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just a senpai trying to keep a kouhai alive, nothing to see here sir

Chapter Text

"Do relax, Charlotte."


"I'm relaxed."

"The fluttering eyelashes tell a different story."


Charlotte opened her eyelids the tiniest amount and stared down dark crimson eyes, just so Lilia knew she would be rolling her eyes if she could. Lilia smiled, bright and cheeky and sharper, holding the eyeliner so close to her face it looked like he was going to stab her with it; that may be just her imagination acting from being without her glasses. Charlotte closed her eyes and forced herself to calm down. Deep breaths, as if she was to fall asleep at any moment. Don't think, just stay still as windmill with no wind. If she concentrated enough, she could ignore the hands on her face or the weight on her lap, heavier than it was supposed to be. Why, even Lilia's magic could be background noise!


Malleus, you are supposed to be here! Help me, dragon dude!


Alas, it was only her and Lilia. Whose limbs were way bigger than she expected. Must be a consequence of weighting more. Both he and Malleus kept evading her questions about his weird shapeshifting thing and Silver was solicitous but unhelpful, so she just. Didn't ask anymore. It wasn't worth it.


"And done. Don't open your eyes just yet, let it dry first." His breath was a warm breeze against her skin. Turns out the windmill had a bit of wind. Charlotte may be a bit touch starved. She's an affectionate person and the one she could me more free with it was far away. Sue her.


"Alright. I'm grateful for the help, Lilia. Saints know I am a disaster with it."


"It is a pleasure to provide aid with such a simple task. Do you require more assistance?"


She was going to finish her make up in Malleus' room as was tradition by now, but since he wasn't even in fucking Diasomnia... In. Out. Charlotte shouldn't bother Lilia anymore; she already barged in his room, and the rest she could do flawlessly by herself. "Nah, I got it. I will leave you be, then. Until, Lilia."


"Farewell, Charlotte. Fufu... Mayhap would you indulge me later, with tales of your adventures at the Glass Sea? It has been a long time since I visited."


She agreed easily and exited the bedroom. Charlotte headed for the bathroom on the floor below as someone with a job to do, and by all means, they will finish it. Her reflexion showed an young woman (girl?) on her early twenties with a round face, her skin made smoother with a foundation of warm beige. The curly thick brown hair was kept away from her face as to not mess the make up, but soon it will be free from the bun holding it. She looked like a work in progress. So, she got on it.


Charlotte was applying her mascara open-mouthed when the door opens. Squinting, she made-off a large reddish shape amiddle the green and black of Diasomnia. Ah. Hazel. "Hey."


"Hey yourself. Shouldn't be someone doing this with you?"


"Malleus' late and Lilia already did my eyeliner. I can do the rest."


Hazel tutted and muttered something in a low voice her ears couldn't discern. She approached with her hands on her hips and a lowered tail. To be fair, her tail was enormous, being a squirrel terianthrope. "I'm helping you." "I don't—" "I'm helping you. It isn't a request."


"Ooh, bossy! You talk to Artie that way?"


"Occasionally. But then, so do you. What are you missing?"


"Blush and lipstick. And guilty as charged. Your boyfriend calms down a lot when someone takes charge. I left the excuses for him once and we nearly got caught. Luckily it was an old acquaintance, so we got by fine. But no more, I say."


Hazel smirked meanly and held her by the chin. "Open wide and don't talk. I get what you said." She took a deep breath and smoothed her face in a neutral expression. "And for your sake, I hope you know what are you doing. Going there... Artie doesn't mind helping, but I don't think it's worth the risk to you or him. You can talk now."


Charlotte imitated her, taking her time to answer as to not take it personally. Hazel was just trying to be a good friend. It was not her fault Charlotte has not, cannot explain her own reasons. "Thank you for worrying about me, Hazel." She took her hands on hers. Hazel was tall with her 1,77 meters and her hands were small and calloused and Charlotte held her among her friends. She squeezed. "It is kind of you. But this... this may be the only opportunity I have. Other places I'm barren from, but this? I got it."


"If you say so."


But Hazel laughed on the background while Charlotte made silly faces at her reflexion so it was fine. After she placed her glasses, she took out her hairband and fixed her curls. The final result looked like a top bitch and you know what? She felt like one! She had the vibe 'mean, hot and would kill a man' and all confidence that comes with it. Charlotte's nailing it.


Very unfortunate she was the prefect of a one person dorm, or she would throwing her weight around. Alas, one had to keep themselves humble.


She shared that much with Hazel. The other stared incredulous. "Are you joking? You always have the vibes of someone whom would get away with a murder. You would walk around in circles confusing everybody and the matter would drop."


"What vibes I give now then?"


"Elegantly and sadistically crushing my enemies and using their blood for nefarious rituals after."


"I don't use blood for nefarious rituals."


"Or so you say. The rumour mill has divergent positions."


Hazel left her at the lounge, after taking some photos. The place had very gothic vibes and the chairs were comfortable, even if it could use more lighting. Charlotte sent another message to Malleus' phone. She looked up the time. 5:37 pm. She posted the photos and a selfie on Magicam, mentioning Lilia and Hazel on it. She read a new update on a fic she's subscribed. Half way through, her phone vibrated with notifications. Cater, the addict, was among the likers. She dismissed it and the page updated by itself.


Charlotte finished the chapter. Her phone vibrated with notifications. Cater, the addict, was among the likers.


Didn't she dismiss it already?


No matter. She looked up the time. 5:46 pm.


Did something happen? But if it had, shouldn't Lilia and Silver be more worried? Lilia at least would have told me. Maybe he forgot his phone on his room or the battery is dead. Maybe he is in one of his moods? Charlotte replied all his letters on summer, despite having to dry herself every time to do so and Malleus knew keeping correspondence when she was in the Glass Sea wasn't easy. Why wasn't Malleus waiting for her already? It was tradition for her to show up a bit earlier before an event to guarantee they both would be in attendance, after her first entrance ceremony. Whatever it is, he could have at least passed a message to say he wouldn't come. You KNOW, the POLITE thing! Instead, she was here, stewing in anxiety.


Charlotte wanted to be in the Mirror Chamber already. Like, yesterday. Every minute here was a minute closer to being late and bringing an embarrassing amount of attention to herself. She could not afford it, not with the tightrope she walked. Still, her presence had to give the right amount of showmanship to dissuade others. Too much and she's a target, an obstacle to crush; too little and she's weak and deserving to learn her place.


The sooner she learnt the board for the semester, the sooner she could plan her counter-attacks and stack the deck on her favour.


5:49 pm.


Night Raven College was a threat to her existence after all. She could not forget it.


Charlotte went out with her broom in hands and fled.


She had no time to lose.



loOol



She went fast, slowing down at the Mirror Hall and gaining height after exiting it.


From above, there was a curious sight to behold: a bright blue light, only its partially covered. It would be absurd for Ortho cover his head. She zoomed in.


They were too taller to be Ortho, with the downturned shoulders and glaring gloomingly the grass. How unexpected! "Idia-san! Evening!"


Idia flinched and his head snapped up. Neon eyes wide, she could see the thick layer of eyeliner surrounding them. Maybe—? "C-charlotte-shi...! Good evening... what are you doing here?


"Same as you, I suppose: the ceremony. Do you need a ride? I can slow down for you."


"T-that... I...I don't want to go in... but still, I promised Ortho..."


For an introvert shut in like Idia, the ceremony was no different from a trial by fire. With that many people... She hovered closer to ground and straightened her pose. "I see. I offer this on the most sincere way possible: would you like to take my hand?"


"E-eh?!"


"Please not misunderstand: I am neither joking nor mocking you. It's just...When you are nervous, having support is essential: it improves everything. Just like the beams of a building, it will lift you up. The help of friends... well, I don't mind playing the role for you, Idia-san, as this is a most perilous challenge you are taking. I can stay close and draw attention to myself and if you need help with your speech, I don't mind covering for you. So, Idia-san, will you take my hand?" Charlotte smiled sweetly and softly and kind, limb extended like a promise. She was mostly genuine. She didn't dislike Idia.


"Aa... a boss fight and I was going in with such low status...! If Charlotte-shi is my party member, however...!" The man murmured a bit more, mostly words she didn't understand. Idia closed the distance with much hesitance, like someone expecting to be burned by touching an open flame. His long fingers — pianist fingers, a voice on the back of her mind whispered — clutched hers in a weak grip. "T-then, Charlotte-shi, I will b-be in your c-care."


Aa, so cute! And the tips of his hair flushed in pale pink. Charlotte didn't even know that was possible. She refrained from commenting and helped him on her broom, careful to have a smooth flight. She was pleasantly surprised when Idia pointed out a hidden side entrance by the second floor, so they may enter without having to pass the assembly. If she was by herself, she would just go in by the main entrance, no fear or shame.


But.


Idia hated attention on himself.


Charlotte followed his directions, and once they dismount, two drops of shrinking potion made the broom pen-sized. Sooner than she expected, they were in the Mirror Chamber.


The chamber was an unsettling room, no matter how many times Charlotte has been in it. Dark curtains, floating coffins, the green lighting, the green fountain the suspended mirror hanging on the center of it all... The chandelier was a ugly thing; the elegant windows made up for it. Definitely terrible to clean and hard to make, but the design was beautiful. Charlotte had yet to know if they could be opened or if the glass was just there to look pretty, on place of having a solid stone wall. By the back, close to the main entrance, awaited crowded students, no doubt curious about the freshmen.


Charlotte saw some teachers are finishing on the coffins' opening — the Gates, everyone called them, but these were coffins — however the Headmaster were nowhere to be seen. From her position, she spotted a few new faces among the prefects. She missed the old ones. Some more than others. She was used to sit with Malleus at the end of the bench. It seemed she will be doing the same with Idia this time.


"Hmpf. It seems I was wrong to doubt you, Idia-senpai, even if you are still late. My apologies."


Idia squeezed her hand. She had no idea of what is happening, but squeezed back and bent at the waist to see the face of her fellow prefects. "I s-said I was going to be here, didn't I?"


"And with me as his arm candy today!" Charlotte winked and considered the situation defused when Kalim giggled and Azul mustered a smile. "Good evening, everyone. Shouldn't this already have started?"


"The Headmaster is missing, so the teachers have chosen to delay the ceremony in hopes he gets back soon. Bend over, zucchini, I will fix your hair. We can't have you disgracing our college."


"Thanks Vil, it must have been the wind. Someone please run by me the routes for today, I'm still catching up with my emails."


Leaning over Idia's lean thighs and careful to not hit his tablet once he took it out, Charlotte vocalized agreements to Riddle's explanations and left Vil to fuss with her hair, him and Azul adding their inputs every once in a while. She returned to her position once Pomefiore's leader was finished. "So we have two medium and some of the long routes — not the full scenic - remaining...?"


