus on my digital art tablet, my music turned up. I absolutely did not have that one old “Once Upon a Dream” cover by Lana del Rey on full blast, risking permanent hearing loss. Absolutely, totally not... 

All right, fine. Maybe just a little bit. You know what, though? It didn't really matter. It wasn't like I blasted music too often…, or at least enough to make my eardrums bleed on a consistent basis. Nobody else was home to begin with besides my pet cat. I wore headphones, so it wasn’t like anyone would be able to hear it. Besides, anything to keep me awake long enough to finish this.  

I mimized Spotify, bringing up the same dreaded Tododeku drawing WIP from before. Covering my mouth, I yawned. Rubbing my eyes with my opposite hand did nothing to stop the images on the screen from blurring together. Or what little was there. I could practically feel Todoroki and Izuku mocking me for my lack of progress through the screen...even if that was super OOC for both of them…and totally impossible.

My stylus slammed down on my desk. You know what? Fuck it. I needed to call it a night. It was super late, and I could always try to redo it tomorrow. Hopefully...

Something soft bumped against my leg, and I jumped. My eyes dropped. My pet black cat, Morgana, who I swear is like my daughter...well, my daughter who I named after a Persona 5 character, rubbed against the side of my leg. 

“Hey, Morgana,” I said, petting her back. The sides of my lip tugged up. “Don’t scare me like that. Okay?” 

Morgana pounced up onto my lap, curling up in it and purring. Wish it was so easy to shove the day away like that. To just curl up, all warm and soft, and sleep until the day is dead.

Discord dinged. I minimized Clip Studio Paint Pro with my mouse, and brought up Chrome, clicking on the Discord tab. 

Luna: Up to hang out rn

I blinked. Surprised people are still logged on, since it's super late. 

...Then again, Luna, if you want to go by her online username, lives in New Zealand (or as I call it, “The Future”, since that country is always one day ahead of us), and Sahar lives in England. The beauty of international online friends, I guess. 

Eh, talking with them for a little while wouldn’t hurt. While I might regret it in the morning, I can handle one day of work with little sleep. Did that enough during secondary school final weeks. If I was able to handle that, then one day was cakewalk. 

LordMaddy: Gimme a sec.  

Tapping my spacebar turned off my music. Clicking on the mic icon, and then the camera icon in my Discord chat, my friend’s faces popped up on the split screen. 

My eyes lit up. “Hey, guys.” 

“Hi,” Sahar said. 

“Hey, Addie,” said Luna. “How are things going?” 

“Good.” I grabbed a small, blue pebble off of my desk, twiddling it in my hand. “Just trying to get that Tododeku art piece done in time for my trade with West-of-the-Moon.” 

Luna leered, leaning forward on her desk. “Put it off again, because you were drawing that one spicy Giyu WIP like the simp you are?” 

I snickered. “Not this time. Just more that this WIP is being such a bitch. I can’t think of what exactly to draw. I tried to draw this a few times already, but either my proportions were off or it just looked horrible. Is it even possible to get artist’s block?” 

Sahar tapped her chin. “I’m more of a roleplayer and fic writer, but I think that’s a thing.” 

“I agree," Luna said. 

Twirling the pebble around in my hand, I groaned. “If that’s the case, I have it in spades. And then some.” 

God, this was a huge pain in the ass. That’s an understatement of the millennium. Okay, that last bit is melodramatic as hell, but still… I needed to find a way to finish it, and fast. 

The last thing I wanted was to repeat what happened last time. You know, procrastinating to the last second, and then sending your piece back a couple days later long after the other person sent you their work? Lazy-Gal chewed me out after that. Not that I blame her. That was pretty shitty of me. Not doing that again. No way in hell. 

“When’s the deadline for your trade?” Sahar asked. 

“This weekend.” 

“Did you try taking a couple days off of drawing, and doing it again later in the week? Find that works for uni assignments.” 

She had a point. Maybe I’m thinking way too hard about this. Some time off to think might do wonders. Found the same thing happened with my secondary school art class, so it could be the same here. 

“Might try that, and focus more on commissions.” A smile tugged on my lips. “Thanks, you guys.” 

Sahar sent it back to me. “No problem.” 

Luna smirked. “That way you have more time to complete that one Giyu WIP.”     

My brows drew together. “Not gonna let that die, are you?” 

“Nope.” 

My friends laughed as I rolled my eyes. 

“Enough about that,” I said, just wanting to change the subject. “What were you guys up to before?”

“Nothing much,” Luna said. “We were just talking about The Owl House.”  

“Oh, cool. I always wanted to watch that series, but never got around to it. Seems like a cool isekai from what I can tell.” 

“Not quite,” Luna said. “It’s made in the west, remember?” 

Got me there. I shrugged. “Eh, true.” 

“Luz is still alive when she enters the other world. I mean, is it really an isekai if Truck-kun never makes an appearance and runs the protagonist over?” 

Sahar laughed. “RIP us.” 

“Not necessarily,” I said, twirling the pebble in my hand. “I mean, Overlord, No Game No Life and The Rising of the Shield Hero are all isekai, and the leads of each of those animes were never run over by a truck.” 

Luna shrugged. “Good point.”

My eyes dropped to the bottom right corner of the screen, and the neon numbers said “2:57 A.M." Holy shit! It’s almost three A.M. already! 

“It’s super late here, and I have work tomorrow, so I probably should sign off.” 

Smirking, Luna placed her elbow on her desk, and rested her chin on her fist. “Preventing a mishap of falling asleep at the desk again?” 

I bristled. “That was one time!” 

“Sure it was.” 

Rolling my eyes, I said, “Night, you guys.” 

“Goodnight,” they both said.

Clicking on the phone icon, I disconnected from the chat, and turned off my camera. I tossed off my wireless gaming headset aside, and I leaned back in my office chair, staring up at my bedroom ceiling. 

Being whisked to another universe with my online friends? Wouldn’t that be awesome, even for a short while. Beats living in this clusterfuck of a world with Covid-19, global warming, bigoted assholes and everything else.

My phone vibrated, moving around on my desk. Huh. Must be a notification from Genshin Impact for that update tonight. 

Snatching it up, I pressed the finger lock at the back and the screen lit up. A square with lines through it rested on the top bar. 

A text message? Who the hell would be up texting me this time at night? Mom and Roy are in Kamloops, since mom has business to attend there, but I’m pretty damn sure that they’re sleeping right now. And even when they are awake, they always made a point to only text me when I’m up. (Okay, when I’m supposed to be up.) Laura’s probably fast asleep at her and her girlfriend’s place. I never had any “real life friends” for almost a couple years now, let alone ones that would text me this late. 

Tapping the top bar and sliding it down revealed the notification. 

Unknown: Ah, my dearly beloved lady. Noblest and loveliest of evil blooms. Truly, you could be the most beautiful of them all.

I blinked, staring down at the screen. The fuck? What the hell does that mean? 

...Okay. It probably means that I have budding potential like a flower in bloom...I think. But still, what sense does that make? Does it mean that I’m an evil mastermind in the making? That I’m secretly super evil? Sure, I’m not the biggest saint in the universe. I have my fair share of massive personality faults like anyone else. And I wasn't the best one during secondary school. But I wouldn’t consider myself the most evil person on the planet with the potential to become even worse like a person who tortures helpless children and kittens in the basement or some horrible shit like that. How did they even come to that conclusion? Do they know me? 

Why am I thinking about this? This was just made by a troll. Who else would send something so...random? 

My finger tapped the ellipsis at the top right corner of the phone, clicking on the delete conversation button. But instead of the message disappearing and taking me back to the contact page, it took me back to the place as before. The same message was right there. As if it was taunting me. 

My blood turned to ice. The hell? Why didn’t that do anything? It should’ve been deleted! 

Unknown: Come on. Show me your power.  

Continually tapping the ellipsis in the top corner did nothing. Come on. Come on. Why isn’t this working? Just delete already!

Unknown: Adriana Strano-García, as long as your heart desires, take the hand reflected in the mirror. 

Wind howled, and I turned my head towards the source of the sound. Swirls of green and black fire engulfed the reflection of my floor length closet mirror. When the fire dissipated, a white gloved, disembodied hand floated in the middle, a sinister green glow surrounding it. The hand turned towards me and opened up, as if it was beckoning me to take it.

What the hell? How the hell is that possible? Am I dreaming? That can't be it. I never fell asleep before. Is someone projecting a hand onto my bedroom mirror or something? Without a computer or phone nearby to do it with? 

In a flash of light, a green orb floated right in front of me. It flickered a few times. My muscles relaxed, a strange sense of calm washing over me. The entire world around me became silent and dark. There was nothing for me to focus on except on the light and the mirror. A tug on the back of my mind compelled me to go to the mirror and grab the hand. As if it was my life’s mission or something. 

I stood up, slipping my phone into my jeans pocket. My office chair squeaked, and Morgana leapt off of my lap. Floorboards creaked as I followed the strange floating orb towards the mirror, never once blinking or taking my eyes off of it. Once I stood in front of the mirror, I reached out, my fingers brushing the surface of it. 

Morgana nudged my leg, snapping me outta whatever the hell came over me. I yanked my hand back. No way. Not in a billion years! Whether it's some weird projection or I'm dreaming, there was no way in fucking hell I’m grabbing a strange, sinister floating hand in a mirror! 

The hand, along with the arm of a person wearing a black tux, phased through the mirror, the surface rippling like water. What the hell? How can he...? Well, not staying around to find out. 

I took off towards my bedroom door. Just as I was about to get away from that freakshow, the owner of the hand latched onto my ankle, swooping me down to the ground with a thud. Crossing my arms around my head cushioned the impact, preventing my head from smashing against the hardwood floor. 

The being dragged me backwards across the ground. Wiggling one foot free, I tried to donkey kick the bastard in the face. But they grabbed both of my ankles, holding them both in an iron grip. I also tried to roll over, and got the same result. 

My legs and lower torso phased through the mirror, entering the other side. It felt as if half of my body was still inside a swimming pool—the difference being that it was more like gelatin more than water. The thick, slimy kind.

I grabbed onto the sides of my bedroom mirror, clinging on for dear life. I tugged forward, kicking my legs, and they still wouldn't budge. Come on, come on! Let go! Just let go already! 

With one final hard yank, my grip on the sides of the mirror loosened, and the being dragged the rest of my body inside of the mirror. 

My world went black. 

Chapter Text

Groggily, I yawned. Trying to roll over and stretch out my arms, my knuckles whacked an invisible wall in the dark, making a loud thunk. Ow. God, that hurt...Wait...The hell?

My eyes snapped open. Darkness surrounded me.

I tapped on the same spot with my hand, gently, and a small knock soon followed. My hand brushed across the spot. Smooth and hard...like wood.

Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, they darted about. Velvet walls surrounded me on all sides, encasing me inside of a very cramped space. The air was very heavy and humid, making it hard to breathe. Wooden planks creaked underneath me.

Then, it hit me…

I was inside of a coffin.

This had to be a nightmare. It had to be. There was no way in hell that I was actually buried alive.

Pinching my arm, I winced at the pain. I pinched my arm again, and I winced. Smacking my arm, I yelped. Nope. This was no dream. This is all too real.

An ear piercing shriek escaped my lips, as I banged the coffin lid hard as I could. “Help! Let me out! I can barely breathe in here! I don’t want to die!”

Nothing stirred beyond my wooden prison. No one called back either. Because…of course not.

I had to get out of there, right then and there. No matter what. I could hardly move, or breathe in there. Frankly, if I’m gonna die, it’s gonna be on my own terms. Thank you very much.

Tapping into my inner hockey player, I slammed my upper body against the lid. A loud thud rang out, but the lid was still firmly closed. It still stayed shut when I body checked and punched it several more times, pain jolting through my limbs as I did so.

When I kicked against my wooden confines as hard as I could, another huge jolt of pain shot up through my leg, and a loud smash soon followed. The coffin lid popped open. Freedom! And I’m still alive! Take that you bastards!

Taking a step forward, expecting the coffin to be on the ground, my foot met empty air. I crashed straight down to the marble floor, landing straight on my ass.

“Ow!” I yelped.

God, my ass is gonna hurt like hell later. Could’ve been worse, since I only fell a half a metre or so. Who the hell thought it was a bright idea to add floating coffins in this place? ...Wait...Floating coffins?

My head snapped up, eyes darting about the room. Black and purple walls surrounded me. Green lanterns hung from the rafters, giving off an eerie glow. A single large mirror rested on a pedestal in the center of the room. Thousands of coffins with green orbs at the center floated around the chamber, stretching high into the impressively tall ceiling.

“What the actual fuck?!”

I stood up, feet wobbling in the process. My heart thundered inside of my chest, breathing heavily. Where the hell am I? Was I kidnapped by a cult? Would explain the strange atmosphere of this place. If so, what type of bizzaro cult is this?

How did they manage to kidnap me? The front door to my penthouse apartment was locked. There are a bunch of CCTV cameras in the halls and entrance of the building. My home is near the top of the building. Did someone sneak inside through the front door while dodging the CCTV cameras like a ninja or something?

How are the cult freaks who made this place able to make those coffins float above the ground? They have no wires hanging them up.

The bizarre text messages. A hand appearing in my bedroom mirror. A malevolent force dragging me inside of said mirror. Memories clear as day, and they couldn't be a dream. Did that bastard transport me to another world? But that couldn’t be the case. It couldn’t be.

“Thought I had to pry one of these suckers open,” someone said. “Least I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Chills went up my spin, and I went perfectly still. “Who said that?”

“I did.”

A tuxedo-cat with mangy fur stood on top of one of the coffins on their hind legs, staring down at me. A collar, with a lavender crystal hanging from it, was wrapped around their neck. The end of their tail split off into three different points like a pitch fork. Bright, blue flames poked out of their triangle ears.

My eyes darted around the room, trying to see if anyone else was with us. I didn’t see any other humans. It was just me and the cat. But if there was no one else in the room, that meant...

Scrambling to press my back against the wall, I yelped, “A-a talking cat!”

The cat scowled. “Who are you calling a cat? For your information, human, I’m the Great and Powerful Grim!”

“The...what?”

Grim huffed, sticking their nose up in the air like a cheerleader who was rejected by the football captain in some b-list rom com. “Whatever.”

Grim jumped down right next to me, standing on their hind legs.

“Hey, human! Enough chit-chat! Shut up, and gimme that robe!”

“What?!”

Out of instinct, I covered my chest, and my eyes dropped. A bizarre black, hooded cult cosplay robe with purple lining on the inside covered my clothes from the night before. Elegant, golden swirls lined the outside edges of the robe. A golden buckle was wrapped around my waist. A pair of black stiletto boots were on my feet.

“Hurry up! Otherwise, I’ll roast ya.”

Blue flames burst from one of their paws, which were snuffed out once they closed it.

“Uh…” I trailed off.

Okay. Getting roasted alive by a talking cat experiment thing? (Because what else can they be? Ruled out that I'm not dreaming, and no one slipped anything to my drink since I was home alone before.) That’s certainly a new way to die. Certainly not the way I want to go, that’s for sure. It ranked down there with falling out of my bed, drowning in a bath and scraping my arm on my computer mouse despite it having zero sharp edges. Last thing I want is for my face to be plastered on one of those YouTube “Top Ten Stupidest Ways People Have Died” lists!

“Well, what’s it gonna be?” Grim said, putting a hand on their hip.

Come on. Come on. Think, think! Standing here stalling like a dumbass isn’t gonna help anything. There has to be something I can do to distract them before they roast me to death. I highly doubt I would be able to throw a coffin at them or something...

“Well, come on!” Grim whined, tapping their bottom paw. “Hurry up! I don’t have all night!”

Reaching down, I pulled off one of my boots, setting it down on the ground beside me.

“No, gimme the robe. Dumb human. I don’t want your stup

Once I took off the other boot, I threw it hard as I could at the cat. The boot smacked the wall beside them, flopping down to the ground. The cat-experiment jumped.

Without the burden of heels, I booked it, running as fast I could towards a pair of giant double doors, which parted with a loud slam. I ran through the doors, entering a windowless hallway with paintings lining walls.

Don’t chase me. Don’t chase me. Don’t chase me.

...Wait. What am I so worried about? This shouldn't be that hard. I doubt they would able to keep up with me. After all, they're only a little bigger than the average house cat, and have tiny legs compared to mine. What can they do? Waddle after me on their hind legs?

“Get back here!” Grim yelled in the distance.

I peered over my shoulder. Grim flew in the air, a small trail of fire streaking behind them, like some bizarro cat-version of Superman. They were gaining speed. Fast.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

Pumping my arms even harder, I sprinted down the hallway.

“Get back here!”

Nope. That's never gonna happen. Not in a billion years! 

I ran down a flight of stairs, and turned to another hallway once I reached the bottom. Pushing ahead, I weaved through random hallways in order to get them off of my tail. 

Once I was far enough ahead and I couldn't hear fire crackling behind me, I dashed around a corner, and into another corridor. My feet pounded against the marble floor. I stopped, and I stuck out my arms to prevent me from toppling over. Rigid breaths left me. Did I lose them? 

Fire crackled. Glancing behind me, Grim flew right around the corner, eyes narrowed. Are you fucking kidding me?! Will they ever let up?! Ugh! 

Pumping my arms, I rushed around the nearby corner, and into the nearest hallway. But when I reached the middle of it, I stumbled, stopping in my tracks. It didn't branch off into any other directions at the end. No doors, paintings or windows lined it either. A dead end. Fantastic!

A shit-eating grin crossed their features as they floated in the air in front of me. “Think you could outsmart me, dumb human?”

"Leave me alone, you fucking furball!"

“Who are you calling a furball?” Grim fumed, eyes narrowed. “Listen, human. If you don’t want to get roasted, then hand it over!”

Blue flames flared up in their paw again. I took a few steps back, pressing my back against the wall in order to avoid the flames.

You know what? Fuck this! The more I think about it, this stupid robe wasn’t worth getting roasted alive by a talking cat experiment over, especially when I’m fully clothed underneath. Someone once said in a YouTube video that if you were ever mugged for money, you should comply and just give them your wallet. It’d be safer if I went along with it. No matter how bizarre that whole situation was. (God, I should’ve done that in the first fucking place instead of going on a wild goose chase. Too late for that now.)

“Fine. You can have them.”

With a flick of my fingers, the clasp holding the belt snapped, and it fell down with a small clatter. Holding down my shirt underneath and pulling the robe off, it dropped to the ground and pooled at my feet. All that was left were the same cream off the shoulder top, which popped against my tan complexion, and straight leg jeans that I wore before. Dark brown hair tumbled down to a few inches above reaching my waist.

My heart pounded. I brushed by the talking cat experiment, dashing down the hallway in the opposite direction, and going back to the same staircase I was before. My eyes darted about, searching for any other people. The coast was clear.

Shaky breaths left me as I leaned against one of the walls, sliding down it. My hands trembled. Why did that cat experiment want my robe so bad? It wouldn’t even fit them! Who made that cat experiment in the first place? Who stuffed me in that weirdass occult cosplay while I was unconscious? Why would they do that in the first place? Did they think I was dead, but I was in a coma in reality or something?

I shook my head. Trying to rationalize any of that right then and there wasn’t gonna get me anywhere. Frankly, I was too afraid of the answers! I had bigger fish to fry, the biggest of all being breaking out of that place.

My hand, shakily, touched one of my pockets, and a large bulge was inside. Right, my phone. Still have it on me.

Fumbling in my pocket, I plucked out my phone, and then touched the sensor at the back to unlock it. Instead of being greeted by my HaruRin screensaver, the screen was completely blank with nothing, but a teal bar at the bottom with a circle at the centre and my basic apps.

Biting my bottom lip prevented me from screaming on the top of my lungs. Where are YouTube, Discord, Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr, Tik Tok, Spotify, Netflixs, Disney+ and all of my mobile games? Where are all of my pictures that I took over the last year? And all of the fanfics and fan art that I’ve saved, for that matter? All of the work I’ve saved, and all of my days of grinding on my games down the toilet! Did someone wipe my phone while I was out?

Tapping the icon for my messages took me to a list of all of my past conversations. A chill went down my spine. Those bizarre messages that bastard sent me last night. They’re gone. Now I know for sure that someone wiped this. 

Tapping the icon for my mom, I quickly typed out a message asking for help, and then tapped the icon with the arrowhead at the bottom. The message swirled around and around for a couple seconds. A red exclamation point popped up beside the blue box where my message was supposed to be.

SMS: Service Error 305: Message delivery failed.

What? That can’t be right. This has to work. It has to!

Rubbing the top hem of my jeans pocket in an attempt to stim and calm down, I tried to message my stepdad. Same result. Tried to message Laura. Same result.

Just when I was about to send another message, the screen went completely black, showing nothing but an error message on it. What?! No, no. That can't be the case. 

Pressing my finger against the side did nothing to reset or start my phone. Instead just a pixelated black screen popped up. Time and time again, I kept trying, like a crazy person, and got the same result.

My grip on my phone tightened. Please, please. I’m begging you. All I want is to contact my family and get help. That’s all I ask. Just fucking work.

I pressed the button on the side of my phone. Same pixelated black screen. Nope. Nothing.

I hurled my phone across the hallway. You know what? Forget it. Have your way! Scouring this place for an exit myself it is, then.

Chapter Text

Playing around with a pebble in my hand, I walked down the long corridor. Where’s the exit to this place? I’ve been walking in a giant circle for over a half hour, and I still can’t find anything! I know I have the navigation ability of roadkill and have a tendency to get lost in places I’ve never been to before (like that time I got lost in the UBC before I went to Laura’s grad ceremony...which she still never lets down), but this is ridiculous. 

There has to be a way out of this place. There just has to be. Unless people teleport through via magic mirror, there must be some door, gate, or anything to exit to the outside world. 

Just as I was about to turn down a hallway, someone screamed something in another language before yelling on the top of their lungs, “HELP! MY BUTT IS ON FIRE!”

Wait. What the hell is that about? 

Actually...Scratch that. So not worth it. Don’t want anyone to find me sneaking around this place. That’s for sure. 

Turning on a dime, I stumbled into a hallway with marble arches that overlooked a courtyard garden. Apple trees and trimmed bushes surrounded four stone walking-paths, which intersected into a circle. A small wishing well surrounded by more shrubs was in the middle. 

Stone spires and turrets of varying sizes jutted high into the starry sky. Several of the windows dotting the structures were lit up. 

Between the courtyard and the spires this place reminded me of a mixture of an European castle and a university. But how the hell could that be the case? Did that bastard take me to some European country? Canada isn’t exactly known for its hundreds of ancient European style castles dotting the landscape. The closet things to castles that do exist in Canada are former, couple hundred year old estates, which are designed just to look like them and turned into tourist attractions or hotels. 

I’m not in another fucking world. That’s just impossible. That shit only happens in anime, light novels and video games. Grim is just a weird lab experiment, and I’m most likely kidnapped by a cult or something. 

Besides, I shouldn’t be gawking at the architecture. Breaking out of here is much more important. 

Pulling out my phone, I pressed the button on the side to restart it. Same pixelated black screen as before. Nope. Still nothing. Of course, because fuck my life.

Footsteps clacked against the marble surface behind me, as two voices chattered nearby. 

Shit! Gotta hide. Gotta hide. Gotta hide. 

My eyes darted about, landing on an inconspicuous door close by. Good enough for me. 

I scurried a few steps ahead. Grabbing the door handle, I cracked the door open. I slipped inside, crouching down and closing the door part way. 

My eyes squinted, glancing around the dark, cramped space. Various random bottles lined the shelves. My arm bumped against a broom handle, which clattered to the ground. A utilities closet? 

You know what? Fuck it. I don’t even care anymore. Long as no one sees me in here, that’s all that matters. 

“So this is the courtyard,” said a guy. “My older brother recommended it to me as a great spot to skip class and hang out.”

“Yeah…” another voice said. 

The door creaked open, and I peered outside. Two guys, who each wore that same robe I did from before and had fair complexions, walked in the courtyard. One was on the lanky side with messy, red hair like a character ripped out of a shonen manga. The other was a nimble, lean guy, who kinda looked like Lio from Promare, but with lilac hair instead of lime green. What kind of cult are they a part of, Agents of Evil Shonen Protagonists? 

“This apple tree looks like a good spot for a nap, no?” the guy with red hair asked, gesturing to it. "If we take a nap here now and a professor or someone comes by, we can just say that we’re lying down cause of a stomach ache, and they’d let us off the hook."

The lilac haired guy stared in another direction, hands in his robe pockets. “True.” 

“Are you bored?” 

The other jumped a little, and turned to him. “What do you mean?” 

The guy with red hair laughed. “You keep on making non-committal replies.” 

“It’s not like that. I just don’t really have much to say.” 

“You know, you overthink your replies way too much. Just say what’s on your mind.” 

The guy with lilac hair put his hand on his hip. “Well, it’s not like I speak like this, because I want to.” 

“What do you mean?” A hearty chuckle left the lanky guy’s lips. “Tomorrow’s the first day of uni, so you’re gonna have to introduce yourself to a lot of people. That can’t exactly be helped.” 

Well, that confirms it. This is a university. But that still makes things even more confusing. Why would a cult be inside of a university? I heard of schools having secret societies, but nothing to the point of what I saw.

“Guess I have no other choice. I’ll show you an example of a self introduction.” The lanky guy cleared his throat, plucking an apple from the tree. “I’m Ace, and I hail from right here in Rose Kingdom. My favourite food is cherry pie.” 

Rose Kingdom? I never heard of that place before in my life! What is he talking about? Is he…? 

No. I’m not in a fantasy world. That can’t be it. It might be some other name for a place that I never heard, or the name of something in this weirdass occult society thing.

“How about you?” Ace said, tossing him an apple. 

“Huh?” the other guy said, catching it in his hand. 

“Good catch. But your introduction?”  

“Right...I’m Epel. I come from...Um, don’t want to say that to a guy I just met. No offence.” 

“None taken.” 

“My speciality is cutting apples, and my favourite food is…macaroons.” 

“Macaroons, huh? Suits how you look.” 

Epel grunted, probably a bit annoyed with that last remark. “Well, I also like barbecued steak.” 

“Barbecued steak? Didn’t expect that one. Those have little in common, you know.” 

“True. Just like how both taste. I’m weird like that, I guess.” 

Should I come out and reveal myself? I mean, despite first impressions, they seem like decent guys. With my cell busted, I need all the help I can get. Eavesdropping on a conversation for this long is rather creepy...even if I can’t exactly help it at the moment. 

No. I have no stay hidden. For all I know they’re occultists who will roast me alive for rejecting their way of life or something. I can break out of this place on my own. It’d be better that way. 

“Ace, Epel!” a new voice, who I swore sounded like an older version of Ciel from Black Butler dub, called out. 

“Shit,” Ace said. “Hide!”

The two took off, running in my direction. No! Go in the other direction! Not towards me! Ugh. 

“Ace Trappola!” the new voice yelled. “Come out if you hear my voice! I know you’re out there!” 

Shit. I need to close this door fast before they catch me inside of here. 

Twisting the knob slowly as I could, I tried to push it shut. The door still clicked shut. I tensed up. Fuck! They probably heard me. 

“Come out!” the voice yelled. “I already heard you!”  

My heart thumped. Shakily, I clapped a hand over my mouth, trying to prevent any sound from coming out. Oh, fuck. Don’t open the door. Just don’t. 

Shoes squeaked against the marble floor. It took a will of might not to sigh in relief. Good. He wasn’t talking about me. 

Not out of the woods yet. That’s for sure. Have to stay quiet or else.

“Good, you finally obeyed my orders,” the new voice said, sounding very close by. 

A pause. 

“And who are you?” the guy asked. 

“Epel.” 

“Riddle Rosehearts, head prefect of Heartslabyul.” 

Prefect? What the hell is a prefect? What the hell is Heartslabyul for that matter? Ugh, none of these terms make any sense! 

“Nice to meet you, too.” 

“Likewise,” Riddle said. “Did either of you two see a runaway student or a flying cat familiar out here by any chance?” 

Runaway student? Is he talking about me? 

He has to be. I wore the same weirdass robe as those other guys earlier, and they seem to be students at whatever this place is. 

And, familiar? Like those magical companions that accompany witches in stories...? 

No, no. I’m not in another world. Wiccans and other people who practice witchcraft sometimes claim to have those. Luna told me that she sees her pet rat as her familiar. Sure, I don’t personally exactly believe in that sort of thing, since I’m an atheist. (But I respect her religious opinions. Long as someone’s not a bigoted asshole or forces their religious beliefs onto others, I’m cool with anyone having differing opinions about that, too.) Maybe they believe in familiars and other similar concepts, too. 

“No,” Epel said. 

“Same,” Ace said. “Why?” 

“Another student skipped the opening ceremony completely, and let their familiar run amok. The blasted familiar went around shooting fire at people. They even set one of the other head prefect’s robes on fire. I even had to use my magic to put one of my collars on that stupid familiar to keep them from burning the whole building down.” 

So that’s what happened. Certainly explains the yelling I heard earlier. 

If I’m understanding this right, they seem to think that I stuffed that cat-experiment in that weirdass occult robe, and let him loose during an event as a prank. But that’s not what down at all. I never met Grim in my life until a half hour ago. Hell, they chased me down for my stupid robe, and tried to roast me to death! 

Granted, I don’t really care what these guys think went down. Breaking out of this place is more important. But still, get your facts straight.  

Ace burst out laughing. “Damn. I kinda regret skipping out on the rest of the opening ceremony now. I really wish I saw that.” 

Epel snickered. “It does sound pretty...eventful.”  

“IT'S NOT FUNNY!” Riddle yelled. 

The corridor exploded into silence. I went completely still, the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I could practically feel Epel and Ace staring at Riddle with wide eyes behind the door. 

“Soon as the culprit for releasing that blasted familiar is found, I shall have a word with them.”

God, Riddle sounds like he wants to murder my ass, and feed my bloated corpse to that cat-experiment. How lovely. 

“In any case,” Riddle said, sounding a lot more calm and composed. “I have a trial to get to.” 

“Isn’t that a bit much?” Ace asked. “It’s not even the first day of uni yet.” 

“Rulebreakers cannot get off the hook that easily. If you do, the whole system will collapse. So, no. I won’t go soft on you.” 

“Lucky me,” Ace grumbled. 

“You should count yourself lucky. At least I’m giving you the opportunity to testify instead of using my Unique Magic on you on the spot.” 

Unique Magic? Going off of the name, it sounds like magic capability that’s unique to that individual. Kinda like the quirks from My Hero Academia. Except these guys are able to do more spells outside of that. 

No, no. These guys are probably just talking about their occult practices or something. Not capable of doing type of magic like in anime and movies in the slightest. Magic isn’t real. 

I’m not in another fucking world. I’m not in another fucking world. I’m not in another fucking world. 

“Oh,” Ace said. “So, you are going eas—?” 

“If you want to test me, then complete that sentence.” 

Another pause. 

“And Epel,” said Riddle, voice having an edge to it. “I highly suggest that you hurry along back to your dorm. Since it appears you were sorted into Pomefiore, I’ll alert Vil about this.” 

“Will do.” 

Well, that confirms it. That Riddle guy really is just that intense in general. Like, holy fuck. He sounds like he wants to chop someone’s head off! Avoiding him at all costs, that’s for sure. 

Footsteps grew softer and softer. Deafening silence hit my ears. 

The door cracked open. My eyes darted back and forth several times. No one in sight. Coast is clear. 

Scrambling to my feet, I stepped out of my hiding spot, and brushed off my jeans. Well, that’s over with. Back to my regular scheduled programming—wandering around this building aimlessly like a dumbass in an attempt to find an exit and contact my family. 

Shoving my hands into my pockets, I walked into the courtyard and crossed into another section of the school.  

A set of footsteps rang out from behind me, scuffing of shoes on the marble tile. Even, and casual.

Are you fucking kidding me?! Fantastic. My luck keeps on getting better and better tonight!

My eyes darted about, trying to find somewhere to hide. And...Nothing. Because, of course. Why would I expect otherwise? 

I ducked behind the closest pillar. No doubt looking like a little kid, who found a super shitty hiding spot in a game of hide-and-go-seek. 

The footsteps grew louder and louder. 

Coming closer and closer. 

“You there!”  

Chills went down my spine, and I went completely still. Oh, shit! 

“Neglecting to watch your familiar is unacceptable!” the guy yelled, his shadow creeping towards me.

My eyes darted about. Come on. Come on. There has to be somewhere better to hide or an object to lob at this person. There has to be!  Something. Anything. 

“Your familiar made quite the commotion during the entrance ceremony. One of the dorm leaders even had to put a magic cancelling collar on him to prevent him from burning down the school!” the guy said, his shadow right beside me. “I had to haul him out of the school. Next time, if you're going to bring a familiar to the school, train him properly.” 

A man, who must’ve been in his mid-thirties, emerged from the shadows. The guy was dressed in a black tux with a feathered cape and a top hat with blue orbs on the brim. Black, wavy hair framed his ivory-skinned face, covering his ears. Strangest of all, a black raven-like masquerade mask covered the top half of his face. 

We both stared each other down. Neither of us moved a muscle.  

Why is that guy dressed like that? He looks like he designed his occult outfit at a Halloween store. What was he babbling on about before? Well, not staying to find out... 

I spirited off in the opposite direction, pumping my arms hard as I could.  A whip cracked. It wrapped around my legs, swooping me down. The guy dragged me backwards across the tiled surface. My teeth gritted. Knew that was gonna hurt like hell in the morning. 

The whip whirled me around. The masked man pressed something cold against my forehead. Holy shit! Is that a gun in his hand?!

Putting my hands up in the air, I stuttered, “I’m not an...I’m not an intruder, I swear! Last thing I remember is being taken inside of a mirror, then I was in a coffin, and somehow ended up here. I mean...I mean you no harm! I swear, I—” 

“You were in a coffin?” he said softly. “That certainly explains things.” 

The guy took a few steps back, and dropped his arm to his side. In his hand was a pen with a small, blue gem stone on top. Was it a wand? A thing that operated like a wand? No, that couldn’t be right. Working wands like the one he was holding only exist in fiction. 

“I must apologize. Attacking a student without asking questions first is unprecedented behaviour. But you really are the missing student, well—”  

“What? I’m not—” 

“Oh. Are you still delirious from the teleportation magic?” Yellow eyes narrowed into slits as he slipped the pen-thing into his vest pocket. “This is Night Raven College, one of the most prestigious universities with an emphasis on magic programs in all of Twisted Wonderland. I’m the vice-chancellor, Dire Crowley.”

Magic? Magic school? Twisted Wonderland? There’s no denying it anymore. That really means...

“I’ve been isekai’d!” 

Staring down at the ground, my breathing hastened. My hands shook. This is insane! Super insane. This sort of shit only happens in fiction. How is this even possible?  

That really means that someone dragged me through my bedroom mirror, right? But why? What would someone want with me? It’s not like I have anything that they’d want. Did someone summon me here? Again, how is that possible? That sort of thing only happens in fiction. 

This is insane. This is insane. This is—   

“Miss, are you alright?” he asked. 

My head snapped up. “Sir, can you help me? There seems to be some sort of mistake or misunderstanding or something. I have no idea where I am, and I need to go back home. Is there any way to do that? I’m begging you.” 

Desperation filled my eyes. All sense of dignity washed away, and no way to salvage it. I didn’t care if I was like a toddler crying that they were scared to a random stranger, despite being an adult. (Even if I was only gonna turn twenty at the very end of next month). Or that I told a complete stranger what actually happened, no doubt sounding like a complete loon. I needed to contact my family, go home or anything. Before my family and online friends think I’m lying dead in a ditch somewhere or worse. 

The whip dissipated from his hand. Vice-Chancellor Crowley tapped his chin. “Hm. If that’s truly the case, and there was some sort of mistake, the Dark Mirror will take you back to whence you came.” 

I sighed in relief. “Thank you, sir.” 

“No need to thank me. For I’m a model educator, so that’s all part of my job.” 

Not sure what the hell him being a “model educator” has to do with anything. But, fuck it. Whatever. I don’t care anymore. The sooner this is over with, the better.

—0—

“Here we are,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. 

The doors flung open, and we walked inside of a giant auditorium. Thousands of chairs split off into eight separate sections descended to a small area at the bottom. Right dead centre on the platform was another mirror just like in that room with the floating coffins from before. 

We descended the many steps. Once we reached the bottom, Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, “Enter the gate.” 

I stared at Vice-Chancellor Crowley, brows pinched together. “What are you talking about? There’s no fenced off area with a door on it.” 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley deadpanned. “Step onto the podium in front of the giant mirror.” 

Nodding, I climbed up the few steps on the platform, and walked in front of the mirror. The surface of the mirror flickered. A white mask with black lace swirling around the eyes floated in the mirror, swirls of puke-green fire surrounding it. Just my bedroom mirror...

“Visualize your home clearly in your mind.” 

I nodded. My eyes squeezed shut, and I pictured my home. 

Sandy breaches with the ocean waves crashing against the shore. Farries floating in the harbour. Skyscrapers, made of both steel and glass, stretching across the skyline. Mountains with pine trees dotting them in the distance. 

The thirty nine-storey residential tower on the corner of the road with glass windows and white siding where my home resided. Pine and maple trees in planters that darted the sidewalk. Cars zipping by. People walking on the sidewalk in front, wearing face masks. 

My bedroom with pale blue walls and a bay window overlooking the city. Morgana walking across the dark, hardwood floors. Prints of various different anime and video game characters hanging on my wall. My desk with my computer and drawing tablet on it. My bookshelf with art books, comics and manga on it. My workout mat, hand weights and runners shoved in the corner. My bed with dark grey covers and that Judar body pillow I got at Fan Expo Vancouver a few years back on top. My Saber body pillow on the ground beside my bed.

“Oh, Dark Mirror! Guide this being back to the place where she belongs!” 

My eyes closed. 

And…

Nothing happened. 

At all. 

My eyes opened, darting about. No flashing lights. No dramatic music or a single sound. No fireworks. Nothing. Just awkward silence. Half expected crickets to start chirping, and a tumbleweed to blow by like in one of those black-and-white movies. 

“Let’s try one more time.” Vice-Chancellor Crowley cleared his throat. “Oh, Dark Mirror! Guide this being to—” 

“There is no such place,” the mirror said. 

My blood ran cold. “What?” 

"The place where this being is originally from doesn’t exist here. Therefore, I cannot take her back."

My eyes narrowed, fist clenched and nails digging hard into my palm. It shook at my side. Are you fucking kidding me?! I’m stuck here?! I can’t be trapped here. In a completely different dimension way from anyone or anything familiar. I need to contact my family or get back home! I just have to. 

It’s a powerful object. It should be able to teleport me right back home. Why can’t it? Ugh! Never had the urge to punch a mirror in my life. But, oh boy, I’m tempted to now. 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley turned to me. “Where exactly are you from, miss?” 

Taking a deep breath to calm myself down, I said, “Vancouver, Canada.” 

The skin under the man’s mask grew deathly pale. “I’ve never heard of that place before in my life.”

Chapter Text

Sitting down on a chair in the university library, I scanned the last page for any information about how to get home or at least contact my family.

And... Nope. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I slammed the book down on the desk, picking up some of the lint on the desk and twiddling it in my hand. Hit an invisible wall. Fantastic! 

God, this is getting me nowhere! Researching things by reading a ton of books has never been a huge interest of mine. Laura’s the one who’s more interested in reading all kinds of books, both for school and fun. Not me. I’m just more into reading stories with pictures in them like manga, web comics and light novels, with fanfiction being the only exception. Even then I prefer watching media and playing video games rather than reading. 

It didn’t help matters that I had no clue where to start. There wasn’t exactly a YouTube tutorial for this sort of thing. I’m not even sure if social media exists in this dimension! 

I never expect my answers to fall out of the sky, obviously. But some sort of hint would be nice! Or anything, really. 

At least I still have my phone on me. While it didn’t work, there's still a chance that I can get it to soon, and contact anyone in my own dimension. Still, at least I had some hope...I guess. 

My eyes ripped away from Vice-Chancellor Crowley, darting around. Lamps and candles lit up the two-story library, the ceiling reaching high up. Endless rows of bookshelves with Roman Numerals signs on front twisted throughout the room. Modern computers rested on small desks throughout the room. (On plus side to this, at least modern technology exists in this dimension, and I won’t have to go without ever being on the computer forever while I’m stuck here...The only one.)    

Books fluttered in the air like birds in flight. What’s the purpose of floating books, anyways? To show off how magical this place is?  Wouldn’t people here walk into those constantly? I’d imagine that would be the case... That’d be—   

“Miss, are you listening to me?” he trailed off. 

My eyes snapped back onto him. The book in his hand slapped shut. Yellow eyes narrowed. Wait. Does he even know my name yet? 

I groaned, slamming down my elbow on the armrest and resting my chin on my fist. “Adriana Strano-García.”

He blinked. “What?” 

“That’s my name.”

“Right. Can you please answer my question?” 

“Yes.” 

No I didn’t. Zoned out. Dammit!

Vice-Chancellor Crowley scowled, setting the book down. “As I was saying before, I cannot find any mention of Vancouver or Canada in any atlas or history book. The Dark Mirror was correct. It truly seems like someone summoned you here from a completely different dimension.” 

My arm dropped. Thanks, Captain Obvious. I already figured that out about an hour ago! What other obvious pieces of wisdom is he gonna bestow upon me? I’m a human? I have dark brown hair and eyes? I’m half Mexican on my biological father’s side, and Sicilian and Cuban on my mother’s? The last few seasons of Game of Thrones took a nosedive off of a cliff? Why did he bother coming here in the first place if he’s gonna draw the same conclusion as before?

I took a deep breath. I have to stay calm. Having a level head is the only way to get out of this. That begs the question… 

“Do you know who could’ve summoned me?” I asked, trying to keep my voice even as possible.

The Vice-Chancellor shook his head. “I’m sorry. I’m clueless as to why as you are.” 

That’s just fantastic. With my luck tonight, why did I ever expect otherwise? 

Still, he says all this so easily. Like being trapped in a totally different dimension away from everything familiar, and everyone I love isn’t a bother in the slightest. Another dimension where someone else, with dark intentions, is out to get me, and wants me for who knows what purpose. Someone who will most likely try to hunt me down. 

My hand curled into a fist, the leather armrest squeaking as I did so. No. I can’t break down again. Or cry. I can’t. Especially in front of someone else I hardly know. I have to be strong. 

“No matter,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “We must go back to the room whence we came, and sort you into a dormitory at once.” 

My brows drew together. “You’re kidding me, right?” 

“I’m serious about this.” 

“But I want to—” 

"Yes, yes. I know,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said in the same tone as someone scolding a misbehaving toddler. “But we don't have the means to do that right now. As you are the correct age, you must attend uni here until you figure out how to get back home.”

“But, I can't use magic. How can I attend classes here?” 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley chuckled. “What an amusing jest. That would be preposterous. Someone without magic wouldn't be able to even apply for any degree here let alone attend.” 

My eyes sharpened. I stood up, lurching forward towards him. “That’s the truth! Do you want me to prove it by my inability to levitate a rock or something?!”

“Actually…” 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley plucked out the same wand-thing from before, pressing the blue gem hard against the crease of my neck. My heartbeat thumped against it. A soft glow came from the object, lighting up my face, and I closed my eyes for a couple moments to keep myself from going blind. After a few moments, my eyes opened as Vice-Chancellor Crowley dropped his arm to the side. 

“What?” Yellow eyes went wide, sweat pouring down his face. “I can’t sense even a single wavelength of magic from you. You’re a non-mage...” 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley proceeded to ramble on and on about something, but I quickly tuned him out and sat down in my seat again. Well. There goes all of my hopes of him being like, “Actually, you are an extremely overpowered super mage, and were never aware of it the whole time!” like some bad isekai anime. 

...Or have any magical abilities period. I mean, I’m not surprised at all, since I come from a dimension where the majority of people believe that magic only exists in fiction. Hell, I don’t think it exists back in my own dimension. Of course I won’t have any magical abilities. 

Still sucks, though. I’m just ordinary as they come. Nothing special about me in the slightest. Hell, I’m not even isekai protagonist material. I’m more like that dull side character that the other ones are forced to be around.

At least if I had some sort of magical ability I would be able to survive this dimension easier for the being. Now that I’m officially declared magicless by Plague Doctor Birdman, or whatever, I have no idea how I will. I only know basic self defence training, and I have the combat abilities of wallpaper. Hell, I don’t know thing one about this dimension other than magic and familiars are real and modern tech exists. The fact that apparently someone summoned me here, and is out to get me for who knows what purpose makes it even worse!

...Then again, I probably should be thankful that I’m still a living human, looking the exact same as before. Some of my online friends told me about isekai light novels and anime where people transformed into spiders, vending machines and slim monsters when they entered or get reincarnated in the other dimension. The whole idea of being turned into a spider, a slim monster, or a vending machine is too awful to even think about! Especially that first one. 

Why am I even thinking about this? I don’t belong here. I need to find a way to contact my family, go home or anything! Before they think I’m dead in a ditch somewhere or worse. 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley cleared his throat. “I must apologize for prattling on.”

“No problem,” I said, having no idea how else to respond to that. Not like I was listening to him, anyways. 

“Do you, by any chance, have anything on you?” asked Vice-Chancellor Crowley. “Just so I can help you better.” 

My purse, which contains my ID and a bunch of different things, is a multiverse way. I doubt my Covid-19 mask and pocket lint would do any good. My cell doesn’t work. Even if I did work, there is no way in hell I’m handing it over to a total stranger. (And one I barely trust, might I add.)

“No,” I lied, clapping a hand over my pocket with my phone in it. “Just the clothes on my back.” 

“This is troubling. Our uni must take full responsibility for what happened. I can't let some non-mage enroll here as a student. I don’t want to kick out a penniless lady with nowhere else to go, for I am kind. So, I suggest a compromise.” 

I stiffened. “And what would that be?” 

“There’s an unused dormitory. I’ll let you stay there for free as you search for a way home. You can use any of the faculties on campus, and eat in just the cafeteria for free.” 

Okay. That sounds way too good to be true. 

My eyes narrowed. “What’s the catch?” 

“Relax. No need to fret. In return, I’ll give you a job, and pay you to do maintenance around the campus. You just have to pay for everything outside of what I said. After all, I can’t have you be a freeloader.” Vice-Chancellor Crowley stuck out his hand. “Do we have a deal?”  

He literally laid out my options—die on the streets as a beggar in another dimension, venture out into a brave new world and hope that any job would hire me or stay here and have guaranteed work here as a janitor. None of those sounded tempting. At all.  But this place has a library, so I can always search here for a way to contact my family and for answers about this whole bizarre situation. If that’s an option, I’m taking it. 

“Deal,” I said, shaking it. 

“Good. Come along, and I’ll take you to your new residence. I’m sure you’ll find it quite charming.” 

—0—

Shoes clacked against the marble floor as we made our way through the winding corridors. 

I need to lay low. Pretend to be another person in this dimension. In the meantime, I can search for any answers, and try to figure out a way for my cell to work. The bastard who summoned me is still out there. Last thing I want is to draw any attention to myself by saying I’m from another dimension, so it would be easier for them to find me. 

Turning a corner, we entered a circular room. Seven entrances to chambers with a single mirror lined the walls of the dimly-lit room. Different insignias laid on top of the arches leading to the mirrors, but I couldn’t make any of them out in the darkness. 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley pulled out his wand-thing from before, pointing at an empty space in the corner of the room. In a burst of light, another entrance to a single mirror without an insignia on the archway appeared in that spot.     

Okay. What the fuck? What the actual fuck? How the hell was he able to make another entrance appear out of nowhere? 

...Wait. Why am I surprised? This is a dimension where apparently magic is real. Of course that’s possible here. 

I followed Vice-Chancellor Crowley through the doorway, stepping in front of the giant mirror. 

“Come along,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, gesturing to it.

Folding my arms, I said, “You want me to walk straight into an inanimate object?” 

He groaned. “This room is the Hall of Mirrors. All of these mirrors are portals to the different dormitories throughout the campus. This one just happens to lead to the unused dorm that I mentioned earlier.” 

Okay, that makes way more sense if you use fantasy logic…  

So people do teleport throughout the school via these magic mirrors? Explains why I couldn’t find the exit to this place before.  

Holy shit! That’s actually pretty cool! No, super cool! It’s like something straight outta a fantasy story. But it’s actually possible here. Traveling by mirror would make commutes less of a pain in the ass.

Still, that’s how… 

“Are you coming?” Vice-Chancellor Crowley asked, peering over his shoulder and one foot in the mirror. 

I cleared my throat. “Yeah.” 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley stepped through the mirror and walked over the other side, the surface of it rippling like water behind him. 

Carefully placing a foot through the mirror, that same feeling of entering a swimming pool made of gelatin came back. Memories flooded back. That floating hand in the mirror. Someone yanking me through it to this dimension.

I pulled my foot back, breathing heavily.  No. I have to do this. I need a place to stay for the time being, and it’s probably one of my better options right now besides sleeping in a chair in the library or something.   

Taking a deep breath, I closed my eyes. I pushed my way through the mirror, emerging on the other side. I stumbled, but stayed up on my two feet. My eyes fixed on the view ahead, and I grimaced. 

Perched on top of the hill was a Victorian-style mansion surrounded by a few acres of land. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t have been a problem. In fact, it would’ve been the exact opposite. It would’ve been awesome! Staying in a giant mansion sitting in an ocean of unoccupied land all by myself? Sign me the fuck up! 

The problem was that it was old. No. Not old. So ancient that it was practically falling apart, and could blow over at any second. Panels of siding and roof tiles were missing. A few of the windows were nailed shut with wood, but few that remained had cracks and pieces missing. Several barren trees, with cobwebs dangling from their mangled branches, dotted the yard. 

"This is your idea of charm?" I said, gawking at the skeletal remains of what was once a dorm.

Vice-Chancellor Crowley, who was a few metres ahead, seemed unfazed by my remark. "Right, right. Please come this way."

Every instinct I had yelled at me not to go near that house. To just hightail it in the opposite direction through that mirror portal thing, and never come back. It just looks like an accident waiting to happen. The roof has so many panels missing that it could cave in. And if the portal to this place wasn’t sealed off before, I would be worried about people hiding out in the cupboards, and hope to get Hobo Stab Insurance...if insurance is a requirement in this dimension. 

Like it or not, this is probably my only option right now, besides a chair in the library. I doubt Vice-Chancellor Crowley will let me stay somewhere else. So I have to take what I can get for the time being. 

“Miss Strano-García!” Vice-Chancellor Crowley yelled up ahead. 

“Coming!” We walked on the stone path, cracks crisscrossing throughout the pavement. Small weeds brushed past my ankles. The weeds seemed to be the only plant life that thrived on the desolate property. Even with the moon as the only light source, I could clearly see that all of the grass was wilted. 

The steps creaked as I walked up them. Once we climbed up them, Vice-Chancellor Crowley reached into his vest pocket, pulling a metal keyring with a bunch of various keys on it. 

“Catch!” Vice-Chancellor Crowley yelled, tossing a set of keys at me. I caught them in my hand, metal jiggling as I did so. “The key to this house has the number four on it.” 

I fumbled around with the keys, which had various numbers engraved into them, until I found a hidden one amongst them. It had a mirror on top with the number four etched in the middle. Must be the one. 

Putting it into the lock and turning it, a small click echoed in response. The door creaked open. We stepped inside of the entrance way. 

My nose crinkled. The scent of rotting wood, dust, and mold greeted me, suffocatingly thick and impossible to ignore. 

The main room looked even worse. Dust clung to the furniture and floors, glistening in the moonlight. The wallpaper peeled away. Paintings and furniture laid on the floor. Cobwebs clung to every corner, even stretching high above the fireplace. Dark splotches, which I hoped with every fiber of my being wasn’t blood, stained everything in the room, even the wallpaper.  Vice-Chancellor Crowley said that this place was unoccupied for a while, but how long would it have taken for this to fall into disrepair to this degree? The dark ages?! This place is a completely rundown shithole. Hell, I half expect the walls to start to bleed, and Jack Nicholson’s head to burst through one of the walls. 

“Well,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “It’s almost midnight, so I’ll be on my way. Tomorrow I'll talk with you one final time to sort out your work arrangement. After that, you’re on your own. Make yourself comfortable.” 

As Vice-Chancellor Crowley walked ahead, I made a face. God, I’m gonna need to start cleaning this place up, and a pair of shoes. Stat. Just to prevent me from getting an infection or hepatitis. Not to mention, the spiders crawling around this place. Fucking hell, the spiders. I didn’t even want to think about those! 

“Sir!” I called out.

Vice-Chancellor Crowley stopped in his tracks, looking back at me. “Yes? What is it?” 

I rushed up beside him. “Before you go, could you bring back some cleaning supplies and a pair of shoes? If that’s alright with you.” 

The Vice-Chancellor blinked. 

“I doubt this place will have any cleaning supplies for me to use, and I can’t exactly work barefoot.” 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley paused. Shit! Did I ask for too much?  

“Alright,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “I can bring those when I come back in the morning. What’s your shoe size?” 

“Back in my dimension, size eight.” 

Vice-Chancellor Crowley stared at me. Right...he probably has no idea what the hell that means. 

Before I had the chance to open my mouth, he pulled out his wand-thing. A faint light illuminated from it as he waved it along the length of my foot. Blue mist formed in the air in front of Vice-Chancellor Crowley as he pulled out a notepad from his vest pocket, jotting something down quickly with his wand.

Wait. That’s a functioning pen? I thought it was just a wand. Guess it works as both. Still…  

“What just happened?” 

“I scanned your feet to see how big they are,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, putting the notepad back into his vest pocket. “I’ll tell Divus soon as I can.” 

I nodded. Makes sense. 

“Is that all?” Vice-Chancellor Crowley asked. 

“Yes.”

Okay, not really. Don’t want to push my luck with this guy right now, and ask for a better place to stay, or, hell, even something simple as tampons and food. I don’t want to be more indebted to a guy I hardly know and just met. 

“Well then, if that’s all, I’ll take my leave. Goodnight.” 

The door slammed shut, shaking the foundation. Dust and dibery dropped from the rafters, falling into my hair. I shook my head to get it out. Ugh, gross. 

Something brushed against my arm. The hell? My eyes dropped as a few large spiders and cockroaches crawled down my hand and arm. 

Letting out a loud scream, I shook them off, and they crawled away. My face scrunched up. Ew! Ew! Ew!   

A calming breath escaped me. Good. They’re gone. 

I should put on my Covid-19 mask. With the amount of dust and mold in this place, it’s better safe than sorry. Not like anyone else is around, anyways. 

Rummaging in my left jean pocket, I plucked out my plastic baggy with my black, cloth Covid-19 mask. I pulled the masked out of the bag, and jammed the baggy into my pocket. Plucking the drawstrings, I put the mask on, and tightened the bridge on my nose.         

Now that’s done. Time to get acquainted with my new residence for the short time being. 

Walking up to the stairs, I paused. Need to be extra careful. Last thing I need is to fall through the staircase. Once I saw a video where a guy on one of those urban explorer YouTube channels fell through one of the upper floors of an old school building. Grabbing onto an old pipe and his buddy helping him up were the only things that kept him from falling to his death. Last thing I need is for that to happen to me. The thought of that alone makes me shiver. 

I placed my foot on the first step of the staircase. Sturdy and firm. I stepped up on it, and it supported my weight just fine. Good enough for me.    

The stairs creaked as I walked up them, holding onto the guardrail for dear life. Once I reached the top and entered the top main room, it was just as bad as the downstairs. Dark splotch marks dotted the walls. Dirt and grime covered the floors. Cobwebs shimmered in the moonlight. Sadly not surprised, it only makes sense for all the floors to be like this.

I pulled out my phone from my pocket, and unlocked it. Same pixelated black screen as before. Nope. Same as before.

My phone hissed, getting hotter and hotter. I hurled my phone across the room. Puffs of black smoke came out of the bottom of it. A loud burst echoed throughout the room, my phone rattling about on the ground. Red flames and sparks burst from my phone. 

Yanking one of the old curtains off of the rods, I inched my way towards the wreckage near the corner. Here goes nothing. I shoved the clump of cloth onto the fire, smothering it out. 

With the curtains covering my hands, I picked up what remained of my phone, dirt and grime no doubt staining my shirt. A large green and black spot covered the back of my phone. The screen was almost pitch black. The charging port was completely melted. 

My last thing connecting me to my own dimension.  

Gone. 

My hands dropped to my sides, the remains of my phone clattering to the ground beside me. I tossed the curtain on top of my phone. I curled up into a ball on the floor, slamming my fist into the wall. Tears fell down my face.

Fuck, I hate this! I should be on my computer working on my WIPs, or curled up in my bed watching anime on the phone that is now toast. But, oh no. Instead of either of those things, I’m trapped in a weirdass fantasy dimension, and have to work as a janitor at Wannabe Hogwarts University until I can come up with a better plan. Not to mention, there is someone out in this dimension who dragged me here for who knows what purpose, and who will likely hunt me down. 

Crying and whining about my situation won’t get me out of this. I know that. Without my phone, I still don’t know where to begin. I have no plan on how to find a way back home other than go to the library and hope there is a book with the info I need in there. Who knows if such a thing exists in that library. It’s worth a shot, even if I have to work my ass off to find it. But I have to come up with another plan, and fast. Being a magicless human in a dimension like this, I won’t make it long unless I do. 

Without any of my family or online friends here, there’s absolutely no one that I can trust.

I’m truly all alone. 

“Hello, there,” a female voice said.  

My blood turned to ice as I wiped the tears from my face. Who the hell said that? There shouldn’t be anyone else in here. How the hell did she get in here? The entrance to this place was sealed off before. 

The girl snorted. “Pretending not to hear me? Cute. Especially for a home invader.” 

Home invader? What the hell is she talking about? Vice-Chancellor Crowley allowed me to stay here. 

This place was sealed off before, which means that she was hiding out here the whole time. If anything, she’s the one invading. God, I should’ve been more worried about people hiding out here, and not ruled out that possibility automatically. People have magic in this dimension, so of course others would be able to make that portal appear. Stupid, stupid. 

Need to come up with a plan to get out of this. Think, think. 

“Let’s get a good look.” 

The person grabbed my hair, and forced my head back. I froze. Two transparent female figures, who appeared to be a few olders than me, loomed over me. Both of them dawned short sleeve dresses with belts around their waists like people in old 30s movies used to wear. The one on the right had blue hair pinned back into a bun with an icy blue complexion. Midnight blue hair fell past the other one’s shoulders, framing her face, with a pale blue complexion. Necklaces with a blue gemstone dangling on them were around their necks. Both them glared at me, like they wanted to murder my ass.    

A ear piercing shriek escaped my lips. The girl on the right held out her arm, summoning an ax into her hand. Snatching the fire poker in the corner, I put it out in front of me and held it with both hands. She swung the ax down at me. Metal clashed, sparks flying. 

Teeth gritted as I tried to push the ax away, my upper arms burning as I did so. I tried to kick her, but my foot plunged straight through her chest, which tingled as though submerged in ice water.

Rolling over, I scrambled to my feet. The girl with the ax tried to swing it at me, hitting the wall in the process. The girl pried it from the wall. She swung it at me again, and it grazed my arm. I winced. So they can hurt me, and I can’t hurt them. Great. Just great. Then again, I should be thankful it just nicked my arm, and not anywhere else more vital.       

I dashed around the corner and to the end of the hallway. My eyes shifted towards the window at the end of the hall. Maybe I should hop out of it to escape. 

Okay, actually...That’s a stupid plan. Like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve come up with in a while. Last thing I need is to shatter my spine in another dimension! 

The air grew cold. Shit! They’re coming. 

I ducked into the room, slamming the door shut and yanking off my face mask. My heart pounded in my chest as I breathed heavily. Okay. I need to think. How to get downstairs and out of here? 

“Gah!” a familiar voice cried out. “You're here now, too, human?!” 

I whirled around. Despite all of my hopes that I was just imagining things—there he was on all fours. None other than the annoying cat gremlin that tried to roast me alive before... 

“Grim?” 

Grim stood up on his hind legs, glaring up at me. “It’s the Great and Powerful Grim to you, human! And why are you here?” 

“The Vice-Chancellor said that I could stay here for the time being,” I said, crouching down on the ground and clapping a hand over my wound. “How the hell did you get in here? And why are you here?” 

Grim never responded, eyes glued to the door. Ugh. Whatever, I’ll question the cat later. Have way more pressing matters to that to worry about. 

“Hey, human! Use your magic to help me get rid of these ghosts!” 

My eyes narrowed. “I can’t use magic!” 

“You can’t—” Grim began to say before he burst out laughing. “You can’t use magic. You really are a useless git, after all!” 

My cheeks heated up, his word’s slicing into me. Being magicless here must be like missing a limb that everyone else has. Everyone else here so far sure as hell treated me like it is. Sure, the Vice-Chancellor seemed taken aback by me being magicless, but at least he didn’t outright mock me or deemed me as useless like Grim. And I don’t have the patience for this bullshit right now! 

Grim stood up. A violet light glow came from the crystal around his neck, and the door opened. Blue flames flickered to life in his paw, and I scooted backwards to avoid the flames. Grim shot straight at the ghost without an ax, who flew across the doorway. But she dodged the attack, and the flames hit the wall right next to a door across the hall, leaving a huge, dark scorch mark on it.

“Dammit!” Grim growled, stomping his back paws. “Stop disappearing!” 

The ghost flew past the doorway again. Grim let loose another blast, but it missed its mark, leaving a burn mark. 

“Grim, stop! You’re gonna burn this whole place down!” 

“Shut up! Don’t bark orders at me!” 

“Do you want to fucking die?!” I said, blood boiling. “Because if you do at this rate, your flames might cause the roof or floor to cave in on us!” 

“Stop bossing me around!” Grim yelled.

Ugh! We are being hunted down by ghosts, and he’s still being a little brat.  

Okay. Like it or not, and as much as I want to chuck him out the nearest window, I really need Grim’s help. Convincing him to cooperate with me is my best option to survive right now. Come on. Come on. Think, think!

...Wait. I got it!   

“You call yourself the Great and Powerful Grim, right?” I said, catching his attention. “Then, why can’t you get rid of a bunch of ghosts? Someone great, and powerful as you should be able to do that in a snap.” 

Grim hissed, hair standing up on end and eyes narrowed. “You doubt my abilities?! Fine, I won’t let either of them escape!”

Holy shit! That actually worked. It actually worked! Hell ya! Finally, something actually went right tonight! 

A mischievous grin pulled on Grim’s lips as more flames burst from his paws. “Let’s drive them all outta here! Tell me where to shoot!”

I simpered. “What happened to not taking orders from me?” 

“Shut up! Just follow me outta here, and say where you want me to aim.” 

Grim darted out of the room, and I followed after him, shoving my mask into my pocket. The ghost with the ax swooshed down the hall, flying right towards us as if she was about to try to hit us with it again. 

“Left!” I yelled, pointing in the direction with the fire poker. 

His eyes narrowed like a predator cornering its prey for the kill. Blue flames sparked in his hands, and he shot towards the ghost.

“Sweet!” Grim cheered, pumping his fist in the air. “I hit one!” 

A different familiar transparent figure flew at us in the opposite direction. 

“Right!” 

Grim instantly whirled around, shooting a line of fire in that direction right at the ghost and hit his mark.  Both of the ghosts got up, flying towards us. Are you kidding me? Do these two ever give up?! 

“Both sides!” 

Grim quickly turned, firing in both directions. Both ghosts reeled back and wince in pain. They got up, charging right at us again. 

“Dead centre!” 

Grim raised his paw, aiming it in that direction. 

“You know what?” the ghost with the ax said. “Forget it. Fall back.” 

“Right,” the other one said. 

The two fled, flying through one of the walls and disappearing from sight.

“We won?” Grim asked, voice trembling. 

My eyes darted about. No sign of them anywhere. “Think so.”  

Shaky breaths left me as my back slid down the wall, dropping the fire poker to my side.

My hands trembled. Fighting off ghosts is pretty cool. (Even if I never thought they were real back in my own dimension, but that must not be the case here, I guess.) But also super terrifying. It’s one thing to have a boss fight in a video game, but it’s another thing entirely when it happens in real life. 

I turned to Grim, who trembled in fear. His ears flattened, the flames in his ears a dull shade of blue. 

My lips curved upwards, shooting the cat gremlin a tired smile. “Thanks.” 

Grim cleared his throat, slapping on a cocky grin. The flames in his ears turned back to the same electric blue. “Na, that was a piece of cake! Could’ve done it on my own. How about that, ghosts?!” 

“Well, fuck you too, then,” I mumbled.  

Grim bristled. “What was that, human?” 

I groaned. Wasn't worth it.

My back pressed against the wall, grip on the fire poker tightening. Guess I’m sitting here watching out for those ghosts all night long. Who knows if they’re gonna come back. 

Chapter Text

My eyes slowly fluttered open. Groggily, I let out a yawn. I rubbed my eyes, sitting upright from my resting place on the grimy, hardwood floor. Sunlight poured through the windows, lighting up the upstairs hallway. The fire poker laid across the way.

Great. I must’ve fallen asleep soon after I was keeping an eye out for those ghosts.

My eyes darted around the room. No sign of the ghosts anywhere. Maybe that cat gremlin, and I really did chase them out for good.

Fuck ya! I’m alive, and those ghosts are really gone! Ha! Take that, ghosts!

Goddammit! That really means that I’m still in Twisted Wonderland...or whatever Vice-Chancellor Crowley called this place, and this whole bizarre situation is totally real. I’m actually stuck here. Fuck! There goes that hope…

“Miss Strano-García!” the Vice-Chancellor called out from downstairs.

Scrambling to my feet, I brushed the dirt out of my hair and clothes. Wooden planks creaked under my feet as I rushed downstairs. The front door swung wide open.

The Vice-Chancellor strolled into the room with a few bags, a bucket and a broom in hand, shooting me a smile that made my skin crawl. Despite being autistic, I know it from anywhere. The charming, slimeball smile. It’s the same kinda smile that slimy business people use to leach money outta their customers. Or even like the ones mom shoots at assholes who try to screw her over with the Canada wide yoga studio chain that she owns and is the CEO of. Or, hell, when mom tries to convince others to get shares in it. I don’t like it. At all. Especially after he practically dumped me into this… well, shithole of a dorm filled with ghosts.

“Good morning!”

“Morning,” I yawned, rubbing my eyes.

“Oh, I brought the cleaning supplies you requested,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, setting the items in his hands down on the ground near the door.

“Thanks.”

I pursed my lips. I seriously need to question him about last night, especially with the ghost attack. How should I phrase this without pissing him off too much? Setting him off could result in him tossing me out of this place, which is the last thing I want.

The patter of paws echoed against the hardwood floor before they abruptly halted. “Human, you're awake already?”

I turned around, and stiffened. Grim stood nearby the corner, rubbing his eyes with his paw. Normally, dare I say it, I would’ve found it adorable, if it wasn’t for him almost roasting me alive yesterday. And for being a huge pain in the ass.

“You little…” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. Black mist formed a whip in his hand, and Grim jolted. “What are you doing here? I thought I kicked you out of the uni last night!”

Grim stood up on his hind legs with a cocky grin on his face, folding his front limbs. “Look, pal. I’ll have you know that I got rid of your little ghost infestation problem. Be grateful!”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley stared at him, the black mist dissipating. “Come again?”

There’s my window of opportunity. Here goes nothing.

“Sir, are you aware this dorm is haunted by two ghosts, including one who has an ax?”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley tapped his chin with clawed hands. “Ah, I remember now. I recall hearing stories about two ghosts who would chase out anyone, who managed to sneak inside here after breaking through the protection barrier. Forgot about that.”

My jaw almost dropped. This guy, who’s the Vice-Chancellor of a fucking university, escorted me, someone with zero magical abilities, to this rundown shithole, and he forgot about the fucking ghosts?!

My eyes sharpened. “Are you kidding me? We could’ve been killed!”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley jumped, and then gave an awkward laugh. “Don’t worry. They’ve never injured or killed any intruders.”

The nerve of this bastard. Never injured anyone before my ass! They chased us down with an ax last night. The cut on my arm, which he never addressed, certainly proves otherwise.

Vice-Chancellor Crowley cleared his throat, ignoring my outraged expression. “More importantly, what is your familiar doing back here? Why didn't you take proper care of him and retrieved him when you tried to go home last night? I threw him out last night for a reason, you know.”

Shit. He’s gonna toss him out again.

Sure. Ridding myself of Grim would do more good than harm. But whether I like it or not, despite the fact that Grim almost roasted me alive before, I really need to have him around. Without him, I don’t know long I will make it in this university or another ghost attack. Especially being the only magicless human in a school filled with people with superpowers.

Grim’s also a cat. A talking cat with pyrokinesis, who called me useless before, but a cat nevertheless. I can’t in good conscience let him toss out any cat into the unknown where who knows what might happen.

Vice-Chancellor Crowley only knows that I’m from another dimension, not one where magic is fiction to most people. Maybe…

“I’m not her—” Grim began to say, but I cut him off when I nudged him with my leg.

“Oh,” I said. “Grim somehow managed to wander back into the dorm after we came here. He tends to do that a lot. As for why I didn't run back to retrieve him last night, it simply slipped my mind.”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley stared at me long and hard. As if he didn’t buy it. At all.

“Look, like Grim said, he helped me with the ghost problem last night. I really need to have him around to help me out.” I folded my arms, straightening my posture and gave him a popular bitch smirk for good measure. “And surely someone as kind as you, wouldn’t toss out my familiar and let a defenseless non-mage like myself stay in a place riddled with ghosts.”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley fell silent. Judging by the glimmer in his eyes, I say that this argument is closed.

“Alright, but take proper care of him this time. If there’s another situation like what happened at the entrance ceremony or either you two cause any trouble, you are both on the streets.” Yellow eyes narrowed down into tiny marbles. “Understood?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

“Good.” Vice-Chancellor Crowley gestured towards the living room area. “Follow me, Miss Strano-García. We have a lot to discuss.”

Grim’s eyes slowly shut. He laid down on the ground, curling up into a little ball, no doubt about to fall asleep. Lucky bastard. What I wouldn’t do to be asleep right now. Or have the ability to instantly fall asleep in general.

Floorboards squeaked as I followed Vice-Chancellor Crowley to the living room. Immediately, I grimaced at the sight. Dust coated everything in sight, including the floor. Pictures and other objects laided about everywhere. Cobwebs shimmered in the morning light. I forgot just how bad the living room was. Man, I really need to give this whole place a good cleaning later. And fast. Without my Covid-19 mask, I’m not sure how long I can stay here without catching who knows what.

I walked over to one of the couches across the room, wiping the dust off with my arm and made a face. Ew, gross. I wish I brought my purse, so I had my hand sanitizer on me.

I plopped down on the couch, and it creaked so loudly that I feared it might snap. I grasped onto the sides of it.

“Forgot to ask you this before,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, setting himself down on the relincer across from me. “How did you sleep last night?”

“Slept like a rock,” I said.

A smile tugged on his lips. “Despite being thrown into another dimension and not being able to return home, you can still be cheeky. How wonderful.”

It took me a will of might not to roll my eyes. God, I swear he’s just throwing salt on the wound at this point, intentionally or not. He might as well do it literally with the huge gash on my arm. Though, that begs the question. “Are you going to tell anyone about how I’m from another dimension?”

He chuckled. “No. Of course not. I never told anyone else. Honestly, I don’t ever plan to either. It’s both in our best interests to not have that information spread around, keeping that just between us.”

That’s a relief. Last thing I want is for anyone else to figure out about that. One person I barely trust knowing is bad enough.

“Now then,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “You will work five days a week from Monday to Friday. Your hours will vary from day to day, but it will never exceed eight hours. Since the campus is quite large, it would be quite impossible for you to clean all of it without magic in a single day or week. So, I need to break up your work into smaller increments for each day.”

I nodded. So far, makes sense. A lot like how it is back in my own dimension, even right down the names of the days of the week being the same.

“After today, I’ll send you your daily tasks and work schedule through Docu-Mail. It should show up in the letter box on the front door every weekday morning.”

“What do you mean by Docu-Mail exactly?” I asked.

He gave me a deadpan stare. “It’s a document that’s sent with magic.”

Yeah, I didn’t know what else I expected. Guess going off of the name, it could be like magical fax without the fax machine or printer. Best that I can come up with. Doubt he would give me a better explanation.

“For today,” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley, “I’d like you to clean Main Street, from the gate to the library. It’s quite a wide lane that students use very often, so please be careful as you clean.”

Just that area? That wasn’t nearly as awful as I was expecting it to be. I half expected him to say that I needed to clean a thousand windows and toilets in a single day or something. Or, hell, with my luck, he’d expect me to play the piano, juggle chainsaws and defuse a bomb for my job. Just for today. Cleaning that area in one day? It would take some elbow grease, but I could get it done in a single morning depending on how large it is. Though…

I blinked. “Main Street?”

“It’s the walkway with the statues lining it. You can’t miss it.”

Kinda an odd name for a university walkway. Do small walkways even usually have names? UBC Vancouver Campus never named those, at least far as I’m aware. The closest thing to that is maybe University Boulevard, but that's an actual street with a walkway beside it most of the time. Same goes for a lot of the other major roads with walkways there. So what is he blabbering about?

“It should be simple,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “I don’t want you to collapse on your first day, after all. Will that be doable for you?”

Rubbing my eyes, I said, “Sure.”

“Wonderful,” he said, shooting me a smile. How the hell is he this perky in the morning? There's no way in hell I am ever like this in the morning, even after I drink café Cubano...which would be nice right about now. Still, I wonder...

“What about payment?” I asked, eyeing him. “I’m from another universe. Wouldn’t I need a SIN number, a bank account or any form ID in order to be paid?”

“Not sure what you mean by a SIN number, but due to your...special circumstances, I’ll pay you by cheque or with cash. You’ll get paid once every second friday.”

Covering my mouth with my hand, I yawned. “Sounds fair.”

"I dropped the work boots and other supplies by the door.” Vice-Chancellor Crowley stood up and sauntered back to the doorway. He turned around, shooting me that same slimy smile from before. “I'm counting on you, Miss Strano-García. You have permission to eat in the school cafeteria, and the card to do so will shoot through the letterbox. Take care of your work enthusiastically."

The door slammed shut, sending more dust from the rafters to fall down on me. I shook my head to get it out. Ugh, gross. At least no bugs this time.

Maybe I should get some shuteye. Sleep would be super nice. Vice-Chancellor Crowley never gave me an exact deadline to start that particular task, so I might be able to get away with it.

...Then again, maybe I should get to work before Grim gets up again. Don’t want him following me around while at work. That’s for sure. With my luck, Grim would straight up burn the whole school if someone looks at him wrong. Sooner I can get this done, the sooner I can go to the library and try to find a way back home.

Walking to the entrance way, I snagged the shoebox and brought it back to the couch. The couch squeaked as I plopped down on it, ripping the box open.

Inside the box was a pair of work boots. Not just any pair of steel toe work boots, but cute designer work boots that seemed like something ripped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. The boots were a light shade of brown, reaching just above my ankle. Black laces lined the top of the boots. The soles and patch at the back of the heel were also black.

Wonder where Vice-Chancellor Crowley got these. He doesn’t exactly come off as the fashion garu type. I doubt someone would be able to design or buy these on short notice.

Taking the boots out of the box, I slipped them on my feet, and tied them both up. Fits like a glove. Well, time to give these a test run.

Taking a step, the boots clacked against the ground. I stumbled, grabbing onto the couch. Okay. Walking in these is a lot harder than I thought. This is like walking in those snowboarding boots on my yearly trips to Fernie. Granted, these boots are lighter weight than those from what I remember, but still. These are just as much of a pain in the ass to walk in these as those. God, I’m like a born fawn walking for the first time in these.

No matter. Still need to break these in. Can’t give up. I can do this.

Boots clomped against the floorboards as I took a stride. Floorboards squeaked when I took more and more steps. Each step became easier, more natural. Sweet. Think I got this.

Grim sat up, rubbing his eye with his paw. Great. And now he’s up again. Wait ago, dumbass.

“Human, you’re still awake?” Grim yawned.

I yawned. “Unfortunately, yes.”

Grim stood up right, placing a hand on his stomach. “I’m hungry. Fetch me tuna.”

My stomach growled. “So am I, but I can’t. Given how old and run down this place is, I highly doubt there’s any food here.”

“But, I want it now.”

“Again, there’s no food here. And I’m not your fucking maid. If you want to eat something right this second, fetch yourself a dust bunny to eat or somethi—”

“Hush up,” a familiar voice said, cutting our bickering short. “It’s way too early for arguing.”

I whirled around. The ghost from last night with the flowing, dark blue hair floated on her back as if swimming in water.

“Why are you back?” Grim asked, standing upright and clinging onto my leg. “Do something, henchman!”

I jolted, resisting the urge to kick him away, especially for calling me that stupid name. It’s hard for me to kick away someone clinging onto me in fear. And a cat, no less.

“Like what?” I said, staring down at him. “I’m the magicless human here while you’re the one with fire powers.”

Grim snickered. “Fire powers, you say?”

Smirking, Grim let go of my leg and walked ahead on his hind legs. He stuck out his paw, a blue flame flickering to life.

“Stop!” I said, not liking where this was heading.

Grim snapped his gaze towards me, and glowered. “Why shouldn’t I?”

“If you unleash more fire attacks, the roof could cave in or who knows what else. Do you want to die?”

“Fine!” Grim grumbled, the flame dying out in his paw. “Spoiled sport.”

I turned my attention back to the ghost. “And seriously, like Grim said, why are you back? I thought we got rid of you last night.”

“Can’t get rid of the two of us that easily.” The ghost sent us a cheeky smile, poking her cheek with her index finger. “Admit it, you missed us.”

“Hardly, you two tried to kill us last night!”

She shrugged. “We were just trying to chase you out of the dorm last night. No hard feelings.”

“Look, she’s right,” someone else said.

The other ghost materialized in front of us in a puff of blue smoke. Her blue hair was pinned back into a bun, and the ax hung on her belt on her side.

“We understand you may not be happy to see us after our fight earlier, but we honestly meant you no harm. Despite how it may have appeared, we never intended to kill you. Just to chase you two away.”

The other ghost stared at her fingernails, floating upright. “Usually people just scream, and leave at the very sight of us.”

“Like I believe that!” Grim scoffed.

“Yeah, you chased us down with a weapon!” I added.

Holy shit. I actually agree with Grim about something. What has my life become?

“Well, you two did crash into our home, and tried to burn us.” The other ghost jabbed a finger at me. “Girly over there wore a weird face mask like a burglar.”

I sighed, shoulders slumping. They have a point. Vice-Chancellor Crowley never alerted them that anyone was coming. A Covid-19 mask would certainly look like one a robber would wear to someone who has never seen one in their life. It would seem like I broke into their home last night from their perspective. That would’ve startled them to say the least. Granted, I wouldn’t have chased after the intertrader and hunted them down if that happened to me, but I would definitely huddle in the corner with my now broken cell in my hand, trying to call for help.

“I can see where you’re coming from,” I said.

Grim stared at me as if I turned into a giant cartoon alligator. “What do you mean by that?”

Rummaging in my pocket, I pulled out some lint and twirled it in my hand. “Well, guess if someone broke into my house, I would’ve been scared too.”

“But we didn’t break in!”

“Did someone placed you here?” the ghost with the ax asked.

“Yeah,” I said. Turning to face her, I twiddled the lint in my hand. “The vice-chancellor said that we could stay here for the time being. Didn’t tell me that this place was already occupied.”

The other ghost shrugged. “Well, he does come off as scattered brained.”

You can say that again…

“Yeah,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “This was one big misunderstanding, I guess.”

“Agreed. Though, why did the vice-chancellor place you here in the first place?” the ghost with an ax asked. “Shouldn’t you live in town if you work here?”

I tensed up. Shit! I never thought of an excuse for that yet. Last thing I need is for them to dig into my origins.

“Um,” I stammered, pivoting my foot around on the ground. “I don’t think that really matters at the moment.”

The ax wielding ghost’s eyebrows pinched. Yup. She doesn’t buy it. Fuck.

Right now, I should really change the subject, and redirect this conversation. Fast. I can easily sort that part out at a later date. Think, think!

...Wait. I got it! Need to sort this out anyways…

“Let’s make a truce.”

“Truce?” the two ghosts parroted.

“Yes,” I said pointedly. “If Grim and I stay here, we promise that we’ll try to stay out of your way, giving you guys your space. Vice versa for you guys. Deal?”

“No way!” Grim said, waving his paws dismissively. “I don't agree to this arrangement anymore. There’s no way in hades I’m bunking in a rundown place filled with a bunch of ghosts! I want to sleep somewhere else!”

In hades? Like the Greek god? ...Well, I remember watching a YouTube video once saying that term is also used for the underworld. Does that mean the ancient Greek underworld exists and is the afterlife in this universe? This is another dimension, so anything is possible.

You and me both, cat. But there isn't much of a choice now, because I doubt Crowbar will allow it. I don't think there are any better options around here.  

“What’s wrong?” the other ghost mused, a small smirk tugging on her lips. “Afraid to stay in a dorm with a bunch of ghosts?”

“I-I’m not scared! I totally agree. I was just…” Grim stuttered, trying to conjure up an excuse. “—pretending! Yeah, that’s it. I was pretending so that my henchman wouldn't feel ashamed for feeling so scared about staying here with you two!”

“Sure that’s it,” I said, rolling my eyes. I folded my arms. “And you know that I have a name. Adriana. Use it.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Grim said. “I’ll call you whatever I want.”

My eye twitched. I am calm. Like it or not, I need Grim around in order to survive here. Tossing Grim out the window won’t help me. I am calm.

The ghost with the ax straightened her posture, folding her arms. “And I want to add one more condition.”

Taking a calming breath, I asked, “What’s that?”

“No one else can stay here with you. Just you two. That’s it.”

“Why do you want to make a condition like that?”

“Look. I don’t want to explain it.” Her expression hardened. “You still want to make this deal, or what?”

“Fine,” I said. “Deal.”

Silence burst throughout the room. Awkward silence strikes again. Terrific.

“So,” I drew out, staring at the ghosts. “What are your names? If we’re gonna be roommates—”

“Roommates?” both ghosts parroted.

Oh, right. This university seems to be located somewhere in a country in fantasy Europe, given the architecture and the fact that so far Grim, that guy who yelled about their ass being on fire and that lilac haired guy are the only ones that I encountered so far without varying UK accents. The guy who yelled last night sounded like he had a slight Desi or Middle Eastern accent while the lilac haired guy sometimes slipped into some sort of German accent before talking in a British accent, but I’m not sure about that one. (Or whatever constitutes those country's accents here, since this is another universe and all.) Sahar told me that the UK has a different slang term for that, so I should use that instead.

“If we’re gonna be flatmates, at least we should all know each other’s names.”

“I’m Connie,” the girl with the ax said, and she pointed at the other girl. “She’s Lucia.”

“I’m the Great and Powerful Grim,” he said, and then pointed at me, “over there is my henchman.”

“I’m not your henchman!” I said to the cat. I turned back to the ghosts, and gave an awkward laugh. “Like I said before, I’m Adriana, but just call me Addie. The other is just Grim.”

“Nice to meet you both,” Connie grumbled.

“Well, I gotta get to work,” I said, walking into the entrance way and snagging the broom leaning against the wall.

“I don’t wanna go,” Grim whined, trailing beside me. “There’s no way I’m doing any cleaning. I want to use magic, and make things go bang!”

“No one asked you too,” I said, trying to sound as calm as possible. “I’m the only one that has the job here.”

“But, I don’t wanna sit around this house all day doing nothing.”

“Find a way to entertain yourself.”

Lucia simpered. “You know, we could give Grim a bath.”

A bead of sweat dropped down the side of Grim’s face. He cringed, ears flattening. “You know what? I’ll tag along. I want to take another look at those statues in the daylight. But, you better grab me some tuna while we’re out! I’m still hungry, yanno.”

I rubbed my temples. “Fine, whatever. You can tag along. Just stay out of the way while I work, and don’t cause any trouble. Got it?”

Grim cocked his head to the side. “Why not?”

“The vice-chancellor just said that if either of us don’t behave, we’ll be tossed on the streets again.”

Grim jumped, holding his paws up in alarm. “I’m good. I’ll do what you say.”

I blinked. What’s with the sudden mood shift? Is Grim really that afraid of being tossed out again? Why does he want to be in this school so badly? I should really ask Grim about that later.

“Henchman,” said Grim. “Hold still for a sec.”

“Huh?” I said.

Grim leapt onto my shoulder and sat on it, clearly wanting to use me as a set of legs so he didn’t have to walk. I groaned, deciding that it would be best to not argue at this point.

“Hurry back!” Lucia yelled as the door slammed shut behind me.

—0—

Hauling a broom with a dustpan attached to it in one hand and Grim resting on the other shoulder, I weaved my way through university hallways. Thankfully, hardly anyone was around. Most likely due to it being so early in the morning. Since I need to keep a laser eye focus on Grim to stay out of trouble, that’s probably for the best. Knowing Grim, he’d start a fight with a guy with red hair and char one of the front statues. Considering I’m on the streets if he starts anything, that’s the last thing I want.

Stares, however, followed us from the couple people brushed past us in the hallways. Honestly, I don’t blame them, really. I stick out like a sore thumb here. In a university full of budding mages, being magicless definitely made me the odd one out. I didn’t need to look in a mirror to know that I look like horseshit. I never brushed my hair or teeth, a large gash laid on my arm and I slept on the ground covered in dust last night like some discount Cinderella. The talking, pyrokinetic cat on my shoulder didn’t help matters either.

Part of myself feels like being forced to become the university janitor is karma for forgetting to do some of my chores back at home. I could practically hear my abuelita laughing beyond the grave about this. If that was even possible, considering I'm in another dimension, and I still don't believe in any afterlife in mine. 

When I find a way to get back to my own dimension, I’m never complaining about being a mailroom clerk at Commerce Place ever again. ...Okay, maybe a little when I’m forced to work super early in the morning. I would rather be a mailroom clerk than a janitor. That’s for sure.

Turning around the corner, a set of large doors laid ahead, sunlight pouring from them. Are you kidding me? There was a normal exit to the outside world in this university the whole time? God, I really do have the navigation skills of toilet paper.

With a hard shove, the front doors flew open. Sunlight poured down on us, a few fluffy clouds floating in the sky. Lush green grass and pine trees lined the outside of the grey-stone sidewalk.

“Wow,” Grim said, hopping onto the ground. “So, right up ahead is Main Street?”

“Sure is.”

Grim nodded. “I didn’t get a good look yesterday, but what’s with those statues?”

“Not sure, to be honest. Vice-Chancellor Crowley never really explained that to me. Statues are usually built to honour dead people, so they probably are important people tied to university in some way.”

Grim gave me another curt nod, seeming satisfied with my answer. He zipped ahead on all fours.

“All seven of these look pretty scary,” Grim said, staring down at the area below the hill. “That granny sure seems especially snobby.”

Rushing up to where Grim stood, my gaze landed in the direction he stared in. My stomach dropped.

Large statues of Disney villains, looking like how I imagine to be if they were real flesh and blood people instead of cartoons, lined each side of the pavement road. The Queen of Hearts, Scar, The Evil Queen, Ursula, Jafar, Hades and Maleficent. Jafar and Maleficent even shared an uncanny resemblance to the actors who played them in those stupid live action remakes.

Between one of the symbols hanging above the mirror entrance having an uncanny resemblance to Scar’s face and another one being a deadringer for Ursula’s seashell, there’s no denying it anymore. Given the fact that statues are created to honour dead people, these guys are actual historical figures and actually existed here. (Or actually exist here in the case of Hades and the other Greek gods.) What kinda world have I been isekai’d to?! A universe where Disney characters are real? Some twisted version of Disney?