"I already choose a path, actually...Look here." Charlotte watched as Idia pulls a NRC map in his tablet, the routes highlighted according the dorm colours. Notably, Ignihyde's path was not a long one — Library, Main Street, Staff Dorm, Sam's, Warehouse, Mirror Hall. "The only missing is Diasomnia."


"Thanks, that's really helpful Idia-san."


"Diasomnia...Malleus-senpai isn't accompanying Charlotte-san, today." Trust Azul to go for the heart of the matter. And sound so polite about it!


"Will the lizard even come, without his babysitter?" Wow, Leona, no need to be this rude! Just because Malleus destroyed your team on Magift? My, he even allowed Savanaclaw show off a bit out of a sense of sportsmanship. Alas, she didn't understand sports players.


She pulled back her shoulders and drew her hand to her chest in mock offense. "What, I am not pretty enough to be his arm candy? Is it the lack eyeliner on the regular or the hats? I insist the one on his dorm uniform does not match my aesthethic at all and sadly, few are the hats accommodating for horns so we never match."


"How about the fact he is never seen in events without you, his babysitter?"


"Weeell, I did not want to draw attention to it, but since this is how things are...oh, very well. There are few people besides me are brave enough to meet Malleus face to face and talk, much less give him an invitation. I have been told he is..." Charlotte drawled off meaningfully and left the others to pipe in. Every group interaction with the prefects was its own spectacle and calling people off for their cowardice was very satisfying. Leona picked out a fight with her, after all, instead of just leaving it at her attempts of levity.


"Unapproachable?" "Intimidating?"


"That, which I find doesn't apply to me. Is it any surprise then, in events requiring both our presences, we are often found together? Specially as his friend?" Charlotte allowed the question hang on the air and followed it with a contrived expression, smiling tightly. "Ah, but if it is my presence Leona-san finds distasteful, I promise to not begrudge it if you extend an invitation to Malleus but not to me."

Now, the time to pounce. She shook her hands in front of her body frantically and continued in a hurried tone. "Oh, but please don't find yourself pressured by my words! The fortitude needed...Of course, I understand if anyone feels unable to do it." Smoothing her expression in something guiltless, Charlotte nodded in understanding at the end, bouncing her curls.


They both knew it was a provocation. The only way Leona would knowingly invite Malleus to an event would be if it was to do with politics of their countries. And she called him and every other Dorm Leader, a coward for it. Politely, of course no need to soothe offended egos and dodge machinations later.

And she was even careful to not poke bruises, to not bring out Magift like she wanted to.


Your move, bitch.


Unfortunately, their stare off was interrupted by Vil. "As interesting as this may turn out, Professor Trein is going to open the ceremony."


The ceremony this year was even more boring than the others before. Whose idea was it allow Trein-sensei to take over it in Crowley's absence? Someone who never had classes with him, that's whom! The man was, rightly so, a respected researcher and master on his field, but his voice's incredible tedious. No wonder so many find his coursework boring. Charlotte had more than a few students hug her because she made history interesting, or at least understable while she was his TA.


A bad criteria to choose seniority when age was right there! Look at Ms. Isla and Jiao-laoshi, fools! These are the respectable options, but even Madame Aimee would do on a pinch! thought Charlotte despairingly.


The best part was the sorting. There were all sorts of people here and there were all sort of assumptions to be made about them. Are they confident in front of a crowd? Shy? Serious? Some, Charlotte will have to beat in submission; nothing new to the experience of being a Prefect. It's worse on the second half of the year since there is more admissions than the first half, but a girl got to be tough to survive. At least she hadn't to fend-off challengers to her position like the Dorm Leaders.


A guy shrieked about 'making Waka-sama proud' when he was sorted in Diasomnia and Charlotte just zoned back in to hear Leona-san snort. Riddle was stewing in his position, no doubt thinking whether he should intervene or trust the teachers' authority. Aah, she definitely had to nag Lilia about this dude now. Malleus was too unsociable to give her the good gossip. Mayhap he was that friend Silver talked about?


The sorting ended and was time for the Dorm Leaders to give a small school tour and set out for the mirror hall. If neither Lilia nor Malleus show up, Charlotte will have to take over Diasomnia's.


"By the way, where did the Headmaster go? He skipped right in the middle..."


"Leaving his post..."


"Did he got sick or something?" Trust Kalim to think kindly of someone like Crowley.


And with the last comment, the Headmaster barged in. "Not at all!"


"Eight out of ten. Phrasing could use some work."


"Too high, deck out points for not timing better." Shit, did I say that out loud? but nodded along Vil commentary. Being an experienced actor, she deferred to his expertise. This time.


Crowley was talking and holding a large cat and pushing a student near the Mirror, which. No peer-pressure at all. Of course not.


"I do not know."


Huh?

Something interesting was happening.


"I sense not a spark of magic from this one. There are no colours or shapes. Therefore, they are unsuitable for the dormitories."


On one hand, it was great to have an explicit confirmation the Mirror used visual cues it saw to do the sorting. On another... this was so embarrassing. Charlotte's taking second-hand damage and she betted so was Idia. Crowley was having a small crisis on stage. "There has not been once a mistake in the selection for a hundred years." What happened 100 years ago? Or was the process for dorm changes just easier? Things to search in the college archives.


Ah, the cat talked.


Aand it tried to kill her.


Charlotte shielded.


For a normal magician, ducking or avoiding the fire should be enough, but Charlotte's first instinct was, always, to shield. It was useful as it gave her time to access the situation.


Herself and her stores: Physically fine, she had many more shots before recharging.


Allies: She had Idia in the shield with her. She had to apologize for it later. The other dorm leaders seemed to be fine, but Kalim was on fire. A bit. Eh, he probably had it handled.

Enemy: Still throwing fire left and right.


Collateral: Other students were under the teachers' shields. Magicless student was with Crowley, so they should be okay. Maybe. She should be careful and avoid spells in that direction.


The flames were running amok and it was only a matter of time before it started on the curtains and expanded. The Gates were not fireproof, as far as she knew.


Crowley yelled for someone to catch a racoon. What racoon? That's an evil ca— wrong tail, possibly an evolutionary convergence — a fake cat then. Azul and Riddle stepped up to deal with it. Charlotte had to take care of other matters then.


"Idia-san, sorry for the shield. I am told it is uncomfortable to be under it."


He had his face covered with the hood, hugging his knees and making his body smaller than it is. At her voice, he raised his own just so the translating devices on her ears could catch it. "That's not the problem... rather, it is me bringing misfortune to this place. I should've never left my room... should know my existence is cursed." He was being too low for the translator continue, but she got the gist of it.


The fuck you say when someone is being so defeatist? Stop martirizing yourself? Get over yourself dude, you are not that important? In the end, Charlotte was just a woman. There was not much she can do, but she could refuse to give him rope to hang himself. She put her hand in his shoulder. "Ah, Idia-san, I don't understand what you are talking about. But..." and here she squeezed "...I'm sure Ortho's really proud of you for coming here. So, please not put yourself down after being so brave today and going out of your comfort zone." There! That should be good enough.


"Charlotte-shi... rather, someone blessed like you cannot understand a loathsome existence like mine."


"Maybe. I cannot speak about what I don't know. But what I know is: I was glad when I saw you in the courtyard earlier. I was really, really glad when you took my hand. Because of you, I learned a secret entrance today. All these things, they are a net positive." She kept her grip tight. It had to be, for these things. "Are you going to tell me I don't understand my own feelings? Is your ego truly that big, Idia-san? Now..." Charlotte got up and searched among her pockets. "I'm going to help out Kalim, so here." She pressed a caramel in his fingers. "Candy lifts my mood. Maybe it will do the same to yours."


Turned out Kalim did try to stop the fire with the green water from the fountain, but it wasn't working. "Okay, that's magical fire then. Can you conjure magical water? I can do it through song, but the timing..."


Kalim's being lighted up and she took a step back before he waved his pen around and recited some words. A second later an egregious amount of water drenched him and his surroundings. At least they weren't under fire anymore. Charlotte was dry under her shield. "That solves it! Thanks Charlotte!"


A movement from the water brought both their attentions down. The liquid was being redirected towards the fire spots. Looking around, she saw Azul's the one responsible for it now the monster was collared. She sent him two quick thumbs up and turned to Kalim. "That's the fastest conjuration I have seen. Do you need help drying yourself?" It made her wonder how much magic he used on it.


"Please."


Charlotte pressed a button on her choker and brought out her pen. "The shape of water, is to find another path, give it wave, give it heat, give it wave, give it light, so it may evaporate." Few seconds after and he was dry, just as if he stayed under the sun. She pressed the same button. "And done."


Kalim gave out a closed mouth smile, shifting his weight on his feet. "Say Charlotte..." Seeing he had her attention, he continued in a low tone. "Something you said before stuck with me. Malleus doesn't often get invitations, right?"


Oh? "They have a terrible habit to get lost on mail."


"So, if I was to invite him to one of my parties, would he come?"


OH?? "He would be delighted. If you could give a warning notice...well, Lilia and me will gladly pass it on." Holy shit, that's not even the start of it. Malleus would be so excited he would pass hours microanalysing everything before the party.


"Great! I will warn Jamil about it, some plates will have to be blander." She snorted at the jab and Kalim moved his guileless eyes to her. She waved it off and returned to her seat.



loOol


Crowley gave a short speech and waved them off. Because he was an asshole like many people at NRC, he inquired about Malleus' missing character out loud, instead of pulling her to the side and asking about him. "I am afraid he had other duties to attend." There. She will do the tour bird-man, now let them go...!


"It cannot be helped then. Will you-?"


Charlotte was already afoot nodding along. Humming bird wings and she had an arm throw over her shoulder, with her shifting to regain her balance. "I will do it, Headmaster." Lilia.


"As you wish, Mr. Vanrouge."


Maybe she could finish this day early. Switching to English, she whispered under her breath "Kalim is going full scenic. Any other long routes are free."


Lilia pulled her along. "Will you deprive me of the pleasure of the company?"


"Sorry, can't. I'm moral support for Idia-san."


"Truly? Best luck on your endeavour." Releasing her, Lilia skipped on his way to Diasomnia's new students.


Rolling her eyes, she searched for Idia. In a corner, he was giving his best attempt at public speech. It was going well, despite the moments where his shyness got the better of him and his voice trailed off. She lift her arms high and swung them back and fort, sending double thumbs-ups over the students heads.


She was raised by the waist. What's up with everybody today?! However it gave the of surety Idia seeing her and her support, as he got momentary stunned, so Charlotte didn't complain out loud. "Thanks, you can put me down now."