Staring down at the ground, my breathing hastened. My world spun around me. This is insane. This is insane. This is super insane.

I lost my balance, stumbling backwards. My world went black.

Chapter Text

My vision cleared as someone let go of my legs, letting them drop to the ground. I groaned, sitting up right. “What happened?”

“You fainted, miss.”

I turned around. A guy, who seemed to be a few years older than my sister, with a deep, brown complexion and a buzz-cut kneeled down behind me and Grim. Lean muscles poked through his grey shirt and lab coat, a stethoscope tossed over his shoulders. He looked like someone ripped straight outta one of those calendars that hot male firefighters pose in for charity, but some strange doctor edition. The perverted side of my brain screamed out a certain Animaniacs catch phrase. God, this guy could step on me, and I wouldn't even get mad. 

Turning my head around, my eyes widened. Guys with animal ears and tails gawked at us. Elf ears jutted out from under a few of the people’s hair.

Okay, I know I made my fair share of jokes about Disney taking over the entertainment industry in my world, but this is just a whole other level! No, plain of existence. Literally.

A whole universe where some Disney characters that I grew up with my whole life actually existed and are historical figures? A world where the Greek gods and afterlife exists? And one where fae, humans with animal features and who knows what else exist?

This is weird. Too weird. Too fucking weird.

Don’t panic. Don’t you fucking dare faint again! You aren’t like that hysterical Miss Beakly from that old school version of Ducktales that you only watched a couple episodes of. Try being like that new version of her from the reboot. The badass, super spy version.

“Are you okay?” the hot guy behind me mused, and my gaze snapped back onto him. “Not gonna faint again, are you?”

Just breath. Everything’s gonna be fine.

“Uh…” I stammered, trying to gain my composure. “Oh, yeah, I’m totally a-okay. Just a bit startled.”

“Trust me,” Grim said. “She gets like that a lot.”

Of course Grim would say something like that…

He chuckled. “Quite alright. Name’s Nurse Jason Gooden. Think you can figure that out by my name tag.”

Come to think of it. The nurse kinda reminded me of someone. Another Disney character? A person I knew back in my own world? Not sure. Probably the latter. Don’t remember any Disney characters from any movies that he could remind me of.

His grey eyes flicked towards the crowd surrounding us. “You guys, scram. Nothing to see here. You guys should have other places to attend.”

People in the crowd grumbled and groaned. Some people in the crowd turned around, going through the large front doors. Others went off in direct directions.

“You two, follow me,” Nurse Gooden said, gesturing to me and Grim. “You can leave your supplies out here for the time being.”

I nodded, getting up to my feet. Grim hopped up, landing on my shoulder and curling up on it. Guess he still wants to use me as a set of legs. Whatever, it’s still not best to argue over something minor as this. Considering what happened in the last few minutes, I have bigger fish to fry. How come I sense a pattern with this?

We followed the nurse through the twisting halls, Grim continuing to sit on my shoulders, until we came across a plain door in the middle of the hall with a sign saying “Nurse's Office: Main Building” beside it. Grim hopped off my shoulder, floating in the air next to me. 

The nurse turned to us. “Your familiar must wait out here in the hallway for the time being.”

“Wha—?” Grim was cut off when the nurse nabbed a lollipop from his lab coat and shoved it in his mouth. That’s one way to make him shut up, I guess.

“Follow me,” Nurse Gooden said, gesturing to the door.

I nodded, walking inside of the room alongside Nurse Gooden. It seemed like any old nurse’s office in any school or office building back in my own world. Only difference is the potion jars lining the walls instead of ones filled with various medicines and another door to an office shoved in the corner. Not sure what I was expecting, really. A dingy, dark room in the basement with a skeleton named Oswald in it? An alchemy lab with potions on the wall? A modern lab which you had to get to by pulling down a lever and hopping on a rollercoaster?

“Sit right over there,” the nurse said, pointing at the examining table in the corner.

“Right,” I said, walking up to it and plopping down on it.

“No dilly-dallying,” Nurse Gooden said. He pulled out a pen with a green gemstone on top from his lab coat pocket, snagging a clipboard from the counter. “Let’s cut to the chase. What’s your name, miss?”

“Adriana Strano-García.”

Nurse Gooden nodded, scribbling something down. “Now, I’m going to ask you some questions. Do you have any chest pain?”

“Nope.”

“Are you having a hard time breathing right now?”

“Nope.”

He scribbled something down. “Now some more questions. Do you have any pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease or diabetes?”

“Nope.”

“Does your family have any history of the conditions I’ve mentioned?”

“No, far as I’m aware.”

“Are you pregnant, or ever had any sexual activity?”

My cheeks heated up, averting my gaze. Why the hell would he ask a question like that? I heard stories of pregnant women fainting, but I thought that was just mainly a thing in the movies. I’m obviously not pregnant, so why bring that up?

He’s a medical professional. Like it or not, I have to be honest. This is the one time that I can’t lie, even if him asking me this makes little sense.

“I’m not pregnant, and I know that for a fact. As for actual sexual activity, I mean, to be honest, I had protected sex with my bastard of an ex boyfriend multiple times while taking birth control starting around a few years ago. I gave that bastard a blow job a couple times. I don’t think that last point really matters for this, I think.” I rubbed the back of my neck, laughing nervously. “The last time I was sexually active was a year ago just right before our breakup. Nothing else ever since. Before all that, I never had sex before.”

Nurse Gooden stared at me for a moment before he chuckled. “Alright, then. Though, you only needed to tell me the info about the past nine months. All the other information is unnecessary.”

I turned my face away, my cheeks feeling so hot they might as well have been on fire. God, why did I just tell him all that, especially when it wasn’t necessary? And to a cute guy, no less! Might as well told him about how my first kiss was over a game of spin the bottle when I was little or that girl I had a crush on for a year during the middle of secondary school before she moved away at that rate. Stupid, stupid.

Super thankful that Grim wasn’t here to hear that one. Or anyone else for that matter. I think I would’ve spontaneously combust if anyone who wasn’t under oath ever heard that. Considering I’m in a weirdass magical world, that actually might be possible!

“Can you please lay down on your back?” Nurse Gooden asked.

“Sure.”

I laid down on my back, the paper underneath me crinkling as I did so. The nurse pressed his hands down hard on my abdomen, moving them around a few times over it.

“Nope,” Nurse Gooden said, jotting something down. “You’re not pregnant.”

Sitting upright, I blinked. What the hell? Why did he do that? Did he think I was lying or something?

“What were you doing at the time you fainted?” Nurse Gooden asked.

I stared at him. Shit. How the hell am I gonna explain this? I can’t exactly say that I fainted, because I was shocked at the realization that I’ve been isekai’d to a world where Disney characters are real! No one else here can ever know that or even the simple fact that I’m from another world, otherwise I’m completely screwed.

Nurse Gooden arched a brow. “Well…?”

“Uh...I was chased by one of the ghosts on campus before.” I pointed to the gash on my arm. “It’s also where I got this. I also never drank any coffee or water this morning.”

He nodded, jotting something down.

“Can I go back to work now?” I asked, just wanting this to be over.

“Yes, you should be able to. This just seems like an one off occurrence, and you seem in tip-top shape now.” Nurse Gooden snapped his fingers. “Oh, one more thing.”

Nurse Gooden snagged a vial of green liquid from the shelf. Uncorking it, he poured the contents onto the gash on my arm. Cool liquid seeped into my flesh. I gritted my teeth as the wound sizzled and the potion seeped into it. The skin started to weld itself back together, slowly sealing shut.

Tentatively, I reached to touch the new scar on my arm, poking it with my index finger. Outside of the scar, it’s completely healed. Shouldn’t be surprised, since this is a fantasy universe and all. But still, holy shit! That’s so cool! First real taste of magic here outside of witnessing spells.

Nurse Gooden put the lid back on the vial. “There, now your arm should be good to go. Don’t want to get an infection there, now do we?”

“Yeah,” I said, hopping off of the examining table. “We don’t.”

The sides of his lips tugged up. “Oh, you should be good to go. Take it easy, though.”

“I will,” I said, offering him a polite smile. “Thanks.”

“Well, take care!”

“Bye.”

The door opened, and I stepped out, closing it behind me. Grim leaned against the wall on his hind legs, the stick of his lollipop dangling out of his mouth.

“Ugh,” Grim groaned, turning to face me and taking what was left of the lollipop out of his mouth. He flicked the stick with his magic, and it landed straight in the dirt of a nearby potted plant. “Took ya long enough.”

I made a face. Ew, gross. But, fuck it. I’m not even bothering to retrieve that. Someone else can. So not even worth it anymore. I may be a janitor now, but I still have standards.

I crossed my arms. “Well, the nurse needed to ask me a bunch of questions about what happened.”

“Why?” Grim asked, tilting his head up.

“You know, to make sure I’m not dying or something.”

Grim shot me the same look. Great. Of course he still wouldn’t get it.

“Because I fainted,” I added, brows bumping together.

Grim shrugged, walking on his hind legs towards me. “I still don’t get why, though. You humans are so fragile and worry too much about minor things.”

I bristled. “That’s not the reason at all!”

He stared at me. “Then, what is?”

I pursed my lips. No way I’m telling him the real reason. No way in hell.

“Look, it doesn’t matter,” I said, brushing off the question. “I’m fine now.”

Grim still stared at me as if he wanted me to elaborate. God, I need to change the subject. Fast. This is getting too awkward. Got it…

“I forgot to ask you before,” I said. “Why did you sneak back into this university, despite being thrown out before? You just seem rather determined to stay here.”

“That’s easy.” Grim puffed out his chest. “I’m a genius, destined to become the greatest mage this world has even seen! No one can keep me out of this uni!”

“Let me get this straight.” I crossed my arms. “You want to enroll here as a student?”

“Yes, weren’t you listening to me?” Grim snapped back.

“I am. But I’m confused. How are you gonna manage to become a super mage if you aren’t enrolled here?”

“Well...um…” Grim trailed off, staring off into the distance as if he was contemplating something. His gaze snapped back at me, paws curled up. “Just shut up! I’m gonna learn and become that no matter what anyone else says! I just did what I had to do back there.”

I blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I waited and waited last night for someone to come pick me up, but they never came. Since I had no madol on me...or any other supplies for that matter, I decided to screw it and sneak in on my own.” Grim frowned, flames in his ears shrinking. He shook his head, snapping himself out of it. “Even then...the vice-chancellor and everyone else here clearly didn’t have an eye for...this.”

Grim doesn’t have a plan. Hell, I think everything he did yesterday was him making up shit on the fly, including him wanting to steal my robes and roast me alive...even if I’m still pissed about that. I highly doubt he has anywhere else to go besides here. Not that ever leaving was an option he wanted to begin with.

“Guess we’re both stranded here, huh?” I said under my breath.

“What was that?” Grim asked, ears perking up.

“Nothing.” My stomach growled. “Anyways, let’s just get some breakfast. I can always sweep up that area later, since Vice-Chancellor Crowley never gave me a deadline other than the end of the day.”

Grim’s face lit up. “Now you’re talking my language! You better get me that can of tuna!”

“Fetch it yourself,” I said, starting to walk down the hall. “Pretty sure they have an area where you can pick something like that up.”

“Stingy,” Grim grumbled, walking beside me on his hind legs.

“Whatever you say,” I said with a smirk.

—0—

Shades of orange and yellow flooded through the bay windows beside the table I sat at in the cafeteria...or dining hall as apparently others besides Vice-Chancellor Crowley called it here. Brown bricks lined the walls with a huge fireplace shoved in the corner. Many large tables with benches were spread about the room. Only two people chatted at one of the far tables in the whole area. Not really surprised, since it's long past when people normally have supper...at least back in my own dimension. 

Grim floated, brushing by buffet the line in the centre of the hall and slapping food down on his tray. At least he was behaving now. Must be because he’s tired from watching me work a lot of the day. Hell, my arms ache from sweeping all day. I even skipped lunch to complete that stupid task, learning the hard way that, yes, sweeping a whole walkway takes a lot of effort. I swear Grim keeps on acting up, he’s gonna make my hair white in a matter of days...even if that’s impossible and just an old wives tale.

Stabbing some of the toss salad with my fork, I scooped it in my mouth and chewed. Not bad. Beats some of the food in the cafeteria at my old secondary school, that’s for sure.

Too bad they didn’t have any Latin American food in this cafeteria. At least right now. A bowl with mojo chicken and a bunch of veggies like mom makes would hit the spot. Or her minestrone soup. Or the dynamite rolls that Laura and I would fetch from Tom Sushi.

Mom, my stepdad, Laura. They’re all probably worried sick about me. It’s been a least a day and a half since I was brought to this weirdass Disney dimension. It won’t be long until my folks come back home from their trip to Kamloops and realize that I’ve dropped off the face of the Earth...literally, calling the RCMP and declaring me a missing person. I think even Laura probably noticed that I’m gone by now, too.

What about Morgana? Is she alright? She must’ve been in the house with hardly anything to eat or drink for awhile now.

No. I can’t think about that too hard. I will find a way back home or to contact my family. I will. I have to.

In order to do that, I need to stick with my previous plan. Lay low and pretend to be just like any other person from this universe. In the meantime, I’ll search for a way back home or contact my family. I can always search the library tomorrow or after I eat here, since I never had the chance to before. Being isekai’d to a weirdass Disney universe doesn’t change that fact.

A human shaped shadow covered the table, and my eyes flicked upwards. The same red-haired guy from yesterday stared down at me. A black hoodie with a red button up shirt underneath and jeans replaced those weirdass occult robes from last night. A red and black armband with a red crystal in the centre was tied around his right arm. Up close, I could tell that a red heart tattoo laid over his left eye.

Strangest of all, right on his neck was a red and black heart shaped collar. Why the hell is something like that on his neck? It looks like something ripped out of a very strange porno. Sure, I’m a fantasy world, but I highly doubt something like that would be a normal fashion statement here.

“Hi?”

He never replied. Red eyes bounced between me and Grim in the distance as if pieces of a puzzle were clicking together in his mind. Then, those same red eyes bounced my face and my breasts a few times.

“Eyes up here,” I said, pointing at them with my middle and index fingers.

“So, you really are that person who skipped out on the entrance ceremony, huh?”

The question seemed innocent enough. If I’m going with Grim being my familiar, I should go along with that as well. To everyone else at this university, that’s probably what went down in their eyes after Grim did...all that.

“Yeah,” I lied.

His brows went up, drawn together and his mouth was slightly gaped. I swear he stared at me like if I turned into a flying, purple cow.

My brows furrowed. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

He shook his head, snapping outta whatever got over him. “Just threw me off a bit.”

He plopped down on the seat in front of me.

“Who are you exactly?” I asked, scrambling to remember what he said the night before.

He chuckled. “Oh, right. I haven’t told you my name yet, have I? I’m Ace. Nice to meetcha!”

Oh, right. Think he said that was his name last night.

Still...something about this whole situation doesn’t feel right. Something about his smile seems a bit too...forced. It’s pretty much that same smile that a guy who hit on me once gave while I was alone during an improv class. Especially after he stared at my breasts so much before.

I might be just paranoid or something. He seemed like a decent guy last night when he was talking with that lilac haired guy. Just to be sure…

“Do you want something?” I asked.

A mischievous smirk tugged on his lips. “Guess you aren’t as dumb as you look.”

I tensed up. What the fuck? What’s with the sudden mood change? He didn’t seem like this before. Guess he really is an ass...or just super pissed at me. ...Okay, most likely the latter. But either way, shit.

Leaning forward slightly, his hands smacked against the table. I flinched, and leaned back.

“Gonna tell you a little something. Last night, like you, I skipped part of the opening ceremony. Thanks to my dickhead of a head prefect being extra pissed off due to your familiar’s stunt, he declared me guilty after I was put on trial in front of my enter dorm. He used his Unique Magic to put this,” Ace growled, pointing at the collar, “on my neck. Now, I’m cast out of my dorm with just my mobile, wallet and charger. Hades, I had to sleep on a fucking hallway bench last night.”

So that’s what happened. That head prefect guy mentioned something about being merciful for not using his powers on Ace right on the spot when he was being a smartass last night. How is putting a weird, magical collar on that punishment for that? What does that thing do?

Why am I even focusing on this? Grim and I can’t get into any trouble, especially on the first day. If we do, I’ll be thrown out onto the streets. I need to get him to scram before Ace does who knows what to me. There’s no way in hell I could beat up a person with superpowers.

“Look,” I said, tossing him my best tough girl glare. My fork slammed down against my tray, and I let go of it. “Sorry about what happened to you last night, but I don’t see how any of that is my fault. For a bunch of different reasons, I’m really not in the mood for this right now, so I highly suggest you fuck off.”

“No can do. Time to settle this man to man. You, me. Fight. Outside. Right now.”

Holy shit! This guy really is gonna kick my ass.

No. I can’t let this guy get to me. I can’t. I need to stay calm. Need to find a way out of this.

“Like I said before,” I said, eyes still hardened, “not in the mood. Fuck off.”

Red eyes glared daggers at me as he seethed with rage. I turned my head away. Stay calm. Having a level head is the only way to get out of this. Stay fucking calm.

Grim flew by, taking a seat right beside me. His tray, filled with chicken and a bunch of other food, clattered against the table.

“And you're that cat familiar who wrecked all of that havoc during the entrance ceremony?” Ace said, shooting that same stupid smile from before.

“Yes,” Grim said. “I am.”

“Grim, don’t buy the act,” I said, trying to sound as normal as possible. “He’s just pretending to be all nice to mess with you and try to get you to fight him.”

“What?” Grim said.

“Wanker over here is right. You guys skipping out on the opening ceremony yesterday got me into a lot of trouble. By the looks of things, in the end both of you were relegated janitor status.” He chuckled. “Payback’s a bitch. Even the gods and goddesses didn’t take pity on your sorry asses. You guys are such a joke.”

My eyes narrowed. Does he realize how hard maids, butlers and janitors have it? Just sweeping that one area was hard work. Hell, I have a whole new respect for people with those jobs just after today alone. Be more respectful, jackass.

I am calm. I am not gonna let him get to me. I can’t get into any trouble for the sake of my own survival. I am calm.

Grim hissed, bearing his teeth and hair standing on end. His tail swished back-and-forth angrily. Sharp claws unsheathed, glinting in the light. Grim tried to swipe his claws at Ace before he jumped back, missing the mark.

Ace let out a nervous laugh. “Woah! What the hades?”

“That’s what you get for making fun of me, jerk!” Grim flexed his claws. “Besides, my collar is more stylish than the one around your neck!”

“Grim, knock it off!” I scolded. My gaze flicked towards Ace, eyes sharpening. “You, again, fuck off!”

“No!” they both said at the same time.

The palm of my hand slapped my forehead. Ugh, why does this have to be so difficult? I am calm and tranquil. I will find a way out of this.

Ace simpered. “Well, either way, guess you want to fight me now, huh? I’ll turn you into a fluffy, little poodle.”

“Easy for me!” Grim pointed at the collar around his neck. “That’s the same collar that red-haired guy put on me during the entrance ceremony, which means that you can’t use any magic. Am I right?”

Ace’s smirk fell off, colour draining from his face. He stiffened. By his reaction and the smug satisfaction on Grim’s face, he’s right. Oh, boy.

Ace slapped his smirk back on. “Ha! I’ll still kick your ass, anyways.”

“Guess that means I was right, huh?” Grim smirked, retracing his claws. “I’m too good at deduction.”

The people sitting at the far table in the corner turned around, staring right at us. 

“Grim, come on!” I said, standing up from the table. “Let’s go. We can always eat supper somewhere else.”

“Backing down from a fight?” Ace sneered. “Ha! You're both cowards.”

“It’s not cowardly,” I said, eyes narrowed. “It’s called being smart and knowing how to pick your fights. Grim, come on!”

My gaze shifted back to Grim, who growled and snarled at him. I recognized that look anywhere. It’s the same way Morgana acts when she’s at the vet and ready to attack someone. Shit!

I tried to grab Grim by the collar or tail, but my hand missed. Grim launched at Ace, a blue streak of fire trailing behind him. I jumped back, running to the end of the room. 

Grim jumped off of one of the tables and flew in the air towards Ace, blue flames spewing from his mouth as if he was some bizarre cat version of a western dragon. Ace ducked down. Grim flew over him, landing on the ground and turning his head. Wait. Since when the hell could Grim do that?

People, who were passing by, gathered on the sidelines. They laughed and cheered on the violence, eyes glued to the action. Cellphones shot up in the air to record it.

“Get ‘em!”

“Roast him alive!”

“I’m totally putting this on Magicam!”

“Na, I’m recording and making a TocTac edit of this.”

“What type of familiar is that?”

“It’s a cat, dude. You need to get your eyes checked.”

Where the hell is security in this place?! Why isn’t anyone doing anything to stop them? Is everyone else here gonna stand by, and watch this as if it’s some sort of shonen action fight in an anime? Everyone else has superpowers here, so it should be a cinch.

Ugh, no matter. Gotta find someone to use their magic to stop this fight myself. No way I could ever break it up myself only knowing basic self defence, and Grim shooting fire everywhere.

Bursting through an opening in the crowd, my eyes darted around the hallway. Come on, come on. There has to be someone who can give me a hand around here.

A lanky guy, who had midnight blue hair with a tawny beige complexion and held a coffee cup in his hand, turned around the corner. He wore a black sport jacket with a blue polo shirt underneath and dark-wash jeans with a similar armband as Ace tied around his bicep. A black spade tattoo laid right on top of his right eye, too. Blue eyes widened, staring at the crowd from the sidelines. Good enough for me.

Rushing up to him, I poked the guy in the shoulder. “Hey, um…”

He blinked. “Deuce Spade.”

“Right. Sorry to bother you like this, Deuce. But I’m a non-mage, and I have non-existent fighting abilities. Uh...Point is that I really need to break up the fight between those two up ahead,” I said, jabbing a finger behind me in their direction. “Is there any spell or anything you can do to stop them?”

“I think so.”

I sighed in relief, a small smile tugging on my lips. “Thanks so much.”

“Um...Don’t mention it.”

Walking forward, we nudged through the crowd towards the front of it. Grim jumped off of one of the tables. Ace reached out behind Grim, probably trying to grab his tail. But Grim darted off to the side, tossing another fireball in Ace’s direction. Ace ducked down, and the fireball dissipated in the air.

“Why won’t you just let me fry you?!” Grim yelled, stomping one of his bottom paws.

“You really think someone is just gonna stand still and let you fry them?!” Ace hollered back.

People in the crowd burst out laughing at the remarks. Others still held their cells high up in the air, recording the bizarre scene. Normally, I’d be with everyone else. But given my current circumstances, I just want this to end.

“R-Right!” Deuce stammered, eyes fixed ahead. “Um… let’s see…”

“I don’t know,” I blurted out. “Anything’s fine! Just hit them hard or something!”

Deuce’s eyes lit up as if a lightbulb went off in his head. Fishing around his pocket with his free hand, Deuce pulled out a similar pen-wand as Vice-Chancellor Crowley had with a dark blue gemstone on it.

“Alright,” Deuce said. Pointing his pen-wand in their direction, the crystal at the end of his pen-wand glowed bright blue. “Come forth—Something Heavy!”

A blue glimmer of light hung above Ace and Grim, casting a shadow over them. The blue light grew larger and larger until black cauldron slid out of it. The cauldron crashed against the nearby chandelier, which began to sway heavily. Just as Grim pulled back his hand, ready to toss another burst of flames at Ace, his head jerked up, and Ace did the same. They rushed out of the way in opposite directions, and the cauldron crashed to the ground in the huge space between them. Well, that’s certainly one way to do it…

A loud metallic snap echoed throughout the area. I tensed up, going perfectly still. What the hell was that?

My head snapped up towards the source of the sound. The chain holding up the chandelier broke in two, crystals on it flashing. I took a few steps backwards. The chandelier smashed to the ground beside the cauldron, glass bulbs and crystals on it shattering on impact.

Cheers erupted as if everyone else around me and Deuce witnessed their favourite NHL team get the winning goal. Some people babbled about getting a great shot of it falling, and posting it on Magicam. Others were disappointed that they missed it. Grim laid on the ground, staring up at the ceiling. Ace stared at the carnage with wide eyes. Both shocked, but still alright.

The chandelier? Completely destroyed. The main metal column and arms of the chandelier managed to survive with a few dents here and there. Glass shards and crystals, on the other hand, littered the ground around it. There was no salvaging it. Any attempt to reattach it to the ceiling would be pointless. There was no way in hell we could fix the crystals in time. We’re so fucked.

“Shit!” Deuce swore. “I overdid it. I didn’t think I would get a cauldron.”

“Yeah...Sure did,” I said, voice trembling. Eyes glued to the wreckage in front of me, I cringed. “We need to do something, and fast. If the vice-chancellor finds out about this—”

“Find out what?” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, voice cold and smooth. “Do tell.”

Chills went down my spine, and I went perfectly still. My chest tightened. Oh fuck. He’s here.

Whirling my head around, the Vice-Chancellor stood right behind us, arms crossed. Yellow eyes narrowed into slits as if he wanted to launch us both into the sun.

“Everyone!” Vice-Chancellor Crowley called out, his voice carrying throughout the hall. “Could you all spare me a moment with the perpetrators?”

Mutters and groans filled the air. The remaining bystanders cleared out of the area in a few minutes, leaving just the four of us.

“You two,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley ordered, gesturing to where Grim and Ace stood, “in there.”

Knowing it was pointless to argue, I nodded. Deuce did the same. We both walked back into the cafeteria, brushing past the wreckage in the middle. I picked up Grim off the ground. Hopping up, he curled around my shoulder with his tail draped over my chest.

Turning to face Vice-Chancellor Crowley, I could practically see the smoke coming out of his ears. I braced myself for the blow.

“I’m a kind man, but I will not tolerate this sort of behaviour! You two are expelled!” Vice-Chancellor Crowley yelled, glaring at Deuce and Ace. He shifted his gaze right at me and Grim. “You two will be thrown out on the streets promptly! And none of you—and I mean none of you—are ever welcomed here ever again!”

My heart pounded even harder. Oh, fuck! This is the worst case scenario. Okay...maybe the Vice-Chancellor murdering our asses would, but this is still fucking up there.

Sure, there might be a town nearby since this is a university and all. But I have a hard enough time getting a job in my own world, let alone a fantasy one.

There’s no way in hell that I could survive out in the wild on my own Bear Grylls style. I have no supplies, and just remember scattered tidbits of survival advice from different YouTube videos. That’s even if Grim tagged along with me.

I still hardly know anything about this universe. What’s even beyond the university grounds? For all I know, werewolves and other fantasy creatures could be still lurking about beyond the gates.

That bastard who dragged me here, and wants me for who knows what, is still out there. For all I know, that bastard could nab me soon as I step foot outside of this university.

“Please, I’m begging you,” Deuce pleaded, taking a step forward. “Anything but that! I’ll even pay for all the damages if I have to!”

“If only it were that simple,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, taking a calming breath. He shook his head. “This is no ordinary chandelier.”

Of course it isn’t…

“This is a magical chandelier that uses candles that are meant to burn for all eternity. It’s a masterpiece that has been entrusted by a legendary master of magical tools, and it’s been here since the uni’s very founding. Taking in consideration its historical value, it would cost no less than a billion madol.”

“A-A billion madol?!” Deuce parroted, staggering backwards.

Holy shit that’s a lot of money! Why the hell would a chandelier of all things cost that much? I understand it’s magical or some shit, but that’s super insanely expensive. I don’t even super rich celebrities in my world would spend that much on that of all things.

There is no way in hell in Deuce could pay for that. Hell, there’s no way any of us could even combine all of our money, including my non existent savings fund here, unless we work to pay it off even after we die.

“More importantly, the main magic crystal was shattered. As you all know, no two magic crystals are the same.” Vice-Chancellor Crowley lowered his head, yellow eyes flickering. “Unfortunately, this chandelier might not be ever lit again.”

The cafeteria exploded into silence, a dark cloud hanging above the four of us. None of us said a single word.

Deuce stared down at the floor. I frowned. It’s my fault for getting Deuce involved in this. If I never roped Deuce into helping me stop that fight, he wouldn’t be in this mess.

No. This is my fault period. If I was able to handle Grim better and convinced Ace to scram, none of this would’ve happened in the first fucking place! Now, because of me, I took everyone down with me. ...Okay, Ace and Grim kinda deserve it, the former far more so, for getting into a huge fight. But Deuce certainly doesn’t deserve to be punished, because he wanted to help me out. Even Grim acted out of self defence for the most part, even if he egged Ace on. Though Ace started it, and tried to gode me, a magicless girl, into a fight... And stared at my tits before. Fuck him.

I took in a deep breath. I need to do something. Last thing I want is to be kicked outta this university. I have to stay here in order to find a way home or contact my family, and be safe from that bastard who dragged me here. I just have to. Here goes nothing.

“Sir, is there any way to fix this?” I asked, stepping forward and hands shaking. “I mean, there has to be. The main structure seems to be intact, so we just need to replace the main crystal that broke. Right?”

“You know what?” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, tapping his clawed metal claws against his chin. “Think you’re onto something.”

I blinked. “Huh?”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley nodded. “The main magic crystal for this chandelier was found in Dwarf's Mine. If we have a magic crystal of the same kind as the original, repairs might be possible.”

Thank fuck. That’s a relief. There’s still some hope. Wait a second...

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! My bio dad died during a cave-in while working as a head geologist in a huge mine up in the Northwest Territories. Granted, it happened when I was a baby, so I don’t even remember him, and only know him through what mom and Laura told me and old baby photos. Going down in one of those could get any of us killed! Just like him. I don’t want to die in another world! Hell, I don’t want to die period!

No. I have to go down into those mines and find that fucking crystal. Staying at this university is my only hope of ever surviving this world and either finding a way back home or contacting my family. I need to get it over with. I have to do this. I have to.

“Isn’t that mine in the Land of Pyroxene?” Ace asked, raising a brow.

Land of Pyroxene? Must be another country in this universe. Guess if this place is European in nature, it probably allows people to travel to other places within the same continent no problem.

“Yes,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, “but you all should be able to get there via The Dark Mirror. Due to this uni’s connection to the mine long ago, there should be a mirror portal located nearby.”

“Either way,” Deuce said. A fire ignited in his eyes. “I will go find that magic crystal! Please, allow me to go!”

“There’s no guarantee that there are any left in the mine,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “The mine has been closed for a while, and it's very possible it is exhausted of crystals.”

“I’ll do anything to avoid getting expelled!”

“Alright,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. Yellow eyes narrowed. “I’ll give you all one night. Come to me with a magic crystal by the sunrises here our time or else.”

How the hell would that work? How would we know when it's sunrise here if the mine's are in another country? By using a phone app?  

...Then again, it might not be a huge time difference between these two places if they're close by each other. 

Deuce beamed. “Thank you! You can count on me.”

“Yeah,” I said. Running my hands through my hair, I shifted around. “Thanks, sir.”

Ace ruffled his hair, sighing. “Let’s go get that magic crystal, and be done with it.”

Deuce set his drink down on one of the tables before he and Ace took off, darting down the hall.

Walking up to Vice-Chancellor Crowley, I asked, “What type of crystal are we looking for? I mean, if we’re hunting down this crystal, we should at least know what it should look like. Right?”

“Hm,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “The last one was a turquoise crystal with flecks of red and green on it. It was about the size of a fist, and sparkled like a star.”

“Thanks.”

Scrambling, I rushed out of the cafeteria after Ace and Deuce.

Chapter Text

I stepped out of the mirror portal, Grim still resting on my shoulder, and walked to where Deuce stood next to the edge of the stream with a bridge over it. Towering, shadowed elm and pine trees stretched high up into the sky. Moonlight shone through the leaves, patches of light decorating the ground below. Would’ve been the perfect night for a stroll, if it wasn’t for the fact that I'm being forced to march into the same sort of deathtrap my bio dad died in to fetch a magic crystal, otherwise I will be stranded in the wild in a bizarro Disney fantasy universe.

No, no. Can’t think of that. Especially now.

“Do you think we should ask the people inside that home back there about the coal mines?” Deuce asked, gesturing to an opening off in the distance.

A small cottage was nestled in the middle of the thicket right across the stream. Honestly, it seemed like some desolate horror version of the cottage from Disney’s Snow White. No light shone through any of the windows. No smoke wafted from the chimney. Green moss stretched across the roof and walls. Sections of the roof were caved in. Many chipped bricks lined the side of the cottage. There was no way in hell that anyone that lived there, besides murderous ghosts or some other dark creatures exist in this universe.

“Nah,” I said. “I don’t really see the point. We probably should just keep walking along the trail until we see something that looks like an entrance carved into a cliff or mountain side.”

“Right,” Deuce said. His face dropped slightly. “Ashamed, though. It must’ve been a lively home when the mine flourished.”

“Yeah…” I trailed off with a frown. Like he said, it is ashame. It must’ve been a beautiful fairytale home long ago. Maybe even this universe’s versions of the Seven Dwarfs used to live there. But now, it’s left abandoned to the elements to become infested with spirits and monsters.

I wonder how that place got to this sorry state. Either the mines dried up, or something much darker went down there. Hopefully, it’s the former.

Ace barged out of the mirror portal, marching straight towards us.

“Don’t think I asked you guys this before, but what are your names?” Deuce asked.

Right, I didn’t tell any of these guys my name yet. Guess if we’re supposed to go on a stupid fetch quest to get that crystal, we should all know each other’s names at least.

Ace groaned, shoving his hands in his hoodie pockets. “Ace.”

Deuce pointed at himself. “Deuce.”

“Juice?” Ace said.

“Juice—?” Deuce began, staring at him in disbelief. His eyes narrowed. “It’s Deuce! ‘Deu!’”

Ace scoffed. “Yeah, yeah.”

I smiled at their exchange.

“Adriana, but you can just call me Addie,” I said, and then pointed at the sleeping cat on my shoulder, “he’s Grim.”

“Aren’t those both girl’s names?” Ace questioned, tossing his gaze towards me.

“Typically,” I said.

Back in my dimension both ‘Adriana’ and ‘Addie’ are female names. Never got why male and female names are still a thing, though. Honestly, all names should just be unisex. Not sure if it’s the same here, but I’m too tired to really give a shit anymore. But by the sounds it, it definitely seems like it.

Ace’s brows knit together. “So you're a girl?”

“Yes?” I said, not sure where he was heading with this.

“Wait. You’re a girl?!” Ace gaped, eyes nearly popping out of his head. “I thought you were non-binary or something.”

“Uh...nope.” I gave a small shrug, holding Grim down so he didn’t fall off my shoulder. “I’m a cisgender girl, so just she/her pronouns for me.”

Ace gave me a blank stare. “But if you’re a girl, how the hades does that work?”

I tossed the look back at him. “What do you mean?”

“Night Raven College is an all-boys uni, so how the hades were you able to enroll here?”

Wait. What?! What the fuck?!

The Vice-Chancellor certainly left out that part. That’s for sure.

Are non-religious, all-boys universities even still a thing back in my dimension? All-boys boarding schools still exist, but those aren’t colleges...or at least the North American definition of it, they’re for people going to high school and younger. If those still exist, they must be super rare. Those were mostly phased out eons ago, from what I understand. Sahar mentioned that the University of Oxford was completely an all-boys university back in the day. It began allowing anyone of any gender to go before either of our grandparents were born. Same goes for the University of Cambridge, from what I understand.

This is a different universe, so different rules. Of course those could exist here. Magic, fae and guys with animal ears exist, so why not that? God, I’m a fucking idiot for not realizing that a lot sooner!

Explains why I never saw hardly any girls floating around the halls all day. Hell, it explains why Ace acted so strange and stared at my breasts so much before. Ace wasn’t trying to be a pervert. He was in disbelief that a cisgender girl was able to attend an all-boys university and just assumed I was non-binary. Still, fuck him for trying to get into a fight with me, though. And for being a dick.

But if this is an all-boys school, why the hell did the Vice-Chancellor want to enroll me here so bad before he figured out that I had no magic last night? He knew that I was a girl. Wouldn’t that be breaking some sort of rule? Suspicious as fuck, to say the least.

Deuce shook his head, placing his fingers on his forehead. “I’m so lost.” Same here, dude. Same here.

Ace crossed his arms. “She’s the same person who unleashed that familiar during the entrance ceremony.”

Deuce’s eyes widened. “That was you?”

I nodded.

“I thought you were just female faculty.”

Ace rolled his eyes. “Think the word you’re looking for is staff. Saying faculty implies that she’s a professor here.”

“Right,” Deuce said, rubbing the back of his neck and smiling awkwardly. “Knew that. Wrong choice of wording.”

Blue eyes flicked back to me.

“What’s the story behind all that, anyways? How did you get in here in the first place?”

Shit! I never thought of a way to explain that.

“Even then, I still can’t believe you. Causing so much trouble during the entrance ceremony.” Deuce shook his head. “You should know better.”

“I know what it seems like, but it was all Grim’s doing. I swear!”

“Grim’s doing?”

“Yeah,” I said, shifting around. “What happened during the entrance ceremony was all his idea, and I didn’t have any part in it.”

Deuce sent me a small smile. “I believe you. Grim seems like...a handful.”

“You have no idea…” I trailed off.

I need to have Grim around, and I care about him...even a little, but still, god he’s a pain in the ass. Grim has been nothing but trouble since the moment I got here. Mocking me, getting into fights, the works. I swear I’m becoming his guardian or something. I know I joked about Morgana being my daughter back in my world, but I didn’t mean like...this!

“Rewind for a sec,” Ace said. That same stupid, mischievous smirk from the cafeteria returned. “You still never answered the lingering question. If you’re a girl, how are you able to attend uni here?”

Like it or not, I have to say the truth. There’s no point in lying about attending university here now that the cat’s outta the bag.

“Because I’m not attending school here,” I said, fidgeting the hem of my jean pocket.

“But you said to me earlier that you were the other student that skipped out on the ceremony besides me and Epel.”

Deuce blinked. “Epel?”

“Some other guy that tagged along with me while I skipped out,” Ace said.

Deuce nodded.

Ace leered. “Point is that you lied.”

“Fine, I did. I admit it. I never enrolled here to begin with.” I folded my arms, body ridged. “Let’s just say that there was a mistake and I wasn’t meant to be here in the first place, and leave it at that.”

“Mistake?” Deuce questioned.

“Yeah,” I said, moving to play with my jean pocket.

“Alright, fine!” Ace said. “I get it. Gods, we need to get that stupid crystal, stone or whatever.”

Ace marched on ahead. Deuce nodded in agreement, catching up with him.

Grim moaned, perking up again. “What happened?”

“A lot,” I said. “Wish you didn’t cause so much trouble.”

“Huh?”

“Long story short, some magic crystal in the chandelier broke, and now we have to hunt down a new one otherwise we’re homeless.”

“What?” Grim said. Honestly, I can't blame him. This whole situation is completely insane.

“Coming or what?” Ace yelled.

“Yes!” I called back, rushing up the trail while Grim gripped onto my shoulder for dear life.

Gravel crunched under my feet, following the others on the trail towards the mine up the mountain side for what seemed like fifteen minutes. None of us hardly said anything on the way there other than the odd complaint from Grim. The sound of nature filled in the void between us. Doubt the others really had much to say. Neither did I.

Honestly, I didn’t mind the silence. I hardly knew these guys, so coming up with convo starters just would make things awkward. Chatting away would make this go a lot slower. This situation is like ripping off a bandaid. Sooner we get that stone, the better.

We walked around the bend before Ace said, “That must be it.”

Rusty railroad tracks lead into a large opening carved into the mountain. Large tree roots curved around the opening. Crooked branches from nearby trees jutted out towards it like clawed hands waiting to nab whoever entered. Only a few support beams propped it up, which seemed like they could give way at any moment. It seemed like a death trap. All that was missing was some caution tape slapped in front of the entrance and a giant neon sign with “DO NOT ENTER” written on it hanging over top. We all had to go inside, despite the obvious danger. Fuck.

“We have to go in there?” Grim said, staring off into the abyss. “It’s a pitch black hole!”

I stared inside of it. Grim wasn’t kidding. No light shone from inside, and I couldn’t make out a thing. A meerkat doing the hula could’ve been inside of it for all I know. Or a monster. Nope, not thinking about that. That’s for sure.

“Scared?” Ace teased with a mocking grin. “Lame!”

“I’m not scared at all!” Grim hopped off of my shoulder, hovering in the air and glaring at Ace. “I’ll take the lead! Follow me.”

Grim kicked off of my shoulder as if it was a wall in a swimming pool, and I dug my feet into the dirt to prevent me from toppling over. He pushed past us and flew right into the mine, blue flames streaking behind him.

“Is he gonna wait for us or…?” Deuce trailed off.

I shrugged, tossing up my hands as I did so. Knowing him, Grim will probably just take off inside, and then wait for us when he doesn’t know the way or something. He seems to make up shit on the fly a lot. Not too worried about that, at least.

“Where’s my mobile?” Ace said, rummaging around in his hoodie pocket. “Ah, there it is.”

Ace pressed a button on the side of his phone, and a bright light shone underneath his chin. I squinted, not ready for the onslaught of light.

Ace grinned. “At least now, we can actually see while we’re inside there! Pretty smart, right? Hey, Juice…,What’s-Your-Face, do you guys have one, too?”

“Course I do.” Deuce pulled out his cell from his pocket. “And it’s Deuce! Remember it.”

Deuce took off into the mine after Grim.

“What about you?” Ace asked.

I didn’t say anything. Ace groaned, following Deuce inside of the mine.

Should I wear my Covid-19 mask? Coal dust isn’t safe to breathe in. Granted, it wouldn't do any harm going in just this once. Breathing it in too much over a long period of time can turn a person's lungs black. I don't want to risk even just that. But if I wear my mask, these guys would no doubt question it. That’s the last thing I want.

Maybe I should cover my nose and mouth with my shirt. At least it would be a happy medium. Going around in the mine with my Covid-19 mask would be way too suspicious.

I flicked my gaze towards the mine. Staring down the shaft, I tensed up. This is it. No turning back. Any of us could die down there. Just like dad. Ace might be a complete dick, but I still don’t wish him to die. I don’t want any of us too. Who knows what dangers are inside there. Who knows if there’s even a stone like the Vice-Chancellor described is in there. We could all die inside there, and it would be all for nothing.

No. Staying at the university, even if it is an all-boys one, is my only hope of survival and either finding a way back home or contacting my family. I have to do this. I have to. Get it over with. I won’t die. None of us will. But...

“Are you coming? Or are you just gonna stand out near the entrance like a dumbass?” Ace called out from inside the mine, voice echoing.

I groaned. Plucking the top hem of my shirt over my nose, I pushed my way into the mine and caught up with them.

I crossed my arms, walking alongside them. Drops of water echoed throughout the cave. The only main source of light was their phones. Railroad tracks laid in the centre of the tunnel while large pillars of rock shot up into the air. Both Deuce and Ace pulled the tops of their shirts over their noses as well. 

Hundreds of crystals of various different shades of purple and red sparkled in the darkness. Nothing even close to what the Vice-Chancellor described. Because of course not. Because fuck my life.

But with this mine being abandoned, who knows if the support beams are able to hold up. The mine could cave in on us. Just like dad.

I can’t give up. I have to find that stone. I have to.

Get that stone, get out. Get that stone, get out. Get that stone, get out.

“Scared of the mine?” Ace mused, shooting me a smug smile.

I grunted, ripping my gaze away. My eyes darted about, trying to find a huge turquoise crystal. Nope. Still nothing.

Get that stone, get out. Get that stone, get out. Get that stone, get out.

A blue flame flickered in the distance.

“Must be Grim,” Deuce said.

We rushed down the tunnel towards the flickering light. Once we got up to it, Grim floated up in the air with his arms crossed. "There you guys are! How dare you let me be alone in this place!"

“You’re the one who took off without us,” Deuce said, staring at the cat.

“Yeah,” Grim whined, “but you still could’ve caught up with me faster!”

Ace rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say.”

Grim scowled. “What did you say, Carrot-top?”

Ace narrowed his eyes at the cat. “What did you just call me?!”

“Knock it off, you two!” Deuce snapped, glaring daggers at him. “We need to find that stupid crystal and get out.”

The two went silent. Super thankful for Deuce. I can totally get behind that sentiment. Finding that stupid crystal is way more important right now.

He seems super pissed. Like he’s at his wits end, too. God, I shouldn’t have convinced Deuce to stop that brawl in the first fucking place. If I did, he wouldn’t be in this mess.

Can’t worry about that. Get the stone. Get out. Get the stone. Get out. Get the stone. Get out.

The air grew even colder. Son of a bitch!

“The first guests in many years have finally arrived!” a voice echoed in the mine. “How exciting!”

A Pillsbury Doughboy-looking ghost with a hood on materialized right in front of us, floating in the air.

Oh, come on! Are you fucking kidding me? There’s ghosts in this stupid mine, too? And one that looks like a food company mascot, no less? This is the second time I had to fight off ghosts in two days!

I don’t want to deal with this. I just want to get this over with. For it to end. End right now.

Snatching up Grim in my arms, I faced him towards the ghosts as he squirmed around.

“Now you stay for e—”

I lightly tapped Grim on the back. Grim opened his mouth, blowing a jet of hot flame right through the ghost’s chest. The ghost took off into the mine and disappeared from sight, swearing at me under their breath. Deuce and Ace burst out laughing.

Grim spun around to face me, placing a hand on his hip. “Don’t think you can manhandle me!”

Ignoring him, I charged ahead. Once I got far enough ahead, I stood in the entrance way to a different tunnel. I stopped in my tracks, bits of dust kicking up as I did so. Staring down at the ground, my breathing hastened. My fist clenched, fingernails digging into my palms.

I need to relax. I have to be calm and rational about this. That’s my only chance of finding that fucking crystal and getting out of this mess. Last thing I need is to have an actual meltdown in the middle of a fucking mine.

Calming breaths escaped me. My index fingers touched my thumbs on both hands like mom taught me. I am calm. I am totally fucking calm. I am relaxed. I got this.

“Are you alright?” Deuce asked.

My hands dropped to my sides, and I took another calming breath. I turned. The others stood beside me. I nodded. Think so. At least a bit better now. ...Or just doable.

“What happened back—?” Deuce began before he was cut off.

“Do you guys hear that?” Grim said, hovering in the air and pointing down a tunnel to the left.

Ace and Deuce hurriedly shone their phones down the dark path, trying to see what he was talking about. Ace narrowed his eyes. “Shit! Something’s coming this way! Hide!”

Grim hopped on my shoulder. We all scrambled back into another tunnel. More Pillsbury Doughboy-looking ghosts flew by into a different cavern.

“Great,” Ace groaned, voice dripping with sarcasm. “This place is haunted with even more ghosts.”

“We don’t have time to deal with them one-by-one,” Deuce whispered. “We have to sneak by.”

“Don’t tell me what to do. If you hadn’t the bright idea of dropping a chandelier to stop the fight, we wouldn’t be in this mess! If that dropped on me, I could’ve died!”

God, I don’t have the time for this bullshit right now!

“Are you two trying to get us killed?” I managed to force out. “Hush!”

“Oh, so now you can finally speak?” Ace snapped. “Also, you shut up! You’re the one that got me in this mess in the first place!”

Rage bubbled up inside of me. Seriously?! “You're the one who picked a fight with me, and got in a brawl with Grim!”

“Yes. Even before that, if Grim hadn’t caused such a ruckus at the opening ceremony, I might’ve been relaxing in my dorm room right now!”

This shit again? “I still don’t see how that in particular is my fault. Your the one who was stupid enough to skip the opening ceremony to begin with!”

“Hi pot, meet kettle.”

“The both of you!” Deuce snapped. Ace and I flinched as Deuce narrowed his eyes at us. “Do you guys even understand the gravity of the situation we’re in right now?! If we don’t come back with a magical crystal by sunrise, we’ll be expelled!”

“Stop patronizing me,” Ace growled. “You’re really ticking me off.”

Grim hopped off of my shoulder and nudged my leg.

“What is it, Grim?” I asked, eyes dropping.

Grim crouched down low on the ground as if he was ready to pounce, his body ridged. His ears flattened, and his tail was tucked underneath him.

“Do you guys hear that, now?” Grim asked, voice trembling.

Liquid sloshed about in the distance. I tensed up, going perfectly still. Chills went up my spine. What the hell was that?

“W...on't...ive...wo...”

“What is with that voice?” Ace stammered.

“Stooon…won’t...giiive...”

“I think they’re getting closer,” Deuce said, tensing up.

Ace pressed a button on the side of his phone, turning it back on and pointing it towards the newcomer.

A large, humanoid monster emerged from the depths of the cave in the distance. Instead of a head, a glass bulb filled to the brim with ink sat on their neck, black liquid oozing out of the large crack in the front. They wore a tattered, red coat and brown pants. A brown cap dangled from the cork of the ink jar. A misshapen oil lamp dangled from one hand, giving off an eerie, red light throughout the cavern, while they wielded a pickaxe in the other. If the monster had eyes, I had no doubt that they would be glaring daggers at us.

“The...stone…WON’T GIVE!” the monster yelled. “IT’S MINE!”

Something turquoise blue twinkled like a star behind the monster. Could that be…?

“An Overblot Monster?” Deuce said, gripping his pen-wand tightly.

A what?!

“The Vice-Chancellor never said anything about this!” Grim rushed up to me, clinging onto my leg for dear life. “We gotta get outta here, quick!”

As much as I hated to admit it, the cat had a very good point. "Grim's right. We need to escape now!"

“I won’t.” Deuce turned towards us, determination blazing his blue eyes. “There’s a crystal nearby, so I’m going in and fighting it!”

“Are you high?! There’s no way in hades you can win in a fight with them, even with magic!” Ace yelled. He gestured at the creature, who just stood there in front of us, as if they were waiting to attack us. “Stop tapping into your inner shonen protagonist and get the fuck outta here!”

Holy shit! Anime and manga exist in this universe?

I smacked that thought out of my head. Now isn’t the time to think about that! Though, it’s a weird statement coming from a guy that looks like one.

“I agree with Ace,” I said, heart pounding. “That monster is wielding a pickaxe for fuck’s sake!”

“No. I cannot, under any circumstances, be expelled!” Deuce said, glaring at us. He turned around and pointed his pen-wand at the monster. “Come forth—Something Heavy!”

A cauldron slid out of a portal hanging above, clattering on the monster’s shoulder. Somehow the monster’s glass bottle head didn’t shatter on impact. Instead the cauldron fell onto the ground with a dull thud, and the monster stood up and let out a deep, gargling roar.

The faceless monster charged right towards us. Scooping up Grim in my arms, Ace and I rushed into the tunnel in the opposite direction. We ducked behind one of the mine carts inside.

The monster swung a giant fist around. The monster hit Deuce square in the stomach, sending him flying into the cavern wall like a ragdoll. I let out a gasp. Holy shit!

Before I could rush up to him, Deuce stood up again, eyes darting about as if he was in a daze. Okay, good. Deuce is alright.

How the hell is Deuce even conscious after that? No. How the hell is he even alive? A blow like that should’ve killed him! Are mages in this universe able to survive blows like that? Still that’s gonna hurt like hell later.

Okay. Deuce is alive. That’s all that matters right now.

Grim wiggled free from my grasp, flying towards the beast.

“Aren’t you gonna do something?” Ace questioned, gripping onto the cart. “Use your magic to help them!”

“I can’t!” I blurted out. “I’m a non-mage!”

“For real?” Ace said softly, and I nodded.

Ace stared at me for a moment and then just nodded. Wait. Really? No stupid remarks? No going on a long diatribe about how simply absurd that is? Just accepting it just like that? ...Guess he isn’t as much of an ass than I thought.

I peeked my head out from behind the cart. Blue flames burst from Grim’s paw. They spread about the area, but the ink dripping from the monster only put out the fire.

“Their attacks aren’t working!” I blurted out, ducking my head behind the cart again.

“No shit, Basil,” said Ace, sarcasm dripping from his voice. “I totally couldn’t tell that before.”

Okay, Ace had a point. That was a pretty stupid comment. Wait...Basil…?

No. We have to get out of here. And fast. Think, think!

...Wait. I got it!

“On the count of three, push this cart forward.”

“What, why?” Ace asked.

“If we hurl it at the monster, it might give us enough time to distract it.”

Ace stared behind the cart, turning back to me and nodding.

“Okay,” I said. “One, two, three.”

With one hard push, the cart flew down the tracks towards the hulking monster. Holding up my shirt above my nose, I scrambled to my feet and ran towards the others.

As I ran, Ace pushed me aside. My back slammed into the wall, knocking the wind out of me. The hell?

Ace dropped to ground as the giant pickaxe swung above his head, and it pierced the ground a couple metres in front of him. Right where I stood before. The monster plucked it out, going off into another direction. Ace crawled on the ground towards me.

“Thanks,” I said, getting back onto my feet.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ace huffed, standing up.

I rolled my eyes. Either he’s tapping into his inner tsundere or he’s still pissed at me...and an ass, despite everything. Sadly, I would believe either one.

Grim sent another fire attack at the monster, but they still stood tall. Are you kidding me? That creature still isn’t down for the count? God, they’re like an annoying video game boss that just won’t die.

A crystal laid on the ground glittering. If this creature wants a stone so badly, it should distract them and give us enough time to make a break for it.

Picking up a crystal from the ground, I tossed in the other direction away from the others. The monster went after it. Good.

“Retreat, now!” I yelled.

Grim nodded, flying towards me and hopping right on my shoulder. Ace took off in the opposite direction. Deuce ignored me, charging towards the direction of the monster again. Does this guy have a death wish or something? That monster hurled him like a ragdoll before for fuck’s sake! Ugh, no matter.

Rushing towards him, I grabbed the back of his collar. Deuce stopped in his tracks, and he whirled his head around to look at me. I shook my head, pointing in the direction of the exit. Deuce nodded.

We turned around. I rushed in that direction, following the others through the twisting tunnels. Grim dug his claws into my shoulders, clinging to my back for dear life. Small pieces of rock showered down from above as the monster roared. I crossed my arms above my head as I ran in order to protect it.

Light shone right above us. The exit!

Dropping my arms to my side, I pumped them and sprinted the rest of the way up as fast I could towards it. We barreled through the opening, moonlight shining down on us. I ran towards the treeline, stopping in place. I plucked my shirt off of my nose, letting it drop to its normal length. The other guys did the same. 

Grim hopped off of my shoulder and stood on his bottom paws on the ground. “Did we lose them?”

Shaky breaths left me. Glancing over my shoulder, the exit was the exact same as before. No oversized monsters barreling out of the entrance. No Pillsbury Doughboy-looking ghosts coming out to attack us. Nothing. Coast was clear.

“Think so,” I said.

I walked towards one of the trees, leaning against it for support. Holy shit! We almost died in there. But we’re all alive. Scrapped by the skin of our teeth, but alive. That’s what matters.

What the hell was that creature? They were like a murderous, giant version of Grumpy with a jar for a head! Deuce called them an “Overblot” Monster. Are those a common fantasy creature in this universe? Something rare?

And we have to fight that thing off to get that stone. Go back into the mine. Just like the one dad died in. Fuck.

God, I wish I wore my azabache necklace before I was brought into this world. Not that I believe in luck or similar ilk. But it still would’ve brought a piece of mind. Especially after all the bullshit that happened to me thus far.

Ace sighed, pushing his hand against the tree he leaned against and standing up right. “You know what? Screw you guys, I’m going back to the uni.”

Deuce glared daggers at him. “You’re leaving?!”

“Well, yeah.” Ace gave a half-hearted shrug. “We barely got out of there alive. I don’t want to die fighting some Overblot Monster, especially when I’m literally magicless at the moment.”

“What about your collar?” Grim asked, gesturing to it with one of his front paws.

Ace dropped his head down, touching the strange collar around his neck and making an expression I couldn’t place. He ripped his gaze away from us. “I’ll figure something out when I get back home to Lesdium.”

“So, you’re just gonna give up?” Deuce leapt to his feet, giving Ace a cold glare. “There was a magic crystal right in front of us, and you still want to run back?!”

Ace let out a humourless laugh, eyes narrowed. “If you want to go back in there, knock yourself out. But, I’m out.”

“Is that so?” Deuce said, eyes darkened. He charged towards Ace, making a fist. “Fine! Go back to the uni like a spineless coward for all I fucking care! I’m heading back and fetching that crystal myself.”

“Coward, huh?” Ace said, charging towards him. “Judging by the chandelier incident, you’re a complete dumbass. You couldn’t land a single hit on them earlier, so why the hades do you think you would be able to now?”

Deuce glowered and snagged Ace by the collar, slamming him into a nearby tree with enough force to knock the wind out of his lungs. “Come again? Say that again, you fucking coward!”

The guys continued to bicker. The world swirled around me, tuning them out. My fist clenched at my side. Is this it? Am I never getting home? Am I doomed to live in the wild in a fantasy universe? Am I gonna die in this universe fighting off that thing? This is getting out of control. This has to stop. It has too.

My fist hit against the tree trunk as I glared daggers at them, nostrils flared. “Stop fighting!”

The world came back into focus, and the guys fell silent. Shaky breaths escaped my lips. No. I can’t have a fucking meltdown or shutdown. I can’t. That’s the last thing I need right now with everything on the line. Especially in front of people I hardly know. I have to be strong. I will get through this and accomplish this. I just have to. I will.

Grim flinched. “Deuce, did you just change character?”

Deuce dropped his fist to his side and recoiled, letting go of Ace’s shirt collar. Ace bent over, catching his breath. Deuce cleared his throat, the light returning to his eyes. “Forgive me. Just lost my composure.”

“Forget him. What’s up with her?” asked Ace, standing upright. “Does she hate violence or something?”

That’s not it at all. I don’t have a huge aversion to violence. Sure, I freak out at the sight of tons of real life blood and gore, but certainly not to a squabble where no punches were thrown. Hell, I’ve been watching horror movies and shonen anime for years now. I loved reading the Berserk and Tokyo Ghoul  mangas back in my own universe for fuck’s sake! But he can’t know the truth about what really happened. None of these guys can.

“Look,” I said, dodging the question. I straightened my posture, trying to gain back my composure. “This is getting us nowhere. The vice-chancellor gave us until just sunrise to get that magic crystal. I have no idea what time it is, but—”

“It’s half past ten P.M. here,” Deuce said, reading his cell screen, “so one hour less back home.”

“...Right…” I nodded. “It’s nine-thirty back at the university. So that means that we have less than nine hours, give or take, to get that crystal. So instead of wasting our time bickering, we need to put our heads together, and come up with fucking a plan!”

“A plan? Like what? Working together?” Ace snorted. “Ha! Lame. How can you even say something so ridiculous with a serious face?”

Deuce stared at Ace for a moment. He ripped his gaze away, shaking his head. “No way. Can’t do it. There’s no way in hades I can get along with someone like him.”

“We all screwed up to varying degrees,” I said, folding my arms. “Ace and Grim for getting into a huge brawl. Deuce for not thinking through the consequences of his actions for dropping the chandelier. I’m at fault for getting us into this mess in the first fucking place for being unable to prevent the fight from escalating. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. The only way we can get out of this is if we all put aside our differences for a couple hours and work together to nab that stone.”

“Plus…” Grim hesitated. “Isn’t getting expelled and humiliated within the first couple days of attending uni much lamer than working together to defeat a monster?”

Silence burst throughout the woods, crickets chirping nearby. Ace and Deuce paused at Grim’s words. I couldn’t blame them. Wow. I didn’t ever expect him to ever say something like that.

Deuce sighed. “Okay, you guys have a point.”

Ace groaned, crossing his arms. “Fine! Let’s get this over with. So, what’s the plan?”

Never thought of that yet. Fuck.

Chapter Text

Dirt and leaves crunched under my feet as I paced back and forth. Relaxing breaths escaped my lips as I touched my index finger to my thumb on both hands.

Plan’s simple enough. But what if something goes wrong? Anything easily could. I don’t exactly have any backup ideas if anything does. One wrong false and the mine could cave in on us. Just like dad.

Nope. Nope. Can’t think about that. Especially now.

“Do you really think this will actually work?” Grim said, crouched down and his tail between his legs. He cleared his throat, slapping on a more confident expression. “Not that I’m worried or anything, but…”

“Hopefully...” I said, plopping down on the log and dropping my arms to my side.

Grim stared at me. “You don’t sound too convinced in your own plan.”

“I am,” I lied, taking a shaky breath. “Either way, we have to try. We just need to accept our fate, whatever that might be.”

“Gods, both of you guys are way too stiff!” Ace chucked, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. I whirled my head around. Ace stood at the edge of the clearing with a grin tugging on his lips. “Just relax and go with the flow! Everything’ll be fine!”

Easy for him to say…

“Had enough time to cool down?” Ace asked.

“Think so,” I said, and Grim nodded.

“Ready to go?” Ace said, gesturing towards the path towards the mine.

I stood up, shooting him a nervous smile. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Of course!” Grim boasted, standing up and kicking off of the ground to hover in the air. He smirked, pointing at himself. “A badass like me isn’t afraid of this in the slightest!”

I simpered. “Big words coming from someone who was nervous just a few seconds ago.”

“You were too!”

I shrugged. “Eh, touche.”

Ace ignored us and strolled ahead towards the mine, hands in his pockets.

...Shit. That’s right.

“Grim,” I said, stopping in my tracks. “Try to cover your nose and mouth as much as possible while you’re down in the mines. Just to be on the safe side.”

Grim tilted his head. “Why?”

“Breathing in coal dust for months or years on end can turn your lungs black. Coal miners had a lot of trouble with that back in the day.”

Grim’s ears dropped, and he tensed up, eyes wide. Shit!

“Uh...Don’t worry.” I winced, letting out a nervous laugh. “You should be completely fine going down there these couple of times. No black lungs at all. I promise.”

Grim bristled and growled, his tail swishing back and forth. “You didn’t tell me about this before, why?!”

I put up my hands defensively. “I was having a...moment back then, and it slipped my mind.”

Grim took a deep breath. He huffed, sticking his nose up the air. “Fine. But you owe me a bunch of tuna later, and I won’t forget about that until you do!”

“Actually, that’s pretty fair.”

His ears shot back up, shooting me a shit-eating grin. “Of course. I’m just awesome like that.”

I groaned. Wasn’t worth it.

Though, why didn’t Ace or Deuce say anything? They put the top hems of their shirts over their mouths, too. They seemed a bit more level-headed while we were down in the tunnels.

...Then again, it could’ve slipped their minds as well. This has been a stressful night for all of us. Them included.

“Are you two coming or what?” Ace called out.

“Yes!” I yelled back as Grim perched on my shoulder, gripping on hard.

Twigs whacked my legs as I ran out of the clearing towards him and Ace. Stepping out the clearing, Deuce and Ace stood on opposite sides of it. I walked in front of the entrance and stood between them.

“Remember the plan and your positions?” I asked, playing with the hem of my jeans.

“Yup!” Ace nodded, holding out his pen-wand.

“Same here,” Deuce said, whipping out his pen-wand from his pocket.

Grim kicked off of my shoulder and floated in the air, tossing me a shit-eating grin. “You know it!”

I took a deep breath, fixing my eyes on the dark abyss and playing with the hem of my jeans. Nope. No. This is never gonna work. I’m just gonna get us all killed thanks to my stupidity. Just like dad.

No. This is just like a video game. As someone who’s into gaming, the odds are kinda in my favour. But still..This better fucking work…

I smirked. “Let’s do this!”

The guys cheered. Deuce and Ace put the top hems of their shirts over their nose. Grim put his paw over his mouth. I pulled the top hem of my shirt over my nose and mouth. “Lead the way, Ace!”

Ace pressed the side of his phone and it gave off a soft glow. The guys bolted inside of the mine shaft. I followed them, weaving through several tunnels.

When we turned around a corner, a familiar red light glowed just ahead. Okay, that must be the monster.

I burst forward through the tunnel enterance and ducked behind a closeby beam. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I peeked out from behind it. The monster stood in the same exact spot as before, staring off into space. Seriously, did they just stand there the whole time? God, they’re like a murderous Grumpy lawn ornament.

I quickly rushed forward and ran along the tunnel wall, ducking behind a nearby rock formation. The others crouched down behind it beside me. Ace put his phone in his hoodie pocket.

I pointed at Grim, and then jutted my finger in the monster’s direction. Grim nodded. He popped out of the hiding spot, racing to the opposite side of the tunnel from us.

“Hey, beasty!” Grim leapt about, blue flames striking behind him. “Over here!”

The monster whirled around, facing the cat.

“IT’S MIIIIINE!” the monster yelled, swinging the lantern. Grim hopped to the side, dodging the attack. Good thing he did. That seemed like it would’ve killed him on impact if it landed.

Ace blotted from the hiding place, running towards the back of the tunnel and the twinkling light.

Scrambling to my feet, I turned around the rock pillar. I ran forward, and stopped a few metres away from Grim.

“Hey, ugly!” I yelled, waving my arms about. The monster focused their attention on me. “Over here!”

“GOOO HOOOOOOME!” the monster screeched.

Believe me, I would if I could. Freak.

“LEEEAAAAAVE!” the monster yelled. “THE STONE IS MIIIINE!”

The monster charged right towards me, holding up their pickaxe. I tensed up. Oh shit.

Pressing my back against a nearby rock formation, I took a deep breath. It’s now or never...

“Now, fetch!” I yelled. I hurled the crystal, and it landed right in the dead centre of the tunnel. Fuck ya! Bullseye.

The monster whirled around and put the lantern beside them. They lumbered towards the centre of the mineshaft, ignoring the rest of us. Grim scurred towards me, and perched on my shoulder. I ran towards Deuce and crouched down beside him.

“Okay,” I said quietly as I could. “Drop the cauldron on my mark.”

Deuce nodded. He took a deep breath, peeking his head out and focusing on the monster.

I put up my index finger.

The monster stood beside the crystal, dirt kicking up in the air.

I put up my index and middle finger.

The monster leaned forward, reaching for the crystal.

“Three, now!” I said, pointing at them.

Deuce pointed his pen-wand at the monster. “Come forth—Something Heavy! Super Large Cauldron!”

A metal cauldron about the size of a king-sized bed materialized right above the monster. The cauldron slammed down on the top of the monster’s shoulder. The monster buckled over from the added weight, falling to the ground. The pickaxe they wielded clattered to the ground beside them as the creature let out a thunderous roar.

“Ha!” Grim cheered. “Nice work! That monster's flat as a pancake under that cauldron!”

“Thanks,” Deuce said, smiling up at him.

“No prob,” Grim said. “Though, you are only about as half as badass as me.”

Deuce clenched his free fist, glaring up at him. Grim let out a small growl. Shit!

“Uh…” I winced. “Focus on the task at hand, guys.”

“Right,” Deuce said.

“LEEEAAAAAVE!” the monster bellowed, squirming underneath the shaking cauldron. Bits of debris fell from the ceiling, and the walls of the tunnel shook.

The monster reached out towards us. I paused. My face dropped. Is the monster…?

“The cue?” Deuce said through his teeth.

I snapped out of what came over me. Right...

“Now, squarely on the blub!” I yelled, pointing at the monster.

Deuce nodded. “Come forth—Something Heavy! Cauldron!”

Another blue light shone above the monster, growing larger and larger. Deuce and I ducked behind the rock pillar completely. I crossed one arm over my face to protect it.

A loud smash echoed throughout the cavern when the cauldron landed and shattered the glass bulb. A gust of air nearly knocked me over. Grim clung onto my shoulder hard. The ink monster gurgled and choked, more splatters echoing in the air.

Silence hit my ears. My arms dropped to my side, and I opened my eyes. My nose crinkled. Glass shards littered the ground. Splotches of ink painted many of the rocks and crystals. Nothing remained of the monster or their items besides a pile of red goop on the ground.

“Gah!” Grim grimaced, hopping down and standing on all fours near us. “Gross.”

My thoughts exactly.

Still...was the monster just pleading for our help or mercy? Like a person?

No. That’s not the case. It can’t be. They were just ready to attack us or something like a soulless minion.

“Come on,” I said, standing up. “We should help Ace find that crystal.”

Deuce scrambled to his feet. We turned around, and Ace emerged from the tunnel beside us.

“Oh, you got it already?” I asked.

“Yup,” Ace said, standing nearby us. He held up a twinkling crystal the size and shape of a football in the air with one hand. The inside of the crystal glowed red and green. Wow thing is huge. Not surprised since the Vice-Chancellor mentioned it would be large. But still, damn.

Grim crouched down. His ears perked up, eyes darting around the cavern. “Is that the last of it?”

I dusted off my jeans. “Unless more Overblot Monsters spawn out of nowhere or that monster has another more powerful form, we’re good.”

Grim stared up at me, tensed up. “That’s possible?”

Shit. Do video games exist in this universe? I know cells, computers, anime and manga do. But even then, I can’t automatically assume video games exist here, too. Who knows what does and doesn’t exist here.

“In video games, yeah.” Ace shrugged. “But considering this is real life, like she said, we’re good.”

Took a will of might to not sigh in relief. Okay, good. Those do exist here. Adding those to the list of “Things that Surprisingly, but I’m Super Glad Actually Exist in this Universe.” Right beside computers, anime and manga. At least I won’t go forever without playing any video games either. Wonder what types of games exist in this universe.

...Wow. I worked together with these guys and managed to kill off a real life equivalent to a video game boss. We all lived to tell the tale. And one that looks like a soulless, evil version of Grumpy, no less. As a bonus, we got the crystal that the vice-chancellor wanted.

“Holy shit!” I smiled, letting out a nervous laugh. My hands flapped up and down slightly. “We're alive! We actually did it!”

“Fuck yeah!” Deuce cheered, pumping his fists into the air. “We beat it!”

Ace broke out into laughter. “And totally kicked their ass!”

Grim leapt onto my shoulder. Standing upright, he kicked off of my shoulder and floated in the air. He beamed, sticking out a paw for all of us to see. “Victory high-five!”

“Yay!” we all cheered. Each of the three of us smacked our hands against the cat’s paw.

I shot them a cheeky smile. “Wow. This must be that whole ‘adversity bringing people together’ thing the legends speak about."

The guys all jumped at that.

Deuce blushed. “It’s not like that!”

“Y-Yeah,” Ace stammered, giving me a rather forced scowl. “Could you stop saying such bizarre things?”

“We won thanks to my genius!” Grim boasted. The other two broke out into smiles themselves, chuckling quietly. “Not because we ‘worked together’ or something super cheesy like that.”

Ace rubbed the back of his neck with a sheepish grin on his face. “Making up excuses is rather lame. As much as I hate to admit it, it was thanks to your plan that we won.”

“No, I—” I began, but Deuce cut me off, shooting me a smile.

“He’s right. It’s because you gave us those instructions that we were able to get the crystal at all. Thanks to you, we’ll be able to avoid expulsion!” His shoulders slumped over, and he let out a heavy sigh. “Thank the fucking gods and goddesses.”

My cheeks heated up, and I turned away, hiding my face with one hand. Holy shit. They actually really think that about me? I never got complimented like that in eons. Sure, people have complimented me online on my art posts back in my world, but never in person. Nothing to this degree. Even mom and Roy never give positive feedback like that. Especially for a stupid plan where anything could've easily went wrong.

“Besides,” Ace said, “it was your idea from the start. Give yourself credit.”

“Guess you're right,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck.

Ace simpered. “Aw, are you flustered by what we said?”

My cheeks grew even hotter. “Shut up!”

Grim twitched his nose. “What’s that smell?”

Grim walked on the ground on all fours. We all followed him curiously, avoiding the glass littering the place. Grim stopped right in front of the remains of the monster, and my eyes dropped.

A small, black crystal rested in the middle of the pile of red muck. That must’ve came from the monster after they were defeated. God, that Overblot Monster is even more like a video game boss.

Grim picked up the black crystal in his paws and held it up to his face, sniffing it. “It smells really good. Like candy.”

Wait. Is he actually going to eat that...?

Nope, nope. Can’t have that.

Just as I lunged forward and stuck out my arm, Deuce swiped the black crystal away from Grim, tossing it far away from us. He pointed his pen-wand at it. The black crystal crumbled away until it turned to dust.

Grim hissed with his back arched, hair standing on end. “What the hades?”

Deuce scowled. “Overblot Crystals are super dangerous.”

“He’s right,” Ace added. “Even merely just holding onto those crystals for months on end have nasty side effects like getting blot in your Soul Crystal, making you slowly go crazy and eventually making you transform into that thing yourself. I can’t imagine what eating one would do, even for your kind.”

Grim made a face. “Well, I’m not eating one of those. Ever. That’s for sure.”

Can’t really blame Grim for reacting like that. What the fuck? They make it sound like that’s the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings movies. No, it’s worse than that. At least the One Ring in those movies didn’t literally transform you into a monster from what I remember.

What do they mean by “blot”, exactly? And “Soul Crystals'', for that matter? I really need to look into those later.

“Why didn’t yo—?” Deuce began.

“Instead of eating an Overblot Crystal out of desperation, let’s go back to the uni and go eat real food.” Ace groaned. “I swear I’m so knackered and hungry that I’m ready to pass out.”

I raised a brow. “You’re sure worried about this now, huh?”

“I agree.” Deuce crossed his arms. “We should speak to the vice-chancellor before we even think of that.”

“We have several hours to spare until dawn,” Ace said, tucking the stone under his arm, “so we can easily grab a quick bite at the dining hall, and then talk to the vice-chancellor.”

“Now you’re talking my language!” Grim smiled, posture relaxing. “I used up so much magic today that my tummy is mad at me.”

“Fine,” Deuce said, shoulders slumping. “Using up a lot of magic made me work up an appetite.”

“Wouldn’t that be closed at this hour?” I asked, brows pinched together.

Ace shrugged. “It usually closes at midnight on weeknights, so we have plenty of time.”

“Are we even allowed to now?”

“Who cares?” Ace said. “The vice-chancellor never kicked us out yet, so technically we’re still allowed too. If not, it’s their loss.”

My stomach growled. Well, I never ate much supper. I doubt I would be able to eat until lunch otherwise, considering there’s no food back in my shithole of a dorm, and I’m only allowed to eat in the cafeteria for free.

“Sure,” I said with a shrug. “Let’s do that.”

“Great,” Ace said.

Ace and Deuce paused, focusing on the pile of black dust and what remained of the monster. Silence exploded throughout the cavern, and our eyes became downcast.

Ace flicked his gaze towards Deuce before he nodded at their silent agreement. Deuce rummaged in his pocket, pulling out a coin. He pointed his pen-wand at the coin, letting go of it. The coin flew in the air, and it landed straight in the pile of black dust.

Ace slapped on his usual confident expression. “With that outta the way, now let’s go.”

Ace turned around, strolling away in the direction of the exit. Grim flew beside him.

“Way ahead of you,” Deuce said, rushing after him.

I walked alongside the others. What’s with that monster? Are those common here? Why did that creature seem like a person struggling at the end? Why did those guys go silent and toss a coin in the dust pile?

Chapter Text

Moonlight flooded through the window right next to us in the cafeteria as I sat down at a table with the others, munching on my remainder of the veggies on my tray. The others munched down on their towering piles of food.

My eyes flicked towards the window. The same statues of the Disney villains stood outside in the distance. Usually statues are made to honour dead people. Those villains are real people here. Important figures who are tied to this university somehow. Does that mean people in this universe idolize the Disney villains? Or is this universe like one of those Role Reversal fanfics where the villains in the original story are more morally grey while the heroes are a lot more twisted? Or what? Really hope it’s the latter, and don’t even want to think about the former.

“Zoning out?” Ace mused.

I snapped my gaze back on them. “Uh…”

Ace chuckled. “Take that as a yes.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said with a playful smirk. “Laugh it up.”

Deuce took a bite of his egg salad sandwich and swallowed it. “Though, I want to ask you something.”

“Shoot,” I said, snagging the last carrot on the tray.

“What was up with you back there?”

Taking a bite of my carrot and quickly eating that bite, my brows furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“Yeah,” Ace added. “Honestly, I’m wondering the same thing. When you were down in the mine, you seemed pretty tense compared to now. Even when me and Juice—”

His eyes sharpened. “For the last time, it’s Deuce!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ace said, waving dismissively. “When we were fighting, you seemed to be freaked out about something. So, what’s the deal?”

I tensed up. Do they even know what autism is in this universe? It seems fairly advanced with cells and computers existing. But at the same time, all-boys universities, something that died out eons ago in my own world, still exist. How advanced is this universe in that regard? If they don’t know what it is, they would no doubt question that and my origins even more.

Chewing and swallowing the late bite of his sandwich, Deuce stared at me. “Are you okay?”

Putting the carrot down on my plate, I awkwardly fiddled with the hem of my jean pocket. “Look. As long as a fight isn’t a real life bloodbath or super brutal, I’m a-okay with it. Honestly, I’m into some pretty violent video games, manga and anime.”

Ace furrowed his brows, snatching up a french fry. “Again, what’s the deal then?”

I played with the hem of my pocket. How do I explain what happened without mentioning by name that I’m autistic and was on the verge of a shutdown or meltdown? Come on. Think, think.

Wait. Got it…

“The last couple days have been super stressful and intense for me. Probably some of the most stressful in my whole life. I know that sounds like I'm exaggerating, but it's the truth.” Frowning, I continued to twiddle with the top of my jean pocket. “Add on the fact that my dad passed away during a mine cave-in, and I was no longer able to take it.”

Deuce frowned. “Sorry for your loss.”

“Same here,” Ace added.

“Thanks,” I said. “But my dad died when I was a baby, so I never had much of a connection with him to begin with.”

The two nodded.

“But anyways, I just retreated into my head and freaked out internally for a bit, even going nonverbal.” I gave them a small smile. “Now that I had time to decompress and we got the stone, I’m better now.”

Grim smirked. “And she also just tends to be super anxious like that in general.”

I tossed him a deadpan stare. “Thanks, Grim. Truly appreciate the compliment.”

Grim smiled proudly. “You’re welcome.”

I blinked, staring at Grim as he went back to devouring his plate of food. Is Grim being a smartass or sincere? Can’t really tell by the look on his face. It could be either or.

“Okay.” Picking up the carrot again, I pointed it at Ace. “I got a question for you.”

Ace took a bite of the last fry on his plate, quickly chewing and swallowing it. “Shoot.”

“Why didn’t you make any rude remarks when I said I was a non-mage back inside of mine?”

“My dad’s a non-mage, so I’m used to being around someone who has that and just learnt not to never underestimate people who struggle with it.”

The other two guys stared at him in disbelief, gaping at him.

“What?” Ace barked. He shrugged casually, popping the remainder of the fry in his mouth. “I’m not that big of a dickhead.”

Guess that confirms it. Being magicless is considered a disability in this universe. Sadly, it's probably just another way how I’m marginalized in this universe, considering how dicks treated me back home for being autistic among many other things.

Ace’s brows bunched together. “Why would you ask that?”

Grim crouched down, tail tucked underneath his body and ears flat against his head. Shit! Granted, I’m still pissed about Grim calling me useless last night. But by the looks of things, I don’t think he meant it. Last thing I need is for Ace and Grim to get into another fist fight.

“Just some people made some bad comments about that in the past,” I said, “so it just came to mind.”

Ace nodded. Grim’s ears perked up again, and he went back to stuffing his mouth full of tuna, ignoring the rest of the world.

“Though,” Ace said, “that makes me even more confused about why you’re at Night Raven to begin with.”

“Same here,” Deuce said, brows furrowed. “If you’re a girl and a non-mage, then why? I understand you are staff, but that still doesn’t explain a whole lot.”

Taking a bite of the carrot, I quickly chomped down on it, and swallowed it. “Honestly, I’m not sure myself.”

“How?” Ace said. His brows pinched together, and he put his arm on the table, leaning forward slightly. “Unless a teleportation spell went horribly wrong and you popped out in a random place, surely you must know that.”

God, Ace has no idea how right about that he is. But still…

“I’m not exactly meant to be here to begin with.”

“Yeah,” Ace said, eying me. “You said that before. But, why can’t you go home? Don’t you have a home and family to get back to?”

What Ace said are legit questions. Hell, I’m wondering the same thing. I wish it was just as easy as a commute or something. That mirror is magical, so you would think it would be able to take me home. But of course it can’t, because fuck me.

“Are you going to answer?” Ace mused.

“Just shut up!” I snapped, just wanting to end the conversation. Ace and Deuce flinched, merely just staring at me and blinking. Taking a calming breath, I crossed my arms, pinching them hard to stim. “I really don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”

Despite going on a fetch quest adventure with these guys, I just met them. I can’t tell these guys the truth. No one can know that. Even if I wanted to, how do I explain something unbelievable as being from another dimension?

“It’s fine. You don’t have to tell us,” Deuce said. He smiled, running a hand through his hair. “After all, we just met, so it would be rather awkward.”

A small smile tugged on my lips. “Thanks.”

Ace groaned. “Fine, whatever. Guess it doesn’t matter that much.”

Ace stared off into space for a moment.

“Wait a second,” Ace said. He whirled around, eyes narrowed at me. “How do we know you're not a spy or something?”

“I wish.” I grinned. “If I was a badass super spy, I probably would have been able to take down that Overblot Monster by merely staring them down.”

If that was the case, I would’ve been able to stop that stupid fight from happening in the first place. Hell, a lot of things would be a lot easier. For one, I would be able to actually fight off whoever summoned me to this universe in hand-to-hand combat. Finding a way back to my world would be a cinch if I could just teleport back home like in the movies.

Ace shot me a mischievous grin. “How? You’re non-mage.”

“Gadgets,” I said. “Sprung from the forehead of Zeus.”

Deuce snickered. The grin on Ace’s face broadened. “Sure. Eh, it’s a stupid question. You’d make a horrid spy. I’ve only known you for less than a day, even I can tell you’d be too anxious and far too stressed out for that.”

“Whatever you say.”

Deuce tossed his wrapper into the trash. Standing up, he pulled out his cell, staring down at the screen for a moment.

“It’s getting late.” Deuce put his cell in his hoodie pocket, snatching up the crystal from the table. “We should really speak to the vice-chancellor to get our expulsion rescinded.”

“Right,” Ace said.

“Grim, come on.” I stood up. “We need to see the vice-chancellor.”

“Ugh, fine,” Grim grumbled.

“Actually, where is the vice-chancellor's office?” Deuce asked.

Ace stood up, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Second door to the right when you go up the nearby staircase.”

“That close, huh?” I said.

Ace shrugged. “Pretty much.”

Grim launched off of the bench, hovering in the air. “Going there. Catch me if you can!”

Grim took off, flying out of the cafeteria. Blue flames streaked behind him.

Alright. So, that’s how he’s gonna play it? Fine. Challenge accepted.

Snagging the water bottle to drink from later, I took off after Grim like he was a strange cat version of a mechanical hare, weaving through the many tables to reach the exit. I brushed past the remains of the chandelier laid in the middle of the room… No doubt I have to clean up tomorrow. Which will be fun. Because fuck my life.

Pushing that thought out of my head, I ran out of the room and turned around the corner. Grim hovered up in the air right above the last step of the staircase with arms crossed, staring down right at me. Not surprised, really. Since he cheated. No matter.

I climbed up each of the steps. I never dared to glance over my shoulder, pushing myself harder.

My boot slammed down when I reached the top floor. I tried to catch my breath. That took a lot more out of me than I thought. Even without the work boots, I think that still would've done that. Guess that’s what only doing at home workouts and short three km runs due to the Covid-19 restrictions does to a person. God, I really need to start running more to get back in shape.

“Ha!” Grim smirked. “I’m the fastest.”

“Well,” I said, breathing normally, “you flew up here.”

“Whatever,” Grim said. “Still beat ya.”

“Sure, sure. Whatever you wanna believe.”

His eyes narrowed. “What was that, henchman?”

“Nothing,” I said. My brows pinched together. “Stop calling me that. It’s Addie.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

I groaned, taking a swig of water. God, despite everything, he’s still a little shit. Like the annoying younger sibling I never had, except we don’t have the luxury of being connected in any way before yesterday. Making him all the more hard to put up. 

Deuce rushed up the stairs. Ace followed a few moments after. He panted, bending over and placing his hands on his thighs. “How the hades are you faster than us?”

I shrugged, twisting the cap back on the water bottle. “I’m a runner.”

Grim grinned. “I can fly.”

“I’m a runner, too.” Deuce shrugged. “Was on the track and field team last year back in high school.”

I hummed. “Cool.”

Though, high school? Could’ve sworn those were called secondary schools in a few European countries and this place seems to be somewhere in fantasy Europe. Fantasy universe, different rules, I guess.

Then again, maybe not. I went to a secondary school as well, despite being Canadian and those being called high schools in other provinces. Could be like that here, too.

Who knows. Hard to say.

“Still don’t why we did something as cheesy as seeing who can run up here the fastest?” Ace said, standing up right. “What are we? Little kids?”

I simpered. “You’re only saying that because you were the slowest.”

“Sod off,” Ace grumbled.

The other two chuckled while I rolled my eyes. Hard to believe that I only knew these guys for less than a day, and we’re already joking around with each other. All this despite what happened in the cafeteria earlier. Guess there really is nothing that brings people closer together faster than going on a near death fetch quest.

“Oh, right.” I turned towards Deuce. “Got the crystal?”

“Of course!” he said, holding it up proudly.

I grinned. “Alright, let’s do this!”

We walked just down the hall to where a set of wooden doors with a plaque saying “Dire Crowley: Vice-Chancellor” beside it. Deuce did the honours, knocking on the huge, wooden doors. “Vice-chancellor, we’ve returned!”

“Come on in!” Vice-Chancellor Crowley yelled.

The doors burst open, and we entered while Grim hovered in the air. Lilac walls decorated the room with dark grey bricks lining the walls near the ceiling. Purple curtains with olive green stars and moons on them hung from black rods. The Vice-Chancellor sat behind a large, wooden desk. Portraits of the same Disney villains from before hung behind the desk. I could practically feel them staring into my soul. Judging me.

Vice-Chancellor Crowley stood up, yellow eyes turning into pinpricks. “What happened to you?”

Deuce showed off the magic crystal. “We went to the mine and retrieved what you asked for.”

Deuce passed it to him. Vice-Chancellor Crowley held up the crystal close to his face, probably examining it for imperfections. He breathed on it, the fog on the crystal’s surface disappearing right away. He grabbed a glass of water from his desk and scraped the crystal against it, scratching the glass surface.

“It’s real.” Vice-Chancellor Crowley set the crystal on his desk. “You really went to Dwarfs' Mine to find a magic crystal?”

“Huh?” I said, blinking at him. Where the hell does he think we got the crystal from? The Underpants Gnomes? He was the one who sent us down there to find it in the first place.

“I didn’t think you actually would go through with it…huh...” Vice-Chancellor Crowley gave us a sheepish smile. “And to think while you were away working so hard, I completed the paperwork for Mister Trappola and Spade’s expulsions.”

“You, what?!” I blurted out, glaring daggers at me.

He seriously sent us on a fetch quest into a mine with a monster inside, despite not believing we’d go through with it?! Doubt he knew about the monster. But still, monster or not, we could’ve died in there! And he had the nerve to tell that straight to our faces?! God, this guy is worse than fucking Dumbledore!

“The nerve of this guy!” Grim bristled, crossing his arms while still hovering in the air. “Doing that while we were off fighting some crazy beast!”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley blinked. “Beast?”

“Yes. There was an Overblot Monster lurking inside of the mine, guarding the crystal.” Ace scowled. “It was just as awful as I heard. They were covered in ink and crazy strong and everything.”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley tapped his chin, moving so that his hair ruffled slightly to reveal ears with a very slight tip on top of each of them. “Could you explain in more detail?”

“When we ventured deeper into the mines where the magic crystal was, an Overblot Monster guarded it. They wielded a pickaxe and tried to stab us with it.” Deuce grimaced. “They even hurled me against a wall.”

I grimaced. God, that looked super painful. Still not sure how the hell he’s not in a coma after that. Magical powers or not, you’d think being hurled against a wall by a huge monster would greatly injure him at the very least.

Ace flicked his gaze towards Deuce, crossing his arms. His eyes narrowed. “You know that wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t try to fight the Overblot Monster one-on-one like a dumbass.”

“Mister Trappola, language!” Vice-Chancellor Crowley scolded, covering his ears up.

Ace rubbed the back of his neck. “Right, my bad.”

“Anyways,” Deuce said with an edge to his voice, ignoring the previous remark. He took a deep breath. “Since nothing seemed to work, we retreated and took some time to recover.”

“She came up with a plan. We went back into the mines where the monster was. She and Grim distracted the Overblot Monster for a bit while I retrieved the crystal. Then, she tossed a random crystal into the centre of the mine, and then the monster took the bait, trying to pick it up. And then…” Ace paused, turning to Deuce. “What did you do again?”

Deuce groaned, eyes hardened. “Dropped a cauldron on the bulb?”

“Right, that.” Ace waved him off. “And the bulb shattered on impact, taking them down instantly. I snagged a crystal, and we came back here with several hours to spare.”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley hummed, tapping his chin. “So you’re telling me that you four worked together to bring back the magic crystal?”

“We didn’t work together, par say…” Ace stammered, rubbing the back of his neck again. “It was more like...uh…”

Deuce folded his arms. “It was more like our interests aligned.”

I rolled my eyes. Sure, whatever you say, tsunderes. We’ll go with that.

The Vice-Chancellor didn’t say a single word. He just stood there, staring at us with unblinking eyes, like some bizarre raven-looking scarecrow. I squinted. What’s his problem? Is he alright?

He stumbled forwards, putting both hands on his desk to prevent him from toppling over. He brought a hand up to his face, whimpering and choking up.

“Are you okay?” I asked. The Vice-Chancellor never answered and just let out a loud wail, sobbing rather hard. Flinching at the outburst, I set the water bottle on his desk, and then clapped my hands on my ears to drown out at least some of the noise.

“What’s with this guy?” Grim asked. “And why is he bursting into tears?”

I pursed my lips. That is the billion dollar question right now. That’s for sure…

The Vice-Chancellor sniffled, wiping the tears from his eyes carefully in order to not cut himself with his metal claws. “I just can’t believe this. In all of my years of being vice-chancellor, nothing like this has ever happened before. I’m so proud of all of you.”

I dropped my hands to my sides. Oh, okay. So those were tears of joy. That makes way more sense. Still it’s rather odd and kinda unsettling watching a vice-chancellor of a university burst into tears out of nowhere. Deuce and Ace seemed like they could give less of a shit, though.

The Vice-Chancellor stood upright, shifting his gaze towards me and slapping on a more calm composure. “It also affirms a theory of mine about you, Miss Strano-García.”

Tensing up, I arched a brow. “And what would that be?”

He beamed. “That you have the talent of a beast tamer!”

“A what now?” I said. Me? A beast tamer? Yeah, right. I could barely train Morgana to use the litter box when she was a kitten! How the hell am I supposed to tame all sorts of mythical beasts? What about me gave him that idea?

“As you might’ve been able to tell by now,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, “the mages who attend this uni are are a rather prideful lot. As such, they don't have the slightest inkling to work with others.”

I noticed that, too. Guess some of the students in this place are the haughty sort, then. Makes sense. This place seems like one of those super posh, elite universities like Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge or Oxford, but a magical version. But what does that have to do with anything?

“Despite that, you managed to tame these two selfish, egotistical students right here,” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley, gesturing to Ace and Deuce, “and got them to cooperate, even though you cannot use magic. But, maybe, precisely because you can’t use magic, you are able to instruct mages and get them to cooperate. That mediocrity is exactly what this uni needs right now!”

My cheeks grew hot. Okay, his comment made more sense. But still, I don’t know whether to laugh my ass off at him saying that I tamed Ace and Deuce, or be insulted by him calling me mediocre. ...Okay, maybe I am mediocre in comparison, since, you know, I can’t use magic. Even my autistic ass knows that’s not something you ever blurt out at someone!

Grim scowled. “Now, he’s insulting everyone!”

Leaning towards Deuce, Ace whispered, “Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with Grim.”

Agreed too. Ain’t that the fucking truth.

“I have no doubt that your very presence here is essential to this uni’s future.” Vice-Chancellor Crowley smiled. “Along with rescinding Mister Trappola and Spade’s expulsions, I want to offer you and...Grim the opportunity to attend uni here if you so desire.”

“What?!” the guys blurted out, eyes nearly popping out of their heads.

What? As awesome as going to a magical university sounds, I can’t even use it. All I would do is stand in the corner awkwardly all day and watch as other cast spells like one of those gnome lawn ornaments. Being the only girl in a university like this bound to cause some issue, wouldn’t it? Plus, I still want to find a way back to my world or contact my family, first and foremost.

I need time to think about this, but I doubt the Vice-Chancellor would, since he’s springing this up out of fucking nowhere. God, I hate being put on the spot like this!

“Hang on. I have some questions. For one, how would that work?” I asked. “I can’t use magic.”

“Well, like you said, you cannot use magic, so obtaining a degree in any area here is out of the question for you. All the while, obviously, Grim has magic of his own.” One side of Vice-Chancellor Crowley’s lip tugged up. “Therefore, I want to offer you both a deal.”

My eyes narrowed. “And what would that be?”

“You and Grim will each be enrolled here as part-time students in the general studies program. Grim will cover half, including all potential ones that include magic, while you cover the other. But your marks will be combined at the end of each term, determining if you two pass or fail. See it as if you two are combined to be one full-time student in the eyes of the uni.”

Grim’s eyes lit up. “You mean that I can attend uni as a student?”

“Yes,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, and he turned to me, narrowing his eyes, “only if she takes the offer, too.”

Wait a go for putting on extra pressure on me to make a decision. Dick.

“Also, how am I able to attend here if this is an all-boys university?” I asked. “I’m a girl.”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley hummed. “You are correct. However, there are some exceptions to that rule on occasion for some genderfluid, agender, and non-binary people attend uni here already."

“He’s right.” Ace shoved his hands into his hoodie pockets. “One of my brother’s friends while attending here was non-binary.”

That’s another plus to this universe. At least it seems like it’s progressive in regards to LGBTQ people.

That’s awesome! No, super awesome! Guess me being bi really wouldn’t be an issue here. One less thing to worry about.

“Accepting one girl and...Grim will do only wonders for the uni’s reputation,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “If you two decide to attend, it would show off how flexible our administration is. Especially compared to Royal Sword Academy.”

Both Ace and Deuce made expressions I couldn’t pin down. But still, these guys must have an Oxford and Cambridge style rivalry with that other university. Pretty sure Sahar mentioned something like that once.

Does that make Night Raven College this universe’s version of Oxford? ...okay, maybe not. But the school rivalries and them both being all-boys schools at some point makes them at least have some things in common. Still...

“So if we take up this offer, you want to use us as a publicity stunt?” I questioned.

Ace and Deuce burst out laughing.

“When you put it like that,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, “yes.”

Ace and Deuce stifled their laughter. I stared at Plague Doctor Birdman, brows pinched. Wait to be blunt about it.

The Vice-Chancellor clasped his hands behind his back. “To tell you the truth, the chancellor and I have been in talks of phasing out the fact this is an all-boys uni for a few years now. We’re in the process of doing the legwork that would allow anyone of any gender to attend uni here, including women. That change was supposed to begin autumn of next year. However, if you two decide to take up this offer, you can just say that we kicked off the process sooner and that Miss Strano-García is just the first girl to ever attend before all of the others. Which shouldn’t be an issue.”

Honestly, good for them...Even if those were phased out over a hundred years ago in my own dimension…

“Would you give Grim and I privacy, if we take this deal?” I asked. “Or are you gonna put everything about us on full blast in the media?”

“Of course I’ll give you privacy,” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley. “Anything else would be against my best interests.”

Okay, makes sense. He mentioned before that he didn’t want to reveal that I’m from another dimension. I doubt he would change his mind about that and other things now. At least that’d be one less thing to worry about if I take this deal.

Still wonder why it would be against his best interests to reveal that, though. I don’t see how it would. Isn’t that suspicious as fuck.

Wait a sec. Maybe…

“Would I still have to work here if I take this deal?” I asked with a small smile. Please say no. Please say no. Please say no.

“Yes, you’ll just have part-time hours instead of full.”

My smile faltered. Goddammit. So much for that…

Ace stared at me, brows furrowed, but didn’t say anything. Deuce and Grim seemed to give less of a shit.

“Do you want to take up my offer?” Vice-Chancellor Crowley asked.

I fiddled with the hem of my jean pocket. This university idolizing some of the Disney villains is weird. Vice-Chancellor Crowley gives off more and more suspicious vibes by the hour. Hell, the fact that he wants me to attend school here so badly gives off so many red flags.

Attending university here even part-time would be better than being left to fend for myself in the wild in an alternate dimension or slaving away scrubbing floors all day in the hot sun like some low-budget Cinderella. Less time I spend cleaning, the better. With possibility of the person who summoned me living outside of the university still being on the table, it would be a lot safer to stay here where I have some form of protection. I could always search the library or find some other way to get back to my own world in my off time. I was planning to start attending university this year back home, if it wasn’t for that stupid pandemic, so I’d be just getting a head start.

All of Grim’s actions, including trying to roast me alive in order to take those weirdass occult robes, were because he wanted to attend this university here super badly. Grim helped fight off the Overblot Monster. I still owe him for that…and I still need to give him more tuna later. 

I nodded. “I do.”

Yellow eyes flicked towards the cat. “What about you, Grim?”

Grim nodded, suppressing tears. “Yes.”

“Wonderful!” Vice-Chancellor Crowley smiled. “Grim, as a symbol of your status as a student at Night Raven College, I want to give you this.”

The Vice-Chancellor snapped his fingers. A purple light shone around Grim’s neck. Once the light faded, another small, lavender gem dangled from his collar beside his old one.

“It’s a magic crystal!” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley. “Students usually attach these to the bands wrapped around their arms. But since you have a collar around your neck, I thought it would be easier this way.”

“I did it! I did it! I’m so cool,” Grim said, beaming and pumping his fist in the air. His tail swished rapidly. “I’m gonna be a badass super mage!”

My eyes lit up. As much as I hoped Grim didn’t do anything else annoying in the future and still pissed about him trying to roast me alive yesterday, I couldn’t help but feel happy for him. All of his efforts seemed to have finally paid off for him, and now he can attend university here as a student.

“However, Miss Strano-García,” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley, flicking his gaze towards me, “it’s up to you to reel Grim in to prevent him from causing anymore mischief.”

Wait, what?

...Okay, that’s probably fair in his eyes, considering he still thinks Grim is my familiar. But still, he has no idea how hard of an undertaking that would be.

Deuce tapped his chin. “I see. That would make you a head prefect, right?”

The...what? A prefect? Someone mentioned something like that last night while I hid in that away in that utility closet. Given the context, it could be a hall monitor. Universities don’t have those, and I highly doubt one even in a fantasy universe would either. So what type of position is he talking about? A caretaker? A resident assistant? Or what?

Ace chuckled. “Wow. Look at you, Addie. You just got enrolled here a couple minutes ago, and you're already the head prefect of your dorm. And you can’t use magic to boot. Talking about moving up in the world.”

Now is a good of a time as any to ask.

“Stupid question,” I said. “What do you mean by ‘head prefect’ exactly?”

The Vice-Chancellor shifted his eyes away. Ace and Deuce stared at me as if I turned into a giant cartoon dolphin. Grim tilted his head, staring at me with brows drawn together. Ace broke the silence. “Seriously, you don’t know what a prefect is?!”

“Hey!” I bristled. “That term isn’t well known where I live, and you can tell by my accent that I’m not exactly from around here!”

My mind strayed to the Star Vs the Forces of Evil OP, finishing my statement with a, ‘I’m from another dimension.’ No. Goddammit, brain! Now isn’t the time for that.

“Fair enough,” Ace faltered. “I suppose.”

“Okay,” Deuce said. “A head prefect or house captain, are terms to describe a student who is in charge of a dormitory or halls of residence, whichever term you prefer. That person is in charge of making sure that the dorm runs properly and everyone who’s sorted into their dorm behaves. A vice prefect is just someone who helps out the head prefect with any takes they assign. Where you’re from, they're just called dorm leaders and vice dorm leaders or even just resident advisors.”

I nodded. “Thanks, makes way more sense.”

He smiled. “No problem.”

Where I’m from? Where does Deuce think I’m from? Does this dimension have it’s own version of North America or something? Guess if this place is in fantasy Europe, it could be possible for this universe to have its own version of North America as well. Really need to look that up when I get the chance.

...Wait. If that Riddle guy is the head prefect, that means Ace’s dorm leader wants to kick my ass, because he still thinks I unleashed Grim as a prank during the opening ceremony. Oh, fuck!

“Mister Trappola and Spade are correct,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “As of right now, you are the head prefect of your dorm.”

My eyes widened. “I’m sorry, what?”

“I’ll discuss this more later. You are expected to take up all of those responsibilities.”

Ace stared at him. “I was kidding about that before, but wow…”

Oh my god! This is the second extra responsibility he tossed on me in the span of a few minutes!

Folding my arms, I narrowed my eyes at the Vice-Chancellor. “Sir, you’re throwing on a lot of responsibilities at me at once, you know.”

“You should be able to handle it, right?” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, staring at me.

I sent him an awkward smile. “Yes, sir. I’ll do my best.”

The Vice-Chancellor clapped his hands again, sending me a smile. “Wonderful.”

God, this is gonna be a disaster. How the hell am I gonna manage a whole dorm by myself? Even if it’s just me and Grim and I stay here for a short while, that’s still a ton of responsibility, especially that he’s tossing onto me out of nowhere. I could barely manage being a mod on a Tododeku Discord server let alone that! Hell, I even had to quit, because it was too much to handle!

Vice-Chancellor Crowley hummed, tapping his chin. “Oh, there’s something else that I want to ask of you to do.”

I groaned. “What is it now?”

He put his hands up defensively. “It’s nothing much, I assure you. I entrust you with this.”

The Vice-Chancellor stepped forward, materializing some kind of object into his hand and passing it to me. I cradled an antique Polaroid camera in my hands. The top part was coloured beige while the bottom was brown. An all too familiar Mickey head surrounded the lens like a bizarro Disney version of the Instagram logo.

“This is a Ghost Camera.”

Ghost Camera? Does it allow people to take photos of ghosts more easily or something?

“My grandma told me about these,” Ace said, leaning in to get a better look at the camera. “It's a super old magic tool. Pretty cool, right?”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley balked. “It is not ‘super old!’ It still works just fine as any modern mobile camera!”

God, the Vice-Chancellor sounds like one photography hipster, who got pissed at me when I wondered if most customers still use cameras that used rolled film. Wasn’t my brightest hour. Going to a job interview at a camera store with little sleep super early in the morning does that.

Vice-Chancellor Crowley cleared his throat, slapping on his usual calm composure. “It's true this may have been invented during your great-great grandmother's time. However, there’s a very special spell cast on it.”

“There is?” I asked. “What is it?”

“Not only does it capture the subject’s form, but also a part of their soul.”

“Part of their soul?” Deuce questioned.

“We call this ‘Memory: A Fragment of Remembrance.’ Furthermore, the most interesting part is that events inside of the photograph will play out right before you.”

My brows furrowed. “So this is like a camera that takes GIFs?”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley shook his head. “Not quite. Unlike a Magicam edit, with the first setting, depending on how close the bond between the subject and photographer is, some of the subject’s past memories will either play out like a movie scene in the photograph or you witness their memories play out in your mind.”

“So you can relive people’s past memories with this device?” Deuce flinched. “Like phantom’s from a person’s past?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Think that’s why it’s called a ghost camera.”

“Right,” Deuce said, rubbing the back of his neck.

“The second setting does the same thing,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said, “but there’s no past memory element. Just whatever events the photographer took will play out in the photo. Back in the day, seeing as video footage wasn’t available yet, people used this to leave behind vivid memories. Fascinating, right?”

“I’d say.” Beaming, I jumped, and my hands flicked slightly as I held the camera with the bottom of my palms. “Wow, this is so cool!”

I really want to test this out soon. Back in my own dimension, I’ve always loved snapping photos with my smartphone whenever I could. And I wanted to try out old school cameras like this. Here’s another chance to. And it’s a magic item to boot. Making it even cooler.

Ace’s brow shot up. “What makes you so giddy all of a sudden?”

“Oh,” I said, holding the camera normally. “I just really love photography.”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley nodded. “Glad to hear that.”

I smiled. “Thank you, sir. But why are you giving this to me?”

“As you are now a head prefect and have no magic, using the second setting on the camera is the easiest way to report any troublemakers to me.”

My smile faltered. Of course that’s the reason why…

“If anything suspicious happens, snap a photo using that. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” I groaned.

Eh, whatever. I’ll still use this for personal use on that second setting. I doubt the Vice-Chancellor would ever find out, and it sounds like something fun to try out at least once. Though, I don’t even want to try out that first one unless I have to. Seeing someone’s past memories seems like something that could go easily wrong.

The Vice-Chancellor smiled. “Giving a rare magical item to someone who cannot use magic. Does my kindness truly know no bounds?”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley paused, staring at me. No doubt he wants me to say something to boost his ego.

I forced a smile. “Yes, it does.”

Vice-Chancellor Crowley let out a laugh. I forced myself not to roll my eyes. Him patting himself on the back for any act of kindness reminds me of those jackasses who did the same to me back in my own dimension. That and for praising me for doing mundane tasks like I was a toddler, despite being an adult. Sure him giving me the awesome camera is nice, but god, he’s getting more and more on my nerves. And shadier.

“Mister Spade and Trappola,” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley. “It’s getting late, so you may go to where you are planning to spend the night.”

Deuce nodded. “Right. Pardon our intrusion.”

The Vice-Chancellor chuckled. “Quite alright, for I’m kind.”

God, that’s his motto, isn’t it? The Vice-Chancellor should put “for I am kind” on a t-shirt, and wear it all the time at this rate.

Ace and Deuce turned around, exiting the room. Grim hopped onto my shoulder. I snagged my water bottle from his desk with my other hand and turned around, heading to the exit.

“Grim, Miss Strano-García,” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley.

I stopped in my tracks, whirling around.

“I want you two to stick around,” said Vice-Chancellor Crowley. “There are some other things I want to sort out with you.”

Chapter Text

My eyes scanned the last page of the document. Nothing about it seemed too suspect about it. Just seems to be double checking to make sure that I want to take the courses that I checked off.

“Hurry up,” Grim, who sat on my shoulder, tail trailing down my back, mumbled. He let out a loud yawn. “I got mine done ages ago. I just want to go back to the dorm already.”

I groaned. Nope. Not worth it.

Besides, now that I can think straight, I want to be as cautious about this as humanly possible. My mom pounded into my head over the years that you can never be too careful about these things. If you aren’t, you can be screwed over big time, especially with those high stakes business deals that she does all the time.

The fact that the Vice-Chancellor is the one making this offer makes me want to even more, especially with him throwing out more red flags by the hour. Hell, his bird motif reminds me of those legends that some of my mom’s Mexican board members told me… even if those were huge owls instead of people dressed in raven costumes. Even though I don’t believe those are real back in my dimension, it’s all the more reason for me to be wary around him.

Of course Grim doesn’t understand any of that.

“Fine,” I grumbled.

I quickly put my signature on the dotted line, leaving out my middle name, like all of the other times. Even if this is technically a legal document where putting my middle name is a requirement, with this being a universe where magic is real, it’s better that way. European fantasy stories sometimes make a point about never giving away your full name, because it gives fae and other fantasy creatures power over you. I’d imagine it’d be the same here. Even if it isn’t, better safe than sorry, especially since I still don’t trust this guy. Hell, I’m not sure if he’s even human, since his pointy ears could’ve been my eyes playing tricks on me. I doubt Plague Doctor Birdman would be able to tell the difference.

“Is that everything?” I asked, putting the pen back in the cup holder.

“I believe so,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said.

It would’ve been a ton easier if it was all digital. And a ton faster. And wasted a lot less paper. If this is a sign of anything, I’m gonna have arthritis in no time if I spend any amount of time in this universe.

Grim didn’t say a word, chest moving up and down along my back. Must’ve fallen asleep. Don’t blame him, really. Especially after everything that happened today.

Standing up, I slid my chair in. I snagged the Ghost Camera, slinging the strap over one shoulder, and then my water bottle from the desk.

“I didn’t want to ask this in front of the others, but is the same deal on from before?” I asked, folding my arms. “Do I have to pay to attend here or stay in the dorm now that I’m a student here?”

“No, the same deal from before is still on,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “Just part-time hours instead of full.”

I sent him a polite smile. “Okay. Just double checking again.”

“One more thing,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said. “Since you are the first woman to attend school here, I’ll send out an email blast announcing that fact. Just so that no questions your presence.”

“How are you gonna explain everything while leaving out that I’m from another dimension?”

He gave out a hearty chuckle. “Don’t worry. I’ll come up with a cover story.”

God, what type of story is he gonna cook up and tell these people? Knowing him, I doubt he will explain anything, even I asked. I just have to take his word for this...even if I really don’t want too.

Yellow eyes landed on the clock on the wall before landing back on me. “It’s rather late, so I need to take my leave. Is there anything else?”

“No,” I lied. “Can’t think of anything.”

Nope. Still I don’t want to push my luck even now with this bastard by asking for more things. That’s for sure. Even if I desperately need them at this point. Like a better dorm to stay in.

My eyes landed on the portraits. I froze. Looking up at those is gonna take a hell of a lot of getting used to. It’s like staring up in the face of a deity or something. And literally in Hades' case.

“Goodnight,” Vice-Chancellor Crowley said.

“Right.” I combed a hand through the hair on the back of my head, carefully avoiding Grim. “Night.”

Walking up to the huge doors, they flung open with a hard shove. Shoes clacked against the tiled floor as I walked down the twisting hallways, each step echoing.

Something seems very off about that Vice-Chancellor. He seems too cheerful and willing to help me before. Other times he seems rather intense and demanding. Hell, him wanting me to attend university here so badly and the fact that I ended up stuffed inside a coffin at the same university that he is the vice-chancellor of gives off so many red flags. Same goes for the face in that one mirror having the same puke flames surrounding it as the hand that showed up in mine.

Still it’d be better if I assume his story is true and someone outside of the university summoned me here. I don’t have any evidence that’s actually the case outside of my gut feeling, and I could be just paranoid out of fear. If his story is true and I take it as a lie, then the potential person responsible for dragging me to this bizarro Disney dimension could kidnap me again and do who knows what to me. That’s the last thing I want.

Unfortunately, I have to play along with his potential game. At least for now. Poking around too much would draw too much attention to myself. Finding a way to contact my family or a way back to my own universe among other things while attending university here is my first priority. But I’ll keep my eyes peeled for anything suspicious about him. If I find enough solid evidence that he’s the one who dragged me here, I’ll act then. Same goes if he’s truly innocent and someone else is responsible.

Walking down the stairs, I turned around the corner. Right in the middle of the Hall of Mirrors stood Deuce and Ace.

Eight mirrors lined the circular room, small lights on the staircases lighting each of them up. Elaborate decorations and designs lined the frames of seven of them while the one to my dorm was bare. I swear if that wasn’t this universe throwing out a metaphor for how terrible the condition of my dorm is, I have no idea what is.

Ace turned his head, red eyes landing on me. “Hey, Addie.”

“Hey,” I said, strolling into the circular room. “Surprised you guys waited around in here for so long.”

Ace crossed his arms behind his head. “Well, I had nothing better to do, so I decided to hang around.”

“Yeah,” Deuce said. “Because you were banished from the dorm.”

“Sod off. You’re only here, because you’re bored, too.”

I smiled a little at their exchange.

Ace cracked a smug smile. “Past your familiar’s bedtime.”

“Not really.” I shrugged, holding Grim down to make sure that he didn’t fall off my shoulder. “Grim’s a cat and all. So he probably just fell asleep not that long ago, since he’s so tuckered out.”

“Don’t blame him.” Deuce sighed, leaning against the pillar behind him. “Man, it’s been a long day.”

“Agreed,” I said. “Probably one of the longest in my whole life.”

“Same here,” Ace groaned. “I’m never fighting off one of those damn things for a long time. That’s for sure.”

I cracked a smile at that. “We already gave the magic crystal to the vice-chancellor. Unless he plans to put us on another fetch quest to fix something else, I think we’re good for at least a while.”

Ace shrugged. “Good point.”

I plucked a piece of lint from my pocket and fidgeted with it. “That still went differently than I expected.”

“Indeed,” Deuce said. “Seems like we’re all students here starting tomorrow. Quite the turn of events.”

“Yeah, that’s for sure.” I twiddled the piece of lint between my fingers. “We're going to be seeing each other everyday now by the looks of things.”

“That’s true. Gods, I’m even supposed to share a dorm room in Heartslabyul with this jerk.” Deuce jabbed a finger at Ace, who scowled. “Even though he can’t even remember my name, which is Deuce.”

“Seeing your serious mug around the hallways every day? No, thanks!” Ace shot him a mocking grin. “I’ve had enough of your goody-two-shoes shit to last me a lifetime.”

“That’s my line, Mister I-skipped-the-opening-ceremony-and-got-collared.”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever you say, Mister I-almost-cried-because-I-was-nearly-expelled.”

"You were almost expelled and freaked out about it, too!"

I snickered. “I swear you two are a bunch of tsunderes.”

The two fell silent. Ace folded his arms, a brow shooting up. “How?”

“Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree. I’m not that temperamental. Him?” Deuce said, jabbing his thumb towards him again. “Maybe. But not me.”

“What about when you blew up in the forest?”

“It was a tense situation, and I was pushed over the edge. That doesn’t count.”

I twirled the lint in my fingers. “Well, you two use sarcasm and jabs at each other to hide your true emotions a fair bit.”

A smirk tugged on Ace’s lips. “Whatever you say, kuudere.”

“Don’t really think I fit that. I’m more talkative when I get to know others than those sorts of characters.”

“Wow,” Ace said, voice dripping with sarcasm, “it’s almost like people are more complex than a single anime character trope or something.”

I shot him a sheepish smile. “Okay, good point.”

Despite what these guys say, it seems like they get into spats so much to hide how much they care. Knowing how these things go, I could see them totally boyfriends by the end of the school year… though, I kinda doubt their bond will go in that direction for some reason.

“So,” Deuce said. “What course did you two decide on?”

“I want to go in the more artistic direction while Grim wants to take more classes that show off how badass of a mage he is. We just met halfway. We’re going towards a General Studies degree with a focus on business, art and magecraft as the focus. Like the Vice-Chancellor said before, Grim’s taking all the magic based ones while I’m doing all of the ones that don’t require it. Though, we both have to take alchemy class together this semester…I mean term,” I said, pinching the lint in my hands, “which is gonna be rough.”

“Ah, so you’re the artsy type?” Ace mused, arms crossed behind his head.

My eyes lit up. “Yeah. Back at home, I was planning to either go towards a degree either in those areas or marketing.”

“So you were planning to go to uni before you came here?” Deuce asked.

I nodded, fiddling with the lint. “I wanted to attend a different university back home. Just life got in the way of that.”

Ace blinked. “Got in the way?”

“Yeah…” I said, shoving the lint into one of my nail beds to fidget with the hem of my jean pocket.

Instead of heading to UBC straight out of secondary school, my mom and I decided that it would be best to take a year off. I wanted to take a year off to relax while my mom wanted me to get a part time job in order to gain more work experience before it ended... along with a lesson in responsibility and humility. Everything changed when Covid-19 attacked. Instead of holding a standard graduation ceremony, the school decided to do it a few months early when lockdown began to take full swing over Zoom and got my secondary school diploma in the mail. The next time when I needed to start worrying about applying for it, Covid-19 was a fairly huge concern and I didn't want to worry about another lockdown, so I decided to take another year off. Lather, rinse, repeat for last Spring.

All that seems like a lifetime ago. Here I don’t have to worry about face masks, restrictions, quarantine, Zoom meetings or fear the possibility of dying of the plague. Now I can just attend university in person like I always wanted to. Sure, a totally different one in another dimension, but a university nevertheless. And a magical one, too. Some more bonus perks to being in this universe.

No. I can’t stay in this universe for too long. My family’s probably worried sick and think I’m dead by now. I can’t lose sight of that fact.

Ace chuckled. “You’re spacing out again.”

“Right,” I said, cheeks heating up.

Deuce smiled. “You really tend to do that a lot.”

Flicking out the lint from my nail bed and twirling the lint in my hand again, I gave a small shrug. “I just tend to overthink things and get anxious sometimes.”

Ace snorted. “Isn’t that the truth, and then some.”

I rolled my eyes in response to his quip.

Deuce glanced down at his phone for a moment, slipping it back into his coat pocket. “It’s just past midnight, so I should really head back to Heartslabyul or the head prefect will have my head too.”

Have his head too…? Like decapitation? Holy fuck! Their dorm leader sounded super intense when I overheard his conversation with Ace before and their dorm seems to be based around the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, but I never thought he would ever do something like that. He can’t be serious. He can’t be. There’s no way I could ever deal with their dorm leader wanting to kick my ass and that!

“Oh, no,” Ace said, voice dripping with sarcasm. He clapped his hands onto his cheeks, wrists touching at the bottom. “You’ll end up exactly like me, whatever shall you do.”

I suppressed a sigh in relief. Okay, good. Their dorm leader isn’t that deranged.

Guess Deuce is referring to the collar around his neck with that statement. But why say that he would “have his head” when referring to a collar Riddle put on with his Unique Magic?

Deuce smirked. “Unlike you, I’m able to stay still for a few hours during a full entrance ceremony.”

Ace glared. “What are you implying, smartass?”

“At it again?” I said, cutting off their little spat.

Red eyes focused on me. “You’re seriously still on about us being tsunderes or whatever?”

“Not that. I’ll stop with those sorts of comments, I swear. More that you two are fighting again in general. Besides, it’s way too late for this shit.”

Ace crossed his arms. “Fine. You have a point.”

I tossed Deuce a smile. “Nice to meet ya.”

“Cheesy,” Ace fake coughed.

I raised a brow. “How is that in any way cheesy?”

“See you tomorrow,” Deuce said. “Goodnight.”

“Night,” I said. “See ya.”

Deuce walked through the Heartslabyul Mirror, an object with many cards decorating the edge with a large heart with the dorm’s name on it and two arrows behind it resting on top, and I flinched as he did so. He phased through it, the surface of it rippling like water behind him. God, it’s gonna take awhile to get used to that. Half expect people who walk into those to bonk against the glass like a comedy bit.

Still, I really need to seriously apologize to him when it’s only the two of us. While it seems like eons ago since the whole chandelier incident, I still dragged him into that whole shit show. He was a good sport about the whole thing, minus him getting into a fight with Ace. I don’t think I would’ve done the same if that were me. He at least deserves that after everything he put up with.

“Addie?” Ace said in an uncharacteristically soft voice. “I want to apologize for what happened before the chandelier fell.”

I whirled my head around. Ace rubbed his arm, ripping his gaze away from mine and making an expression I couldn’t quite place.

“Look, I feel terrible for trying to pick a fight with you and being super close to kicking your ass over something you have no part in. I was pissed off and wasn’t thinking straight. The fact that you’re a girl, and formulated that plan that saved our collective asses makes me feel even worse. I should’ve handled things a lot differently…” he paused for a moment, wincing and rubbing the back of his neck, “and stared at your tits a lot less.”

Think he’s telling the truth. Despite how Ace treated me before, he doesn’t seem like a terrible guy. He helped out a lot when we were fighting off the monster in the mines. And he didn’t make fun of me for being magicless. While he bickers with Deuce a fair bit, he doesn’t seem to have any ill will against me. What happened before just seemed like him lashing out at me out of misplaced anger instead of what he’s normally like. Hell, Ace seemed more like a tsundere trickster when he talked with that other guy last night.

A gave him a small smile. “Don’t worry about it. I forgive ya.”

He sighed in relief and smiled back at me. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Oh, god. His dorm leader still has it out for me. One who sounds like Ciel Phantomhive with magical powers, no less. One false move and he could chop my head off with a snap of his fingers.

...Okay, that might be melodramatic as hell, since I doubt he’d do something like that. Still how the hell should I deal with someone like him? Saying he has a wicked temper is an understatement!

I have to be an adult about this. I’m not a functional adult by any means, but I’m still considered one nevertheless. I need to talk things out with him before things escalate even more. Who knows what might happen if I do. I barely know the guy. Hell, how do I explain what happened without giving away the fact that I’m from another dimension and Grim isn’t my familiar?

No. Like it or not, I need to just swallow my pride and ask for help with this. I need backup. Bad. We need to support each other with this, considering we’re both in a similar boat. If he shoots this down, then I can come up with something else. It’s worth a shot.

Here goes nothing…

Dropping the lint on the floor, I fidgeted with the hem of my jeans. “There’s something else as well.”

Ace crossed his arms, eyes narrowed. “I’m listening.”

I hesitated. “Look, your head prefect’s pissed, and—”

His brows bunched together. “Riddle is drunk…?”

Oh, right. That’s slang for drunk in Europe and Australia. Or at least that’s what I gathered from my online friends back in my own dimension. I probably should use their slang terms for that.

“Uh, no. I meant, pissed off.”

Ace nodded.

“As I was saying, Riddle’s pissed off at me for what happened at the opening ceremony. Between that and what happened today…” I trailed off, ripping my gaze away.

“You think he feels the exact same about you, too?” Ace finished.

I turned to him again and nodded.

“If you don’t have a morning class tomorrow, how about we go to your dorm, and try to sort things out with him?” I said, extending a hand towards him.

Ace threw his hands up in the air, anger blazing his eyes. “Like hades I am!”

“Why not?”

“That bastard kicked me out of my dorm for just missing a half hour of the opening ceremony. Sealing off a mage’s magic is like cutting our arms and legs clean off. There’s no way in hades that I’m crawling right back and begging him for mercy like a coward!”

“Come on!” I pleaded. “Don’t leave me to deal with him alone?”

Ace paused.

“You’re in just as much trouble with him. It’d be a lot easier if we both tried to talk things out with him.”

Red eyes narrowed. “If that doesn’t work, then what?”

“I’ll think of something else.”

Ace folded his arms and glowered, staring off to the side.

“What? You want to look like you escaped from a porn set for the rest of your life?”

I tensed up soon as the last sentence left my lips. Shit. Porn exists everywhere, and this universe should have it as well, but that doesn’t automatically mean that style of it does.

Ace huffed. “Did you really have to put it like that?”

Okay, good. Those do exist here, and I don’t seem like a complete loon.

“Yes, yes I did,” I said with a smirk, and Ace rolled his eyes.

“And no, obviously not!”

“Then, help me out here!” I said, staring at him with desperate eyes.

Ace paused and his face dropped slightly, touching the collar around his neck.

“Fine, you win!” Ace said, arms crossed. “I’ll go. Happy?”

I smirked. “Yes.”

Ace rolled his eyes. He groaned. Stuffing his hands into his hoodie pockets, he shot me a sour expression. “Well, if this doesn’t work out, I’m kicking Riddle’s ass and joining your dorm forever.”

“Hey!” I snapped. “I didn’t say anything about allowing you to spend the night in my dorm.”

“Well,” Ace said. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

As much as I hate to admit it, Ace had a perfectly valid point. He agreed to tag along when I talk with Riddle tomorrow, so it’s only fair that I help him out in return. If I don’t, he’d no doubt sleep on a university bench again. He doesn’t deserve that. Hell, I can’t help, but to feel bad for him in general. Humiliated in front of his whole dorm and got banished with magic sealed off as punishment. Just because he skipped part of the opening ceremony. Just for that.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “I’ll let you crash at my dorm.”

A sigh of relief escaped his lips. Ace beamed. “Thank you. I knew you’d understand.”

“No problem. Though, this is only until you’re able to get back into your dorm again.”

“You’re a buzzkill.”

“Well…” I trailed off before I made a face. “Trust me. You don’t want to stay in my dorm forever.”

“Why not?” Ace asked. “I already know about the ghosts inside. Pretty sure I can handle them.”

Seriously? He can’t be that cocky about this. They attacked me last night. Hell, I would’ve died if Grim didn’t use his fire powers against them. Sure. Ace normally has magical abilities of his own and the ghosts seem cool now, since last night seemed like a giant misunderstanding and they agreed to a truce, but he should be at least a bit cautious.

“On top of the ghosts, it’s rather...rundown.”

His brows bunched together. “How rundown?”

“Very.”

He shrugged. “It has to be better than the alternative.”

I pursed my lips. Not really sure about that one. It might be one of those things that it might be better for Ace to see from himself.

Ace walked to the mirror to my dorm and waltzed right through it. Closing my eyes, I stepped through the mirror and emerged on the other side.

“That’s your dorm?” Ace said, gawking at the skeletal remains of the shit hole that is my dorm. I nodded, crinkling my nose. I don’t blame him for reacting like that either, since I think I made the same face yesterday.

“Unfortunately, yes. Come on,” I said, gesturing towards the building. “Let’s head inside.”

Weeds whacked our ankles as we followed the stone path towards my dorm. The steps creaked as I walked up them. Rummaging in my pocket and pulling out the keyring, I stuck the key into the hole and turned it.

“Welcome to the shithole!” I said, pushing the door open and gesturing inside of the dorm.

Ace grimaced and flinched, eyes widened. “Is that a huge spider in the corner?”

My eyes to that spot. Lo and behold. A spider about the size of my fist crawled around on the floor. I flinched, letting out a small yelp.

Connie materialized in front of us in a puff of blue smoke. With a snap of her fingers, the spider flew out of the window.

“Thanks,” I said, letting out a sigh of relief.

“You’re welcome,” Connie said.

She whirled her head around and flew up to us, putting a hand on her hip.

“I thought I said no one else is allowed to stay here besides you and Grim!”

Tensing up, I put my hands up defensively while holding the water bottle between two of my fingers. “Look, Ace was kicked out of his dorm by his head prefect, and needs a place to crash for a bit.”

Blue eyes narrowed into slits as Connie pushed closer to Ace, who froze in place.

“Fine.” Connie summoned the ax into her hand, placing the blade against his throat. “Any funny business with her, and, well, I think you can figure out the rest.”

Connie turned to me and winked at me. She flew off, vanishing in a similar puff of smoke. Ace gaped, eyes wide. Don’t blame him. Holy shit! I think I’m safe, since Connie might’ve done that to look out for me… even though I highly doubt Ace will pull anything. But still, wow. Just wow. Fuck those ghosts can still be intense when they want too.

“Eh,” Ace said, “fuck it. This is still better than the alternative.”

My brows shot up, tilting my head slightly. Seriously, that’s his response to that? Someone said that to me, I would’ve screamed and bolted out of the building. Not sure if he’s being stubborn or a dumbass. ...Probably both.

Grim purred, shifting around on my shoulder.

“Hey, Grim,” I said, petting the back of his neck.

Grim hopped down, standing on all fours. Grim rubbed his eye with his paw, tilting his head up and staring straight at Ace.

“Gah,” Grim said. His ears flattened, and he arched his back, hairs standing up. “What is he doing here?”

Ace folded his arms. “Long story short, I don’t have anywhere else to stay after my bastard of a head prefect banished me from my dorm yesterday.”

Grim’s ears shot upright again, relaxing his posture. He nodded. Grim turned his head towards me, rubbing an eye with his paw. “You’re seriously letting him stay overnight?”

“Like Ace said, he was kicked out of the dorm, so he needs a place to crash for a bit. It’s only until his head prefect allows him back into his dorm. He’s not staying here forever. Right, Ace?”

“Yes,” Ace said reluctantly.

Grim growled. “Fine. Only since it’s just for a little while.”

“Actually,” Ace said. “Where exactly should I bunk for the night?”

I winced. “Gonna be real with you. I never had the chance to clean this place at all, so every room is a huge mess.”

“Yeah,” Grim said. “Clean a room for yourself.”

Ace stuck his tongue out at his words. “Blegh! I am not cleaning.”

A glint of mischief lit up in his red eyes.

“Hey, you two,” Ace said, shooting us a grin that even my autistic ass could tell was forced. “How about we swap rooms for just tonight, and I get your bedroom?”

If Ace thinks he can take advantage of me because it’s late at night, that’s not happening. Sure, I’m exhausted from what happened, but I’m still alert. Hell, I pulled all nighters before, so this is cakewalk.

“If you mean the upstairs hallway,” I said, jabbing a thumb towards the stairwell, “knock yourself out.”

Ace blinked. “Wait, what?”

Grim stared up at him. “She slept on the floor last night.”

Ace stared at me as if I transformed into a giant, cartoon whale before his eyes. He snapped out of it and groaned. “Gods, fine. I’ll sleep on one of the sofas. Geez.”

I gave a curt nod. “Glad we’ve come to an understanding. Goodnight.”

Ace scowled. “Goodnight.”

Dramatic, much? Whatever.

Going down the hall, I walked up the staircase, the wooden planks squeaking with each step. Grim walked up the stairs beside me on all fours, smiling from ear to ear. “I still can’t believe it’s happening. After all this time, I get to be a student! I can’t wait.”

I reached down and scratched behind his ears, smiling gently. “I’m proud of you.”

“Tomorrow marks the start of our bright and shiny life at Night Raven College!”

“Sure does.”

I stopped in place. Shit! That’s right. I’m still not ready to start university already. I had zero time to prepare mentally or literally for this! I have no school supplies or textbooks. The Vice-Chancellor never brought that up before. I barely passed in both math and chemistry. How the hell am I gonna pass alchemy class in a university if it’s basically fantasy chemistry class?

“Fuck!” Ace grumbled. “I hate that tiny cunt.”

Peeking from behind the staircase, Ace snagged one cover from off of one of the pieces of furniture and plopped down on the couch. I frowned, staring at him from my spot on the staircase. Ace mentioned before that he has nothing on him besides his wallet, cell and charger. He’s gonna have a hell of a hard time sleeping and getting ready in the morning. That’s for sure. Guess we’re both in the same boat in that regard as well, too.

“Hurry up!” Grim whined, who stood on the next floor already. “I know that I beat you guys before, but that’s no excuse to stand on the stairs.”

“Oh, the race that you cheated on?” I said, walking up the steps.

“Using my talents isn’t cheating.”

“Whatever you say,” I said with a playful smirk, walking onto the next floor.

I wandered down the hallway after the cat. Grim rushed up to one of the doors just down the hall, clawing at it. Walking up to it, I opened it up. My face twisted at the sight.

Dark splotch marks dotted the walls, and a giant cobweb dangled from one of the corners. Furniture laid on the floor. Paintings hung crooked on the walls. The giant mirror resting above the fireplace was so dirty that it looked like a dark, cloudy painting. A wooden door on the opposite side of the room lead to a bathroom.

I followed Grim, who seemed to give less of a shit about the state of the room, and walked beside the bed. I gagged. Many layers of dirt and dust covered the sheets. Dark splotches, which I really hoped with every fiber of my being wasn’t blood or shit, stained a few different places on the comforter. The bedframe, which only had a mattress resting on top and lacked a boxspring, seemed like it could cave in at any second. Cobwebs dangled from the headboard. 

Okay. I expected this room and everything in it to be in a horrible state, given the rest of this dorm. But not to that degree. Not taking any chances.

“Fuck it,” I said, making a face. “You get the bed. I’ll sleep on the floor again.”

“Eh,” Grim said. “Your loss.”

Grim hopped onto the bed, falling down on it and curling into a little ball on his side. Blue eyes drifted shut. Wish it was so easy to instantly fall asleep and shove the day away like that. I swear his ability to do that might as well be one of his magical abilities at this point.

Despite what Grim said, it’s not that big of a loss. I slept on a Japanese futon when I stayed with Roy’s extended family in Toshima for a few weeks back in secondary school. Hell, I found that I was oddly more well rested in the morning compared to usual. This isn’t that much different and is just another excuse to do that again. Sleeping directly on the floor without any pillows, sheets or padding underneath is gonna be a pain in the ass.

Not sure why Grim wants to sleep in a bed like that. It’s disgusting. You couldn’t be able to pay me to do that. His choice, I guess.

Still, he’s gonna be covered in dirt and grime in the morning sleeping in a bed like that. How does Grim clean himself? Does he lick himself clean like a normal house cat?

A mental image of Grim laying down on his side, licking the fur on his belly popped into my head. I nearly snorted, but instead a yawn escaped me. Still, I really should get to bed, too.

Plopping down on the edge of the bed and putting my water bottle down on the ground, I took off one of my boots and set it in my lap. Strangely enough, no foul odors wafted from it. In fact, they smelled as if they came fresh from the box. Just like this morning.

What the hell? Considering I didn’t wear socks, it should smell like the devil's asscrack. And my feet feel oddly fine after wearing no socks in boots all day. No blisters, cuts or anything.

… Wait. Why am I surprised? This is a fantasy universe. Of course shoes that are able to cancel out foul odors among other things exist here.

I took off my other boot. Both boots clapped to the ground after I dropped them. Unclipping my bra with my shirt still on, I plucked it through my shirt and tossed it to the side in a corner. Plucking out my Covid-19 face mask from my pocket, I quickly put it on. I took off my jeans, and threw them on top of the pile.

Snagging a fallen curtain, I rubbed a little area of the ground to sleep on. Dust flew up into the air, and I coughed a little. I laid down on my side, putting my arm under my head to cushion it. My eyes slid shut.

Chapter Text

Laying down on my left side with my eyes closed, I flipped over. Crowbar mentioned before that he wanted me to be the first female student to attend this university. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wants to use me as some sort of guinea pig to test out how everyone here would react to a girl attending university here alongside them. That puts on a lot of extra pressure for me to do well here, so other women can attend next school year. If I fail, that could stop that opportunity for them. Another reason to not trust that Plague Masked Bastard.

How am I gonna manage being the only girl attending school here for now? I highly doubt everyone in this university is a sexist pervert who wants to jump my bones. Ace and Deuce certainly don’t come across like that. In fact, they both seem like cool guys, all things considered. Sexist assholes probably exist in every dimension. Thanks to Crowbar, I have to be on guard for those bastards as well to be on the safe side.

If my theory about this dimension being like a role reversal AU is wrong, the idea of attending the same university as people who idolize the Disney villains is too creepy to think about. After all, if that’s the case, who knows what kind of dark shit these guys would be okay with and are capable of. Granted, I’m leaning towards the role reversal theory more, but I can never know. Hell, even Riddle seems to idolize the Queen of Hearts.

Even if the majority of the guys attending here are cool, I don’t want to stand out and be put on a pedestal as some Shiny Charizard. Or even living the dream and having a horde of guys swooning after me like some bad reverse harem protagonist. I just want to attend university here while trying to find a way home or to contact my family. That’s it.

How am I gonna manage to talk Riddle tomorrow? Ace's dorm leader seems to be a hardass with a short fuse, to say the very least. He has superpowers, too. While Ace will be there, dealing with his own issue with him, who knows how Riddle would react.

What happened to that other guy that Ace skipped out with? If Ace got banished and collared in front of his whole dorm, just how did that guy’s dorm leader take it?

How am I gonna attend university here while searching for my own ends? Sure, I’m a half a student alongside Grim and only attending classes part-time. Would I even have enough time to balance everything out? How will I manage to do that? Is there some easier spell or method to get home besides looking in a library for hours and relying on that stupid mirror?

I flipped over again, curling up. Just what exists in this universe? I know plenty of modern tech and media exists in this dimension, but I can’t assume that every modern convenience exists here. Plenty of magical objects could exist like talking books and paintings. Wouldn’t be surprised if talking ovens did.

I flipped over yet again. This is a universe where some of the animated Disney villains and heroes are historical figures. What about The Muppets and Marvel? Those properties are owned by Disney. Are the older generations of those characters who are real historical figures in this universe, too? Are the Star Wars characters real people in a far off galaxy away from this planet? Or even real people living in this world? Hell, even all of the Fox properties. Are versions of those characters real in this universe?

...Wait. Does that mean that a sexy human version of Kermit might be a historical figure in this dimension?

On that... thought, I really need to get to sleep. Pulling an all-nighter or staying up late the odd night isn’t that big of a deal. But I must get a full eight hours of rest, since I have to attend university and need to be on my a-game when I deal with Ace’s dorm leader tomorrow. But of course I can’t stop fretting over everything, and I keep on flipping over like a human tortilla, because my brain’s being a bitch.

My eyes cracked open. I sat up, rubbing my eyes. What time is it? It’s still dark out, so it can’t be super early in the morning. But even then, I should get some more shut eye while I still have the chance.

God, I wish my cell still worked. At least I’d be able to check the time. Or, better yet, I would be able to find a way to contact my family back in my own damn dimension.

Hell, I wish I had my weighted blanket. Or my drawing tablet. Or my computer. Or digital camera and art supplies.

Nope. Not thinking about that shit now.

Still, I need to get another cell. Fast. I don’t know how long I would be able to make it without one. I think I would go crazy if I go months on end without one of those.

I seriously need to get some birth control, too. Sure. I only took them to ease menstrual pain for the past year. Quitting to take any medication cold turkey so suddenly can’t be good. Worse yet, I have zero tampons or pads on hand.

Nope. Can’t think about that shit now either. One thing at a time.

Plucking off my Covid-19 mask, I tossed it onto the pile. Sneaking past Grim so I didn't wake him up, I lumbered out into the dark hallway and snagged the fire poker from the spot I left it before. The stairs creaked as I crept downstairs, putting my free hand on the wall to make sure that I didn’t stumble down them.

On the windowsill in the downstairs hallway rested a foldable, red circular mat with Ace’s cell face down, and a blood red crystal, like the one on top of Deuce’s pen-wand in a different colour, sitting in the middle of it. A pentagram and an array of ruins and symbols marked the mat, lit up and pulsing as if it was alive.

Wow! That’s so cool. It’s like one of those wireless chargers that I’ve seen floating around Instagram back in my own dimension, except instead of being designed to appear like a magical circle, this one is completely real. Beats normal wall chargers back in my own dimension. That’s for sure.

Why is a crystal like that on a charging mat? It’s not like a phone where it has a battery that can run out.

Then again, Luna told me once that people who practice witchcraft need to cleanse and charge crystals in order to use them correctly in spells. Putting them under the moonlight, especially under the full moon, and sunlight are two ways to do that. Granted, I don’t believe that sort of thing back in my own dimension, but considering everyone here uses crystals on their pen-wands to cast spells, it would make sense that people in this one must do the same with those.

Reaching out my opposite hand, I paused. Shit. His cell might be charmed to blow my arm or who knows what else. I need to be cautious.

Stepping back, I prodded at his phone with the fire poker a few times.

Nothing happened.

Okay. Good. It works like a normal cell from my universe.

The fire poker clattered to the ground beside me. Snagging it up, the summoning circle on the pad dimmed, and I pressed the button on the side of the cell for the lock screen light up. Neon numbers and letters displayed “01:35—Friday, 2 September 2022.”

It’s one-thirty five in the fucking morning?! I’ve been flipping around like that for over an hour?! Not that surprised, but still…

Weird seeing the day before the month, though. I always thought it was month, day and then year.

If I remember right, Roy or Sahar mentioned that it’s flipped around in the UK and some other places. Day of the week before the month when dates are written out. If this university is somewhere in fantasy Europe, I suppose it’d make sense for people living in this place to do it the same way.

Why am I even thinking about this? Seriously, I’m stuck in a weirdass Disney dimension where magic exists and that’s what sticks out right now?! Not to mention one false move and I could wake up Ace, which’ll piss him off.

Running my fingers through my bangs, I grimaced. Dust and grease coated my hair. Ugh, gross. I really need to hop in the shower. Stat.

I think I need a distraction in order to fall asleep. This place is in a huge need of a good cleaning. Washing up the bathroom it is, then.

Setting his phone back down on the charging pad, I grabbed the cleaning supplies near the door. Walking into my room, I put on my pants, and then entered the bathroom.

Fumbling around for a few moments, my hand swatted the string, and I pulled it down. Light illuminated the room. I gagged at the sight. Splotches of mold darted along the yellow tiled floor and shower wall. Dark brown stains lined the inside of the toilet and sink with the same odd two tap set up as all the other sinks here. I didn’t even want to know what some of the stains on the ground were.

Under normal circumstances, I would’ve dropped everything and hightailed it the hell outta there, calling one of our cleaners to deal with it. Or puked on the spot.

But this wasn’t normal circumstances. Like it or not, this place needed to be somewhat clean for me to use without worrying about contracting something. I need to swallow my pride and just get this over with. It’s like ripping off a band-aid. A very moldy and gross band-aid stuck on a gym floor for a week, but one nevertheless.

I slipped on a pair of gloves. Placing the bucket onto the sink, I took the toilet bowl cleaner out of it and poured some cleaning solution into the bucket. I twisted one of the taps. Clean water poured into the bucket.

“What are you doing?”

“Gah!” I jolted, almost knocking the bucket over. Turning my head around, Lucia hovered in the air and stared at me curiously. Connie floated beside her, arms folded.

“Oh,” I said, turning the tap off. “You startled me.”

“Right.” Lucia nodded, and then raised a brow. “You never answered my question.”

“Cleaning.”

“Ah.”

I flicked that same tap back on. Last night seems like a big misunderstanding and we’re on better terms now, but I can’t let my guard down around them. I have no idea what they’re actually like normally or what they might pull yet. Especially since they chased after me with an ax and one of them threatened to chop Ace’s head off. Maybe if I go about my business, they’ll leave me alone.

“Ignoring us, I see.”

Nope. Still ignoring them. I’m an expert at zoning out. I can be completely entertained while staring at a wall for an hour thinking about a random anime I watched years ago or by having fake arguments in my head that I win. This is nothing.

A gust of water sprayed in my face, and I wiped it off. Connie snorted. Lucia laughed at my expense.

“What do you guys want?” I said, turning the tap off.

“Nothing much,” Lucia said. “Just want to lend you a helping hand.”

“Is there a reason for that?”

“None at all.”

Okay, even I can tell that’s a load of bullshit. There has to be some reasoning behind it. There always is.

My eyes dropped, staring down at the sink. Roaches and other pests could be lurking in the drains. A rat could pop straight out of the toilet. Not the cute and cuddly kind like Luna's pet rat, either. But a normal, wild one that dwelled in the sewers for months on end. If this place was as old as it seemed, those were surely a possibility.

“Going to keep staring at the bucket in the basin?” Lucia mused, who leered at me once my gaze flicked back up at her. She’s probably doing this to get a rise out of me.

Given how much dirt and grime there is in here, I don’t think I can clean this place up in time to shower and do everything I want to. Since I started to clean this already, I should finish what I set out to do. To do that, I need all the help I can get.

“Fine,” I grumbled under my breath.

Lucia leaned forward, cupping a hand around one ear. “Don’t think I heard that.”

I grunted. Now I know for sure that she’s doing it to get a rise out of me.

“Fine!” I snapped. A calming breath escaped me, gaze softening. “You guys can help me out with this if you want.”

Connie turned to her, eyes sharpened. “No way. If you want to do this, Lucia, go on ahead, but count me out. I’m not anyone’s maid.”

“Come on.” Mischief lit up in Lucia’s eyes. “We can dunk Grim in the sink later if we do.”

Of course that’s the reason. Why am I not surprised?

Connie sighed, shoulders slumping. “Fine. Just because of that.”

I smiled a little at their exchange. They sound like an old married couple when they talk like that.

No. I have to keep my guard up. At least for now. I still have no idea if I can trust them or not.

“First thing’s first.”

I took the bucket out of the sink, placing it on the ground beside me. Connie took out the plug. Several roaches and insects crawled out of the shower and sink drains. I grimaced and tensed up, trying my hardest not to scream. Ew, ew, ew! Gross!

The pests crunched as Connie squished them all one by one with her magic and flicked them into the empty trashcan. A calming breath escaped me. Good. They’re gone.

I shot her a smile, tension in my body releasing. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

Lucia turned to me, folding her arms and raising a brow. “You sure have an aversion to bugs and spiders, don’t you?”

“Geez, what gave that away?” I said sarcastically.

Lucia shrugged. “Good point.”

“You should be able to go inside to clean the shower now,” Connie said, gesturing at that area.

I nodded. Snagging the bucket, I walked over to the shower and set it down on the floor. The washcloth dipped into the bucket, solution dripping from it once I took it out. I wrung it.

Lucia stuck out her arm, and I hopped out of the way. She reached down and snagged two sponges from the bucket.

“Catch!” Lucia said. She tossed one of them, and Connie caught it. Lucia moved the sponge with magic while Connie scrubbed the sink by hand the normal way.

Wow. Didn’t know they could actually touch physical objects…And now I do. Huh. The more you know. Though…

“If you guys are able to touch and move physical objects, why didn’t you guys clean this place yourselves instead of letting it rot all these years?”

The ghosts paused. I stiffened. Shit! Did I ask something that pissed them off?

“It’s true,” Connie said, sponge dangling from her hand. “But there’s no point in taking care of an abandoned house. Nobody has been to this ramshackle dorm in over eighty years outside of the odd prankster or bastard who managed to get past the protection spell.”

“I suppose that makes sense.”

Silence exploded between us, shifting to the task at hand. Working alongside others in complete silence is rather awkward to say the least. Doing that with people I hardly know and wary of makes things worse. Small talk isn’t exactly my speciality. Usually others have to start it for me to engage in that. Normally in situations like this I tend to rattle off about the first topic I can think of or one of my special interests. Talking about one of my special interests right now would make me sound like a loon while the former would make me seem like an idiot.

Connie shuffled to the side. Nothing dangled from the belt wrapped around her waist. Finally, a conversation starter.

“You don’t have your ax on you anymore.” I dipped the cloth in the solution. “Why is that?”

“Connie’s Unique Magic allows her to summon any weapon that she touched while she was alive and can carry in one hand. She mostly chooses an ax.” Lucia smirked. “Pretty neat, huh?”

“Not really,” Connie said. “I never got much use from my ability back when I was alive.”

“I don’t know.” I scrubbed away a stain on the side wall. “It’s not the most overpowered ability, but it’s still pretty cool.”

It’s the truth. I wish I had an ability like that…well, that or flight or teleportation. Summoning anything you touched would be pretty helpful. Not just for fights like last night, either. But when you forget or lose something, you can just make it appear in your hand instead of running around looking for it.

Explains how the ax appeared in her hand last night. She just summoned it into her hand with her Unique Magic.

A small smile tugged on her lips. “Thank you.”

“Eh, no problem,” I said with a small shrug. Dipping the washcloth into the bucket again, I turned my head towards Lucia. “What’s your Unique Magic?”

“Oh,” Lucia shrugged. “Lie Detector. I’m able to see if someone is telling the truth when I touch them.”

Note to self. Never touch her when I’m lying or hiding the truth out of self-protection. Not that I want to, since touching a ghost is like dunking my limb in an ice bath, but still something to keep in mind.

“What about yours?” Connie asked.

Taking the washcloth out of the bucket, I hung my head. “Don't have any. I’m a non-mage.”

Lucia shrugged. “I’m not surprised. You have a familiar, so it makes sense.”

Huh? Witches are the only ones who have those, right? At least that’s what I understood from fantasy media and folklore from back in my own dimension. Same goes for what Luna told me about those who practiced witchcraft in my own dimension, as well. So why would they say something like that?

Connie scrubbed away. “Never asked you this yesterday, but how was work?”

Really? They’re wondering about that?

Her brow shot up. “Why do you seem so taken aback?”

“Oh, um. Just didn’t expect you to ask that.” I scrubbed the side of the shower with the washcloth. “It was...eventful.”

“I figured that something happened with the fellow with the weird collar around his neck bunking here. What’s the story behind that one?”

“Grim got into a fight with him in the main hall, cafeteria, dining hall, or whatever you want to call it. I rushed up to another guy named Deuce begging him to use a spell to break it up, but he broke the chandelier in the process. The vice-chancellor then put us on a fetch quest—”

“Fetch quest?” they said, staring at me in confusion.

Right. They died long before videogames were invented, even in this universe. Of course they don’t know what that means.

“It’s when a certain kind of game forces you to complete a task like getting a certain object to move forward.”

The ghosts nodded.

“Anyways, the vice chancellor tasked us to bring back a magic crystal to fix it. Turns out there was an Overblot Monster inside of the mine, and we all worked together, managing to kill it off. When we returned, the vice-chancellor rescinded their expulsion and decided to make me and Grim part-time students here, despite me being a girl and a non-mage.”

“Wow.” With a flick of Lucia’s finger, the sponge moved across the floor in a different direction. “That’s one hades of a first day on the job.”

“Tell me about it.”

I don’t blame her for saying that. It sounds more and more unbelievable when I say it out loud.

Hell, a lot of things that happened over the last two days are. Getting almost roasted by a talking cat. Fighting off a monster that seemed like something ripped straight out of a videogame. Cleaning a bathroom alongside a couple ghosts. Seriously, what is even my life now?

Connie’s face hardened. “I don’t think that fellow should be bunking here, especially if he got into a fight with Grim.”

“I thought the same thing. But Ace helped me out a lot while we were inside of the mine and sincerely apologized for how he treated us. I need him to pacify the Heartslabyul head prefect, since he’s super pissed off at the both of us for different reasons. Plus, to be honest, I felt bad for what happened to him a few days ago.”

I tensed up. Shit. Did I say too much?

Connie’s brows bunched together. “Are you sure he’s not lying to you?”

“Yes. If any guy tries with anything with me, I’ll get Grim to roast their ass.”

Lucia snickered. “That’s certainly one good way to handle that.”

“Fine,” Connie groaned. “I trust your instincts.”

I continued to scrub away at the stains in the shower while the others worked on their various tasks at hand for what seemed like over an hour. None of us hardly said anything and only chatted the odd time.

By the time we were done, the bathroom looked almost normal. At least I don’t ever have to worry about contracting something in here. Or pests popping out of drains.

“And done,” Connie said.

Green liquid swirled down the shower drain as I tipped the bucket back. I put the bucket upright once the clean solution was gone. I dropped the washcloth back in, taking off the gloves and dropping them in as well. The other ghosts dropped their sponges in as well, and then put some of the cleaning wipes in the garbage.

I turned on one of the taps. Hot water poured on my hands, and I tried my hardest to not flinch back as I washed my hands with the soap bar resting on the counter. Using the two tap set up is gonna take a lot of getting used to. That’s for sure. Still not sure how I’m gonna clean my hands without nearly burning them off.

I turned off that tap. A tired breath escaped my lips. It took a will of might to not flop on the clean floor. Feel tired, but really accomplished.

Lucia turned to me. “You really aren’t used to cleaning, are you?”

I groaned. She’s completely right to an extent. I did chores like taking out the garbage and cleaning my room and the dishes. But not to this extent. I never cleaned the whole bathroom before. A couple cleaners would pop in a few times a week and did it for us. But there’s no way I’m answering that one. No way in hell.

My eyes dropped. Dirt, dust and cleaning solution covered my clothes. I should really get on that.

“Is there a washer and dryer here? Between this and what happened down in the mine, my clothes are...well,” I said, gesturing at my outfit, “and I can’t go to university like this.”

“Of course not,” Connie said. “Washers dryer combos only started to become more common after we died. Even if there was one here, it would’ve stopped working decades ago.”

“Right.”

So much for that idea. That means I probably have to do it the old fashioned way. Even if I washed my clothes this second, would they even dry up in time?

“Bring back your other clothes,” Connie said, “and strip down to your undergarments.”

My cheeks flamed up. “What?! Why?”

“I want to try out a spell.”

“No way,” I said, crossing my arms. “Not doing that.”

Stripping or standing naked in front of people I hardly know, even other girls, has always been a no go for me. Hell, I don’t even like going to the bra shops and using open girls locker rooms because of that sort of thing.

Lucia giggled. “Come on. We’re all ladies here. There’s no need to be bashful about it.”

There’s no washer or dryer here. And I doubt my clothes would dry in time, even if I washed them right this very second. It’s either whatever they’re planning or going to school looking like Pigpen, even if I took a shower. Frankly, I’ll take the former.

My shoulders dropped. “Okay, fine.”

Rushing back to the room, I snuck in and took off my pants. Snagging my bra and placing them on top of the pile, I lumbered back into the bathroom. Putting the pile of clothes on the ground, I quickly took off my t-shirt and flung it onto it. My forearm clapped over my nipples and the lower part of my breasts.

Lucia blinked, leaning against the counter. “No bra?”

“Took it off to sleep,” I said. “It’s in the pile along with my jeans.”

“Ah.”

Connie put the cap on the sink, turning on one of the taps. Water poured into the sink as she poured some soap into it, and then dunked the clothes into the water. She turned off that tap and snagged the clothes from the sink. The crystal on her necklace glowed, and I closed my eyes. When I opened them, the clothes were completely dry.

“There,” Connie said, putting the pile into my hands. “Now you have clean clothes.”

Holy shit! That’s so cool. Wish I was able to do that.

“Wow.” I beamed, staring down at the pile in disbelief. “Thank you.”

“No need to thank me. Really. It’s a simple spell that I used a lot when I lived in the forest back when I was alive. It’s so easy that I never got a smidge of blot in my Soul Crystal.”

Blot? Either Ace or Deuce mentioned that down in the mine. What does that have to do with spellcasting? Is it some substance that latches onto those or something? The way she worded that last bit makes it seem like it, but I can’t assume that for sure. I seriously need to look into that later.

Lucia shot me a playful smirk. “Besides, you can’t smell terrible in front of any handsome men.”

‘And hot people of other genders, too,’ the smutty bisexual part of my brain added internally. But I smacked that thought out of my head. Awesome as attending university along side really hot people is, my sex life is the last thing I need to worry about right now. Worrying about Riddle and finding a way back to my own dimension are more important.

I’m wondering. “Did you do this to show off?”

Lucia shrugged. “Knowing her, yes.”

I giggled and Lucia laughed while Connie rolled her eyes, probably not offended by that statement.

I shot them a polite smile. “Thanks so much for everything, you guys.”

“You’re welcome.” Connie turned to me, eyes narrowed. “Next time, you’re on your own.”

“Sure,” I said, rubbing my eyes. That’s pretty fair. If I’m gonna stay here and want it to be clean, I should do it myself in order to pull my own weight.

The ghosts vanished in a blue puff of smoke. Shit! Should I say, “goodnight,” to them?

Nah. They never brought anything up and just disappeared, so they don’t care...I think. I’m way too exhausted from the cleaning to play along with neurotypical niceties. I just want to sleep. Cleaning up the bathroom worked wonders in regard.

Still, the ghosts aren’t as bad as I thought. They’re rather civil now that we seemed to sort things out from the other night. Except for their teasing and pranks. Still need to be on guard to be on the safe side in case I’m wrong. Or even if they decide to give Grim a bath. Knowing him, he wouldn’t take that super kindly at all.

With another tug on the string, the lights went out again and I stood in the dark. Taking out the plug from the sink and grabbing the bucket, I lumbered back into the room and placed it down in the corner. Putting my shirt and Covid-19 mask back on, I laid down on the ground on my side. My eyes drifted shut, and I fell asleep.

Chapter Text

A loud knock rang out throughout the dorm. I moaned, flipping over on the ground. What's that noise?

Another knock echoed throughout the dorm. Ugh, fine. I’m up.

My eyes cracked open. Sunlight poured in through the windows, lighting up the dorm room. I sat up, stretching my arms above my head and yawning.

Must’ve fallen asleep last night after I cleaned the bathroom. Good thing, too. Sure, I highly doubt that I slept for eight hours, but at least I got some shuteye. That’s what counts...I guess. Distracting myself for a while did wonders in that regard.

Dust rained down from the ceiling when the person pounded again, falling on everything in sight. Ugh, gross. And even right on my clean clothes, too.

Who the hell is pounding on the door this early? I swear if it’s Crowbar, despite him saying yesterday that he wouldn’t drop by unannounced anymore, I’m gonna launch him into this world’s version of the sun. Mornings aren’t my forte, and I value my sleep, thank you very much.

Actually, when is my first class? Crowbar never gave me a timetable last night, and I don’t have a cell on me either. Really need to ask about that later if he doesn’t send that via magical fax or whatever. Because I really need to know something as basic as that.

I took off my Covid-19 mask, tossing it on the ground nearby. As I snagged my bra from the pile, the person knocked again, sending a small trail of dust to fall right on top of Grim. He stayed there, still fast asleep. Seriously, Grim’s still asleep after that? I swear his ability to fall asleep instantly and still be asleep during times like this is his Unique Magic… if cat monsters have those here.

“I hear you!” I yelled, scrambling to clip my bra up under my t-shirt. “I’m coming! Stop hitting the door!”

Slipping on my pants and shoving my face mask into my pocket, I rushed down the stairs to the main area. I opened the door and Deuce, who wore a white t-shirt with horizontal stripes on it, a black jacket overtop and jeans, stood on the other side, holding a bag in one hand and a coffee in the other. A black backpack was slung over one shoulder while laptop bag was slung around the other. A red and black armband with a red crystal in the centre was tied around one of his biceps.

“Good morning,” Deuce said.

“Morning,” I said, rubbing one of my eyes and yawning. Deuce? What’s he doing here so early in the morning? And with bags, no less.

“You alright?”

My brow shot up. “Bit of a loaded question, don’t ya think?”

“Oh, right. How are things going?”

“Good. You?” Not really. I’m tired and worried about a lot of things. But I don’t want to say that to him, since it would be super impolite and make me look like a complete bitch.

“Pretty good,” Deuce said.

Covering my mouth, I yawned again. “Come on in.”

Deuce nodded, walking into the entryway. He dropped the paper bag on the ground beside him, and then he kicked off his shoes right near the door.

Kinda surprised that neither one of the ghosts showed up and scolded Deuce for being here, considering how Connie treated Ace last night. Guess they’re cool with Deuce showing up, since he’s being polite and not staying overnight or something.

I really need to talk with Deuce and apologize for what happened yesterday. But how do I word something like that?

“By the way,” Deuce said. “Did Ace co—?”

“Great,” Ace grumbled. “It’s you.”

I turned around. Ace stood there near the entryway to the living area in just his black boxers, tufts of red hair standing up, and yawned. He rubbed his eye, and then glared at Deuce. Probably took off the rest of his clothes to sleep last night.

“Ace, can you put some more clothes on?” I said, turning my head away slightly and covering the part of my face closest to him. “This is extremely awkward.”

Ace’s gaze dropped, and then his eyes landed on me.

“Shit!”

Ace took off to the living area so fast I half expected smoke to trail left behind.

Deuce hesitated. “This is probably extremely rude to ask, but did you two…?”

My brows bunched together. “Did what?”

A hint of pink crept onto his cheeks. His index finger and thumb touched, making a hole, on one hand, and he slid his index finger on the other through it. Oh…

“Course not. I just allowed Ace to bunk here for the night, because he had nowhere else to stay. I slept in one of the rooms upstairs while he slept on the couch in the main room. Besides, I don’t see him like that. He’s not my type.”

“Oh,” Deuce said. “Figured that was the case, since you two came from completely different directions.”

“Right,” I said. “Also, don’t worry about asking that. I don’t mind, really.”

“Okay,” Deuce said, turning away from me slightly and making an expression I couldn’t place. Shit! Did I say something too weird or awkward?

Ace walked back into the entrance way dressed in the same pair of pants and hoodie from last night. He quickly zipped up the hoodie.

I tossed him a teasing smirk. “Much better.”

Ace rolled his eyes at my remark.

“Forgetting that ever happened?” Ace asked.

“Yes,” Deuce and I replied at the same time.

Ace nodded, and then shifted his gaze towards Deuce. “Anyways, what are you doing here?”

“Since we are supposed to share the same room back in the dorms and you were banished the other day, I figured I should be a responsible adult and come find you. After I couldn’t find you in the dining hall, I figured that I should try here...even if I thought it was a long shot.” Deuce sighed, shaking his head. “I still can’t believe that you got banished from the dorm a couple hours after the opening ceremony. Gods, you’re a complete idiot.”

“Sod off! I don’t want to hear that shit, especially from you.”

“Anyways, here.”

Deuce picked up the paper bag and tossed it at Ace, who caught it with ease. He peeked inside.

Red eyes sharpened. “Were you snooping through my shit?”

“What?” Deuce said. “Or would you rather go to uni in clothes covered with coal dust? Or even your boxers? Or without your laptop?”

Ace didn’t answer, opting to snag a protein bar from the bag. He took a bite and chewed it, a scowl still plastered on his face. I bite my bottom lip to prevent me from bursting out laughing. Never seen someone eat a protein bar that angrily before. It’s like something out of a nonexistent meme.

Deuce took a sip of his coffee. “You’re gonna have a lot of problems with your magic sealed. Have you thought about apologizing to Rosehearts and having him remove it?”

“Rosehearts?” Ace blinked, staring at him in confusion. “You mean Riddle, right?”

Deuce blinked, probably running over what he just said. He shook his head, straightening his posture. “Yes. And just answer my damn question.”

“Actually, yes. I was planning to this morning before my lecture today.” Ace gestured towards me. “It was her idea.”

Deuce nodded. “I see.”

Deuce passed Ace the laptop bag, which he slung around his shoulder.

“Is Riddle still mad?” Ace asked the same question on my own mind.

Deuce took a sip of his coffee and swallowed it. “Not really. He’s a bit irritated at the moment. Three others suffered the same fate as you earlier this morning.”

Ace flinched, eyes going wide. “‘A bit irritated,’ my ass! Sounds like he’s completely pissed off.”

“Terrific,” I said, twiddling with the hem of my jean pocket. Of course he’s still pissed as ever. Because fuck my life.

Deuce stared at me, brows furrowed. “I’m confused. I understand Ace, but why are you acting so nervous and want to speak to my head prefect?”

“I overheard Riddle say that he’s pissed off with me about what happened at the opening ceremony last night, so I want to speak with him to sort things out.”

Deuce nodded. “I see.”

Deuce paused.

“Hang on.” Blue eyes flicked back to me. “How did you overhear something like that?”

Ace folded his arms, dangling the protein bar between his fingers. “I wonder about that too. Come to think of it.”

Might as well say the truth.

“During the entrance ceremony, I wandered around the campus for an hour, because I had no clue where I was after I was dragged here. Since I didn’t want anyone to see me, I hid inside of a closet, and I overheard Ace’s whole conversation with Riddle.”

Ace and Deuce burst out laughing. Ace was the first one to break the silence. “Gods, that sounds like something out of a creepypasta.”

Huh. Guess those exist here, too. Adding to the list of “Things that Surprisingly, but I’m Super Glad Actually Exist in this Universe” alongside the others.

“So that’s how you ended up at Night Raven?” Ace mused, stifling his laughter. “Something brought you here?”

No point in lying in that aspect now, too. I nodded, fidgeting with the hem of my jeans and face downcast. “Yeah. I was dragged through a mirror and ended up here. With hardly anything on me, no less.”

His brows bunched together. “Like the Dark Mirror?”

“Dark Mirror?”

“The one the uni uses to sort all the students who come here.”

“Maybe,” I said, continuing to play with the hem of my jean pocket.

“Maybe? How could you not know that?”

“I don’t know. Okay?”

“Seriously?”

“Ace,” scolded Deuce, bristling slightly. “Stop integrating her! She’s clearly uncomfortable.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Ace stuffed his hands into his hoodie pockets. “Allow Addie to say it on her own terms because it’s awkward or whatever.”

I pursed my lips. I should tell them what actually happened and that I’m from another dimension. They deserve to know that sooner or later.

No. I can’t tell these guys the full truth. Can I trust them with a bombshell like that? Despite everything, I only knew them for a day or so. I need to wait it out a least a bit longer. Just to be sure.

“Changing the subject,” Ace said. “Is there a shower or bath here?”

“Yeah,” I said. “There are some showers. One’s inside of the huge room, farthest room on the left once you go up the stairs. Just cleaned the bathroom, so it should be good to go.”

Right. I really need to ask about that. I can’t go to university looking like this. Now or never.

“Say, Ace. Can I borrow some of your shampoo and conditioner after you're done with your shower?”

“Why?” Ace asked, brows furrowed. “Can’t you use your own shit?”

“Like I said before, I never had much supplies on me when I was dragged here. I’m a non-mage, remember? I can’t exactly pull shampoo and conditioner bottles outta my ass.”

Ace groaned. “Fine, whatever. Just for today. If you use up a ton of it, I’m feeding you to that Overblot Monster in the mine.”

A playful smirk tugged on my lips. “The monster's dead and has no mouth, so…”

“I’ll toss you in there.”

“Good luck with that, since it’s in another country and all.”

Ace rolled his eyes. “Whatever, I’ll find a way.”

Ace sauntered off and walked upstairs, the floorboards creaking with each step.

I rubbed the back of my neck. “We probably should head to the living room...or whatever those are called here.”

Deuce nodded. We walked into the living room, plopping down on the couch next to each other. He took off his backpack, sitting it down on the other seat beside him. 

Here’s my window of opportunity to actually apologize to him. Here goes nothing.

“Deuce?”

He blinked, setting his coffee down on the ground. “Yes?”

“Sorry for dragging you into all that last night. I wanted to ask someone for help to deal with the fight. If I knew that would almost get you almost expelled and fight off a giant monster to revoke that, I would’ve found a way to deal with it myself.”

“Don’t worry about it. Really. You needed help, so I did what I could. I don’t think any of us could’ve expected all...that to happen. I’m still enrolled in this uni, and that’s all that matters to me.”

I sent him a smile. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Deuce said, plucking his cell from his pocket and paging through it. Shit! That reminds me.

“Forgot to ask you guys before. But what time is it?”

“Oh.” Deuce blinked, and then stared down at his cell screen. “It’s nine o’clock.”

It’s nine in the morning? Great, that means that I got around five hours of sleep. Just fantastic.

Then again, I probably need to wake up this early anyways depending when my lecture or lab is.

Do I even have a class today? Grim and I are two halves of one student, so I'm only attending classes part time. God I wish Crowbar gave me a schedule last night. Or even other school supplies.

Deuce turned to me, raising a brow. “Don’t you have a mobile?”

I shot him an awkward smile, rubbing the back of my neck. “Not one that actually works.”

“Oh. If that’s the case, here.” Deuce slapped his cell into the palm of my hand, and I blinked. “You can use mine if you want to contact your family. I don’t mind the overseas charges.”

I stared down at it. If only it was that easy for my problems to be solved…

I passed it back to him. “Um, thanks. That’s super sweet of you, but I don’t think that would work.”

He blinked, staring at me in confusion. “Why? Don’t you live just across the pond?”

“Well…um…”

He arched a brow. “Well, what?”

“Don’t feel comfortable saying that at the moment.”

“Oh,” Deuce blinked, probably taken aback. “That’s fine.”

Silence exploded between us. Great. Now I made things extremely awkward. Wait a go, dumbass.

“What are those loud noises coming from our bedroom bathroom?!” Grim yelled from down the hall. Oh thank fucking god!

I tossed the cat, who stood near the opening to the living room, a deadpan stare. “Ace is taking a shower.”

“Right,” Grim said, perking up again. “Knew that.”

Sure he did.

“All yours,” Ace said.

Ace stood near the entrance way, hair still dripping wet and dressed in a red, pullover hoodie and black pants with runners on. The heart marking was missing from his left eye. Huh. That’s not a tattoo? I could’ve sworn it was. Ace and Deuce must draw those on with makeup, then.

“Thanks,” I said with a smile.

“I left all my stuff in there, so you should be able to use it.”

I stood up, dodging Grim. Each step creaked as I rushed upstairs and went into the bathroom in the dorm leader’s room. The door slammed shut behind me.

Only a hairbrush along with Ace’s shaver and toothbrush rested on the counter. A bottle of shampoo along with a bar of soap rested on a ledge on the shower wall. An unused towel sat on the floor.

No blow drier. Or an unused toothbrush and shaver. Terrific. Using another person’s shaver and toothbrush is super unhygienic, which means I have to go without doing those things for today. That also means I have to go outside with wet hair, too.

Both sets of my grandparents would have a field day if they were still around and saw me go out like that. I practically hear my abuelita scolding me from beyond the grave, saying, “Don’t go outside like that. Do you want to get a cold or a stroke?”  Despite the fact that either of those things would be impossible.

Hell, I can see them scolding me like that if I’m told them that I’m the first girl to attend an all-boys university, becoming a shady birdman’s guinea pig to test that out.

Or that I allowed a guy to bunk in my dorm until Riddle takes that stupid collar off.

Or that said guy that I allowed the same who stared at my breasts a lot before...even if it was an accident, to stay overnight in my dorm.

Or that I gave away my virginity to the second guy I ever had a serious relationship with. A former friend who shattered my heart, no less.

...Actually, my abuelita and nonno would question a lot of my life choices if they were still around back in my dimension, come to think of it. They apparently did the same with my mom when she was my own age from what she told me. Even when mom was an adult and back when they were both alive, from what I remember. Mother like daughter, I guess.

My face dropped. Mom. She’s probably worried to death about me. It’s been almost three days since I was dragged to this dimension. With my bio dad and my grandparents on her side gone, I can’t imagine how she’s taking me being missing. She might even think I’m dead.

Nope, nope. Not thinking about that shit right now. One thing at a time.

I took off all of my clothes. Stepping into the shower, I turned the knob. Cold water trickled down from the showerhead, mud swirling down the drain. The sides of my lips tugged up as I rolled my shoulders, my joints cracking. I don’t care if the water’s cold. After yesterday, it sure hits the spot. Nice to feel a bit more human again.

Snagging Ace’s bottle of two-in-one shampoo and conditioner from the stand and flicking the cap on it open, I took a sniff and smiled. Huh. Smells like roses.

Taking a step back in order to avoid the burst of water, I grabbed the bar of soap. I scrubbed the dirt and grime away.

Okay. I need a game plan for when I talk with that Riddle guy. How do I pacify Riddle while not giving away that I’m from another dimension and never met Grim before a couple days ago?

Their dorm is honoured after The Queen of Hearts, and Riddle has a wicked temper. Hell, Deuce mentioned that “Riddle would have his head too” if he didn’t go back to his dorm on time last night. How did Alice pacify The Queen of Hearts in that story?

...She didn’t. At least in any of the adaptations I heard about. The Queen of Hearts was super angry at Alice for no reason, put her on some bullshit trial, and then she woke up from a bizarre dream...Which, boy, I wish was the case now. Even that Black Butler OVA did something like that. Except Ciel was in a coma due to becoming a demon or something like that. And I never finished Alice in Borderlands, so I have no idea on that front, too.

More I think about it, I shouldn’t go in that direction. Riddle is his own person, not The Queen of Hearts. So I should handle this in a different manner.

Maybe I could try just telling him that what happened at the entrance ceremony was all Grim’s idea. Deuce seemed to understand when I said something like that yesterday.

But if I go in that direction, he might shift his ire towards Grim. That might get me out of trouble, but I don’t want to have Grim deal with him instead.

I bent over, closing my eyes. Water cascaded down my head. Maybe I could tell Riddle that Crowbar decided to use both of us as test projects to see if other women can attend university here, but Grim stole my robe and acted out due to stress.

...Yeah. Maybe I’ll do something like that. It’s somewhat of a half truth, and shouldn’t pin the blame on either of us. Worth a shot, at least, since I can’t think of any other explanations at the moment.

Standing upright and turning off the knob, I stepped out of the shower. I wrung the water from my hair before I dried off the rest of my body with Ace’s unused towel and tossed it aside.

I quickly got dressed in the same outfit as yesterday. Granted, I’m attending a university full of guys, most of whom probably won’t give a shit about that sort of thing if they notice at all. But it doesn’t make me feel like any less of a cartoon character, dressing up in the same outfit every day. ...Which is rather fitting given the type of world I’ve been isekai’d too. But it doesn't mean I have to like it! I want to change clothes to just look even a little presentable.

My eyes landed on the bathroom mirror. Bags hung underneath my puffy eyes. Little scratch marks dotted my face, marking my light brown skin. My hair stuck out in places. My armpits are hairy.

I took a shower, and I still look like complete horseshit. Fantastic.

My natural curls are gonna come back in full force, no doubt. I wish I had my straightener, blow dryer and the rest of my hair and skin care products here. And my makeup, too! I can’t go days on end with those things. I need them. Superbad. Adding those to the mental list of things I need to get pronto if I stay here for an extended period on top of everything else. Which hopefully it won't come to.

Technically I shouldn’t brush my hair while wet, since doing that causes breakage. Too late now.

I snagged Ace’s brush. Long bristles tugged at my hair, getting all the knots out. The brush clattered to the countertop.

A little black and lavender ribbon laid in the corner. Must’ve belonged to one of the people who used to live in this dorm back in the day. I doubt Ace would own something like this.

I walked over to the spot, snagging it. Standing up, I walked back to the sink area. Hm. Everyone in this university seems to wear these to signify what dorm they belong to. Hell, even Grim has it with his collar. Maybe I could try something.

I grabbed my hair in one hand. Wrapping the ribbon around my hair, I tied it in a bow.

My eyes fixed back on my reflection. My dark brown hair was pulled back, a bow sticking poking out behind my head and a small section of hair curled near my face. Huh. Kinda looks cute when I pin it up like this. Should do this more often. Better than leaving my hair down when it’s like this. That’s for sure.

Staring at the bathroom door from the corner of my eye, a pit formed in my stomach. This was it. What if I mess up? Riddle has a wicked temper. Who knows what might happen when I go in there to apologize?

I gripped the counter, taking in deep breathes. I won't mess up. I won't. I won’t allow that. If I follow through with what I planned out, it should be fine.

I quickly put on my work boots from yesterday. Snagging my water bottle from the ground, I walked back downstairs. All of the guys stood in the entryway.

“You’re seriously using your dorm ribbon as a hair tie?” Ace mused, laptop bag slung over his shoulder.

“Eh,” I said with a shrug. “Did it to tie my hair up, since I don’t have anything else. Same goes for my boots.”

“Whatever.”

“Let’s get moving!” Grim cheered, pouncing onto my shoulder. “I really want to see Ace and her apologize to Riddle before class!”

I raised a brow. “How does Grim know about that?”

“We told him while you were in the shower,” said Deuce, and I nodded.

Ace growled, folding his arms. “Still, this isn’t a show, dammit! Screw this!”

“Honestly, I’m not happy about this either. It’s like ripping off a band-aid—” I said, and Ace cut me off.

“A what?”

Shit. That’s a name brand in my world, so that idiom doesn’t exist in this universe. Course they would have no idea what I’m talking about. Stupid, stupid.

“Point is that we should just get it over with.”

“Fine,” Ace groaned. “I swear if this doesn’t work out, I’m just straight up kicking Riddle’s ass.”

“No kicking his ass! Fighting on uni property for personal reasons is grounds for expulsion.” Deuce’s brows bunched together. “Remember?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ace brushed him off.

“Besides,” I said, “hopefully there won’t be a need for a backup plan.”

“I suppose.”

Ace paused for a moment. He turned to me.

“Before I do anything, I’m grabbing a coffee from the dining hall. I’m not doing anything until I’m fully caffeinated.”

I shrugged. “Fair. I really want some too.”

I went without café Cubano for a couple days now. I want to make up for it by drowning myself in coffee, especially since I’m going on little sleep. And I have nothing to eat here for breakfast.

“Why do you guys want coffee so badly?” Grim asked.

My face scrunched up, Ace and Deuce's expressions mirrored my own. Seriously? Grim’s questioning that of all things?!

“Well…” I began. “Adults are extremely groggy in the morning, so we need drinks like that to wake up.”

Grim leaned forward and nodded. He shot me a grin. “Can I have a coffee there?”