"Very well, Charlotte James-san."


She turned around to Ortho, she was sure. He's in a very unusual apparel. Eyes under a large blue visor, mouth uncovered - Ortho never had his full face revealed - and halo like thing going over the back of his head and stopping on his sholuders, he was a most unusual body, made of black metal(?) and with long protrusions coming from his belt, violet underneath. Over the black, golden designs were delicately and carefully painted, similar to these on the ceremonial robes. Ortho even has long, flared sleeves. "I wasn't too heavy was I? Also, great design, I don't think I've seen it before."


"It is my new body!" He gave her an obligatory twirl. "Nii-san worked hard on it, please direct him the praise. My scanners didn't detect any significant weight alteration compared to last semester, there is no need to worry. It is true this gear can't handle more than a light load, but brother's happiness was worthy it."


Oh, Ortho...! "If you say..."


"I saw you two on a broom earlier. I was unaware Charlotte James-san was friends with nii-san."


"I think I just don't make him nervous. But I don't mind hanging out."


Ortho pondered on her words for a bit. "That is very similar to what friends do. I will have to run analysis on it." He turned to Idia's direction and they stayed in silence, letting his voice wash through them. When he spoke again, she could swear there was something more in it. "Because nii-san has gone through his promise, after he finishes, could you take a photo of us? This moment, I want proof of it."


There, the reason why she looked out for Ortho, everytime. He had feeling and wants and these things weren't only results of programming, not in this world. Somehow, Ortho was alive, whatever it meant. He was a he, not an it, and moments like these were a stark reminder of it.


She agreed, of course.


Idia finished and there were claps and yells, and a younger brother proud of his older brother. Charlotte ended on two (2) photos with Idia after some emotional manipulation by Ortho, and she promised to not post it.


After such tiring tasks for an introvert like Ignihyde's Dorm Head, Charlotte and Ortho took over most of the tour, pointing out important or interesting tidbits, like the fact deliveries to NRC made by flight were to be done near the clocktower, and that the red building close to it was a warehouse, with only the prefects and their vices able to retrieve a package besides the recipient, since by the College Chart the dormitories were near autonomous bodies.

And if the internet didn't have something, Mr. S Mystery Shop had. If you are willing to pay the price, of course.


"Do we have to stay on the dorms all time?"


"Nope! The gates of NRC, like the real gates, not the coffin thing you woke up, close at 8pm from Monday to Thursday, and Friday to Sunday at 12pm. However, the last bus leaves the station at 9:45pm, and after that only taxis or ride apps will save you. Next?"


"What about brooms?"


"Given the high number of students with access to them, you need an authorization to use them in campus besides the expected situations, like classes."


"Not to be that bitch, but already being her: the robot-child is flying."


"My thrusters are not brooms and the administration approves of me. Eris Discordia-san, do you have more questions?"


"Do you know everyone names or I am just especial?"


"Because you were sorted in Ignihyde, I focused on you before the other students. Is that all?


"Uh, me, but my question is for the woman. No offense, I kinda forgot your name. Can we have jobs while here?"


"Charlotte James, I prefer to be called by my first name. Also, yes...? It is very hard to open a business inside Night Raven, especially because Sam, Mr. S, has an exclusivity contract passed down through his family, but it is possible. Octavinelle - another dorm, in case anyone forgot - opened last year their own café and restaurant, the Mostro Lounge. Myself, I rent out rooms by hour at my dorm, but only take in labour or favors. If any of you are interested, talk to me at corridors, cafeteria, fields or by my dorm. It's the mansion on the hill, just follow the path on the left, it will be at its end."


"Ah, Charlotte-senpai, I was asking about jobs in the city."


"Pardon me, then. You can have them, but if there is a conflicting schedule you need the Headmaster's permission. It could led to small things like violating curfew on weekdays, or you could be missing classes for it. You, with the raised hand."


"Ah, my question is for Ortho. Your...body? — it is your body, right? — looks like our clothes, so can you use magic like us?"


At this point, Idia got involved, since Ortho was also, technically, his brain child. His answers only feed the growing curiosity of the freshman, and when she left them at the Mirror Hall, only Ortho spared her the attention to wave goodbye. Charlotte's plans to go inside Ignihyde were dead and buried; once she was out of sight, she broke in a run.


The pit inside her stomach grew deeper.


Something was wrong.


Something was wrong on her dorm.


If she was lucky, it's just her imagination playing tricks at her, but Charlotte didn't rely on luck.


The blue lights greeting her far away from the wards only intensify the feeling.

Chapter Text

The mansion on the hill used to be an old, abandoned building, unkept; time as its only caretaker. The nickname 'Ramshackle' catched up among NRC and, for decades, it's know as the Ramshackle dorm, with its decaying iron gates and its ghosts.


The iron gate was open - she closed it, why is the bloody gate open - and Charlotte slowed down to break a branch from one of the many blackberries bushes surrounding the property. It cut through her skin, drawing blood. She took ten precious seconds to regain her breath and cursed herself for not taking the broom back. The time for regret was the present and the future both, so she will pay attention to it later.


Charlotte bursted on the main corridor and the plant on her hand shooted. In an absurd world filled with magic, the blackberry grew in a ginormous pace and went straight for the wrists of the invaders, restraining them.


Or in the case of the ghost, passing harmless through them.


Her dorm only had three ghosts. This was not one of them.


"You better have a fucking good reason to be here, or the afterlife I will send you will be the last of your fucking worries."


"AH"


"Ah- Miss James, is that a way to address your superiors?"


Oh, this asshole is soo dead. "I see. I will torn your spirit apart." She could take care of the other two later. Rising a hand to her choker and disabling her translator, Charlotte sang in English. "For disturbing the peace of my home, I curse thee-"


"That won't be necessary." In front of her eyes, the ghost shapeshifted in a taller and much alive person. Thankfully, the Headmaster is clothed. "To go to such extents, really, Miss James, what are you thinking?" he continued in such a chiding tone that her wish to break his nose grew exponentially.


The nerve of this man...! "I was thinking" she repeated in a slow and measured tone, for her grasp on Japanese was still imperfect, "that my home was being invaded by strangers, one of them daring to...falsify being someone I know that is alive. I was thinking that when I confronted that hostile, he mocked me and refuse to state what, exactly, he was doing, leaving only the option for me to exercise my right to self-defense. I am thinking now that I would like to know what I walked in."


Blinking his voidless eyes at her, the Headmaster disapproving gaze lifted to a more thoughtful expression. Charlotte wanted the name of whoever did his mask; it was an impressive expressive piece. "When you put it like this, I cannot imput blame; very well, but first: take out the restraints from Grim and Yuu-san. They are to be part of this conversation."


With a shake of her wrist, the branches unfurled from the fake cat and the human, and instead circled her left arm like a string of rope. A downside of using the blackberries as a defense and attack mechanism was it didn't shrink back once grown, but with the smallest magic input it became as malleable as she wished. Perfect to be stored for burning later. "To the lounge, then. It is more comfortable than a hallway." Charlotte went and the clinking footsteps of Yuu joined Crowley's silent ones and the monster heavy thuds.


She sat on the balance chair, gesturing for her 'guests' to sit where they wished; Yuu and Grim took the sofa, and Crowley all but fell on her favourite couch, the vermillion one she scavenged when Scarabia had gone through renovations. Charlotte was cleaning it later; foreign smells bothered her.


Unaware of her thoughts, Crowley cleaned his throat. "As you know, Miss James, Yuu here is a magicless human. However, when we tried to return them to their homeland, the Mirror informed us it didn't exist on this world. As Yuu is quite certain that place exists and even provided me alternates, none that the Mirror found, I can only conclude they are an alien being, from another world. Are you following?"


At her slow nod, he continued. "Since I am a kind and gracious educator, I couldn't just let them fend for themselves now, could I? I allowed them to stay at this dorm, until they are to go home." Charlotte swallowed her protests; as an inactive dorm, the Headmaster had a great say over what happened in it. "So imagine my surprise arriving here, after returning with supplies - you don't need to thank me, dear - at seeing the monster from the ceremony! And then, they told me they worked together to disband the ghosts; I absolutely had to see that team work by myself."


Disband? "And where are the ghosts now?" And really? Fire? On a WOODEN BUILDING???!!!


"They will be fine; they are dead." Crowley dismissed her concerns too easily. They better be!! Or she will do something nasty. Like terrorize his crows. "Graciously, I even warded the hallway."


"That was very kind of you, Headmaster Crowley. Truly, there is no comparison." She was only a bit sarcastic. Wards were hard work, and to put a strong one hastily spoke of his skill of magician.


Still.


Charlotte didn't forgive him for the scare.


She will have to check the damage from the unwarded period tomorrow.


The Headmaster preened, and straightened on his seat. "I am, aren't?" Chuckling, he turned his attention away to Yuu. His claws made an odd clicking sound when he snapped his fingers. "Since the entrance ceremony, my teacher senses have been beeping... Yuu, you have talents of a beast tamer. However... no matter how..."


"Headmaster, Miss James." This is the first time she heard Yuu talking. They had a strong and clear voice, the type to captivate attention just by using it. "Could you allow for Grim stay here with me?"


As interesting as the question was the way the fake cat eyes go enormous. It's as surprised as everyone else.


"What are you talking about? Let a monster live in my school?"


"Please. I would feel safer with him on my side. I'm the only person without magic here: I'm basically defenseless alone." There is a bit of despondency on the way they wrangle their hands together.


"As long the Headmaster allows, and Grim doesn't use his fire inside the house, emergencies and winter being exceptions, I see no problem. Your reasoning is sound." And if they really had the inclination for a beast tamer, Charlotte prefered one which can talk and be reasoned with than one that cannot.


"Very well, it cannot be helped. I concede your request."


"Fwaa?! Really?!"


"However, I can't simply allow someone, let alone a monster of all things, who wasn't chosen by the Dark Mirror into my college. Neither, Yuu, I can allow you to be a freeloader here until you return to your own world." Of course not; Crowley may aim to be seen as kind, but the fae hadn't been headmaster for decades because he was generous. Maybe generous with the bribes he took, if the rumours she heard are correct.


"Wow, happiness is really short-lived, huh..."


Chuckling at the monster comic reactions, he quickly lost his humour and his expression is serious again. "Listen until the end. Since your soul was called here, the college has to take responsibility as the owners of the Dark Mirror; for the time being, you will be allowed to stay in this dormitory for free. Other necessities, however, you must provide by yourself." First weeks at this place, that's you? Talk about flashbacks. But Charlotte wasn't the kind to deny someone food, and Yuu probably wasn't the kind to refuse to help with chores and housekeeping. And her dorm was a bit of a deposit for decades. It should have some clothes fit for them. "Seeing as you have nothing to your name..." But Crowley was definitely an asshole! Here he was, laughing at their misery! "I have a proposition for you."