Can Grim even have coffee? Sure, he’s a monster cat, but a cat nevertheless.

“No.”

Grim faltered, ears flattening.

I scratched behind his ear. “I’ll get you tuna there. How does that sound?”

Grim purred, tail swishing along my back. “Fine.”

Hard to believe that Grim and I are interacting like this. Especially since he tried to light me on fire a few days ago. Guess he’s warming up to me after we went through together.

“Why does Grim—?”

“Anyways, let’s go,” I said, purposely cutting Deuce off. Sure, it’s extremely rude, but I have no explanation for the question he’s about to ask.

“Agreed,” Ace said.

Deuce slipped his shoes on with his feet. Grim hopped off my shoulder, walking on his hind legs alongside the others as they walked out the door. Deuce shut it behind him.

A small envelope shot through the slot on the door, and I caught it in my hand. Must be that fantasy fax, or whatever it’s called, that the Vice-Chancellor mentioned the other day.

Ripping open the envelope, I reached my hand into it. I pulled out several bills along with a student ID card that belong to both me and Grim and a sheet of paper with a bunch of colourful columns shining through the back of it.

Right. Vice-Chancellor Crowley mentioned yesterday that I’m paid biweekly at the end of the work week, so he must’ve decided to fantasy fax it today.

Fuck ya! Payday! I can finally go out and buy some things. Like food, makeup, hair and school supplies, hygiene products, more clothes, normal shoes.

“You coming or what?” Ace yelled, halfway down the hill already along with the others.

“Coming!” I called back.

Stuffing the bills, student ID card and paper into my pocket, I quickly locked the door and rushed up to the others.

Chapter Text

Stepping forward and following the other guys, I closed my eyes and walked through the mirror portal. When I emerged on the other side, my eyes snapped open.

Heart shaped rose bushes and potted plants lined a cobblestone path leading to a castle. The redbrick building towered several stories high with white accents lining the pillars and black shingles on top. Heart and spade shaped windows lined the outside. A banner with the dorm logo on it hung above a giant, heart shaped opening.

Starting to think that these dorms are inside little pocket dimensions. It would explain why these dorms aren’t anywhere on the university grounds, and how the weather inside of each of the dorms so far is always tempered. Having a giant open door like that in the middle of a storm would be a rough experience.

“Whoa!” Grim beamed, floating up in the air beside me. “This place is beautiful!”

“Sure is,” I said, smiling and taking in the sights.

This dorm seems like something ripped straight out of a fairy tale. Makes sense, because it’s based on the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. But still, I can’t believe those guys live here.

“Yeah, it’s a lot better than our shitty dorm.”

“Hey,” I scoffed. “Our dorm is still in development, and there’s some charm to it. I even cleaned the bathroom this morning.”

“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”

As much as I hate to admit it, Grim’s right. I'm sure all of the other dorms look way better than our shabby one. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it when he rubs it in my face!

Ace gestured for us to catch up with them. Grim hopped on my shoulder, and I rushed up to where they stood.

“Are those mazes?” I asked, pointing to the towering, manicured bushes beside us.

Ace nodded. “Majority of the dorm is surrounded by the Rose Maze. It’s modeled after the ones the Queen of Hearts and her family have at their main palace.”

I pulled out a piece of lint from my pocket, twiddling it. “Makes sense.”

Is the Queen of Hearts still alive in this universe? Or is that a royal title?

The last one has to be the case. Unless the Queen of Hearts in this dimension is a vampire or has a Lazarus Pit tucked away in her palace, she would likely be long dead by now and many of her descendants would’ve taken the throne after death.

Though, Vampire Queen of Hearts would make a cool idea for a drawing…

“Watch out below!” someone called out.

I jumped out of the way, Grim clinging onto my shoulder. Red paint splattered on the ground just ahead of us.

“Thanks!” I called back, playing with the lint in my fingers.

My head tilted up. A guy with chin-length strawberry blond hair, who looked a couple years older than me and had a fair complexion, stood halfway up a ladder with a paintbrush in his hand behind one of the bushes. Red paint dripped down the roses. Holy shit! That guy is actually painting the roses red. Sure. This dorm is based on Alice in Wonderland, so that’s to be expected, but it’s still a bizarre sight to see in real life.

The guy stared down at us. “Do you guys need something?”

“Oh, um—”

“Now that I look at you guys more closely…” The guy gasped, beaming down at us. “You guys are the freshers who totally wrecked the main chandelier yesterday.”

I'm never gonna hear the end of that until I leave this universe, aren't I?

Wait… Freshers? Doesn’t he mean freshmen?

Then again, I think I heard somewhere that’s what first year university students are called in Britain. He’s probably using it in that context. Even if he seems to be speaking in this dimension’s version of a German accent.

He wasted no time setting down the paint bucket on the ladder and jumping down from it. He rushed around the bushes and right towards us with a big grin on his face. I took a step back, uncomfortable with how close he was.

Up close, I could tell that a little, red diamond laid over one of his eyes. Huh. Guess he has one of those too. If those aren’t tattoos, what’s the deal with those? Is that a fashion trend in this universe? A tradition exclusive to this dorm? Or what? Should ask Ace or Deuce about that later.

The guy grinned, pointing his paintbrush at Ace. “You're that first year who went on that trial right after the opening ceremony and got into a huge fight in the dining hall last night!”

Ace didn’t say anything, opting to just hang his head and shove his hands into his hoodie pocket.

Green eyes landed on me, the smile on his face broadening. “Oh, speaking of which, you two are the ones who made that huge scene at the opening ceremony, and live in that piece of shit dorm. Good on you two for living in a shit hole like that. You have my sympathy.”

Not sure if that’s actually the case, by the way he said that. Something about this...doesn’t feel right. I’m not even sure if I trust that smile of his. His smile seems rather forced and kinda plastic. Like the one Ace shot at me in the cafeteria yesterday. But for all I know, I could be paranoid and jumping to conclusions. He could be this chatty in general. I don’t really know what to make of this guy!

“Either way, that was one hades of an entrance, that’s for sure. Snapped some great pics, and posted them on Magicam.”

Whipping out his phone, the guy shoved it right in my face. A social media site, with almost the exact same interface as Instagram, popped up on his cell screen. The stranger swiped his index finger across the screen, flipping through the pictures on his Magicam feed. In the first one, Grim tossed a fire ball towards a guy, who kinda looked like a teal blue-haired version of Sabastian from Black Butler. In the second picture, the guy posed right in the middle of the frame while some others guys just barely rushed off frame behind him, including one with his ass ablaze. In the last one, Grim squirmed around with the same type of collar that’s now around Ace’s neck.

The guy dropped his arm to his side, taking a step back. “That whole opening ceremony even started popping up on Yabber Trending here in Rose Kingdom a few days ago. You and your familiar are pretty famous around here.”

So now everyone and their cat plush in this university and outside of it knows about that incident? Fantastic. Just fantastic. How come I got the feeling that if I made a drinking game about how many times people might bring that up that I will die?

And…Rose Kingdom? Think Ace mentioned that name a couple nights ago when he said where he's from to that other guy. Must be the name of the country where this university is located. Given the name, it sounds like it could be the closest thing to this dimension’s version of the United Kingdom. Would make a ton of sense given the prevalence of the fantasy version of those and Irish accents here. Well, at least I know one basic thing about the geography of this world besides what Ace’s hometown is called. Same goes for the name of the country that mine was in.

“This guy sure loves moving his mouth, huh?” Grim growled, hunching down on my shoulder and flicking his tail about. Shit. He sounds like he’s ready to attack him.

I cocked my head to the side, eyes narrowed at the cat. “Down, Grim.”

Grim groaned, relaxing his posture.

The guy shot a smile at me. “Now that I see you in person, you’re super cute. You’re attending uni here now, too?”

Is he flirting with me? It sure sounds like it, but given his chipper nature, it could be either or! Unsure how to respond to that, I gave an awkward laugh and ran a hand through my now dry hair while avoiding Grim. “Sure am.”

“That’s so awesome! I feel so lucky getting to meet the notorious freshers first thing in the morning. Oh, oh! I have an idea. Let’s all take a selfie together!”

Before I could protest, the stranger yanked me beside him, slinging an arm over my free shoulder and locking me in place. He dragged the other guys near us.

“Look up!” the guy said.

His arm shot up, holding his cell up in the air. He pressed the button. A bright flash shone for a second. I blinked rapidly, rubbing my eyes. Ugh. Who the hell turns on flash in the middle of the day when it’s bright out? Wouldn’t that ruin his picture?

That guy’s super lucky. Flickering lights, touching any weird substances without gloves on and construction sounds among other things make me over simulate super fast. Sure, I hardly go into meltdowns or shutdowns over those anymore unless I'm forced to withstand them for long periods of time. I usually try to get out of there or avoid the situation before it comes to that.

“Oh, oh!” He said, sounding like a little kid asking their mom to buy the new tablet that they always wanted. “Tell me your names so I can tag you guys on Magicam!”

I tensed up. Oh shit. Sure. Normally I wouldn’t mind people posting pictures of me online. I love taking selfies and posing for other’s pictures back in my own dimension. With the possibility of someone that I never met before dragging me to this universe still being an option on the table, is it safe for me to do that? Post any pictures of myself with captions online and I’m one fantasy Google search away from them figuring out my location. Freaking out and telling him to not post it online would make me look like both a dumbass and suspicious as hell. What should I do?

Deuce blinked, rubbing his eyes. “Deuce Spade.”

Ace folded his arms, eyes narrowed. “Ace Trappola.”

The cat beamed. “Grim!”

I pushed the lint into my nail bed, playing with the hem of my jeans. “I really don’t want to be tagged.”

The guy blinked. “Why?”

“Personal.”

“Huh?” Deuce and Ace said at the same time.

“Eh,” the guy said with a shrug. His fingers quickly tapped the screen, and then his phone made a little ding. “And...upload finished.”

Wow. That guy’s done adding the tags already? Damn that guy is a lightning fast texter. Usually it takes me a few minutes to add all of the tags on my photos on Instagram back in my universe.

Still, if someone other than Vice-Chancellor Crowley dragged me to this universe, could they still find out my location by that post, even if he never tagged me in it?

No. I doubt that photo will be noticed by a lot of people. Someone seeking out a random account for my location seems unlikely. I should be fine. Or I really hope I am.

“Are you okay?” Deuce asked. “You seem really worried about something.”

Relax. Just breathe.

“Uh...yeah.” I slapped on a calm composure, flicking out the lint from my nail bed and playing around with it in my fingertips again. “I’m fine.”

“Oh, I totally forgot to introduce myself.” The guy smiled, sliding his cell into his coat pocket. “I’m Cater, but Cay is fine too.”

“Why are you painting the roses, anyway?” Grim asked. He kicked off of my shoulder, floating up the air to our eye level and folding his arms. Thank you! A distraction.

“Me?” Cater said. “There’s gonna be an Unbirthday Party the day after tomorrow, so I need to finish all the painting before then. So I have no time to lose!”

“What’s an Unbirthday Party?” Grim asked.

“Yeah.” I twirled the lint in my fingers. “I’m wondering the same thing.”

I damn well know what those are due pop culture back in my world, but I have to play dumb. If I say that I know about those from a popular, super old novel that had countless adaptations, including animes inspired by it, back in my own dimension, they will question that big time. Not to mention they would think I’m a complete lunatic. Besides, for all I know those might be different in this universe.

“Right,” Cater said, tucking his hair behind his ear. “You two don’t know anything about the uni traditions. From a different continent and all.”

Another continent? Another dimension? What’s the difference?

“Okay, so.” Cater clapped his hands together, paintbrush between the space of two fingers on one hand. “An Unbirthday Party is when the head prefect chooses a day that doesn’t fall on anyone’s birthday who’s sorted into this dorm and throws a tea party.”

“That’s… random.” Not sure what else I expected, really. Of course they’re the same as the story back in my own dimension.

“Don’t let Riddle hear you dissing those like that. He wouldn’t like that. Riddle is especially passionate when it comes to following these rules, even if he does go too far sometimes.”

“Right…”

Now it’s official. I really don’t trust that smile of his. That statement sounds rather threatening.

Ace crossed his arms. “I don’t blame her. To be honest, I still think that’s rather odd. Hades, some of the other traditions in this dorm are like that. Like painting the roses red. Why can’t they stay white? They’re pretty.”

...Huh. Would’ve never expected him to say that.

“Rules are the rules around here. As you already know, it’s all a part of the tradition, okay? Red roses are a must for an Unbirthday Party. Flamingos must be seven different colours for croquet with hedgehogs as the balls during those, too.”

“You guys hit hedgehogs with flamingos?!” I blurted out. Okay, I should’ve expected that given everything else about this dorm. But still, those poor animals.

Cater chuckled. “Your fresh reaction is so cute! Don’t worry! We’ve done this plenty of times before. Unlike back in the day, there’s a special enchantment placed upon them so that none of them ever get hurt. Trust me.”

I sighed in relief. Okay, good. The animals are safe.

“Ah!” Cater yelped right beside me, and I clapped my hands over my ears. “I don’t have time for small talk! I need to finish painting these!”

Cater turned to us.

“Say, can you guys help me out here?” Cater pleaded. “Pretty please?”

Shit! That reminds me. We don’t have time for this bullshit either. I need to do what came here for in the first place. Might as well get this over with.

I shot him a polite smile, trying to hide the knots beginning to form in my stomach and playing with the hem of my jeans. “Actually, Ace and I need to speak to Riddle. Is he around?”

Cater raised a brow. “Why do you want to talk with Riddle, too?”

“Oh, just about what happened at the opening ceremony and sort that out with him.”

“Hm.” Cater tapped his chin with his free hand. “I think there’s still some time left before he leaves for his lab.”

Cater paused.

“Actually, I don’t think I can. Rule Thirty-Four—”

I bit my bottom lip, and snorted at the remark. Seriously? That’s the rule that Ace broke?

Cater blinked before he stared at me, brows creased and mouth slightly gaped. Grim tilted his head to the side. Ace and Deuce stared at me as if I turned into a rose bush right before their very eyes.

I shifted my gaze away, rubbing the back of my neck. “Uh, got little sleep last night. Kinda loopy at the moment.”

“Right…” Cater said, slapping on his normal composure. “Anyways, that rule states that those who are banished by the head prefect aren’t allowed back in until either they complete their sentence or the head prefect decides to pardon the offender.”

Ace glowered. “What kinda bullshit rule is that?!”

I winced. “Actually, that sounds perfectly logical.”

“Not helping,” Ace growled through gritted teeth, staring at me from the corner of his eye.

Red eyes fixed back on Cater.

“Riddle never said how long I was banished for back when I was put on trial. So, what?” Ace said, arms crossed. “I can’t so much as put a toenail into this dorm for the rest of my life?”

Cater shrugged. “Unless Riddle decides to pardon you, pretty much.”

My eyes widened. Holy shit! Ace is banished from the dorm for the rest of his life just for skipping part of an opening ceremony?!

My eyes sharpened. “Okay, I take that back. That punishment is way too harsh for what Ace did.”

“No matter what you guys think, everyone who enters the dorm must obey the rules. If I let it slide, then it’s off with my head, too.” Cater’s expression darkened. “Sorry, but you guys need to leave before Riddle notices Ace here.”

Holy shit. He’s actually openly threatening us now.

“Right,” I said, taking the hint. “We’ll leave now.”

Cater slapped on a plastic smile. “Nice seeing you. You guys know where the mirror is. Don’t let me catch you wandering around.”

“Sure,” I groaned.

I turned around, and Grim pounced onto my shoulder, curling up around it. We walked down the stone path back in the same direction we came in.

Tried to be be an adult and swallow my nerves in order to talk things out with Riddle, and it still blew up in my face. Because fuck my life, I guess.

Ace and I really search around campus for Riddle after class and try again. Which is gonna be a huge pain in the ass, considering neither of us have his contact information and I don't have a cell, so who knows how long that would take.

“What the hades is his problem? That bastard waited until the end to bring up that I’m not allowed into the dorm.” Ace fumed, glaring daggers in the opposite direction we came as we walked. “He just tried to trick us into painting the damn roses!”

Grim leaned forward, nodding in agreement. “He’s a shrewd one.”

“On the plus side,” I said, continuing to walk beside the others, “we didn’t go through with that one, so we dodged a bullet there.”

Ace stared at me, continuing to walk beside me and stuffing his hands into his hoodie pocket. “A… what?”

Seriously, he doesn’t know what a bullet is?

...Well, the vast majority of people in this dimension are mages to the point that anyone who isn’t is considered disabled. I’d imagine almost everyone in this universe is able to shoot out lazerbeams, fire and other long ranged attacks. Firearms would be rendered useless in this universe unless there’s some sort of magic gun or something.

I really need to be more careful about spouting out idioms. Who knows what does and doesn’t exist in this universe. If I spout out anymore, they’d question me even more.

“When is your guys' next class?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

Deuce stopped in his tracks while Ace and I did the same. He plucked out his cell from his pocket, staring down at the screen. “Alchemy at eleven in one of the buildings across the campus, by the looks of it.”

“Same here,” Ace said, staring down at his cell screen.

Taking out the crumpled up timetable from my jean pocket, I flattened it out. Grim leaned forward, trying to peek down at it. I quickly scanned the page, finding the slot for the current day of the week. “Same here.”

My eyes bounced up to them, and a small smile tugged on my lips. Small world.

“What time is it now?” I asked.

Ace stared at me, raising a brow. “Seriously, you don’t have a mobile?”

“Not one that works. Even then, I don’t have anything on me besides the clothes on my back and a couple other items, remember?”

“Right.”

Deuce stared down at his cell screen again. “Quarter to eleven.”

“Crap!” Grim hollered right next to my ear. I flinched, covering my ears while being careful to avoid him. “It’s almost eleven! We have to get to class! My shining school life is going to be tarnished on day one!”

“Not really,” Ace said, putting his cell in his pocket. “Most uni professors don’t care if you’re late or skip classes as long as you get decent grades, show up for the exams and hand in your assignments in on time. You could take a holiday to the Land of Scalding Sands for a half a month, and they’d give less of a shit.”

I agree. That’s the case most of the time. Laura once told me that back when she attended UBC that while most of the professors there could’ve given less of a shit if you were late or skipped several classes, one of her professors was a huge exception. He followed the university rules to the letter. Including one policy about that if you skip out on a bunch of classes or even were late for no reason a lot, especially if you neglect deadlines for your assignments, then the faculty can penalize you or fail you on the spot. He even locked people out for being just a couple minutes late. She was always damn sure to never skip out and always be on time for that class. Not sure if our professor for that class is like that or if that same situation could happen in this dimension, but fuck it. I’m not taking any chances.

“Still,” I said, “we should get moving. For all we know, our professor for this class might be the type to penalize us for being late on the first day.”

Ace froze, eyes widened. “Shit. You’re right.”

“Come on!” Grim jumped off of my shoulder, hovering up in the air near my eye level. “Let’s go!”

Grim spring off my stomach, and I dug in my feet to prevent myself from falling over. He flew towards the direction we came. Blue flames billowed out behind him.

“Really?” Ace said. “We’re running again? And during the daytime when others can see us?”

Deuce turned to him, putting his cell in this pocket. “Well, it’s either that or risk our professor’s potential wrath.”

Ace groaned. “Fine. But this better not become a regular occurrence.”

Hopefully, Riddle doesn’t notice this. I have no idea if this is breaking some sort of rule. Who knows how he’d react if he caught us. Better to risk that than to be late.

Nope. Not thinking about that anymore. At least for now. Running might be a good way to get my mind off of things. 

We took off after Grim. Ace gripped onto his laptop bag for dear life and pumped his other arm while jogging. Deuce, who held the strap of his backpack with one hand, and I pushed forward, booking it down the twisting path towards the mirror portal.

Chapter Text

Dodging people as I made my way through the halls of the Alchemy and Sciences Building, I rushed in front of an unassuming set of doors near Grim and Deuce. Boots slammed down on the marble floor. Rigid breaths left me. Running here really hit the spot. It was rather refreshing in a weird way.

The campus is a lot larger than I thought. I’m not that shocked. After all, this is a university, and those are always super large. Same can be said for ones in other dimensions. But there are a lot of amenities here. Huge botanical gardens, a swimming pool, a gym, a museum, multiple buildings for different subjects. The works. Curious to check some of those things out sometime. Especially the gym. It would be nice to start working out and running a lot more again.

Why am I thinking about this? Finding a way back to my own dimension and contacting my family along with calming down Riddle is my first priority. Not that. I can’t lose sight of those priorities.

Grim hovered in the air, a smirk tugging on his features. “Ha! Won again. You guys are too slow.”

I tossed it back at him, breathing more calmly. “Won again by cheating.”

“When are you guys gonna learn? Using my skills doesn’t count as that.”

Deuce simpered. “Guess you wouldn’t mind if I used my broomstick or brought my magi-wheel over to the island next time we run outside, huh?”

Holy shit! Flying on broomsticks actually a thing here?!

Why am I making a mental Surprised Pikachu face about that? This is a fantasy universe. Of course that’s possible here.

Wow. That’s so cool! Flying around on a broomstick is a much cooler way to travel around. Would be much easier to zip off into the sky and get a bird’s eye view of things. Or even just get to high up places.

More I think about it, who knows if I’m able to fly on a broomstick to begin with. Most likely only those with magical powers would be able to do that. Non-mage and all.

“Sure.” Grim tossed his simper right back at him. “I’ll still beat you, anyways.”

A dark glint sparked in Deuce’s eyes. “Wouldn’t be sure about that.”

I tensed up a little. Wow. The similar look in his eye from when he bickered with Ace yesterday is back.

What’s the deal with that anyways? It’s like there’s a switch in his head that makes him turn darker and confrontational or something. Did he have a rough childhood? Or used to be involved in something shady? Or what?

I shouldn’t ask. At least for now. It’s probably something rather personal. Deuce respects my privacy and never pried into my origins, so I should return the favour. It’s the least I can do.

Heavy panting echoed out behind me. I spun my head around as Ace bent over, placing his hands on his thighs. Other students brushed past him.

One side of Deuce’s lip twitched up, the darkness in his eye dissipating. “Last place again?”

Red eyes narrowed. “Sod off.”

Grim cackled at that while I snickered. Deuce smirked. Ace glared at us as if he was about to spontaneously combust.

“What time is it?” I asked, trying to get things back on track.

Deuce fished out his cell from his pocket, staring down at it. “Five to eleven.”

“Good,” Ace said, panting for breath and eyes softening. “We’re not late.”

The door swung open, and we entered the room. It seemed like any old university classroom back in my own dimension. Light brown walls decorated the room. Long tables stretched across the aisles with a long staircase at each end of the room, which slowly descended to a bottom area. A whiteboard hung on the wall above an oak desk at the bottom area. Green lanterns floated on each side of the whiteboard, lighting up the room.

Students sat one seat apart from one another at the tables whenever possible with the little space left. Laptops only rested on the tables in front of half of the people here while binders and notebooks sat in front of everyone else. Guess some people really do things the old fashioned way here. Probably isn’t an issue for them since they can move their pens with magic to write on their own. But I’m gonna have to write everything by hand. God, I’m gonna have arthritis if I have to take notes by hand for months on end in a university level class. Might as well add a laptop or tablet to the list of things I need to save up for if I stay here for a long period of time. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

Shit! That’s right. I need something to write with. Especially since that Crowbar didn’t give me any supplies.

We walked down the aisles. I popped down in a seat between Deuce and Ace in one of the only larger spaces left. Grim landed on my shoulder, tail trailing along my back once I sat down.

Reaching over towards Deuce, I poked him in the shoulder. He turned his head towards me. “Can I borrow a pen?”

Deuce blinked. “Yeah, sure.”

He unzipped his backpack and reached into it, pulling out a normal pen without a crystal attached. He passed it over.

I flashed a small smile. “Thanks.”

He tossed it back to me. “No problem.”

I owe him. Big time. Need to buy Deuce a coffee or a drink once I go out later. It’s the least I can do for him after everything he’s done for me. I know I would’ve taken what happened last night a lot worse if it were me.

What’s the drinking age in Rose Kingdom, anyways? If this university is somewhere in the fantasy UK, then it should be eighteen. Many other European countries have similar drinking ages back in my dimension if I remember right. Fantasy universe, different rules. So it could be something completely different here. It’s hard to say.

“Good morning, class!” someone called out.

The door at the front of the lecture hall flung open. An attractive man, with bi-coloured black and white hair and a fair complexion, strolled into the room with an aura of confidence. Holy shit! Hot, genderbent Cruella de Vil! To the point it’s uncanny. He looks like he could be her sexy son. Or even that recent live action Cruella’s equally hot twin brother.

What’s with the striped fur coat? Sure, he looks like he could be related to Cruella, which could explain some things. That coat’s tacky as hell, but he both pulls it off with ease and he still seems professional. How? What is his secret? Is his fur coat full of secrets? No one should be able to pull that thing off.

And why the hell is he wearing that in the first place? Wouldn’t wearing a fur coat like that indoors roast someone alive this time of year?

The man with the bi-coloured hair smirked. “There seems to be some people with rare hair colours in the bunch. Not bad, I say. Do make sure that each of you take proper care of it.”

What the hell is even a rare hair colour in this dimension? The guy in front of me has purple hair. Since his roots are the same colour, it’s natural. Deuce has midnight blue hair. The guy who just mentioned this has black hair on one side and white on the other. Others have pink, lavender and green hair! How does this make any sense? Do people use magic to alter their hair colour? Does magic tamper with people’s genetics? Does this dimension work on anime logic where any hair colour goes and people are born that way regardless of magic? Man, I need to look this up later.

He strolled in front of the whiteboard, tapping the pointer stick into the palm of his red gloved hand. “My name is Divus Crewel, but you may call me Master Crewel.”

Master Crewel? Why the hell do I have to call him that? Why can’t I call him Professor Crewel like a normal person? I can’t take that name seriously! It makes him sound like a BDSM dom in a very weird Disney hentai! The fact that he’s really hot and looks like the secret love child of Cruella de Vil and Lucifer from Obey Me makes it even weirder!

Although, I wouldn’t mind calling him master or daddy while he whac—

No, no. Don’t you fucking dare, brain! I need to focus and be a barely functioning adult, especially since I nearly flunked out the last chemistry class that I took during secondary school. Even if I’m not sure how long I’ll stay in this dimension, I still want to get good grades to be on the safe side. Being thirsty over my fucking professor isn't helping with that!

Why am I acting like this? He’s my professor! An oddly hot one, yes, but my professor nevertheless. The fact that seems to be a few years older than Laura makes this even weirder! I just need to focus. I have to.

Professor Crewel walked over to his desk, picking up a few towering stacks of paper.

“Please take one from each pile and pass it behind you.”

Groans and grumbles filled the air as Professor Crewel handed them off to people sitting in the front row. Students snagged them, doing as instructed.

“Make sure to read over the syllabus sometime within the upcoming week.”

The guy in front of me grabbed the stacks of paper, holding them up in one hand without turning around. I snagged them, taking one from each pile and passing the rest behind me.

“Now then,” the professor said. “To ensure that there are no accidents, I expect you all to memorize the names and appearances of over three hundred different types of medicines, fungi and poisons by the first lab two weeks from today.”

Memorize hundreds of these within the first couple weeks of classes? God, this really is like secondary school chemistry class all over again, but even harder! Hooray...

“Master Crewel, didn’t we learn this back in high school?” a guy a few seats in front of us with white hair and wolf ears asked in this dimension’s version of a German accent, sticking his hand up.

“Yes,” Professor Crewel said. The guy with wolf ears put his hand down. “It’s true that you all should’ve been taught this information during high school, secondary school or sixth form, depending on what part of the world you’re from. But it’s always good to have a refresher before anyone sets foot in the lab. We don’t want anyone to turn into a snake by drinking untested potion during a lab, now do we?”

Turn into a snake? That’s actually possible here?!

Okay, this is a world where magic is real. Of course it is. But still, what the hell? What the actual hell?

Welp. I’m making extra sure not to screw up in this class. Last thing I want is to screw up a potion and turn into who knows what. With my luck and how much I suck at this, transforming into a snake be an actual possibility!

“No.” The guy with white hair shook his head. “We don’t.”

“Good.”

Ace groaned. “Gods, does this bloke really expect us to memorize things?”

I picked up my pen, flicking my gaze towards him and raising a brow. “It’s a university level class, what did you expect?”

Ace turned to me, scowl plastered on his features. “I know that. I’m not an idiot. Just that I hated memorizing shit back in secondary school and sixth form. And now, thanks to my luck, I have to do this in a fortnight right before Freshers Week on top of everything else.”

Fortnight? Like the videogame? And Freshers Week? Is that some sort of event for freshmen? What the hell is he talking about?

Ace let out a heavy sigh. “I already know this class is gonna suck ass, even if I have to take this one and pass it to get my degree.”

My face dropped slightly, pen dangling in my fingers. “Don’t blame you. Honestly, tell me about it.”

Sure, I’m decent at memorization. It’s mainly thanks to that fact and taking so many electives that interested me like Studio Art, Drama, New Media Design and Photography that I graduated secondary school. Unless the subject of a class interests me, is more project or theory based, or the lesson is delivered in a fun way, I just zone out or instantly forget about what I learnt soon as I move on to the next grade like someone emptying the recycle bin on a computer. And that’s for classes like English and Social Studies. Classes that I’m pretty decent at. That same memorization trick doesn’t work with math, or any of the science based classes, which is partly why I nearly failed those.

I never even took past grade eleven math in secondary school! Which I’m really starting to regret, considering I’m one wrong equation away from turning into god knows what.

Ace is right. I can already tell this class is gonna suck major balls, despite needing to take it.

Professor Crewel proceeded to go over each and every entry on his list. I tried to listen, underlining some of the items on the list while doodling the margins the rest of the time. Images of Pikachu in a wizard hat, Judar blowing up a random word with his wand, vampire Queen of Hearts, the works. Grim fell asleep on my shoulder half way through the lecture, but I never bothered to wake him up. I figured that I could give him the notes this time and talk to him about it later. Deuce’s pen-wand floated on his own and flicked about frantically on the page of his booklet, underlining some of the items, as his brows pinched together. Ace highlighted notes on the paper and typed notes on his laptop, tabbing off a few times to check up on his stats on a video game that I never seen before in my life, likely due to it not existing back in my own dimension. Which, boy, I would rather play that game than listening to sexy, genderbent Cruella rattle off names on a list. Don’t get me wrong. His voice is like chocolate, velvety and sweet. It was one of those times that even an attractive voice couldn’t make this subject less dull.

“That’s it for today,” said Professor Crewel after what seemed like eons.

Fucking finally! The class is over. Never thought it would end.

Professor Crewel slapped the pointer stick into the palm of his hand as Deuce along with many others gathered their things, walking out of the class. “If I see any red marks on your exams or assignments, there will be punishment.”

Nope. Don’t you fucking dare go there, brain!

Putting his laptop back into his bag, Ace stared down at the image of a Crewmate on the page of my open booklet. “What’s that doodle you got there?”

My shoulders shrugged slightly. “Just something random I drew in order to concentrate on the lecture.”

Well, it’s a half truth. Absentmindedly doodling random things helps me to focus and retain information better for reasons unbeknownst to me. Besides, I doubt Ace would suspect anything. For all he knows it’s just a random doodle and not a character from a popular video game back in my own dimension. Same goes for everything else I drew during class.

“Hey!” Professor Crewel called out. I stopped in my tracks, whirling my head around. “Can Miss Strano-García come down here?”

Rubbing the back of my head while avoiding Grim, I said, “Sure thing!”

“Someone is in trouble,” Ace teased in a sing-song voice, an impish grin tugged on his features. Does he have to say it like that?

“What are we? In primary school? He probably just wants to talk to me about something tied with the class.”

His smirk broadened. “Sure, that’s what you want us to think.”

Shit. Was I really that obvious about it? No. I don’t think I was. Usually it’s hard for others to tell if I find someone attractive by my facial expressions alone. Or at least that’s what others told me in the past. Hell, even Laura and my old secondary school friends teased me about having a poker face around people I found hot. But still, I don’t want to stay to find out.

I slapped the booklet shut, grabbing my other things on the table. “Coming!”

Placing one hand on Grim and holding the booklet and pen in the other, I ran down the stairs near his desk where Professor Crewel stood.

“What do you want to speak to me about?”

Textbooks slammed down on the desk. “Your textbooks. Dire informed me that I should give these to you now due to your circumstances.”

Dire…?

Oh, right. He must be referring to Vice-Chancellor Crowley. Think he said that was his first name the other night.

Professor Crewel stood there, waiting for me to respond. I played with the hem of my jean pocket. I have to call him that, don’t I? Fuck.

He arched a brow. “Well…?”

Just spit it out, dumbass. Standing here nervously and doing nothing is just making me look like an idiot.

“Uh…yes. Thank you, Master Crewel.”

Phew. Did it. God, that’s gonna take hell of a lot of getting used to. It still sounds so weird to say out loud, especially to him of all people.

“You’re welcome.” Professor Crewel hummed, grey eyes stared down at my feet before flicking up at my face again. He stared at me as if he was peering into my soul. “Wearing the boots I made for you, I see?”

He’s the one who created the boots for me? I can easily believe that, due to him being dressed like an extremely fashionable eboy model. Damn. He’s multi-talented and works fast. Creating something like that in one night and on short notice would be an almost impossible feat to pull off, magic or not. I can’t even finish a couple art commissions in one night let alone that.

“Uh...Yeah.” Smiling awkwardly, I rubbed the back of my neck while avoiding the cat sleeping on my shoulder. “Don’t really have much on me, so I have to wear them for the time being. But I don’t mind, since they are rather cute. Thank you.”

“The pleasure’s mine. These things are quite important.” His smug smile faltered, and he stared off to the side, arms crossed. “Besides, if you never said anything, Dire would’ve let you run around barefoot all day until you saved enough money to buy them yourself. Given the line of work he tossed you in and the fact you’re a non-mage, that would be an accident waiting to happen.”

Boy, if that doesn’t say a lot about the Vice-Chancellor. Given how he treated me so far and how scattered brained he seems, I’d buy it. God, that birdbrained bastard is getting more and more on my nerves by the day.

“If you need anything, just ask. Clothes, supplies, things for this class.” Professor Crewel ripped his gaze away, snagging the pointer stick with a dog collar and burgundy gemstone attached to it. “Just because Dire isn’t being mature and taking complete responsibility for what happened. Someone around here has to.”

I took a step back, going back to fiddle with the hem of my jean pocket. “Thanks for the offer, but I don’t want a sugar daddy. I want to earn all that stuff on my own.”

We both fell silent. My professor stared at me and blinked, probably dumbfounded by what I said. His lips pursed, no doubt fighting back a fit of laughter.

I covered my face with one hand, cheeks heating up so much they felt as if they were on fire. Why the hell did I call him that out loud?! And to one of my professors no less?! God, I’m a fucking idiot!

Can I be isekai’d into another dimension? Like the Riordanverse. Sure, I never read any of those books firsthand, but they always sounded cool by how Laura and others online described them. At least that one has a lot more familiar concepts and countries as my own. Or the No Game No Life universe. Hell, I would even take the My Hero Academia universe, despite everything that went down recently in the manga!

Better yet. Can that stupid mirror just send me back to my own dimension? That would be extra nice.

Half expected a random book laying about to burst into song like in Beauty and the Beast. The song would be called “She’s an Awkward Dumbass.” Considering this place already had a magic mirror that looked like the one from Snow White and has dorms based on Disney villains, I wouldn’t be surprised if talking books exist in this universe!

My arm dropped to my side. “Uh...I...I didn’t mean it like that.”

My professor clapped on his professional composure again. “Quite alright. Well, it's been a pleasure to meet you. If you change your mind, please let me know.”

“Sure.” I slapped on my best calm composure, cheeks still burning. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Study hard, alright? Make sure that Grim stays up during the next class.”

“I will.”

I grabbed all of the textbooks from the desk. Rushing up the stairs with all of my things in hand, I caught up with Ace and Deuce, who stood nearby the door.

Confusion crossed Deuce’s features. “Why are you flustered?”

“Nothing,” I said before Ace could get a word in. “Let’s just go.”

Chapter Text

Walking down one of the stairs inside of the main building again alongside Deuce and Ace, I clutched my textbooks and booklets to my chest. Thankfully outside of Ace lightly prodding me for an answer about me being flustered, which I sidestepped, no one brought up what happened with Crewel. Or really talked that much at all outside of deciding to drop by Deuce’s locker. Hope it stays that way for the whole Crewel thing. I still have no idea why the hell I said that, and I just want to forget that ever happened.

Tripping over the last step, a text slipped from my grasp, but I caught it before it dropped to the ground.

“Oh,” Deuce said, scuffling down the hall towards me. “Need a hand with those?”

Getting a better grasp of the stuff in my hands, I continued to walk along. “Thanks, but I think I’m fine until we get to your locker.”

“You sure?”

I nodded. “I’m used to doing this a lot back home for my job, and it’s only a little bit to your locker.”

Being a mailroom clerk involved a fair amount of running around the Commerce Place for hours in order to deliver various packages to the other employees. Carrying a bunch of heavy loads, sometimes without any help, was also a requirement. And all that in dress shoes and a business casual outfit, no less. To the point where getting a decent workout in was one of the only perks of that job. Outside of my job, I love to do home exercises like calisthenics, and I’m used to carrying Morgana around on my shoulders back in my own dimension. Not much has changed in some regards.

“I see.”

“Do a lot of heavy lifting?” I said, continuing to walk alongside them.

“Yeah,” Deuce said. “I’m an only child and have a single mum, so I’m used to helping out with hard labour and lifting shopping bags.”

“That’s so sweet.”

“Thanks.”

Ace leered. “So you're a total mama’s boy?”

“That’s not completely it at all!” Deuce snapped, walking down the hall. “I also like to workout, too.”

“Like how?”

“Running and weightlifting, at the moment.” One side of Deuce’s lip tugged up, continuing to walk alongside us. “I probably do more than you. Who out ran you the last few times?”

Ace crossed his arms. “It’s the off season for basketball. Bet I can run laps around you once I’m in shape and make the team.”

I continued to walk alongside them. Basketball? That exists in this dimension?! Wouldn’t have ever expected a sport from my own dimension to exist in this one too. While track does, that’s more running and other similar sports, which I imagine would exist anywhere. Basketball is rather specific.

Wonder if hockey exists here, too. The inventor of basketball was Canadian, if I remember right. The very first organized hockey game was played in Montreal. Many other cultures played similar games long before then. If basketball exists here, then hockey could as well.

I shouldn’t be thinking about this. I have to find a way back to my own dimension. I have to.

Deuce rolled his eyes, strolling beside us. “Love to see you try.”

A cocky smirk tugged on Ace’s lips. “I will.”

Deuce turned to one of the lockers and turned the lock on it, taking it off. He gestured inside of it.

“Thanks,” I said, passing my things to him.

Deuce smirked. “You too, Ace. Because I’m nice like that.”

I snickered, finding the sheer saltiness and sassiness of that comment amusing. Ace didn’t seem to think so. Ace huffed and rolled his eyes, passing him his laptop bag.

Grim shifted around on my back, and I reached over, scratching his head. “Hey, Grim.”

Grim purred some more in response and shuffled around on my back some more. “Class is done already?”

“Yes,” Ace said. “And for a half hour or so.”

“I also took all of the notes during that class, and could've wrecked my hand in the process.” Turning my head to the side, I scowled at the cat. “You really need to stay awake during class, you know.”

“Can you really blame me? That class was so boring,” Grim said, stretching his front limbs forward and empathizing the last word. “Why do we have to learn that, anyways? All that matters is if grass tastes good.”

Deuce whirled around. Ace turned his attention towards us. They both stared at me, brows creased and mouth slightly gaped. I would’ve laughed hysterically if that comment didn’t make both me and Grim seem like complete loons.

“I just want to cast spells and make things go bang!” Grim whined, not fazed by their reactions. Deuce blinked and shook his head, turning his attention back to the locker again.

Ace snapped out of it and groaned, leaning up against a random locker and shoving his hands into his pockets. “That was just the first lecture. The first week of anything in a uni like this is usually super boring.”

Grim flinched, his fur tickling the back of my neck. “What do you mean?”

“Well, that’s usually when we go over the basics and get our syllabus. Or at least that’s what my brother told me. The first lab is supposed to be in two weeks, so maybe that will be more interesting.”

“Yes!” Grim said, tail flicking back and forth along my back. “That would be.”

Grim paused.

Grim shifted around on my shoulder. “Is there another class?”

Ace shook his head. “That’s the only one. We’re free for the rest of the day.”

“Is it gonna be like this every day?”

“Yeah. Usually university students have one class per day, with the odd lab being on the same day being the exception.”

Grim pounced off of shoulders, landing on his four limbs and stood up on his hind legs. “That’s awesome!”

Can’t say I really blame him for thinking that. One of the perks of university is exactly for me. Less classes per day means more time to myself. Although, on the flip side, the classes are a lot harder and I’d need to focus on that on top of my other goals.

“Getting back to what I said before,” I said, folding my arms and narrowing my eyes at the cat. “I’ll give you the notes that I took today, and you can look over them later. But next time, you’re on your own.”

Grim hissed. “You’re being extra strict today.”

“Not really. I totally agree that lecture was boring as he—” I cut myself off, and quickly corrected, “hades. If you don’t stay up and listen to lectures, you could miss vital information that could pop up on an important exam and will be one step backwards from becoming a super mage.”

Not to mention we’re considered as one student in the eyes of this place, so our final marks at the end of each semester are tallied together. If he flunks all of his classes, I’ll go down with him. No matter how good my marks are.

Grim stared at me. He clicked his tongue and huffed, crossed his front limbs. “Fine. I’ll try to stay up next time.”

“Good.” I ruffled the fur on the top of his head, and Grim smiled.

The locker slammed shut. Deuce whirled around to face us. Grim dropped down, and walked on four legs again. Trailing right behind Ace and Deuce, I weaved through a few more halls until we turned around a corner and more people brushed past us.

“LUNCH TIME!” Grim yelled, so loudly that I swear he almost broke the sound barrier. He stood up on his hindlegs. “THE FOOD ALL SMELLS SO GOOD!”

I clapped my hands over my ears, staring down at the cat. “Lay off the volume, will you?”

“Agreed,” Ace said. “Why are you this excited during lunch?”

Grim ignored the both of us, dropping down and rushing right up ahead on all fours. Deuce trailed right after him. We approached the cafeteria.

The main chandelier hung up in its rightful place as if nothing happened, many crystals and lights glittering. Super thankful for that. Cleaning up that mess is one less thing to worry about.

Similar food as yesterday stretched across most of the sections. But one stuck out. Trays and containers filled with omurice, sushi, ramen and other East Asian food stretched across the tables at the far end of the room. My mouth began to water. Grim’s right. Everything on that one section smelt so good. Hell, it looked just as delectable as the stuff at Minami Restaurant or Tom Sushi. Or on par with some of the best sushi and East Asian restaurants in Vancouver. Or when my stepdad cooks Japanese food that he ate a lot as a kid for us.

Home.

“You okay?” Ace asked, genuine concern on his features.

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

All of the concern immediately washed away, and Ace shrugged nonchalantly. “Whatever.”

Think I’ll opt for a small tossed salad with chicken again. Don’t think I’m quite ready to have a taste of home yet.

Can’t think about that shit right now either. I’ll find a way to do all that. I will. I have to.

“By the way,” I said, continuing to walk towards the line near the middle table, “I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

Ace continued to walk just ahead of me, slapping his student ID on the sensor on top of the poll. “Shoot.”

“Why do you guys paint card suits on your faces?”

“It’s a Heartslabyul tradition going back eons.” Ace put the card into his pocket and snatched up a clean tray from the bin at the front of the buffet table. “People paint card suits on their faces to signify that they’ve been sorted into that dorm, and to honour the soldiers who served Queen Rose of Coventry. That’s why...their head prefect doesn’t have one painted on his face. Represents that Queen of Hearts and all. My older brother did the same thing back when he attended uni here.”

“So you never painted it back on, because you don’t feel like you belong to that dorm anymore and doing that would be admitting defeat?”

Ace fake gasped. “Good job, Basil. You deserve a gold star for your excellent deduction skills.”

“Okay, kinda deserved that one.” I gave him a sheepish smile, grabbing a lunch tray from the bin. I squinted slightly. “But why didn’t you wipe off your makeup and take off the armband yesterday if you want to make a statement against your head prefect?”

Ace fell silent, stopping in place.

My brows creased. “You forgot, didn’t you?”

“Oh, fuck you!”

A nearby worker, who seemed to be around our age with black hair twisted into a bun and a tawny beige complexion, scowled at the two of us from the other side. Others brushed by us.

Ace cringed. “My bad.”

The worker rolled their eyes, getting back to the same task as before.

“Rewind for a sec.” I moved down the line after Ace, placing a salad bowl on the tray. “Your brother was sorted into that dorm, too? Right?”

Ace nodded. “He graduated uni here a few years ago and taught me the ropes of this place. I also dropped by to visit him here a lot back then. We even played cards and video games together in his dorm room a bunch of times.”

“Aw, that’s so cute.”

“Yeah. Course you’ll think that.”

“Well, you’re the one who brought it up, so…”

“Touche.” Moving ahead again, Ace put a couple BLT sandwiches on his plate. “Anyways, he was super excited when I texted him that I was placed in Heartslabyul during the ceremony. More excited than my parents, believe it or not.”

Ace stopped again and his gaze dropped, making an expression I couldn’t place.

“Too bad the head prefect’s an ass,” Ace grumbled under his breath. Moving up the line, he slapped on a chocolate filled croissant on his tray.

Can’t say I blame him for thinking that, especially after everything he’s been through. Know I would feel the same way if it were me.

Ace rushed up ahead. I caught up to him again. Picking the tongs in the bowl, I slapped some spinach into the bowl. “Speaking of that, have any ideas about how we’re gonna get in contact with Riddle?”

“Gods, you’re still on about that?”

Picking up another set of tongs, I scooped up a mixture of carrots, cucumbers and half cherry tomatoes and dropped them into the salad bowl. “Our last attempt this morning went down in flames, so we need to still get that over with. As much as I hate it.”

“I suppose,” Ace said, putting a pastry on his tray. “Not really.”

“Same here. I would say try to contact him on social media, but I don’t have his contact info.”

“Me neither. And I don’t want to DM him on Magicam.”

“Agreed there.”

Seeking out Riddle on this dimension’s version of Instagram is the last thing I want. Knowing that guy’s temper and coming off as even more monotoned in online text chats according to my online friends back in my own dimension, he’d no doubt misread something that I say and become even more pissed at us. Dealing with normal social media drama is headache inducing enough without taking hexes and who knows what else Riddle could throw at us into account. I doubt Ace would fare any better than me.

That and I don’t have a Magicam account to begin with, and I highly doubt something like that would sync up with my Instagram account in my own dimension. ...Though, that would be really awesome if it did right about now. Same goes for the other similar social media programs here.

Grabbing some tongs, I slapped a couple slices of grilled chicken into the bowl. “The only idea I have is to search around the campus for him.”

Ace clicked his tongue at that. “Nope. Not doing it.”

“Honestly, I don’t want to either, especially since it probably means wandering here for hours on end on the off chance we do find him. But it might come to that. Unless Riddle comes to us randomly, which seems unlikely.”

“Still not doing it.”

“You could get some well needed exercise in,” I teased in a sing-song voice, trailing behind him.

“Screw you. And still no.”

“Fine.” I sighed. “I’ll try to come up with something else.”

Have no idea what. My ideas for what to do are withering down by the second. But I’ll come up with something eventually… Hopefully.

Ace and I walked back to the table. My lunch tray clattered against the table as I plopped down beside Grim. Ace sat down on the other side of me. Plates piled high with various sandwiches and snack food sat on their plates, making my salad seem minuscule in comparison. Ace may’ve joked about Deuce acting like a shonen protagonist while we were down in the mines last night, but they both sure eat like one.

“What are the other dorms like here?” Grim asked, gobbling up his rice omelette like he has never seen food before.

Ace opened his mouth to speak, but a familiar voice swooped in and answered for him. “You two know about those statues on Main Street, right? Each of the dorms here are honoured after those guys. They’re known as the Great Seven of this uni.”

I turned around. Cater stood right behind me with a lunch tray full of tons of food in his hands.

“Great,” Ace groaned. “You're that guy who tried to trick us into painting the roses red this morning.”

Cater chuckled, sitting down right across from me and setting his tray down. “Saying ‘tricked’ is super mean. It’s not like I painted the roses, because I wanted to, you know. I only did it because it’s part of the dorm’s rules.”

Blue eyes sharpened. “Then, why were you so happy-go-lucky the whole time?”

Cater laughed. “Now, now, Deucey. There’s no need to get all accusatory on me. Those rules are for only when we’re inside of our dorm.”

Deuce groaned, face flared up. “Stop calling me that cutesy nickname. It’s Deuce.”

A guy chuckled nearby. “Don’t mind him. Nicknames like that are just how Cater expresses his affection.”

A handsome guy strolled up to our table with a tray full of mountains of food in his hands. Forest green hair framed his face, popping against his tawny beige complexion. A black clover was painted over his right eye. Amber eyes were hidden behind a pair of black rimmed glasses. He wore a smart grey tweed blazer and his dorm’s armband with a black sweater underneath, contrasting Cater’s simple bright red button up shirt with a black muscle shirt underneath. Like a Dark and Light Academia aesthetic contrast in action.

I arched a brow. “And you are?”

“Oh, my bad.” The guy gave us a small smile. He sat next to Cater, his lunch tray clattering down on the table. “I’m Trey. Both Cater and I are vice prefects of Heartslabyul.”

“Nice to meet ya.”

“Likewise. And you’re that new girl in charge of that ramsh—” Trey cut himself off, clearing his throat. “I mean, the unused dorm? Um…”

Shit! That’s right. I totally forgot to introduce myself to Cater this morning.

“Adriana, but you can call me Addie.”

“Pretty name,” Cater said, green eyes sparkling. Okay. He’s definitely flirting with me.

“Don’t worry,” I said, dodging the previous comment. “There’s no need to sugar-coat it. It’s a total piece of shit. Might as well dub it as ‘The Shithole’ at this rate.”

Trey gave an awkward laugh. “I can only imagine. That place must be invested with mold, pests and who knows what else.”

“And two ghosts,” Grim said before stuffing his mouth full of omurice and ignoring the world.

Cater gave an awkward smile. “Yeah...them, too.”

Trey frowned. “Sorry for any trouble those two first years from our dorm may have caused you.”

Ace glared. “Deuce and I are sitting right here, you know.”

“Eh,” I shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Honestly, everyone in your dorm has been pretty cool to me so far.”

Well, everyone except their dorm leader, who wants to kick my ass. But there’s no way I’m saying that part. No way in hell.

“Oh, that’s good to hear.” Trey slurped up some soup, quickly swallowing it. “I was quite worried when I saw that email blast this morning talking about you being the first girl to attend Night Raven.”

I scooped up some salad and took a bite of it, quickly chewing and swallowing it. My face dropped slightly. “It’s been...an experience.”

His expression mirrored mine. “I can only imagine.”

You can say that again. Being the only female student here gives me so many otome game or reverse harem vibes. Reality isn’t the same as fantasy. Instead of simping over fictional hot guys and being disappointed about the lack of equally hot girls and non-binary people like I would while playing an otome, I have a whole host of other more important things to worry about besides that.

“Oh, I have an idea.” Green eyes lit up. Cater reached into his pocket, pulling out his cell. “Let’s all exchange numbers! Us guys are all in the dorm, so we should all try to get to know each other and get along.”

“Can’t,” I said. “My phone completely broke beyond repair a couple days ago.”

His smile faltered. “That’s too bad. Living without a handy totally sucks. Mine died over the last winter holiday break, and I had to wait until after it was over to get a new one. Longest wait in my life.”

I blinked. “Handy?”

“Oops. I mean mobile. My bad. I sometimes forget people outside of the Land of Pyroxene have different slang words for those.”

I shrugged, popping in a few more bites of salad into my mouth. “Eh, don’t worry about it.”

“That’s good.”

Cater paused for a moment.

“Say I know a place in town that sells some great mobiles for dirt cheap.” Cater leaned towards me, eyes twinkling mischievously. “How about a date to buy a new one?”

The fork slammed down on my tray, and I nearly choked. I’ve dated people and had sex before, but no one has ever asked me out while I was in front of a bunch of others like this. This is putting on even more pressure for an answer, in this case, agreeing to do that. Ugh. I hate being put on the spot like this!

Might as well shoot this down before it blows out of proportion. Dating anyone is the last thing I want right now. Even if I wanted to date people now, Cater’s not my type.

“Thanks, but not interested.”

All of the guys at the table, except Cater, burst out laughing. I cringed. Shit! Did I do that too bluntly?

Cater let out an awkward laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. “Ouch. Rejected already. Uh…Let’s change the subject. What were we talking about again...? Oh, right. The dorm rooms. Fresh new convo.”

“Yes,” Trey said. “We’ll tell you two anything you need to know.”

I chomped down on the remaining bite of my salad and quickly swallowed it. “Got one. What’s up with those strange laws in your dorm?”

“I suppose you would be curious about that.” Trey slurped up some soup, quick swallowing it. “You guys know about how Queen Rose of Coventry was all about her adherence to the rules?”

Deuce took a sip of his coffee. “Yes.”

“Duh,” Ace said, munching on a pastry. “Course I know.”

I took another bite of chicken. “I have an idea.”

“Well, Heartslabyul is centred around that.” Cater twirled ramen around his fork. “And out of respect for her, people in our dorm wear traditional black-and-red armbands to match her dress. We uphold the Queen of Hearts Laws to honour her reign as queen.”

I winced. “Sounds like a stiff place.”

Cater slurped up some ramen, quickly chewing and swallowing it. “Actually, how strict we actually follow the rules depends on who’s in charge. Most are pretty lax. I remember that one of the leaders I had during first year was pretty chill, but he only lasted for a single term.”

Trey twirled his spoon in his bowl of soup. “Riddle’s…different. He’s a lot more strict than the past head prefects I’ve had, following the rules to the letter.”

“Lucky me,” Ace said, voice dripping with sarcasm. “I got stuck with the psycho head prefect!”

“Keep it down, will you?” Trey hissed, eyes narrowed. “Riddle could hear you insulting him, you know.”

“Yeah, yeah. I know. But you know what? Fuck it! I’m just stating it outright!”

Ace stood up, a blaze igniting in his eyes.

“His narrow-mindedness is just awful! Who the hades casts out someone out of the dorm forever and puts a magic cancelling collar on them before the first day of classes? Before the first fucking day! And for missing the last half hour of the opening ceremony, no less! He’s completely insane! That’s what.”

“I’m insane, huh?” an older Ciel Phantomhive sounding voice said.

My blood turned to ice. Oh, shit! It’s him.

“Yeah,” Ace said, continuing to prattle on and probably not realizing who he was talking to. “You blew past crazy and went into psycho-tyrant mode!”

When Ace sat down, I reached over and tapped him on the shoulder, jabbing my thumb behind me aggressively. Ace froze. We both whirled around.

A guy, who was around the same size as my short five-foot-two self, stood there with perfect posture, crossing his arms and glaring daggers at us. He looked like an adult, live action version of Ciel Phantomhive in modern attire while mimicking the Queen of Hearts, radiating all of the posh, Royal Core vibes that I’d imagine that version of the character would have. Burgundy hair framed his fair-skinned face. He was decked out in a burgundy tweed coat with small grey hearts for buttons on it and a white polo shirt, a striped bow-tie wrapped around his neck. Navy blue pants were tucked into grey, knee-length high heel boots.

If I saw him at a con, I would’ve congratulated him on a cool cosplay idea, and asked to snap a picture of it on my cell. ...Well, if I had one that actually worked, that is.

But I knew better than that. That certainly wasn’t a really good cosplay. That’s what Riddle normally looks like. And he looked like he wanted to murder both of our asses. If I learnt anything from Black Butler, having anyone who even remotely resembles Ciel being pissed at you is a death sentence.

“Ah, fuck,” Ace muttered under his breath.

“You’re lookin’ extra cute today!” Cater exclaimed, shooting him a cheeky grin. “Did you do something with your hair?”

“Cater.” Riddle strolled over to where he sat, grey eyes narrowed. “Keep on talking, and you’ll lose your head, too.”

I froze, stunned by the calmness of the threat. Not surprised due to how intense he was a few days ago. But it’s still another thing entirely seeing him switch like that with ease while seeing his face, especially with his slim stature and unassuming appearance.

“Hey now.” Cater shot him a strained smile. “Cut me some slack.”

“Hey, Riddle.” Ace pointed at the collar, a bead of sweat trailing down the side of his face. “Could possibly remove this collar?”

Riddle placed a hand on his hip, grey eyes dark. “I was planning to if you learnt your lesson, but the way you were talking so rudely earlier shows you haven’t at all. So, no. I will keep it on for a very long time.”

Holy shit! He won’t remove it for eons? I didn’t expect Riddle to take it off with a half assed apology, especially after Ace openly mocked him to his face, but that’s super harsh for what he did.

Ugh. What should I do? Saying anything or getting riled up in return will only make things worse. I have nothing planned out to say, since I never expected him to randomly appear out of nowhere.

“That does it.” Ace glowered and stood up, jabbing a slender finger into his chest. “I challenge you to a duel for the head prefect spot!”

A mental image of Ace and Riddle in Saint Seiya style armour, yelling and using cosmo to shoot laser beams at each other popped into my head.

I smacked that thought out of my head. They are probably referring to a magic duel like in Harry Potter or plenty of other fantasy series. Not a shonen anime fight.

Why am I even thinking about this? Focus dumbass.

Several sets of eyes turned towards us. Chatter filled the air. Trey shook his head while Cater stared at all us all bug eyed. I put the fork down and crossed my arms, pinching them hard in order to stim. All eyes are on us again. Just like yesterday. Fantastic.

Deuce cracked his knuckles, smirk tugging on his lips. “Count me in too.”

Grim beamed and his tail flicked, floating up in the air. “Me too!”

Cater winced. “Grim, you can’t do that. Only those sorted into our dorm can challenge him.”

“Right,” Grim faltered. He plopped down on the seat, ears flattening and tail tucked underneath him.

“Fine by me!” snapped Riddle, slapping his hand out of the way. “Ace, Deuce. We’ll duel on Sunday at three P.M. sharp. I’ll take care of all of the bureaucratic matters with the vice-chancellor.”

Red eyes shifted right towards me and he sent me a murderous glare, anger practically radiating off of him.

“As for you,” said Riddle. I tensed up under his death glare, stomach tightening. “Next time we meet I want to have a word with you. Alone. Meet me in my office at noon sharp tomorrow. Be on time or else.”

Riddle waltzed off, heading in the direction of the Hall of Mirrors. People shrugged, going back to what they were doing before.

Pushing my tray with the empty bowl and fork ahead, I slumped over. My elbows slammed down against the table, and I buried my face in my shaking hands. Ugh. This is the worst case scenario. …Okay, Riddle killing both me and Ace with his magic Mortal Kombat style would be. But this is up there.

Rage bubbled up inside of me. Why the hell did Ace do that?! I thought that we agreed to attempting to talk things out with him first. Yet he decided to screw everything up by going behind my back and straight up challenging his dorm leader after a half assed apology. Thanks to him, I have to sort things out with him. All on my own. Despite him having a short fuss and magical powers while I’m defenceless. Without any plan of how to do so. I’m so fucked. All because of him.

I bolted upright and crossed my arms, never daring to glance in Ace’s direction. “I probably should get going. I want to go to the library for a bit before I head to work. Come on, Grim.”

“Ugh! Fine,” Grim grumbled. The plate slid across the table when he pushed it. “Only because I’m done and want to get out of here, anyways.”

“Before you two go,” Trey said. “I just want to say that Riddle may come off as rather harsh, but he means well, and is trying to make the dorm run smoothly. He doesn’t intend to trouble anyone.”

Grim sat up, folding his arms. “Someone with good intentions doesn’t go around collaring people.”

Cater and Trey laughed awkwardly, probably knowing he had a good point.

Standing up and picking up my tray with the empty dish on it, I put it on top of a trash bin and exited the cafeteria. Cater freaked out at the table, but I ignored them, itching to get out of there as soon as possible. Long as I keep an eye on the time and head off to work around two when my shift starts, I should be fine.

I entered the hallway and touched my index finger to my thumb on both hands, a few people brushing by. Calming breaths escaped my lips. I am calm. I am not letting my anger get to me. I will be calm and rational to get out of this mess with Riddle. I won’t have a shutdown or meltdown right now. I am relaxed. I got this. I have to.

Something bumped against my leg. My gaze dropped. Grim stood on all fours and stared up at me. “Why are we going to the library?”

Another deep breath. “I just want to look some things up for a bit.”

“Fine,” Grim grumbled. “Can we at least look up who those people with the statues are?”

I blinked. Seriously? Grim doesn’t know who those guys are at all? How can he not know that? I thought that he was just a random cat monster from this dimension.

“Well…?” Grim tilted his head to the side. “Aren’t you gonna say something?”

Searching for a way home is really important. Understanding who those Disney villains are in the context of this dimension is a pressing matter as well. Lacking basic knowledge about this dimension as that would make me stick out more, which is the last thing I want now. It’d also make me look like a complete idiot. If this dimension has social media and smartphones, then it should have some version of the internet and I can just search it up like that. Anything to get my mind off of what happened in the cafeteria.

“Sure,” I said with a shrug. “Might as well.”

Grim continued to walk beside me on all fours as we walked up the stairs and through the twisting halls towards the library. Curious stares and whispers followed us wherever we went. Which I wasn’t surprised about. Shiny Charizard and all. A few people tossed sneers, glares and leering glances in our direction. Between the chandelier and opening ceremony incident along with me being the first girl to attend here, we definitely built up a reputation for ourselves… mostly for the worst.

A set of double doors opened up with a hard push. Weaving in and out of the bookshelves and clusters of people loitering about, we made our way to a free computer. I took a seat in front of it. Grim leapt up and sat on my shoulder, his tail trailing along my back and the chair. Flicking the mouse to the bottom of the screen, I clicked an icon at the bottom and brought up what seemed to be this dimension’s version of Chrome. I typed in the names of each of the Disney villains who had statues in the courtyard into the search bar. I swallowed the lump in my throat, hoping that would also stop the pit forming in my stomach at the potential answer fucked up answer, and slammed my finger down on the enter key.

Tons of articles popped up for all of the villains except Maleficent... for some reason. I clicked on the first result. Grim shifted around on my shoulder in order to get a better look at the screen. We both read over the results.

Article upon article on many different websites talked about how benevolent and heroic the namesakes of the Night Raven dorms were.

Askari, also known as The King of Beasts, was the second born prince from what is known today as Afterglow Savannah. His family treated him like shit and never valued his leadership of The Lion Guard. Mufasa mocked him and dubbed him Scar after he almost died stopping an assassination attempt on his life and got injured by a cobra in the process. Despite being the second born son and thus not a viable candidate for the throne, he took the throne from his brother through effort and elaborate planning. After he became king, Scar allowed all outcasts, especially the loathed hyenas, into his kingdom without discrimination.

Ursula was a benevolent sea witch, who resided in a cavern in the deep after her brother banished her. As long as you could pay the price and it was within her power, she would anything do to help you. She even helped a mermaid princess be with her true love on land. She was also responsible for the creation of a lot of body transformation potions that people in the modern day use, especially for merfolk who want to walk on land or those who want an immediate, painless gender transition. Just drink a potion every few days, and that’s it. She later went on to become queen after taking down her brother, King Triton.

Jafar, also known as the Sorcerer of the Sands, was the grand vizier to a foolish sultan named Hamed. He stopped a man’s wicked plot of stealing the throne for himself. After the previous king passed, he became the sultan and the most powerful mage in what’s known today as the Land of Scalding Sands after getting a hold of a magic lamp. (I could’ve sworn the country was named Agrabah in that movie, but I guess that’s just the name of the capital city of the Land of Scalding Sands here. Go figure.) He was a patron of alchemy and various scientific fields. He spread that knowledge throughout this world, becoming quite a highly revered figure in that country and throughout the Seven Deserts for it.

The list went on and on. It’s like watching one of those YouTube videos talking about how the Disney villains were right all along. (Though, ironically, Hades in this universe is a lot closer to how he was like in Greek mythology back home...Or real life here, I guess.)

Is this a dimension where the Disney villains, who were exactly like how they were in the films, won? All of these guys are referred to with both royal titles and bizarre monikers. Most of the people with statues based on them in the courtyard wanted power and the throne for themselves. And they got all that and more. History is written by the victors and all.

That can’t be it. Tons of articles stated the same exact narrative. I never came across a single article or comment that ever questioned the morality of their character or the legitimacy of that narrative like people do with many dubious and outright monstrous historical figures in my own dimension. And rightfully so. If these guys were truly monsters, then at least some people would at least side-eye these claims in the comment section, especially online.

That’s the final nail in the coffin. My theory was right before. The Disney villains are more morally grey here and this dimension is more like a role reversal AU with them winning in the end. The possibility of these people in this dimension idolizing complete utter monsters is one less thing to worry about. Dodged a huge bullet there.

Strangely, in a way, what these articles are talking about even make sense, even when referring to the ones from the Disney movies back in my own dimension. Okay. I don’t endorse murder and all the other shitty things they’ve done, obviously. Ambition, intelligence and hard work are admirable traits. All of those guys displayed those traits, despite all of their reprehensible actions. Many of them were wronged for being different. Some of the Disney villains in those movies back home even fell from grace by suffering tragic events. Fighting back against those transgressions and proving yourself is a good thing, even if the way they did that wasn’t.

A few of them had some good points as well. Scar believing that hyenas and lions should’ve worked together to make their kingdom more prosperous, instead of letting the hyenas starve to death on the outskirts. Maleficent getting angry about being snubbed from attending an important political event for no reason at all. Jafar stating that an intelligent person who knew how to run a kingdom should’ve been the sultan, instead of the man who just sat around playing with dolls all day. Idiots in charge of anything, especially a country, can only end in disaster.

Hell, I can see those positive traits shining through even more so for all of these guys in this dimension. They did some really shady shit, but they did many good deeds as well, seeming rather morally grey leaning towards the good in that regard. Sometimes you have to be cunning, manipulative and ruthless to do what has to be done. If you aren’t, you’ll be eaten alive, especially when you’re a woman in the high end business world like mom. Do what it takes to reach your goal or survive as long as it’s not reprehensible or illegal. Like mom always taught me.

I froze. Well, that took a sudden and weird turn.

I turned my head towards the cat on my shoulder. “Actually, change of plans.”

Grim leapt down onto my lap and he stared up at me, confusion plastered on his features. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. I just want to look up something else on here for a while.”

“Whatever,” Grim said, hopping off my lap and scampering away on all fours.

“Don’t get into trouble!” I called out, trying to keep my voice down.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Clicking another tab, I typed “Full View Gaia” into the search bar. Clicking on the first huge link took me to a website with a similar interface as Google Earth in my own dimension. I typed in “my location” in the sidebar and the viewfinder zoomed in on a tiny island off the coast of a much larger one. Tapping the button with the minus sign on it several times zoomed out the view further.

Night Raven seems to be located near a small city named Port Lillian and Royal Sword Academy. Both universities and that town are located on a small island that’s shaped like a chicken wing called the Isle of Sages, which is still considered a part of Rose Kingdom. Twisted Wonderland is the name of the continent, and seems to be the closest thing to this world’s version of Europe. Although, the shape of it is totally off and it seems smaller than in my own dimension.

Going off of the shape of these places, that completely confirms it. Rose Kingdom is this universe’s closest version of the UK, but more so England going off of the shape and there’s only one major island that’s a part of it instead of multiple. I always wanted to visit the UK again, since the last time I did was when I was a very little kid and hardly remember any of it, but not like… this!

Though, Port Lillian? Out of any of those names, it seems… completely normal. I’ve heard of places back in Canada with more outlandish names like Vulcan, Moosejaw and Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump. (Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, seriously?) Wasn’t sure what I was expecting. Traverse Town? Toontown? The Magic Kingdom?

Flicking the cursor to the left a few times, I stopped when the view showed a different continent in the northern hemisphere called Westernland. It must be this place’s version of North and Central America. Not really, since the shape of it is completely off, but it’s still somewhat recognizable.

What type of name is Westernland? It sounds like a section in a Disney Park. Fitting considering what type of world I’ve been isekai’d too, but it still sounds rather odd.

A dot pinpointed a city right on the west coast of the continent with white text saying “Fransokyo” beside it. Fransokyo, huh? Think that’s similar to the name of that city from the Big Hero Six movie. But it’s mid way up on the coast of the continent here while that city in the movie seemed to be located where San Francisco is, which is a lot further south.

Kinda matches up where Vancouver is to some degree. Either that or Seattle if it was on the actual coast. Hard to tell with both Canada and the US being completely nonexistent here with totally different countries taking their places and the alien geographical layout. All of the cities, towns, states, provinces, or territories from my own dimension are nonexistent here, too. Same goes for Vancouver Island. Hell, the only place name that I sort of recognize is Avalor, which is a country located a lot further south in which I think is this dimension’s version of Central American country, from that Disney preschool show with the latina princess that they announced a while back.

Going with that, then. If I’m gonna pretend to be a part of this world… literally, I’ll need some sort of convincing cover story that goes along with the one Crowbar email blasted everyone. People are gonna no doubt question where I’m from. Since it seems like a city in the closest thing to North America in this dimension, it seems convincing enough. Both Cater and Deuce seemed to think I was from there. Considering that seems like the closest thing to this world’s version of Vancouver, it’s not a total lie. Hell, Laura used to joke about San Fransokyo being a lot like Vancouver when the movie first came out. Both of them are super multicultural cities with large East Asian populations resting on the west coast, even if there are a lot of differences between the two.

“Are you going to keep on using that?” a guy asked with this dimension’s version of a slight Middle Eastern accent which I couldn’t quite place. “There are no other computers available, and I need to print something off by tomorrow.”

Exiting off the whole browsing window, I said, “I’m done now. You can have it if you want.”

Getting out of my office chair, I never dared to turn around to stare the person in the eye and began to walk away.

Holy fuck! That guy has a Sexy Man Voice. Like one of the hottest voices I ever heard in my life. ...Okay, maybe not in my life, because that’s hyperbolic as hell, but certainly in a long time. His voice sounds like one that I’d imagine the God of Sex to have. Smooth and calm, with a subtle confidence and commanding allure about it. He could make a killing doing ASMR with that voice. He could shake people to their core by reading the phonebook. Hell, he had me shook by just asking a mundane question.

The same person who hollered super loudly at the opening ceremony said something in another language. I could feel an intense set of dark eyes studying me from behind.

Nope. Still not turning my head around. Just keeping on walking.

Not thinking about the owner of that Sexy Man Voice anymore, either. That’s for sure. I think I’ll die by sheer thirstiness for a guy. I’m pretty sure that’s not even possible. First for everything. With my luck, I’ll be the first person to die from that! I don’t want others to have more reason to believe that I have a fainting problem. Or worse, pregnant.

And what’s with the amount of hot people in this university? First that professor, and now this? And when I want to avoid romance, no less? This dimension is fucking with me, I swear. …Either that or being off of birth control is making me a lot hornier. I’d buy either one!

“There you are!” Grim hollered.

I jolted. A floating book smacked me right in the face. Swatting the book sent it flying away in a different direction.

I turned around. Grim sat on top of an armchair that sat in a small circle, laughing his ass off.

I grunted, arms crossed. “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up.”

One side of my lip tugged up. Smacking a nearby floating book in his direction sent it hurling towards him. Grim swooped to the side, and the book flew right over his head, hitting a random book shelf. Dammit!

“Stop goofing off,” a voice said firmly. A guy, who had fair skin and round animal ears poking out of his scruffy brown hair, stood there and scowled at us. “You two are in a library.”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Right, my bad. We will.”

The guy sauntered off. Why does he kinda remind me of a furry version of that guy who played Aladdin in Twisted?

I plopped down on the same armchair that Grim perched upon. Grim pounced down onto my lap, curling up.

“Hey, you guys,” said a familiar voice.

I bristled, arms crossed. Oh, great. Ace.

“You alright?”

I stared off in another direction. Nope. Just ignoring him.

“Addie?”

Nope. Still ignoring him.

“Okay. What are you so pissed off about?”

Okay, that does it. Brown eyes flicked towards the direction of his voice. Both Ace and Deuce stood nearby. My eyes landed on Ace, glaring at him. “Are you kidding me? You went behind my back and randomly challenged Riddle to a duel. I thought we agreed to talk things out with him!”

Ace seemed completely unfazed, staring at me in confusion. “Why are you so surprised? I warned you a few times that I would.”

That he did. “I suppose.”

A deep breath escaped my lips. All of the tension in my shoulders released. I flopped over, pressing my cheek up against the soft cloth of the chair. Took out my anger out on him. Just like Ace did to me yesterday.

“You gonna say something?” Ace asked, sitting down in one of the nearby armchairs. Deuce did the same.

My face dropped. I sat up right again, folding my arms and pinching them. “Sorry for blowing up at you. That was completely uncalled for. Just…really upset and confused about this whole thing.”

“Right…” One side of his lip curled up into a smirk. “Since I’m nice, I’ll let you off the hook this time.”

Dropping my arms to my side, I rolled my eyes and smiled. That solved itself quickly. Rather odd, but I’m not gonna complain too much. All the gladder for it.

“Kinda surprised that Deuce challenged his dorm leader,” I said, spouting out the first conversation starter that I could think of. 

“Trey said the same thing after you two left.” Knuckles cracked as a twisted smile curled onto his lips. “Sometimes you just want to aim straight for the top. You know?”

“There it is,” Ace said with a smirk. “Bad Boy Mode!”

Deuce flinched, staring at him with big eyes. “It’s… normal?”

I smiled a little at their interaction, not knowing what else to really say to that. I still didn’t want to press on that issue further. Wait a second. “Are you banished from your dorm, Deuce?”

Ace huffed, crossing his arms and falling back into the armchair, and answered for him. “He’s not. Challenging head prefects to duels is a perfectly viable way for deciding those here. Same thing happened when my brother attended uni here. So Wannabe Shonen Protag over here is still perfectly golden in his eyes. That’s why he doesn’t have a collar on.”

“Makes sense.”

Deuce tossed him a deadpan stare. “Wannabe Shonen Protagonist? Really?”

“Well, yeah.” Ace shrugged. “You act like one, so the label fits.”

Deuce smirked. “At least I actually have the common sense to behave and be allowed to stay in my dorm room.”

“Why you—” Ace growled, lurching forward.

I winced. “Actually, I don’t think that’s a smart move. Your dorm leader seems really intense and like he’d lash out at the smallest thing. Maybe you should avoid going inside there as much as possible for now.”

Deuce sighed, slumping forwards in his chair. “Good point.”

Ace sighed, standing up. “Well, if that’s all, I’m heading to Port Lillian tonight in order to find someone or something to take this stupid collar off before I win my duel on Sunday.”

Deuce’s brows pinched together. “What do you want? A biscuit?”

Ace simpered. “Why, yes. That would be nice.”

Grim sat up and snatched up one of the floating books with his paw. He hurled it at Ace. The book smacked him straight in the face before it was flung in another direction, hitting a bookshelf. Deuce snorted. Covering my mouth, I giggled. I know that I should scold Grim or whatever, but I can’t help it. The whole situation seems like something ripped out of another non-existent meme.

Ace glared. “What the hades did you do that for?”

Grim smiled, completely unfazed by what he did… or not giving a shit, can’t tell which for the life of me. “I want to come along, too.”

Ace raised a brow. “You literally threw the book at me, and now you’re demanding to come along?”

“Yes.”

Deuce blinked. Ace gaped, brows bunched together. He turned to me, gesturing down at the cat. I shrugged. Honestly, I’m about as lost as he is.

Deuce snapped out of his confusion, a small smile tugging on his lips. “Actually, I wouldn’t mind tagging along. Just to get a feel for what it’s like outside of the campus grounds.”

Grim turned around and nudged my stomach with his paws. Being a certified cat person, I knew that translated out to, “Come on, human! Allow me to do what I want and just agree. Give me attention!”

Is it even safe for me to go out? The possibility of the person who dragged me here residing outside of the university isn’t off the table. If that's the case, would that person nab me soon as I step out of the university grounds?

As long as I have at least Grim at my side at all times, I should be fine. Forcing myself to stay on the campus grounds forever would be suspicious as fuck. Besides, it would be nice to get off campus for a while and get a feel for my new surroundings. And I already went off the grounds to fight off Grumpy’s giant, murderous cousin. If anyone bothers me, I’ll get Grim to toast their ass.

A smile tugged on my lips, and I shrugged. “I’ll come. Just want to do some shopping while in town.”

Ace groaned, crossing his arms. “Whatever, fine. You wankers can tag along, since you’re doing your own thing for the most part anyways.”

Grim tossed him a shit-eating grin. “You know you love us.”

A smirk spread across Ace’s lips. “Whatever you want to think.”

Grim had a point. They came up to talk with me after I left. We have a decent grasp on each other’s personalities and are unafraid of teasing each other. While they might deny it, that has to mean something. Though, I have to ask. “Where should Grim and I meet you guys?”

Ace stared down at me. “What time does your shift end?”

“Six.”

“Great. Meet us at Main Street right after that.”

“Sounds good.”

Chapter Text

Many shades of yellows and orange poured through the window, this world’s version of the sun beginning to dip towards the horizon. Fingers messaged my slightly throbbing temple as I walked down the hall, Grim sleeping on my shoulder with his tail trailing along my back. Starting to really regret not getting enough shut-eye over the last few days. That would’ve allowed me to handle this better. Along with whatever this dimension’s version of Tylenol is.

Never thought I would even think this. Working as a mailroom clerk today with a headache and a lack of sleep would’ve been more tolerable than toiling away cleaning all day as a fucking janitor. At least if I worked at my old job, I could go home and curl up in my bed, safe and warm, taking a nap before playing some video games into the wee hours of the morning. I could’ve at least vented about my day to Laura. Or talked to my family members in general.

No. Whining about my situation in my head isn’t gonna solve anything. I’ll find a way to deal with Riddle and get back home. I will. I have to.

“Take a look at this?” a guy said nearby. I stopped in my tracks, turning my head towards the direction of the voice.

Two guys sat down on the windowsill. A guy with purple hair shoved his phone into the other guy’s face. He cracked a smile.

“Seems like that same fresher that brawled with that cat familiar yesterday and some other guy are challenging Riddle to a duel.”

The other guy, with russet hair that curled around his animal ears, scooted right beside him, staring down at the screen. He burst out laughing.

“Seriously?” the other guy said. “Gods, those wankers are gonna get their asses kicked for sure.”

“Know what I’m doing on Sunday. I have to see that duel in action.”

“Diddo.”

That’s a reassuring sign. One of the biggest ones out there. By the sounds of it, I might have the opportunity to watch those two get their asses kicked and die at the hands of older, red-haired Ciel Phantomhive. Wow fucking wonderful.

No. I already came up with a plan. Nothing much has changed, so I can just use that when I talk with Riddle tomorrow. And think of a backup plan. Maybe that will work… hopefully.

Walking down the nearby set of stairs, I weaved through a couple more halls before I found the door. It pushed open with a hard shove. People of all ages meandered throughout the walkway, laughing and chatting away. Deuce stood on the sidelines, staring down at his phone. Ace typed something on his phone, back pressed against the pillar for the Queen of Hearts statue.

Strangely enough, no painted spade laid over Deuce’s eye nor a piece of cloth around his arm. Huh. He must’ve taken that stuff off due to it being off hours.

Red eyes flicked up towards me. Ace simpered, stuffing his phone into his hoodie pocket. “You're late.”

I shrugged, holding Grim down on my shoulder. “Had to finish up some things at work.”

Time management has never been one of my strong points. Always try to be on time, but I still end up being a few minutes late anyways. Others back in Vancouver were always on my ass about it. Including my old boss back in the mailroom, Meghan, who was always telling me that I had to text her even if I was running late. Even by a couple minutes. My job coach, which is something I really wish I had here, always hounded me about it, too.

I swear it runs in the family. Like a bizarre family curse that’s more of an extreme minor inconvenience rather than anything more deadly. Mom and Laura tend to be always a couple minutes late. Even Roy has trouble with that, and he’s not even related to me by blood.

Mom, my stepdad, Laura.

“You okay?” Deuce asked, concern crossing his features.

“Oh,” I said, trying to ignore my mild headache. “I’m fine.”

“Bigger question,” Ace said. “How are we getting down there? I don’t have a magi-wheel, and I didn’t bring my car to the island.”

Deuce deadpanned. “The old fashioned way.”

Realization hit Ace. “Walking down that one trail?”

Deuce nodded. Ace glowered and huffed, folding his arms.

“Well, she’s a non-mage and you’re collared, so what other options are there?”

More flames ignited in his eyes, and Ace balled his hands into fists. I don’t think any of his ire was directed at Deuce. At least from my autistic ass could gather from context. If anything, he just seems more angry at Riddle for getting him into his mess to begin with. Possibly himself.

But if all other options are out besides walking are out and Deuce has a broomstick, that confirms it—only mages can fly on broomsticks. Fantastic. There goes that opportunity. Just another thing ripped away from me in this dimension.

Neither one of them noticed or cared about my internal monologue. Ace spoke up first. “Alright, let’s just go.”

We walked down the pathway some more and came upon the front gate. Dark metal gate with towering doors stood in front of us, the university name and emblem on top. People flowed in and out of it. Small swirls floated about in the air just beyond it. What’s with those, anyways? Are they due to being a magic barrier? Something else? If that was the case, it would explain why I could never get a good view of what laid beyond the university grounds in that area— the barrier just blocked it out.

Squeezing my eyes shut and holding Grim down with one hand, I pushed my way through it, the same walking through gelatin sensation washed over me, and emerged on the other side on two feet. My eyes fluttered open.

Trees and small, pale blue flickering balls of light lined the twisting stone and gravel pathway down the cliffside. Beaches lined many of the edges of the island with a huge boat port near the city. A small lake nestled between the trees off to the right. A small city laid at the bottom, which seemed tiny given how high up we were. A lot like hiking The Grind (or as I like to call it, Nature’s Stairmaster) back home that allowed people to hike down it… Well, if there were less trees blocking the view and was located on The Island instead of the mainland. And less steep elevation. Which I’m super thankful for because of what’s around my shoulders.

One huge difference stood out above all the rest. Right across the way on another cliffside in the distance sat another castle with smaller buildings around it. Not just any castle. But one that seemed to be ripped straight out of The Magic Kingdom in Disney World or Tokyo Disneyland. Or from what I remember from my last trips to those parks when I was in secondary school. Same light grey bricks. Same turrets jutting off into the sky. Same dark blue spires. Same everything. Unlike the one in those Disney parks where it’s only a replica of an European castle that’s only a couple stories tall and uses forced perspective to appear larger (or at least from what I remember our guide telling us during that tour of the Magic Kingdom), this is completely the real deal.

The other two barreled out, and we walked a head for awhile until we came across the trail. As we walked down the steps, stone and gravel crunching under our feet, I pointed to the Cinderella Castle-looking place in the distance. “That’s the university that you guys have a huge rivalry with? Right?”

“Yeah, it is.” Ace cracked a mischievous grin, crossing his arms behind his head. “And you say that as if you aren’t a student attending uni here, too.”

“Guess when you put it like that, I could’ve worded it better.” A sheepish smile tugged on my lips as I continued to walk down the steps. “Why do we have such a heated rivalry with those guys?”

“Simple. It’s a uni filled with a bunch of spice boys.”

My brows creased as I pulled out some lint from my pocket, twiddling with it. “A bunch of… what?”

“Okay,” Deuce said. “To go deeper than… that, around a thousand years ago, Merlin had a huge rivalry with Lady Mim. Merlin founded an institution where men all over the country can study and learn, regardless of race, economic status or background. Just to mimic the ones popping up in the Seven Deserts at the time. Wanting to outstage her rival, Lady Mim founded Night Raven College to do the same. Due to the closely tied history and them kicking our asses at Magishift every, we want to outstage each other.”

Huh. That backstory certainly explains the name of this island. The two universities here were founded by two big names, Lady Mim… whoever the fuck that is, and motherfucking Merlin! Does that mean that the lake nearby is this dimension’s version of that one where King Arthur pulled Excalibur from? Does that mean that the Queen of Hearts is a descendant of King Arthur here? The history here seems completely different than the stories from my own dimension, so it could easily be the case. Anything could be, really. Hell, King Arthur could be a girl here like in Fate for all I know.

But… Magishift? Must be a sport of some kind. This dimension’s version of rugby or soccer? Quidditch, perhaps? Something else altogether?

That university is inside a real life version of Cinderella Castle. Right? What is like inside? Do they have dorms based on historical figures too? Is that university's mascot one of those bears from Tokyo Disneyland? Does it sell this world’s version of Dole Whips?

I shouldn’t be so fixated on this. Really shouldn’t. Way more pressing matters to worry about.

Ace sniggered. “Gods, you’re seriously making that face again?”

I blinked, twirling it in my hand some more. “What face?”

“That face you make when you zone out.”

Deuce tapped his chin, walking down another step. “I noticed it too. Your face goes blank when you do that.”

Shit! I really do that much? Laura teased me about that a bit, but I never thought I did often enough for people who only knew me for a day to notice!

“Anyways,” I said, spouting out the first that came to mind in order to change the subject. “If Mim was a girl, why are both of them still all boys institutions now despite being universities?”

Ace stood in place and stared at me, brows pinched together. “Why are you questioning that? Creating unis for specific genders is normal.”

Fuck! Really shouldn’t have said that. And I just dug myself into a deeper hole. Fantastic!

“Actually,” Deuce chimed in. “Plenty of schools and unis are becoming mixed-gendered across the pond. I think Twisted Wonderland is just lagging behind a bit in that regard.”

Ace winced, rubbing the back of his neck and walking down more steps. “Right. Forgot about that.”

I almost sighed in relief. Okay. Good. Those exist here, and I don’t seem like a complete loon. God, I should’ve been more careful about asking about that. Stupid, stupid.

Walking down the steps, my head turned towards Deuce and spouted out the first conversation starter that I think of in order to change the subject. “You seem to know a lot about Westernland.”

Blue eyes flicked towards me. “Heard things from my online friends. I also have family who live on that side of the pond along with the Isles of the Far East.”

Isles of the Far East? Is that the closest thing to this dimension’s version of Japan? Sure sounds like it. Japan’s an archipelago and is located in that area of the world back in my own dimension, so I’d imagine it’d be the same here.

“Ah.”

“Where are you from?” Ace asked, walking down the steps. “I know you’re from Westernland and all, but that’s still a pretty huge continent.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m from Fransokyo.”

Deuce tapped his chin. “So you were planning to attend the non-mage program at University of Fransokyo instead, I take it?”

“Pretty much.” Not a total lie. In a very loose definition of the word. I was planning to attend UBC, and that seems like this dimension’s version of that.

“People at that uni are so lucky.” Ace gained a wistful look in his eyes. “Going to a uni where hot guys, non-binary people and girls can attend? I’d kill for that!”

Holy shit! Ace must be bi or pan! Just like me. That’s awesome!

Then again, it might’ve been obvious and I just didn’t pick up on those social cues… like a dumbass.

Come to think of it. He comes off like a disaster bi. Chaotic, makes stupid mistakes at times and can’t sit in chairs properly. Just like me.

“Honestly, same.” Walking down the steps, I dropped the lint on the step and opted to play with the hem of my jean pocket. “I wish that people of all genders attended school here, too.”

Deuce’s expression probably mirrored my own. “I can see why. I’d imagine being the only girl attending uni here would be quite lonely.”