Yuu scrunched their face in an uneasy expression. They're right to be wary. "What's it?"


"No need to fret, I'll have you do maintenance and odd jobs around campus. Would you two like to become my 'handyman'? This way you will receive special permission to remain on school grounds." To sweeten the propose, Crowley added a concession. "For I'm kind, you'll also be able to research going home or study whatever you desire in the library. Only after your work is done, of course." It's a sweet deal. NRC only opened its library to public once per month or to visiting researchers. Of course, it's better than RSA's policy of only three times by year, citing security concerns.


Grim jumped to the ground and shook his paw at Crowley. "Nu-uh!! I'm not okay with this! I wanna the fancy uniform and to be a student!"


"It's alright if you're unsatisfied. I'll simply toss you out again. Maybe this time, out of the island entirely?"


"Nope! I get it, okay?? I will do it, I will!" Scrambling to hide himself under Yuu's robes, the monster agreed very enthusiastically.


"Wonderful." Clapping once and seeming, oddly enough, delighted, Crowley rised. "Then, you two, starting tomorrow, endeavor to give your best at NRC! Miss James, please help these two to their accommodations. Farewell."

 

loOol

 

Charlotte relaxed once Crowley was out of her home. The Headmaster just...there was something in him screaming danger, and she knew better than displease the man. The way he sometimes watched her, as one watches a bewildering puzzle, didn't lessen her discomfort.


Her next actions were not for him.


Turning up her charm, she mustered an understanding smile at Yuu, who was fiddling with their hair. At one point, they shaved the left side, but it seemed to be growing now and the rest of it lied a few centimeters from their shoulders. "This must be disorienting, huh? Would it be alright for us to have dinner first? I have three bedrooms available at the moment, so you can choose whichever you prefer. After, I can answer any questions you have, and I would like to ask to you some as well. Is that fine by you?"


"Sure."


Once they agreed, she's followed to the kitchen.


Grim let his opinion about dinner known. "Hey human, I was promised a tuna can!"


Charlotte grimaced. She hated fish smell. "We don't have any at this point. Do you have any other dietary requirements, preferences or allergies? That's for Yuu too."


"Don't subestimate me, the Great Grimm can eat anything! Go feed me, human."


"Ah, I am low-key lactose intolerant, but anything you have is fine."


Excellent, she didn't have picky guests. Taking out a big casserole from the fridge, she set it on the stove and turned it on. "Great, it is garlic and oil spaghetti. I just returned from travelling, so it is like, meh, but once I buy groceries, we'll have more options."


"Was it a cool place?"


A cool place? She was a terrible judge for 'coolness'. "It was my best friend's home. She's mermaid from the Glass Sea, so it was great; besides, I didn't pay for accommodations or got swindled like a tourist would."


"Mermaids are real...?" They leaned on the counter, slack-jawed and awed. It's fun, seeing someone's reactions from the outside.


"You don'tcha know? Wow, you're really dumb."


Yuu's face made something. Charlotte had to cut this at the bud. No one should be shamed for their lack of knowledge from something they can't help or aren't expected to. "I think," she said, staring right into Grim big blue eyes and daring him to fight her on this "that making assumptions about others backgrounds and knowledge will lead us to nowhere."


Shifting in a more upbeat tone, she turned to Yuu and held one of her thumbs. She will be on her ring finger once she finished. "Yes, we have mermaids. They're called merfolk, and some of them study here. We also have humans, therianthrope and fae folk. If you gave an animal tail, ears or wings and different metabolism to a human, you basically have a therianthrope. There are particularities to the subespecies, and different countries, cultures, customs, and such, but just treat them like people and you will be fine. Fae folk... you have many kinds, and they aren't capricious... just different rules of conduct. The common ones in this island are pixies - short, different colours according to elemental variations, speech absolutely incomprehensibly by humans - and regular fae - human looking but uncanny, wrong eyes, pointy ears, bullshit senses - I am talking about you Lilia, appear if you heard me." Because Lilia's the kind to eavesdrop and she caught him doing it many times, better outright invite him than he drop from absolute nowhere and frighten her on rising her shields.


It happened before.


After ten seconds, she continued. "Oh well. Anyway, their baseline magic is strong than other groups, and some other traits may appear according to subespecies. Avoid making promises and deals and you will be okay. Also, dinner is ready."


Grim had a voracious appetite, and, despite her own brain screaming about health endangerment, she had him sitting at the table with them. He was not a person, but neither he was an animal or a pet, so she cannot treat him like one. And whom knows? Treating him well may put her in his good graces, so he will obey her more easily on the future.


Looking at Yuu, on other hand... the fact they didn't have any make up on their face was a sure sign they are foreign. For formal events, it was obligatory and the fact they had none should have been a warning flag. Charlotte's normally better at it. So she watches to make sure there is no other missing detail, no other thing that she should have paid attention.


Yuu had an angular face, with a beauty mark close to their left eye. Their brown eyes had a slight slant at the corners and shifted every so often study her and the surroundings. Weak as they were, laughing lines marked the tawny skin around their thin lips. The ring piercings in their ears and the ball piercing on their nose didn't look like recent additions and were all well taken care of. Their eyebrows were well done.


Yuu seemed to take care of their appearance, or at least how they presented it to the world. "Hey Yuu?" "Hm?" "Just confirming: You use he/she/they, any, some, neither...?" "Ah. They. You?" "Stick to she/her and you will be fine. Should I adress you by any specific honorific?" "Just my name is fine."


Grim chose the biggest bedroom available, and to her surprise, had Yuu to share it, claiming to need his minion close. The wallpaper was old and falling and the stagnant air and the dust made her nose crinkle; there's no mold or insects or infiltration and the furniture was good, even when most of it is from decades ago. Once, the ghosts mentioned it belonged to the Vice Dormhead. She kept the two of them outside while she opened the windows and cleaned with magic, mind wandering to past musings.


Charlotte used to hope she would have someone to share the place, but a dorm needs a Dormhead and a vice to be active, to accept entries and transfers and a budget; by herself, she claimed a prefect title, and alone, was the only title she could take.


But hope was silenced by paperwork and rules: once a dorm was emptied it was nearly impossible to active it back as the Mirror didn't send anyone there and the paperwork for transfers only considered active dorms. Hers was a special case, arriving a month later after the ceremony and only becoming a student on the new semester, after she could understand what was being said. By then Charlotte had a fondness for ghosts, three secrets too many and a wariness of magicians running on her cells.


It was a kindness to leave her in this dorm and she begged for it.


It's a kindness she hoped Yuu doesn't learn.


She felt pity looking at them lying tiredly after all her explanations where everything was and a bit of the world they were in. It's too much for now.


And it won't be enough.


"Some last advice before I leave you be?"


"Besides the fake surname thing?"


"Besides it."


"Go ahead."


"If someone is using magic near you, the correct minimal distance to be is three meters away. And don't let anyone use magic on you. Drop everything and run away. The headmaster will understand."


"No offense, Miss James-" "Just call me Charlotte. Everyone does." "-'kay, Charlotte, but Crowley, you know, I am kinda of dependent on him now. For everything."


"And my tuna, minion, don't you forget it!"


Yuu eyerolled and assented appeasingly. At this, Grim returned to his side of the queen bed. He payed attention to their conversation before and did it again now, it won't do for her to forget about him in the future. "Anyway, I don't think he will be happy if I start running on my job."


"He won't be, but he will understand. Your circumstances are, well, they could be better," Your situation is fucking bad and I don't have any idea how it could be worst. She had tact and kept these thoughts for herself. "-but facts are: one, magicless people are not seen in a good light; two, you are in a college for entitled magicians, NRC has a type and a piece of it is high ego and rich; three, by tomorrow, everyone will know what happened tonight; four, despite everything, you are here." Five, Crowley could have put you in the Staff's Dorm if he cared a bit about the situation at hand. He didn't. Charlotte allowed that realization to settle behind her teeth. Not now. Only honey coated truth. "Do you see now, how our compassionate and kind Headmaster won't blame you?"


Yuu sighed and something like defeat crossed their face. "Okay. And thanks." They saluted.

 

Charlotte locked her bedroom and fell apart on her chair.


What a fucking day, huh?


She allowed herself some minutes to be, for the tension on her muscles to disappear. Just an hour more and she will go to bed.


Charlotte cleaned the outline for the paper she had to write and read many of her unread e-mails. Not surprisingly, Isla-sensei had already answered her previous ones. She readjusted Charlotte's hours, so she is in lab duty 4-6pm at Mondays and Wednesdays and tutoring 3-6pm at Tuesdays and Thursdays. Putting the TA to clean the messes of the RA's and the science club on the lab, isn't that unfair? Ugh... At least it only starts midmonth. Charlotte sent back a confirmation and closed the app.


Once she changed her clothes and removed her lipstick, she found comfort on her bed. She was out like a light.

 

loOol



Charlotte arrived early, as it was habit, and as it was habit she (was) ambushed by her table companions. Cards were not exclusively a Heartslabyul hobbie, as Ignihyde's betting tables disproved, but they were the only ones to incorporate it on their motifs. Her own table played the same game always and always, every morning and every break, but no bets were placed.


She absently shuffled the deck, paying attention to the changes on her absence. The curls of Zenbe's ink hair were longer, bringing to mind him carrying a fluffy cloud on his head - and so was his goatee. His lion like ears continued to be very apparent, a point he no doubt took pride in. His skin - normally a umber brown - tanned into darker, richer shade, no doubt a consequence of summer Magift practice.


His sister sported a similar tan, but different of Zenbe's, Maliza wasn't in a Magift team, and neither had the interest: Track & Field suited her interests better and she had the muscles to match. Her delicate appearance, combined with her small and thin form were a glaring contrast to her Zenbe's taller and muscular frame, specially since Maliza was distinctively human - one of the few on Savanaclaw.


Sitting ahead of Maliza was Kyran, uniform perfectly pristine as expected of someone unwilling to be collared too early on the semester. His jet black hair was shorter and, to his constant disappointment, he had yet to grow a decent beard. Tufts of brown fur circled his downturned ears and he chewed almost mechanically his coffee candy. On days she took the straight path to the main building, she brought him coffee. In turn, Kyran shared kumys - fermented milk - with her at breaks.


All of them were, of course, absolutely ruthless players, so no one was surprised when Charlotte opened her turn with a queen.


"So, what I lost?"


Maliza added a queen to her own. Her brother cursed them both and bought four cards. Kyran passed after buying one. Grinning smugly, she pointed her nose at Kyran. "Kyran-senpai got his UM."