He’s right about that. Not just because of seeing hot girls. I really miss seeing other women attending class alongside us. Or just having more girls to talk to just in a platonic sense. Going to a university with only guys is still a bizarre concept to me. But I can’t let these guys know that last one.

Ace continued to walk down the steps. “If the lab experiment of you attending here works out, there will be more girls coming next September. That’s a plus.”

I nodded. Indeed it is. But who knows how long I’ll stay here. It could be for a week, or, which I really hope isn’t the case, for years. And if I go back to my own world soon, would other girls be able to attend here? I really hope so. I’d hate for Vice-Chancellor Crowley to nip that plan in the ass because of something like that. Because who knows why he does anything.

Grim squirmed around, tail swishing about. I reached over, petting his head. Grim purred.

“Joining the world of the living again?” I mused.

Grim didn’t answer. He leaned forward and hopped off of my shoulder, landing on the ground on his four limbs. Electric blue eyes darted about. “Where are we?”

Gravel crunched under my feet as I walked along the path, sticking my arms out for balance. “Walking down the trail towards town.”

Ace walked beside me down the trail, bypassing Possible King Arthur Lake. “Still can’t believe Grim slept through that.”

“Eh,” I said. “You’d be surprised.”

Seriously, Grim routinely sleeps on my shoulders or lap for hours on end. I swear he could sleep like a baby through a natural disaster. Or a magic duel, given the world I’ve been iskeai’d to.

“True,” Deuce added, walking beside me.

“Hey!” Grim said, walking on all fours beside me. “What does that mean?”

Not answering that one.

We walked down the trail for what seemed like around twenty minutes. None of us really talked all that much. The silence between us never became awkward. More content. My headache died out. I was more concerned about concentrating on climbing, since, you know, walking down a jagged trail with pebbles and the odd crooked tree root dotted about it needs plenty of that. Last thing I needed was to twist my ankle or fall to my death in a fantasy universe. …Okay, the last one seems stupid, since the incline is not super steep and is a clear way down it. With my luck in the last couple days, anything is possible!

“Almost there,” Deuce said, walking down the last step.

“Fucking finally,” Ace grumbled.

“Bitch please,” I said, two feet landing on the bottom. “I had to climb this with Grim on my shoulders part of the way down and a headache.”

“And I walked down these steps with a giant, metal collar around mine.”

Okay. Got me there.

“Hey!” Grim growled, arching his back and tail flicking about. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Not answering that one either. Doubt the others do either.

I strolled down the trail along with the others, less and less trees beside it with each step. We all emerged from the thicket around the same time, walking on a paved sidewalk and entering the town. My eyes darted around the area, soaking in all the sights like the fantasy nerd that I am.

Vehicles, without any exhaust pipes, whizzed past us, hovering a couple feet off the ground. Many different shops displayed a variety of stylish daywear. Statues of Greek gods dotted the streets. Ancient greek style temples rested on top of a few of the hills. Some people on broomsticks flew right above us. Piers stood off in the far distance. Night Raven and the other university stood on opposite ends of the town, peeking out from behind the tallest buildings here and being like a Dark Academia and Light Academia Aesthetic contrast in action. An orange glow shone behind the other university, the sunset beginning to set.

Other than that, Portal Lillian didn’t look all that different from any other British seaside small city… At least from what I can tell from pictures and movies back along with my super vague memories from my own dimension, that is. Terraced houses, cobblestone and red brick buildings, pubs lining some of the corners, people randomly jaywalking across the streets without a second thought, the works. Futuristic and magical, but yet totally familiar.

Ace chuckled, waving a hand in front of my face. “Gaia to Addie.”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “I’m fine. Just taking in the sights.”

“Right.” Ace shoved his hands into his hoodie pocket. “Anyways, I need to take off.”

Deuce smirked. “Because you need to find something to take that kinky collar off before others think you are an escaped porn star?”

Grim cackled. I tittered, trying to prevent myself from doubling over and laughing hysterically. I shouldn’t be laughing at that, but I can’t help it. It’s so true.

“Fuck you!” Ace snapped, glaring daggers at him.

“Same here,” I added before they could bicker some more, smothering my laughter. “Except for personal shopping.”

Wait a second.

“When and where should we meet up again before we go back to Night Raven?” I asked, and the others stared at me. “I don’t have a phone on me. Remember?”

“Uh, right. Meet up with us in front of this store in an hour?” Deuce said, pointing up to a green with “Shoe Fits” on it.

“Sure,” I said with a shrug. Hopefully there’s a clock inside these stores. God, I wish my phone fucking worked! At least I could just stare at the phone screen to tell the time like a normal person!

Now to snag my money. Just to see how much I actually have on me.

Fishing around in my pocket for my money, I plucked out my Covid-19 mask. My eyes widened, and I stiffened. The world’s longest f-bomb echoed in my head.

Red eyes landed on the item in my hand, and one side of Ace’s lip twitched up. “What’s that you got there?”

“Uh…”

Ace snagged it from me, playing around with it in his hands. “A face mask?”

Shit! How am I gonna explain why I have one of those? I know people in other East Asian countries wear those to block out air pollution, on crowded subway cars and to prevent others from getting ill when they are long before the pandemic. Roy did the same thing all the time before then, too. But who knows if it’s like that here! Different dimension and all.

Ace shrugged. He tugged back on the cloth part with one hand and held the strings in the same spot with the other, letting go of it as if it was a rubberband. The object smacked me right in the face. Deuce quietly chuckled to himself while Grim, like the brat that he is, laughed at my misery. I scowled and caught it in my hand, stuffing it back in my free pocket.

I repressed a sigh of relief. Okay, good. That practice exists in this dimension too, and these guys don’t suspect a thing.

I really need to be a lot more careful. If that wasn’t the case, they would’ve figured out one of my gigantic skeleton in the closet. Immediate game over for me. Lesson definitely learnt.

We said our goodbyes, and the other two walked in different directions. Now, then. Take two.

Reaching into the other pocket, I pulled out the bills. Strangely, they don't seem that much different from Canadian dollar bills. They were decorated in a wide array of colours. Different architectural structures and random objects lined one side and pictures of different important figures on the other.

I counted them. Twenty thousand madol?! That can’t be right! I only worked for a day and a half. I doubt my job pays that much above minimum wage. Vice-Chancellor Crowley doesn’t seem to be the overly generous type, who would give enough to buy a whole new wardrobe and then some, despite claiming he is.

I counted them a few more times. Just to make sure that I wasn’t seeing things. That being in this weird ass dimension didn’t make me completely crack!

The bills scrunched in my hand once I stopped counting. Holy shit! I really did count right before. But that makes no sense! Does this have the same value as the yen? Or what?

“Grim—” I began, slipping the bills back into my pocket. My head snapped up, and Grim was nowhere in sight.

Oh, fuck me! Now I have to search for him instead of doing anything else, despite me needing him by my side at all times with the person who dragged me here possibly lurking out here. I swear he’s like a little kid. Or a cat with a laser pointer! He must be on a mission to bring back my headache and make that even worse!

Deep breaths left me. Stay calm. Stay fucking calm. Getting worked up about this won’t slow anything. I just need to find Grim as fast as humanly possible before something happens to him or me. Just like my sister and I have to do with Morgana when she wanders around the neighbourhood. I’ll chew him out later.

My eyes darted about. Come on, come on! Where did he go?

Someone slammed into me, and I stumbled forward, nearly stumbling into the pavement.

Two guys, who both seemed to be a couple years older than me with fair skin, stared back at me, one guy with brunet hair and the other white. Strong muscles poked through their tweed coats, no doubt both are able to snap me like a twig. Both guys glared at me. I gulped, tensed up completely.

“Watch where you’re going! Dropped my beer thanks to ya.” The guy with white hair glared daggers at me. “Do you plan to pay for this?”

I played with the hem of my pocket with my free hand. What’s his problem? He was the one who bumped into me, not the other way around!

No. I can’t let this guy get to me. I can’t. I need to stay calm and find a way out of this.

Ugh. What should I do? Should I run? Just pay him to get him off of my back? Call Grim up to literally roast their asses?

“Actually, I just thought of an even better way you can pay my mate back.” The brunet guy leered. “C’mon, sweetheart. Follow us, and we’ll go somewhere private.”

A cold chill went down my spine. Okay. Last option it is! Hope this works.

Cupping my hand over my mouth, I yelled, “Hey, Grim!”

Grim flew out of a random alleyway and right beside me. “What?”

“You know what?” the white haired bastard said, scrambling away from me. “Forget about it.”

The guys took off in another direction so fast that I might’ve thought that Grim actually tried to set their asses ablaze if I didn’t know better. Fuck ya! It worked! Finally, some plus sides to what Grim pulled at the opening ceremony! That’s right! Fear me and the cat monster, you bastards!

Grim titled his head to the side, floating at eye level. “What was that about?”

“Nothing.”

Last thing I need is for Grim to hunt them down and make another scene. As much as part of myself really wants to. I got extremely lucky that Grim came just in the nick of time. It’s been dealt with. I can forget about it and move on.

My eyes sharpened, folding my arms. “Where did you take off too?”

“Just followed the scent of fish to a store window, but rushed back when you called my name.”

That’s it? And follow his nose? Who does he think he is? Toucan Sam?

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Thanks for coming back when I yelled, but for fuck’s sake, try to stick by my side or at least tell me where you’re going while we’re out.”

Grim stared at me blankly. “Why?”

Seriously…?

My gaze softened. “Well… if something bad happens to me when we’re out, you’ll be kicked out of the uni. Do you want that?”

Grim huffed, crossed his front limbs. “No.”

“Then, try to do what I said before.”

Grim clicked his tongue. “Fine, I will.”

“Good,” I said. “Glad that we can come to an agreement.”

Strolling down the sidewalk, I plucked out a piece of lint from my pocket and twirled it in my hand. Grim hovered right along at my head level.

Large signs for various businesses hung above businesses. All of the names plastered on them I never heard of my life, even for ones that seem like major retailers here. The Chapeau, Little Town Traders, Harmony Faire, the works.

“Where are we gonna go first?” Grim asked, blue eyes fixed on me and tail flicking about. “There better be tuna there, yanno.”

My eyes rolled at the last remark. Right. Where should I go first? Can’t check out all of these right now, especially with the hour long time window.

My brown eyes darted around the various businesses and restaurants. A small store stood on the corner. A huge saying “Crystal Emporium and Pharmacy” on it hung above a huge set of glass doors.

Crystal Emporium and Pharmacy? I definitely need to get some hygiene products. And whatever constitutes Tylenol in this dimension. Just in case that comes back. Knowing my luck, it easily could.

“How about that one?” I asked, pointing at the medium sized building across the way.

“Does it have tuna?”

I deadpanned. “It’s a drugstore. It’ll have hygiene and more personal products along with an area for food.”

Or would it? Drugstores back in Canada carried food along with medication and hygiene products. But this island is part of the fantasy UK and a different dimension, so it could be completely different here.

Grim smiled and his tail flicked about, baring his sharp teeth and pointing in that direction. “If that’s the case, lead the way!”

I shrugged. Eh, Grim’s on board. That’s all that matters to me. Grim will find out if that’s the case when we get there.

I check both sides of the street. When there were no cars in sight, I rushed across it as Grim flew beside me. Strolling along the sidewalk, I came across the store front. Automatic doors swung open on their own. One foot entered, but my foot paused midair, quickly pulling it back and setting it back on the ground.

Wait. Is Grim even allowed inside of here? Sure, he’s allowed inside of the university, but pets are sometimes allowed inside of those back in my own world. And he’s also a student attending classes there. Who knows what’s the case outside of its walls.

Brown eyes landed on a white sign hanging on the window beside the automatic doors. Bold letter stated “Familiars Welcome—No Pets.”

Answers that question. That’s good. One less thing to worry about.

Does that mean that familiars are considered service animals here? It would explain why one of the ghost girls commented about me having one of those made sense. Being magicless is considered a disability here, and my unlucky stupid ass fits that bill.

But if that’s the case, why would everyone think that Grim was my familiar before others found out that I was magicless? That completely contradicts that!

Which one is it? Are both the case? Only one is? Or what?

Grim floated beside my head, crossing his front limbs. “You going too…?”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Uh, right.”

Grim’s allowed inside. That’s all that matters to me now. If not, well… deal with it later.

Automatic doors swung open again. Aisles filled with bottles and boxes lined the store. More labels with name brands I’ve never seen before in my life were slapped onto items like Fierte Magazine. People, some with animal or elf ears, meandered throughout the store. It’s just going inside some bizarre fantasy version of Shoppers Drug Mart or Rexall. Sensing a pattern here.

I strolled down the aisle, and Grim landed on my shoulder again, curling up around it. I headed towards the pharmacy aisle area. Feet scuffled, stopping in place once I hit the first one.

The aisle started with what seemed to be this world’s version of condoms and ended with adult diapers. I bite my bottom lip, trying to prevent me from laughing my ass off like a total loon. Wow. What Gabriel Iglesias said about the drugstore aisles being ordered to resemble the Evolution of Life really is true across dimensions. Or the Circle of Life, given where I’ve been isekai’d to… Actually, I think that’s a more accurate term than “evolution” the more I think about it.

“What’s so funny?” Grim questioned from his perch upon my shoulder.

“Nothing.”

I strolled into the aisle, brown eyes glancing around. Bottles of varying shapes and sizes with colourful liquid inside and boxes, filled with what I assumed to be cases of pills, lined the shelves. A small box with red packaging stood out amongst the rest. Bold, white lettering saying “Very Personally Yours—Birth Control Pills Designed for Humans and Beastmen” along with a couple other languages I didn’t recognize rested at the bottom of the box.

Birth control? Surprised to see something like that over the counter. Normally you need a prescription from a doctor to get birth control back in Canada. Fantasy dimension, different rules… I guess.

Snatching it and flipping the box over, I read the warnings and instructions on the back of the box. The box is filled birth control potion in the form of pills with enough in here to last several months. Like with normal birth control, it prevents pregnancy by stopping any sperm from fertilizing an egg. Unlike normal birth control in my own world, beastmen (which must be the technical name for furries in this dimension) and humans with menstrual cycles when taking these ovulate like normal, and then the special concoction in this automatically gets rid of the egg in a certain point in your cycle no matter what. As an extra bonus, it gets rid of cramps and all menstrual blood. Very little side effects, too.

A yellow tag with bold, black letters saying “£2,800” rested right under where the rest of the items sat. That confirms it. Madol must be if the Euro if it had the value of the yen given the amount of zeros on all of the tags here. Doubt birth control would cost over a thousand dollars or pounds. Currently explains the amount that Vice-Chancellor Crowley paid me. Being paid thousands of dollars or pounds for a couple days work would be ridiculous, even by fantasy universe logic. Hell, it also explains the cost of the chandelier the other day. Vice-Chancellor Crowley was talking in terms of yen, not dollars or pounds.

Wow. This is so cool. Should I get this? It would be a good way to solve my period problem while I’m here. Take these as instructed. Bam! No periods, cramps, and all of that other bullshit tied around that. And makes it where I can’t get pregnant if I take these correctly to boot. (Not that really matters, since I’m not planning to date anyone let alone have sex while I’m here, but the peace of mind is nice.) None of the warnings and side effects jump out as alarming.

On the other hand, is this a good idea to take these? What the hell would this do to my body? Magic potions don’t exist where I’m from, and I never drank something like this before. For all I know I might have some sort of bad reaction to it. Like transforming into a goat, or worse—an insect or spider. Should I even get something like this if I even stay for a few weeks or more? Are there long term side effects that will only show up once I go back to my own dimension?

Do I even have enough money for this? If I remember right, you're supposed to move the decimal place at the end of the number a couple spots forward to convert it. Or was it a few? Gah, I don’t remember! But even then, that’s for the Canadian dollar! This island is a part of this world’s version of the UK, which has a totally different currency system than Canada. I have no idea what the exchange rate for that is!

“Just buy the damn thing!” Grim said, his tail nearly smacking me in the face. “Anything to make this go any faster.”

“Fine,” I said, snagging the same bottle. Periods and everything that entails would be one less thing to worry about this way, especially if I stay here for weeks.

Exiting the “Circle of Life” aisle, I weaved in and out of the other aisles, snagging essentials like toothbrush, toothpaste, a shaver, and even a headache cure potion for the dull head pain from the store shelves. (Couldn't find a fantasy version of Vaporub...much to my abuelita's disappointment if she was still around.) Trying to balance the items in my hands, I turned to go into the next one.

Grim hopped off of my shoulders and down to the ground onto his four feet. “Where are we gonna next? It better be where the tuna is.”

Instead of answering, I stopped in my tracks. Just up ahead stood a booth with a sign hanging on top of it advertising phones for six thousand madol and a bored worker standing behind it.

Holy shit! Actually reasonably priced phone plans! … Or at least I think it is, since I can’t do math to save my own life. And I had to go to another world to get it.

Eyes sparkling, I dramatically gestured at the area like Gaston during the opening song in the animated version of that movie, holding my things in the other hand. “I’m heading over to that section, and then the food aisle.”

Electric blue eyes landed to where I pointed. “The mobile section?”

I nodded.

Grim cocked his head up towards me again and gave me a deadpan stare. “Seriously?”

Another nod.

Grim complained about not getting to the tuna aisle first, but I tuned it all out, focusing on getting what I really wanted— a cell.

Chapter Text

Moonlight flooded through the window beside me in my booth. Many stars twinkled against the black backdrop. Grim sat beside me while others sat across from me, elbows on the table, chatting away.

After my little shopping trip at the fantasy grocery store, I met up with Ace and Deuce at the same spot as before. Ace teased me about being a few minutes late again, which I just brushed off. Since Grim whined about being hungry and it was getting late, we decided to grab a bite at a nearby pub called “Winkie’s” and ordered some food.

Forest green walls and dark wood furniture lined the place. A few small chandeliers dangled from the ceiling. A few people manned the bar with many golden taps on it and many different types of alcohol behind it near the middle of the place. The establishment twisted off into many different directions. A set of washrooms along with a door leading out back wasn’t that far off where we sat.

Still odd to see people sitting at almost all of the tables without a single table or chair flipped over. Or any waiters and waitresses with face masks on scrambling about, trying to disinfect the tables. Or being able to eat out period.

All that seems like a lifetime ago. Here I don’t have to worry about any Covid-19 precautions. I can just eat out without a care. Like how I used to grab a bite to eat out with Laura before the pandemic hit.

Home.

“Are you okay?” Deuce asked.

My brown eyes flicked back in their direction. Genuine concern on Deuce’s features. I nodded.

Ace simpered. “Seriously, zoning out again?”

A playful smirk danced along my lips. “Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up.”

“I shall. Keep this up, and I’ll make a drinking game about that along with you being late for everything.”

I took a sip of my water. “I can say the same thing about you losing every race we have.”

The mischief never left his eyes. “Whatever you say. I’ll kick all of your asses at that one day.”

“Sure,” I said, eyes lit with mischief.

“Anyways,” Deuce said, taking a sip of water. “What did you two get while you were out?”

“She got some birth co—” Grim began, but I cut him off.

“Well, some canned tuna—”

“Only a few,” Grim cut me off again, flicking his gaze towards me and blue eyes narrowing, “despite her owing me more.”

I tossed the look back at him. “I said that I’ll get some more later once I have more money.”

Grim scowled. “You better.”

And I will.

“Anyways,” I said, gaze softening. “Also, a small bottle of two in one shampoo and conditioner, some headache cure potion, toothpaste, a toothbrush, a shaver, deodorant and something for my more personal needs. I also got a new phone. Just to replace my old one while I’m here.”

Ace perked up. “What type of mobile did you get?”

Fishing around in my pocket, I plucked out my brand new cell phone, which resembled my old LG one that broke with a periwinkle case wrapped around it.

“A Retlaw,” Ace said, beaming. “Nice!”

“More of a Poison Apple person myself,” Deuce said with a shrug. “But that’s still a good choice.”

Not sure if it was. I only have around two thousand madol left, which I highly doubt will last me until the end of the night let alone my next payday. Even if I hopefully find a way back to my own dimension soon, I still need to save money to be on the safe side. Should I return this back at that store before it closes? Especially since I just bought this on impulse.

No. I’ll keep it. Having something like this would be helpful. Both for looking up more information about this world and even for when I’m in class. Rather type out notes on a phone than by hand any day of the week. Hell, I can go online again, able to stream shows and play mobile games, which would be cool while in another dimension. Everything else can wait. Who knows I might end up back home before then, and this could be a weird keepsake. Hopefully.

“Here’s your order,” someone said.

A waitress, who seemed to be around the same age as me with blond hair and pale skin, stood beside us, carrying a tray with food one handed.

That was quicker than I thought. Usually it takes around a half hour to get our food at sit-down restaurants like this. It must’ve taken around ten minutes. Guess these guys use magic to prepare it in order to make things move along faster. Or at least that’s the best guess I got, anyways.

She set a super huge all-dressed pizza, with anchovies on Grim’s section of it, in the middle of the table and a small blackened shrimp bowl in front of me, walking off to attend to other customers. My mouth almost watered at the sight of mine. Black beans, avocado, spinach, tomatoes, cilantro, corn, lime and rice. It seems just as delectable as something back in the university cafeteria… even if that's a bizarre thought, considering how horrible that sort of food is back in my own dimension. Turns out to be a good choice after all, especially since I picked it out at random after pondering what to get for a long time. It’s just like something mom would make.

Mom.

Nope. Not thinking about that anymore.

Ace sniggered. “Gods, I still can’t believe you ordered that while at a pub.”

I shrugged, slapping my phone on the table beside the plate. “Well, I happen to prefer this type of food over super greasy, deep-fried stuff, so…”

“Whatever.”

I turned to Grim. “Remember…”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t gobble up the whole thing.”

“You fucking better,” I threatened playfully before yanking the fork out of the cloth napkin holder.

Not sure if it’s a good idea for Grim to eat pizza. Hell, I’m not sure if he can even eat cheese and other human food. Cats have a hard time digesting dairy products. Grim’s a cat. One that can talk and has pyrokinesis, but a cat nevertheless.

Then again, he eat omurice without any issues before, so it should be fine. If not, that’s his problem.

No one said a word, just eating their food, myself included. Pop music that I didn’t recognize played in the background like some sort of awkward comedy skit. Silence strikes again. Fantastic. Ugh, I hate coming up with conversation starters in situations like this. What’s a good one? Think, think.

Wait. Got it…

“Forgot to ask this before,” I said, stabbing some more shrimp with my fork. “Did you guys get anything while you were out?”

Deuce grabbed a slice. “Other than a latte, no. I want to get most of my supplies at Sam’s store later on.”

I shovelled some in my mouth, chewing and swallowing it. Huh. Must be the equivalent to the student store on campus. Why would he want to go there instead? Wouldn’t buying that in town be better?

“Unfortunately no,” Ace grumbled, slamming his elbows against the table again.

“Right…” I trailed off with a frown. Ace mentioned the reason why he wanted to come here in the first place to find some way to get the collar off. Since the porno collar still remains on his neck in all of its tacky glory, Ace didn’t accomplish that one.

“Doesn’t matter.” A wicked smirk danced along his features. “I’ll order Riddle to take it off for good once I become head prefect. And make him regret enforcing those stupid rules on everyone and humiliating me!”

“I'll take him out, too!” Deuce added, one side of his lip tugging up.

I took a few more bites of gurb. They both seem really confident about this. More so than me. That’s gonna help them out a lot. Convincing yourself that you are able to do a task is one way to make it a reality. Works when I chug away at my art WIPs sometimes. Hell, my mom does it all the time. All the while I’m just… not. At all.

But at the same time, that could easily backfire. Especially for someone as temperamental and powerful as Riddle. One false move and it’s an instant game over.

Taking another bite of my meal, I chewed and swallowed it. “Right on. Though, you guys really should come up with some sort of plan for that.”

Ace scowled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I winced. Shit! Really shouldn’t have worded it like that.

Placing my fork down, I put my hands up defensively. “I’m not doubting you guys. Really. Uh, just that Riddle is a powerful mage, so it’s good to have some sort of plan in place before you take him on.”

Ace deflated. “Good point. Anyone have any bright ideas?”

“I feel like he'll will win if we go with magic. But if we go physical…” Deuce smirked, slamming his right fist into his left palm, “then we have a chance of winning.”

Grim snickered. “True, he seems really scrawny.”

Ace shook his head, leaning back into the seat cushion. “That’s a no go. Any attacks other than magic are forbidden…as much as I fucking hate it.”

Well, fuck. That limits things. A lot. Wait a second. “If all other attacks are forbidden, then how the he—” I said, before I corrected myself, “hades is that supposed to work? A rap off?”

“Nothing like that… thankfully. Placing any handicaps on your opponent during magic duels is forbidden, so Riddle’s forced to take my collar off right before the fight, and I’ll have all of my magic back for it.”

I nodded, picking up my fork again and popping some more food into my mouth. Okay, that makes way more sense.

What is Ace’s Unique Magic, anyways? And Deuce’s, for that matter? It seems like everyone with superpowers in this dimension has one. Maybe some sort of copycat ability like Monoma’s quirk from My Hero Academia for Ace and creating any metal object for Deuce?

Red eyes flicked back towards me as Ace sat upright. “Any ideas, Addie?”

“Yes. Me, a non-mage, has the ample experience and expertise to know how to plan out a full proof battle strategy for a magic duel.”

“Well, you were the one who brought this up in the first place. And you did come up with the plan yesterday.”

Got me there. “True. But to be honest, I got nothing. I said that before because I thought anything was on the table, but now everything but magic based ones is out the window.”

I really wish I could come up with a plan for that on the fly, despite not having the slightest inkling of how the magic system works here. It would make dealing with Riddle myself a lot easier tomorrow.

Deuce took a sip of water. “We could use a spell that reflects his attacks back at him.”

“Wow. Another good idea,” Ace simpered, before adding, “for once.”

Deuce never snapped back and just instead opted to roll his eyes, setting his glass of water down.

Ace sighed, placing his hand under his chin and slamming his elbow down against the table. “Downside is that I’m not really good at that sort of magic.”

A dark glint sparked in Deuce’s eyes. “I have something that might take care of that.”

Well, that’s cryptic as fuck. What the hell does that mean? Does he know a good spell for that or something?

Ace chuckled, mirth sparking in his eyes. “And Bad Boy Mode returns.”

The glint in his eyes vanished, and Deuce flinched. “What?”

“Now that’s settled,” Grim said before those two no doubt bickered again. The crystal around his neck glowed as another slice floated towards him. Grim snagged it in his paws, gobbling it up. “Let's get back to a subject that I’m actually interested in. What are the other dorms like?”

Ace chuckled. “Course you would ask that.”

More shrimp and spinach popped into my mouth. “I’m curious about it, too. I don’t know a whole lot about the dorms Night Raven either. From a different continent and all.”

“Alright, fine. I’ll give you wankers the downlow. ‘Cause I’m nice like that.”

I rolled my eyes at that remark, popping some more food into my mouth.

Ace grabbed another slice. “Like that one guy said earlier, there are seven dorms in this uni.”

“But what about ours?” Grim whined before going back to devouring his meal.

Ace groaned. “Fine. Eight if we include yours. But all the other ones are dedicated to the Great Seven of this uni.”

Ace chomped down on his bite of pizza.

“Students who attend uni here are sorted into dorms based on the mirror’s judgment of the shape of our souls. Because of that, there’s a common character among each dorm.”

More food popped into my mouth. Huh. Explains Vice-Chancellor Crowley’s comments about sorting me into a dorm a couple nights ago. Reminds me of the sorting hat aspect of the Harry Potter series...even if I only watched the movies a couple times eons ago and never read the books in my life.

How come I half expect Night Raven to have a Scarf of Sexual Preference, who’s dating that mirror? …Okay, I highly doubt it. Since this is a university, I assume that at least some people here already know that about themselves. Even if there was, I don’t need it. Already know I’m a total disaster bi.

…Though, I really wish I had one of those during secondary school. Would’ve saved me a lot of tears and confusion.

“You guys know all about Heartslabyul already,” Ace said, “so I’ll just explain the rest.”

Ace chomped down on his bite of pizza, chewing and swallowing it.

“Savannahclaw was founded on the fortitude of King Askari. Jocks tend to be sorted there. They have black and yellow armbands.”

Wow. Same exact colours as Hufflepuff, if I remember right. “Are they particularly good finders?”

Ace blinked. “Huh?”

Fuck! Why the hell did I just say a pop culture reference out loud? I highly doubt Harry Potter exists here let alone that! I need to cover my ass. Quick.

“Oh, just some obscure reference.”

“To what?” Ace said, brows pinched together.

“Nevermind.” I tried to shoot him a casual smile, even if knowing my luck it looked extremely forced. “You were saying?”

“Right.” Ace shook his head, getting back to the subject at hand. “Octavinelle was founded on the benevolence of Queen Ursula while Scarabia was formed from the careful planning and forward thinking of Sultan Jafar. Both of those dorms have the reputation for being where the brainy types go. People enrolled in any sort of business, accounting, astrology or ancient incantations major programs tend to get sorted into either of those two. The last two especially goes for Scarabia. The former have grey and lavender armbands while the latter have scarlet and gold ones.”

Fits them both. In those movies, Ursula granted people their deepest desires… albeit in a fucked up manner, while Jafar came off as a meticulous plotter. Strange seeing adjectives like those describe those characters given how they were in those movies. But, eh. Role reversal AU and all.

Kinda weird that Scarabia’s colours are red and gold. Those are Gryffindor’s colours, if I remember right, and that dorm has more of a Slytherin meets Ravenclaw vibe by the sounds of it. Then again, a red and gold colour scheme would fit more from a design standpoint due to how much those colours showed up in that movie in my own dimension.

“Pomefiore was founded on the unrelenting efforts of Queen Grimhilde. They have purple and red armbands. That’s the dorm where a lot of the more beauty guru and artsy types go. Though, they tend to get degrees in the arts, potion making or alchemy. They also excel in curse magic.”

Curse magic? Makes sense considering it’s based on The Evil Queen, a name that I really have to remember to never say out loud in order to not have a whole dorm want to kick my ass, excelled at that in the movie. Or at least from what I could gleam from clips, GIFs and that one YouTube video essay of that I’ve seen of it back in my own dimension, since I never actually watched Snow White firsthand.

“Ignihyde was founded on the diligence of Hades, but they tend to keep to themselves for the most part.”

Grim folded his arms. “So they’re dull?”

Ace snorted. “Wouldn’t have put it like that, but yeah. Pretty much.”

Ace took another bite of pizza, chewing and swallowing it.

“They also tend to be great building equipment and digital things. Lot of them tend to get into technology and engineering fields upon graduation. They have blue and black armbands.”

Ravenclaws, but a lot more techy? Got it.

“That means…” Deuce raised his glass to his mouth, speaking before taking a sip. “...only the Diablomna dorm is left.”

Ace chuckled. “How can you say that with a straight face? It’s Diasomnia.”

Pink brushed on Duece’s cheeks. “I knew that. I bit my tongue, okay!”

“Anyways,” Ace said. “That dorm was founded on the gracefulness of The Great Queen of Thorns. They have the lime green and black armbands. Though, it’s probably best if you keep your guard around some of those guys.”

I took another bite and swallowed it, brows pinched together. “What makes you say that?”

His face darkened. “Fae tend to be sorted into that dorm.”

Grim snagged the last slice with his magic and devoured it immediately like a cat version of Cookie Monster, staring at him in confusion. “Why’s that an issue?”

Ace and Deuce stared at us like we said that the sky was always purple. Deuce broke the silence. “Why are you asking that of all things? Aren’t you a Cat-sìth familiar?”

I tensed. Oh, fuck! Now they’re gonna question that for sure.

Grim didn’t seem to care. “I’m not completely a Cat-sìth.”

Deuce blinked. “Oh. I was wrong about that assumption. A monster tanuki, perhaps?”

“I’m not that either! And who are you calling little?!”

“A weazel?”

“I’m not that either!”

I almost sighed in relief, going back to taking a few bites of my meal. Okay. Good. They don’t think we’re loons.

But why would Deuce say that? Grim looks like a cat, not a dog. He also looks nothing like Tom Nook. Certainly not like the yokai from mythology… or real life here, apparently.

… Actually, the more I think about it, I don’t really blame Deuce for thinking any of those things. Grim behaves like and has a lot of the same features as a cat. His tail is slim like a rat. He has flames poking out of his ears, despite all conceivable logic, that never burn me or anything else around him. No animals back in my own dimension have such a bizarre trait. Same goes for his pitchfork tail. Grim’s kinda like Stitch in his “dog” form. A creature with an appearance that’s very hard to pin down. A lot of people just default him to being a cat here. Myself included.

“Anyways,” Ace said, cutting them both off. “Fae here in Twisted Wonderland aren’t mortal, much like many other parts of the world like Westernland. They literally think differently than us, having a completely different set of values and morals. What a fae here thinks is perfectly acceptable behaviour might be deplorable or outright deadly to us mortals. Like whisking newborn babies and people with a particular talent they want to possess away to their courts forever. Cursing people for small transgressions. Or even kidnapping people to be their unwilling grooms or brides.”

Wow. Fits more in line with The Witcher and other similar dark fantasy series than the Tinkerbell variety… even though I honestly expected the latter, given this is a bizarro-Disney dimension. Fits in line with other folktales outside of video games and TV series, too. Hell, even my mom’s Mexican board members told me similar stories that “supposedly” happened there. But considering how fae were like in those series and tales, that’s not exactly a comfort.

“Not all fae here are like that,” Deuce said. “Only the unhinged ones that hardly get out of their bubble, so to speak. Some of them are cool, just being rather peculiar and an intimidating aura about them.”

Ace drank his last sip of beer. “Even for the crazy ones here in Twisted Wonderland like I just described, just remember the rules while dealing with them and you’ll be fine. In fact, just always do that with any of them in general.”

God, Ace makes them sound like bears.

...Shit. What about the Ghost Camera? And everything else for that matter? European fantasy stories say that if you accept gifts from a fae, you owe them a debt. Vice-Chancellor Crowley might be a fae. Does that mean that Vice-Chancellor Crowley can force me to do any task he wants at his beckon call thanks to accepting that from him?

Fuck! How could I forget something like that? Especially around him of all people?

No. It’ll be fine. I’m not even sure if Vice-Chancellor Crowley is a fae. Who knows if this dimension works on that same logic. Make believe stories where I’m from and all. If that is the case, I can deal with it then.

None of the other guys in the booth noted my internal freakout. Ace set his small glass down. “Like Deuce sorta implied, all of the people in that dorm, both fae and mortal, tend to be rather cold and distant on top of everything else. Their head prefect is the worst for that from what I heard.”

“Which is who exactly?” I asked, popping more food into my mouth.

“He’s that fae prince who’s next in line for the throne in the Unseelie Court in the Valley of Thorns. Malleus Draconia.”

Chewing and swallowing my food, I tried to ignore the shiver that name sent down my spine. “I heard of him.”

Going by his last name, Mallues could be a dragon shapeshifter. Like the Manaketes from Fire Emblem. Normally I would hop at the opportunity to meet this guy. Dragons are awesome! Meeting a real life one would be even more so!

I really shouldn’t get too excited. The Unseelie Court is where the evil yandere-ish fae reside, if I recall what miniscule amount of D&D lore I know right. Hell, even his name makes him sound like someone not to be messed with. I could be wrong, and he could be a good guy. Hell, I never encountered any fae like that so far. Outside of potentially Vice-Chancellor Crowley, but even he doesn't really count. Still unsure if he's a human, fae or something else completely and all. But with the way they were talking about fae before, they make it seem like fae are creatures to be wary around. At least at first. Him included. Who knows what’s the case.

Either way I should look Malleus up online later. Just to allow me to make a final call about him from a distance and know what he looks like to be on the safe side. I have a phone now, so it should be easy to do.

Still, I need to be extra cautious and stay away from him. At least for now. Last thing I want is to be smited down by an angry dragon fae after I say the wrong thing… even if that would be an awesome way to go out. It’d be way cooler than dying by pyrokinetic house cat.

“I don’t blame you for reacting like that, Addie.” Deuce shuttered. “That guy terrifies me. The fact that he’s counted as one of the top five mages in the world adds to that.”

Top five mages? Does this world have a My Hero Academia style mage ranking system? Sounds like it. How would something like that work? Who are the other four mages?

Either way, just another reason to be cautious around him. Especially if he’s that powerful.

Ace tossed him a shit-eating grin. “All of the real person smut fanfiction you’ve read about him could’ve contributed to that too.”

Deuce groaned, giving him a deadpan stare. “You just love taking the piss, don’t you?”

The sneer never left his face. “Yes.”

Deuce rolled his eyes, taking another bite of pizza.

Grim placed a little paw on his head. “All of those dorm names are way too damn long! There’s no way I’ll remember all that!”

Ace shrugged. “Eh, you’ll remember it eventually.”

“True.” I popped the last few bites of my meal into my mouth. Going by that logic, in order to be sorted into mine you have to be dirt poor, magicless and put up with a birdbrained vice-chancellor constantly. Hang on. That begs to question. “What about people who live off campus? Are they sorted, too?”

“Yeah. Everyone who attends uni here is sorted in a dorm regardless if they live on or off campus. Some ancient tradition or something like that.”

Holy shit! No wonder why Ace skipped out on part of the opening ceremony. He probably had to sit for hours on end as thousands of people stood in front of a mirror and were sorted into various dorms. I would’ve died of boredom if that were me.

We continued to chat before the waitress came back a couple minutes later, placing each of our bills in front us. She waltzed off to deal with some others.

Shit! Do I even have enough for a tip?

Wait. I don’t think I have to worry about that. If I remember right, tipping isn’t a requirement in most restaurants in the UK. Similar thing goes for Japan. One less thing to worry about.

Right. Need to repay Deuce back. I’ll have to worry about that next payday now.

My last remaining bills slapped down on the table. The waitress came back ringing in both Ace and Deuce’s fantasy versions of Visa Cards, walking off. Ace walked off while Deuce went to the washroom. Snagging the cloth bags and the paper roll for the napkin, I followed Ace towards the exit and fidgeted the paper in my hand. Grim walked beside me on all fours.

Once I got around half way, I reached down and patted my other pocket. Nothing but air.

“Shit!” I swore, turning to the other two. “I need to head back to the booth quickly. Think I forgot my phone back there.”

Grim snarled, staring up at me. “I’m not heading back there with you.”

“Fine,” I said. “Stay with him.”

Ace blinked. “What?”

I picked up the cat monster and passed him to Ace. Shoving my hands into my pockets, I ambled over towards the table where we sat before, bags draping down around my wrists. Grim screeched out behind me, complaining about being left with Ace. But fuck it, I don’t care. Spent a fair amount of money to get that phone, so it’s something I need to get back. This is only gonna take a couple seconds.

I waltzed up to said table. Reaching over, I snagged my cell. The object slipped into my empty jean pocket, sticking out of it.

My eyes darted about. Ace and Grim were nowhere to be seen. Probably waiting outside, I assume. Tucked away in the corner nearby were those two jackasses from before. I froze. Shit! Shit! Shit! They’re back. They must’ve moved there after we left.

I rubbed the hem of my other jean pocket. Ugh. Why did I give Grim to Ace? I know that I need him for this very reason. Stupid, stupid.

Fuck! What should I do? Should I sneak out back? Brush by them without looking them in the eye? Or what?

A cute waitress, who seemed to be around the same age as me, with a black half-apron wrapped around her waist, walked up to the table. A green hair tie piled black her long, black locks into a high ponytail. She wore black pants with a white long-sleeved polo shirt, which popped against her tan skin. Black three inch heels were on her feet. A golden chain necklace with a red crystal, around the same size as the ones that others have on them, on it was draped around her neck.

The waitress put a hand on her waist. “Sorry, but I need to cut you off and you two need to pay the tab.”

The white haired bastard leered at her. “Come on. Don’t be like that, love.”

“If you aren’t going to follow the rules of this establishment, you two need to leave.”

“I want to speak to the manager!” the bastard with brunet hair slurred slightly.

Male versions of Karens. Terrific.

She folded her arms, smirk tugging on her lips. “I’m the assistant manager. My boss would say the same thing.”

Oh, burn.

“Come on,” the white haired guy said, scooting over closer to her. “Make an exception just for us.”

That does it! Stepping in and doing something it is! Since it seems like people do nothing but sit on the sidelines when shit like this goes down in this dimension.

Grabbing my bags from beside me and shoving the paper into my pocket, I marched up to the group.

“Hey!” I snapped. They turned their attention towards me. The faint glow from her necklace dimmed as her hands dropped to her side. I glared at the two men, crossing my arms and straightening my posture, even if I think that I look about as threatening as an angry chihuahua. “Leave her alone and just pay up! She’s just doing her job.”

The brunet haired guy leered. “Rich coming from you, cunt.”

The white haired guy chuckled darkly. “To think we’d see you again. Guess your familiar isn’t around to save you or her anymore.”

I tensed up, heart pounding. Holy shit! These guys seem like they want to kick my ass. I’ve dealt with bullies and sexist douches in the past. Most of them were harmless. This was different. I can’t sass myself out of being beaten up or even worse. Especially with two men with superpowers while I have none!

Calm down. Think. Should I just forget this and run out of here? Something else?

“Addie?” a familiar voice called out.

My head whipped around. Deuce walked right up towards me.

“What’s goi—?”

“If it isn’t the former leader of The Cauldron Born,” the jackass with silver hair said, smirk tugging on his lips.

The former leader of the…what?

“Fancy seeing the Horned King around these here parts.” The guy with brunet hair slammed his mug against the table. “Been awhile. I could hardly recognize you, since your hair colour is so different. Even though I have no fucking clue why you bleached your hair like that to begin with.”

Does Deuce know these guys? He doesn’t seem like the type to get along with rough guys like them. Let alone dicks.

And… The Horned King? Like that villain from that movie that was such a huge bomb that it made less money than The Care Bears Movie? Why the hell would they call Deuce that?

Deuce folded his arms, straightening his posture. “What are you two doing here?”

“Is there a law against us visiting the Isle of Sages?” the brunet haired guy mused, pretty much ignoring me and the other girl.

Blue eyes narrowed. “We both know there’s more of a reason then that.”

“Fine. We came here to do some business on this here island.”

Didn’t like the way that guy said that. Especially since even my autistic ass knows that translates out to something illegal.

“We could ask you the same thing.” The white haired guy sneered. “Let me guess. With your reverse bad boy makeover, you’re attending Royal Sword now?”

Deuce bristled. “Night Raven, actually.”

“I already figured,” the brunet said with a small shrug, “even you wouldn’t go full on spice boy.”

The white haired bastard took another swig of his drink. “Funny that you are attending Night Raven. Are you the hotshot leader ruling over a new, huge gang on this here puny island now?”

Deuce huffed. “Of course not. It’s been less than a week since I came here, so how the hades would be able to do that in such a short amount of time?”

“True,” the guy with brunet hair shrugged.

The other guy stared at him. “By the glint in your eye, you must not even want to do that in the first place. Did you go soft?”

A bead of sweat dropped along the side of his face, and he tensed up.

“You know what?” Deuce said, crossing his arms behind his head. “I want to cut loose for a while. Maybe smoke a big one in the toilet.”

The hell? Is he fucking serious?! Why would he want to smoke a cigar while standing inside of a toilet?

… Okay, he probably means the washroom. Since “toilet” is what British people call a public washroom, if I remember right. But still… Why would he do that? And with these guys of all people? Since when was Deuce a smoker?

“That’s our Deuce!” the brunet guy said, slinking an arm over his shoulder. “Now you're speakin’ our language!”

Deuce followed the guys off in the direction of the washrooms at the back of the building. What the fuck just happened?

The waitress turned to me, face twisting in confusion. “What’s with that guy?”

I shrugged. Her guess is as good as mine. I always knew that Deuce flipped switch sometimes, becoming more bad-boy like. This is on a whole other level. Does he have a mental health disorder that he never told us about or something?

“We probably should listen in on them.”

I nodded. Agreed there. Something feels extremely really off about this situation. I need to see if Deuce is okay.

I followed the waitress towards a set of washrooms at the back of the pub, standing off to the side of the door leading to the guy’s one. The girl cracked the door open ever so slightly.

“Listen well,” Deuce said, voice sinister and ice cold. “I may not be the hotshot on this island, but as your former boss, you two of all people know what I’m capable of. Unless you want me to teach you two a lesson right now, I highly suggest you scurry along back to Lesdium.”

One of them snorted. “Big words coming from the guy who was—”

“Enough of this bullshit!” the other one snapped. “Knock ‘Em!”

Bright light illuminated from the washroom. My eyes squeezed shut to prevent myself from going blind and having a meltdown, a pit forming in my stomach.

“Beat the Limit!” Deuce called out in that same icy tone.

Static crackled. A loud swoop followed up by a loud smash echoed in the air. Like a super large scale punch.

Holy fucking shit!

Without a second thought, I bolted into the men’s washroom. High heels clicked behind me. The door swung shut behind us. A shiver went down my spine as I stood there, gawking at the carnage before me.

The scene was like something out of the world’s easiest game of Clue. Deuce stood in the corner. He gawked at the people laying down on the ground, hands shaking and eyes wide. The two jackasses laid on the ground, not moving a muscle. Splotches of blood dotted rim around the sink, the ground and even a couple spots on Deuce's clothes. Cuts and bruises covered their bodies, including their faces.

My hands trembled, heart beating fast. I gagged, swallowing hard to prevent myself from vomiting. Holy shit! Are they really…?

They can’t be. They’re alive. Their chests seem to be moving up and down. But…

I touched my index finger to my thumb on both hands. Stay calm. I will find a way to deal with this. I have to. I must.

Should I go and check up on them? Touching another person's blood could give me a whole host of diseases and who knows what else, especially in a fantasy universe.

No. I have to. Just to make extra sure. I can just not directly touch them just to prevent that.

Kneeling down beside the guy with white hair while avoiding any of the red splotches marking up the ground and suppressing my urge to barf, I put the back of my hand a few inches away from his mouth. Warm breath tickled it.

I sighed in relief. Okay, good. That confirms it. They’re still breathing. Just knocked out. Deuce isn’t gonna be convicted of manslaughter. Dodged a bullet.

Blue eyes landed on me. He blotted out of the washroom, heading towards what I assumed to be the backdoor.

My brown eyes flicked towards the waitress, who stared at me with wide green eyes. “Call the hospital!”

She nodded and took off her heels, snatching them up and rushing back into the restaurant to get her phone. Snagging the bags, I stood up and bolted in the same direction Deuce went in.

“Holy shit!” I barrelled out the backdoor, which shut behind me. Deuce stood on the opposite side of the alleyway, staring down with an expression that I couldn’t place and arms crossed. “What the fuck was that?”

Deuce didn’t pay attention to me. He opted to instead lean against a red brick wall and mutter something to himself in what I assume to be this dimension’s version of Japanese. I know the same amount of Japanese as a dead goat left out in the sun all day, but I caught and recognized only one word— the word “ore”. If Roy… and anime taught me anything, there are multiple ways to say “I” to refer to yourself in Japanese. “Ore” is the rougher, casual masculine version of it often used by delinquents and tough guys. Says a lot about how he truly sees himself.

The metal stairs creaked as I walked down the few steps, standing across from him. Bags dangled from my hands. I took a shaky breath, trying to be as calm about this as humanly possible. “I-I don’t understand what you’re saying. What are you talking about?”

Blue eyes landed on me. There was no trace of any of the small blood splotches on his clothes. Deuce struggled to compose himself, taking a deep breath.

“Back in secondary school,” Deuce said, switching back to this dimension’s version of English, “I got involved with some very sketchy people, and I skipped classes a fair bit to smoke, drink, and do potions with them. I talked back to any adult around me, constantly got into fights and used my powerful magic to bully those weaker than me! It even got to the point that near the end of secondary school, I became the leader of a gang. I was even dubbed ‘The Horned King’ and ‘Cauldrons’ by my own and other gangs in Lesdium. Trust me. That’s not even the worst of it.”

My hand rubbed against my jean pocket, bags dangling from my wrist. Think I got a glimpse of that side several times before. Even Ace commented about it. Certainly explains a lot about his personality and what just happened. He just has a lot of past experience with this sort of thing. I can’t even begin to imagine what kinds of terrible things he must have done if this was what he was capable of, especially if he’s a former gang lord.

“Deuce,” I said, trying my best to stay composed. “You’re not a monster.”

“Yes I fucking am!” Deuce yelled, eyes threatening to tear up. “I even made my own mum cry!”

I froze. I had no words to say to that, stunned silent by the sheer agony in his voice.

“One night, while I was in the last year of secondary school, some bastard gave me some Red Flower, so I figured that I should try it out. Once I was home alone, I brewed some tea with it. I don’t remember what happened. From what mum told me later on, once she came home from work, I had a glazed look in my eyes. Throughout that same night, I continued to babble utter nonsense, I tried to attack inanimate objects and tried to strip naked and run out of the house. It took me a couple days to stop seeing things, even after the affects wore off.”

Deuce squeezed his eyes shut and hiccupped. I half expected him to burst out crying.

“But...But after I sobered up, I caught my mum hiding away in tears, talking to my obaachan back in the Isles of the Far East over her mobile. My mum kept on asking her where she went wrong with raising me to have me turn out to be exactly like my deadbeat of an old man, and if she was a bad parent.”

His hands curled into fists.

“She was wrong. It was all me! I was the one who got into all that terrible shit! She did everything she could to raise me right, a-and I just…” Deuce inhaled deeply. “I just hurt her.”

His eyes opened again, blue orbs flicking towards me.

“That experience was the wakeup call I needed. I realized that if I went down that same path, I might end up dead due to a fight gone wrong, by overblotting or who knows what else. I vowed to turn my life around. To never make my mum cry again. I left my former gang for good, ejecting the rest of those bastards from my life. After something else happened, to make that easier on myself, I moved to the Isles of the Far East to live with my obaachan and attended high school there. While I lived there, I went sober. I only came back to Rose Kingdom a few months ago to attend uni here.”

His fists shook at his side.

“I need to do well at uni. Be a model student. Just to make her proud. And then I do this shit all over again!”

Deuce slammed his fist into the wall, and somehow that motion never broke his hand on impact. Tears pricked his eyelashes, shaky breaths leaving his lips.

The last few days have been a wild ride. That’s an understatement. Being iskeai’d into a bizarre Disney dimension; almost being roasted alive by a talking cat; fighting off Grumpy if he was more like a videogame boss; being forced to talk things out with red-haired, adult Ciel Phantomhive, whatever the hell just happened was. But I know one thing to be true…

“Said it before, and I will say it again. You’re not a fucking monster!”

Deuce wiped the tears from his face. “You really mean that?”

“Of course I do. A terrible person wouldn’t have stood up when some bastards gave me and another woman they never met before huge trouble. A terrible person wouldn’t have regretted that they might have taken things too far. A terrible person wouldn’t love their mom so much that they would do something as hard as dumping assholes from their life and going sober.”

Deuce stared at me, an expression that I couldn’t quite place crossing his features.

My face dropped, and I played with the hem of my jean pocket. “Look, I get that you want to make your mom proud. I’m like that with my own folks back home.”

I hesitated, choking up myself. Mom. Roy. No. Can’t think about myself right now.

“Addie,” said Deuce, voice still shaky.

“Being a model student doesn’t mean that you have to grit your teeth and bare everything all the time. You’re allowed to get angry. Fight back in any way possible if the situation calls for it. Use whatever means to do so. I promise that I won’t look at you any differently than before. If anything, I owe you a huge thank you and then some. I’m glad that you helped me out. I think that one girl probably thinks the same thing. Just hold back a lot more next time.”

The light returned to his eyes, a small smile tugging on his lips. “Thank you.”

I tossed it back to him. “Don’t mention it.”

His face twisted back into a different expression that I couldn’t quite place. “Though, can I ask you something?”

I took the piece of paper from my pocket, playing around with it in my fingertips. “Shoot.”

“Why did you step in?”

“The Girl Code.”

Deuce blinked, staring at me in confusion. Right. Probably should explain more.

“It’s an unspoken guideline type thing between women where I’m from. One of them is that if another girl is in trouble with a bastard like that, you step in and help out.”

Deuce chuckled, a welcomed sound to my ears after what he just spilled out and what just happened. “No offence. But I never figured you’d ever hop into trouble without a second thought like that. You don’t seem to be the hot-headed type, more like a bold plotter.”

I smiled. “Well, I can’t imagine you having bleach blond hair, so…”

“Touché.”

The paper pinched in my fingers. “But seriously, I get like that only when someone does something so heinous that I want to jump in to stop it. Exception to every rule, I guess.”

“I suppose.” Deuce’s face darkened. “But seriously, don’t dive head first into dangerous situations, especially ones that others can handle all on own without any outside help, like that again, and I mean it. Those guys are my former gang mates. Trust me. They are scum who could’ve done who knows what to you.”

“Not planning to.” Folding my arms, I pinched them hard and stared off to the side with the paper balled up in my hand. “I totally agree. That was one of the stupidest things I've ever done in my life.”

I only stepped in because I was thinking in terms in my own dimension, not this one. If this happened back in my own, I tried to help out another girl having trouble with the same douches that made that creepy comment before. In the context of this dimension, I did the equivalent of white knighting. She’s a mage, and could’ve fended them off by herself without any help. All the while I’m a powerless dumbass trapped here, being forced to use my wits to survive.

Like Deuce said, I need to be extra careful. Force myself to think by this world’s rules while I’m still in it. Especially when said assholes made those creepy comments before and have the ability to burst my head open with a snap of their fingers if I tick them off. In a pit of vipers and all. One where someone out there brought me here for a dark purpose and could kidnap me if I'm not careful on top of that.

Even in the context of my own dimension, that was stupid as hell. Like dumb, white bitch in a horror movie levels of stupid. Bouncers, another staff member or that lady herself would’ve normally taken care of that. Even non-superpowered guys would’ve beaten me up over that. Or far worse.

Worst of all, I caused Deuce to relive that pain all over again. Thanks to my own mistake.

My eyes landed on him again. “I’m really sorry. I didn’t mean for all that to happen and to force you to save my dumb ass again.”

“It’s alright. Really,” Deuce said.

Sure doesn’t feel like it. This is the second time that this happened in the span of two days. I owe him. Big time. I’m gonna have to upgrade and buy him an extra large latte or a super keg in order to make it up to him. He deserves that at the very least. Adding to the list of “Things to Get Next Payday” alongside several cans of tuna to make Grim shut up about that.

“Come on. We need to catch up with the others.”

I went back to twiddling the paper again. “Right.”

Deuce hesitated. “Oh, right. Here.”

Deuce whipped out his pen-wand, pointing at me. A small blue flash came from it. The couple small smudges of blood on my jeans, which I never noticed were there to begin with, rapidly shriveled up until they completely vanished. As if they were never there to begin with.

Wow. That’s so cool! A spell like that would’ve been super helpful when I painted back during secondary school. If I had magic, that is.

I gave him a small smile. “Thanks for that and everything again.”

“No problem.”

We emerged out of the alleyway. Street lamps and similar small, floating balls of blue lights lit the dark streets. Flying cars drove by while a couple people brushed by on broomsticks. People walked by on the sidewalks. Rather relaxing. Like something out of a modern fantasy moodboard.

“What the hades took you guys so long?” Ace asked, standing on the sidewalk and holding Grim in his arms like a sack of flour.

Deuce walked towards them, hands stuffed in his pockets. “Got into some trouble, and we took care of it.”

Ace’s brows pinched together. “What kind of trouble? Paramedics drove by not that long ago.”

I twiddled the piece of paper in my fingertips. “Doesn’t matter. Like he said, we took care of it already.”

“Whatever,” Ace said. “Let’s head back to campus. Most of the pubs will close in an hour or so, anyways.”

I blinked. “Seriously? It has to be around ten.”

“Well, that’s Rose Kingdom for you.” Ace shrugged, and then held out Grim. “Also, here. Have him back.”

Grim glared up at him. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?”

I rolled my eyes. Ace passed Grim back to me. Grim promptly lept out of my hands, opting to walk on the ground on all fours.

We walked down the street, heading the direction back to the university. Even my autistic ass picked up the look of dread when it dawned on Ace that we had to climb up a similar trail back to the top.

Chapter Text

Standing near Deuce’s locker as he fished around in it, my left leg shot out with my toes pointed upwards. I bent over, running my hand along the outside of my thigh. Bags dangled from my wrists.

Fuck it. I don’t care if I look kinda goofy. No one seems to be paying any attention to me. Anything to loosen up my muscles.

Brown eyes flicked towards the others. Grim placed his front paws on a nearby locker, leaning up and doing a small push-up against it as if it was a scratching post.

“Joining in?” I mused, switching to stretching my other foot.

Grim gave a curt nod and let out a loud groan. “Everything hurts.”

Don’t blame him, really. We’re all gonna feel it in the morning, especially Ace. That’s for sure. That always happens to me when I trek up The Grind no matter how fit I am. We must’ve hiked around at least five kilometres just to get to that small city and back here again alone. Half of which was uphill. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if I walked around twenty kilometers in total over the last few days. Knowing my luck and how fit I am at the moment, all that walking is gonna hit me like a ton of bricks.

“And why are you staring at me?” Grim said, his electric blue eyes landing on me and hair bristling.

“Oh, you look cute when you do that.”

“Hey!” Grim snapped back. Pouncing to the ground on all fours again, his back arched and ear flattened. His tail flicked back and forth. “I’m not cute, I’m fluffy!”

I smiled, ruffling the fur on top of his head with my other hand. “Yes. Yes, you are.”

But still both terms describe him aptly… along with annoying and a pain in the ass, but more in an endearing way now. Like a younger sibling or cousin. Hell, Ace and Deuce are…

No. I can’t think about that now.

The door to the metal locker slammed shut. I bolted upright. Deuce shoved the laptop bag back in Ace’s face, and the redhead scowled, snatching it from him.

Grim kicked off of the ground, hovering in the air and flying nearby us at my eye level. We walked down the hallway heading towards the Hall of Mirrors. No one said a word. Just twiddling paper on my end.

Awkward silence strikes yet again. Terrific. Ugh. Why do I have to break the silence all the time during these situations? I always suck at this. But still, what’s a good convo starter? Think, think.

Oh, right.

“Can’t believe that I never asked you guys this before, but what are your majors?”

Crossing his arms behind his head and walking beside me, Ace turned his gaze towards me. “General Studies, just more on the alchemy and business side of things. I’m not an art freak like you.”

Shooting him a tired smile, my eyes rolled at that.

Deuce continued to walk beside me, hands in his pockets. “Criminal Justice.”

I tittered. Seriously, that’s his major?

“What’s so funny?” Ace asked, brows pinched together.

I tried to smother my smile, but probably failed miserably. “Nothing.”

We turned around a corner once we hit the end of the hallway. Clusters of girls along with a couple guys, who were around our age, floated in and out of the Hall of Mirrors up ahead. Some headed towards the mirror for the Aladdin dorm with the snakes curled around it. Scarabia, if I recall that correctly. Others headed towards the one with octopus tentacles and eels surrounding it.

I stared at the people within, probably smiling like a dumbass. Sure are a lot more people in there compared to last night with some hot people amongst the ranks. My eyes landed on one, and I froze.

A gorgeous girl who stood around with her friends. Long, black microbraids tumbled down her back, framing her dark-brown skin face. She wore a purple bralette and light-wash jean shorts that showed off her hourglass figure. Okay. How cute she is should be illegal. She’s so ethereal looking that I can tell that she’s almost practically glowing from this far for fucks sake!

Part of myself wanted to do nothing more than go up and just talk with her; while the extremely thirsty part of my brain wanted nothing more than for that very pretty person to crush my head between her thighs. But a few things stopped me from doing either of those things. For one, going up to and flirting with anyone when they’re with a group of friends is just weird and kinda creepy. Know that I would find that rather uncomfortable if someone did that to me. Flirting with other girls who I don’t know always makes me feel a little anxious at first. I’m never sure if the other girl is on the LGBTQ+ spectrum or not until she flat out tells me a lot of the time due to my inability to pick up those social cues. Doing that with straight women always makes things awkward. Or if anyone I flirt with regardless of gender would accept my bisexuality to begin with. And most important of all, you know, no dating or romance while I’m here.

If this dimension wasn’t messing with me before, it certainly is now. Or I really need to take that birth control tomorrow to stop myself from being super thirsty. Believe either or, really.

Red eyes sparkled, a grin tugging on Ace’s lips when he turned his head towards me. “Some of the people in there are super fit, huh?”

I nodded in response. Fit? Does Ace have a buff person fetish or something? Strong people who are able to kick my ass can step on me any day of the week. Hell, that one chick seemed pretty athletic looking herself. But that’s still kinda of an odd thing to say.

Deuce flinched. “Girls? At this time of night?”

We both snapped out of it, the dreamy look on his face vanishing. Ace groaned. “This is a uni, dumbass. People who don’t attend classes here float in and out all the time to do the amenities on campus or even party. Women around our age sometimes come here on the weekends for more…sexual reasons.”

“Sexual reasons?” Grim parroted, tilting his head to the side and hovering in the air beside me.

How am I even supposed to respond to that? Grim’s acting like a little kid asking their parent what sex is.

Ace shoved his hands into his pockets. “Point is that seeing girls besides Addie walking in the halls at this time of night is pretty normal, especially on the weekends.”

I agree. Seeing people not attending a university walking down the halls is normal. Hell, I used to workout at UBC all the time during secondary school.

But I’m still not sure. Something about it seems a bit more than some girls floating about the halls. It’s like the line to get into a nightclub or something. Half expect burly men in suits to stand outside of that mirror allowing people inside and for some Aladdin-looking guy to be thrown out.

Deuce rubbed the back of his neck. “Right, knew that.”

Red eyes rolled. “Sure you did. And how did you not notice the odd random girl besides her in the halls before now?”

Deuce didn’t reply, just grunting in response. A small smirk danced along the other’s lips. Ace took his hands out of his pockets, crossing his arms behind his head.

“Anyways,” Ace said. “Time for me to fetch my shit from the dorm room quickly.”

Seriously? “How the he—” I said, and then cut myself off, “hades are you gonna do that? Riddle casted you out. Remember?”

“Easy.” Ace simpered, jabbing a thumb towards Deuce. “Wannabe Shonen Protag over here can just use his magic to accomplish that.”

“Stop calling me that!” Deuce bristled and folded his arms, glaring at him. “And I’m not using my magic to turn you invisible long enough to snag your stuff from the dorm room. I don’t want to get more blot in either of my crystals, especially my Soul Crystal, before I cleanse them tonight.”

Soul Crystal. There’s that term again. What are those, exactly? Do these people have their souls inside of those like in Madoka Magica? Something else? Why would he need to cleanse those?

“Fine, spoiled sport,” Ace grumbled, and then turned to the rest of us. “Any ideas?”

“How about not sneaking into our dorm room to get more of your stuff out?” Deuce said, the scowl never leaving his face.

Ace seemed completely unfazed. “Automatic no.”

Deuce huffed, seeming completely done with his crap. Can’t say I really blame him. I’m with him. I just want to go back to my rickety shithole of a dorm and sleep.

“Sneaking out back?” Grim suggested.

“Also, won’t work. Those mirrors are the only way to get inside them.”

Grim faltered, ears flattening. Kinda figured that the mirrors would be the only way inside of those. Heartslabyul seemed like it was tucked away in a pocket dimension before, and I imagine the others would be the same. But still, there goes that plan.

Well, since he seems so dead set about this, might as well. “You could try to put your hood up.”

Ace raised a brow. “Wouldn’t people immediately spot me?”

The paper pinched in my fingertips. “I don’t know. It’s the best I got right now.”

“Fine.”

Ace flicked his hood up, tufts of red hair still sticking out from underneath it.

“Tada,” Ace said, sarcastically making jazz hands.

Grim stared at him, crossing his front limbs. “I can still tell it’s you.”

Ace turned to him and growled, jaw clenched.

“Anyways,” I said, cutting them off before they could bicker again. “You probably should get going. Grim and I will just wait here until you get back.”

“Actually,” Ace said, a hint of mirth sparking his red eyes. “You two should tag along with me.”

Grim deadpanned, folding his front limbs. “Seriously?”

“Why?” I added, rubbing the paper in my fingertips.

“Backup, of course.”

“Again,” I said, brows pinching together. “Why?”

“Yeah!” Grim chimed in.

“Well,” Ace said. “I’m gonna need a fair amount of backup to cover for me while I sneak inside. Plus, you know, just putting up my hood was your suggestion.”

“Fine,” I grumbled. “You gotta point.”

Grim balked. “What do you mean?”

“Well…” I said, crunching up the paper in my hand and trying to think of the best way to explain it. “Like he said, Ace was banned from going inside for life, and Riddle is a powerful mage. Him sneaking inside with just his hoodie up is a super huge gamble. If all of us cover for him, then him being caught would be far less likely.”

“Okay,” Grim grumbled. “But this better be quick or at least I get some tuna out of it. Otherwise I’ll be super pissed off.”

Honestly, my thoughts exactly… without the tuna bit. This so better be fucking worth it.

We walked into the Hall of Mirrors, weaving through the sea of people. Squeezing my eyes shut, I walked into the Heartslabyul Dorm Mirror after the others and emerged on the other side. My eyes opened and darted around the area, soaking up the modern fantasy moodboard-like aesthetic for what it’s worth.

The castle stood against a black backdrop. Street lamps lit up the walkway, bright against the starry sky. Faint, red lights glowed under the windows and the heart shaped archway.

Compared to the Hall of Mirrors, this place is almost dead. No people walking about except for us and… those guys heading out of the literal heart shaped hole right towards us.

Oh, son of a bitch! Thought about that too soon.

Grim covered for me, flying right in front of Ace’s face and humming an unknown tune loudly.

“What’s with those guys?” said a guy with jackal ears and a red spade over his eye, staring at us.

His buddy with dark-brown skin and a green clover over his eye strolled along beside them. “Just ignore them.”

I shoved the paper into my pocket. My fingers rubbed my temple and turned my face away, cheeks heating up and bags dangling from my wrists. Why the hell did I suggest this again?! I should’ve tried to convince Ace to just crash in my dorm for the night without trying to sneak in here to fetch his shit. At least that option wouldn’t potentially bring back my headache.

I swear if he just came here to grab a change of clothes, I’m tossing him into this world’s version of a wormhole. That’s impossible, since I was diagnosed by a guy in a bird costume as being magicless. But hey, if there’s a hope, there’s a way.

Ace swatted at Grim, who promptly flew out of the way. Red eyes narrowed at the cat monster. Grim simply stared at him, uttering a simple, “What?”

Deuce folded his arms. “We should really get going before someone else comes strolling by.”

“Agreed,” I said, pulling out the wrapper again. “Do you guys know any easy ways into the dorm? Like a back entrance or something?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

Crossing my arms, I rubbed my forehead with my free hand. “So front entrance?”

Deuce and Ace nodded.

My arm dropped back down to my side. Fantastic. Why did I expect anything better?

We continued down the sidewalk, and Deuce pushed the set of double doors open. We all piled inside. My eyes darted around, a smile tugging on my lips. Two lamps hung on the wall, lighting up the crimson room. Black and white tiles lined the floor. Rose bouquets, pendulum clocks and candlesticks rested on the tables along with the large fireplace. Playing cards floated behind copper picture frames.

Wow! This place is so cool! Like a mixture of something lifted from Alice in Wonderland and the Red Room from Twin Peaks.

Ugh. I really wish I could take some pictures with my phone right now. I can always snap some pics tomorrow when I confront their dorm leader.

“Addie,” hissed Ace while Grim kneaded my shoulder, trying to get my attention.

I grimaced. “Right. Where to from here?”

Footsteps clacked against the tiled floor.

“Shit!” I swore. “Hide!”

Ace sprinted towards a nearby sofa, and ducked behind it, feet and legs sticking out underneath. Seriously, that’s where he’s hiding? Well…Nowhere else to hide now.

Deuce and I made a run for the same spot. He almost dove behind it. Shoving a blanket down in front of the hole where two sets of human feet poked out, I dashed beside the piece of furniture and sat next to them with the paper balled up in my fist. Grim scampered off beside me, sitting in a loaf position. His ears flattened against his head, tail tucked underneath him.

“No wonder why you were caught after the opening ceremony,” Deuce whispered, shaking his head. Ace flashed him both the middle finger and a peace sign with his palm facing inward, elbows on the ground, earning him a glare from Deuce.

Wait. Why did Ace flash him the peace sign and Deuce took that as an insult? It’s the peace sign. Does it mean the same thing as the middle finger in this dimension? Or what?

No matter. I shouldn’t be thinking of this right now.

“Quiet,” I hissed softly, brown eyes narrowed at the two.

The footsteps clacked even louder, coming closer and closer. My muscles tensed up, trying to stay perfectly still.

The air stood still for a moment.

“I can see Ace, you know,” Trey called out.

My breath hitched, chills traveling down my spine. Oh fuck!

Well, no point in hiding now…

I crawled out of the hiding spot and sat upright, legs crossed on the ground. Grim perked up and hopped onto my shoulders again. Deuce and Ace followed soon after. Ace flicked his hood back down, red hair slightly ruffled. Trey, dressed in a red apron, stood nearby, staring down at us.

I grimaced, bracing myself for the upcoming blow. “Are you gonna cast Ace out of the dorm?”

“No. Rule Sixty-Four,” said Trey, his face looming right above us. “Anyone who was banished from the dorm and challenges the head prefect can be inside of the dorm only once for a couple hours.”

Relief washed over me. “There’s really a rule for everything, isn’t there?”

Trey chuckled. “Suppose you can say that.”

Oh, shit! That’s right. “Is Riddle around?”

“Not at the moment,” Trey said. “He went back home in Catshier to check up on some things.”

Okay, good. Getting caught by Riddle while we’re here is one less huge thing to worry about. Even if it makes us sneaking into the dorm like that before moot. Which is fantastic. Better safe than sorry in regards to that, but it’s still annoying.

“Why do you have an apron on?” Grim asked, gesturing at Trey with his paw.

“Baking tarts for the Unbirthday Party tomorrow.”

I blinked, grabbing my bags and standing up. “Tarts?”

“Yes. Need to bake a bunch of them for it. Just got done adding the oyster sauce into the raspberry filling, and now I just need to add the powdered sugar on top.”

Seriously? “Oyster sauce?”

Trey nodded. “All famous patisseries add it into their sweets. The savouriness of it adds depth and richness to the dish.”

My brows pinched, twirling the paper in my fingers. “Okay. That sounds like a load of bullshit.”

“I agree,” Deuce added, getting to his feet.

“Not sure about that,” Ace said once he stood up. “Chocolate is added to curry in restaurants to balance out the flavours sometimes, so it might taste pretty good.”

“True,” I said. “Oyster sauce is super salty. Wouldn’t that make the tartness of the dish even worse?”

“It could be the same thing in reverse. Oyster sauce is salty, like you said, so the sauce could balance out the flavours in an instance when a dish is overly sweet.”

Actually, he had a point. “Maybe. I—”

Grim beamed, jumping up and hovering in the air near my eye level. “I kinda wanna try it now!”

Trey’s serious expression crumbled away to reveal a huge smirk, the man burst out laughing at our reactions. “I-It’s a joke! Oyster sauce doesn’t belong in sweets! It was so obviously a lie.”

Red eyes sharpened. “Fuck you! How could you say that with such a straight face?”

“Gods, if you took even a couple seconds to think about it, you would’ve realized it. Addie almost figured it out, but the rest of you guys were so gullible had her almost falling for it too! Pfft! Don’t believe everything you hear.”

Grim growled, ears flattening. “He sure can lie with a straight face no problem, right?”

I nodded slowly. Agreed.

“So, what?” Ace snapped, crossing his arms. “I drank a little while I was out tonight. Cut me some slack.”

Walking beside Ace, my eyes flicked towards him, and I deadpanned. “You only had one glass of beer.”

Ace smirked. “A very tasty one, too.”

Does Ace realize that he’s implying that he’s an extreme light weight? Or is he fucking with me? Most likely the latter, but still…

Ace shoved his hands into his hoodie pocket. “Doesn’t explain the rest of you guys, though.”

Twirling the paper wrapping, I sighed. “Had a long day.”

Long day, long few days. A few more long days if I know my luck. What’s the difference? God, I’m gonna have Autistic Burnout at this rate! That’s the last thing I need right now.

Deuce groaned, rubbing his temples. “Same.”

Wait a sec. Is Deuce okay? Rubbing one's temple means that someone is either stressed or has a headache. Or at least if I remember right. Ivy used to do that a lot when she complained about getting migraines, so it could be the same now. He’s gone through a lot over the last couple hours, so it’s safe to assume he might have one.

I tapped Deuce on the shoulder, and he turned his head towards me. “Do you need a headache cure potion? I got one on me.”

Deuce shot me a small smile. “I’m fine. Thank you, though.”

Alright, if he says so, I guess.

“Hey!” Cater yelled. I jolted as he came barrelling out of a side hall and stood next to us. “Snapped some pictures of the tarts. Totally Magigrammable already. They look super cute so far.”

“Skipping out on your vice prefect duties again?” Trey scolded. The remark came off as teasing, but it had a bit of a threatening edge to it. Or at least I think so. Can’t really say for sure.

“Oh what?” Cater barked back. “I had some projects that I needed to focus on.”

Trey deadpanned. “We only had a couple classes this week. You couldn’t have gotten more than your syllabus already in both.”

“But we’re enrolled in different programs,” said Cater, shooting him a coy grin. “I’m in social media marketing and all.”

“More so than a pre-alchemy degree?”

I agree with Trey. It sounds like he’s lying and making up excuses for weaseling out of his duties. Degrees like marketing are hard work, but pre-pharmacy… or pre-alchemy, I guess, require even more. Or at least from what I heard.

“Instead of worrying about that and making these freshers stand around in the middle of the hallway like idiots as we talk, why don’t you show them the thing?” Cater simpered, nudging Trey in the shoulder. “Go on. Show ‘em!”

“The thing…?” Trey blinked. Amber eyes widened before a small smirk tugged on his lips. “Ah, you mean that.”

The hell? What are they getting at?

Ace seemed to be on the same page as me. “What thing?”

Green eyes filled with mirth. “Better to show you guys.”

“Yes,” Trey added. “Follow me into the kitchen.”

I eyed him suspiciously. Okay…?

Ace gestured at them. I shrugged. I got nothing. Hell, if anything, I have less of a clue than he does. Accurately reading social cues will never be my strong point.

Ace rushed up with the other guys. Grim eagerly jumped up and hovered in the air, his quivering tail nearly smacking me in the face.

“Enough standing around!” Grim said, nudging me in the shoulder. “Let’s eat!”

“Fine,” I said. “You always have food on your mind, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

A smile tugged on my lips as I scratched the cat monster behind his ear, and he purred in response. The others turned around the corner once they reached the end of the hall.

“Come on,” I said. “We should really catch up.”

“Right ahead of ya!” Grim said, speeding off down the hall with a trail of blue flames billowing out behind him. Fire crackled.

Seriously, he has the energy to race me now? Even after all that walking? My thighs are sore, and I’m pretty sure that my feet are just gonna be giant blisters tomorrow. Ugh, no matter.

I floored it down the halls, ignoring my aching thighs and weird stares from the other residents. I caught up to Grim and Trey, huffing and puffing. The others were long ahead of us.

Grim, of course, landed right on my shoulders and curled around my neck, no doubt wanting to use me as a free ride. He’s lucky that he’s a cat monster and cute, otherwise I would’ve bucked him off after the second time he did that.

“Ha!” Grim gloated. “First place again.”

Stuffing the paper between my fingers, I leaned down to message my aching thighs as Grim dug his nails into my shoulders and the bags dangled from my wrists as I did so. “Didn’t know there was gonna be another race. My thighs hurt.”

“Well, whatever.”

“Do this a lot?” Trey asked, who walked back towards us.

“Yup!” Grim boasted. “I won every single time I raced these guys.”

“Because you cheat every time,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah. Because you know—”

“Using your powers doesn’t count as cheating,” I finished off his sentence.

“Indeed,” Grim said, leaning over and flashing me a toothy grin. “You’re getting good at this.”

Yeah. Because his responses are super predictable at this point. I swear that’s almost one of his go to catchphrases at this point. Half expect him to put that on a t-shirt at this point. Grim should join the “Catchphrase Club” alongside Crowbar.

...Actually, you know what? Grim shouldn’t. He’s so much better than that Birdbrained Bastard. Only because of that.

Trey tittered. “Nice seeing you guys get along so well. But seriously, no running in the halls, you two.”

“Right,” I said. “Another rule?”

Trey shook his head. “Nope. At least far as I’m aware.”

Far as he’s aware? Even Trey doesn’t have all of the rules memorized? Just how many of those stupid rules are there in this dorm?! Hundreds? Millions?

Trey waltzed up ahead. “Don’t mind me. I need to put the finishing touches on my stuff first.”

Standing upright again, I walked alongside Trey and twirled the paper between my fingertips again. I stepped into a double seat of dark wood doors and into the kitchen right after Trey, walking beside where the other three stood. Honestly, for the most part, it didn’t seem like any different than any other kitchen in a public place back in my own dimension. Dark brown bricks lined the walls. The tiled floor shone under a dark green rug. Pots, pans, ladles, and other utensils hung all over the walls. A modern looking oven and stove sat beside the island with a light marble countertop.

One item stood out the most. Like a ball pit smack dab in the middle of an event hall. Right beside the sink with two tap setup, which Trey washed his hands at, sat a washer dryer combo machine. The fuck?! Why is that there?

Grim lost it. Mocking laughter escaped Ace’s lips. “Don’t worry. The big ol’ scary non-magical washer dryer combo machine isn’t going to jump up and kill you like in a horror movie.”

Crossing my arms defensively, I sneered. “I know that. I’m not a dumbass.” My eyes softened, and I turned my attention back to the appliance. “Just never seen one of these in a kitchen before.”

“Oh, yeah,” Deuce said. “People in Westernland put those in a separate room.”

“Same with the Land of Pyroxene.” Cater cocked his head towards me, crossing his arms. “Don’t worry, Ad. Seeing that inside of the kitchen here was just as baffling when I started attending uni.”

Ad? Never heard that one since primary school. But, eh. I don’t really mind it. Sounds kinda cute.

Going back to twiddling the paper in my hand, my eyes darted about. Pale green and brown glass bottles with labels for brands I never seen in my life laid inside of a bin tucked away in one of the corners. “Kinda surprised that your head prefect is cool with people drinking here given how...strict he is.”

“According to the Queen of Hearts Laws, as long as people are legal drinking age—” Trey said, but Cater cut in.

“Which is eighteen here in Rose Kingdom, in case you didn’t know, Ad and Grim.”

Trey filled some kind of container with powdered sugar. “That and people keep drinking limited to areas that the uni officially permits, it’s allowed.”

Cater smiled. “Trust me. This pile of bottles is nothing compared to the collection that ends up in Scarabia. That’s the party dorm around here.”

Party dorm, huh? Certainly explains that lineup of people earlier. Must’ve been just people getting into a night venue.

Ace stared at him, not seeming nearly as convinced. “Party dorm? I thought that it still had the reputation of being where all of the super smart people go outside of Octaniellve.”

“Well, you’re right. It used to be like that back when your brother used to go here.” Trey screwed the top back on and groaned. “Hades, it always used to be like until last year.”

Ace stared at him, probably even more lost. Or at least I assume that’s the case.

Cater sighed. “It’s the current head prefect of that dorm. Ever since Kalim was put in charge at the very start of the first term last year, on top of throwing feasts all the time, he throws parties in a brand new area in his dorm every chance he can. That amounts to almost every weekend. A lot of people all over the uni and even a lot of girls from town go there to join the fun, especially since it’s the only place you can go to party on campus besides the lounge. Which comes in second place for that at this uni, now the more I think about it.”

“The lounge?” I parroted, staring at him in confusion.

“Oh, I mean the Monstro Lounge inside of Octavinelle.”

I nodded. Still doesn’t explain a whole lot, but I can always look it up later. Asking about that now would be weird… I think.

Deuce squinted, probably trying to recall something. “Think I saw some posts about those floating around Magicam a couple times several months ago.”

Ace gave a small half shrug, hands still in his pockets. “Me too. I just didn’t think that dorm would gain that sort of reputation that fast.”

Ace stared off to the side, his expression extremely hard to read. Confusion? Contemplation? Dull Surprise? No idea, really.

I shrugged. “Never seen those on mine before.”

Red eyes turned to me, one side of Ace’s mouth quirking up a little. “Course you haven’t. You're from a totally different continent.”

Close, but no cigar. From another dimension. No way in hell I’m gonna correct that one.

Cater beamed. “Oh, oh. You guys should totally go party there sometime. They're a lot of fun and sometimes get pretty wild, especially with the whole tiger fucker incident.”

I blinked. “Tiger fucker incident?”

Green eyes shifted towards me. “Some guy got really pissed during last year’s Freshers Week and broke into one of the tiger cages during one of those parties. The guy survived and wasn’t badly hurt, thankfully, and the uni added a lot more safety precautions around the animal cages to prevent another similar incident, but people around here crack jokes about it. Was the last major uni event that trended in Rose Kingdom before… you two came along.”

Biting my bottom lip, I tried my best not to laugh my ass off. Wow. Sounds exactly like the joke from Twisted. Unlike in that play, this happened in real life in another dimension. Granted, I know that joke in the musical was inspired by a similar event in the Disney movie where Jasmine stuck a tiger on that jerk of a prince, but still… wow. Just wow.

No one seemed to notice or care about my reaction. Cater clapped his hands together, smiling at us. “Come on. What do you guys say?”

The others replied back, but I stayed quiet. If that dorm is based on the Aladdin movie, I really want to go inside. The animated version has always been one of my favourite Disney movies since I was a little kid. Well, that and The Incredibles along with the animated versions of Beauty & the Beast and Mulan. Partying it up in there without worrying about contracting the plague and all of the other restrictions would be the dream.

No. Can’t think about that now. Finding a way to contact my family or get back home is far more important than getting smashed in a weirdass Disney fantasy dimension. Especially since my family probably thinks I’m…

Cater stared at me, probably waiting for a response. “Ad?”

I rubbed the back of my neck. “Yeah, I’d love to.”

Trey never looked in our direction, sprinkling powdered sugar on top of the pastries. “What’s strange is that head prefect over there never seemed to fit in at this uni or even his own dorm for that matter.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Cater leaned back against the counter, arms crossed. “As you’ve been able to tell by now, a lot of the students who attend uni here tend to have a certain… character. A lot of us tend to be self-serving, cunning, prideful along with a bunch of other similar adjectives.”

Makes sense. Vice-Chancellor Crowley said something similar last night. This is a posh university, so a lot of the people are bound to be rather full of themselves. But something tells me that there’s a lot more to it than that.

“Cater, stop leaning against the counter!” Trey ordered. I jumped, surprised at the sudden outburst. “I’m preparing food!”

“Right,” Cater said, bolting up right. “But, anyways. Kalim just doesn’t in either sense. Kalim and his head vice prefect aren't exactly the super genius type, and Scarabia all about that sort of thing along with cunning. Or at least it was. Kalim’s way too nice to fit in at Night Raven. You know?”

By the sounds of it, I totally agree. That Kalim guy sounds like he stands out here in both ways.

If their dorm leader sticks out like a sore thumb in his own dorm, why be sorted there to begin with? Why be put in charge of it despite that despite being a freshman and sticking out so much, for that matter? Curiouser and curiouser.

But still, I really need to know now. “What about me? Do you guys think I fit in here?”

Ace chuckled. “Hate to break it to you, but you kinda stand out here for a lot of obvious different reasons.”

“I know that.” I scowled. Taking a calming breath, I composed myself. “Okay, so. If, hypothetically speaking, I identified as male and was a mage, would I fit in as a Night Raven student?”

“Hm…” Cater squinted, tapping his chin.

Deuce made an expression I couldn’t quite place. “Don’t think I know you well enough to truly answer that.”

“Actually,” Ace said, “the more I think about it, I think so. You seem sassy, quick-thinking and zone out a fair bit, but at the same time you’re cunning, ambitious, manipulative, cut-throat and are willing to do anything to accomplish your goals, including rather questionable acts.”

Wait...What? How the hell does he know that side of me? He can’t. There’s no way in hell he caught on to that already. I never told him that I’m from another dimension let alone that.

Laughter spilled from Ace’s lips. “Why the hades are you making a Shocked Haru Face? You asked.”

“I know that.” Turning my face away, I tucked one of my bangs behind my ear. “Just didn’t actually expect someone to be able to answer that.”

“You ask, you get an answer.”

“Fair enough. Kinda surprised you were able to pick up on that despite knowing each other for a couple days.”

“Eh,” Ace said, throwing me a half shrug. “I’m pretty observant.”

Does he know that I’m from another world without me telling him? He couldn’t have figured it out that easily? Right? Sure, I flubbed up a few times, but I still kept my trap shut about some of the more major things. Do I stick out that much?

No. I doubt he does. Ace might’ve picked up that there’s something off with me, but probably never jumped to that conclusion. Concluding that someone who you know is from another dimension because they’re acting strangely isn’t the most logical one to come to, even in a weirdass Disney fantasy universe like this.

…Or I really fucking hope that’s the case. If not, well… I’ll deal with it then.

Should I tell Grim, Ace and Deuce that I’m from another dimension? They deserve to know, especially after everything we went through over the last couple days.

No. I need to wait it out a bit longer. How do I explain something unbelievable as being from another dimension?

“What about me?” Grim hopped off of my shoulders, floating up in the air and excitedly gesturing at himself. “Do I fit in here? Like if I was a human or beastman and stuff.”

“Yes,” we all said at the same time.

“Think that’s everything,” Trey said, setting the shaker down on the marble counter.

He grabbed the tray of tarts and set them down in the middle of a table, placing some spoons beside them on it. Raspberries and red custard filled up crispy, golden tarts. I don’t have that huge of a sweet tooth, outside of my love of dark chocolate and peanut butter, but even looking at those makes my mouth water.

I have to wonder. “You seem rather knowledgeable about this sort of thing.”

“Son of a baker and pastry chef,” said Trey.

“Cool.”

Amber eyes flashed mischievously as Trey took a seat at it. “If you don’t mind my asking, what are your guys’ favourite foods?”

Why is Trey randomly asking that of all things? What’s he planning to do?

Ace made an expression that I couldn’t quite pin down. “Mine’s cherry pies or burgers.”

“Tuna! Oh, oh, and omelets, grilled meat, and…” Grim said, mouth practically watering. “...Chocolate pudding.”

Cater smirked. “Mine is grilled lamb with fra diavolo sauce.”

“If I had to pick…” Deuce’s brows furrowed. “...I guess omurice?”

Amber eyes flicked towards me. “What about you?”

I continued to fidget with the paper in my hand. Hm. What should I pick? I’m not sure if these guys know what Mojo Shrimp, Sopa de Lima and Fricasé de Pollo are. Saying Reese's Peanut Butter Cups would make me look like a total loon. Highly doubt they know what a California Roll is, if those exist here at all. The US doesn’t exist here let alone California! Even then, I don’t think I’m ready to take another bite of home without having these guys questioning me more than they do now.

Cater nudged me in the shoulder. “Come on, Ad. Say anything that comes to mind.”

Alright, then. “A green smoothie.”

“Health nut,” teased Ace. Twirling the paper in my fingertips, I rolled my eyes.

Deuce raised a brow. “What do you need to know our favourite foods for?”

Trey fished his pen-wand from his coat pocket. “This. Doodle Suit!”

Trey flourished his pen-wand over the food. Sparkles floated about. Then, nothing. The tarts look and smell the exact same as before.

“Why don’t you all take another bite of your tart?”

I paused. Trey placed some sort of enchantment on these. Why else would he whip out his pen-wand and wave it on top of them like that? Exactly what, I have no idea. For all I know, he could’ve put an enchantment to turn someone into a goat for all I know. …Okay, I highly doubt he’d pull something like that. But being in a pit of vipers, I can never be too careful.

“Go on,” Trey said, a small smirk tugging on his lips. “Give it a try.”

That doesn’t send any alarm bells at all! What spell was cast on these? Is what he asked before connected with what he just did now? Or did he cast something else completely?

Cater, who already took a seat, chuckled. “What’s the hold up, Ad? Just give it a try.”

Actually, I might just be paranoid or something. Everyone else seems to be fine as they’re munching away on these.

I snagged one of the tarts, and sat down at the table with the others, bags in my lap. The paper wrapped slapped onto the table. Grabbing a fork and scooping it into the dessert, I tentatively took a bite. Only… something was off. Way off. Instead of tasting like raspberries and custard, a more subtle sweetness along with vanilla protein powder, banana, kale and spinach.

Delicious. Just like a smoothie from Modern Wellness Bar.

Home.

“Anyways, how does it all taste?” Trey asked. “Good, right?”

Frosting rimmed Grim’s mouth. He tilted his head up and nodded, going back to devouring his own tart.

“Love it,” I said before munching away on mine again.

“Agreed,” Deuce said. “Is changing something’s flavour your Unique Magic?”

Trey beamed. “Actually, I have the ability to overwrite an element of something. I can do it with scent, colour, texture… anything. The only real restriction I have is that there’s a time limit. The stuff I overwrite only lasts for a few minutes, so that’s why I call it ‘doodle.’ Because it’s like a scribble on a piece of paper. It’s not permanent.”

Grim swallowed his last bit of tart and sat up, wiping the frosting from around his mouth. Grim flashed him a toothy grin. “If we use your Doodle Suit, then having an eat-all-you-can canned tuna isn’t just a dream now! A lot better than the one that Riddle uses to bully everyone!”

The smile on his face fell off. “I’m nowhere near his level. My magic is just child’s play next to Riddle’s.”

Not sure if I agree about that. It’s a pretty cool ability. Rather intimidating and terrifying, the more I think about it. Trey can overwrite any attribute of an object—smell, taste, touch, even what it looks like. A spell like that could allow him to pull the perfect crime. Rob a bank? Steal people’s prized possessions? Even trick someone into eating or drinking something that’s poisoned?

Despite that, Trey sounds like he truly means what he said. The more I think about it, Trey doesn’t like he would ever be the type to use his powers to commit murder. Sure, he’s a good liar, but that automatically doesn’t mean he’s a terrible person. Hell, I’ve been lying my ass off all the time since I came here... along with long before then. Overall, he seems like a cool guy outside of that.

A lot of the people here are just like any other normal person back in my own dimension, despite some of them having some pretty twisted powers. Suppose it could be because this is a dimension where having superpowers is the norm. Most people here might just see these abilities, even the more deadly types of Unique Magic, as extensions of themselves, which prevents a lot of people’s powers from getting to their heads and committing extremely vile acts. Like Syndrome said in that movie, when everyone’s super, no one is.

Same could be said about my own dimension to an extent. People there are perfectly capable of committing murder among tons of other things without any magic. Even my magicless ass is perfectly capable of hurting others or far worse. But I don’t commit such acts, either because it’s immoral or in my best interest not to. A lot of people there are the same way.

On the flip side, the opposite is true as well. Plenty of wicked people who use their powers to hurt others or commit evil acts exist here as well. Tens of millions, even. Just like my own dimension. Especially the person who dragged me here to begin with. Which is why I have to be extra careful and keep my guard up while I find a way home or to contact my family. There’s no way in hell I could ever win in a fight against a person like that with superpowers.

But still, if his Unique Magic is child’s play compared to Riddle’s, then I can’t imagine what Riddle’s capable of. Which is totally a reassuring sign.

I’m gonna die tomorrow.

Ace munched on his tart and tossed him a deadpan stare. “Trey did this just to show off his Unique Magic, didn’t he?”

A coy smile tugged on Cater’s lips. “Knowing him, yes.”

Trey tossed a similar look back at him. “And you only convinced me so you could taste test the food.”

“Alright, fine. But isn’t this fun?” Cater beamed, taking another bite of his slice of tart. “Bet if you did this on a date, she’d be super impressed!”

Cater’s eyes landed on me, and lit up with mischief. He leaned towards me.

“Say, Ad. Trey’s a total stud, isn’t he? Wanna go out on a date with him?”

“Sorry, not interested.”

The grin on his face dropped to the floor. “That’s… cold.”

I frowned, setting the tart down on the table. “Don’t get me wrong. Trey seems like a really cool guy, but I’m not really looking to date anyone right now. Have more important things to worry about.”

Like trying to find a way to contact my family and everything else.

“Understandable. Plus, I don’t want to go on a date with her, anyways. She’s not my type.” Trey paused, and then cleared his throat. “No offence.”

I shrugged. “None taken.”

Ace finished munching on his last bite of tart, brows furrowed. “Is Cater always this super forward? This is the second time he either tried to ask Addie out or set her up on a date with someone in one day.”

“Yes.” Trey groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Cater even tried to ask out the Pomefiore head prefect on a date last year and got turned down.”

Cater scowled. “Celeb or not, Vil’s a super hot guy! It was worth the shot.”

Holy shit! Cater must be bi or pan, too. That’s awesome!

But still, he seriously asked out a celebrity on a date? I’m used to being around celebrities, and treating them just like everyone else due to Vancouver being “Hollywood North.” Even I wouldn’t be able to waltz up to a cute actor or actress and ask them out. I'd die on the spot while just trying to walk up to them.

“Eh, fair enough.” I popped the remaining bit of tart into my mouth, chewing and swallowing it. “Cater, can you please not set me up with random people here in the future? It makes me feel super awkward.”

“I won’t.”

Amber eyes narrowed dangerously.

“What?” Cater barked, tensing up under his gaze. “I really mean it this time.”

God, I hope that doesn’t mean that Cater’s gonna still try setting me up with dates with random people. I have enough to worry about as is!

Trey stared down at his phone screen for a moment and slipped it into his pocket. He stood up, pushing the stool in. “Anyways, it’s getting super late. Ace should really rush to get his things and get out of the dorm immediately.”

Deuce muttered a quick, “Fucking finally,” under his breath, standing up and sliding his chair in.

Ace stood up. “Yeah, yeah. Otherwise Riddle’ll get even more pissed off and shit.”

Amber eyes shifted towards me. “Make sure you're on time with your meeting with Riddle tomorrow.”

“He’s right,” Cater added. “Riddle’s really adamant about that sort of thing. If you were a mage and were even a couple minutes late, it would be off with your head on the spot.”

He’s that adamant just about that? Shit. I’m in danger.

Chapter Text

Sunlight poured through the dorm windows, penetrating even where I stood inside of the washroom in the dorm leader’s room. Grim snoozed away in the same spot as last night, flopped on his back. Brown eyes fixed on my reflection in the bottle of pills in my hand.

Alright, I just need to take one birth control pill today and be done with it. Either this or deal with periods, cramps and finding out what this dimension’s version of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups is to clench those cravings on top of everything else. Given that I get periods during the middle of the month, unlike most people with menstrual cycles who have it either at the start or end of the month, it could start up soon as sometime next week.

The top twisted off with a hard tug. I snagged one of the suckers out. A shaky hand popped a pill into my mouth, taking a swig from my water bottle to wash it down. The pill slid down my throat with ease.

Huh. Don’t feel all that different from before. I look the exact same. Popping one of these might be just like taking regular birth control back in my own dimension.

Still, I really need to keep a sharp eye on my body. Long term effects are still possible.

My t-shirt flung off, leaving just my bra on top. I shaved my armpits, making my skin extra smooth, and then brushed my teeth before sliding on some rose scented deodorant. Picking up Ace’s washcloth from the top of his towel, like the rebel that I am, I washed my face with just soap and water. Slender fingers combed through my hair. The colour piece of cloth tied back my dark curls, a little section framing my face.

Brown eyes fixed back on the mirror once I completed my morning routine. My pits were smooth. They smelled a lot better, too. The bow in my hair still seems kinda cute. Bags from a lack of a good sleep still hung under my brown eyes. Scratches marked my tan skin. My eyelashes lacked any macara. The rest of my face lacked any concealer, blush, eyeshadow, eyeliner and everything else.

I look almost presentable… but mostly like horse shit. With my luck and considering the fact I have no money for the next little while and who knows when I find a way back to my own dimension, this is as good as it’s gonna get for the next while. Makeup, straightener, hair, skin care products and stylish clothes, how I long for you! I’ll earn you all back soon.

My t-shirt slipped back on. Bending down, I put on my boots, lacing them up. The bottoms of my jeans folded up against the top brim of my footwear. (Because, hey, if I’m gonna be forced to wear the same stupid old outfit for the third day in a row, might as well let everyone know that I’m that bi bitch that can’t live without cuffed jeans. Am I right?) Grabbing my new phone, face mask and all of the other contents inside of my pocket, I tossed them all into one of the semi cute looking, black cloth bags from yesterday and swung it over my shoulder. I snuck past the sleeping cat monster, lumbering out of the bedroom and into the upstairs hallway.

“Going out?” a familiar voice asked.

I jolted, whirling around. Connie floated in the air with her arms crossed and her ax at her side.

“Yes.”

Shit! Really need to ask before I forget. Just spit it out.

“Say, um…” I began, tugging out the paper wrapper from my bag and twirling it. “Could either you or Lucia tell Grim that I went out for a little bit if he wakes up?”

“Certainly,” Connie said, raising a brow. “Why are you asking that? Isn’t he your familiar?”

“Meeting up with Ace’s dorm leader in a couple hours. No familiars allowed.”

Oh, right.

“And… could you or Lucia also make sure that Grim doesn’t get into any trouble while I’m out?”

“Yes. Only for today,” Connie said, eyes razor sharp, before she disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Huh. That was easier than I thought.

The stairs creaked as I hurried down each step. Part way down, I paused and peeked from behind the staircase. Ace snoozed away on the couch, a bright red blanket, which he retrieved from his dorm room last night, laying on top of him. Lucky bastard. Wish I could just sleep in like a normal person today instead of waking up early to talk things out on my own.

Lucia uttered a faint, “Hurry back!” as the door slammed shut behind me. I hiked down the steps and the hill, ignoring the pit forming in my stomach and my aching thighs. I can do this. It’s fine! This is no different than going to a job interview. I got this.

I hesitated once I walked up to the full-sized mirror entrance. Brown eyes closed. I plowed right through it and stood on my two feet on the other side.

My eyes flew open. Only a couple other people hung around the circular chamber. Not all that surprised, really. It’s Saturday. A free day off. And the very start of the semester, no less. Most people are probably sleeping in. As I should be.

Actually… What time is it? I haven't looked that up since I got up this morning.

Fishing out my phone from my makeshift handbag, my finger pressed against the sensor on the back. (All of the cooler fantasy features that allow people to fully unlock these things like by sigil or electrical pulse are apparently only “Mage Territory” or whatever. Go me.) Neon numbers on the top bar displayed “09:35 AM.”

It’s barely past nine-thirty! Of course I got over a couple hours to kill and got yet another night with little shuteye. Worry and self doubt ran through my mind for a couple hours before I decided to screw it, dusting and straightening out some of the dorm leader’s bedroom just to calm down enough to eventually fall asleep a while later. Thanks, brain!

Welp. Got loads of time to kill thanks to my brain being stupid. Going online to look shit up online on my way to get some coffee it is! Need a shot of black coffee and a good breakfast just to think straight. Big time. Especially given what I need to do in a couple hours.

Walking out of the chamber, I waltzed into one of the main hallways, my boots clacking against the tiled floor and brown eyes glued to my phone screen. Logging onto the wifi network and then this dimension’s version of Google, I typed the name “Malleus Draconia” in the top search bar. My finger tapped on the first result, and a picture of the foremented man appeared in an image frame with text floating around it. My eyes went wide at the result.

Holy shit! Genderbent Maleficent! To the point it’s uncanny. Same lithe, tall builds accompanied by dark clothes and pastel eyeshadow. Same pale skin. Same two inky-black horns poking out on each side of their heads. Kinda hot to boot. (Even if Zhongli is a lot hotter than him. Or even Maleficent herself in both the animated and live action movies. Or Dove Cameron… even if I never watched or cared about Descendants.) Though the raven black locks and elf ears are a new addition on Malleus’ part while not taking away from his beauty.

Scrolling down, I continued to read the text. The article rambled about the Zmaj prince, who is the future king of the Unseelie Court in the Valley of Thorns, with the outer and family name, Malleus Draconia. He is the grandson of The Great Queen of Thorns, a lady, if the portraits of her are anything to go by, is Maleficent. Makes sense. Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

That didn’t just apply to his looks either. He sounds just like her personality wise as well. For one, he sounded rather stoic and unapproachable. While those aren’t automatically bad traits, he also seems to possess the same pride, pettiness and wicked temper as his grandmother. Stories recounting about the times when he changed the weather and lashed out at others were more plentiful than I ever wanted. One person in the comments even recounted a time when he possibly cursed someone without thinking… Even if I think that was just the person being a troll… or whatever those are called in this Brave New Disney World, since there wasn’t a whole lot backing that up.

Several articles I read afterwards rambled about the same thing outside of the cursing bit. Powerful mage. Grandson of one of the most powerful Unseelie Queens in the Valley of Thorns. Known for his spite, pride and wicked temper. Caused some incidents due to said traits that made people fear him.

That’s the final nail in the coffin. Avoiding him at all costs. As cool as it would be to meet a real life dragon… and I really, REALLY want to, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Like these articles rambled on about and the others said last night, Malleus is one of the most powerful mages in the world. On top of that, he’s the grandson of one of the biggest Disney villains of all time. Messing around with people like that who are powerful and quick to anger is a terrible idea. Last thing I want to do is piss him off before he turns me into a snake. Knowing my luck, that’s an actual possibility!

Though, I really have to be super damn sure I never say the name “Maleficent” out loud. Not even by accident. None of the articles ever stated that name, despite that being clearly who was in the portraits and all of the other Disney villains from the statues being name dropped. There’s a highly likely reason for that. Maleficent could very well be her True Name. Saying that name would not only draw loads of immediate attention and ire, but put me in a ton of danger. Plenty of shady people here will no doubt want access to that information along with my other Disney knowledge for sinister purposes. That’s not including whoever dragged me here!

Taking another step, my foot stomped down on something soft and squishy. Brown eyes dropped. A long tail, golden brown with a tuft of fur at the end, swished on the ground.

“Shit!” I swore, pivoting my foot away and slipping my phone back into my makeshift handbag. “I’m so sorry. Didn’t mean to do that.”

The owner of the lion tail stood up from his spot on the bench and towered above me, yawning into his hand. The handsome man looked as if that guy who played Simon Basset from Bridgerton had an equally hot younger brother, who did a half assed furry Scar cosplay. He wore the bizarre colour combo of black cargo pants and a leopard print shirt with a puffy, bright orange jacket that screamed Naruto over top. For reasons unknown by science, he somehow pulled it off. Proving that anyone who even looks like he could be related to that actor can look hot in anything, even mismatched colour combos. Long, dark brown hair cascaded down his back, a set of lion ears poking out of his locks. A thin scar ran over his left eye.

Piercing green eyes sharpened. “You got some nerve stepping on someone’s tail, especially since I was in the middle of a nice nap.”

I flinched, slowly backing away from him. “Again, really sorry. But I’m in a huge rush, so I should really go.”

“Hey!” the guy growled. I froze in place. He grinned, teeth stark white against his brown complexion. “Aren’t you also that female herbivore that the email blast talked about?”

My face twisted in confusion. “Herbivore? Humans are omnivores. I’m not a vegetarian either. I eat chicken, lamb and seafood.”

“That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

No, really. What the hell does he mean by that? Is that a slang term in this dimension or something?

“Don’t just stand there. Answer my damn question from before!”

Folding my arms, I tossed him one of my old popular bitch smirks and twirled the paper in my freehand. “Yes. I’m the rare, shiny girl attending this university. What about it?”

“Don’t be a smartass. Although…”

The guy marched up to me, pulling me in. He pressed his nose against my neck and sniffed, his warm breath tickling my skin. I stayed perfectly still.

My eyes darted about. No one who brushed past us seemed to care about the fact that a guy was literally sniffing me out. Is sniffing people’s necks normal here? Or is everyone just this apathetic when things go down in general? Or both? I could easily believe any one of those things!

“Huh, that confirms it.” The man pulled away. “I really don’t sense a single wavelength of magic within you. You really are a total non-mage.”

What the fuck? Normally I wouldn’t complain about if someone who shared a family resemblance to Simon from that TV series came anywhere close to me… or if Daphne and Marina from that series did the same, for that matter, but this is way too fucking weird. Why the fuck did he sniff me? Who does that?!

How the fuck can he even tell that I’m magicless by doing that? Pressing a pen-wand against my jugular and chanting a spell in order to check to see if a person can use magic? Seems odd, but makes sense. But by scent? I know that he has animal ears and a tail, but he seems completely and utterly human outside of that. So how the hell does that work? Does his catboy traits grant him super smell or something?

“There’s also something else.”

Something else? What the hell does he mean by that?

“Since you’re a girl, I won’t take a tooth as payment. Scram!”

Don’t need to tell me twice. What the fuck? What the actual fuck? Getting the hell outta here and fetching my coffee and breakfast. That’s for sure.

—0—

My back sank into my seat cushion just outside of Riddle's office and eyes glued to my phone screen showing this dimension’s version of the Google Docs app. Fingers stopped tapping against the screen. There. That explanation should be good enough. Hopefully…

“You may come in!” Riddle called out coldly from the other side of the door, which opened on its own without warning.

My breath hitched. This is it. There’s no turning back now.

I stood up and walked into the room with my phone and portable coffee cup in tow. Red walls surrounded us with the same pattern on the tiled floor. Riddle, who sported a similar outfit he did yesterday, sat behind a maple wood desk on a black leather office chair. Twin triangular lamps stood on each side of the desk. Perfect match for the Twin Peaks meets Alice in Wonderland aesthetic the rest of the dorm seems to have. I would’ve snapped a picture on my phone, if it wasn’t for the circumstances of being here in the first place.

Riddle sneered, placing his pen-wand with a maroon crystal attached to it into the cup holder. “Surprised that you came on time.”

My lips pursed. Nope. Not say anything to that one.

“Please,” Riddle said, gesturing to the chair in front of the desk.

A shaky breath escaped me. The office chair squeaked a little once I sat down on it, a makeshift handbag still dangling on my arm. I placed the coffee cup on the desk. My hands dropped to my lap, crossing my legs on the chair and playing with the edge of my phone case.

“Tell me. What’s your reasoning for unleashing your familiar?”

I sucked in a deep breath. Come on. You can do this. This is no different than a job interview or something. Treat it as such.

Ugh. What did I write down on that app again? How could I have forgotten that already?! I wrote that out only a couple minutes ago?! This whole thing is giving me the memory of a squirrel. No, a toothpick! Because at least squirrels would be able to remember important info during something important as this.

No matter. I’ll just look up what I said quickly.

Touching the sensor on the back, I unlocked my phone. Tapping on the app with a blue sheet of paper on it took me to a page listing off my lone document in the whole app. Clicking on it took me to my bullet points.

“Put your phone down and look me in the eye!” snapped Riddle, and I jolted. “Answer my question!”

But I was looking in his direction, wasn’t I…? So why say that?

Still, I probably shouldn’t look at my phone right now. Doing that is pretty rude. That’s especially true in meetings, job interviews and whatever the hell this is.

Come on. Just breathe and get this over with. Spit it out already.

Slapping my phone face down on the desk, my gaze fixed on him again, and I fidgeted with the edge of my pocket. “Grim acted out due to stress.”

“Quit propping your legs up and sit nicely. Look me in the eye!”

Oh, right. I crossed my legs. Curse you bisexual inability to sit in chairs properly!

“Right,” I grimaced. My legs dropped to the floor, brown eyes landing in his direction. “Anyways, like I was saying—”

Riddle seethed. “You're still not looking me straight in the eye!”

What?! My eyes sharpened. “I was trying to—”

“Follow the rules and do as you are told.”

Alright, fine! Have it your way, jackass!

Familiar internal jittering return. Just ignore it. You won’t have a meltdown. Just get this done. Now.

Brown eyes focused on him again, and I went back to playing with the hem of my jean pocket. “Vice-Chancellor Crowley gave me the opportunity to be the first woman to attend university here. Since it was sprung on us on short notice, Grim was stressed out. So he stole my ceremonial robes and lashed out during the opening ceremony. I should’ve stopped him. I apologize for that.”

God, I really hope that explanation works. Even if I sounded like I said that at gunpoint. True to some extent, considering this guy is an older, red-haired version of Ciel, who is quick to anger and has superpowers, but I can’t show that. Especially now. Need to be professional and relaxed. Just like my mom in this situation. No meltdown or shutdown at all.

Grey eyes stared at me. “What type of drink did you bring to this meeting?”

Seriously, he’s asking that now? Why the change in subject matter completely? Fine, whatever.

“Black coffee?”

“You brought that during a meeting!” Riddle bellowed. Taking a deep breath, he quickly composed himself again. “Rule one hundred, one mustn't bring coffee inside of the dorms.”

Are you kidding me?! I ignored the internal jitters that only grew stronger. “Why would that matter right now?”

“Rules are the rules around here. Get rid of it immediately.”

“Why?” I asked, the internal itching growing super irritating.

“While you aren’t a Heartslabyul resident, the rules still apply while you are in our domain. Do as you are told.”

A calming breath escaped me. “But it’s not even done yet.”

“If you know your proper etiquette, then follow the rules! Throw that into the dustbin and repeat what you just said while giving me proper eye contact. Immediately. You being a non-mage is no excuse for that. Enforcing the rules will only benefit you.”

I… I can’t! Fuck this. I’m gonna have a meltdown soon. I just know it. I need to get outta here. Now! I don’t want to do this in front of this bastard.

Bolting out of my seat, I grabbed my things, hands shaking. I ran out the door as if the room was on fire just before it tried to lock me inside. Brown eyes darted around as I dashed through the halls. Come on, come on. Where’s a washroom or something similar around here!

I stopped in my tracks. A dark wooden door which said “Gender Neutral Washroom” on it rested in the middle of the hall. Bingo!

The door to the single person washroom slammed shut behind me once I ran inside. I placed my coffee cup on the ledge of the sink with two taps and threw my handbag inside of it.

Collapsing to the tiled floor, I curled up into a ball, fists curled up and shaking. Tears burst from my eyes, streaming down my face. Every single negative emotion built up over the past few days exploded from my brain. Anger, frustration, saddeness, the works. They whirled around and crashed over me like a giant titlewave. Over and over again on repeat.

Moments, minutes or an hour later the world stood still. The titlewave receded. My surroundings snapped back into sharp focus. I laid there for what seemed to be another several minutes or longer.

A knock hit against the door snapped me back to reality again. “Hey! Are you done in there?”

Swallowing hard, I wiped the tears from my face. I tied my curls back into a ponytail with the ribbon again. I snagged my coffee and the makeshift handbag.

The door latch opened with a flick. I rushed down the halls, not even daring to look behind me or at any passersby who were no doubt snickering and gawking at me. I just want to get outta here!

Sunlight, or whatever the closet thing which constitutes to that in this pocket dimension type thing, shone down on me once I plowed through the heart-shaped opening. I sat down on the edge of the fountain smack dab in the middle of the main courtyard, eyes glued to the edge of it. My items clattered on the fountain edge beside me. Bending my ring and little finger on both hands, I touched my thumb to each of them. Calming breaths escaped me.

I marched out mid conversation like a dumbass. I probably made Riddle even more pissed at me and everyone else to boot! Fantastic. Just fantastic!

Why did I just have a meltdown in the middle of a meeting like that? I know that was a long time coming, especially given what’s happened over the past few days. But...Ugh! God, I'm such a fucking idiot! I should've chewed him out for that! Can anything go right?!

God, I wish Grim was able to tag along. Or that this dorm carried around emotional support goats. Because if this dorm is based on Alice in Wonderland, something as random as that could be very possible! Just something that I can hug.

“Why so glum?”

I turned around to look at the source. A fair-skinned head with purple cat ears and yellow eyes floated right in front of me. I screamed, gripping the edge of the fountain so I didn’t fall ass first into it.

“Oops,” the guy giggled. “I fur-got to materialize fully.”

The lower half of his body emerged under the head. He wore dark pants and his white button-up was worn loosely over his form, a striped pink-and-purple shirt showing from underneath.

“Uh…”

This is weird! Way too fucking weird! I know that he’s probably able to do that thanks to his Unique Magic or whatever, but still… seeing some do that right in front of you is something else. God, now I know how Izuku felt when Mirio did the same thing.

“Are you gonna say something?” the guy mused, flashing me a cat-like smile. “Staring is im-purr-lite.”

“Right,” I said, rubbing the side of my face. “And you are?”

The man placed a hand on his hip, a purple tail swishing behind him. “I’m Artemiy Artemovich Pinkov, but everyone just calls me Tchemya. And you?”

“Adriana, but you can call me Addie.”

“You’re a girl. Aren’t you meow?” Tchemya purred. The sides of my lips twitched up slightly at that. “What are doin’ inside of this dorm? It’s Saturday.”

My smile faltered. Folding my arms and pinching them, I said, “Attending university here as a student.”

Tchemya cocked his head to the side. Right… Think he wants more of an explanation than that.

“The mirror screwed up and brought me here from across the pond for some reason, so the vice-chancellor decided to make me the first girl to attend university here for some reason.” First part is a blatant lie, yes. But there’s no way in hell I’m saying what actually happened, especially to someone who vaguely looks like some sorta strange, catboy version of the Cheshire Cat! I don’t even know the full story of that stupid email blast.

Tchemya hummed. “That certainly would explain your accent.”

“As for why I’m in this dorm, I just had a meeting with Riddle just to try to sort the whole opening ceremony situation out.”

“Can see why. That guy’s been a little stickler for the rules since he was a wee little thing.”

I perked up. “Do you know something about it?”

Tchemya shrugged. “I guess you could say that I do, but at the same time I can say that I don’t.”

My brows furrowed. “Which one is it?”

“What? You wanna know about Riddle?”

“Yeah…?”

“Go ask that glasses guy?”

Glasses guy…? “You mean, Trey? Right?”

Tchemya nodded. “I’d go ask him if I wanted to know more about Riddle, if I were you.”

Why would he say something like that? I know Trey’s one of his vice dorm leaders or whatever, but that doesn’t mean that he knows the ins and outs of his personal life. Do they have a deeper connection?

More I think about it, they might. Trey seems quick to defend him and speak good of him, even when forced to acknowledge his faults.

“Well,” Tchemya said. “I guess you don’t need me anymore, so I best be on my way.”

He slowly faded away, humming a little tune as he did so.

“No wait!” I called out, bolting up to my feet. But the guy ignored me, disappearing completely.

Fuck! I should’ve responded a lot sooner. He might’ve stuck around if I did that. Stupid, stupid.

First thing’s first. I need to create a Magicam profile and try to contact Trey in order to meet up with him later. Then, the library.

Chapter Text

The sun began dipping towards the horizon as Grim continued to snooze all the way in the chair beside me. The book in my hand slammed shut, hitting the wooden table in the library. Crossing my arms on the table, my head slammed down on them.

Scouring a university library for anything that could get me back home for a single afternoon doesn’t yield the best results. Just like everything else today. The more you know! Because fuck me, am I right? 

God, I'm hitting brick wall after brick wall with this. It doesn’t help that I have no idea what to search for. Or what the answer will be. Who knows, with my luck, the secret to getting back to my own dimension is doing a ritual that involves taking a human life like with the Philosopher’s Stone in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I just took a fucking alchemy class yesterday and residing in a dimension where magic exists. Anything is possible!

...Goddammit! I still need to finish that anime, since I never got past the first season of it. I always have been putting it off due to the last couple anime seasons being so stacked. Which sucks, since Roy Mustang seems so much like a fictional version of my stepdad in some ways, even looks wise.

If I ever have the chance to watch it ever again. That anime doesn’t exist here. Same goes for any single piece media that I like from my own dimension. TV series, video games, web comics, everything. Even something simple as some emojis.

No. I will search and try to find a way to return home. It might take weeks or longer, but I will. I must.

“Oh, hey,” a familiar voice said. “Got your DM on Magicam. How did the meeting with Riddle go?”

Shit! Didn’t expect Trey to come up here so soon.

I bolted upright. Swiping the book on the table, I placed it on my lap before Trey had the chance to examine it more closely. “Oh, I’m fine. It went decently enough.”

A blatant lie, yes. Hell, a part of me wants to say, “Oh, nothing. I just had an audience with that tiny bastard, and I pissed him off even more. I had an autistic meltdown in a washroom where I laid on a dirty floor and cried for who knows how long. Even longed for an emotional support goat of all things. How’s your Saturday been going?” Saying the truth would be super rude… at least I think it would be. Not that would ever tell anyone that I had a meltdown in the first place.

“That’s good. Surprised to see that you DMed me on your new Magicam account to meet you two here. An avid reader?”

“Not really. Prefer to watch media and play video games over reading. I’m just here since it’s a quieter and cleaner place to study.”

Trey nodded. “I can see why…”

Picking up the piece of paper, I twirled it in my hand and cracked a smile. “Yup. Living in a total shithole does that.”

Trey smiled in response.

Grim sat up right, rubbing one his paws against his eye. I ran a hand across his head, and he purred.

“That begs the question.” Trey pulled out a chair and sat down in the seat in front of me. “What is this about exactly? Why couldn’t we message each other about this on Magicam?”

Finally, now we’re talking. “Just thought it was better to talk about this in person.”

Trey nodded, an expression that I couldn’t quite place on his features.

“What do you actually think about Riddle?” I asked, twiddling the paper.

Trey tensed up. “What brought about that question?”

“Some guy named Tchemya. Do you know him?”

“Tchemya…” Trey muttered, brows furrowed as if he was trying to recall something. His brows shot up. He grimaced, taking another sip of his coffee. “Ah, him. Of course he would bring that up.”

So he does know him. What’s their relationship? Are they neighbours? Old schoolmates? Or what?

Grim, who fully joined the world of the living, cocked his head to the side, face scrunched up. “I’m lost. Who’s this Tchemya guy? How do you guys know him?”

I reached over and scratched his head with my other hand. “Wouldn’t say I know him, per say. His head just randomly popped out of nowhere before he showed up in full after I had my chat with Riddle. Scared the shit outta me.”

Trey chortled, a smile tugging on his lips. “Sounds just like him.”

“He just introduced himself, told me to talk to you if I wanted to know the answer to that and just fucked off into the night…” I trailed off, correcting myself, “or very early afternoon, I guess.”

“I know Tchemya because he, Riddle and I are childhood friends.”

“Really?” I said. “Wouldn't have guessed that, to be completely honest.”

Trey nodded. “Knew each other back when we were still wee nippers.”

Nippers?

…Oh, right. Given the context it might mean little kids. Dominic Noble said that in a similar context during his reviews a couple times before, if I remember right.

Grim stared up at him. “If you guys are all childhood friends, why don’t you just tell Riddle off?”

Amber eyes flickered. “There’s nothing I can do against him.”

My brows pinched. “Why not?”

Trey’s face twisted into an expression that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. “Following strict rules and guidelines created the Riddle that you see now.”

“I’m not sure if I follow.”

His frown deepened. “Right. You guys aren’t from Twisted Wonderland, of course you two have no idea.”

My face twisted in confusion. “Now I really have no clue what you’re talking about.”

“Same here,” Grim added, agreeing with me. “You’re speaking in riddles.”

Trey took another sip of coffee. “Riddle’s parents are quite well regarded throughout Twisted Wonderland, especially here in Rose Kingdom, as formidable healers, especially his mother, Lady Ruby. Although, they aren’t that well known in other parts of Gaia like in Westernland. If anyone has a powerful curse placed upon them, magic born illness or really sick in general, they can heal it in a snap. They are a part of the royal court, so even the Queen of Hearts and her family always calls upon their aid.”

I smiled. “Wow. That’s really cool.”

“I’d say.” Grim’s eyes lit up, his tail swishing slightly. “I’d bet Riddle’s just rolling in the dough.”

“His mother is especially exceptional. As a result, she wanted Riddle to be the same.” Trey clenched the coffee cup in his hands tightly, amber eyes flickering with so much emotion. “From dawn to dusk, every move was decided for him. What he ate. What he wore. What he studied and practiced. Even his friends…”

My heart dropped, and I faltered. “That’s rather harsh.”

Shit! Did I just say something stupid given the situation?

Trey didn’t seem to think so, taking a shaky breath. “I tend to agree. But, despite it all, no matter how much it hurt and how much he hated it, Riddle never said a word and strived to meet those expectations. He even managed to stay top of all of his classes since primary school.”

My heart sank even further. That’s extremely impressive. But at what cost? I can’t imagine what his childhood must’ve been like.

My mom always expected my sister and I to excel at everything we did. School, athletics, even hobbies like my short distance running races. After all, mom has an image to uphold. Never to that degree. Not even remotely close. We were both free to do whatever we wanted within reason, especially online for me. Free to choose to befriend anyone. Make mistakes. Fail at things, but be able to get back up and try again, even after receiving an extremely shitty grade. Hell, we were able to take whatever degree we wanted.

Riddle… just wasn’t afforded that opportunity. He had no say in the matter. In anything. Just forced to become his mother’s obedient puppet until she twisted him up to become exactly like the Queen of Hearts from the story. Yes, Riddle’s an ass. One that made me have an autistic meltdown among other things. And one I long to see decked in the face. Doing that to your own child is disgusting. Period. Whether that child is a dick or not.

“Riddle thinks that being harsh and forcing people to follow strict rules is for one’s own benefit, because that’s how he was raised. And he thinks that breaking the rules is a bad thing because…”

I finished his train of thought, breaking through the thick fog of silence. “Riddle believes that if he gives a rule violation any sort of positive reaction, he’s going against the way he was brought up, right?”

Trey nodded. “I get why everyone here thinks he’s a tyrant, and I understand that the way he does things is a little wrong, too. But, I… I still can’t find it in myself to go against him at all.”

A heavy silence filled the air. Grim’s ears flattened, and he laid down in a loaf position. I don’t blame Grim for feeling like that. To think Riddle has that fucked up of a past. While he reminds me of the Queen of Hearts from the story, I would’ve never thought…

“Even then,” Ace cut in. “I can’t stand the way Riddle runs things.”

We all turned our attention to Ace, who stood near one of the bookshelves with a laptop bag swung over his shoulder. Both Trey and Grim gaped, eyes wide, and the expression on my face probably mirrored theirs. I spoke up first. “Were you seriously listening in on our conversation the whole time?”

Ace scoffed, crossing his arms. “No, of course not. I only overheard the tailend of it about being controlled by his mother or whatever just as I walked over here. Do you really think I’m that big of a weirdo?”

My eyes dropped down and Grim flashed him a toothy grin, opening his mouth to speak.

“You know what?” Ace groaned. “Don’t answer that.”

Ace waltzed over to where we stood, hovering over the table.

“Like I said before,” Ace said, “I think I get it now. Sounds like to me the reason why Riddle is like that at uni is your fault.”

Grim became the embodiment of that white cat from that old ‘lady yells at cat’ meme, wide eyed, and mouth gaped. “Seriously?”

Ace ignored him and just continued, eyes narrowed. “You thought that Riddle was acting out of hand and treating everyone like shit for a while, didn’t you? If you honestly believe those things, just say so! Set him on the right track. What have you accomplished by feeling sorry for him and indulging him? Poor Riddle this, poor Riddle that. Are you just gonna sit back and watch as your friend becomes isolated and hated by everyone?”

Trey faltered and didn’t say a word, his expression contorting into something I couldn’t quite describe. Frustration? Anger, but unwilling to show it? Not sure.

A wicked grin coiled on Ace’s lips, placing a hand on his hips. “Or are you standing by as everyone else in our dorm suffers, because you’re too scared of becoming just like me?”

Trey flinched. “Ace...I—”

You know what? “Ace is totally right… even if he put it super harshly.”

Trey blinked, the same expression from before still on his face. Rubbing against the hem of my pocket, I stared off to the side.

“I get it. Riddle is your friend, who has a dark and heavy past, so it’s not easy to speak up when he acts out of line. Standing by and doing nothing isn’t doing Riddle any favours either. All you’re doing is simply feeding into his obsessive, controlling behaviour and making things a whole lot worse.” I swallowed hard in order to keep my composure. “It’s one thing to do that when you were both kids or even teenagers, but you guys are both adults now. If you are truly Riddle’s friend, you need to help him break free of his upbringing and start healing. That means telling him the harsh truth and helping him set things right, especially now as his actions are harming himself and everyone around him. Be cruel to be kind.”

“You’re both right.” Trey clenched his fist around his coffee cup again, amber eyes downcast. “But, I…”

Trey stood up, snagging his things.

“I need to find that book for one of my classes.”

I nodded, unsure of how to respond to that. Part of myself wants to believe that’s the case, but the other highly doubts it. That seems like a made up excuse. Like one that someone would spout out before rushing out while they’re on a date that’s going horribly wrong.

Trey walked away, disappearing amongst the sea of book shelves. Should I go after him? He seems rather distraught.

… Might just stay here. Think he just wants to be left alone. He needs time to sort this whole thing out for himself.

Ace pulled up a chair in front of us. “What was that about?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know. You seemed slightly choked up when you were giving Trey that piece of your mind. Like it’s something a lot more personal.”

“Yeah,” Grim said. “Like how I get when I lose my tuna.”

Ace deadpanned. “It’s always about food with you isn’t it?”

Grim grinned, giving him a cut nod. Ace stared at him. A small smile tugged on my lips at their little exchange. Grim has his mind in the tuna can in some ways. Better than in the gutter like me.

But I need to explain it to them. They deserve to know. Even if I rather forget that aspect of my past...among many other things.

“Similar situation happened to me.” A shaky breath escaped me. “Back in secondary school, an acquaintance used to hang out with my old clique. I was never close with her or even really friends with her, but some of the others at the time were. She also had a troubled home life, having strict parents and grandparents who controlled her life. I even remember her walking into school with her arm in a cast. While she brushed it off and never explained anything when I asked some others who she was closer to, they mentioned that she and her grandmother got into a huge argument. Her grandmother got so angry that she whacked her with a cast iron pan, breaking it.”

Ace’s brows furrowed. “If her grandma assaulted her, why didn’t she press charges? Used her magic to fight back?”

“For the latter, she was a non-mage, so that possibility was out. As for the former…” I trailed off, crossing my arms and pinching my biceps, “I don’t have an answer for that.”

Honestly, it’s something I always wondered about, but it’s not my place to judge. People in abuse situations have their reasons for their actions. Same goes for her. Compared to her, my homelife was rather cushy with my rich lifestyle and family that loves me dearly. Super lucky in that regard.

A loving family that I’m quite literally worlds apart from…

No. I can’t make this about me and have a self-pity party. Focus on the task on hand.

“Not long after,” I continued on, “she began to get into a lot more trouble. Drinking and things like that, mainly. Anything to dull the pain. She snapped at us constantly. It got to the point that none of us wanted to be around her. She just eventually drifted away from us completely, dropping out of school altogether during her second last year from what I heard. I never heard back from her in years, since she’s not really on social media. Trey pulling the same thing with Riddle reminds me of that. I don’t want him to make the same mistake as me and those others did.”

Ace stared at me with wide eyes, drinking everything I said in. “Wow.”

“Yeah,” I said with a frown. “We all have skeletons in the closet, I guess.”

The sides of his lips pulled up. “Or cupboard, as the saying on this side of the pond goes.”

I cracked a small smile at that. “True.”

Ace is super biting with his words and is a huge two-faced dick. In fact, he’s a straight up jackass. ...And a dumbass. Deep down he truly cares about those dear to him, will say the harsh truth that people need to hear in order to get them to do the right thing and is a genuinely cool guy, even if he always tries to cover up those aspects of himself with sarcasm and other much darker ways. Very tsundere like. Even if Ace would never admit it to himself.

But still, at the same time, Ace has no idea how many skeletons are in mine. Even my two large ones from just being in this universe alone. No one here does. I want to keep it that way.

“Hey,” Deuce greeted, who walked over to us with a coffee in hand.

“Great,” Ace grumbled. “It’s you.”

Deuce huffed, waltzing over to the table. Grim pounced into my lap.

I smiled. “Standard greeting for Deuce now?”

“Yes,” Ace said, a sarcastic grin tugging on his features. Deuce rolled his eyes again.

Pretty ironic considering he willingly ate out for supper with us yesterday and everything else. We’re growing on him, even if he would never admit it. In fact…

No. Can’t think about that now either.

“Actually,” I said, petting Grim’s head like a Bond villain. “What are you guys doing up here?”

Ace shifted around in his chair, propping up one knee like the disaster bi he is. “My legs hurt from all that hiking yesterday. The wifi’s shit in your dorm, so I could hardly use my phone or laptop in there. There’s hardly anything to do on campus during the day. Just decided to come up here.”

Deuce sat in the seat next to him. “Similar thing as him. I played some online games in the dorm room, so I decided to come here to stretch my legs for a while.”

Ace scowled, jealousy flickering in his red eyes. I still don’t blame him. Ace still has little belongings on him. My dorm isn’t exactly a fun hot-spot. Despite being out and about all day, I imagine it would get super boring in there. And nerve wracking given that Ace and the ghosts aren’t on the best page.

“Anyways,” Ace said, crossing his arms behind his head. “I’m heading to Scarabia to party. After everything that happened this week, I really need another drink. Or several.”

Honestly, I second that statement. Big time.

“Randomly declaring that again?” Deuce mused. “Do you really want a biscuit that badly?”

“Yes,” Ace said with a smirk.

Red eyes narrowed at the cat in a “Throw another book at me and I’ll turn you into a tampon… or whatever else mages are capable of here” sort of way. Grim took the warning to heart, sitting still in my lap.

“You wankers can come along if you want or whatever.”

Eh, fuck it. As long as there’s no storb or any other forms of flashing lights, I should be fine. It would be nice to party it up again. And have a couple drinks. “Sure.”

“I’ll come, too!” Grim declared. “Have nothing better to do tonight, so I’ll tag along with you minions.”

Ace put his arms down and glared down at the cat, lurching forward. “What did you call me?!”

Not sure whether to be insulted or laugh my ass off that. All I can picture in my head is me and the others dressed as those Minions from those stupid Despicable Me movies.

...Yeah. Come to think of it, considering how annoying those yellow creatures are in those movies, I’m going with the former.

I scowled. “Grim, don’t call others that.”

“Agreed. You're not my boss,” Ace declared with a huff. “Besides, if anything, she’s yours.”

“Yeah, yeah. Right.” Grim cocked his head up, winking at me. The fuck? Why did he do that?

Deuce, who probably didn’t pay attention to our conversation for a while, frowned. “I’m not too sure.”

Ace stared at him, an expression I couldn’t place forming on his features. “Why not?”

“I don’t drink,” said Deuce. “Wouldn’t it be awkward for me to go to a party and be the only one there not drinking?”

Welp. There goes the option of buying him a drink to make up to him for saving my ass multiple times. Guess I have to switch that to a coffee or something else. 

The paper twirled around in my fingertips. “Actually, I don’t think anyone here would care about that.”

Deuce blinked. “Really?”

I nodded. “Plenty of people go to these sorts of parties sober and still have fun. Why else are designated drivers a thing? Given it’s happening in one of the university dorms, it should be more controlled than a house party.”

Ace raised a brow. “How do you know about that?”

“I went to a couple university parties before.”

“Despite you not attending one until now?”

“Well, I did so between the time I graduated secondary school and now.”

Deuce gave us a half shrug. “Sure, count me in. Don’t have anything else to do tonight.”

Wait a second. “Are the drinks there free?”

“I assume so,” Ace said, standing up. “Open bar only for this weekend, apparently.”

“Okay, good.” I twiddled the paper in my hand again. “Too broke to afford anything else at the moment.”

Ace gave me a deadpan gaze. “We’re uni normal students. We’re all broke.”

I agree. He has no idea the extent that I’m broke. Hell, I still have to think of a way to survive til the next payday.

Chapter Text

My arm shot out. Tapping the bottom of my phone screen snapped another picture of the view outside of the third story window.

Hundreds of stars twinkled against black backdrop. A crescent moon hung high in the sky… or the closest thing to one in this pocket dimension thing. Sand dunes surrounded a replica of the sultan’s palace from the movie that we were inside, white spires with round, red tops stretching into the sky. Palm trees and other desert fauna dotted the well-tended courtyard with a fountain near the entrance down below. Cages filled with a wide variety of animals were tucked away in the far back.

It’s even hard to believe something like this is in a university in the fantasy UK. While Heartslabyul is inside of a pocket dimension as well, the lush grass and trimmed bushes in it still seem to belong in the UK naturally… or a fantasy version of that place. Same goes for my own shithole of a dorm. But the desert landscape of Scarabia with its cool, dry nighttime air greatly contrasts the mild humidity and rolling green hills of fantasy England. Stepping inside of this dorm really feels like being swept away to Agrabah when the events of the movie took place.

“Snapping even more pictures, I see?” Ace mused.

My head spun around, and Ace stood there, arms crossed. Others, who towered above me, shuffled ahead.

I shrugged. “More entertaining than having my brains leak outta my ears from boredom while waiting in line.”

“True,” Deuce said. “Gods, we’ve been in line for fifteen… twenty.”

“Just over a half hour or so,” Ace grumbled, shuffling ahead with his feet dragging along the floor after the line moved.

Waiting to be allowed into nighttime venues is pretty normal. Hell, my sister complained about doing the same thing in Vancouver a lot. I can’t help but see a bit of irony in this.

I’m trapped in a Brave New Disney World, and I still have to stand around waiting in line—just like how I would in a Disney Park. Specifically, one in the Arabian Coast area in Tokyo Disney Sea or AdventureLand in Disney World given who this dorm is honoured after. All of the awesome scenery doesn’t change that fact.

I shuffled ahead alongside the others, taking the wrapper from my pocket and ripped off a small section of it.

“Ugh,” Grim grumbled, tail flicking about along my back. “This line is taking forever!”

“Tell me about it,” I groaned, rubbing the piece of rolled up paper wrapper between my fingertips.

Grim leaned forward on his perch on my shoulders. “Well, at least being inside of this place is a lot better than hanging around our shitty dorm.”

The paper pinched between my fingertips. He’s right. Even the inside of this dorm is leagues better than our dorm. No—another plane of existence. Everything in this place looks brand new. To the point I really wonder if this place got a reno recently.

Golden trim lined all of the window ledges and parts of the pillars. Miniature palms rested in antique vases. Red velvet carpets laid down on the white marble floors in the middle of the hallways with cream coloured walls.

Still doesn’t mean that I have to like it when he rubs it in my face like that. For the second time. In a couple days.

“Well,” I scoffed. Crossing my arms, I dangled my phone in one hand and the rolled up paper in the other. “Our dorm has charm. It’s like a diamond in the rough.”

“Diamond in the rough?” Grim parroted.

Shit! Is that even a saying here? I think that’s a general one back in my homeworld, which existed before the movie. But if it’s not, I’ll look like a dumbass.

No. I need to play it cool. Freaking out about it would make me seem more suspicious.

“Oh,” I said. “It's a saying where I’m from. It means that something may seem unrefined or ugly at first, but it has potential to become better.”

Ace snorted. “Corny.”

Okay. That line does sound rather corny, the more I think about it. Quoting the movie directly now. And while standing inside of a place that seems ripped straight outta that movie.

“Eh,” I shrugged. “Better than what you would’ve come up with in that situation.”

Red eyes rolled. “Sure, keep on telling yourself that.”

“I shall.” Smirking playfully, I did a hairflip with my free hand while spinning the little paper ball in my fingers. “Besides, it fits. Some of us are putting in the effort to clean it up so it becomes better. Already morphing as we speak.”

“She’s right!” Grim said, ignoring what I implied with that. “Maybe our dorm can morph to become more amazing or whatever. One day it might be stocked with a snack bar. And plenty of tuna!”

Ace sneered. “It’s always about food when it comes to you, isn’t it?”

Grim leaned forward again, grinning proudly. “Yes.”

Nope. Still can’t tell if he’s being a smartass or sincere with those sorts of staments.

I cringed at my own words before. Come to think of it. “But maybe ‘morph’ is the wrong word for it. Our dorm isn’t sentient where it can change shape and become better somehow.”

Ace smiled a little. “Would be super creepy if it did.”

I nodded. That would be like living in an even more extreme version of the Beast’s castle. Living breathing furniture with talking floors and walls. I don’t think I would ever be able to take that!

“Hey!” someone from behind me yelled. Deuce jumped, prying his eyes away from his phone screen. “Move up already!”

My eyes flicked up. Around a half a dozen others stood several steps ahead of me. Oh, right. I really need to get on that.

Rushing ahead, I caught up with the people in front of me and the others soon followed. Sweet! We’re at the very end of the line now. Only moments until I can go inside and party it up there. That gives me an idea. “Oh. We gotta take a selfie now before we enter that place.”

Ace chuckled, a sneer plastered on his features. “Gods, you’re turning into Cater.”

I smirked. “Joke’s on you, bitch. I’ve always been a social media and picture-taking-nut long before coming here.”

Ace rolled his eyes.

“But seriously, I want to test this out more,” I said, tapping my fingers along the edge of my phone. “And this is such a cool setting to do that in.”

The mirth in his eyes remained. “Fine, only because I’m nice.”

“Yes,” Grim said. “Only if you make sure I look super awesome and badass!”

I scratched behind his ears, rolling my eyes. “Sure.”

Oh, that’s right. Japanese people are a lot stricter about privacy when it comes to photos. They always ask before taking any photos, pixelating the person’s face in the photo when they don’t have permission. Roy’s extended family didn’t like me taking pictures of them without asking when I last visited them. Even Roy’s like that. I assume it’s a similar thing in the Isles of the Far East. Same goes for people in Cuba and Mexico, but to a far lesser degree. Better safe than sorry.

“You okay with that, Deuce?” I asked, clutching my phone in my hand close to my chest and my fingers tapping the edge. “I’m not posting it online at all.”

He nodded. Good enough for me.

Tapping the camera icon on the bottom of my phone flipped it to selfie mode. My arm shot out, holding my cell up in the air. “Smile!”

I flashed a smile. Pressing the bottom button with my thumb, just as Grim jumped up into the air with his arms spread, snapped the picture.

Tapping a purple icon with twin white triangles took me to my photo gallery filled with the lone twenty or so pictures that I took in the last hour or so. Clicking on the newest one brought up the photo I just took. Deuce smiled awkwardly. Ace shot up bunny ears behind Deuce’s head. Grim beamed, pouncing up into the air. Would’ve been cute, especially with the candid shot on Grim’s end, but the results weren’t pretty on my end. Greasy hair, light bags under my eyes, shitty outfit, a smile that only the Joker would love, the works.

I made a face. “Ugh. I look like shit.”

“Don’t worry.” Ace batted his eyelashes, shooting me a mocking grin. “You will always look like roadkill to me.”

Rolling my eyes, I jammed my phone into my pocket. My eyes dropped.

God, I wish I had more money. That way I could buy more clothes, especially a coat. Or hair products. Or makeup. Or even a single change of clothes. Or anything else.

Or, hell, that was isekai’d in a better outfit. Anything besides my shitty work one that I only wore because all of my other work clothes needed to be washed. Clothes that actually look good on me. Like my baseball jersey with my white graphic crop top or corset top underneath, cuffed jeans, some runners and Kate Spade handbag. Or my red with white polka dot slip cami dress and red heels. Or my black short sleeved top with fuzzy trim, light washed straight legged jeans and black heels. Or even my best work outfit, a dark blazer with a white t-shirt, light wash jeans and matching high heeled boots.

...Okay, maybe not the heels on any of the outfits due how much walking I’ve been doing since I got here. Running in anything with heels doesn’t work in real life, despite what action movies claim. Fantasy universes are probably the same.

Then again, that doesn’t deviate that much from the norm over the past year or so. I hardly ever wore cute clothes, jewelry and makeup like I did near the end of secondary school. Never saw much of a point. The only time I did was when I rarely went out for work or when I posed for selfies and the very odd self care day. Bad breakups, getting your heart smashed by some of your so-called “friends” and pandemics do that to a person.

Ace sniggered. “Making the face again, Addie.”

“Right,” I said sheepishly.

Deuce pursed his lips. “You're really worried about that, huh?”

“Yeah. A bit,” I said. “Like I said before, I just don’t have many options. Only these.”

“Why don’t you cut your shirt to create something else?”

Good point. I always wanted to try out that Tik Tok lifehack, but never got the opportunity to. But still…

“I don’t want to make any physical alterations to the top, just in case. Don’t have a coat or sweater.”

Ace folded his arms. “Tie the shirt in the front and back, tucking them both into your bra. You’ll make a crop top.”

Hm…

Twisting up the front of the t-shirt into a knot, I slipped it under the wire of my bra. I did the same thing to the back. Turning on selfie mode, I stared at myself. Not too bad. A lot better than before. Kinda look like a Disney Bound version of Jasmine with a white shirt instead of blue.

I tossed him a small smile, slipping my phone into my Dollarstore Chic Handbag. “Thanks. How do you know about that?”

Ace shrugged, arms still folded. “Saw my cousins do it.”

“Cool. Need to do that more often.”

Grim cocked his head up, eyeing me. “Don’t get why you’re so concerned about that. They’re just clothes.”

“Don’t let the spice boys over in Pomefiore hear you say shit like that, they’ll explode.” Ace paused, and then a wicked smirk coiled along his lips. “Actually, do that sometime. I’d love to see their reaction.”

“Don’t,” I groaned. “Just don’t.”

He arched his brow. “You do realize I didn’t mean it literally, right?”

“Of course I do!” I snapped. Taking a calming breath, my eyes softened. “Just that I don’t want to start any more shit right now. Had enough of that already.”

“Hey!” Grim growled, arching his back and tail flicking about. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” I said. Leaning down, I scratched under his chin, and Grim relaxed.

The line shuffled ahead one last time. Grim shot ahead towards Deuce and Ace. Twiddling the paper ball in my hand, I walked forward and bypassed three tiny circles in the form of a Mickey Head etched onto a banister. Huh. Hidden Mickey.

Shit! Is Mickey Mouse considered a god in this dimension? Is Mickey watching my every move right now?!

…Okay, come to think of it, I highly doubt that’s the case. No one here has ever once mentioned Mickey Mouse. Ancient pantheons, especially the Greek Gods, seem to be the true ones around here. It’s most likely just my eyes playing tricks on me. Or seeing a pattern that isn’t actually there.

“Addie!” Ace yelled from up ahead.

“Coming!” I yelled back.

Rushing ahead, I met up with the others. A female bouncer with pale skin and purple curls that tumbled down to her mid-back stood outside of the entrance. She was dressed in what I assumed was the uniform for this place. A black vest with golden and red accents reached to around her waist with a matching sleeveless hoodie underneath, showing off both her hourglass figure and showing off her lean muscles. A red cloth with some sort of yellow design on it that stuck out underneath the bottom hem of the hoodie. Huge flame prints billowed up from the bottom hem of her black parachute pants. Yellow belts wrapped artfully around her waist.

Can she just crush me? Really hard. Please? If that’s the way I went out in this world, I wouldn’t complain.

Grim shoved against my leg, snapping me out of it. Right. I should focus. Eyeing up a girl while she’s working is pretty weird. And no relationships while I’m here.

Ugh, can that birth control pill just completely kick in already? Just to make me a bit less horny? Even if I’m a disaster bi with or without them, I would be less thirsty. Even by a very little bit.

“Your ID?” the bouncer asked.

I fished my student ID card from my makeshift handbag, which thankfully did the trick for the both of us.

“Go on in,” she bellowed, pointing a pen-wand with a purple crystal on it at the door.

Towering wooden doors opened on their own as I scooped up Grim in my arms. Instead of being greeted by a view of the venue, small, crimson swirls floated about in the air just beyond it. Like a red waterfall. Huh. Must be another security measure. Like the one we entered before walking into this isolated hallway. This is a nightclub in a fantasy universe, so I imagine they would have other ways of accomplishing that besides boring metal detectors.

Closing my eyes, I pushed my way through the strange surface, the same walking through gelatin sensation washed over me, and emerged on the other side on two feet. My eyes fluttered open.

The dimly lit hallway lead to a surprisingly fairly well lit, two level main room. EDM music blared. Thankfully, it wasn’t super loud. I could still think. And I think I could still reasonably hear others and talk over it. A large DJ booth stood on a stage at the front with two video screens hanging right above it. Fellow college aged people and people slightly older packed up the place. Small balls of white light floating all around the main hall. Large paper lanterns, which either glowed orange, yellow or red to each new beat, floated up near the ceiling alongside long crystals. Some of the people’s white shirts, and even light coloured hair in cases, flashed many colours in the neon light.

Groups of people sat at the dark couches and bar stools tucked behind tables with white marble countertops laid at the sidelines. Open doorways to hallways with more squiggly-line barriers just like the one at the entrance within them shot off at each side of the main room. A spiraling staircase, which led to both a VIP balcony and outside deck area, laid in the far left corner. Similar balls of light as the dance floor twisted along each side of the banister.

Wow! This place is so fucking cool! It’s akin to The Commodore Ballroom or a grander version of The Pit. Or even a toned down version of one of those clubs in Dubai, which is very fitting considering where this is situated. Classy and upscale, but with a more vibrant atmosphere and some quiet places to venture off to. From what I heard online and my sister, anyways. I turned nineteen after the pandemic hit. Clubs and other nighttime establishments like that were the first to shut down. I’ve only seen clips of Dubai nightclubs on YouTube and TikTok during that one hyperfixation binge a couple years ago, since I never went to that country in my life.

Thank god for it being more akin to those clubs, too. Cater made it seem like this dimension’s version of The Harbour Event Centre when he described it last night. From what my sister told me before, those get super wild. Sure, I can handle and enjoy parties like this where it’s just the right level of wild and there are places where I can take a breather if I need it. Flashing LED lights, CO2 cannons and fog machines for hours on end tend to be one step too far. Having another shutdown or meltdown is the last thing I need right now. Especially after what went down earlier today.

But still… Laura.

No. I’ll forget about all that for tonight. Everything else can wait. I want to enjoy myself, especially in a place where I don't have to worry about getting others sick or dying of the plague. In a place that’s literally ripped straight outta my favourite Disney movie as a kid. Party the night away. Even if they are…

Ace stood in the entrance area, waving a hand in front of my face. “Gaia to Addie.”

I cringed, walking to the sideline so others could walk by us with Grim in tow. “Uh, right.”

Ace stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Well, I’m going off on my own in a bit.”

“What?” Deuce mused. “To hit on people?”

“Yes,” Ace said, tossing him a smug smile. “That’s what you do at these places besides socializing and drinking. Flirt with others. And I’ll have more luck with it than you ever would.”

“Maybe you should flirt with others by saying you’re a porn star to hide the whole collar incident? Come up with a good fake name for yourself? Like McLovin? LoveSnare? Heart Eyes Motherfucker?”

Grim lost it. He thrashed about in my arms, nearly hitting me in the face with his tail. Ace narrowed his eyes dangerously, clearly not finding my wisecrack nearly as amusing. I covered my mouth and tittered, trying to prevent myself from doubling over and laughing hysterically. I shouldn’t be laughing at that, but I can’t help it. Given what happened, it’s kinda fitting. And that one nickname is just like that one old Vine to boot.

“Fuck you!” Ace growled.

“But seriously,” I said before the others could banter more. I smothered my laughter. “We should really add each other’s contact info to our phones. Just in case one of us is in trouble or dies.”

Ace gave a small chuckle. “Gods, you make it sound so dramatic.”

A small smirk curled on my lips. “Says the guy who got his magic cut off and banished by his dorm leader a couple days ago with the kinky collar to prove it.”

Ace rolled his eyes.

“On top of being a good way to contact each other if someone needs help, and it would make finding each other at the end of the night a lot easier.”

“Good thinking,” Deuce said.

Ace’s eyes softened. “Sure, fine. Whatever.”

I put Grim down on the ground. We passed our phones in a circle, adding the other person’s info to our contact list. We passed the phone in our hand along again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

“Wanna fetch a drink?” I asked, slipping my phone back into my Dollarstore Chic Handbag.

“Sure,” Ace shrugged, slipping his cell into his pocket. “After that, I’m off on my own.”

“Pass,” Deuce said, blue eyes glued to his phone screen. “I’m just heading to one of the side tables for a bit.”

Ace simpered. “Resident wet blanket now, too?”

Ripping his eyes away from his phone screen, he flinched and made an expression I couldn’t quite place. “No. I just don’t drink.”

“Whatever you say,” Ace said.

My head dropped down towards the cat monster. “Come on, Grim.” He nodded. He pounced up, hovering in the air beside me at head level.

The three of us went down the long hallway and walked into the main hall area, weaving through the crowd. The EDM music slowly grew louder. The smell of a hundred different types of body spray wafted in the air, colourful lights dancing about. Many people filled up the place. Some stood on the sidelines, chatting and swaying a bit to the beat. Others, both drunk and sober, danced along to the beat. Their abilities ranged from amazing to the point they could be backup dancers in A Charlie Brown Christmas if they were way younger… even if I’m just barely okay at dancing when I’m sober.

We came up to a bar stand, waiting in line. Glass bottles, with name brands I didn’t even recognize slapped on the labels, lined the wall behind the counter. Red and pink neon lights flashed behind them. Taps poked out from behind the counter. A few people sat in front of the barstand, drinking and chatting away.

A white person behind the counter, who was dressed in the same uniform as the others with a golden snake armlet coiling around one arm, turned towards us after serving some others ahead of us. “Hi. What can I get for you two?”

Shit! I normally order a Pornstar Shooter, Piña Colada and any type of hard seltzer when I drink or back when I went out partying before the pandemic. But I’m not sure if any of those even exist here.

Think, think.

Wait. Got it…

“I’ll have whatever he’s having,” I said as loudly as I could, jabbing my thumb towards Ace.

Ace hummed, tapping his chin. “I’ll have a dark ale.”

Wait. God no! I hate tequila and all types of beer, including ale! Those have a strange aftertaste and are like liquid sandpaper in my mouth. Hell, they both taste like piss and paint thinner! I have no idea what either of those things taste like, but I bet it tastes like beer and tequila. Especially beer.

“Coming right up.”

An overly dramatic, ‘Nooo!’ echoed in my head as the bartender fetched us the drinks.

“Here you go.” The bartender slid brown glass bottles towards each of us, and we both caught them. “Have a good time out there.”

I shot them a polite smile, forcing down my grimace. “Thanks, you too.”

I walked away towards the dance floor beside Ace. My eyes dropped to the bottle of what might as well be unicorn piss in my hand. What should I do with this? I can’t drink this without throwing up after a few gulps. Giving it to a random person here is a no go too. Taking open bottles at parties from strangers at parties is a fast way to get drugged, and others here are most likely painfully aware of that. There’s no way in hell I’m giving this to Grim.

Throwing it down the drain is it! I can always find a place to set the bottle down afterwards.

I turned my head towards the floating cat monster beside me, stopping in my tracks. “Can you guys wait around for a bit? I just need to go to the washroom.”

“Washroom?”

Oh, right. Those are called something different here. “I meant the toilet. Anyways, I’ll be right back.”

I took off into the direction of one of the side hallways. I weaved through the sea of partygoers.

Wait. Should I run back while I still can? Having Grim by side while he guards outside of the washroom would be much safer. I always did the same thing with my female friends at parties. Last thing I want is to have Grim start some shit… again or another repeat of last night.

No. Nothing bad will happen. Grim and I did the same thing when I went to the washroom many times before. I’ll just go in and out. Fast. Before something stupid goes down. Again.

Running through the squiggly-line barrier, my eyes blinked at the onslaught of bright light again. Gah, bright light! My worst enemy when I walk from dark rooms into well lit ones.

I blinked more, opening my eyes up. The hallway seemed no different then the one we waited around in for an hour, even right to the blaring music being a lot softer than before.

Huh. Guess the squiggly line barriers also act like a super amped up version of sound proofing. Makes sense. That thing probably has multiple uses outside of security protection.

The mirror entrances are probably the same way, come to think of it. I would imagine that having loud events going in one of those could annoy those stuck in the Hall of Mirrors and possibly beyond it.

Ugh! I shouldn’t be thinking about this! In and out. Any time wasted is gonna bite me in the ass. Especially knowing my luck.

I entered the girl’s washroom, a bottle of wannabe unicorn piss in tow. Black tiles lined the walls. A few bathroom stalls stood behind me. Oval shaped mirrors hung over the wall over the marble sinks embedded in the white countertop. Tiny balls of light hovered between the mirrors.

Best of all? The sinks only had a single automatic tap each. Yes! Those exist in this dimension! And I don’t have to burn my hands off when I wash them anymore. …Well, if I come in here again and need to actually go to the washroom, that is.

The cork popped off with a tug as I came up to one of the sinks. Welp. Rest in peace ale. You won’t be missed… by at least me.

Tipping the bottle upside down, the contents of the bottle poured out. Brown liquid swirled around and around the drain.

I glanced over my shoulders. Two ladies stood near one of the stalls behind me saluting as they watched. Half expected the Amazing Grace to play in the background instead of whatever is playing off in the main hall.

But… Eh, I’ve seen drunk people do weirder shit while at parties before. Like that time someone pissed right in the middle of someone’s front yard during a UBC party. Or when one of my old secondary school friends slipped out of her shoe, but was so drunk she thought someone stole it off her foot, and then proceeded to beat another girl with it. Or when I was at a Halloween party during senior year and the cops came to bust it, some hammered guy dressed in a Jack Sparrow costume yelled, “You will always remember this as the day that you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow!” He then proceeded to dive out of an open, ground-level window and sprained his ankle in the process. Compared to all that, this party is super tame in comparison. At least everyone here’s legal drinking age, myself included.

Once the brown bottle was empty, I walked out of the washroom with the glass bottle in tow. Hm. Where should I put this? There aren’t any recycling bins out here. There’s no way that I’m putting this in the garbage. Guess putting it behind a plant it is, then.

Walking over to a potted miniature palm tree, I placed the bottle down in the dirt.

“You shouldn’t put that there,” the same voice from the opening ceremony chuckled from behind me.

Whirling my head around, a guy, who looked like a red eyed, livelier live action version of Agni from Black Butler if he was in his early twenties, stood behind me. His short, platinum blond hair, which was tied back by a red headband with various golden pieces and red feathers attached to it, stood out against his russet-brown skin. He wore a similar outfit as all of the other workers here, except his black vest swept all the way down to his calves with a white, sleeveless shirt underneath. Golden bangles and a snake armlet along with a twin set of earrings adorned him. White henna designs twisted around his biceps.

I winced. Yeah... he has a point, the more I think about it. Littering in a public place is pretty rude and makes things harder for the workers.

“Uh…Right.” I stood upright and held up the bottle, waving it in the air slightly. “Where should I put this?”

“Oh, here.”

The guy whipped out a pen-wand with a bright orange crystal on it from his pocket. A faint glow emitted from the crystal. The glass poofed right outta my hand in an orange burst. Moments later, a small puff of smoke showed through a doorway just down the hall, the bottle reappearing its intended destination.

Wow, that’s so cool! Would’ve made my job at the mailroom or even here a lot easier. Instead of running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you can just poof something into a recycling or garbage bin.

“Thanks...Um...”

He grinned, teeth bright against his tan skin. “Kalim ibn al-Asim, head prefect of Scarabia. Nice to meetcha.”

“Adriana,” I said, returning his smile. “Likewise.”

Though… Kalim? He must be that one dorm leader that others think stand out around here. Or at least that’s the name that Cater and Trey mentioned last night from what I remember. I can easily buy what they said. He seems genuinely outgoing, friendly and sweet so far, which contrasts with a lot of the others here. Kalim’s pretty much sunshine incarnate. Hell, he could light up a dark room with that smile of his.

His brows drew together, studying me as if he was trying to recall something. “Say, are you that—?”

The same alluring voice from yesterday rang out from right behind me, saying something in another language. I turned around. I froze, almost forgetting to breathe for a second.

A guy, who seemed way too hot to be real, dressed in a work uniform waltzed over to us. He possessed a slim, but athletic bod. A red hair tie with a single red feather and maroon bobble on it swept back his long, black locks, which reached down to just past his shoulder blades. A long bang framed his sharp features and his hood covered the top of his head. Many elaborate braids and golden bobbles twisted throughout his hair. (Wish I could braid my hair like that. All I can do are simple braids, and nothing near that level. Teach me your ways, you sexy man!) Kohl smeared around the tops of his lashes, which complemented the earthy tones of his russet-brown skin quite well.

No fucking way. He can’t be…

The guy repeated himself in the same language, the same alluring voice I heard the other day ringing out.

Oh fuck me! He is. He’s Sexy Voice Guy. And he looks about as hot as he sounds—which is Budding Sex God in Human Form level. One who I just want to step on me no less.

Kalim replied in the same language back to him, rubbing the back of his neck. The guy became the human embodiment of Squidward, having a “done with everything” expression on his face, massaging his temples. He slapped on a customer service, generic nice look, speaking back to him in the same language. Know that feeling. People made similar faces at my old job, and then they complained about being exhausted. Hell, I made the same face plenty of times during work before myself. Forcing yourself to be all nice, despite being completely done with everything goes beyond all language barriers.

I can’t help but find a bit of irony in that. Honestly, if I didn’t know any better and he never changed face so fast, I would’ve assumed that Sexy Voice Guy was the dorm leader instead of an employee. He has the aura of a dark and handsome desert prince. Certainly has the regalness and commanding presence of one a ton more so than Kalim.

The two continued to banter back and forth amongst themselves in the same language. As much as I want to chat with Sexy Voice Guy and Kalim, I really should get out of here and meet up with Grim again. Before Grim makes another scene. Again.

Piercing charcoal grey eyes landed right on me just as I was about to take off, locking me in place. His lips pursed into a thin line, his eyes scanning me up and down. “So you’re the owner of that familiar that ran amok during the entrance ceremony?”

I need to go along with what I said before. Lying about not knowing Grim would be more trouble than it’s worth. They’ll no doubt be able to tell if I’m lying about that. Kalim suspected it before. All of the social media videos would give it away instantly. Walking away would just cause a scene.

“Y-Yes,” I flumbed, unable to take my eyes off of the sexy guy before me.

The aura around him suddenly darkened even more, an expression I couldn’t place crossing his features. Shit! I really shouldn’t have said that.

Sexy Voice Guy snapped his fingers on one hand while stuffing the other one into his hoodie. “Come.”

My head throbbed. White dots darted around everywhere. Something clawed inside of my mind, wanting to take full control. Ripping my eyes away, my hands balled into fists as I tried to focus and ward off the fog. The music faded in and out.

Mental fog consumed my mind with one last push. And once all the mental fog and the dots cleared, I stood right in front of him in an adjacent hallway an earshot away from Kalim. Only the faint sound of music playing beyond the squiggly-line barrier filled in the void between us.

My blood turned to ice. The hell? How did I get out here? How did he do that? I never drank a single drop of alcohol yet… sadly, so I couldn’t have blacked out. No one slipped something in my drink before I came here. His voice is hot as hell, but I doubt it gives him the ability to swoon people to do his bidding with only that like a vampire.

Did he mind control me?! By the looks of things, it sure as hell seems like a strong possibility. Would certainly explain how he was able to do that. Holy fuck!

“So,” he said, arms crossed. Slender fingers on one hand curled around his bicep, drumming against it. “Tell me. Why did your familiar pull that stunt at the opening ceremony?”

Why the hell is he so hard pressed about this all of a sudden? What does it have to do with him? He sounds like a teacher reprimanding a little kid for stuffing a toad down the toilet. No matter. I need to remain calm about this. Can’t let him get to me. No matter how hot he is.

“Look,” I said, tossing him my best popular bitch smirk. “The whole thing at the opening ceremony was Grim’s idea. I know that sounds like bullshit, but it’s the truth. Grim was stressed thanks to the vice chancellor springing up something at the last minute, so he stole my ceremonial robes and lashed out during the opening ceremony. I wasn’t able to stop him from wreaking havoc.”

His eyes hardened. “What about your familiar setting fire to Kalim’s clothes?”

Shit. Grim really did that? “I honestly had no idea. Like I said before, Grim did that all on his own. Tell your boss that I apologize for the trouble that my familiar caused when we see him again.”

His face darkened, gripping something inside of his hoodie pocket. “How do you know about that?”

My confident mask smashed to the floor. Holy shit! I really set him off. How did I? I didn’t say anything wrong, I think.

No. Nothing has changed. I need to still stay calm and level headed. That’s my only way out of this.

“Oh, um…” I stammered, fiddling with the hem of my jeans.

How to explain this away?

…Wait, got it.

“Well,” I said. “You’re wearing the same uniform as a lot of others around here. You also put on a customer service persona around Kalim and seemed done with everything.”

The darkness dissipated. His shoulders loosened and he blinked, taking his hand out of his pocket. “Done with everything?”

Right. He seems to speak this dimension’s version of English as a second language. He probably doesn’t know what that means since it’s a slang term. If that slang term even exists at all here.

“Like you look super tired and stressed out.”

He nodded, an expression I couldn’t quite place morphing on his face.

“Anyways, I kinda figured that you’re an employee working here because of that. I saw others making similar faces and had to do the same thing at my old job, hence how I’m able to recognize it.” Despite being autistic and not being able to tell that by instinct like neurotypical people, but he doesn’t have to know that bit.

He stared off to the side, playing with the string of his hoodie. “You can say something like that.”

What the hell does that mean?

“So…Uh, yeah.” I rubbed the top hem of my jeans. “Point is that Grim lashed out on his own, and, again, I apologize for everything Grim did. I’ll keep a better rein on him next time.”

He twirled the hoodie string. “I believe you. New familiars can be quite the handful.”

“You have no idea.” Seriously, while Grim seems more well behaved now than before, he’s still hard to deal with. I have no idea how I manage him sometimes.

“You better keep your word about that.” His eyes sharpened, his expression transforming into something more sinister. “Or else.”

“Right…” I sputtered out, tensing up. “Will do. Uh… Speaking of familiars, I need to fetch mine again. Bye!”

I hightailed it down the hall back towards the main room, not daring to look behind me.

What the hell is his problem? He seems to be way too uptight about a job. Is he trying to kiss up to his boss for a raise by being very defensive over him or something? Him just hypnotizing me to follow him is super creepy and then some. First that one guy sniffing my neck and now this? Why is it always that the extremely hot guys turn out to be weirdos around here?

Still, ugh! I knew I should’ve ran back and grabbed Grim! At least if he was around I would’ve avoided being hypnotized.

God, I’m such an idiot! Like the white bitch that does stupid shit in a horror levels of stupid. I had the right idea, but then just completely ignored it and did the stupidest option possible. Again. Especially since even back in my world going to the washroom at a party without a friend is a fast way to get in huge trouble and the fact that someone other than Vice-Chancellor Crowley dragging me to this dimension being out in the wild is a possibility.

On the plus side, at least Deuce didn’t bail me out of that one. Or anyone else, for that matter. For once.

And I’m fine. That’s all that matters now. Nothing to worry about.

Rushing through the squiggly-line barrier, the same dark light and sight of partygoers greeted me. My eyes scanned the crowd as I walked along, twirling the paper some more. Now, then. Where are those guys?

“What took you so long?” Ace called out from behind.

I jolted, whirling around. Ace leaned against the bar table, which Grim stood on top of, slipping his phone into his pocket. Grim pushed an empty beer bottle off of it in the process. Because guess he’s bound to tap into his cat instincts sooner or later.

That was easy. Still not cleaning up that bottle, though. Not my problem.

“Got sidetracked by a weirdo,” I said, playing with the bit of paper in my fingertips. And then some. Especailly since he fucking brainwashed me to walk into a hallway, despite being willing to if he asked like a normal person. Even if he just mind controlled me to walk into a hallway and I handled things on my own, that’s still creepy as hell.

“Should I be worried about that?” Ace pried, leaning in slight. “Did anything happen?”

The hell? Certainly wasn’t expecting that reaction.

“Nothing happened.” Okay, that’s a lie. But I don’t want these guys or anyone else to know about what went down. It’s been dealt with. I can forget about it and move on.

Ace continued to stare at me, eyes narrowed slightly. He wasn’t buying it. At all.

My eyes hardened in return. “I swear.”

“Okay, whatever,” Ace backed down. Case close, then.

Red eyes stared off into the crowd for a moment with a small smile on his face, no doubt eyeing up a cute person, before flicking at us again. Ace shoved his hands into his pockets.

“In any case, I’m off.”

A small, mischievous smirk danced along my lips. “Have fun, Heart Eyes Motherfucker!”

He tossed it back to me. “I shall, Shrimpy!”

I merely stared off to the side, slapping the paper against the table to rub against the hem of my jean pocket. Wow. That’s the English version of the same nickname that my mom and sister call me. Granted, it’s a pretty common nickname… especially for the… vertically challenged like me, but others rarely call me that. If a non-family member does, I usually tell them off.

But strangely, I don’t feel the need to correct him for calling me that. I don’t mind it if he does. Same goes for Deuce and Grim. Even if none of those guys are close to that level yet…

Nope. Not dwelling on this anymore.

By the time my eyes landed on the crowd, Ace already disappeared. Gone. Like a fart in the wind… or however the hell that saying goes.

Grim scuffled across the table, staring up at me. “What are we supposed to do now?”

Good question, actually. Usually when I went to parties in the past, the group stayed together. But now Deuce and Ace are off doing their own thing. Dancing alone with Grim would be super awkward. Striking up a conversation and flirting with random strangers has never been a speciality of mine, even back in my world. Even then, I would never do that with Grim around.

The same waitress from last night waltzed out the herd of dancers towards our table and waved. Her long, black locks were swept back in a high ponytail with a couple strands framing her face. A black, form fitting leather biker jacket with a pink shirt underneath and jeans replaced her work get-up from last night.

The hell? I’m not complaining, but I didn’t expect to see her again. Let alone around here.

“Oh, hey!” the waitress from the night before greeted me with a smile.

“Hey,” I replied back, returning it.

Her eyes landed on the cat monster and she tensed up, staring at him with wide eyes. Shit! That’s right. Grim is just known as the meme who made a ruckus at the opening ceremony and attacked Ace before the chandelier fell to outsiders around here.

“Uh…” I trailed off, giving her an awkward smile. “Don’t worry. He’s just my familiar. He’s not gonna pull anything or attack you.” Brown eyes flicked towards the cat monster. I folded my arms, eyes narrowed. “Right, Grim?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

She hesitated. “Can I pet him?”

My eyes softened when I stared at Grim again. He paused, but he eventually nodded. He seems fine with it.

“Sure,” I shrugged.

A smile tugged along her lips, and she scratched underneath his chin and behind his ears.

“Aw,” I cooed playfully. “He likes you.”

“I do,” Grim said. “But I would like her more if she gave me food. Especially tuna.”

She gawked at him, brows creased.

Leaning in towards her and covering the side of my mouth facing him, I said softly as I could, “Don’t worry. He’s just like that sometimes.”

“Hey!” Grim bristled, back arched. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Shit! He heard that!

“Nothing,” I said, petting along his back. Thankfully that did the trick, and he relaxed again.

“Hang on. Time out. I have to ask. Who is this?” Grim said, gesturing one paw towards her. “How do you know her?”

Shit! I didn’t plan for an alibi for that.

“Well…” I said, playing with the piece of paper in my hand, “not very well. I met her last night after… some events happened, she’s um…”

“Oh, right. I can’t believe I didn’t introduce myself before.” She stuck out her right hand. “I’m Malika.”

Stuffing the piece of paper into my nail bed on the opposite hand, I shook it. “Adriana, and he’s just Grim.”

“Cool.”

I flicked out the piece of paper and played with it in my fingers again. My brows pinched together. “Not sure if this is rude to ask, but why did you come over here?”

“Oh. No problem at all. I just came here to hang out and grab some free drinks. Open bar this weekend and all. When I saw you in the crowd, I just came by to thank you for what you did last night. Although, I was about to use my Unique Magic on them.” Malika shrugged. “But, eh. Thought that counts.”

That confirms it. I white knighted when I stepped in to help yesterday. Of course fucking I did.

Her brows pinched together. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I am. And no problem at all. It’s the least I could do.”

“What are you two talking about?” Grim interjected. “Did something happen back then?”

Goddammit! He’s still on this!? “Uh…” I trailed off before clapping on my best confident popular bitch smirks. “None of your concern. It’s been dealt with.”

Grim cocked his head to the side, gawking at me. “...Okay…”

Well, the subject's been dropped. Knowing him, he probably won’t press further. Honestly, good. I really don’t want Ace or him to know about what went down, then. It’s a fuck up that I would rather move on from. Deuce and her probably feel the same way.

Green eyes darted around. “Anyways, Adriana. Do you know that hot, blue haired guy from last night?”

Blue haired guy…? “You mean Deuce. Right?”

“Think that’s the one.”

“Yeah, I do,” I said, spinning the small paper ball around in my fingertips. “Why do you ask that?”

“I want to thank him for jumping in and helping me out.”

Okay. Completely understandable.

“And ask him out.”

I blinked owlishly. Wait, what?

“Seriously?” Grim said after a few moments, gawking at her.

“Is there something wrong?” she asked defensively.

“Nothing,” I said, fidgeting with the paper in my hand. “Really.”

You know what? Deuce is a sweet guy. And he has plenty of good qualities where that came from. She doesn’t seem half bad so far.

“Sure,” I said. “I can let you talk with him and try to help you with that.”

“Wait, really?” she said in disbelief.

“Yeah, of course. It’s the least I can do.”

“Oh my gods!” She beamed, locking me in an embrace. I tensed up at the sudden contact. “Thanks so much. You’re the best.”

I awkwardly wrapped my arms around her, forcing myself not to recoil at someone I hardly know touching me. “No problem.”

We broke apart. A small sense of relief filled me. Fishing my phone out of my makeshift handbag, I unlocked it. Tapping on the middle icon smack dab at the bottom took me to the contact’s page. Clicking on the text displaying Deuce’s full name took me to his message screen, and my fingers tapped away on it.

Me: Where are you?

Deuce: The second booth on the right side.

Me: Thanks 💙

Double tapping the bottom button took me back to my homescreen. Prying my eyes from the bright screen, I recounted what Deuce just sent. Grim curled around my shoulder. The three of us set off in the direction he told me, strolling along the sidelines to avoid the crowd. I half expected that general Gummi Ship song from Kingdom Hearts or the “Druid's Grove Theme” from Baldur’s Gate 3 to blast over the speakers instead of whatever was playing. With how much I’ve been walking around here instead of partying, they might as well. Especially the former given the type of world I’ve been isekai’d too.

Rounding the right corner, Deuce stood beside one of the tall tables. His elbows stood against the surface, his fingers tapping against his cell screen.

“Hey,” I called out with the monster cat on my back in tow.

“Hey,” Deuce said, slipping his cell into his pocket. Blue eyes landed on the newcomer beside me, and he stiffened. “Uh, who’s this?”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s Malika. She’s the same person from the pub yesterday.”

“I recognize you now,” Deuce said, blue orbs moving in her direction. “I’m Deuce.”

Her lips curled into a flirtatious smile, continuing to spin that strand around her finger. “Cute name for a handsome guy.”

Deuce rubbed the back of his neck, an awkward chuckle leaving his lips. “Uh, yeah.”

“I came here to thank you for stepping in and helping me out yesterday. It was extremely sweet of you.”

“Um… No problem at all.”

“Say. Wanna go out for a coffee or drink somewhere else sometime?” Malika asked, leaning forward slightly. “My treat.”

Deuce frowned, staring off to the side. My chest tightened. Oh, fuck. Even I recognize that look from when guys shot me or others in my former click down before. I know exactly where this is heading.

“Yeah…” Deuce stammered. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m afraid I have to turn that down.”

The smile on her face smashed to the floor. She balked, reeling back. “Why? Are you dating someone already?”

“It’s not that,” Deuce said, rubbing the back of his neck. His frown deepened. “What I mean is that while I’m bisexual, I’m into just guys a lot of the time. And I also don’t drink.”

“Oh…” Malika said with a frown of her own, her voice so quiet that I almost couldn’t hear it above the music.

Concern flashed across his features. “Are you okay?”

Malika picked up her smile again, this time it came off as more plastic. She rubbed the back of her neck, giggling uncomfortably. “I’m fine. No one can control their sexuality. Am I right?”

She’s not. Very clearly not. Even my autistic ass could tell that laugh and smile were extremely forced.

“Uh…” Malika stammered. “Thanks for everything you did again. It’s nice talking with you.”

Deuce pursed his lips. “You too.”

Malika took off in the opposite direction, melting into the crowd.

Grim leaned forward and stared off in her direction. “The hades is her problem?”

Rubbing the hem of my jean pocket, I said, “I’ll go talk with her.”

Deuce nodded reluctantly.

“Grim, stay with him for a second.”

I passed the cat monster over to Deuce, and I darted out in the direction she went in. The bass went frantic, music racing. The crowd went wild. Deep breaths left me. I need to focus on the task at hand. I can do this.

Weaving my way through the maze of people in the direction she went in, my eyes darted about. Come on. Come on. Where is she?

Brown eyes landed right on Malika, who stood right beside a bar table. Bingo!

Pushing through the crowd and walking towards her table, I sputtered, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know that Deuce was mostly into just guys, I swear! I just met him the other da—”

The frown stayed on her lips, eyes glued to the table. “It’s fine, really. It’s the thought that counts.”

We both went silent. Music calmed down, albeit slightly, filling in the void between us.

Fuck! Why did I do that?! I wanted to do something nice, but the possibility of Deuce being on the LGBTQ specturm slipped my mind. Despite being bisexual myself. I of all people should know better than falling prey to blatant heteronormativity. And I probably made both of them feel awkward and comfortable, especially Deuce.

Why do I always screw up and make things harder for him? This is another notch on the list! I always never mean to, but it always ends up happening due to my own fucking stupidity! God, I’m such a dumbass! As always.

But… I can at least make it up to her now.

“Do you want me to get you another drink?” I asked. “Know it’s open bar, but—”

She blinked, and then winced. “Thanks, but I’m not into you in that sense.”

That sense…? Oh, right. “Uh, no. Not like that. I’m off romantic relationships at the moment for all genders. Just to make it up to you. In a platonic way.”

Malika smiled. “Sure, I’d like that.”

“Sweet. But I need to grab Grim again quickly before I do that. Just in case.”

“That’s cool,” I said, walking beside her towards the bar. “Feeling any better?”

Malika shrugged, continuing to walk along. “There are plenty more heroes in the sea.”

“That's a good way to think of it,” I said, smiling and rubbing the scrap of the paper wrapper in my fingertips.

“Oh, you gotta give me your social media dets after.”

“Sure thing.”

Chapter Text

EDM music blasted over the speakers. Smoke poured from the fog machines around the sidelines. My hips swayed to the beat beside Malika as I took the last sip of ruby berry, a type of berry in this dimension that tastes like wild strawberries, hard seltzer… which is a thing that I’m glad exists in this dimension.

Smiling and turning my gaze towards the floating cat monster, I yelled, “Enjoying yourself?”

Grim nodded. I let out a guttural yell, hosting the empty can up in the air. Hard to believe that I got tipsy so fast. Normally it takes a few cans to reach that point.

Eh, fuck it. I don’t care. Anything to get me buzzed and loosen up after the shitty day before this.

My phone vibrated in my bag. I plucked it out, stopping in place. The message snapped into focus when I squinted and turned my total attention to it.