"Really? That's great! Congrats, Kyran-kun." And he was so worried about it, the poor thing. She's glad for him.


Zenbe skipped Kyran's turn and Charlotte did the same to Maliza, making it his turn again. He's full of glee elbowing Kyran at his side. "Now tell her the name."


Maliza shook her head and her box braids made a low sound as they whipped each other. They were citrine yellow again, after being snow white for last semester. "No, no, let Charlotte-chan guess." She put down a king. "Hearts."


Zenbe smirked as he put down another. "Diamond."


"Can I have a hint?"


Kyran's ears perked up. "I can cast it if you want?" Good manners of him to ask first. And then he settled a two kings at the table and her thoughts took a sharp turn left. TWO?? Asshole.


Charlotte groaned. She hadn't another to counterattack, so she had to buy sixteen cards. "It isn't a target UM, is it?" These were the worst to defend. Take Riddle's per example. She still remembered the sound her neck made. Snap. Thud. Squelch. "Which suit?" Kyran had only four cards. Dangerous, dangerous. Charlotte had a silent communication with the Cheboi siblings to ask if they had anything to attack Kyran.

Maliza shifted her hold on the cards, making a quick V-gesture before changing it. A queen of unknown suit.


Kyran glanced at his cards, sending a thoughtful glance on Maliza's way. He had seen that. "Spades." For emphasis, he touched the matching symbol on his face. "No, it's an AoE." Area of Effect? Kyran??? It was a rare type of Unique Magic.


"Then sure, go ahead."


Zenbe set down his hand, cards covered. "I will cover her ears." He circled around Kyran and pressed his hands over her ears, accidentally knocking on her glasses. "Sorry." Relaxing a bit so she could take it off, Zenbe sang some beats so she couldn't even try discern the words.


He also left his tail close to her leg, to which he used to signalize he would shift the table to clockwise if she changed the suit to hearts. She patted it. Message received.


To her chagrin, Charlotte hadn't any idea of what was Kyran's incantation, only it accompanied a fruit aroma with a very high pitched note on a flute. The feeling of thousand spiders crawling inside her own skin was background info at this point, and one she ignored as the source was known.


"What's it called? Three attempts."


Zenbe released her and went back to his position at the end of the table. The school tables were not made to play games with four people, so they made do with Charlotte or Maliza sitting on one while the others stood. Maliza, as the smallest and lightest of them - on spite of her strong build - so it made sense for her sit, and Charlotte lacked the shame of teachers and students catching her on that position so she stayed there more often than not.


Once she put her glasses on and repositioned her hat, Charlotte looked around for changes. Riddle was valiantly ignoring them and focusing on his book and other students were focused on their phones or bored and looking at the window. There were no visible differences on her vision or their area, besides a higher concentration of magitrons on the air. Other than a teapot and a teacup ahead of her, nothing seemed changed. But Kyran said it was an AoE UM...?


Maliza settled down her cards and leaned a bit. "Senpai, you didn't tell us your UM evolved."


"It didn't...?" But even Kyran looked curious at the tea set ahead. His hand hovered over the objects with notable hesitance.


"Then-" Zenbe had none of his compunctions. Taking the half-empty teacup and holding it level to his copper eyes, he continued in an incredulous tone. -"the fuck is this?"


Wow, we really stopped playing because of this.


Charlotte extended her arm, making grabbing motions until Zenbe passed it to her. The cup and the saucer and richly decorated in muted yellow and rich browns and reds, in a pattern she vaguely remembered seeing before but couldn't say when or where. On other hand, the golden liquid had the same fruity smell of Kyran's UM. She took out one of her gloves and put her little finger on it. On the warmer side but not hot.


Charlotte licked it. It left her tongue tingling. "It's conjured tea."


"Gross. Even I could have guessed that."


"It could have been poison."


"In a teacup? In a teapot?" She shrugged in face of Zenbe's disbelief. It could have been. Kyran smuggled his coffee that way on Heartslabyul more than once. "You think what, Kyran-kun is going to poison you?"


Charlotte gave Kyran a considerate glance. He mockingly batted his eyelashes innocently at her. From the top of his hare shaped ears, to the bottom of his shoes, Kyran wasn't someone to do things just because. He was reliable on his constance and very deliberate when he wasn't. From a general perspective, he also at least a bit fond of her but more importantly: she was one of his to go partners on group assignments. "Okay, I see your point. My eventual poisoning at his hand is unlikely. But consider: what if I am allergic?"


Zenbe tisked, Maliza rolled her eyes and Kyran gave a put upon sigh and got on his knee. He extended his arm at her and Charlotte looked at him questioningly. "You want the cup? Saucer? Both?"


"You hand, please."


"What, you are going to ask her in marriage?"


"Like that? Wow, you Kyran-senpai moves fast. But no personal date or romantic or even a speech? You're asking for a no."


Ignoring their teasing, Charlotte lent him her gloved hand. Kyran disliked skin contact, so, even with his gloves, it was better reduce the risk.


Kyran cleaned his throat and with his deep voice started talking. "Charlotte James, I, Kyran Abdulayev, swear solemnly to not knowingly poison you this semester. If I-"


Her hand was against his mouth before he could finish. Foresighting too much?


Shouldn't someone have seen this?!
Looking desperately around, all she saw was Riddle focused on his book and other students on their phones or the window.


Wait, they have been the same for a while.


Still, it was done. His vow had bells ringing on her head. "By the owl! You - that's- the vow took, you son of a good mother!"


"You know his mother?" "Of course not, I have mentioned you guys on my calls home." "Look, she taught him shek-shek, okay? It's great." "You are eating his shek-shek?" "You are making shek-shek for her?" "It's because she's a girl? Consider then: my sister here." "You know, you two could eat it if you went to Heartslabyul's parties." "And get collared on sight because some stupid shit? Yeah, no." "Same. It is one thing if it's Kingscholar-senpai but Rosehearts? Count me out. You can't even drink coffee Kyran-kun, you should transfer to our dorm." "The heat would take me out before anyone could. That said, Charlotte-chan hasn't guessed yet." "Oh yeah. One chance then, it's obvious."


"Then hang on..." What were the facts? No one had entered the classroom for a while. Neither she had seen anyone moving outside of her group. Kyran's UM involves time. There was tea and beautiful matching dishware. Zenbe said that's an anomaly... "It's called 'Time for a Tea Party' or something...?"


"Bingo. It allows me to accelerate time inside a 'bubble' of sorts, but I can only hold it for fifteen minutes, up to three people beside me. It doesn't stick if there's more." Kyran peeked at the teacup and shook his head. "But this is first time I had tea to appear before."


"Charlotte's Effect strikes again." Maliza closed the teapot with the air of finality of someone finishing a hardous task. "And it's oolong, if anyone is wondering."


"Are you bullying me? Me, who brought you gifts?"


"Liza doesn't take bribes. I do," Zenbe winked and she knew he would use the opportunity to tease her too. "so let's rename it: James Effect."


Kyran gave one glance at the inside of the teapot before agreeing with Maliza's assessment. "Oolong, no doubt. Do you think we can narrow it down more? Ah, first, explain to me 'James Effect'."


Wow, he really liked the coins I brought, uh?


With all the self-assurance of a typical Savanaclaw student and the vest to match, Maliza gave the biggest shit eating grin she has ever seen. "That's easy, me and Zenbe discussed it before: Charlotte's Effects says any magic may have unforeseen effects when used on or by our friend Charlotte. Basically, she keeps fucking shit - no, don't interrupt me." Holding a hand in a 'stop' signal, Maliza counted on the other. "Cases in question: your UM, potions high-reactivity to her, any practical defense classes, whatever the fuck is going on with her shield."


"My shield is normal!"


If Maliza had lion ears, her expression of incredulity would be identical to Zenbe. Including her raised brows. "Your shield expels area magitrons and use these to keep the barrier and you tell me that's normal?"


"Absolutely."


They held a stare contest.


Zenbe's interposing arm made them both lose. He was excitedly waving it. " If James Effect strike again, think next time we can get a cake too?"


"And let it land on our card table?"


"We aren't even playing anymore..."


"Well, that depends on Charlotte here."


"Charlotte-chan, you will join us more, right? Riiiight?" Zenbe leaned over the table with puppy eyes. Out of luck, doesn't work on me.


"Conjured food sucks."


"Don't be such a baby, Charlotte-chan. Just because you got sick once, doesn't mean it will happen again."


Charlotte died by eating conjured food more than once, but it wasn't like she could use that argument. Zenbe remembered the time she ate some grapes and spent the afternoon nauseous, but that was one of the nice days. The bad days... "It will. I am a baby. An infant. You try to force me eat and your face will meet my food."


"With what strength? Human versus therianthrope, we know the result already. Come on, it will be fun."


This was not an instance that could be changed by cajoling. Her muscles tensed and her expression stiffened. "Zenbe. Drop it."


"Fiiine. Guess we'll've to content ourselves as things are." Nonetheless he took the hint and left it be. Even if he sprawled himself all over the table.


No matter. The game was already ruined.


Maliza sent the cards on her way and nudged her brother so she could sit. Zenbe allowed with a long suffering sigh, shifting so she had space. Charlotte started to organize the deck and with Kyran's help, they are done in less than a minute. Sorry for ruining the mood, I guess. Discomfort settled on her shoulders and she thought about how to bring up the mood. If-


Maliza cleared her throat and when Charlotte turned to her she had her brow furrowed in a contemplative expression. "Hey, I know we joked before about Kyran-senpai and you, but are you doing your thing long-distance now?"


"My thing..?"


"With Morgan-senpai."


Her thing with Mor...? "We're still friends...?" She spared a quick look to the others and saw they were listening with rapt attention. Do they want more info? "With her internship, timezones and my schedule, it is hard to keep up, so we agreed send a messages and answer when we have time."


"Doing it long-distance then."


"It was nice seeing you two around the campus."


"Nice?" Zenbe repeated the word derisively and shook his head. "Senpai flaunted their relationship to everyone. Still don't believe that Caylotte was a thing." He continued in much calmer and lower tone. One of his hands moved to pull a dark curl away from his forehead but it fell down as soon as he released it. "Gotta cut it again soon."


"Oh no, that was a fake. But keep it under wraps, will you? Cay-kun brings me to places so he can take photos and I get to eat the sweets. The entire relationship was just a publicity stunt."


"You used present."


"Are you dating him, like, right now?"


The humming faded down, the same sensation of a fan turned off and bringing abruptly attention to the absence. Another day, she will ask Kyran if he can cast it with her outside. "Oh, you dropped the UM. Umh... no? We just have an agreement that's all." One which brightened her mood. Cater was great and if sometimes she couldn't even say what was his influencer persona and what was not, well-


Charlotte liked Cater. She would dislike him a lot if they dated for real.


She added, absently minded, "I never entered a romantic relationship." and was rewarded with incredible expressions of disbelief. She took out her phone and snapped a photo.


"Senpai called you pearl. You called her love."


"You sat on her lap. Publically."

"The hand holding?"


"I stand by what I said."


"The hats? The fucking corsets? All of it?"


"Sevens, I can't help but pity her. You are dense as a brick."


"Charlotte-chan, are norms different for couples in your homeplace?"


"I guess some...?" But Morgan was a mermaid, an octomer from the Glass Sea. Courtship rules would involve necklaces, bracelets and rings, and they never exchanged these. Their relationship status should be obvious, if a bit ambiguous sometimes. "Anyway, to end this for all, we weren't involved romantically nor ever have been, but she's my friend and I am an affectionate person. The accessories are things her sisters send her way, and when it didn't suit her tastes she gifted me, that's all." A bunch of her acquaintances and friends sent things her way; Mor's were just more obvious on her everyday clothes.


Kyran sighed like he was very, very tired, smiling wryly and shaking his head. Zenbe arched his brows as if saying he didn't believe one word of her mouth and Maliza...


Maliza was nodding in understanding. At least someone on her side- "I see. I didn't lose my money at least." You bet on my relation- "You were her sugar baby."


She sang a note, summoning a branch from her courtyard. "Maliza-chan, you have three seconds. 3..."


"Gotta go to my classroom, bye!" Grinning like a hyena, Maliza took her things and sprinted to the door.


"...1." Charlotte gave chase.


She kept at it until she saw the smaller girl slamming a door. Sighing, she turned around and nearly met a chest. Reflexes and a hand on her shoulder steadied her. Looking up, she met Malleus serious face.


An outlier, as his resting face tended toward uninterest.


"Malleus! Good morning! I missed you yesterday."


He retreated the limb and gave her a nod. "Good morning. Yes, it has come to my attention that a..." His lips thinned in displeasure for a second "...misunderstanding has occurred. Would you have time to chat?"


Charlotte didn't miss the gossiping students around them or the time. Classes will start soon. "Now?" She didn't mind it, but her friend was royalty. He had an image to keep.


"At a better time. Later, then?"


"Of cour-"




"-se."


She blinked. She was again in the classroom, sitting on the table. Zenbe, Maliza, Kyran were in semi-circle around her.


"-but pity her. You're dense as a brick."


"Charlotte-chan, are norms different for couples in your homeplace?"


She lived this moment before.


Why she was having it to go through it again?


She didn't die.


She didn't.


What, in the name of fuck, is happening?

Chapter Text

Charlotte wished it was just a deja vu. Just a sensation of it happening again.


She could not spare the thoughts to it now.


Instead, she spouted something similar to her previous words, more stiffer than before, and was completely unsurprised when Maliza repeated her words. Charlotte watched Kyran. His UM...


Seeing as she had no interest in chasing again, she changed tracks. "Ah Maliza-chan, are you interested in me being one?"


Maliza had the gall to look her up and down. "Not my type, sorry." Babe, aren't you aroace?? NO ONE is your type. "Zenbe?"


"I ain't one for dress up."


"Your loss. Kyran-kun doesn't get the question since he has a girlfriend." She glanced at the time on her phone. "Shouldn't you guys go? Classes will start soon." Turning it on their direction, she paid attention to Kyran's reaction.


Kyran glimpsed at the time and took his bag. He was acting normally, not even a twitch on his ears to indicate something was amiss, that he experienced the same as her. Damn..! "Al-Ahmad-sensei should be already there. You said you had Magic Potions, Zenbe-kun...?"


"Yeah. Come on Liza, you have Trein-sensei, right? He hates late students."


"Don't remind me, I nearly repeated classes because he didn't give me my attendance. "


Since, she didn't leave her classroom, Malleus met her there. Their talk was similar, and they agree to meet at night.


As Malleus left the room, their teacher entered it. Alair did a double take at him, then took out his phone. "Nope, he is in the wrong, not me." His golden eyes circled the room searching for something and on his back, his red feathers ruffled. "Good, you're all on your seats. Well, everyone here knows my name, I know SOME of yours, but it doesn't matter because this is our last semester together. On Magic Analysis anyway. I have some of you on Ancient Curses and, if you are still here next year, perhaps I will have you on Abbreviated Spells. I refuse to call it by anything else, which kind of class supposed to deal with abbreviations has such a long name?

I will be going through the syllabus, the recommended reading, the grading system... after, some exercises to see if you retained something from last semester - stop making these faces, I hope that's your 'I remember it and I hate it' and not 'I forgot it and it's going to bite me now', for your sakes, you are on your 3rd or 5th period, that is a basic skill. Raise your hand if you have questions..."


Charlotte bobbed her head occasionally to his words, not paying attention anymore, she could read the syllabus later. What happened before... it's the first time it ever happened. And it wasn't her doing.


She didn't die.


She didn't.


Right...?


Unless Malleus accidentally vaporized me which, despite being a possible scenario, not really felt like a vaporization. So, discounted.


The conditions for her own skill activate were pretty simple: she had to die. After it happened, she would return to the point when she woke up, not a scar on sight. Seeing as one - she didn't die - and two - she returned to her classroom, not her own bed - it could not be her. The timespan was too short.


Of course, it could be someone's UM. However, the hypothesis didn't hold. To re-start a whole world, even if less than five minutes... such a special UM... it would be coveted. And not without drawbacks. NRC could have that magician, being such a prestigious school. However, it was unlikely; if she was self-aware for her experiences, then Kyran should be too, as his UM was time-related. And yet, he didn't show a sign, a twitch out-of-place. His words and acts were the same even when she deviated from her past actions.


That said, the experience is eerily similar to a glitch.


The thought found rich soil in her mind and grew roots. A glitch. A bug. Like a gameplay in which the last minutes of footage were deleted, but the player has no idea of how and why, only it happened and they had to go through it again. Her own skill could be compared to the save files of a game. It made her feel awfully cold, even under the layers of her clothes.


Her senses got filtered down, and there were words said and these phrases were supposed to have a meaning, but Charlotte couldn't piece it together. She watched and moved herself detachedly, like a marionette under an obscenely skilled puppeteer. A layer separated herself from her body and another separated the body from the world around it, circling and holding her with invisible, intangible threads keeping her apart. If this world was a game, then...?


Then could she even escape it?


Were any of her relationships real? Were the people? Or was it all an AI's work? Were her studies, her days, her decades tolling away just binary numbers, set by an unfeeling system? Who created it?


I am real...? Was she just a self-aware character or worse, a protagonist of hopeless tale, longing for a home that only she recollected, a home she could never return because it didn't exist? How cruel. If my memories are just pieces of code... they're still mine. No one's else. I won't give it up. Fictional or not. You hear me devs? You try to take this from me and I wreak havoc on your game, got it? If this is fictional I will be out of fucks to give, don't go testing me. I will break reality.


It was pure spiteful audacity, and such idea brough her a small burst of joy. She had treasured things she wouldn't give up, even if she felt like nothing mattered at this point. A voice on the back of her head, sounding a lot like Lilia, gave her counsel: 'Such pettifogging... as long as you have fun, Charlotte, do it.' Another, Mor's voice, also advised her: 'By the Sea Witch... girl. Go. That's your life.'


If nothing matters then I decide what matter. And I say this matters. So do my friends. And so do other people. And so do my actions. And fuck anyone who opposes it.


This is a game? Which kind of narrative is this then? I am supposed to be what, Sans? Flower? I don't have the profile or the backstory for an antagonist or the protagonist, even for slice of life, college game. So damn the narrative to all hells. I am the protagonist of my own story and these conventions shan't hold me!


These were stupendous realizations, cutting a layer keeping her disconnected from the outside world and yet another remained. She lacked the interest to engage in it.


Charlotte was lucky Uno didn't require much brainpower. Once Zenbe won, she left for the bathroom. Taking out her blazer and pulling her sleeves up to her arms, she left the cold water running through her skin to bring her back in. Ice cubes would have been faster but she didn't wish to waste her voice in such minor matters. Her own chilly hands on her neck had her jolting.


In and out, until Charlotte felt more like a person than before.


Checking the time, she still had some minutes before the break was over. D'Oro didn't mind if they ate as long they didn't make a mess nor interrupted classes and seeing as after his classes she had PE with Vargas, she didn't rush to eat.


Practical Magic was not an easy class by any means, but Charlotte had countermeasures ready for it. Physical Education was shared among the '2nd' years for non-flyers, so she kept close to Hazel, who was on her group and firmly on ground when Vargas was involved. Which. Fair. Charlotte didn't trust her own safety with all the maneuvers he asked.


For lunch, the two of them were going to the cafeteria, Hazel to actually buy the food there and her for the seats. Close to the library, they are joined by a brunette woman with all the confident swagger of someone who didn't do exercises and relieved for it. "Girls. Mind if we lunch together?"


Hazel shrugged, stepping sideways. On cue, the woman joined their middle. "Ariadne. Skipping out?"


"Ha, I wish! Someone fucked up my paperwork and put me on Flying. Me, can you believe it? I had to fix it."


"And couldn't you send an e-mail?"


Ariadne side eyed her in disbelief. She had dark eyes, like lavenders on bloom, and eyebags like bruises. "And miss the opportunity to miss P.E? Talking about e-mails, Charlotte, did you see the memo the CCC sent?" It was her time to be watched in disbelief. Ariadne pursued her lips and shook her head, auburn ponytail nearly hitting Charlotte's face. "Right, forgot with whom I was talking. You are doing publicity with me today."


Hazel's tail stilled and she straightened. "You two are modelling this semester?"


"Just me. Charlotte will do the talking and the flyers."


"I will have my fun on Halloween. Personally, I think we should do this on February too. I like the opportunity to dress up."


"On February we had what, seventy one new students...?" "Seventy four, but fifteen dropped out. Dr. Birdwell had to remove their files." Frowning at Hazel's interruption, Ariadne dismissively waved her hand. "Seventy-four then, since we can't always foresee the dropout rate. Fang Li had us to do an one on one campaign at our dorms. You, obviously, didn't have to do it."


Taking the stairs one at time, Charlotte ransacked her memory. What I was doing, then...? Oh, right. "Yeah, I remember now. I handled the subscriptions and fielded questions, but Fang-jie was there too. Say Hazel, will the Mountain Lovers Association do something this time?"