Malika: It’s getting really late, and I have work tomorrow afternoon, so I really should rush home. 

My brows drew closer together as I stared down at the bright screen. Tomorrow morning? She works in a pub, right? Wouldn’t those open later on in the day?

I unlocked my phone. My fingers tapped against the screen as I typed out a reply.

Me: Don’t worry about it. It’s all good. 😉

Malika: Thanks! Talk with you later.

Me: See ya! 💙

Brown eyes pried away from my cell screen. Malika smiled, waving at me. I waved back. She ran off into the direction of one of the exits, disappearing into the crowd of partygoers.

Well, there goes my only reason for hanging around here. It’s getting late, and I bet Deuce wants to scram by now, too.

Tapping on the circle at the bottom centre of my phone screen took me out of that conversation. I switched it to Deuce’s contact page.

Me: Where are you?

Deuce: Off in the side hallway to the right.

Me: Sounds good. 💙

“Come on, Grim!” I hollered, slipping my phone into my makeshift handbag. I plucked the paper out of it again. “We need to go.”

“Why?”

“Well, it’s starting to get late, and it’s just the two of us now.”

Grim tilted his head to the side. “Why’s that an issue?”

Seriously? “We need to be on time for the duel tomorrow. It’s also just the two of us. Partying with only you would get awkward.”

“Why would it be awkward?”

Really? He’s still on about this? How do I even explain something like that? “It just would. Like I said before, come on.”

“Alright fine,” Grim gave in. Sweet. Victory is mine, bitch!

Grim pushed off of someone’s back, gliding in the air towards me, and he climbed around my shoulders. The can slammed against the table.

Music blared some more as I walked along the sidelines. Partygoers grinded and swayed to the bass, their movements growing slightly more erratic.

“You gonna move?” Grim asked, still clinging onto my shoulders and back.

“Yeah.” Right. Need to focus on getting back.

Turning my attention ahead and rubbing the paper ball in my fingertips some more, I moved through the crowd and came out the other side.

My eyes closed as I marched through the squiggly-line barrier. I slowly blinked, and the onslaught of the deceitful bitch known as bright light flooded my vision. Ugh. Fantastic. Even more of a bitch than ever before. Guess that’s what I get after drinking… even just one.

I blinked some more. My eyes squinted as I focused up ahead. Deuce leaned against one of the walls, fingers tapping against his phone screen.

“Hey,” I said, walking towards him.

Deuce slipped his phone back into his coat pocket. “Hey.”

“Ready to go?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I am,” Grim said, tail swishing side to side along my back. “Reluctantly.”

“So…” I began, turning my attention to Deuce and rubbing the tiny paper ball between my fingertips. “What are you planning to do now?”

“Fetching Ace first,” Deuce said.

“A given,” I said. “But what else? Are you going back to Heartslabyul?”

His lips thinned. He stared off into space as if he was trying to think of his next choice of words. He gave me a sheepish smile. “Actually…Is it alright if I crash at your dorm for the night? It’ll be a lot easier than running back and forth between dorms, especially at this hour. And you will no doubt need help with Ace, knowing him.”

Normally, I wouldn’t see the harm in it. Deuce seems like a cool guy and I highly doubt he’d try anything, so there’s nothing for me to fear. Ace made some jokes here and there, but even he kept himself in line. More the merrier. But, in this case, I really have to ask further. “You sure? It’s pretty dirty.”

He shrugged. “I’m sure that I can clean up a sofa to sleep on. It’s only for one night.”

“What about the ghosts?”

Deuce blinked. “The ghosts?”

“Yeah,” I said, twiddling the tiny piece of crumpled up paper in my hand. “One of the ghosts said that Ace was allowed to bunk there, but she also threatened to cut off his head if he tried anything funny.”

“When did that happen?” Grim asked.

“Right when we first entered the dorm after the whole mine incident,” I said. “You were asleep for that one.”

Deuce paused, crossing his arms. “It should be fine. The ghosts never attacked me when I entered that place before, and I can’t see them having a problem with me staying there now. I still have my magic, so I should be able to defend myself if they do.”

“Alright,” I said. “Sure. If you say so.”

Really hope what he said is true. I don’t want to put him through trouble after everything else.

I tossed him a playful smirk. “You know, you could throw Ace in as a sacrifice for the ghosts if they attack you.”

“Tempting offer,” Deuce mused, lips curling up into a playful smirk.

“Tempting?” Grim leaned forward and beamed, pumping a balled up paw and grasping at my shoulder with the other. “We should do it!”

I chortled. “Yes. Totally.”

Moving the piece of paper into my left hand, I pulled out my phone again. Pressing the sensor on the back woke it up. Tapping on Ace’s name on the contacts list took me to his page.

Me: Where are you? Need to go. Now.

We stood around in the side hallway after I sent the message, loitering around like the real life embodiment of that elevator scene from Neon Genesis Evangelion with an additional pyrokinetic cat for what seemed like forever. Only the occasional onlooker brushed by to spice things up. Deuce leaned against one of the side walls, arms crossed. I stared down at my cell, waiting for the notification which never came. Grim probably stared off into space, or I think that’s the case, since he never did a thing other than occasionally move along my back.

“What time is it?” Grim growled after a while, tail swishing back and forth along my back.

My thumb pressed the side button and neon numbers lit up on it. “Just past twelve-thirty.”

“Where the hades is Ace!?”

“Wondering the same thing,” I said. God, this is taking forever! It’s been almost twenty minutes.

“We probably should search for him,” suggested Deuce. I nodded. About as a good of an idea as any at this point. Because I doubt Ace would pick up his phone now like the irresponsible bastard he is.

“Where exactly?” Grim asked, voice more calm. Good question.

“The balcony?” Deuce suggested.

“Sure,” I said, stuffing my phone into my bag.

We walked down the hallway and past the squiggly-line barrier, focusing to steady my balance. My eyes readjusted as I focused on the scene right ahead of me. I followed Deuce down the sidelines, brushing past others loitering around and chatting with glass bottles in hand, until we came across the staircase to the balcony area. I marched up it, hand gripping the banister for dear life.

Once I reached the top step, a gentle, nighttime breeze greeted me, brushing against my cheeks. I smiled at the touch. Should’ve spent more time up here. The weather is oddly like home during a normal summer afternoon, despite it on the coast.

No. Not thing about that now.

“Sure is cool out here now,” Grim said. “Shouldn’t it be super hot, ‘cause this dorm is inside of a desert?”

“Deserts are much cooler at night, my dude.”

“Seems counterintuitive.”

Huh. Never thought he would say that. “Nature’s confusing.”

Grim nodded. I reached over with my left hand, scratching under his chin. He purred.

Taking another step up, I walked onto the main patio area, which wrapped around the red ball top on the giant pillar. Rock pillars about the same size as me lined one side of the patio area while a large guard rail on the outside. Seating areas with either black couches or bar tables dotted in between the rock formations. Soft music played over the speakers.

Hundreds of stars and the crescent moon marked the black backdrop. Other towers shot up into the sky around us. Palm trees along with other flora and smaller buildings marked the ground below. Sand dunes surrounded the dorm far as the eye could see.

My fists moved slightly. Wow! This place is so cool! It gives you a bird’s eye view of the whole dorm. I should really spend more time up here at night in a general sense. Just to soak up this view. And snap some great pics and selfies.

“Come on!” Deuce called out just ahead.

“Right,” I said, rushing ahead and Grim gripped onto my shoulders.

When I caught up with Deuce and walked beside him, Ace slurred in the distance, “Your Unique Magic is jumping. So cool!”

“Don’t be ridikkerous!” another guy said as I walked along. “I don’t jump—I bounce.”

“Whatev. Cool, cool.”

The other guy chuckled. “What can I say? I’m one of a kind.”

The hell? All of those things sound like something that Tigger would say. No. It can’t be. I must be imagining things.

I curved around a corner. Low and behold, Ace sat in front of a two-person table between two of the closest formations and chatted it up with another lanky guy with medium-brown skin and a sweet smile on his face, elbows on the table and chin resting against his fists. Tiger ears poked out of his red locks, standing up straight and slightly forward. His tail curled behind him, quivering slightly.

What the fuck? Catboy Tigger? Why is there a catboy version of Tigger flirting with Ace? Is Ace the real potential Tiger Fucker around here now? Tigger Fucker?

Okay, maybe not. But am I seeing things? Have I finally cracked? Does alcohol here double as LSD?!

“Are you okay?” Deuce asked.

“Uh…” I stammered. Smiling awkwardly, I spun the piece of wrapper with my free hand. “I’m totally fine.”

Okay, that’s it. Cutting myself off for the night. Who knows what this is doing to me.

Deuce reluctantly nodded. He waltzed up to Ace and tapped him on the shoulder, who spun around to look at him. He crossed his arms, eyes narrowed. “Ace, come on! Let’s go.”

Ace scowled. “Why? I’m havin’ fun.” Ace flicked his gaze towards the catboy, a smile tugging on his lips. “Right, Abhit?”

The catboy nodded.

Deuce furrowed his brows, rubbing the spot with his fingers. “Because we have to duel Riddle tomorrow?”

“You’re just sayin’ that because ya wanna leave, pillock!” Ace said. The fuck? Why did he call Deuce a bastardized version of a type of fish as an insult? Is he really that drunk? Doesn’t seem like it since his sentences are coherent. But, hey. What do I fucking know?

“Or do you want to lose the duel due to being knackered and having a huge hungover?”

“Doubt it. I’m made of hot shit.”

“Do you want to make a bad impression? Or piss off Riddle more before the fight begins, making him more likely to win?”

Ace paused, and then sighed, shoulders slumping. “Fine, fine. I’ll hurry up or whatev’.” Ace whirled around, shooting the catboy a flirtatious smile. “DM me after I win this fight and become head prefect, luv.”

“Love to,” Abhit said. “Ta-ta for now.” He winked, walking off in the opposite direction to presumably join his friends.

Deuce groaned. “Come on, loverboy.”

Ace rolled his eyes, standing up and grabbing his bottle of beer on the table. He wrapped his arm around Deuce’s shoulder.

—0—

Wilted blades of grass and weeds brushed against my ankles as I walked up the hill towards my dorm, rubbing the tiny paper ball in my fingertips and holding my other arm for more balance. Grim still stood on his official post—aka curled around my shoulders and back.

The deck squeaked when I walked on top of it, and I gestured to the rundown dorm. “Welcome back to the shithole, I guess.”

Deuce nodded, giving me an expression I couldn’t quite place. But if it was an awkward smile, I don’t really blame him. I only put up with it out of survival. And stubbornness.

“That should be official,” Ace slurred. He trudged towards one of the walls, dragging his feet on the rotting planks of wood.

Wait, what?

“I dub thee, The Shithole and Ramshackle!” Ace slurred, throwing the beer bottle in his hand. I covered my face with my free arm as the bottle smashed against the wall on impact. Brown liquid sprayed out of the bottle.

Silence hit my ears. My arms dropped to my side. Pieces of broken glass littered the wooden deck. Puddles of ale dotted it.

Crossing my arms, my eyes sharpened at him. “You’re cleaning that up later, you know.”

Ace blinked. “Huh?”

“This may be a total shithole, but I still have standards.”

Ace scowled. Don’t really care, though. I clean up after others enough at work, I’m not doing the same during my off time.

Stuffing the paper ball into my nail bed and brushing my hand against the top hem of my jean pocket, I turned my attention towards Deuce, who snapped into sharp focus a couple moments later. My expression softened. “Are you actually sure about this?”

“I am.”

“Okay, if you say so…”

My shoulders slumped as I took a deep breath. This is it. Hope this really works.

The door creaked open. All of us, except for Ace, who waited on the front porch, stepped inside of the entrance way, and that familiar stench of mold and rotting wood greeted me. Welcome to the shithole indeed.

“Hey Lucia or Connie!” I called out, rubbing the top hem of my jean pocket.

A puff of blue smoke burst in the air in front of me, and Connie floated in the air in front of us. I squinted and the image before me became clearer. “Yes, what is it?”

“Can Deuce stay the night?” I said, jabbing my thumb towards him.

Connie grunted. “Another one?”

“Look,” I pressed. “He’s only crashing here just for the night, just to help me out with that…other guy.”

“Fine. I’ll allow it. Only because he’s helping you out.” Her blue eyes sharpened. “But you better keep your word about it this time.”

She disappeared in a puff of smoke. Rolling out the paper ball from the spot I shoved it before, I went back to twiddling with it again. That was easier than I thought.

I stood on ahead into the living area, shakely plopping down on the closest seat on the couch and leaned forward slightly. Grim crawled up my back like a cat version of Spiderman and pounced into my lap. Deuce ambled into the living area with Ace, who swung his arm over his shoulder, in tow. Deuce sat down on the couch beside me, dropping Ace onto the ground in front of him. Ace winced, letting out a small, “Ow,” in return. I snorted, covering my mouth.

“Gimme that potion in there,” Ace said, sitting up right rather wobbly and pointing to where a black duffle bag sat on the floor.

“What potion?” Deuce asked.

“You know.”

Deuce paused as if he went over what he just said in his head and sighed. “Fine.”

Deuce shuffled down to the other side of the couch. He bent over the side, unzipping it and fishing around inside until he pulled out a couple tiny vials filled with pink liquid. He reached over and passed one of the vials to Ace, who snatched it up in an instant.

“Here,” Deuce said, passing me the other vial. “You too.”

I sat upright and tilted the vial on its side, pink liquid swashing in it. “What is this?”

“Pink Elephant Cure Potion,” Deuce said. “One of the best brands for this sort of thing here in Rose Kingdom. It’ll help you out.”

Pink Elephant? Isn’t “seeing pink elephants” another saying for being high?! Sure. I drank a little tonight, but that doesn't mean that I ingested drugs. Right? RIGHT? If it did, that would explain Catboy Tigger. Does alcohol really double as LSD or some other type of fantasy drug here?!

Deuce leaned in, staring at me with his brows pinched together. “Is something wrong?”

“Um…” I trailed off, trying to appear calm and collected as possible. “It’s safe for me to drink this, right?”

“I don’t think Ace will have a problem with you drinking a small vial, and it’s never been opened before, if that’s what you mean.”

“Ye,” Ace slurred, and the sound of a cork popping off soon followed.

“Come on, henchman!” Grim said, nudging my legs and stomach with his paws. “Just drink it already! You’re being weird.”

As much as I want to call him out for calling me a henchman… again, Grim’s right. I’m drawing far too much attention to myself hesitating like this. Just need to drink this stuff in order to fit in.

The cork popped off of the vial with one hard and shaky tug. A strawberry and citrus aroma hit my nose. Bottoms up.

I swallowed the whole thing in one gulp like a shot glass. The cool liquid went down with ease. The mental cloud cleared, and everything around me snapped into focus without any effort on my part.

Huh. This must be a hangover cure potion. Not something for LSD or some other drug.

Wow! That’s so cool! No more barfing into toilets after nights out or any of that other bullshit. Drink one of these suckers and it cures it in a snap.

Drinking one of these also beats grabbing carb heavy food after a night of partying, too. That’s for sure. And healthier too.

And… that saying meant you were only drunk back in the day, not high, if I remember right. People in this universe must use it in that context here.

Okay. Good. I didn’t take some bizarro LSD and hard seltzer combo cocktail while I was out tonight. Alcohol is just alcohol here. I was probably just imagining things with that guy before. Dodged that bullet.

A small smile spread across my face, setting the empty container on the ground. “Thanks.”

Deuce returned it. “No problem.”

Brown eyes dropped down towards Ace. “Feeling any better?”

“Yes,” Ace said normally. He slammed the empty flask on the floor, leaning back against the couch with his arms crossed. Red eyes shot up towards me and narrowed. “But you owe me a new bottle of that stuff later.”

I rolled my eyes, and said sarcastically, “My, what a gentleman.”

“Well, you drank one of my vials without asking me.”

“I thought you said it was okay for me to drink it?”

“Yes, but I still expect you to pay for what you took.”

Alright, fine. I can see his point. “Fair.”

“What time is it?” Deuce asked.

Fishing out my phone from my pocket, I pressed the button on the side and neon white numbers and letters lit up. “One in the morning.”

“Ready to crash for the night?”

“Not me,” Ace said.

“Again,” Deuce barked back. “We have a duel tomorrow.”

“True, but that’s mid-afternoon, so we got a couple hours to kill. Gives me ample time to play some games on my phone with the shitty wifi, play cards—”

“LET’S DO THAT!” Grim shouted, tail quivering, and I covered my ears.

“Turn down the volume a bit,” I said. Electric blue eyes stared up at me, and Grim nodded.

Ace whirled his head around, starting up at the cat monster. “Do what?”

“Cards, duh!” Grim said, leaning forward and giving him a smug smile. “Another excuse to kick your sorry ass.”

Ace slapped on a game face. “Love to see you try.”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “I’m in.”

Deuce shook his head. “Fine,” he groaned. “Only for a couple hours max.”

“Whatever you say mum,” Ace said with a simper and Deuce rolled his eyes. Ace shuffled over to pull out his card deck.

This is gonna be so awesome. I never played cards with others outside of my family in eons. The last time I did was with my so-called “friends” and others at parties.

No. I can’t think about that anymore.

Chapter Text

Deuce placed down two eight of diamonds on the card pile in the middle of the circle. “Your turn, Addie.”

The two queen of hearts in my hand slapped down on the pile. Ha, ha. Yes! It's about time things worked in my favour and let me win! There is no way Ace can top this! There’s only one card left in my hand, which I can get rid of this in a snap. He still has two left. “Your turn.”

“And will you look at that,” Ace said with a simper, slapping down two king of hearts on top of mine. “Looks like I’m King for the third time in a row.”

No way! There are no more cards in his hand. “Dammit! Thought I had it this time.”

“Why are you complaining? You were upgraded to Vizer while Deuce is Neutral.”

Got me there. I shrugged, setting the single card left in my hand on the ground. “Eh, true.”

“While I’m still the Asshole,” Grim complained, slamming down the cards left floating up in the air in front of him. “Again.”

“Sore loser,” Ace fake coughed into his elbow.

Grim scowled, leaning back against the couch. “Can you blame me? This game is far too complicated.”

“How? It seems pretty straightforward to me.”

“It just is.”

Reaching into my pocket, I reached out the tiny piece of the paper wrapper from it and played with it in my fingertips. “I guess I can sorta see that. Took me a little while to catch on when my stepdad first taught me this game.”

“See!” Grim gestured to me. “Even she agrees with me!”

Ace clicked his tongue. “Whatever.”

Deuce reached out, beginning to gather up the cards. “Play this game often, Addie?”

I nodded. “I used to play Daifugo all the time back home. Though, we use the western terms during our sessions like this one. My stepdad always managed to wipe the floor with us during our matches… and every other type of card game.”

Ace chortled. “Sounds like my brother.”

“Probably,” I shrugged, rubbing and spinning the paper in my fingertips. “At least from the sounds of it.”

“Although,” Ace said. “I totally inherited most of my brother’s gaming and card playing skills, being able to wipe the floor with anyone else besides him.”

Deuce simpered and huffed, straightening out the cards. “You wish.”

Ace tossed it back. “Rich coming from the guy who is Neutral for the second time tonight.”

Deuce groaned and shuffled the deck in the cat monster’s stead. “Going back to the topic before, is your stepfather Else too by any chance?”

Else…?

Oh, right. Deuce probably means someone from the Isles of the Far East, at least by the sounds of it.

Maybe I can just say that Roy’s from there. Technically, he’s a Japanese-Canadian, but that’s enough to the truth and I have no idea what the name of the country Fransoyko is located in… even if I really should look that up…

Actually, no. I can’t keep on lying to these guys about that. After everything we’ve been through together, they deserve to know that dirty little secret. While Crowbar told me not to tell anyone about that, trust them. Even with something like this.

Deuce frowned, placing the card pile on the dusty floor. “Are you okay?”

“Actually,” I began. My face dropped. “There’s something I need to tell you guys.”

“Don’t worry,” Ace said. “I don’t care that you’re interested in multiple genders and accept you for the disaster dumbass that you are. I’m the same way, anyways.”

Deuce nodded, giving me a small smile.

“Thanks.” I returned their smiles. “That’s actually super sweet of you guys.”

I paused. Running my free hand through my hair, I shook my head.

“This is not about that. Something else completely.”

Ace eyed me, brows knit together. “Which is what exactly?”

I swallowed, dropping the paper to the ground and moving to rub the hem of my jeans. “Um…”

How the hell does one talk about this? I can’t be like, “Hey, guys. I’m actually from another fucking dimension thanks to someone kidnapping me by dragging me through my bedroom mirror of all things. I was secretly an alien the whole time! I have almost nothing to my name. I have nowhere to go, but this university. All of my relatives are in said dimension are no doubt scared shitless and think I’m dead by this point. Fun times.”

Just gotta get straight to the point. Not like I have any better options, really.

I took a deep breath. “Promise that you won’t laugh or think I’m crazy?”

Ace sneered. “Don’t worry. I promise we won’t laugh too hard.”

I took a deep breath, playing with the hem of my jeans. This is really it. No turning back. Here goes nothing. “I’m from another universe.”

Ace burst out laughing, chuckling so hard that tears pricked his lashes. Deuce brought a hand up to his face, chuckling all the way. Grim just gawked at me.

“Hey!” I sputtered, cheeks hot. “I thought you guys said that you would believe me!”

Ace wiped the tears from his eyes, his laughter dying out. “Oh, no. I totally do.”

“Same,” Deuce said, stifling his laughter. “You being clueless about certain things, seeming to improvise things on the fly all the time and other things make a ton more sense now.”

Ace simpered. “I always knew you were a weird one, but I never expected you to be a fucking alien.”

I smirked playfully. “Maybe if you piss me off enough I’ll implant eggs in your chest and stick a probe up your ass.”

Ace gawked at me. Deuce gaped. Okay…maybe I shouldn't have said that. I’m not even sure if that scifi trope exists here.

“Uh, just kidding. I’m still human… or just one from another dimension, if I’m being more accurate, I think. I don’t even know how to do that even if I tried. I can’t produce hatchable eggs like a duck. At all. And also, ew. Super gross.” I flashed him a small smile. “Plus, you’re an odd one yourself.”

Ace stuck his tongue out at me in response, not taking any offence.

“But seriously,” I flattered. “Don’t ever tell anyone else about this. I really mean it. I can’t afford that information to spread around.”

Ace’s brows knit together, an expression I couldn’t place tugging on his features. “Why?”

I sucked in a breath, trying to calm my nerves. “Someone summoned me here by force. Dragged me into my bedroom mirror kicking and screaming and everything. Whoever did is still out there, so I’m staying here to have protection. Considering how I got here, they likely summoned me here for some sort of dark and sinister purpose. Don’t know why, since I come from a dimension where magic is only in fiction, but that makes me all the more on edge.”

Ace and Deuce stared at me with expressions I couldn’t pin down. Grim shuttered, tensing up. “That sounds really terrifying.”

“It is,” I said, petting his back to calm myself down. And then some.

Deuce leaned in, brows drawn slightly together. “So you think if you publicly announced that you are from another universe and where you are that person would immediately come after you?”

I nodded.

“Certainly explains why you were nervous about being tagged in Cater’s post the other day.”

“Pretty much,” I said, not knowing how else to respond to that.

“Hang on for a second,” Ace cut in. “What about Grim? Is he from your world, universe, dimension or whatever?”

The cat monster shook his head. “Nope. I’m from this one.”

Ace gawked at him. “What?”

“He’s right,” I said. Ace focused his attention on me. “I’ve never met him until a few days ago.” My gaze flicked towards Grim, and then brown eyes narrowed. “He even threatened to light me on fire if I didn’t give him the ceremonial robes.”

“Hey!” Grim snapped, arching his back and ears shooting up. “I thought we got over it!”

“Yes, we did… kinda.” The scowl never left my face. “But it was still a traumatizing experience for me.”

“Well…” Grim trailed off. “I wouldn’t have done that if you just handed me the robes in the first place instead of just throwing a boot at me.”

“No. I vividly remember you threatening me to do so right off the bat.”

“Okay, okay. Fine.” Grim thrilled, relaxing his posture. “That… may’ve not been my best judgement call. But I did what I had to.”

“Fine. Just try to be more thoughtful around me. Honestly, if those flames could’ve killed or injured me if they hit me.”

His face twisted into an expression I didn’t recognize for a moment before his eyes lit up mischievously. “Sure. But can I unleash that when the situation calls for it?”

“Sure.”

Grim beamed. “Sweet!”

My eyes narrowed. “But only when I command you too. I don’t want you to get either of us kicked out or in trouble.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure.”

“Good,” I said. I scratched under his chin, and he purred.

Deuce’s brows wrinkled. Ace had a matching look, and he was the first to speak up. “What just happened?”

I picked up the wrapper and played with it in my hand. “You two just witnessed a bonding moment.”

“What?”

“A moment that made our bond stronger?”

Ace huffed, rolling his eyes. “Whatever.”

“You’re only saying that to look cooler.”

“Yeah!” Grim shouted, sharp teeth bared in a wide grin. “Our bond is closer! Fear us!”

Ace stared at us for a few moments before he shook his head and shrugged. “Okay, sure.”

I rolled my eyes. Ace insisting that doesn’t make him seem less like a tsundere.

“Anyways,” Grim said. “She covered for me back when Crowley thought that I was her familiar and was about to kick me out, so I just went along with it to stay here. I just follow her orders, because that helps me keep up that facade.”

Both Ace and Deuce balked.

“What?” Grim said, unfazed by the looks on their faces. “I’m not stupid. I have survival instincts too, yanno?”

Ace stared at him, brows pinched and shot up. “So let me get this straight,” Ace said, snapping out of whatever got over him. “Grim is a random ca—”

Grim snarled at him. “Not a kitty!”

“Or whatever. Somehow, despite Grim almost lighting you on fire, in the matter of a few days you befriend him to the point of convincing others to believe that he’s your familiar?”

“Yes?” I said hesitantly.

Ace burst out laughing again. “Oh my gods, you really are a beast tamer.”

“Not really,” I shrugged. “I think I’m more of a cat person.”

Holy fuck! I’m becoming a Disney princess! I got the dead parent and animal companion thing down already. Same goes for wearing dresses in the past.

Okay. Probably not. I don’t have any magical powers or magical hair… to my dismay. My stepdad and I have a pretty solid relationship for the past few years. I don’t even remember my bio dad, so that’s a moot point. The rest are either too absurd or I’ll make sure won’t come to pass, considering they could be very possible considering the world I’ve been isekai’d to.

Or at least from what I remember from that scene from Ralph Breaks the Internet. Honestly, I just watched that one clip and never the actual Ralph Breaks the Internet movie due to being indifferent towards it back in my homeworld.

“Hey!” Grim growled, hair standing on end and tail straightened. “Watch who you are calling a beast!”

“Okay, okay. I will. Yeesh.” Ace stared off to the side. Grim relaxed again.

“Actually,” Deuce said, eyeing the cat monster. “Where did you come from?”

“Honestly,” I said, “I’m wondering the same thing. You seemed rather clueless about who the Great Seven were as I was yesterday.”

Ace balked. “You have no idea who those guys are? How? We learn that shit during primary school!”

Grim tapped his chin with one paw, unfazed by that comment. “Hm. I don’t remember a whole lot from before a few days ago.”

“A few days ago?!” the three of us coursed.

“Yup.” Grim deflated and crumpled up on the floor, the flames in his ears lowering. “I don’t remember much besides my own name and scattered bits of information about here. The last vivid memory I have is waking up alone and starving right before the opening ceremony.”

My lips pressed into a thin line. “So you have amnesia?”

“Huh?”

“It means that you don’t remember certain facts, past events and information about yourself either due to trauma or an injury of some sort.”

“I probably do. But, whatever.” Grim grinned mischievously, bursting upright again. “The past is in the past. The future matters more! After all, I’m gonna become a super mage!”

“Yes indeed,” I said, petting his head. One of the few memories he has is others putting him down for wanting to advance in his magecraft. If he wants to achieve his goal to spite them, good for him. Fuck the haters, am I right?

Actually, he kinda reminds me of King from The Owl House, the more I think about it… or at least from what little I remember from what some others online said about that series and the couple of clips that I’ve watched—a creature with mysterious origins and has a grand goal. Hell, he even kinda sounds like King, too. Grim is just as cool as him, because he’s a cat monster with pyrokinesis. And is just as adorable.

“Now I have to ask you another question,” Ace said, red eyes flicking towards me.

“Shoot,” I said, playing with the piece of paper again.

“What’s with the face mask?”

Deuce turned his attention to Ace, his features scrunched up. “Why are you questioning that? That’s normal.”

“Yeah, but she’s from another world. She had it on her person when she came here for a reason.” Ace jabbed a thumb at me. “She’s not from your neck of the woods ethnically or even from her version of it, by the sounds of things.”

Deuce rubbed the back of his neck, smiling awkwardly. “Right.”

Well, there’s no other way to answer that besides bluntly. “In my world, there’s a pandemic going on.”

“A what-now?!” Ace blurted out. Deuce had matching shock on his face.

The piece of paper dropped to the floor, and I opted to move my hand along the hem of my jeans. How the hell do I even explain something like this? It’s such a dense and heated subject back home… Even if it shouldn’t be.

Come on. Think, think.

Wait. Got it.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s called Coronavirus, or Covid-19, if you want to go by the more technical name. It’s a respiratory illness. Think of it as a more hardcore version of the cold. If you get it, you have a hard time breathing. But you can also get other symptoms like a loss of smell, high fever, chills, blood clots, coughing and body aches. In some cases, symptoms like heart and breathing problems can linger on long after you get better. In more severe cases, it kills people.”

Emotions that I couldn’t pin down flickered on their faces. If they are trying to take everything in, I don’t blame them. That whole situation is insane. Hell, if someone a couple years ago told me about the pandemic and everything else tied to that back in my homeworld, I don’t know how I would’ve reacted.

“A couple years ago,” I continued, “people were forced into quarantine to prevent even more people from getting sick. Things are a bit better now, since we have a vaccine for it. Back when I was last in my world, the virus was still a threat and new varrients kept on popping up constantly, so I had to always wear that mask while going out in my dimension to prevent me or anyone else from getting it.”

Ace stared at me, an emotion I couldn’t pin down flickering in his eyes. “No offence. But are you insane? Why the hades do you want to go back there immediately so badly?” Ace leaned back against the couch, crossing his arms behind his head. “If I were you, I would stay here, kick back for a while, and then go back in a year or so when it’s safe. Or a few to be extra safe.”

When he puts it like that, wanting to go back immediately sounds rather bonkers. Why go immediately back to a world where I could possibly get a deadly virus and die? Waiting it out in a place that’s safe for a year seems like the smarter move.

“I admit, when you put it like that, you’re completely right. I might end up doing just that.”

I grabbed the hem of my pocket, fabric crumpled up in my hand. I faltered.

“But, it’s not just that. Since my old phone from my own world went out of commission, I have no way of contacting my family. So they likely think I’m…”

“Oh,” Ace and Deuce said at the same time.

My frown deepened. “Even though I’ll stay here until the end of the year, I still want to find a way to contact them and let my family know that I’m okay, you know?”

“Completely understandable,” Deuce said, an emotion I couldn’t place flickering in his blue eyes. I nodded.

Realization dawned on Ace. “Are you one of those silent carriers?”

Deuce blinked. “A what?”

“You know, one of those people who are sick, but show no signs of it?” Red eyes widened. “Gods, I handled that face mask before. Am I gonna get the virus now?!”

“I’m not fucking a silent carrier!” I snapped. The two of them stiffened, staring at me. My expression softened. “For one, I'm fully vaccinated. And two, I didn’t get out that often back in my own world for the past year or so, if you catch my drift, so I was never exposed to the virus.”

Deuce frowned. “What do you mean?”

I fiddled with the top hem of my jeans again. “The only time I really got out of the apartment...or flat, I guess, for the last year back in my world was for my daily workout and to go to my part time job. Other than that, the majority of the time I just hung out in my room completely alone. Sometimes I just stayed in there for days at a time just doing my workout in my room and only just popped out to use the bathroom when I needed to.”

Ace faltered a little. “No offence. But I’m a little surprised to hear that. You don’t exactly come off like the Ignihyde ‘stay locked up inside all day to the point you never see the sun’ type.”

“I agree.” Deuce’s frown deepened. “You seem fairly outgoing once you get to know others, far as I can tell.”

“You’re right. I never had any ‘real world’ friends for over a year now back in my world. The only people I spent any time with anyone outside of my family were my coworkers, who I was never close to, and my online friends. This is the first time in eons that I hung out with any actual friends in person.”

Friends.

Rather bizarre to even consider, but after those words have left my lips and what we’ve been through together it seems apt. Especially after everything we went through.

Back in secondary school, I never lacked social connections. If anything, I was part of the centre of it. One of the true queen bees of the place. Going out to parties to get smashed, sneaking into venues with others, spending time with other popular kids in my clique along with others I floated in on, gaining a fair amount of followers on some of my social media accounts, the works.

But after I graduated, almost everyone simply moved on with their lives while I was left behind and slowly became a recluse, especially after the pandemic hit. I was unable to keep in contact with them through social media, due to many of them blocking me. The only ones that hung around for longer, who I wish hadn't in hindsight, were a couple others and my bastard of an ex. Even if I deserved it in hindsight for who I was back then. Who I hurt back then.

Hell, I’m not even sure if I even had many true friends back in secondary school outside of a few exceptions! What those guys did only proves that fact more.

While I value my online friends back home, being with friends in person is just sweeter in some sense. This time it seems more earnest, or it seems like it to me for now, as hard it is for me to believe. It took being isekai’d to another dimension to gain actual true, real world friendships back. Just at the cost of losing all contact with everyone else, filling me with a different kind of loneliness.

Grim stared at me, tilting his head to the side. “What about that ex boyfriend from a year ago who you had sex with a bunch of times?”

Ace stared at me, wide eyed. Red bloomed on Deuce’s cheeks as he turned his face away, covering it with his hands.

My cheeks heated up, eyes narrowed. “Grim, don’t tell others about that!”

Grim merely gawked at me. “Why not?”

“Because it’s super personal.”

“And extremely awkward,” Ace said. He turned his gaze towards me and raised a brow. “How the hades does Grim even know that?”

“I fainted on the first day, and one of the school nurses asked me a question about that while I waited outside. Grim must’ve overheard me say that.”

Ace nodded. “Ah.”

“Please don’t tell anyone about that.”

“I won’t.” Ace jabbed a finger at Deuce. “And I doubt Wannabe Shonen Protag over there will either.”

I gave him a small smile. “Thanks. To be honest, that ex was a huge asshole, if you catch my drift. I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Totally understandable. I had some exes in the past that I want to put behind me, too.”

Not knowing what else to say, I said, “Yeah.”

Putting it behind me is a good way to describe it. And then some. Sure, the guy wasn’t abusive or anything, far from it, thank god, but what he did shattered me nevertheless. Hell, I’m still not over it around a year later.

“Can we change the subject and pretend like that never happened?” Deuce said, pink still on his cheeks. “Please?”

Relief filled his red eyes. “Yes.”

“Totally,” I said, picking up the paper and rubbing it in my fingertips again.

“I’m curious.” Ace leaned in towards me slightly. “Since you’re an alien and all, what language are we speaking?”

“English.”

“We’re speaking Rosa.”

Deuce tapped his chin. “So we’re speaking the same language, but have different names for it and word choices.”

“Seems to be the case,” I said. “Guess that's another way our universes have something in common.”

“What do you mean?” Deuce asked.

“We have smartphones, anime, manga, video games, the internet, and a lot of other similar stuff back in mine. Just no magic, people with animal ears and tails, merpeople and fae. Only normal, boring human non-mages like myself exist. Rose Kingdom is a dead ringer for a group of countries in my world called the United Kingdom, except the one in my own has multiple islands instead of one. There are others like that. The layout of the continents reminds me of my own world. The country names and layouts are super off, due to both worlds having completely different histories, no doubt.”

“Sounds pretty sci-fi,” Ace added.

“It does.” I have to wonder. Is this an alternate timeline? If that was the case, then it would certainly explain some things. But it could be just simply another universe. Curiouser and curiouser.

“What about you saying that you’re from Fransokyo?” Deuce asked.

“Well, what I said before isn’t a complete lie. Fransokyo is a mashup of two city names from my own world, San Francisco and Tokyo. I don’t actually come from either of those cities...or the actual countries where those are located in my world, for that matter. Although, my stepdad’s Japanese… or from our version of the Isles of the Far East, and Tokyo is located in Japan. Fransokyo reminds me of the city where I’m actually from in my own world, so I went with that.”

Ace’s brows furrowed. “How do you know what Fransokyo’s like? You have only been in this universe for less than a week, so it’s not like you could’ve travelled there or heard much about it.”

“I just looked a lot of this up while I was in the library yesterday.”

“Right.”

“What’s your hometown like?” Deuce asked.

I smiled. “I’m from Vancouver, which is a coastal city located in a country called Canada. It’s super expensive to live in, and I have issues with the lack of mid level apartment complexes there, but I still enjoy living there. There’s also a nearby forest and mountain range. I loved going to the mountains or trails to hike and snowboard. It’s rather cold and rainy there most of the time, so Rose Kingdom reminds me of there in that regard. It also has a high East Asian po—”

“East Asian?” Deuce and Ace blurted out at the same time, as if they shared the same barincell.

Right. Of course they have no idea what that is. That area of the world is called something totally different here.

“Whatever you call the continent where the Isles of the Far East is situated. Asia is our version of it.”

They nodded.

“Anyways,” I said, cutting myself off before I could infodump some more like a dumbass. “Those aspects remind me of what I heard about Fransokyo.”

“Gods,” Grim said, placing a paw against his forehead. “All of these random place names are making my head hurt.”

I huffed. “Congratulations, bitch. Now you know what it’s like to be me.”

Deuce’s smile dimmed. “That’s cold.”

“Well…” My confident smirk faded, and I wrapped my arms around myself, pinching my arms. The piece of the paper wrapper wrinkled up in my hand. “You have no idea how hard it is to keep everything about this world and my own straight in my head. I swear it’s like remembering all this is like studying for a pop quiz with my life on the line.”

“I can only imagine,” Deuce said with a long look in his eye.

“Yeah,” I muttered, eyes dropping to the floor. Only imagine indeed. I have no idea how much longer I can keep that up until I flub up at the wrong time. Knowing my luck here, it could be soon as next week.

“How about this?” Ace piped up.

“Ace, what are you—?” Deuce began, but Ace cut him off.

“How about you text one of us if you have any questions about this world if we're all out in public? That way we don’t have to speak about it out loud.”

I rubbed the wrapper in my fingertips, spinning it around. “That’s a pretty good idea.”

“See,” Ace smirked. “Not too shabby right, Wannabe Shonen Protag?”

Deuce let a deep breath escape him. “Fine. I give you that. Also, stop calling me that stupid nickname!”

"Never."

Deuce rolled his eyes.

“Enough chatter,” Ace said, ignoring his last remark. “Who’s up for another round?”

Grim groaned. “Fine. I swear we better play a round of Old Maid or whatever the easier game is called after this.”

“Sure,” I shrugged. “I’m up for another.”

Deuce stretched his arms. “I’m up for only a couple more, and then I’m just heading off to bed.”

Ace smirked. “Whatever you say goody-two-shoes.”

Deuce put his arms in his lap, blue eyes narrowing at him. “It’s called being responsible, since, you know, it’s probably three in the morning and we have a duel tomorrow.”

“Not until the afternoon, so it still counts.”

Deuce groaned again and opted to go back to shuffling the deck, probably too tired to put up more of a fight this late.

Got some of that off my chest, at least. But I still have to keep quiet about that other bombshell—that I come from a world where some of these people remind me of fictional characters created by Disney. Absolutely no one here can EVER learn about that.

Chapter Text

“Get up, henchman!” Grim hollered.

I moaned, flipping over onto the other side on the hardwood floor like a human tortilla. No. Sleep in longer. It’s Sunday.

“Get up!”

Grim climbed on top of me and licked my eyelids, whiskers tickling my face. I moaned again. Nope, not giving in. It’s not like Riddle can cut off my head anyway. I’m a non-mage. I’m safe.

“Up!”

Grim kneaded against my cheeks, continuing to lick over my face. Nope. Not getting up.

…Then again, Riddle could easily decide to use some other spell that could burst my head open Mortal Kombat style. Knowing his temper, that’s very possible.

Ugh, okay. Nope. Nevermind.

“I’m up,” I mumbled.

Grim hopped onto my lap. My eyes fluttered open as I sat upright, rubbing my eyes.

Good thing Grim did that. Might’ve slept in during their whole duel with Riddle. Grim is taking the mantle of my living alarm clock from Morgana, who used to always pounce on me and lick my face until I woke up on work days.

Home.

Nope. Not thinking about that now. I will find a way to contact my family. I have to.

Deuce walked over beside us, carrying a coffee cup in hand. He hovered above me.

“Oh,” I said between yawns, rubbing my eyes. “Morning, Deuce.”

“Not quite anymore,” he said, smiling a little impishly.

Not quite anymore…? “What time is it, then?”

Deuce fished out his phone from his pocket and stared down at the screen. “Quarter past two in the afternoon.”

My eyes went wide. “Shit. It’s that late in the day?”

“Apparently,” Deuce shrugged, shoving his phone into his pocket.

Wow. We must’ve really partied our asses off last night to the point we collapsed. Or I’m really out of my game for not doing that since the pandemic started. …Probably both, the more I think about it. And hardly getting any sleep over the last few days.

Deuce took a sip of his coffee and waltzed over to where the sleeping giant rested on the couch. “Ace, wake up!”

“Too early…” Ace mumbled, not even bothering to open his eyes.

“It’s already past two in the afternoon, tosser.”

“Five more minutes. Knackered.”

“No can do. We both have to get to Heartslabyul before the duel starts in less than an hour. Even if that wasn’t the case, those five minutes will turn into a few hours.”

Ace flipped over towards us, curling up in a little ball. “Sleep. In.”

Deuce leaned down towards the cat monster and whispered, “Grim?”

Grim nodded. He crouched down on the ground in the loaf position. He sprang up, pouncing right on Ace’s face. Red eyes snapped open with a yelp when he tumbled onto the hardwood floor as Grim hopped on top of the couch.

Ace glowered. “Fuck you guys!”

Deuce simpered. “Oh, what? We had to get you up somehow.”

Grim leapt back onto the floor, the smile never leaving his face. “And your face looks so pouncable!”

Ace glared at us as if he wanted to launch us into the sun.

“Here,” I said, reaching into his duffle bag and grabbing an energy bar. “Have this to cool off the sting.”

Ace snatched them from my hands and ripped the wrapper open, chomping down on it. His scowl slowly turned into a more neutral expression. I tittered. Wow. Never thought I would see one of those be brought to life before my eyes.

Ace arched a brow. “What are you giggling about?”

“Nothing,” I said, rubbing my index finger and thumb together. “Just that your reaction reminds me of some ancient Snickers commercials back home where grumpy people eat a chocolate bar, and then instantly feel a lot better.”

Feels good to finally be able to say shit like that out loud, even to a few people. Takes a lot of the pressure off me. Even if it’s just a little, due to that other huge bombshell I’m hiding.

“Guess that fits a little,” Ace said before munching away at it again.

A few knocks on the door sent more dust falling from the rafters. God, I’m gonna have to clean that up more later. I stood up, dusting off my jeans, as Grim pounced up to the top of the couch again. I tiredly wandered over the front entrance, opening the door. Cater stood on the other side of it, smiling brightly.

“Good day!”

Sounds like an Australian greeting. To the point I half expected him to slap on a, “mate,” at the end. It doesn’t really sound like a German or British greeting…well, the fantasy versions of those places, anyways.

How are you even supposed to respond to that? I really only hear people say “What’s up?”, “Good Morning”, “Good evening”, “Goodnight” or a simple “Hey!” back in Vancouver. Hardly ever that. Feel like a neurotypical person would’ve picked up on that without anyone telling them beforehand.

Cater stood there, staring at me. Right. He’s probably waiting for me to let him inside.

“Uh…” I said, shooting him an awkward smile and rubbing those fingers together. “Right back at cha. Come on in.”

I stepped aside, allowing him to enter the rickety shithole. The ghosts never stirred as we made our way back to the living area. Wow. The ghost really must have a vendetta against Ace.

Come to think of it, what is Cater doing here in the first place? Sure, I’ve talked with him a couple times, but I didn’t figure that we were on such good terms that he could just waltz in without being invited. Does he have another reason for being here?

I’ll hold off on asking. It’s probably rude… or at least I think it is.

Cater grinned, standing just in the entryway to the area beside me. “Oh, Deucey is here, too?”

Deuce’s eyebrow twitched at that before he just opted to fold his arms and groan. “He won’t ever stop calling me that, will he?”

Ace yawned, reaching into his duffle bag and pulling out an energy drink. “Probably not.”

Deuce’s shoulders slumped, sitting down on the couch next to Grim. “Yeah, I am. Just decided to crash here for the night after partying with these guys.”

Ace smirked. “More like you stood around in one of the booths for most of the night.”

Anger flickered in his blue eyes momentarily, but it quickly simmered out. Deuce groaned, taking a sip of his coffee. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s biting his tongue out of fear of bickering with Ace in front of one of his vice dorm leaders. Not that I really blame him. I would be the same way.

Cater shrugged, adding something before anyone could get a word in. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Not everyone is like me.”

“You enjoy partying a lot?” I asked, rubbing my fingers together.

“You bet I do. I like going pub crawling around the different clubs, pubs and other venues on the island over the weekends. Sneak in some good pics of the places to put on Magicam too.”

“Cool.”

His gaze darted between the three of us. “Oh, how was the party last night, the rest of you?”

“Pretty good,” Ace said, cracking the can open.

“My thoughts exactly,” I added. Despite the weirdness near the end and being hypnotized by that one guy, it was pretty fun. I really forgot how nice it is to hang out with others in person.

Grim smiled. “Me too!”

“That’s good. What about the afterparty?” Cater asked. “Was it full of card games and pillow fights? The broken bottle I cleaned up on the deck tells me so, but I want to know first hand.”

I gave him a smile. “The glass bottle was there because Ace threw it against the dorm when he dubbed my dorm ‘The Shithole’ and ‘Ramshackle’ last night.”

Cater snickered at my reply while Ace’s eyes narrowed, which I ignored.

I shrugged. “To be fair, this dorm needs some sort of name, and those are apt ones…” I groaned, crossing my arms, “sadly.”

“Guess that one good way of looking at it,” Cater said.

Red eyes softened as Ace took a swig of his energy drink. “Outside of that, we played cards for an hour before crashing.”

“No pillow fights,” I added, gaze softening. “What are we? Porn stars?”

Cater’s eyes widened. Ace snorted, nearly spitting out his sip of energy drink. Red bloomed on Deuce’s cheeks, turning his face away.

“Why would having a pillow fight mean that we’re—?” Grim began, and Deuce nudged him with his shoulder.

Cater rubbed the back of his neck, giving me an awkward smile. “Actually, I was just teasing with that bit.”

My cheeks heated up. I turned my face away, rubbing the back of my neck. “Uh, didn’t catch that you were teasing there. And I was joking, too. Just probably didn’t come off that way since I can sound monotone sometimes.”

“Don't worry. It’s all good.”

I nodded, making a face. Sure still doesn’t feel like it. Autism is a part of who I am as a person, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. But, ugh. I hate it when I sound monotone sometimes! It creates awkward situations when I’m joking around during times like this.

“Still,” Cater said. “It’s so nice to see you all getting along so well.”

Might as well bite the bullet. Cut straight to the point. “This is probably a rude question, but what are you doing here?”

“Oh not at all,” Cater brushed off. “I came to pick up those two blokes for the duel, since I have neither of their contact info on social media. Speaking of that, let's go! Just so that Ace and Deuce arrive on time and I can check over the manpower.”

“...Okay?” That’s an odd thing to say.

Ace seemed to agree. “Manpower?”

“Don’t worry about it. Come on! Hurry!”

“Right,” I said, and turned to Ace as the other followed Cater. “I just need to grab something from upstairs. Wait for me until I come back.”

I rushed down the hall. The stairs creaked as I ran up them, and I went up to what should be my current living space. I rushed into the bathroom and took my birth control. Scouring around for a couple minutes, I grabbed the Ghost Camera, swung it over my shoulders and back tracked down to the hallway where Ace leaned against a pillar.

“Seriously?” Ace snorted, staring at the old camera around my shoulder. “You’re bringing that along?”

“What? The vice-chancellor told me to take pictures during events these.” Plus, I don’t want another reason to piss Crowbar off. But not saying that out loud.

Ace snorted. “Whatever. Let’s go meet the others outside.”

—0—

Trimmed blades of grass brushed against my ankles as we walked through the Rose Maze.

“Hallo!” Cater suddenly exclaimed in fantasy German, stopping in place. My eyes shifted to the side, but he never moved. Okay, how was he able to do that? Is he a ventriloquist or something?

An identical version of Cater in a pair of overalls barrelled out of the hedge maze. He yelled something back in what I presume is fantasy German, rushing towards us. The Cater beside us replied back in the same language.

Since when does Cater have a twin? Granted, I only met him a couple times before. But he would’ve mentioned something like that, especially when his twin brother is in the same dorm as him, right?

A couple more of them yelled something in the same language, rushing out of the hedge maze and joining up the others.

The fuck? There’s more of them?! Why are there multiple Caters?! Did someone slip something into my drink last night? Did being isekai’d finally make me crack? Were those stupid theories back in my homeworld about Alice in Wonderland representing drug use right all along?

The Caters laughed at our reactions, and the first waved his hand dismissively. “You guys aren't high. This is my Unique Magic, Split Card. I can make clones of myself using magic. The more copies I make the harder it gets to control them, and as a result I can’t keep the magic up for very long. When I’m done, they just seamlessly and automatically merge with the real one.”

Huh. Deadringer for Twice’s powers in My Hero Academia. Though, that guy had trouble controlling his clones. And he died a while ago in the manga and probably in the anime by now. Quite brutally.

Nope. Not thinking about that anymore. Especially with the upcoming duel with Riddle.

The first Cater flashed a smile. “By the way, I’m the real one.”

Whipping out his pen-wand with a green crystal at the end, Cater flourished in a wide circle. The other Caters vanished in a green burst of sparkles. Only one near us remained.

Cater jammed the pen-wand into his pocket. “I’ll take you guys to Riddle.”

We followed Cater through the winding maze for a few minutes until we came upon what I assumed to be the main garden area. A giant platform boxing arena stood smack dab in the middle of the grassy garden. Tables with white tablecloths stretched over them circled around it, including a roped-off beer garden and an electronics booth near the back. Stacks of teacups that went up to at least two feet along with elaborately decorated cakes and red roses in dark vases rested atop of them. A buffet was tucked away in the far corner. Famingios wandered around in a fenced off area in the back.

Bystanders around our age stood in roped off areas near the front and others sat around the tables. The majority of the people present dawned their normal street clothes while others, who I assume were Heartslabyul students, wore fancy outfits. All of the people in this dorm dawned either red or black vests with checkered jackets covered in various little knick-knacks over them and black dress pants. Yellow belts wrapped artfully around their waists. White roses, dripping with what I presume is fake red paint, were pinned to each of their persons.

“So those are special uniforms for this dorm, I take it?” I asked, pointing at one of the guys in a matching jacket and grey vest.

“Yup. The Queen of Hearts’ Laws state that people sorted in our dorm must wear these during party days and other special events in the dorm.” Cater beamed, shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t mind. The style is on point and it makes for great social media pics!”

“Agreed,” I said with a smile while rubbing my fingertips on one hand together.

Whoever came up with these designs deserves heaps of praise. And then some. The design for them calls back to the Queen of Hearts while also being sleek and modern. Hell, I would totally flock to buy a planer version of one of those jackets if it was at a store. Would say the same about Scarabia, but the pants really aren’t my style.

“That reminds me,” said Cater, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his pen-wand.

Cater waved it in front of himself. A bright, green light flashed, and I squeezed my eyes shut. When I opened them again, Cater stood there dressed in attire matching the other students—his vest red to match the diamond on his cheek.

“Shit!” Ace swore. “I forgot to bring mine.”

“Ugh,” Deuce added, covering his face parly with his hand. “I completely forgot to poof my uniform on before coming here.”

Poof his uniform on...?

Cater smirked. “You know what? As a special service to you freshies, here. Remember where your uniforms are, Ace and Deuce.”

Cater held up his pen-wand as if it was a neuralyzer from Men in Black. My eyes squeezed shut when a bright light flashed in front of us. Grim yelped, claws digging into my shoulder.

My eyes opened. Ace and Deuce stood there in the same outfit as the other Heartslabyul students with a red and black vest respectively. Grim hopped off of me and hovered in the air. He turned around and stared behind him, a more party appropriate bow with red-and-black stripes replacing Grim’s ragged one.

“Ah!” Grim exclaimed, sharp teeth bared in a wide grin. “I look great!”

“Check it out!” Ace placed a hand on his hip, striking a pose. “I’m hot stuff!”

I gave them a polite smile. “Looking great, you guys.”

“And now, for the lady,” Cater said with a wink. Wait, what?

Another light flashed, and my eyes squeezed shut. A gentle breeze twisted around my clothes. The comforting warmth of cloth returned to some parts of my body. My clothes twisted and morphed until they fit my body. Another breeze swept over my face, traveling through my hair.

My eyes fluttered open and immediately dropped. My shabby threads were no more. A plum spaghetti-strap shirt with a black, fitted cloth blazer over top and a white skirt, which flared out slightly and reached to half-way down my thighs, replaced my clothes. A pair of cotton-candy pink ballet flats laid on my feet.

I yanked my phone from my makeshift handbag, unlocking it. I held it up in the air. Tapping the bottom button flipped it to selfie mode. My hair twisted up in a loose bun, a few loose curls framing my face. Plum red lipstick painted my lips. Dark grey eyeshadow dusted over my lids in a smokey eye with black eyeliner and mascara on them. Contour and blush made my features pop even more.

“Looking sharp,” Ace said with a smirk. “You still don’t look as good as me, though.”

“I agree,” Deuce added with an awkward smile of his own. “You look great.”

I beamed, giving an awkward laugh and dropping my phone back into my makeshift handbag. “Thanks, you guys.”

Shit! What about my other clothes? Sure, this outfit is a ton cuter than my shabby ones from before. Considering the fact that I don’t have much of a change of clothes to begin with, I still really need them, especially the boots for work.

“Cater, where are my other clothes?” I said, trying to not sound panicked and rubbing the very top hem of the skirt.

He chuckled. “Don’t worry. They’re just in a warerobe in my dorm room.”

Oh, thank god. My other clothes are okay.

“One of the rules states that head prefects along with their vices and others in this dorm must wear uniforms to events like these. Since you are a part of another dorm, you’re included in that statement.” He pursed his lips, an expression I couldn’t identify tugging on his features. “I texted my sisters last Friday, telling them about you and your… less than stellar living situation. Lily, who is one of my sisters, by the way, sent this as a gift since you’re around the same size as her and needed some of your own threads in order to comply with that rule. I just made some adjustments for them to fit you. See these as a precursor to your official dorm uniform. She also gave you an old crop top, flats and a jacket, so I’ll size those up to fit you, too.”

Normally, I would be offended at being handed clothes out of nowhere like some sort of charity case and shoot down the offer. But…that’s actually extremely sweet and thoughtful. And I really need these.

I gave him a small smile. “Tell your sister thank you so much, and then some. I love them.”

He returned it. “Will do.”

Oh, right. “And thank you for everything, too.”

“No prob. I can’t have you look like total shit now, can I?”

Another awkward laugh. “Right.”

“Cater!” Trey yelled in the distance.

“Duty calls,” Cater said. “Be right back in two secs.”

Okay. I really have to ask.

Fishing out my phone, I quickly unlocked it. Tapping my finger on Ace’s name took me to his contact screen and I typed away.

Me: What’s with the random outfit change?

Ace: 🤨 Thought Cater already explained it

Me: Okay. I know that. But how was Cater able to change our outfits and add makeup?

Ace: Oh that. Pretty much everyone here uses magic to get ready since it's a spell that uses barely any mana. We just see or think about an outfit we own and just use a spell to swap things out. See it as an instant wardrobe change. We always use magic to do our makeup and some basic hairstyles as well to make things faster. Not a thing in your dimension?

Me: No. We just grab the outfit we want and change clothes ourselves. Same with hair and makeup.

Ace: Reminds me of how my dad always does it x

I pried my eyes from my screen, glancing beside me. Ace stared down at his phone with an expression I couldn’t quite place.

“Hey, you two!” Cater said from behind.

I jolted, nearly jumping out my skin.

I whirled around. Cater stood there with a wicked smirk coiled along his lips. “You two are texting right beside each other. So cute.”

“Yeah, but—” I began, but Cater cut me off, that stupid expression on his face remaining.

“Whatever you two say.”

I swear if he’s planning to set us up on a date or thinks we’re an item, I’m gonna find a way to throwing him into another dimension. Especially since neither one of us are interested in each other like that! Hell, Ace flirted with a guy that looks kinda like a catboy version of Tigger last night… which sounds even weirder when I think about more. Actually, forget that last bit.

“Why are those guys here?” Deuce asked, gesturing in another direction. Thank you! A subject change before Ace snaps back at him or this gets even more weird.

I glanced in the direction Deuce pointed in. On the ground below the arena, dressed in the Scarabia special uniforms, stood Kalim and Jamil. Kalim stared down at his phone screen while Sexy Voice Guy talked with him, holding something in his hand and having the same “done with everything” expression plastered on his features as yesterday. Don’t actually blame him. Dragging yourself to work on a Sunday, I imagine, would be a huge pain in the ass… Even if he does kinda deserve it for fucking mind controlling me yesterday.

“Oh,” Cater said, “them. Those guys are the head prefect and one of the vice prefects of Scarabia. The Vice-Chancellor had other business to attend today. As per the rules, another outside party has to oversee and referee the fight, so they were asked to fill that role.”

Are you fucking kidding me?! That birdbrain didn’t even bother showing up?! It’s official. Vice-Chancellor Crowley is worse than Dumbledore. At least Dumbledore bothered showing up to the Hogwarts events instead of making other staff members or students do all the work for him.

“The decisive match for Heartslabyul’s head prefect position will begin in twenty minutes!” someone said over a speaker.

“Good luck, you guys!” I tossed them a smug smile, eyes darkening. “Kick his ass!”

Ace smirked. “Will do!”

Deuce slammed a fist into his open palm. “Gladly!”

The two took off to the back.

Grim’s attention shifted towards the buffet tables. He stared at it, mouth practically watering.

“Can we eat?” Grim begged, nudging my shoulder. “I only ate one tuna can for breakfast, and I’m starving.”

Honestly, second that. I never got a chance to eat after I got up. Seeing tables with so much food on them is making my stomach growl.

“Breakfast?” Cater echoed, staring at us in disbelief. “Just what time did you wake up? It’s almost three in the afternoon!”

An awkward laugh escaped my lips. “Ace and I woke up around a half hour ago. I think Deuce and Grim woke up before then. Partied that hard, I guess.”

Cater shrugged. “It happens. Just grab something from the buffet table and sit at any of the tables.”

“Thanks,” I said with a smile.

“No problem,” Cater said. “I have some other business to attend to. Have fun!”

Cater took off towards the stage. Grim took off towards the table, and I quickly told him to slow down and be patient for him to grumble in response. I grabbed a good helping of fruit and veggies along with a yogurt parfait from it, ignoring the bottles of wine, beer and champagne on the table, while Grim grabbed some tuna and chicken. We managed to grab an open table a couple away from the front.

We munched away at our meals for several minutes, the music cut out. A guy with white hair and rabbit ears in the Heartslabyul special uniform blew a trumpet right under where the Scarabia onlookers stood on the sidelines. Sexy Voice Guy grimaced, clapping his hands over his ears. The rabbit-eared guy rushed away.

Kalim walked up the steps, walking through the ropes and standing in the dead centre of the arena. “Guys, gals and non-binary pals!” Kalim cheered into his mic. I smiled a little at that. Just like the greeting in Thomas Sander’s videos. “How are we feeling!”

The crowd cheered. I let out a small, “Woo!” as Grim continued to scarf down his meal.

“For the bout, which is now live on Magicam and UTube,” Kalim said, pointing towards the opposite side of the garden. “Announcing the Crimson Ruler and head prefect of Heartslabyul—give it up for Riddle Rosehearts!”

Riddle waltzed through the opening in the trimmed hedges, strutting down the literal red carpet towards the arena. Red streaks of lights shone right above the carpet. Some kind of rock song played over the speakers. Cheers erupted from some people in the crowd, especially those from his own dorm. Phones shot up into the air, recording the event and snapping pictures.

Riddle’s outfit matched up with the other students in his dorm, but it was far more elaborate, making him give off the appearance of a genderbent Queen of Hearts even more. A black-and-red cape, which had a single painted white rose pinned near the top of it, laid over one shoulder and dragged behind him as he walked. A little mic coiled around his ear. A little crown rested atop his head.

Strangest of all, a pair of thigh-high heeled boots laid on his feet, making him stand up around five-foot-five, despite him being around five-two without heels like me. He can’t be seriously planning to actually fight in those. If he is, how the hell is Riddle gonna be able to pull that off? I can barely run in heels let alone have this dimension’s equivalent to an MMA fight!

Hell, how are Ace and Deuce gonna be able to fight in their outfits? Sure they aren’t wearing super heels. Fighting in fancy outfits can’t be that easy either. They would smell like the inside of satan’s asshole by the time they’re done from all the sweat.

… You know what? Fuck it. I’m not gonna question this anymore. I’m too afraid of the answers.

Oh, right. I really need to take a picture of this. Even to test this baby out. Fiddling around with the ancient camera, I flipped the top switch to the second setting and snapped a picture of Riddle strutting down the carpet like the wannabe Queen of Hearts that he is.

A piece of paper popped out of the bottom slot. Grabbing it, I flapped the film back and forth for a few moments. Once it fully developed, a moving image of Riddle waltzing towards the camera showed up on it.

My hands shook slightly as I held the polaroid. Wow. That’s so cool! This really is like one of those cameras from Harry Potter. The snapshot doesn’t look too bad. Kinda wish this was a more modern camera so I can post this up on Magicam.

The music dimmed. I set the picture on the table next to my food. Riddle stood in the centre of the arena across the other two.

“And now!” Kalim cheered. “Announcing the challengers for the title of head prefect of Heartslabyul— give it up for Ace Trappola and Deuce Spade!”

A brand new song, which I didn’t recognize, played over some speakers. Claps filled the air. Many people in the crowd began singing along to the tune. Singing? The fuck.

Ace and Deuce, who both had mics on their shirt collars, walked out of the mirror. People hollered before they continued singing. Their voices grew louder and louder as the two walked closer and closer down the red carpet. People pumped their fists in the air at one particular lyric. Some drunkenly swayed side to side with glasses of beer hoisted up in the air, slurring the lyrics. Others simply held up their phones, recording the whole thing.

Kalim and the other guy watched the strangeness unfolding around us. Kalim turned around. He stared at Sexy Voice Guy as he expected him to give him to spout out why everyone was doing that and the complete history behind it. Unfortunately for the both of him… and for me, despite never being able to hear him from this far away, Sexy Voice Guy merely shrugged. Honestly, I’m with them.

Just what in the fuck is going on? Why are people singing along to this particular song playing? People usually don’t sing along to the song playing as the preferred team or player enters… or at least from what I could tell from the Canucks matches that I’ve gone to. Is that different for boxing matches and duels? I think something like that happened during one of those YouTube vs Tik Tok fights, but I don’t fucking remember. Is it some sort of sports anthem here or something? Like some alternate version of the “Hockey Night in Canada” theme, but for magic duels? And I can’t text either of them about it, since they’re on the red carpet doing… that.

Grim, who must’ve pounced onto my lap, chirruped and kneaded his paws against my stomach. My eyes dropped down to the cat, and he stared up at me, cocking his head to the side. “Henchman, why’s everyone singing?”

“I… don’t know.”

My eyes flicked back to the stage. Riddle stood there bone stiff, his fist clenched around his staff. Hell, I half expected him to spontaneously combust. Eh, fuck it. I may have no idea what’s going on, but if it ruffles his tail feathers, then I’m not complaining.

Ace and Deuce waded through the rope barrier on the side opposite to Riddle. Ace skipped around in a wide circle to the beat of the song with his fists pressed against his hips while Deuce pumped one fist in the air, smiling awkwardly. The crowd grew more wild. Grim even joined in on the action, hopping back onto the other seat and singing along the lyrics… albeit pretty wrongly. Even I sang along to the song. Riddle continued standing there, being the embodiment of the rage emoji. Yes, yes. Continuing standing there seething through your teeth, jackass. That’s what you get for making me have a meltdown yesterday!

The music faded, and the crowd calmed down. I snapped a picture of Ace and Deuce, placing the developing film on the table.

Kalim held up his pen-wand, disappearing in a puff of orange smoke and reappearing on the outside of the rope barrier. Wow. That’s so cool! Wish I could do that. Or had magic period.

Sexy Voice Guy, who had a mic attached around his ear, walked through the rope bar and stood between the three of them, holding a small hand mirror to the side. He turned towards the dorm leader. “Please remove the collar in order to start the duel with no handicaps for both sides.”

Riddle closed his eyes and raised his free hand, snapping his fingers and releasing a red burst of magic. The collar around Ace’s neck snapped open, disappearing in a red burst of light.

“Fucking finally,” Ace said, rubbing the back of his neck and cracking it.

Riddle ignored them, a cruel smirk dancing along his lips. “Savour the taste of freedom while you still can, Ace. I’ll put it back on soon enough.”

Ace simpered. “Keep on telling yourself that.”

“Yes!” Deuce said, cracking his knuckles and slapping on a game face.

Riddle scoffed, holding his scepter at the ready. The crystal at the top of it looked almost black. Wasn’t it dark maroon yesterday? Why would a magical crystal suddenly change colour like that?

Riddle huffed. “Let’s get started quickly.”

Screams erupted from the crowd, cheering on both sides. I clapped my hands over my ears to drown out some of the noise.

Grim curled up a paw, pumping it in the air. “KICK THAT BASTARD’S SORRY ASS!”

“Second that!” I yelled, picking up the new piece of a paper wrapper and rubbing it in my fingertips. “Woo!”

“Do you three remember the rules for magic duels?” Sexy Voice Guy asked.

“Yes,” the three of them coursed.

Sexy Voice Guy held the handheld mirror up. “The moment this mirror falls to the ground is the signal to start.”

Wait, seriously? Isn’t that bad luck? Don’t believe that sort of thing, but who knows what might be the case here.

No. It’s fine. They wouldn’t have a tradition like that if that was the case. Why would the university purposefully put personnel in danger like that?

Sexy Voice Guy raised the mirror. “Ready…”

The three pulled out their pen-wands from their vest pockets.

“Set…!”

Deuce swallowed hard before his eyes narrowed. Ace leaned forward, smirk tugging on his lips. Riddle shot the two a matching smirk. I quickly snapped a picture of their face off, setting the polaroid aside.

The mirror dropped. Glass shattered when the mirror hit the ground.

“Fight!” Kalim cheered, pumping his fist into the air. Pulling out his pen-wand, Sexy Voice Guy disappeared in a puff of wine purple smoke and appeared on the outside of the rope barrier beside Kalim.

Ace immediately flourished his pen-wand. “Dark Wave!”

Waves of black magic flew towards the tiny bastard. Riddle dodged the onslaught. He lifted his staff toward Ace, summoning his own black-magic wave.

Deuce burst forward, jabbing his clenched fist with his pen-wand in it. “Beat the Limit!”

The black wave reversed course, flying straight at Riddle and sending him flying backwards onto his ass. Riddle gritted his teeth, cursing himself under his breath.

Riddle stood up, snatching up his scepter and slapping on his usual composure. “It’s not too early to call it now, you two.”

Ace simpered. “Ha! Big words coming from the guy who flew straight onto his ass just a few seconds ago.”

Riddle huffed. “No matter.”

A rose bush in the garden pulled out of the ground and shot up into the air, hurling in their direction. Deuce had none of it, pointing his pen-wand at it. The bush burst into flames, disintegrating into nothing and raining ash upon the three.

Ace grimaced. “Ugh, gross.”

Deuce turned to him. “The attack?” he said through gritted teeth.

“Yeah, yeah!” Ace grunted. He summoned a magic circle in front of him. “Blast off! Basketball!”

A basketball flew out of it, flying at the tiny bastard at a fast speed and hitting him in the face. He dropped his staff to the ground, and clutching

Yes, yes. That’s it. A few more critical blows, and he will go down for good. Maybe one single one if they are lucky. Come on, come on.

Riddle took a deep breath to collect himself before he grabbed his staff and slammed it against the ground. “Immobilize!”

Invisible arms latched onto theirs. Deuce and Ace struggled against them, trying to wiggle free.

Riddle slammed his staff against the ground again. “Off with Your Head!”

Two collars poofed out of thin air, snapping onto both of their necks. What? Come on! I thought those two had that fight in the bag. And that lasted only a few minutes!

How the hell is Riddle able to win the fight so fast? I’m not sure about Ace’s fighting prowess or magical abilities, but Deuce is a former gang lord, who took down a couple of large thugs no problem. Just how powerful is this bastard?!

The force let go of them as Riddle waltzed over to where they stood and chuckled to himself, sneering all the way. “Aren’t you both embarrassed challenging me with that level of skills? That duel only lasted a few minutes, and on a live stream no less. This just proves that rule violators are always wrong. Just like my mum always told me.”

Deuce straightened, staring down at that tiny bastad. “Rules should be followed. But strictly implementing every single nitpicky rule and sealing off other’s magic for breaking them just makes you a tyrant.”

And tyrants are always overthrown.

Riddle didn’t seem to care about his retort. “Ha. Rule breaking always has consequences. Those who are sorted here and refuse to obey don’t have the right to complain when cut off their heads!”

“Riddle,” said Sexy Voice Guy from the sidelines. He stuck out an arm in front of Kalim, grasping his pen-wand in the opposite hand. “The duel is over. I understand that you want everyone in your dorm to be their best selves by obeying the rules you set out, but what Deuce is getting at is that some of those rules are outlandish and enforcing those ones is unfair. So, you need to sto—”

Riddle bristled, glaring daggers at him. “You stay out of this, Jamil! How I run things here has nothing to do with you or your dorm. So shut up and know your place, which is under my foot in my domain.”

Jamil bowed his head in submission. “Yes, Riddle.”

My blood boiled, and I slammed my palms down against the table. “JAMIL’S RIGHT!”

Gasps and chatter erupted all around me. Fuck it. I don’t care. Even if Jamil hypnotized me yesterday, no one deserves to be talked down to like that, especially when he was only trying to help and just doing his job. I really want to give this bastard a piece of my mind.

I sat up, swinging the strap of the Ghost Camera over my shoulder and snatching up Grim in my hands. “Hey! What’s the big idea? What are you doing?”

Nope. Not answering now. On a mission. The stairs creaked as I walked up the stairs on the side of the platform.

“Addie, don’t do this,” Trey pleaded from the ground below, but I ignored him. He’s right. This is a highly stupid idea. But this has to be said.

I walked onto the side of the platform and waded through the rope bars, holding down my skirt as I did so. I sauntered right next to the others, crossing my arms and straightening my posture. I let go of Grim before he floated beside me. Brown eyes narrowed at Riddle. “I agree. With both Deuce and Jamil. On top of that, you keep using the rules as an excuse to power flex over others and to do whatever the fuck you want! Following all eight hu—”

“SILENCE!” Riddle bellowed, pointing the scepter at me.

I went completely still, the hair on the back of my neck standing on end.

Riddle simpered, turning the scepter upright. “Of course you think that. I don’t enforce the rules to this degree because I want to. I do it because I have to.”

Not doing any favours for making him seem like less of an arrogant jackass.

“I would cast a spell to take your voice for an hour or so, but I don’t want to waste my mana on something so trival. You’re a non-mage, and so are both of your parents, far as I can tell. Social edicate flies over your head, your head is in another world a lot of the time and you’re never able to make direct eye contact. Not to mention that you stormed out of my office instead of talking to me like a child throwing a temper tantrum. You’re nothing but a dunce, who was never taught manners by your parents with a subpar upbringing. You were never able to obtain a proper education in your life. All to no doubt due to what you are—a non-mage. Just like all of the other non-mages out there. And yet, you have the gaul to defy me? Truly pathetic.”

I glared daggers at him. My hands curled up, fingers digging into my palms. How dare he! He doesn’t know the first thing about me, my family or my upbringing. Hell, I live in a dimension where magic is non-existent and I’m autistic for fuck’s sake! My folks did nothing wrong. My mom did her best to raise my sister and I after my bio dad’s death, even while mourning his loss. Despite the setbacks that I gave her growing up, she did a pretty good job at it. My sister’s successful. I try to be the same. My bio dad died before I could even walk, but even he was a sweet and charming guy from what mom and Laura told me about him. Despite Roy being only a part of our lives for the past four years or so and the… rocky start, he’s a cool guy and cares about all of us.

Before I could order Grim to toast his ass, Riddle cut me off, “Stay quiet! Or are you even smart enough to obey that basic command?”

I stood there completely dumbfounded, gawking at him.

Riddle hummed. “Oh, so you are smart enough to follow simple commands? Guess I was wrong about that.”

I continued to stand there like an idiot, arms wrapped around myself and pinching my biceps. His words were like daggers, sharp blades hitting deep and slicing through every weak spot. Maybe he is right. Calling me stupid is apt to a certain extent. My so-called former “friends”, everyone that I wronged and that bastard of an ex believed so. Everyone else around me probably did too.

Ace burst forward. He swung his fist, and his knuckles smashed against Riddle’s face so hard that it sent him hurling to the ground. Blood dripped from the bastard’s nose.

I blinked, gaping at the sight. A smirk coiled on my lips. I know I shouldn’t be smiling at this, but the twisted part of my brain can’t help it. It’s like witnessing one of those Reddit “Instant Karma” stories brought to life before my very eyes, especially from a bastard who personally insulted me like that.

Others seemed just as taken back as me. Some in the crowd chatted amongst themselves while others snapped pictures of the sight. A few people even cheered. Deuce gaped. Grim hovered in the air and cheered, pumping his paw as if he witnessed his favourite MMA fighter land a critical blow. Kalim gawked at the scene owlishly while Jamil’s reaction was somewhere between Dull Surprise and smug satisfaction… Honestly, I can’t really tell which.

Ace huffed, glaring down at him with pure mallic in his eyes. Blood dripped from his fingers. “Don’t you fucking dare spout out horseshit about non-mages being inferior or insult her intelligence like that again! You know what? She and that other guy are right! About fucking everything!”

Riddle didn’t say anything, stunned silent. He wiped the blood from his face, pinching the bridge of his nose to stop it from bleeding. A bruise began to form around one of his eyes.

“Listen up, you little cunt!” Ace said, the crowd silent and Riddle staring up at him. “Kids aren’t their parents’ trophies, and their achievements don’t determine their parents’ worth! And you being full of shit has nothing to do with your parents. Nobody else around you, including your friends, was able to tell you off for being a tyrannical cunt over the past year, and that’s so obviously the case. ‘Cause you’re like that! Treating others like rubbish for not being exactly like you.”

“What are you saying?” Riddle sputtered. “You don’t even know a thing about me!”

“You’re right. I don’t. But what I do know is that whatever background you have doesn’t give you the fucking right to take it out on others!”

Ace glared down at him.

“Growing up under your obsessive tiger mum must have been hard, I understand and sympathize with that, but do you seriously automatically assume everything she says is right? Without stopping to think otherwise? All you have to say for your actions ‘mummy this’ and ‘mummy that’. You’re a grown ass man. Grow the fuck up! Take responsibility for your own actions, and think for yourself!” Ace’s glare darkened. “To Hades with that ‘Red Ruler’ bullshit, you’re just a tyrannical manchild who happens to be gifted at magic!”

“A manchild…?” Riddle echoed, the hand on his nose dropping to the ground.

Riddle took a deep breath. When he looked up again, his storm grey eyes were murderous.

“Take that back this instant!”

Ace smirked, crossing his arms. “Fuck no.”

His face grew beet red at that. “Shut up! I’ve had enough of this!”

Riddle stood up, and Ace shot back all the way to where I stood. Riddle snapped his fingers. Vines sprang out the bushes surrounding the arena, shooting out towards the other side of the arena. Many people dodged them. Some dashed out of the garden completely. Kalim flinched, and Jamil grabbed his wrist, holding up his pen-wand with a wine purple crystal on it before the two vanished from the garden completely in a cloud of smoke. The vines circled around Riddle, making him appear like a twisted, male version of Poison Ivy.

“Vines,” said Riddle, pointing at Ace and I. “Off those two right there permanently.”

My blood turned to ice, freezing in place like a statue. Holy shit!

Vines shot out towards me. I covered my face and squeezed my eyes shut, bracing myself for a world of pain. And…

Nothing happened.

At all.

Fuck ya! I’m alive! Nothing touched me! Take that, you tiny bastard!

...Oh, shit! What about Ace and Grim? “Are you guys alright?”

“Still alive and kicking,” Ace said.

“Doing amazing!” Grim replied, and I smiled a little in response. Thank god. They’re both okay.

A pause hung in the air.

“Card suits?” Ace muttered in confusion.

My eyes opened. Colourful spades, hearts, clovers and diamonds floated up in the air in front of us, replacing the vines and thorns. That’s right. Trey mentioned that his Unique Magic gives him the ability to override other’s magic and that he sees it as weaker than Riddle’s abilities. Guess Trey finally surpassed him.

“THAT’S ENOUGH!” a familiar voice yelled.

Trey put his pen-wand away, waltzing up to the tiny bastard. How and when he walked to the arena I have no idea. But, fuck it. He likely saved our asses, and that’s all that matters to me now.

“Calm down, Riddle.” Trey placed a hand on his shoulder, tossing him a small smile. “The duel is over, and you won the match. If you go any further… you’ll lose everything! We can talk this out! There’s no need for any of this! Please!”

Grey eyes sharpened as he slapped his hand away. “Are you betraying me, Trey?”

Trey flinched. “What...I…?”

“Even though I’ve been upholding these strict rules all this time? After I’ve been enduring this whole time?!” Pure fury filled his grey eyes as the crystal on his staff turned completely black. “I am… I am absolutely… CORRECT!”

Chapter Text

A loud crack came from the now black crystal on top of his staff. Black goop poured out of it. The substance leaked onto his hands and arms, which grew paler by the second.

More cracks sounded. One after the other. Ink shot out of it, much of it landing on the ground around Riddle.

The earth shook. Rose bushes and plants ripped out of the ground by their very roots. Ladders toppled. Cans of red paint tumbled over, staining the grass bright red.

Riddle began to float in the air. Tendrils circled around his legs, taking shape in the form of a crown. Trey screamed out for his friend, but it did nothing.

Riddle, instead, threw his hands out. Wind hallowed. My eyes shut before an unseen force hit me in the gut like a giant punch, sending me flying backwards to the sidelines with a grunt. I winced when my ass and arms hit the string barrier.

The area became deathly still before deranged cackling spilled from Riddle’s lips. Chills traveled down my spine. I froze in place, the hair on the back of my neck standing on end.

“In my world, I am the law!” Riddle said, voice distorted and inhuman. “No other response besides, ‘Yes, Queen Riddle!’ is acceptable! Anyone who disobeys me will lose their head!”

My eyes opened. Riddle hovered a few feet above the ground. His stormy grey eyes turned into a lifeless crismon, a red flame flickering from his right eye and no trace of the shiner that Ace left. A tattered red and black gown clad his sickly pale form. A black crown made of ink replaced the one Ace knocked off earlier, ink seeping into his hair and dripping down his face.

Towering behind Riddle, like a twisted puppeteer, stood a Queen of Hearts version of that monster from the mine in a tattered dress in worse shape than Riddle’s. An ink jar in the shape of a giant heart rested where its head should be with a golden crown on top. Riddle drew closer and closer to the monster by the second—as if he was slowly merging with it.

The screaming grew louder. Some people beyond the arena pulled literal “Beam Me Up, Scotty’s” by holding up their pen-wands and poofing out of the vancity in a puff of colourful smoke. Others scrambled away from the flying bushes being hurled around. A few people even tried to fire shots at Riddle’s dark magical girl form, missing each time as Riddle cackled all the way.

Red and grey lights flashed around us. A black mist tainted the area, leaving the air thick and muggy. The strong, inky smell burned the inside of my nostrils. Far more intense than anything down in the mine.

Just like a real life boss fight again. I even half expected music to blast on the speakers.

My eyes promptly squeezed shut. It’s one thing to play boss battles in video games where I can always pause it if I get overwhelmed, and take a walk outside or exercise until I calm down when my “moments” hit. It’s another thing for it to play out in real life.

I winced, clenching my fist. No. I’m not gonna get overstimulated. I will stomach this down. Be strong. Even if it fucking kills me.

Someone snagged my bicep. One moment the cold ground of the area laid beneath me. Soft blades of grass rubbed against my knees and ankles the next. Wait. Grass?

My eyes opened again. Low and behold, I sat down crossed legged behind an upturned table near the back of the garden. Deuce crouched down beside me on one side, and Ace on the other. Those magic sealing collars weren't on neither of their necks. The cat monster hopped into my lap, crouching down in the loaf position with his tail tucked underneath him.

Bushes hurled right towards us. I put up one arm above my head to protect it and the other over Grim’s. Deuce’s pen-wand shot up above the upturned table. He shot them down in quick succession before pulling his arm back behind like he was in a first person shooter game. They slowly withered away, disintegrating into nothing. Ash rained down the four of us.

Grim shuffled around to lick himself clean. My hands clawed through my hair to get the dust out. Ew, ew, ew! Gross, gross. I need to get this all out. Now.

“Thanks,” I said hastily, continuing to frantically comb my hands through my hair.

“Don’t mention it,” Deuce said.

Fuck it. I have to know. Not like anyone else is paying attention now, anyways.

Brown eyes flicked towards Deuce, and I rubbed the top hem of the skirt. “What’s going on?”

“Riddle’s just overblotted.”

“What?”

“Yeah,” Grim spluttered. “What the hades is that?”

“Okay. To simplify things,” Deuce said. “Riddle’s got so much blot in his Soul Crystal that he just entered a magical induced berserker mode. If he runs out of magic and stays in that state for too long, he’ll die.”

“He’ll die!” I practically screeched.

Deuce nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. “Not just die. His soul will be so corrupted that he’ll just eventually merge with that thing behind him instead of going to the River Styx until someone kills off that monster.”

Grim stared up at us and gaped. My thoughts exactly.

But still, my hunch from Friday night was correct. Those crystals are like ones in Madoka Magica—vestals that hold their souls. Unfortunately, much like that series, once they are completely dark, due to anger and hate, they become… that before merging with it completely. While I haven’t watched that anime since secondary school, I know that entering that state was a death sentence most of the time. Hell, I can’t even think of an exception to that besides Homura in that one trippy movie!

My eyes drifted off to the side when Ace growled. Ace sat there, muttering swears to himself, shaking in rage and glaring daggers up at the man who only punched just several minutes earlier. Honestly, I’m not sure if that rage is targeted at Riddle or himself for allowing this to happen in the first place. Or, hell, if he’s more overstimulated about this than I am…if he’s neurodivergent like I am, at least!

Ace let out a frustrated cry, whipping out his pen-wand and pointing his arm at the giant monster. “EAT THIS, YOU FUCKING FREAK!”

I peaked my head out slightly. Powerful gusts of wind flew towards Riddle, almost sending him flying over. Deuce joined in on the action, letting loose a few cauldrons. The cladurons landed on the ink jar, cracking the glass.

Riddle let out an ungodly screech. My hands clapped over my ears, and I closed my eyes. God, Riddle almost broke through the sound barrier with that cry.

Focus, dumbass. Don’t panic. That’s the only way I can get out of this.

“What the hades are you guys doing here!? Why is Ace attacking Riddle and that Overblot Phantom!?” Cater yelled. My eyes opened, and I whirled my head around. Both Cater and Trey frantically scrambled towards us. “Leave, now! Especially Ad, since she has no means of defending herself!”

“Not yet,” Ace said, flames continuing to dance about his red eyes.

“Seriously?” Cater screeched, staring at him like he turned into one of those monsters himself.

“Yes,” Ace growled. “That little shithead still hasn’t begged me for forgiveness yet!”

Wow. Petty much?

“I’m not leaving either,” Deuce added. Determination sparked in his eyes. “I would never be able to sleep well at night again if he died and I could’ve prevented it. I want to do anything to knock him back to his senses.”

“Me too!” Grim nodded. “He’s only in danger in this state.”

Rubbing the hem of my skirt, I said, “Same here for those last two.”

Riddle may be an asshole and was quite ableist towards me a couple times, but I still don’t want him to die a gruesome death! He still deserves to live. Period. Not to mention Riddle could potentially murder or injure someone on this rampage, too.

“Understood,” Cater said, hands shaking. The two guys ducked behind us.

More shrubs ripped out of the ground. They floated in the air before they shot towards us. Ace fired off more shots at some oncoming rose bushes. His attention whipped towards me, rage still painting his features. “Orders, Addie!”

“Why her!?” Cater yelped.

“She’s the one who came up with a plan when we fought an Overblot Monster in the mines a few days ago,” Ace said.

“He’s right about that,” Deuce added with a small smirk.

They actually think about me? Depend on me? That’s…Wow.

Alright, I won’t let them down… Or at least try to.

Come on. Think, think. Something. Anything! My life really depends on it now! Others do too.

Okay. We need to separate Riddle from the Madoka Magica style witch monster thing, since that seems to be controlling him. Smashing the bulb with a bunch of magic spells seems like a good option. Deuce and Trey can even protect others by deflecting his attacks.

But at the same time we need a larger failsafe than that. Just in case something else happens. But what? I’m a magicless dumbass, so I can’t pull a special move out of my ass like a corny shonen anime! Outside of these guys, I just have my phone and the camera on me.

...Wait. That’s it!

“The Ghost Camera!”

Cater balked. “Seriously? That’s your plan!? I love selfies as much as the next person, but now isn’t the best time to take one with Riddle!”

A mental image of me taking a selfie, propping my arm over Riddle in this form, with Cinderella Castle in the background and the “When You Wish Upon a Star” playing popped into my head. I promptly shoved it out.

I scowled, my grip on the camera tightening. “I know that!”

I yanked on the grass beside me, clenching my fist. Remain calm. Stay focused.

“The vice-chancellor mentioned something about how he wants me to snap a photo on the second setting if anything suspicious happens the other night. He might’ve been hinting at this camera being able to turn him back to normal in situations like this.”

“Kind of a huge leap in logic, don’t you think?” Trey questioned.

“I agree,” Cater added.

Okay, that’s totally true, especially since it’s Crowley who spouted that out of nowhere of all people. “Do we have any other options here?!”

“She’s right,” Deuce said. “Considering the other option here, it’s worth a shot.”

Trey paused as if he pondered over what we said, gripping his pen-wand tightly. He let out a shaky breath. “Alright, I can overwrite his Unique Magic with my own, but it won’t last for long, so we need to finish this quickly!”

“The rest of your instructions?” Deuce said, voice low and serious.

More shaky breaths left me. Come on. Calm down. Don’t give in. Just spout it out. Right now.

“Ace and Deuce,” I said, jabbing my index finger above the table behind me. “Use your magic to fight back against Riddle as a fail safe. Make sure to only attack the monster behind him. Prevent Riddle from hurting himself or anyone else. Deuce, use your Unique Magic on him if necessary.”

A smirk coiled along both of their lips. Deuce spoke up, slamming his fist into his palm. “Got it.”