"Yeah, Jade had a whole plan ready when we brought it up. To the surprise of absolutely no one, it involves mushrooms. I am taking the extras to Diasomnia later on. To highlight the benefits of the MLA we..."




loOol




The Couture and Crafts Club, CCC for short, was one of the biggest clubs in Night Raven College, counting with at least thirteen students at any given time. At the first day of the semester, they had fifteen people, including, but not limited to: people interested in couture or historical fashion, knitters, embroiderers and cosplayers, with some belonging to more than one category. Since Crewel's time, that is, when NRC was still a high school of sorts, students have been forbidden from enchanting walking mannequins carrying their creations - an unfair and unjust rule - and so, the CCC had to adapt their ways.


A low chatter filled the room, with everyone fixing their clothes or helping out. Many mirrors had been conjured and summoned, as the one they had proved itself insufficient. Ken Muller was quietly proving it was not only for embroidery his fingers were dextrous by growing and weaving delicate flower clowns to the fascination of a small crowd of admirers. Even the ones on the ceremonial robes wanted something to differentiate them from other students. "See? Easy stuff." He passed the sunflower crown to Charlotte, who dutifully put it on her purple wide-brimmed hat.


"For you, maybe. Thanks a lot, Ken-senpai, it looks great because of you."


"Senpai, I want to be you when I grow up."


"Right? Ken-senpai is so skilled!"


Ken winked and wiggled his webbed fingers. "If you work hard enough you can reach the second place to my first. That will be all?"


Loud claps took away their attention to an elevated podium, their president was. In respect to Ken's limited angle of vision due to his wheelchair, they uncrowded him and so, the president was seen by the entire room. "Good afternoon, everyone. Could I have your attention, please?"


Fang Li was dressed in a layered chest high dark muted green skirt - a golden cord holding it - with a simple white top and a translucent embroidered white daxiushan - a 'jacket' of sorts, with long and really wide sleeves. Her make up was on top, with a smooth face with thin layers of eyeliner and red lips. Her black hair was held in a complicated topknot, with many extensions added to it, the hairpins making a light sound when her head moved. It added to the air of elegance that surrounded her. "Thank you. I will do a quick run of the cronogram, warnings and after, I would like to speak a bit. Our area today is from the castle to mirrors, go to the workshop only if you think you can steal from the mad scientists." Some snorted at the joke. The Science Club deserved their fame.

"Stay in your area and after half an hour, shift to the next. Walk, talk, pose, get ready for the photos and the stares. If a student makes you uncomfortable or get handsy, do NOT dirty your clothes, alright? I know some of you have a thick skin but these are our face." Fang Li winked and lightened up the atmosphere. She held two fingers up. "The restrictions are: avoid combat first and no permanent injuries. Only. That said, Muller-xiong and Perez-xiong are staying at base; send them a message when you move and if you find trouble, for registers purposes only. " For registers purposes, she said and they all understood the message: these people will be blacklisted. The CCC had a low bullshit tolerance. "Change to your dorm uniforms until 4pm unless you wish an advertence on the first day. These are the warnings.

Now, I would like to thank everyone here for the all the efforts and collaboration given. You are the life of the Couture and Crafts and we wouldn't be here without it. Thanks to our gallant models for using your captivating creations. Be proud of yourself and your work. Thanks to our charming companions for persuading potential members. Be bold on your endeavors. Farewell."


With such a rousing discourse, what could they do but holler and clap? Loudly and unashamed of themselves?


After they calmed down, Ken raised his voice. "Now, pose for the group photo." Some groans. No one ever looked great in group photos, mostly 'acceptable'. Ken crackled at their suffering, holding his phone high. "Proud and bold, wasn't that the agreed?"


Ken wheeled away to take the group photos. Some were silly, others more serious, some with only the 'models'. Someone took notice Ken was in none of the photos and switched with him. Ken obviously merman body made some fun photos, and they were careful to not hit his tail. Ariadne suggested at last to user the timer function, and with Fang Li steadily holding the phone with magic thanks to her long range, the CCC had all its members registered on camera. That done, they were released, like a pack of hungry coyotes in a new ecosystem.


Ariadne and Charlotte started at the library. Ariadne was cosplaying as one of the main characters of a popular game, a nature priestess of a sort, with her bare arms painted with swirls in moss green. She was dressed in an long gown, embroidered flowers at the bodice and hemline - all done by herself - and crowned in a garland of asphodels. Ariadne carried a braided wooden staff in which she put her gem, forgoing the pen. Her role was to lure in potential members: her bright appearance attracted attention and curious stares.


Charlotte on other hand, had a role similar of a sales vendor: 'hi, could I interest in the Couture and Crafts Club? I promise to be short. Oh, thank you! Our CCC has a wide range of activities... for example, do you see my friend here? She made her clothes at the CCC, isn't that incredible? If you are interested, we reunite at the main building, first floor, west wing, room 12. Here is our flyer with more info, or check our social media: @couturecraftsnrc. A photo? Sure, go ahead! I can take it for you, if you wish.' Already trained at costumer service, she could repeat the spiel on her sleep.


At the sports field, they found the Track & Field Club together with the Magift Club. Oh no, don't pay attention to them, they were only watching! No, Vargas-sensei, how could they dare to interfere in other clubs? Of course not. Just passing by, they just wanted to see the newbies.


Vargas, of course, refused their excuses and put them on field. Charlotte - whose strongest skill was her refusal to bow to shame - threw herself at his feet and hugged his legs. "Sensei! Why such cruel and unjust punishment?! What sin have I committed against you, for you to decree such a thing?" She wailed loudly and dramatically. Hook. "Isn't enough I have toiled away this morning? Is Vargas-sensei wish for me to damage my body in irreparable ways? Setting me back on the path of improving my muscles?? Sensei, I know mine never will reach yours, but a girl has the right to be ambitious, right? Right?" Bemoaning her fate, she gave him a pitiful and sliding on hopeless face. Line. "Would you crush my dreams that way? And Ariadne-san! She has rightfully petitioned for her right to improve her body instead of abandoning it to pursuit the air, but how can such a young woman do this without the right preparations? The right clothes? Vargas-sensei, please be reasonable...!" Sink.


Vargas sighed, seeming very put upon, and frowned at her. "...I am placing you on sprinting and Ms. Mysta on throwing. That's reasonable enough for you?"


And catch. As she accomplished her goal, she released him. Once Charlotte raised herself from the grass, she beamed and sent him a thumbs up. "Yes, thank you Vargas-sensei! You really are a dependable guy!" Of course, since he gave them light exercises, Vargas should be complimented. It was a bit manipulative on her side.


It had the right effect. "Right?" Puffing up and flexing his musculature, he bellowed in a booming voice. "Work hard and consistently and you will have muscles like mine. That serves for all of you."


Because of course hard work only could get these defined muscles, and say, not genetics, alimentation and I suspect also, a bit of dehydration. Charlotte was satisfied with her body, fatness and all, and didn't care about her muscles or lack of it, just what she could do with it. She nodded along his words, because it would be remiss to do nothing and jogged to Ariadne's sitting place.


She was using her hat, since it was quite sunny. Ariadne raised a brow and jutted her chin. "That spectacle? You should've gone to Cinema Studies."


And risk time close to Rook? Hell, no.


"And lose my chance at free fabrics?" There was also the fact she was few paychecks away from poverty: most of Charlotte's belongings were either handmade by herself, thrifted or gifts. Ariadne, who was in debt herself and had chosen the club for similar reasons, conceded easily to her reasoning. "Hold my things, please?"


Ariadne surprised everyone with her disk throwing - better than expected with her noodle arms -  causing her to be invited her to join their club. Ariadne refused and demanded to be sent the video Charlotte took of her on field. Meanwhile, Maliza took the field and in turn, Charlotte cheered out loud for her. Ariadne returned her phone once she sent the video for herself; being a rising star on Wondertube because of her gaming channel, she also posted some things cross-platform. That meant more than once Ariadne had Charlotte's help to record her non-gaming content, seeing as most of her equipment stayed at her dorm instead of Ignihyde. They met Buggie with a crowd of freshman on the way out and stopped for a bit to convince them to join the CCC entertain.


At the clocktower, Ariadne had the idea for an impromptu photoshoot, in which some students partook, including Ortho, Cater or one of his clones. Charlotte did her duty by speaking to the circle they gathered around them, commenting out loud at some photos. Once the half hour was up, they pass by the Mystery Shop in which Ariadne bought herself a drink, sharing some sips of it with her fellow clubmate. Thinking about her new residents, Charlotte bought some basic hygiene products and a can of tuna for Grim. The last was to be a future bribe.


Close to the mirror hall, Charlotte saw Yuu, Grim and a firstie chasing another firstie. She promptly decided it was not her business, but that she would ask about it later. A knot she wasn't aware until the moment unfurled, seeing they were well. While they approached the stragglers coming back to their dorms, Charlotte updated her on her new residents and gifted her a sand globe at last. In turn, the brunette shared the most terrific news: "You killed Reginald?!"


"It wasn't a death per se. Think of it like temporary putting him out of business."


"What I am going to do with Reginald dead?! Who I am going to trust to clean my abode...?"


"Relax. He will be fixed by the weekend."


"Oh mighty Ariadne Mystos, I can only trust your careful and dextrous hands! If he is given internet access I am destroying him on sight. My appliances must be dumb. Himbos, if you will."


Reginald the roomba was a gift from Ariadne's for her birthday and the most wonderful object she had the pleasure of meeting, depending heavily on him to keep her dorm and its active rooms clean. She loathed to imagine what she would have to do if his absency was longer. It wasn't like she could just wave her magic around and expect it to take care of most things, different from everyone here.


"That's fair. Once I have changed, I'll pass by your dorm. I've to record some gameplays in advance."


Their shift finished with no problems and once they messaged the club about it, they returned to their respective dorms.



loOol



To her extreme annoyance, the glitch happened again and again.


And again.


She threw down the towel once she had cleaned the same spot thrice. Nothing filled her with more rage than to do the same thing repeatedly and she couldn't even take her favorite chair because Crowley's smell lingered.


Damned Headmaster.


The wind from the open windows calmed her soon enough. What use was her rage when it changed nothing? Yes, it affected her, but the glitch was not something Charlotte could fight head on. Still...


She wasn't ready to dismiss her emotions yet.


With the speakers on her phone on, she


s a n g.


This world, this 'twisted wonderland' as a centuries old diary called it, had some ways of rising magic. Song and dance were its eldest and most appreciated forms, even if they lost popularity as casting tool. Spellsingers and dancecharmers.


For Charlotte, who lacked a natural magical pool to draw from and whose magical aura would easily place her on the 'magicless' category if anyone bothered to measure, it was the easiest and safest way to pass as a normal student. I just have a really short-range, so I have to power up, alright? I got sick as a kid. Which are both truth. If others draw their conclusions about these statements together... she isn't confirming anything.