Ace rushed out his hiding spot while Deuce followed after. Ace pointed his pen-wand at the giant monster, unleashing more attacks.

My grip on the grass tightened. Focus, focus. Don’t give in. Don't run away.

“Cater,” I said. “Help any stragglers evacuate this place while some of your clones can distract him. If you or your clones find an opening, shoot magic at that jar.”

“On it,” Cater nodded, scrambling to his feet.

He held up his pen-wand. Three other versions of himself emerged from his body in a burst of green light.

The real Cater clapped his hands together. “Okay, mes. You know what to do!”

“Aye-aye, sir!” one of the Caters said, saluting him like a pirate addressing his captain.

“On it!”

The four of them took off in the opposite direction, and one of them shouted, “Hey, Riddle! Over here!”

Trey took off after them. Red and green flashes filled the air. Don’t give in. You got this. You can handle this.

“What about me?” Grim asked.

“Stay by my side and run at the same pace as me. I need something to latch onto as I run ahead towards Riddle with the camera.”

“Why?”

“My eyes will be closed.”

“Why? I want to use my fire on him!”

Seriously, now? I don’t have time to explain the ins and outs of preventing a possible meltdown from being forced to withstand this! “Shut up and do as you’re fucking told!”

Grim went deathly silent. I didn’t need to open my eyes again to see the shock colouring his features. Oh, shit.

“Sorry! I didn’t mean to snap at—”

“It’s fine.” Grim purred. While I couldn’t see a damn thing, I could easily imagine him giving me a wicked smirk. “Let’s just focus on the present and kick his ass.”

“That’s the spirit,” I said with a half smile. My hand hit the ground when I tried to pet him, and I winced.

“Bit more to the left.”

“Right,” I said. Reaching over to that side more, I stroked his back a few times and he purred.

I squinted, getting to my feet. Grim leapt off of the ground and floated near my eye level, gesturing to his collar with his paw. “Grab on. And you better let me unleash some attacks.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just make sure that you protect me and only aim at the monster floating behind him.”

I took in a few deep breaths, trying to calm my trembling hands. This better fucking work.

My eyes squeezed shut. Grim ran ahead, and I ran at the same pace as him, weaving through the myriad of floating objects.

“How close do you want me to run?” Grim asked, rushing alongside me at the same pace.

“Just far enough that I can get a clear shot,” I said, pushing onwards.

“Gotcha.”

Grim pushed on ahead in the same direction. Riddle roared. “This guy, that guy, her… you all have some nerve! I’ll take all your HEADS OFF AT ONCE!”

Grim stopped abruptly. I fell over into the mud. My eyes dropped. Puddles of ink rippled beneath me, the texture alien to my skin, both oily and rough. I leapt to my feet and jumped to the side, stamping my feet on the ground and rubbing my hands on my skirt. Ew, ew, ew! Super gross.

My hands balled in fists, ink still staining them. No. Stick to the plan. Even if it fucking kills me. Never show my weakness in front of these guys, especially now.

Grim grunted loudly. Heat blasted close by. A few trees slammed into the ground beside us, breaking apart and becoming nothing more than cinders. Grim huffed for breath. The blue flames in his paws flickered out.

Closing my eyes again, I turned my head in that direction and smiled. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Grim boasted with a toothy grin. “Did that on my own.”

I groaned in response. Wasn’t worth it. Especially now.

My hand found his collar again. I sprinted alongside the cat monster, swerving out of the way of debris and flying objects.

More grunts, loud cries and Riddle babbling nonsense filled the air. The ink burned the inside of my nostrils. The others sent more blasts and other attacks at the monster behind me, sending bright spots flashing across my eyelids.

My hands clenched. Ignore that shit. Stay focused.

“I… AM CORRECT!” Riddle screamed. The ground trembled underneath my feet. “ABSOLUTELY CORRECT! If not, then…WHAT DID I ENDURE IT ALL FOR!?”

His cry of sheer agony sent chills down my spines, and I stumbled in my tracks. Shit, Riddle.

“Addie!” Grim growled at me as we continued to run along. Another bright streak sailed across in front of us as Grim sent a giant fire blast at some object.

“Right,” I muttered.

Grim pushed himself harder. I did so inreturn. Come on. Come on. Just a bit further.

“Now!” Grim yelled, slowly coming to an abrupt halt. “To your right!”

I let go of his collar, stumbling a bit before finding my balance. My eyes opened. Thick, black smoke covered the area, and red lights flashed. Grim took off towards Riddle to fight him. I fumbled around, picking up the camera hanging on my side. The switch on the camera turned in the opposite direction with a flick.

A shaky breath escaped my lips. This is it. God, this better work.

“Hey, Riddle!” I cried out, fiddling around to get a better grip on the camera.

Riddle mechanically jerked his head in my direction. His bones cracked. The desire to cover my ears shot through the roof, but the honking camera in my grasp prevented that from coming to pass.

My eyes opened as his crismon eyes snapped back to me. Inky black tears stained his sickly pale skin. His face contorted in pain. Is he aware of any of this? Or is that thing controlling him completely like a puppet? In a weird dream state? Either way— his humanity is there—so there’s still hope left.

“Addie!” Ace barked at me from a distance, scowling at me. Deuce gawked at me as if I was out of my fucking mind for standing their doing nothing. Cater and all of his clones gave me a similar look.

Alright! Please, please. Just work.

Holding up the camera to his face, I snapped a photo of him. Riddle let out an ungodly screech when the flash went off as if Dorothy shoved the Wicked Witch of the West into a swimming pool from behind.

Snatching up the polaroid that popped out of the slot, I hauled ass to yonder shrub. I dove behind it. Grim pounced on to the ground beside me.

My eyes shut. The polaroid slammed on to the ground image side up. I covered my face with my arm to protect it. Loud screams and gurgles filled the air as the monster, presumably, melted like that one from the mine.

Silence hit my ears. My arms dropped to my side, and I opened my eyes. The sun… or what constitutes one here, shone in the clear, blue sky above us. Rose bushes laid disregarded. Puddles of red paint dotted the grass. Tables were tossed over. Broken pieces of wood and roping dangled from the stage setup. Nothing remained of the monster besides a pile of crismon goop laying on the ground next to Riddle in the distance. Instead of a chraded up crystal in the middle of the pile like last time, Riddle’s scepter laid in the goop pile instead.

Holy shit! We actually did it.

“High five!” Grim beamed, hopping up onto his hind legs and holding up one paw. I smiled, returning the gesture.

Grim sniffed, his eyes lighting up and mouth watering.

“I smell something good!”

I scowled. “If it’s an Overblot Crystal or whatever, don’t you fucking dare! Deuce and Ace said that eating those turns people into those monsters over time. Remember?”

Grim paused as if he went over what I just said. He crouched down, tucking his tail between his legs. “Right, I won’t.”

“Good,” I said with a smile.

I scratched under his chin, making him purr. Grim crouched down and hopped onto my shoulders, curling around them. The two of us emerged out of our hiding place like the little black bear cubs walking into the brave new world after hibernation that we were and walked back in the same direction. The others did the same.

When we got to said spot, Riddle laid crumpled up on the grassy ground next to the goop pile, his chest moving up and down, completely naked. Dick hanging out, red pubes and all. I turned my face away, clapping a hand over Grim’s eyes. Ugh, gross! Figuring out that his carpet really does match his drapes was not something that I wanted to EVER know!

Ace made a face. “Can someone please find a way to cover him up? I REALLY don’t want to see my head prefect’s dick.”

Trey winced. A soft glow came from the forest green crystal on top of his pen-wand when he pointed it in Riddle’s direction. When I turned my gaze that way again, a pair of pants, with presumably boxers under them, covered his privates.

Ace threw his arms up. “Thank you!”

Trey kneeled down, picking him up and cradling his friend gently in his arms. Riddle’s still breathing, thank fucking god, but…

“Happy ninth birthday, my baby boy!” a female voice said.

The fuck? Where did that voice come from? And… ninth birthday?

Deuce focused his attention on Ace, arching a brow. “Did you say something?”

“Of course not,” Ace scoffed. “My voice sounds nothing like that.”

My eyes dropped to the polaroid. A woman with her marron hair twisted up in a tight bun, who shared a resemblance to Riddle, moved across the image as if it was a monitor or phone screen. She weaved through the sea of book shelves, in what I assume is her family library, before she stood next to a younger Riddle, who sat behind a desk surrounded by text books.

My fists jittered up and down slightly for a moment. I forced them to stop. Wow, that’s so fucking cool. Even cooler than that other setting that I used before. These must be an important memory of his… or at least I think that’s what Crowley said that setting did the other day. If that’s the case, that’s probably his mother. If you want to call her that.

I sat down on the ground beside Trey. I positioned the polariod so that they could see the moving figures in the image. Grim sat down in my lap. The other two huddled around me, hovering over my shoulder and trying to peer down at it.

“Your birthday cake this year is a high fat, low sugar cake,” his mother said. “It’s made with almond flour and plenty of nuts. Good for your developing brain. It’s on the kitchen counter.”

My mouth watered at the description. But still, who the hell would make a birthday cake like that for their kid? Birthdays are a day to splurge, especially when you’re little. Know that’s one of the few days that I eat chocolate.

“Thank you, mum. But, um, I…” the Little Riddle in the photo stammered. “Just once is okay, but… I want to eat a tart filled with lots of red strawberries…”

His mother balked. “How could you say such a thing! Desserts filled with white sugar like that are basically like poison for the body. One tart would exceed your daily carb intake. A boy your age mustn’t exceed six hundred calories in a single sitting.”

“Right,” Little Riddle said, “but of course.”

His mother checked something on her very Y2K style red slider phone before she slipped it back into her skirt pocket. “Mummy has some business to take care of with the Queen of Hearts. I’ll be back in a couple hours. In the meantime, go be a good little boy and read over your notes again. Governess Alyssa will drop by in around twenty minutes.”

“Yes, mother.”

I don’t know how she did it, but his mom somehow pulled off being both neglectful and a tiger mom. Good fucking job. She earns a prize like a head that’s always screaming.

The door slammed shut in the photo. Riddle picked up one of the textbooks surrounding him, cracking it open.

Pebbles tapped against the window in the image. Little Riddle jerked his head in that direction, getting out of his chair to investigate. When he walked up to it, Little Riddle gasped. A little boy with a mop of forest green hair and thick framed glasses and another with purple hair and signature cat ears poking out of his locks floated outside of the two-storey window. These must be Trey and Tchemya as little kids, too.

“Aw,” Cater cooed, “you looked so cute back then, Trey.”

“Agreed,” I agreed.

Mirth sparked in Cater’s green eyes, lacing his hands together behind his head. “You totally lost that cuteness factor over the years, by the looks of things.”

Trey shot him a “one more word and I’ll turn you into a gopher” type of look. Cater pursed his lips. He placed his hands into his pockets.

Little Tchemya pointed down at the little knob at the base. Little Riddle reluctantly. The lock opened with a flick, and the window swung wide open.

Little Tchemya nudged the Little Trey in the photo in the shoulder, an impish grin coiling along his lips. “Told meow it would work!”

Riddle gaped.“What are you two doing here?” 

Little Tchemya giggled, climbing through the window. “Celebrating your birthday, duh!”

“I’m so sorry, but I mustn’t,” Little Riddle hesitated, twiddling his thumbs. “It’s my self-study time.”

Little Trey in the polaroid climbed through the same opening as Tchemya gawked at him owlishly. “Self-study? On your birthday?!”

“Yeah?” Little Riddle said in the same tone as answering who someone asked about what a cellphone is.

Tchemya broke out laughing. “Come on!” He slinked an arm over his shoulder, his tail flicking back and forth. “It’s your birthday, and summer vacation is still on, so you have plenty of time to do that after we go back to primary school. My grand-paw says playing is a good way to learn, too.”

His grandpa’s right about that, especially when it’s a little kid. Seriously, Riddle should’ve been allowed to live a little.

“What’s in the bag?” Little Riddle asked, pointing at the cloth bag slung over Little Trey’s shoulder.

“Oh,” Little Trey blinked. He fished around in it, pulling out a red box. “I brought one of these as a gift.”

The top of the box cracked open. A red tart with berries on it sat inside of it. Little Riddle winced.

“What’s wrong?” Trey asked.

“Nothing,” Little Riddle stammered. “Just taken aback, that’s all.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I…never received such a gift before. Or…even eat one.”

Little Trey stared at him, eyes wide. Little Čenja gasped. “You’ve never eaten a tart before?!”

Little Riddle nodded. “And many other desserts. My mum says that the amount of sugar in those is like poison, so I’m not allowed to eat such things.”

Little Tchemya shot him a very fitting Cheshire cat grin, snagging the tart from Trey and shoving it into his face. “Well, ‘bout time to fix that!”

“How about not!” Little Riddle insisted, slapping his hand away. The two gawked at him again before Riddle sighed, rubbing his one arm. “I don’t want to get into trouble with my mum.”

Little Trey’s lips pressed into a thin line, as if he was trying to think of a way to word what he was about to say. “Eating too much sugar is bad for you. But one tart isn’t gonna kill you. Far from it.” He shot him an encouraging smile. “My parents are bakers, and I eat plenty of sweets on special occasions, so I would know firsthand.”

“Come on! Just one slice,” Tchemya pleaded.

“Please!” Little Trey added. “I worked hard on this and don’t want this to go to waste.”

Little Riddle sighed, shoulders slumping. A small smile lit up his face. “Alright, just a few bites.”

Trey stiffened, making a face. A pit formed in my stomach. I still recognize that look from anywhere. It’s the same one that my sister made back when we watched the Game of Thrones finale together when she watched it before, knowing about the shitty last episode, while I didn’t. Unlike those times, this is something that Trey actually lived through, and has to relive all over again. Oh god.

A bang sounded on the door. Little Riddle jumped, nearly choking on his bite of tart. The other two tried to find a hiding place.

“Riddle,” the lady said, and the door handle jiggled as she began to open it. “I never left the house yet, and I forgot my keys. So I—”

The door opened. The lady went perfectly still, eyes scanning the room. She screeched. I wanted to cover my ears, but my hands fumbled before my grip tightened instead.

The lady glowered. Flames blazed in her eyes. She rushed up to her son and slapped Little Riddle hard on the cheek. He winced, rubbing the red spot.

I gawked down at the photo in disbelief. How dare that bitch slap her own child like that!? Someone who is so young!? And for just eating a tart!? This isn’t threatening to pull out the most powerful latina super weapon—the la chancla, when they make a smart ass remark or misbehave. That's completely fine and isn't bad in the slightest. But what she did is just straight up abuse! Forget about a screaming head, she should nosedive into a burning dumpster.

“Mum, I’m sorry! I—” Little Riddle begged, putting the tin with the half eaten tart inside on the table.

“But nothing.” Flames continued to flicker in her eyes as her crimson gaze landed on the other two in the photo. “Never come by to see my son ever again!”

“But, we were just trying to—” Little Trey began.

Her hand circled around the red jewel on her necklace. The two kids poofed away in a puff of red smoke, likely back on the ground outside.

Little Riddle turned to her and sobbed, clinging to her waist. “Mum, I’m sorry. I didn’t mea—”

She stared down at him with cold eyes, smacking his hands away. “Enough of this foolishness! This is because YOU broke the rules. Go back to your studies, now! And I’ll have you know that I’ll take away all of your playtime for the rest of the month.”

Little Riddle hung his head. “Yes, mother.”

Holy shit! It’s official. She’s one of the biggest bitches here in Rose Kingdom.

I mean...He’s your fucking son, not your fucking robot to mold to be just like you! He’s just a kid! Cut him some slack and let him be himself!

“When I broke the rules,” Riddle said, “my time for fun was taken away, and I was promptly disciplined. Because my mum’s one of the most respected people in all of Rose Kingdom, any rule she makes is absolute, and she’s always right.”

The hell? “Is Riddle awake?”

Trey shook his head. Sure enough, Riddle laid limp his arms with his eyes closed. Sweat dripped down his face. How the fuck is the photo doing that? Is the photo saying what else is on his mind as an adult or something?

“Please tell me,” Riddle’s disembodied voice prattled on. “Why is my heart so heavy? What rule should I follow to make this sadness disappear…?”

My heart sank. Wow… I…Riddle’s a disablist ass. And Trey mentioned some of this shit before. To see this play out right in front of you. What his mother did to him and twisted him up to be like. It still doesn’t excuse anything. But it’s just… wow.

Something hot burned the hand holding the photo. I winced, dropping it. Flames licked the corner of the photo as it fell. None of the flames burned the grass when it touched the ground. They moved up the polaroid more and more by the second until it burnt to a crisp, leaving just a pile of dust on the ground.

Riddle gasped. Stormy grey eyes snapped open right on cue, breathing more evenly. Thank fucking god. He’s awake.

His staff, with the same black crystal with tiny cracks that leaked out ink resting on top, poofed back into his hand. “What… happened?” Riddle wheezed with a dazed look in his eyes, trying to catch his breath. “What did...I do?”

Trey smiled down at him, helping him remain upright. “Don’t think too much about it. Sleep.”

“Quit babying him already!” Ace snapped. “Treating him like that isn’t doing him any favours. He blotted up after one argument like an overgrown toddler for Zeus’ sake!”

“I…” Riddle stammered, voice hoarse. “I really wanted to eat a marron tart.”

Huh?

Tears pricked his eyelashes, wheezing for breath. “I like white roses. Pink flamingos are totally fine. And I prefer honey over sugar in tea. I’ve always… Always wanted to play with you more, Trey…Sorry...”

Well, he’s out of his fucking mind. Not that I really blame him since he’s most likely loopy from what happened.

Amber eyes softened as Trey rubbed his back. “I’m sorry, too. I always knew you were suffering, but I kept quiet.”

Riddle cried harder at that, coughing and wheezing between his breaths. Trey shot him a stern glare, which stopped him in his tracks.

“That’s why, from now on,” Trey said firmly, “I’m going to start speaking up. Riddle, the way you’re doing things is wrong. You should apologize to everyone here.”

Riddle started balling, gasping for breath and clutching onto Trey’s sleeve for dear life. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…!”

Ace glowered. “No way in fucking hades! After everything that’s happened, I am not just gonna forgive you instantly! Not even if you begged!”

“Y-You’re really gonna say that right now!?” Cater yelped. “Seriously!?”

The flames in his eyes grew more wild. “Why wouldn’t I!? I was put through the mangle thanks to his sorry ass! I feel bad since his mum was a bitch towards him, but a sad backstory doesn’t take away what he did to me! To all of us! He humiliated me in front of the entire dorm for breaking a minor rule on the first day of uni and wanted to cast me out forever, despite all of the dough I coughed up to pay for residency here. I even slept on a uni bench for one night in the rain! If it wasn’t for Addie for allowing me to bunk in her shitty dorm, I would’ve done it for even longer. He pulled the same shit on others, to a lesser extent. And most important of all, you know, there’s the fact Riddle tried to fucking KILL me on a live stream!”

“While you assaulted him?” Cater questioned.

Ace raised a brow, crossing his arms. “And punching him once is worse than attempted murder? We both know that I only did that to knock some sense into him and that he truly deserved it.”

Cater shrugged. “Touche.”

Deuce simpered. “You know, he wouldn’t have tried to kill you if you never antagonized him like a dumbass.”

I tittered. Wow, it’s been almost a week and Deuce is still salty about that comment Ace made when Crowbar made me and Grim students here.

Ace chortled, shoving him playfully in the shoulder. “Sod off.”

Cater turned his attention towards me. “What about you, Ad?”

I faltered, wrapping my arms around myself. “I feel mixed. On one hand, I feel genuinely bad for him since he had a rough past, and it seems like he’s a product of his controlling environment. It’s obvious his mom was abusive towards him. But on the other hand, he insulted my intelligence and my parents, and tried to kill me. Frankly, I’m still pretty pissed off at him right now.”

“Actually…” His frown deepened. “The more I think about it, that’s actually pretty fair, you guys.”

“What…should…do?” Riddle wheezed.

A light bulb seemingly went off in Ace’s head. Red eyes darkened. “I have an idea.”

Huh? What the hell is he—?

“How about Small, Red and Angry gives me four thousand madol? Do that and...” Ace let out a breath, slumping his shoulders. The darkness in his red orbs dissipated as the fight left him. “There’s nothing I won’t forgive. I promise to drop any charges against him if I’m asked about it. Riddle can’t press any charges against me in return. Do we have a deal?”

Is he out of his fucking mind, too? I suck at math. Math’s a bitch that can die in a ditch somewhere when I have to do it for all I care. But isn’t that roughly around fifty bucks in Canadian money? Why make a deal like that? When Riddle is out of his fucking mind no less? Shouldn’t we worry about that later?

Everyone else around me except for Ace seemed to be on the same exact page as me. Several sets of eyes stared at him, including Cater and Trey who gaped. Riddle nodded weakly. “Deal.”

Okay. Wasn’t expecting that.

Amber eyes flicked in my direction. “What about you?”

You know what? Fuck it. As stupid and petty as this is, after everything I went through thanks to his sorry ass, I need this much. And I seriously need the money. Big time. “Same exact deal.”

“That and three cans of tuna!” Grim interjected.

I smirked, snatching up the paper from my makeshift handbag and fiddling with the paper in my fingertips. “You heard the familiar.”

Cater fished out around a dozen bills from his pocket. He counted them. Several bills slapped into Ace’s open palm, who gleefully snatched them up and put them in his pocket.

“There,” Cater said, holding out the same number of bills in front of me. “That should do the trick. I’ll remind Riddle to give the… tuna cans later.”

The hell? “Isn’t Riddle supposed to―?”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sending Riddle a notification about that later, too. He’ll pay me back. Trust me.” Cater winked, cracking a weak smile.

I nodded, taking the bills with my free hand and shoving them into my makeshift handbag. That’s good. I want Riddle to pay me when he’s better, not him! He did nothing wrong, so that would be completely unfair.

Cater sighed, stretching his arms. “With that settled, I’m gonna call the other dorm vices and the weekend cleaning staff here.”

“Do you want me to help out with th―?” Trey began, but Cater cut him off.

A few strands of hair fell into his eyes when Cater inhaled sharply, and an expression I couldn’t place tugged on his features. “It’s fine. I can handle those guys and that shit on my own. You really need to keep an eye on Riddle and take him to the hospital on campus or in Port Lillian to get his Soul Crystal cleansed pronto. You know what happens when we don’t do that in a certain time limit.”

An expression I couldn’t quite place crossed his face. Trey nodded, cradling Riddle tighter in his arms. “Will do.”

Normally, I would’ve laughed my ass off at the prospect of depending on such new aged nonsense as healing crystal cleansing to save someone’s life and talked them out of something as absurd as that. Hell, it’s something literally lifted straight out of a comedy bit I saw on YouTube once! Even Luna never took her witchcraft and beliefs that far. She believed in science and modern medicine above all else.

But I’m not in Kansas anymore… metaphorically. I’m in a world where magic is real, and those things are connected to the mages here somehow, so Riddle needs to get that checked out. Stat. Even if the way to fix that is outlandish by my own standards.

“Ace?” said Riddle softly with half lid eyes as if he was about to pass out again. “I… pardon you from your… punishment. You may…stay in the same Heartsl...abyul dorm room as...before if you wish.”

Ace crossed his arms, eyes narrowed. “Fine. I will. Only because going through the ritual to switch to another dorm would be too much of a pain in the ass, and I think I’ll get a lung infection if I stay in her dorm for much longer.”

I nearly snorted at that. Wow. Wait to be blunt tsundere there.

...But then again, I don't blame him for think that. My dorm's a piece of shit. And unlike Ace, I'm forced to put up with it. Joy.

“Good,” Riddle forced out with half lid eyes. Trey stood up, but Riddle wobbled when he did so and his grip on his staff shook. Trey slid one of his arms over his shoulders, helping him walk out of the garden.

“This is rude,” Cater said, his expression darkening like on Friday. “But you guys should seriously leave now and go to the dining hall or off campus with the others. None of you should be here in the first place, especailly with the common protocol for these things in place.”

“Way ahead of you,” Ace grumbled under his breath.

Same here. Cater probably means business when he makes that face. Honestly, after everything we’ve been through and barely getting out of there alive, I’m too tired to put up this crap.

I got up at the same time as the others. The piece of paper rubbed between my fingertips as I began to follow them out of the garden.

“Oh, Ad?” Cater said. I turned around, stopping in place. The darkness on his face dissipated. “Here.”

Cater whipped out his pen-wand, moving it from my hands down to my shoes. A small blue flash came from it. The ink smears on my clothes and hands rapidly shriveled up until they completely vanished.

My eyes lit up, and I went back to stimming again. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” Cater said, shoving his pen-wand into his vest pocket. The darkness returned. “But now you really must go.”

“Right,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck.

Now, then. Take two.

I walked up next to Grim, and he curled around my shoulders again. I caught up to the others. We walked into the midday sun out of the garden.

The piece of paper balled up in my fist. Holy shit. Wow…I actually almost died multiple times back there. Many more over the last few days. If this pattern continues…

“Are you okay?” Deuce asked, concern washing over his features, as he walked beside me.

“Uh… Yeah,” I sputtered. “I’m totally fine. Really.”

I hope I will be. I have to. Besides, I’m alive and well. That’s what matters. Right?

That look in his eyes remained. He nodded.

Great. I need to change the subject. Fast. What's a good convo starter? Think, think.

Oh, right.

I turned my attention towards Ace, walking along and rubbing the paper between my fingertips again. “I’m kinda surprised that you never decided to take Riddle to an actual court over him trying to kill you.”

“Going to an actual court with that would take forever, and I don’t have the money to spend it on a battle I could lose. What’s done is done. Besides…” Red eyes flashed as he continued to walk alongside us. “I got enough money to cover my Haze account for the month.”

“Don’t you pay for that online?” Deuce questioned, trailing beside us.

“Yes,” Ace said. His shoulders squared and folded his arms, but the mirth never left his eyes. “But it still makes up for that amount, even if it’s in bill form, which is welcomed on my very important birthday month.”

Deuce snorted. “Whatever you want to believe.”

I smiled a little at that. Agreed there. He’s just saying that to cover his little slip of the tongue.

...Wait a second… His birthday? “When’s your birthday exactly?”

“The twenty-third of September, just after Mabon,” Ace said. His brows furrowed. “Why?”

“Just wondering.”

I tittered. Damn. He’s bi or pan, and his birthday is right on Bisexual Visibility Day.

The confusion never left his face. “What are you so giggly and smiley about?”

“Nothing,” I said, strolling beside them. “I’ll tell you guys later.”

Chapter Text

The sun began to dip towards the horizon, bright light flooding through the windows of the fourth floor windows of Heartslabyul dorm. I walked beside Ace and Deuce, heading to their dorm to hang out a bit before fetching my clothes from Cater after. After being forced to chill out in the cafeteria for a few hours—it’s completely welcomed in my book. Grim, curled around my shoulders, like the lazy bitch that he is. The Ghost Camera stuck out of my makeshift handbag.

“Holy shit!” Ace chortled, staring down at his phone screen, and continuing to walk beside me. “Guess you two aren’t the hottest topic in town anymore.”

Turning my head towards him and walking at the same pace, I asked, “What’s happening?”

“Everything about the duel and Riddle’s overblotting is trending in Rose Kingdom on Yabber.”

I hummed, giving a small shrug while rubbing the piece of paper wrapper between my fingertips. “Honestly, good.”

Grim leaned forward and stared at me while Deuce stared at me with wide blue eyes. A mischievous smile spread across Ace’s lips, and he spoke up first. “You little imp.”

“Oh, what? After what he pulled with the both of us, he deserves it. What goes around comes around.”

Mirth sparked in his red eyes. “And Popular Bitch Mode Returns.”

I stiffened, the paper bunching up in my grasp. “What?”

His smirk broadened. “You heard me.”

Did Ace really figure out about that side of me? I mean, he mentioned something about it a few nights ago with Trey and he seemed to figure out about Deuce’s dark side. But he couldn’t really have put it together already. Right? RIGHT?

…Actually. If not, well… I’ll deal with it then.

Even then, at the same time. “I hope that Riddle’s gonna be okay. Knowing how these things go sometimes, his mother could unleash he—” I began, but I cut myself off when two randos with brown bunny ears passed by, “do who knows what to him.”

“Eh,” Ace shrugged. “I’m not too worried about that. Riddle’s an adult. If his mum pulls anything, he can always put a restraining order on her and find a way to start anew away from her prying eyes. If anything, cutting her out of his life is probably the best course of action.”

Blue eyes hardened, and Deuce’s posture stiffened. “You say it like it’s easy. That’s his flesh and blood we’re talking about!”

Ace didn’t seem all that fazed. “Doesn’t mean jackshit in a situation like this.” Ace took a deep breath, and his expression became something more somber… at least from what I could tell, rubbing his arm with his free hand. “Like, yeah. I get it. Cutting out toxic family members is hard. Sometimes it has to be done, even if it stings. Not everyone has parental figures who are all smiles and unicorn farts. Some people have folks like Riddle’s or even worse, and those people rarely ever change. It’s best to distance yourself from those toxic people, and focus on those who care about you. Family is the people who actually care and cherish you, not always who you’re related to by blood.”

That’s completely true and kinda profound…albeit a little corny. Strangely I’m not surprised that he said something like that. Sure, Ace is kind of a dumbass, but he’s smart when it comes to some subjects and can be quite wise.

But at the same time, I wish I can get back to my own world to be with my own. Especially since I’ve been gone for almost a week now.

A loud buzz filled the void between us. Deuce fished out his phone from his pocket and unlocked it. Blue eyes shimmered. His shoulders relaxed.

“What are you so smiley about all of a sudden?” Grim asked.

“Oh.” Deuce blinked, the smile never leaving his face. “My mum texted me back saying that I did a good job in the duel, even though I didn’t win, and that she’s proud about what I said to Riddle.”

“Same with that guy from last night and my brother,” Ace added before making an expression I couldn’t place. “And well…”

My brows drew together, going back to spinning the paper again. “And well what?”

“My brother also keeps on texting me about how I was such a good boyfriend for stepping in and defending your honour. Like one of the Royal Sword blokes.”

I chortled. “Siblings are like that. Tease him about doing the same for one of his crushes or partner if he has one.”

“Sure.” Ace continued to stare in my general direction as he walked along and typed out a message to his brother. “You have a sibling, too?”

“Yup. An older sister named Laura.”

“What’s she like?” Ace shot me a coy smile, wiggling his eyebrows. “Is she hot?”

I nudged him in the shoulder playfully as I walked beside them. “Come on. She’s my sister. How the hades am I supposed to answer that? And she’s also your brother’s age by the sounds of it.”

Ace made a face. “Okay, I take that back. Hard pass.”

“As for the former,” I said. “She’s pretty reserved, preceptive, stubborn, opinionated to the point of turning a lot of people off and loves reading for fun. She’s also wicked smart. One time she was able to fix a minor error with our washing machine by just reading the manual several times, despite not being experienced in that area.”

“Sounds like the opposite of you in some aspects.”

I bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you aren’t exactly the bookworm or mechanical genius type.”

Oh, okay. I’ll give him that. My shoulders relaxed, continuing to walk along and twiddling the paper in my fingertips. “True. But I think I’m like her in the sense I’m stubborn and opinionated. Really only there.”

“I can see that,” Deuce hummed.

“Same here,” Ace added, crossing his arms behind his head. “Must run in the family.”

“Yeah, kinda does. Oh, and Laura’s been dating a girl named Amanda for a few years now. She’s pretty cool. She’s more on the ‘butch’ side of things where she enjoys a lot of sporty things, but is pretty loyal and sweet. Although, it took awhile for them to be on the same page and understand each other, because Amanda was a bit uppity at times. And…” I pursed my lips, and then gave them an awkward smile. “I’ll shut up now.”

“I don’t mind. At least you’re better at keeping that under control than mama’s boy over here,” Ace said, nudging Deuce in the shoulder.

A wicked smirk spread along his face. “And who always talks about his older brother to the point that others might think that he has a complex about it?”

Ace sputtered at that. I tittered and Grim lost it, his tail nearly flicking me in the side. I know I shouldn’t be laughing. But it’s so true.

But still…

Laura.

I’ve been in this world for almost a week now. She’s no doubt freaking out due receiving nothing but radio silence during that time. Big time. Hell, Laura freaked out when she thought I was missing, but in reality I just rushed up ahead and slept on the hard rock edge next to the water near the Lookout Point when me and some other family members hiked in Lighthouse Park back when I was in kindergarten. I even got scolded and threatened with the ol’ la chancla for that one… which I kinda deserved since I never told them where I was.

What about the rest of my family, for that matter? How are they handling this? Especially mom. Are they alright?

Or even Amanda? Sure, she’s not family. But dealing with a partner with a missing relative can’t be easy.

Hell, I came pretty close to perishing here a few times. Especially today.

The paper squeezed between my fingertips. No. The rest of my family is strong. They've been through tougher shit before, and they can handle this for a bit longer until I can find a way to contact them. But at the same time, I…

“You okay over there?” Ace asked as Grim waved a paw back and forth right in front of my face.

I swatted Grim’s paw away with my free hand, and he wrapped it back around his official perch—my neck. I gave Ace a strained smile. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just zoned out there for a sec.”

Red eyes narrowed at me slightly. And Ace doesn’t buy it. At all. Of course not. Because fuck me, am I right?

My eyes hardened. “I swear.”

“Whatever.” Sweet! Case closed, then.

I really need to change the subject. Quick. Think, think.

Wait. Got it.

“Are you gonna go back to my dorm to fetch your stuff later?”

“Eh,” Ace shrugged. “Without that stupid collar on, I can handle it.”

Ace stopped and whipped out his pen wand, swirling it around in a circle in the air. Small streaks of red followed his pen-wand. He muttered some sort of spell. Red sparks burst in the air when he finished speaking.

“And that’s my limit for the day,” Ace said, slipping it back into his pocket.

I gaped. Wow, that’s so cool! Wish I was able to do that. Would make my job here and back home a billion times easier. …Or just magic in general.

“Lazy,” Deuce fake coughed into his elbow.

“Oh, what?” Ace said, shoving his pen-wand back into his vest pocket. “I never used my magic for a half a week, so I have a little extra juice left in me.”

“If you get a ton of blot in either of your crystals, that’s your problem.”

“Gods, you’re turning into my nonna.”

I couldn’t keep a smirk off my face when the mental image of Ace’s nonna scolding him for using his magic for something stupid after ignoring him for a long time popped into my head.

Deuce simpered. “Well, it’s true.”

“Whatever,” Ace huffed, arms crossed. “Just open the damn door already. I still don’t have the door key on me.”

Deuce rolled his eyes. He pulled out a keycard from his pocket, sliding it through the slot on the device beside the dark wood door. The door opened. I thought that the exterior of the building, the halls and even Riddle’s office would prepare me. But, nope. I nearly went slack jawed anyways.

Red walls with black stripes greeted me. Dark wooden trim, which matched the floorboards, lined the top walls. A rather ordinary black chandelier dangled in the dead middle of the ceiling.

Two beds and separate white desks with black trim stood beside each of the beds. Posters of videogames lined the walls on one side. A pullup bar and a mini basketball hoop hung on the wall on the opposite side. Sunlight glimmered off of the forty inch flat screen standing right next to the wall smack dab between the two extremes, which stood on a black stand with a Wii remote like device thrown on top. A red duffle bag sat at the foot of what I presume is Ace’s bed.

“Wow,” I said, walking into his room and still grinning like a dumbass. “This is your guy’s dorm room?”

“Yup,” Ace said, closing the door behind us.

“Ugh,” Grim groaned, his forked tail almost hitting me in the face. “Of course you guys get the cool dorm room.”

Ace’s lips curved up into a smug smile. “Ha! Sucks to be you, bitches! You guys get the piece of shit dorm while I finally get to stay where I truly belong!”

Normally I would’ve rolled my eyes or made a snide retort back. But now? I couldn’t help but smile a little. After all the shit he went through, including almost dying, Ace deserved this much, especially after not being able to stay in a dorm room he no doubt paid out the ass for.

Grim didn’t appreciate it nearly as much, hissing and digging his claws into my skin. “Hey! Quit rubbing that fact in our faces!”

“And who keeps on complaining that fact at random?” I mused, placing a hand on my hip.

“It’s different when I do it,” Grim whined. “I’m the one living through it while he doesn’t!”

“I am too. You don’t hear me complaining constantly.” Out loud, at least.

“But I can’t help it! I want my opinion heard at all times, especially about that.”

I rolled my eyes. Not worth it.

Deuce brushed past all of us, walking to a night stand tucked away in a far corner. A red table cloth covered it. Two white candles stood on each corner. A brass dish laid in the centre with two small statues of some sort behind it.

Deuce placed a bar of some kind in the small dish. He pulled out his pen-wand, crossing his arm holding it over his chest with his pen-wand standing upright. He stared at the tiny altar. A soft blue glow enveloped the bar. It slowly disintegrated until it until it turned to dust.

Holy shit! Did Deuce casually do a pagan sacrifice right in front of us!?

...Okay. Then again, the Greek gods actually exist here. Making a Surprised Pikachu face when people do things associated with that is kinda obtuse.

Eh. As long as they don’t rope me into it, harm anyone in the process or are general bigots, I could really care less. They’re entitled to their own beliefs just as much as I’m entitled to mine.

“Do my sacrifice to Ares too,” Ace said, waltzing over to him and holding out a protein bar. “I never did mine for the past few days. We don’t want the wrath of them upon our asses, now do we?”

Deuce groaned. He snatched it from him. He quickly did the same song and dance before the protein bar disintegrated into dust in the bowl.

“Where should we sit?” I asked.

“Oh,” Deuce blinked. “Just on my bed is fine. It’s on the side with all of the room with all of the posters.” Blue eyes flicked to the side. “Ace won’t mind me sitting on his, right?”

Ace groaned. “Sure, whatever.”

I nodded. Walking over to the bed with the bed bedspread over it, I swung off my makeshift handbag and tossed it across the bed. The bed squeaked when I sat down on it, my feet hanging over the edge and touching the ground. I smoothed my skirt out. Grim climbed up over my shoulders like a little Spider Cat and pounced into my lap.

“Now that we’re alone,” Ace began, taking off his coat. “Why were you giggling to yourself before?”

Okay, I must know. Before I even say anything. “Can anyone in the other dorm rooms hear us?”

Ace tossed his coat onto his dorm bed. “Nope. Whole dorm’s soundproof.”

I sighed in relief. Okay, good. “Well, I did that because your birthday is on Bisexual Visibility Day back in my homeworld, and I found it oddly fitting since you’re either bi or pan.”

Ace unbuttoned his red vest. “I’m bi.”

I smiled. “Cool, me too.”

A coy smile curled along his lips. “So we get a whole national holiday to ourselves, huh? Are bisexuals a celebrated class in your dimension?”

My smile faded away. “Quite the opposite, unfortunately. For anyone who isn’t cishet in general, especially in some places. Bisexual Visibility Day was created by a small group of advocates over twenty year ago. It was not only created to celebrate our sexuality, but also to stand in solidarity against prejudice some of us face on a regular basis back in my own dimension.” I wrapped my arms around myself, ripping my gaze away from them. My frown only deepened. “I rather not talk about it.”

Deuce ripped his gaze away. Ace winced, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. He spoke up first. “Well, this is awkward.”

Rubbing the top hem of my skirt, I nodded. One thing I don’t miss about my homeworld is all that shit. I’m extremely lucky that I had such loving parents who accept my sister and I despite both of us being into girls… along with many other genders in mine, and lived in a country that allows gay marriage. Many others living in my homeworld aren’t. Some live in a household with bigoted relatives, being forced to hide that part of themselves. Or even in countries that highly frown upon LGBTQ people and relationships. Or far worse.

That’s just not the case here. This universe seems a lot more accepting of LGBTQ people, so I don’t have to worry about that. Another bonus.

No. I can’t stay in this universe forever. Even though I'm staying here until the end of the school year, I need to find a way to contact them. They probably think I’m missing or dead, and I can’t lose sight of that fact.

“Changing the subject from… that,” Ace said, kneeling down near the white mini fridge against the wall on his side of the room. “Want anything to drink?”

Eh, fuck it. While normally I’d be apprehensive to drink being the only girl in a dorm mostly dominated by horny college guys, I trust Ace and Deuce. I highly doubt they would try anything. As long as I stick to just one, I should be fine. After everything that just happened today, I REALLY need one.

“Have any hard seltzers?” I asked, trying to peer around his shoulders.

“A couple.”

An eager smile tugged along my lips as I went back to rubbing the paper ball between my fingertips. “Hand me one of those.”

“Sure,” Ace said, cracking the door open and turning his attention to it.

Grim turned to me, pointing at the fridge with one paw. “Can I have one?”

I scowled down at the cat monster, folding my arms. “No.”

“Why not?” Grim whined, glaring up at me.

“Because I’m not sure if you’re able to drink alcohol.”

“We don’t know if we don’t try!”

“We’re not trying that.”

“Fine,” Grim grumbled. “But you owe me more tuna later.”

“Sure.”

Coughing up more money for a few more cans of those seems more bearable by comparison. There’s no way in hell that I’m testing out the science experiment of what happens when you give a monster cat booze! Nope. Not in a billion years.

Ace turned his head around, peering at Deuce. “What about you, Shonen Protag?”

Deuce bristled. “Told you to stop calling me that!”

A mischievous smirk coiled along his lips. “Never.”

Deuce groaned, shoulders tightening. “Fine, get me one of my sports drinks.”

That same smug smirk remained. “Sure thing.”

Deuce rolled his eyes, sitting down on his bed across from us. Ace fetched a couple glass bottles, one with bright blue liquid and the other brown with the same label as the ale the other night, along with a can from it. He walked over to me on the dark hardwood floor, passing me the can before sitting down beside Deuce.

“Ask away,” Ace said. He took out his keys from his pockets, cracking the top of his ale with a bottle opener on the ring. The cap fell onto his lap. “You probably have a ton of questions about this world, especially with what just went down. And lucky for you, I’m the biggest fountain of info around.”

Deuce hummed, smirking a little. “You wish.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” Deuce said, snagging his drink from Ace.

“I got one big one,” I said, tugging the tap over on my drink and cracking it open. “What’s the deal with your Soul Crystals or whatever?”

Ace took a sip of his dark ale. “Centuries ago, the gods and goddesses walked among us mortals. They all had sexual, romantic and sometimes… forced relationships with us, especially Zeus. The fae always did and still do the same thing.”

I raised a brow. “Okay, but what the hell does—?”

Ace held up an open palm towards me. “Getting to that.”

I pursed my lips.

He put his hand back onto his lap. “While the gods left us to our own business for the most part beginning around a millennia ago, mostly due to Hera being done with her husband’s adultery, the damage was done eons before. The offspring of these pairings grew up to have children of their own, gaining the powers of their god or fae predecessors. Have that happen over the course of thousands of years and bibbidi bobbidi boo, the vast majority of people here inherited those powers, allowing us, with people born in this universe who are like you being the exception, to cast spells and all of that other fun stuff.”

Ace took a sip of his drink.

“Humanity also evolved in different directions depending on which gods or goddesses are the main Primogenitors, or main ancestor. Descendants of Poseidon gained gills and fins or tentacles among other features, living in his dominion under the sea. Other descendants of different gods gained ears and tails that belonged to only different mammals along with an enhanced sense of smell and slightly different shaped pupils. Other than that, completely human.”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “The gods and fae here fucked so many mortals that they granted the majority of humans superpowers along with making some humans evolve into furries and merfolk?”

Ace blinked. “Furries?”

“Think they’re called beastfolk here.”

“Yeah, pretty much.” Ace shrugged. “Everyone here has many distant god or fae ancestors… more recently for the latter. My main Primogenitors are Ares and Zeus.”

“Same here,” Deuce said. He cracked the cap off of his bottle open with his keys. “I have some fae ancestors on my father’s side.”

Wow. All of this sounds like the Percy Jackson series. Except everyone here are distant descendants of the Greek gods and goddesses instead of just straight up demigods.

That fact makes me even more of an alien compared to these guys. Humans in my homeworld aren’t descendants of gods. Deities don’t exist there period! Same thing goes for fae and other supernatural creatures. I have no “god DNA” to speak of, while their mere definition of a human requires that.

Ace took another sip of his drink. “Magic doesn’t come out of thin air. Everything comes from something. Not so lucky for us, the Soul Crystals on us mortal mages, so beastmen, merfolk and humans, are our power source. When we are in year-one or so…” Ace squinted his eyes slightly as if he tried to recall something, “which I believe is called kindergarten by your standards?”

Deuce nodded, taking a sip of his drink.

“Around that time our powers begin to manifest,” Ace continued. “When that happens, those crystals phase right out of our chests. And we gain our Unique Magic then, too.”

Sounds like the Chestbursters from Alien. Well… if souls were real and they popped out of someone’s chest, the person living to tell the tale afterwards, that is. “So far makes sense, but what about the down sides of those? How are those tied to overbloting? There has to be some sorta equivalent change with that. Right?”

Ace chuckled. “Gods, you're talking about our powers as if we’re inside of a video game.”

“Magic only exists in fiction like video games where I’m from…Well, the vast majority of people there think that.”

“Most people?” Ace repeated. He leaned forward, brows drawn together. “Does it exist there or not?”

“Me? I don't think it does. Same goes for many other people. Conspiracy and weirdass religious nuts do, but they’re a minority when it comes to that. But there’s also a small sect of people who practice witchcraft, but that’s only in a strictly religious or spiritual sense. One of my online friends and some people I knew on a server back in my homeworld were like that. Even then, it’s not like here where people can shoot laser beams from their dicks or tits if they wanted to.”

Deuce gaped. “Laser beams from our… what?”

Grim stared up at me, tilting his head to the side. “Your dimension’s so weird.”

“Trust me. That’s not even the half of it.” Or even the hundredth of it, for that matter.

Ace took a moment to collect himself. “Okay, so. Soul Crystals, as the name suggests, contains our soul along with a bunch of other small organs, including one gland that acts like a power source for us and another called a Bile Sac inside, which creates blot. And if we aren’t careful, like the tiny bastard back there, that blot can begin to build up inside of it. When it’s completely full, the crystal will crack open like an egg, and all of that comes pouring right on out.”

Okay, what? So there are a bunch of organs inside of a piece of rock… somehow. Why and how…? What is he talking about!?

“I get it,” Grim cut in with a toothy grin, hopping onto the bed beside me. “Overblotting is like shitting, right?”

I burst out laughing. I know I shouldn’t be laughing at this, but I can’t help it. That has to be one of the most random comparisons I ever heard. The other two seemed to be with me on this one. Deuce nearly did a spit take. Ace lost it.

“Hey!” Grim hissed, stiffening with his tail moving back and forth. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” Ace said, clapping on a calmer composure.

“Uh…” I said, failing to stifle my own laughter. “Same.”

Red eyes flicked towards me. “Do you still follow me?”

Lying about this would only get me into trouble down the line. I need to get this down packed. Even if I look like a complete dumbass right now. “Sorry, but no I don’t.”

Ace pursed his lips for a moment before his eyes lit up and he called out, “Hey, Wannabe Shonen Protag! You explain this shit to them for a while!”

“Well…Uh…” Deuce stammered, trying to find his words. “While blot is like…waste material, that’s not quite the best way to describe it.”

Deuce paused for a moment as if he was trying to collect his thoughts.

“Okay,” Deuce said. “Think of overblotting as being like an enemy powerbar in a video game. Each one of us has a metaphorical powerbar inside of us. Each time we use magic, the Bile Sac creates blot, which is like our internal powerbar going down thanks to taking damage. The amount of blot that’s created or the amount that the powerbar goes down depends on how much juice the spell uses. If you use an extremely powerful spell, it pumps out a lot of blot. But if you do a less powerful spell or use your Unique Magic, then it’s just a tiny amount. When our Soul Crystals become full of blot that it can’t hold it anymore… or the powerbar reaches zero, we overblot, complete with an Overblot Phantom...or Monster standing behind us. Does that make sense so far?”

“It does,” I said, playing with the paper in my hand.

“Don’t understand the comparison exactly,” Grim said, “but I think I understand the concept.”

Deuce let out a sigh of relief. “Okay, good.”

Deuce paused for a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Blot is quite toxic. Since our Soul Crystals are connected to our brains and hearts, it makes gaining a ton of blot in it even more deadly. Experiencing negative emotions for an extended period of time also pushes people to overblot if they use too much magic. Fear, anger, sorrow after losing a loved one, things like that. Getting too much blot inside of your Soul Crystal can accelerate the process, pushing those emotions even further. Overblot Monsters are just physical manifestations of those emotions powered up by our blotted up Soul Crystals.”

I rubbed the paper between my fingertips some more. “That whole thing sounds like your own body turning against itself whenever you use magic.”

“Pretty much,” Ace cut in. “It’s so bad that people used to believe back in ancient times that Hera cursed humanity with the ailment for many of us are the by-products of her husband’s adultery. In reality, people were just sexist, and she was completely innocent. Just our genetics the whole time.” He shrugged. “Go figure.”

I snickered. “Sounds like something that would happen in my homeworld… Well, if that stuff existed back there.”

“Probably,” Ace tittered, taking another sip of his drink.

An expression I couldn’t quite place tugged on Deuce’s features. “But in a twisted way, those people were kinda right.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Overblotting is only a problem for mortal and half fae mages. Non-mages, like you, don't have Soul Crystals due to having no magic or powers. Uh...” Deuce rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand, “not sure if I made that clear before.” 

“Don't worry,” I said. “You did.”

“Okay, good,” Deuce said. “But fae? They don’t have Soul Crystals and thus never have to worry about this crap, being perfectly able to use their magic whenever the hades they want without any consequence.” The grip around his drink tightened. “It’s like our own mortal curse.”

I tend to agree. Transforming into a monster thanks to using your magic a lot and negative emotions sounds like a curse whipped up by some nasty witch in a fairytale to get back at some transgressor. (Even if the twisted part of myself, can’t help but see a little irony in that considering the dimension I was isekai’d to.) But here? It’s just a genetic defect. Unlike Covid-19, which is just merely an illness that will eventually have a vaccine for and just evolve to the point it’s harmless as the common cold in several years, there’s likely no cure for any of this. Mortal curse indeed.

“Hold on,” Grim cut in. “If I’m a type of fae, then why do I have a Soul Crystal around my neck?”

Ace took a few gulps of his drink. “That’s not a Soul Crystal. Familiars are creatures who either aid an extremely powerful mage or non-mage. Ordinary lavender magic crystals on their collars to identify them as such.”

“Oh,” I said. “So like those red vests on service animals, right?”

Ace blinked, face twisting up in confusion slightly. “I think so?”

“Cool.”

Guess my previous theory was right—familiars are this dimension’s equivalent to service animals. Suppose that makes sense in a strange way. Familiars were always helpers to witches and other supernatural beings in stories back home. Even people who practiced real life witchcraft kept familiars to help them with their craft…although, I still think that’s nonsense. They could have a more expanded role here.

“But that makes me still wonder,” Ace pressed further. “Do you know what type of fae you are? You seem… clueless about this.”

“Of course I do!” Grim bristled. “I may have anesthesia, but—”

“Amnesia,” Ace corrected, taking another nonchalant sip of ale.

“Whatever! But I know for a fact that I’m not purely the kind of fae that you two said before. What do you think I am? A flaming cart?”

I tittered. Wow. Grim’s picking up on my sassiness already. God, I’m such a terrible influence on him.

“Okay, smartass,” Ace scowled, leaning forward, “then what type of fae are you?”

“I’m half kasha and cat-sìth,” Grim said. Deuce and Ace gawked at him, blinking owlishly.

Oh my god! I flicked the paper into my nail bed, pulling Grim in closer and scratching behind his ear with my free hand. “You’re mixed race just like me.”

Grim cocked his up, face twisting in confusion. “Huh?”

“Yeah,” I beamed. “You’re a half yokai and Twisted Wonderland fae, making you mixed race in the standards of my homeworld. I’m like that too—half Mexican on my bio dad’s side and Cuban and Sicilian on my mom’s.”

“I guess so.”

Grim being a mixture of a cat-sìth and kasha is kinda fitting. Both of those creatures are tied to death, often stealing bodies from cemeteries and funerals, while kasha are tied with fire… or at least from what I remember from some Monstrum YouTube videos a while back. That would certainly explain his pyrokinesis and his forked tail. He’s a dark, little kitty, that’s for sure.

But still… Was Grim abandoned by his previous owner? Ran away from them? That would explain why he wore a collar when I burst out of the coffin. If so, why? And why drop him off in the middle of another continent? Grim has an American accent, despite this place being in fantasy England. If that’s the case, they must’ve transported him a very long way just to abandon him on the side of the road. Should I be more adamant about finding his owner again? Or should I leave it because his owner might’ve been the person who summoned me in the first place?

… Or I could be completely off and thinking way too hard about this. That’s a huge possibility too, knowing me.

“We’re getting really off topic,” Deuce cut in with a strained smile.

“Right,” I winced. I flicked the paper out of my nail bed, playing with it again. Grim scooted down the soft comforter back to his old spot. “How common is overblotting exactly?”

“Super common,” Ace said casually.

Say what now!?

“Some of my relatives even overblotted. One of my zios even died from it when I was around seven or so. Same goes for some of my cousins. No one in my immediate family, thank the gods.”

“Same with me,” Deuce added. “Even I became dangerously close to overblotting once.”

Okay, I shouldn’t be surprised about any of this. I’m in a fantasy universe. Fantasy stories always operated on that sort of logic. All magic comes with a price. Equivalent Exchange. But even then…

Many of these people are doomed to transform into Madoka Magica Lovecraftian style monsters, and then die a pretty horrible fate from just using their powers too much. Especially in cases when people have mental disorders like depression or PTSD. But yet, these guys are talking about it so casually? What the fuck? Just what the actual fuck!?

“Are there any other ways to get rid of the blot from those things?” I sputtered. “There has to be. Right?”

Ace burst out laughing, nearly spilling the contents of his drink in the process. “Gods, why are you so freaked out about this? You’re a non-mage.”

I straightened my posture, crossing my arms defensively while holding my drink. “Forgive me for having a conscience and giving a shit about people possibly being doomed to die from overblotting.”

“Fine,” Ace groaned. “That shit naturally flushes itself out in a couple days as long as you live a healthy lifestyle. Cleansing them also helps.”

“Cleansing them?” I echoed. “How do you do that?”

“Tons of ways,” Ace said. “Putting them out in the rain, soaking them in the ocean or a stream, smudging them with sage, cleansing them with different crystals like Rose Quartz. Putting them in the moonlight surrounded by special ruins when you’re asleep is the easiest way. That’s how I do it.”

I went back to fiddling the paper again. “Oh. That’s why you put your crystal on a charging mat the other night, right? To cleanse it in the moonlight, right?”

“Bang on the money.”

Ace paused.

Realization seemingly hit him like a ton of bricks. Ace lurched forward, glaring at me. “Were you dicking around with my mobile and Soul Crystal?”

Shit. Really shouldn’t have said that.

“Nope. Just walked into the hallway the other night and noticed it.” Not a complete lie. But he doesn’t need to know that other bit. I only used his phone to look up the time, anyway. It’s not like I unlocked it to look up porn or something.

The explanation seemed to be enough for him. The tension released in Ace. He just went back to taking another sip of his drink.

“Are there any other ways to prevent blot besides being healthy and cleansing?”

“The extra magic crystals we have on our armbands are one. Those catch and absorb excess blot, so it doesn’t go directly inside of us. That’s why anyone who enrolls here gets those.”

The fuck? “How the hell does that work? They aren’t remotely in range of each other.”

“I don’t know the exact ins and outs of it, but there’s some property in these that causes Soul Crystals to vibrate to clean themselves.”

“Okay,” I said, probably being the embodiment of that old One Punch Man meme.

Still doesn’t make sense. At all. But fuck it, whatever. Pressing on about this would probably just annoy them. Knowing my luck, I’ll get another similar answer anyways, since Ace seems clueless as I am when it comes to that, and I doubt the other two would be that much different.

I took a sip of my drink. “What about people stealing your Soul Crystals? Is that an issue?”

“Not an issue in the slightest,” Ace said. “Here, watch.”

Ace reached over and snagged Deuce’s pen-wand from his vest pocket, blotting off of the bed and running across the dormroom with it. The object poofed out of his hands, reappearing in Deuce’s instead.

“See.”

Deuce snagged it back, scowl plastered on his face. He slipped it back into his pocket.

My brows creased. “What about people destroying or casting dark spells on them? Is that an issue?”

Ace sat back down on his bed beside Deuce. “Smashing a living person’s Soul Crystal not only kills off the person’s body, but also their soul, making it where they can’t even go to any part of the underworld. Doing so would instantly send yourself to Tartarus. Only the truly insane, angry and desperate would EVER resort to smashing one. Only a handful of cases of that ever happened throughout the ages. Now, it’s just the plotline of one anime from around twenty years ago.”

“Tampering with them?” Deuce said, eyes boring into my own. “Rare, due to the risks involved, but some individuals are more willing to do that if it serves their goals. Sometimes mages do that as a last resort for self protection. Happened to one of the queens of Avalor.”

“What do you mean?” I asked before taking another sip of my drink.

“Around a few hundred years ago—”

“Five hundred,” Ace corrected, a smug smile tugging on his lips.

“There was a princess who was about to ascend to the throne. A woman from The Northern Isles was the Court Mage at the time. Wanting the throne for herself, Shuriki teamed up with one of the princess’ cousins. When the time was right, they both proceeded to murder the rest of the royal family in cold blood, including her baby sister. Desperate to escape the slaughter, the princess casted a spell on herself, which trapped herself inside of her own Soul Crystal. She stayed in that sorry state for thirty—”

“Forty years,” Ace corrected.

“Forty years,” Deuce said. “In the meantime, Shuriki crowned herself as queen. She stripped away many of Avalor’s cultural traditions and heritage, particularly music, and also banned the use and practice of magic excluding herself. If anyone broke her barbaric rules, she would make an example out of you by cutting off your head and displaying it in front of the palace. Or even far worse.”

It’s still rather ironic hearing Deuce call what she did “barbaric”. The Queen of Hearts did a lot of those same things, and yet people revere her so much that they honoured a dorm after her.

But, then again, this world has a vastly different history compared to the stories from my own. For all I know, the Queen of Hearts here might’ve been more benevolent.

“Eventually, the grandson of the High Court Mage managed to free her. The princess threw a coup, killing her off after she turned into an Overblot Monster and winning back the throne. As a token of her gratitude, she took his hand in marriage. They ruled side by side until they both passed away.”

Wow. That backstory sounds so cool. It’s like lore lifted from a fantasy series like Game of Thrones… Well, that series before it took a swan dive into a flame dumpster. But here it’s real life.

But… I can’t help finding a bit of irony in this. Since my father passed away when I was so young and we lost all contact with that side of my family from that day forward, I always had cultural dysphoria in regards to my Mexican side. I always wanted to learn more about Mexican culture, but I never found the time to. The only things I’ve learnt about that side of me were from spending time at the Latincouver headquarters, what I heard from my mom’s fellow boardroom members and friends, talking with others online, and riffing on telenovelas along with watching Coco. Here I’m finally able to finally learn about that side of myself—just for the wrong version of it.

“Oh,” Ace said. “One thing you should know about that area is the jaquins.”

I blinked. “Jaquins?”

“A type of fae from Avalor,” Ace said before a little smirk spread across his face. “It’ll be better if I showed you.”

Ace typed something on his phone screen. He tossed his cell across the dorm room to me, and I caught it in my hands. An image of a jaguar with colourful parrot wings filled up the screen. Oh my god! Those things are so cute. They’re like an animal from the Avatar universe.

“Hey!” Grim bristled. “Quit gushing over those things.”

“What?” I shrugged. “Those things look really adorable and cool.”

“But I’m way cooler, right?”

“Yup,” I said, setting his phone on the bed and scratching the back of his neck. Grim purred.

Electric blue eyes shifted towards the Soul Crystals on their pen wands like a moth to a flame … Or like a cat towards shiny things. “Those things are different colours.”

“Yeah,” I added. “I noticed that too. Do the different colours mean anything?”

“They do,” Ace said. “Red like mine means the mage is more bold.”

“Along with being fiery, brash and sometimes temperamental,” Deuce added, taking another sip of his sports drink.

The confident and smug smile on Ace’s face remained. “Riddle has a red Soul Crystal.”

Deuce shot him a smirk of his own. “Burgundy, technically.”

“Whatever. Same diff.”

Deuce simply rolled his eyes at that. I smiled a little. The description fits both Ace and Riddle, even if neither one would admit it. Although, Ace seems less quick to anger than Riddle is… which is a super good thing.

Ace took another sip of his ale. “Blue means reliable, confident and loyal, but also haughty and a little uptight.” A wicked smirk coiled along his lips. “Like Deuce.”

“Hey!” Deuce snapped back.

“What?” Ace shrugged. “I complimented you too.”

Deuce groaned, just opting to take another sip of his sports drink. The smugness on Ace’s face remained.

“Those with darker shades of purple are a mixture of those former two, tending to be more regal, composed and mysterious. They can also sometimes be highly ambitious and ladder climbers. Oranges tend to be outgoing, cheerful and optimistic, but also naïve and ignorant. Greens tend to be relaxed and down to gaia, but can be jealous and moody. I’m not sure about the others.”

“Honestly, me neither,” Deuce added.

God, these sound like mood rings with meanings typically derived from those Colour Symbolism Charts. But that begs the question. “Do the colour of those change as you age?”

Ace shook his head. “No, for the most part. They can sometimes change tints when people aren’t in danger of overblotting, but the overall shade stays the same. It’s not like one day I’ll wake up with a bright green one.”

I nodded. Makes sense. People’s personalities tend to remain mostly consistent unless someone has issues with their mental health or something going on in their life.

Might as well ask this now. “How are their organs inside of those if Soul Crystals are… well…gems?”

A smug grin tugged on Ace’s features. “Technically Soul Crystals are just another organ. They just have a protective bone-like shell coated with keratin, the same substance that horns and fingernails are made from, which make it appear like a gem. The inside is just as gooey as any other internal body organ.”

“Makes sense.” ...Well, for the most part. I still wonder how those things are created or how they phase out of their chests. The less questions I ask about that, the better.

I took another sip of my drink, twiddling with the paper in my other hand.

“Are there any limits to your magic?” I asked. “What types of magic exist here?”

“Outside of the metaphorical internal powerbar or however the hades Wannabe Shonen Protagonist explained it, we need to accurately visualize the effects in our minds for them to work properly, especially for the more powerful spells. If we don’t, then it can seriously backfire. For example, if you want to teleport, you need to know the layout of that area exactly, otherwise you’ll find yourself stuck inside of a wall somewhere. Doing magic when you aren't in a healthy frame of mind is also a stupid idea. Imagination fuels magical power and all.” Ace took another sip of his drink. “As for the latter, wood, water, fire and null.”

Okay, makes sense. Half of them are part of the Five Traditional Chinese Elements. But…

“Null magic?” I parroted, brows pinched together and raised. “What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means Non Elemental Magic. Light and Dark Magic also fit under that umbrella. Or any other general spells like making our magipens float around in order to write on their own.”

I stared at him. “Magipens…?”

“It’s what we call it when someone puts their Soul Crystal on a writing instrument like a pen,” Ace said, pointing to his pen-wand.

Oh… okay. “Uh… I always thought they were called pen-wands.”

Deuce tittered, trying to hide his laughter. Ace never bothered, just bursting out laughing. “Pen-wands, seriously?”

“Hey!” my eyes sharpened. “I literally came here a few days ago and had to learn this shit on the fly by myself, cut me some slack!”

“Alright, fair,” Deuce admitted while Ace smothered out his laughter.

“Now then,” Ace said, pinching temples with his free hand. “Do you guys have any more questions?”

I have a lot more. From, “How the hell do you take a shower with those things?” to “What happens if you accidentally crush your own? Would you send yourself to Tartarus?” But if I keep on asking them any more questions, I think my head will explode from the new information. Hell, I’m having a hard enough time processing what they just told me already! I can just look it up later. “Not at the moment.”

Grim shook his head in response.

Ace let out an exasperated sigh, and then muttered a quick, “Thank fucking gods.” He placed his bottle of ale on the ground. He stood up, moving towards the duffle bag in the middle of the room.

“Although, I have one for you,” Deuce said, his blue orbs landing on me and his expression twisting into something more serious.

“Which is what exactly?” I asked.

“Have you been using your full name since you’ve been here?”

“No, I haven’t.” My brows pinched together. “Why do you ask?”

“Saying your full name, especially your Hidden Name... or Middle Name, as they are sometimes called just for us mortals, is extremely dangerous. Full names are a type of taglock. If any mage or fae gets a hold of it, they can have complete power and control over you. Everyone has a Hidden Name to prevent that from happening. Only our romantic partners and family members usually ever learn our Hidden Name in order to break certain curses and spells.”

“Oh,” I said. “I already knew that was the case.”

“How do you learn about that?” Ace asked, opening up the zipper on it and looking over his shoulders at me.

“Many fantasy… or media featuring magic and similar things, movies, TV shows and video games in my dimension always made a point about that sort of thing, so I figured since this dimension is magical like those things that it would operate on a similar logic.”

Ace chuckled, fishing out his laptop from it. “Gods, you’re a nerd.”

Playing with the piece of paper in my free hand, I tossed him a playful smirk. “Yup, and a proud one too.” Ace simply rolled his at that, standing up again and walking back to his old spot with his laptop in tow.

“Well as long as you have been keeping that under wraps,” Deuce said, “then you should have nothing to worry about.”

“Yeah.” If that's the case, thank god. Giving away info I never should to tons of other people is the last thing I want, especially now.

“Well, now that’s settled, let’s watch a movie.” Ace plopped down on his bed again, placing his laptop on his lap and opening it up. Red eyes landed on me. “There’s probably a ton of movies and shows you never watched before with you being an alien and all.”

My eyes lit up. “That’d be awesome. I really want to see what type of media exists here.” The paper pinched between my fingertips again. “Wish I could do the same and show you guys some of my favourite movies, TV shows and anime.”

“Like what?”

“For anime? Magi, Death Note, Demon Slayer, the 80s Saint Seiya series, My Hero Academia, Fate Zero, Fate: Unlimited Blade Works—”

“None of those exist here,” Deuce faltered.

I did the same. “Right.”

Figured that would be the case. None of the shows that I looked up on fantasy Google showed up. Not even equivalents to them under altered names like Magicam being like Instagram.

Which totally sucks. Unless an Interdimensional Cable box set comes hurling into this dimension, which will never happen, all hopes of catching up on anything from my own world have gone completely out the window. Finally getting around to watching The Owl House? Not here. Watching the Dune remake? Not happening either. Even watching the final season of Lucifer and hoping that it won’t go up in flames like the last few seasons of Game of Thrones? Not a hope in hell while I’m trapped in this bizzaro Disney world. Same goes for a bunch of things. Instead of anything like that I’m trapped in another dimension thinking about things that don’t even exist here like some discount version of the Genie… which is quite fitting considering where I was isekai’d to. Same goes for every type of media. Just another way I’m a complete alien.

No. Whining about this won’t solve my problems. I can always catch up on those things when I get back. Learn about some series that exist here. I’ll find a way back home eventually. I have to.

The flat screen burst to life when Ace pressed a button on his keyboard. A layout similar to Netflixs popped up. Icons filled with names of movies and TV shows I never heard of scrolled by as Ace flipped through the options.

My Hero Academia?” Ace said, one side of his mouth tugging up. “Didn’t you know you idolized people like those spice boys at Royal Sword.”

I chortled. “It’s not like that. It’s an anime about a guy who is born without powers enrolling in a special high school that requires powers to join.”

Ace cracked a small smile. “Sounds like you a bit.”

The sides of my lips tugged up. “That it does.”

A powerless dumbass living in a world mostly populated with people with superpowers and attending a school only filled with them? Fits the bill.

If only I inherited something like One for All upon entry into this world…Would’ve made a lot of things so much easier. Lifted off a lot of worries from my shoulders. Instead I’m a powerless dumbass in a den of vipers with no way of defending myself outside of my wits, which, considering how smart I am, isn’t saying a lot. Hell, I don’t even want to gain any of these guys’ powers anymore due to the whole “Powerbar Overblot” BS!

“But the high school trains superheroes, compared to this university that is just a regular one in a magical world…Despite the more fantastical spin, because, you know, magic isn’t a thing back there.”

I took another sip of my drink, setting it down on the ground beside the bed.

“I’m more of a fan of the League of Villain characters, since they always came off as more complex and struggle a lot more than the heroes. Izuku, the protagonist, is a bit of a goody-two-shoes at times and is kinda flat and boring. Characters like Bakugo and Todoroki are cool in their own right, having a lot of interesting development. They even started off as more antagonistic. More villain like.”

Okay, I really need to shut up. I’m infodumping to these guys about something that doesn’t even exist here like a dumbass.

I rubbed the back of my neck, staring off to the side a little. “Uh, so yeah. That’s what that anime is. I’ll shut up now.”

“It’s fine,” Ace said, scrolling through the options on screen. Red eyes flicked up, his face scrunched up in confusion. “Not sure what you mean by a superhero, though.”

My blood turned to ice. “What?”

“Yeah,” Deuce chimed in. “Same here. Is that a type of anime character where you’re from or something?”

Instead of answering their questions, I practically dove across the bed, nearly smacking Grim in the head with my arm and earning a sharp, “Hey!” from him, which I didn’t respond to like the bitch I am, in order to snatch up my makeshift handbag. Sitting up, I rummaged inside of it for a few moments and pulled out my phone. I unlocked it and typed in “superhero” into the search bar. Nothing of substance popped up. Or of any substance, anyways. Just talking about how to be a “super person in your community” or the grand deeds of figures like Perseus and Hercules (guess the Greek gods and figures really are like the ones from actual mythology back home). Like the concept of a western superhero or magical girls don’t even exist here. Period.

But that’s fucking insane! Superhero movies have been box office money makers for decades. Disney played a huge role in that. The Avengers and Endgame are some of the highest grossing movies of all time!

It’s not just the MCU either. Big Hero Six and The Incredibles are Disney properties as well. What about those guys? Does Syndrome not have a historical counterpart here? Do they just not exist? Is this universe only tied to classic Disney shows after all? Or what?

Ace broke out laughing. “Why the hades are you so freaked about this? You're from another dimension, so of course there’s gonna be massive cultural differences between yours and ours.”

A short calming breath escaped me. Right. Almost everyone here has superpowers. Instead of writing about an escapist fantasy, here it would be writing contemporary fiction. And people running around in colourful spandex and capes would be just stupid here. So it would only make sense that trope never sprang up here.

I grimaced, rubbing the side of my face. “Good point.”

“How about this one?” Ace said, smothering out his laughing fit and pointing to a thumbnail with some blonde lady standing against a blue background on the TV screen.

I fixed my attention back on the screen, putting my phone in my lap. “What’s it about?”

“It’s about a guy and girl who go to this very island for the Litha festival to investigate some underground cult which uses techno-magic to carry out their plans. The guy continues to investigate while the girl gets kidnapped by them. What happens at the end is a huge spoiler. It was filmed here at Night Raven back when my brother went to uni here.”

I hummed. “Sounds like The Wicker Man meets Midsommar.”

The Wicker Man and Midsommar?”

“Horror movies from mine,” I said after taking another sip of my drink. “But Jennifer’s Body, Get Out and The Thing are my favourite horror movies.”

“Sure,” Deuce said. “I have nothing better to do tonight.”

“What are all of those movies?” Grim said, completely stumped.

“Good enough for me,” Ace shrugged, clicking that option.

Chapter Text

Sunlight poured through the few windows of the lower floor of the Heartslabyul dorm late Thursday morning. I stood outside of Riddle’s office, waiting around.

“You may come in!” Riddle’s voice finally called out from the other side of the door.

A shaky breath left me. Riddle got treatment after that whole shit show several days ago. He should be a lot calmer compared to last time. Relax. You got this.

The door opened. Riddle sat behind the same maple desk and black leather before with his back straight. But instead of the hateful sneer that he had the last time, his eyes crinkled at the corners with his lips pressed into a thin line as Riddle typed away on his laptop with a giant rose sticker on the back.

Red eyes drifted up to me. The laptop snapped shut. Riddle slipped his magipen, with a now burgundy crystal on top, into the cupholder in front of him. White liquid cement-like substance filled in the tiny cracks on it. Must be part of the overblotting treatment here. Those things have internal organs inside of them that need to be treated, so medical staff would probably need to cut it up and patch it up again—just like any other internal organ back in my own dimension.

He arched a brow. “Are you going to keep on staring at me?”

Shit! Right. I zoned out.

“Got Trey’s DM on Magicam,” I said, stepping into the room and shutting the door behind me.

Riddle gestured to the seat on the other side of the desk. Another calming breath escaped me. I strolled up to it, pulling it out and sitting down on it. I played with the hem of the jeans that Cater gave me the other day.

Riddle tensed up, brows furrowed. “Did your cat familiar come with you?”

“No,” I said, “he didn’t. Grim’s in the middle of a lecture at the moment.”

Riddle’s shoulders relaxed. He sat upright in perfect form. His face relaxed, the crease in his brows fading away. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wanted to avoid him. Not that I really blame him if that was the case after what he pulled at the entrance ceremony. Grim’s quite the handful. And then some.

My brows pinched, rubbing the hem of my pocket absentmindedly. “What is this about?”

“I would like to apologize for my behaviour and how I treated you over the past couple weeks.”

The hell? “I’m lost. I thought I made it clear that the same deal Ace gave out applied to me. And you gave me that money. …Well, Cater did, and hopefully you paid him back for it.”

“And I did.”

I nodded. “Good.”

“You’re right,” Riddle continued. “And you made it perfectly clear. But I want to do it again now that I’m in the right frame of mind.”

Riddle took a moment to collect himself.

“I’m sorry. For everything. How I treated you before I overblotted was wrong. I blew up at you over something minor. I also said those heartless things about you with a sneer in front of a crowd and on a live stream...” Red eyes stared off to the side as Riddle rubbed his bicep. “Even the new memes that sprang up after the event seem like retribution for my actions looking back.”

He’s right about that. Plenty of memes featuring Ace punching Riddle sprang up online since then. Including—my personal fav—a text covering Ace’s face saying “The new term” with more text covering Riddle’s saying “Me”. Same goes for numerous other ones using that same format, switching out the text to other things. Gotta kick outta those the day after the overblot. Hell, they seemed like memes that would take off in my own dimension. Probably one of the only things that toned down my anxiety about the overblot aftermath over the past half week.

The other three basked in the glory of it all as well. I even teased Ace the day after, saying that he might become so popular that he’ll get a ballad on TocTac praising him for what he did like a folk hero. Which never happened. Much to his chagrin. And the rest of our relief.

But even then, while Ace mentioned before that’s an adult and can just put a restraining order on his mom if he pulls anything, a small part of myself can’t help but worry for him a little. Especially now. Getting out of a toxic situation like that can’t be easy, even when you’re an adult. I just hope Riddle manages to pull it off for his own sake.

My pointer finger and thumb together, my hands resting in my lap. “Well, we both have that in common, especially after the stunt that Grim pulled during the opening ceremony and after. Even the TocTac edit of Grim and Ace fighting in the cafeteria.”

Riddle cracked a tiny smile. “I suppose you’re right.”

He pursed his lips.

Riddle hesitated. “This is a rather rude question to ask, but what’s the deal with you?”

I blinked. “My deal?”

“Yes. While I put things a lot more...harshly than I normally would’ve, due to my clouded state of mind, I still wonder about your behaviour. Like how you never look me in the eye, even right now.”

Shit! That’s right. Between adjusting to my new university life and everything else, I forgot to look up if they know what the term “autism” means in this world. Ugh, how could I forget about that!? God, I’m a dumbass!

Come on. Think, think. How do I even explain something like this without name dropping that I’m autistic by name?

Got it.

“I have a…” I began, trying to find the right word, “mental condition. I’m able to be perfectly functional and I’m perfectly able to follow the rules as well as many others if I have support. It has some positives like making me hyperfocus on tasks I enjoy among some other things. However, it leads me to communicate and interact with people a little differently than others sometimes. See the world a little differently.”

I rubbed my fingertips together.

“I also have some minor sensory difficulties. Nothing too major. Constant flickering lights, touching any weird substances without gloves on and construction sounds among other things sometimes bother me. I tend to avoid situations with those things…with last Sunday being the exception. Eye contact sometimes is a struggle, but I try to look in others’ general direction.”

“Gods, I’m a cunt.” Riddle propped up his elbows on the desk, burying his face in his hands.

Silence exploded between us. I stared off to the side, moving to rub the hem of my jeans again.

What he said hurt. A lot. If it wasn’t for Ace hurling that punch in his face and him insulting me even more, I might’ve done the same. Or ordered Grim to light his ass on fire. Both are strong possibilities.

Sadly, even then, those weren’t the worst insults hurled at me. Dumbass, whore, bitch. The whole gamut, really. I wouldn’t be surprised if people in my own dimension said worse things behind my back, especially after what I did in secondary school. Hell, I said worse things about others back then.

Riddle, unlike some of those assholes, seems genuinely apologetic and regrets what he did. He wants to start over. Set things right. Why else would call me in here after the deal we struck on Sunday? Not do this by creating one of those bullshit public apology videos to gain sympathy back for himself?

Even if he didn’t regret his actions, it’s only fair that I let him off the hook. He fulfilled his end of the bargain. I need to do the same.

I folded my arms, rubbing my pointer finger and thumb together. “I forgive you.”

He sat up again and blinked at me. “Really?”

I nodded.

“Why?”

“Just had a change of heart.” Brown orbs hardened. “Just promise me you won’t insult my intelligence or diss my family ever again.”

“I promise.”

“Don’t treat me any differently than anyone else. If I say or do anything to hurt you, just flat out tell me. Social norms fly over my head at times. The only way for me to know sometimes is if someone else straight up tells me.”

His brows pinched. “You’re rambling.”

“Right…” I winced. Standing up, I slid my seat in and picked up my makeshift handbag. “Is that everything?”

“I just have to get your contact info from you.”

I blinked. “Why?”

“Getting another head prefect contact info is standard predecessor for us. It makes alerting others about meetings easier.”

Right, of course that’s it.

“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.”

Holding out my phone, he took it from me. I did the same with his phone. A bunch of names that I didn’t recognize, outside of Vil, which I think was the name Riddle name dropped when I was trapped in the utilities closet the night I was isekai’d here, and Malleus, lined “Head Prefect” section of his contacts list. I added my contact info into his in the designated area. We passed each other our phones when we were done.

“Another thing,” I said, and my eyes hardened. “Are you going to apologize to Jamil too? You said something super hurtful to him, too.”

“I am.”

“Uh…” My gaze softened. I winced, running a hand through my hair. “Okay, just making sure.”

My phone slipped back into my makeshift handbag. I stood up, and then tucked in my chair. I walked to the door. Holding the doorknob with one hand, I turned my head around to face him.

I smiled. “Nice talking with you.”

He sent it back to me. “It was nice sorting that out with you, too.”

I opened the door. It clicked shut behind me when I walked out of the room.

Chapter Text

Grey clouds covered the morning sky outside of the main building windows. (Because one thing that sadly never changed since I jumped dimensions—the weather outside of the dorms is usually at least partly cloudy with only the odd. Just like Vancouver.) I tilted the dustpan into a nearby garbage can near the end of the hallway, the contents falling into it. Once the dirt and trash hit the bottom, I pulled it out. The dustpan snapped back on the broom with a slight nudge.

I groaned. God, I hate working morning shifts. Cleaning windows and sweeping the floors like a Discount Cinderella makes it even worse. I would rather spend my Friday morning sleeping in like a normal person. Sure, I had to work mornings at my old job, but the next lecture is Alchemy class in a few hours. I need all the rest I can get to survive that one.

At least on the plus side, the ghosts offered to keep an eye on Grim to make sure that he didn’t get into any trouble during my shifts. Working without a cat-sized dead weight on my shoulders is always a huge bonus.

“You tried out for the uni Magishift Team?” a voice said from just down the other side hall.

“I did,” another voice added.

Magishift? That’s the magical sport that Deuce mentioned a couple times. He also tried out for the team a few days ago, but never made the cut for the university team. Ace teased him about it. But that only lasted a week, because, to his shock and horror, Deuce made the track and field team the next day instead. Deuce rubbed that in his face a little. Ace vowed to make another team instead.

“How did it go?” the first voice asked.

The other paused before they let out a sigh. “Didn’t make the cut.”

“That sucks.”

“Sure does, mate. Then again, it seems to be the running theme of our dorm now.”

The second person hesitated for a moment. “What do you mean?”

Curiosity took a hold of me. I walked a few steps closer to the corner, leaning in slightly.

“Hardly anyone in Savannahclaw made the cut compared to other years, even Le—”

“Hey!” Kalim called out from nearby, oddly chipper for around ten in the fucking morning.

I jolted. My broom clattered down to the stone tiles. Whirling my head around, Kalim walked up to me dressed in a white cardigan with a red button up shirt underneath.

“Oh,” I said, swiping it up off of the floor and walking closer to where he stood at the sidelines around the middle of the hallway. “Hi. You scared the shit outta me.”

“Sorry about that,” Kalim said. “So what’cha doing?”

“Working,” I said casually, rubbing the hem of my jean pocket with my free hand.

“Seems more like eavesdropping by the looks of things.”

“Uh…”

Is he threatening me? Given the fact that his friend mind controlled me the other day, I could easily buy that.

Kalim grimaced and rubbed the back of his neck, several bracelets jingling as he did so. “Actually, I was just teasing you. Sometimes statements like that come across differently when I speak Rosa compared to my native tongue, so I didn’t mean for it to come off as sinister. My bad.”

“Don’t worry about it. It happens.” Especially when social cues fly over your head at times…like me.

“But seriously,” Kalim said. His expression went from casual to something slightly more serious. “Word to the wise…or however that idiom goes in Rosa—try to avoid doing that sorta thing… or try to be less obvious about it.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Some others don’t take super kindly to spying, even if it’s accidently listening in on a conversation. That especially goes for super private ones… or deals in general. Just be more mindful about that, ‘kay?”

He has a good point. Listening into others’ conversations randomly is kinda rude. Stepping out of bounds has already gotten me in trouble a couple times already, even if one of those times made me gain a friend after the fact. Eavesdropping is no different than those things. That won’t do here. I’m in a world where people can burst my head open like a pimple or some other OP shit, so I need to take that to heart.

Still… It seems like some of that bit of wisdom comes from personal experience. And I can only wonder how he was able to listen in on deals unless he’s the son of a business person, too. Then again, the less I ask about that, the better.

“Thanks for the heads up, I’ll keep that in mind.”

His usual warmth returned. “Good on ya.”

A small smile tugged along my lips, returning the gesture. I went back to just rubbing my pointer finger and thumb together with my free hand.

Footsteps clapped against the tile floor just up ahead. Jamil sped around the corner, marching up to us. A simple red pullover hoodie with a black flame print on the bottom hem and jeans replaced the Scarabia special uniform that Jamil wore all of those other times. His brows furrowed. Jamil crossed his arms, drumming his fingers along his bicep.

“Kalim,” chastised Jamil.

Running a hand through his hair, Kalim winced and said something in what I think is most likely fantasy Arabic. Jamil deadpanned. The scowl returned as Jamil scolded him in the same language. Forget Squidward, he’s turning into my fucking abuelita… from what I remember, at least. Or the ultimate mom friend. Or, and most likely, a bizarre combo of all three… without threatening to whip out the ol’ la chancla.

How the hell is Jamil able to bark back at his own boss like he’s a misbehaving toddler? Wouldn’t that get him fired, even if they are friends? Know I wouldn’t have the balls to bark orders at my old boss in my homeworld. Or even Crowbar here.

Just what is the nature of his job? Or, hell, what is even their bond in general?

God those two are both huge fucking enigmas.

“We have other business to attend to,” Kalim said. “But before we leave, it’s Jamil’s birthday on the twentieth of September.”

“Oh, um…” I stammered. My gaze flicked towards Jamil, offering him a smile. “Happy early birthday.”

“Thank you,” Jamil said.

Where the hell is Kalim going with this…?

A genuine smile tugging along Kalim’s lips. “I was wondering if you could come to his early birthday party in Scarabia on Monday.”

Of course that’s it…

“It won’t be that much different than the last one you went to. Except a little more casual. Halyx texted me that they’d show up to DJ for it just today.”

Jamil bristled, turning to Kalim. He said something to him in fantasy Arabic. Kalim replied back to him in the same language, giving him a small shrug. Jamil’s expression turned into either Resting Squidward Face or suppressing the need to spontaneously combust. Or something in-between. Hard to tell, really. Super hard to read and all. …Well, more so than normal, that is.

“Come on,” Kalim said, turning his attention back to me. “What do you say?”

Going back to Scarabia to party again would be awesome. Ace is going on his date with Catboy Tigger…Abhit that day. Deuce hates parties. I think Malika has to work then. I really don’t want to go to a party where the only person I know well is Grim! That would be awkward as hell. I would take hanging out in the dorm with shitty wifi over that. Thank you very much.

Not to mention, this is a party for the guy who mind controlled me, despite the fact I was perfectly willing to follow him out of my own free will. Sure, he doesn’t like a terrible guy, but that fact alone is enough to make me be a little cautious around him. At least for now. Especially when Jamil never acknowledged that fact and apologized for it, might I add.

I went back to rubbing the hem of my jean pocket. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m afraid that I have to pass.”

Kalim blinked. “What, why?”

“I have something on that day.”

All of the tension released from Jamil. He sighed in relief. Honestly, I don’t know whether to sympathize, considering Kalim tried to invite someone else to his party at the last second, or to be insulted.

...Maybe both. Both is good.

Kalim thankfully seemed to buy my little lie, giving me a smile. “That’s quite alright. More important things pop up sometimes.”

Sure. Let’s go with that. “Pretty much,” I said, continuing to rub the hem of my jean pocket.

A coy smile coiled along his lips as Kalim nudged Jamil in the shoulder with his elbow, saying something in fantasy Arabic. Kalim took off down the hall in the direction of the Hall of Mirrors. Jamil snapped back in the same language, probably, “Get back here!” or something to that effect given the context. Kalim just ignored him, disappearing when he turned around the corner at the far end of the hall.

Silence exploded throughout the hallway. Only the muffled chatter and teachers talking through closed doors filled in the space between us. Half expected a tumbleweed to blow on by.

Jamil cleared his throat. “I apologize for what… Kalim did, so I’ll leave you to your work now.”

Jamil turned on a dime. He stuffed both hands into his hoodie, heading off in the same direction as Kalim took off in.

Here’s my window of opportunity to confront him about the whole mind control thing. It’s now or never.

“Jamil, wait!” I called out. He stopped in his tracks, whirling around to look at me. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.”

He stiffened, raising a brow at this. “About what?”

“About the other night…”

How do I even go about this? Should I even confront him about him mind controlling me? Who knows how he’ll react if I bring that up to him.

“Uh…never mind.” My free hand rubbed the back of my neck. “Anyways, I need to get back to work.”

“Right,” Jamil said dully.

He paused for a moment.

“I believe I never caught your name before.”

Shit! That’s right. I never told him that either time we crossed paths. “Adriana.”

He hummed, giving me a small nod. “Thank you for what you did for me a week ago, Adriana.”

Holy shit! He’s actually genuinely thanking me for that? When he doesn’t have to? I think he’s telling the truth.

An awkward smile slid along my lips. “Uh… it’s no problem, really. Just wanted to step in and tell Riddle off for being an ass.”

He took in my words. An expression I couldn’t quite place tugged on his features. “See you around.”

“Same here,” I said with a small smile.

Jamil turned around, heading off in the same direction with his hands stuffed into his hoodie pocket. I went back to sweeping like the discount Cinderella I am.