Caught it the net of her voice, excited magitrons ran frenzied in the room like rambunctions children playing a game of tag.


The ghosts join her at the chorus, and they sang it together.


At the end, the air was filled with magic, much of it to her disposition. It wasn't the reason why she sang at this time, but she would find a use for it soon. Maybe feed the wards.


"Why lass, are you sure you didn't spend your time among the Glassians singing? I swear you got better." The slender ghost winked at her, bringing a smile to her face.


"You are too kind, Melvin. Do you three fare well? I haven't seen you since yesterday."


"Just recharging, no need to worry yourself about us." Miles, the small ghost, reassured her. Seeing her expression, he added: "We had energy to wake up that troublemakers this morning, but we needed more time."


Grim she didn't have to worry too much about but Yuu...


They survived the first day. It doesn't mean they will survive the year.


"Still... the person from yesterday and the monster, they will be residing here on Headmaster's orders. The pranks are fine, but it would calm my heart if you could avoid property damage on the future." The ghosts easily agreed, as no one, living or dead, liked to live in a run down building. She invoked Crowley authority, now it was time to use her own. "And- that's..." She inhaled. She could do it. "I need you to be careful with Yuu like you were with me on my first year here, if not more. Don't use magic on them or on their things. This request... I do it on my authority as prefect." She wasn't sure it would work. They were usually amenable to her, but also nowhere on the school chart it said ghosts had to obey the prefects.

Charlotte checked. She can only order active students.


The ghosts looked at each other and the stout one approached her. Edwin, she named him, as she also named the others, was the friendliest of the bunch. He took out his hat and bowed with his arm where his heart beat once. "We live to serve."


"I thought you were dead...?"


The ghosts laughed in mirth and disappeared. In their place, a gray and green dove flied in, perching on the ground. The bird chirped. Return nest - Charlotte - happy. New nest mate? But - dangerous nest - people?


"I am happy to see you again too, Prudente. I am glad you pay attention to my rants, yes, the dorm is a health hazard, I'm going to limit the places they are allowed to go in. That said..." A health hazard, uh? She will have to bring them to Dr. Birdwell later. "You reminded me. I have to talk with Crowley about Yuu and Grim getting vaccinated, unless he wants an epidemic on his hands."


Epidemic - sick? Yuugrim - nestmates? Yuugrim - veterinarian?


"Yes." Charlotte left the couch and stretched her legs. "Why don't you tell me about your day while I check the pantry?"


Prudente joined her and perched in fridge, hooting and chirping. His partner, another dove, had the best first hand gossip as she strayed closer to people, but Prudente saw more. Both served as her familiars and mixed with the crowd of other doves, they were inconspicuous.


Day? Wake - eat - fly - go to statues - wind magic - crowd - fire magic - stone fire - Crowman angry-


Hang, on. "Wait, fire?" She turned to stare.

 

 


"We live to serve."


She was on the living room.


Charlotte wanted to scream.

Chapter Text

There is a faint screaming, like a wounded animal of verge of dying painfully.


You don't pay attention to it.


You cannot pay attention to anything.


You can only watch as chunks of dark, charred skin crackle and disconnect and fall down on gray pavement. Thunk, thunk. It was your skin. It doesn't stop. You are writhing on the ground and it doesn't stop. You cannot feel your legs. It doesn't stop.


You are warm, too warm, warm and wet and you look down and black, black, black, red, red, red, blood running down in a constant and unfailing tide. It sizzles.


Three meters.


You didn't take it seriously.


The smell may be the worst of it.


Why do you recognize the smell?


Why do you recognize the feeling?


It was supposed to be a dream. A dark, claustrophobic, filled with despair nightmare, but a dream.


You hope this is one too.


Dark circles your vision.


Cool hands raise your chin.


You flinch.


You don't recognize them.


They are red as blood and grey as pavement and pale as bone and they are kneeling. Do you still have knees? They are talking. You cannot understand a word. You shake your head frantically.


They raise a pen - green -  and they have a muzzle in hands. They repeat the words and point out to their tongue. You nod. You understand now.


You don't understand why you need a muzzle.


With precise movements, they put it on you.


You cannot talk.


You cannot bite your tongue out.


You try to look down.


The stranger doesn't allow it.


Someone else raises you by the shoulders and waist. The movement jousts you falling limbs and you scream and claw. Your hands meet rough skin, rough as pavement.


Grunting pass through your lips.


The person hiss. "They're hot." They smell of the sea and they are as cold as it.


"I can fix you later, senpai. Shit, this- I have to slow the blood flow, okay? It's the only way to give you a chance, alright? Don't fight me."


"That's illegal."


"And you care why, Muller?"


"I don't. You do, Oakenheart."


More words. More pen waving. You feel your blood slow down.


And down.


And down.


Your chest rises slower.


And s l o w e r.


A n d    s   l   o   w   e   r.


Your world gets darker and darker.


"...time! Now!"


"happ...here..."


And darker.


Oh.


The screaming was you.


Your heart gives up.

.

.

.


I blink.


"Her purpose was to help all unfortunate merfolk. As long as you could pay the price..."


Ace Trappola is talking about the Sea Witch. Ursula. Grim answers something and I hum, to express I am paying attention. I am not. I look down at my legs.


They are here. They are alright. To be sure, I raise a knee on the air and flex. I can feel it. It is painless.


Ace and Grim look at me. "What?"


"Nothing, you are just the one who made a weird move." He shrugs and goes back to point out to a familiar statue. "It is said the Fairest Queen was even adept at making poisons."


"She looks pretty... but no, thanks..."


They continue their little interaction, and I stay quiet.


I stay quiet as Ace taunts and Grim loses his temper. A feet is like, 0,3meters. Charlotte-san said three meters. When they start fighting, I move back and way from the crowd. Sixteen feet.


More than half of the needed. I don't want to test my chances. If I am having visions warning me, I don't want test it. The future was bleak and painful and ended with me dying.


I never had visions of the future before.



loOol



I hate the Dwarves Mine. Not only for the name.


I keep having visions of the future.


I die in all of them.


This world is dangerous.


And if I have to hear these two idiots fighting again I might start throwing hands. Our best chances are when we work together, but I am tiring of hearing all this useless chatter.


"You know what? You two are children. Well, go back crying to your families since you are acting like ones already. I, however, refuse to stay here in debt." I turn my back at then and start following the car tracks back to the mine. "Come on Grim, I have a plan."


Grim joins me, keeping close to my legs. He is afraid. "Fwaaa, are you sure you can do it?"


"Nope, but if they keep at it I might as well as throw hands at the monster myself." If I could convince the ghosts to help us, I could attract the monster out and Grim use his fire at the stalactites and the ceiling. If there were such things, that was what the ghosts were for. If it didn't work, Grim could collapse the cave entrance by burning away the structures keeping it stable. It was old wood and abandoned. A fire could fix it. "That is, if you prefer to not participate."


Grim snorts and shakes his head. "That lady from our dorm... she might just throw me away if you aren't there. So, I have to keep you out of trouble." I wisely don't point out we are in trouble because of him. It was my words which allowed him to stay.


Footsteeps follow in our wake. "Hey, you! Do you think you could take it by yourself?"


"You're welcome to watch!" I wave. I don't turn back.


"Hah, who do you think you are talking at? I am coming with you!" Deuce step by my side with more confidence than I feel. He is determined.


Ace doesn't allow us to leave him behind. Nudging our shoulders together he grins. "No way I am going to be the lame one staying behind. What's the plan?"


"Oh, you two are going to cooperate now? Well, we...

 

loOol

 

I keep having vision of the future once we take out the crystal.


Like all my visions until now, they are painful.


In one of them the monster hits Grim and he hits a tree and bleeds all over. Without his fire, we lose. I become a pancake-


In another, it takes me and squeezes. Creak. Creak. Crrrrrrreak. Ploft. I die.


In others, the pickaxe hits Ace on the head. On the chest. On the legs. Ace. Deuce. Grim. Me. We die.


In one embarrassing moment, I suggest for Grim to burn out the bridge below it. It works. The river only reaches its chest. We die.


These visions give me an overwhelming amount of detail and only some of it is usable. I don't need to know how blood looks at the dark, mixed with ink. I don't need to know the clang of a cauldron pointed wrong. I don't need to know the sharpness of wind blasts. I don't need to know many things.


I do need to know where and how the monster will attack.


I do need to know my allies movements and avoid friendly fire.


I pay close attention to it.


We win.


We come back to the college. We discover we were not expected to fail.


We were not expected to try at all.


Why mention it then?


Was that his attempt of a joke? I don't find it funny. At all. 


This day just gets worst and worst.


At the Headmaster Office, I offer a quick nod and a discrete wave at the portraits. Yesterday, Charlotte told me that more often than not, they could interact with others outside of their frames and directed me to lady Ekaterina, who would answer me my doubts on her absence.


Crowley cries. It only serves to disturb me, like something trying too hard at being human. Is that the uncanny feeling I was warned about? I don't like it.


"I am overwhelmed with emotion. This incident confirms it. Yuu, without a doubt, you have talent as a beast tamer!"


Great, dude. You talk and say nothing of value. "When you say beast tamer, you means, as in, someone capable of turning neutral and opposing parties in allies, right...?"


The Headmaster cocks his head and studies me. More importantly, his hat doesn't fall from his head. "Does your world uses a different definition?"


I nod cautiously. "A beast tamer used to be a circus position."


"A circus?! Oh my..." Shaking his head, the hat still there, he murmurs, "Should pass my thanks along to Ms. James, such a misunderstanding..." Clearing his throat and smiling tightly to us, he continues in a louder tone. "Students of Night Raven College are budding magicians called here by the Dark Mirror. However, they are of a superior class that makes them prideful and egotistical people that have not even the slightest inkling to work with others. Many of them selfish and self-centered."


Grim thinks about his words. Loudly, he informs. "You're really not saying anything good, un?"


"You cannot use magic. But, maybe, precisely because you cannot use it means that you could give instructions to magicians and get them to cooperate. Perhaps that mediocrity is exactly what this school needs right now!" Uh oh. I don't like where this is going.


Behind me, I can hear Ace muttering. "He's not saying anything nice is he...?!" Feeling called out too much, maybe?


"Yuu. I have no doubt that your existence is essential to the future of this-"


"Goldstein."


"Pardon...?"


Squaring back my shoulders I stare in the luminous orbs where his eyes should be. "My name is Yuu Goldstein." Grandmother's surname. I am sure that she won't mind. "I didn't seem relevant yesterday, but it seems to be now. So. Goldstein."


His eyes curves into what I think could be a smile. "Very well. Trappola, Spade. Along with rescinding your expulsion I shall give Goldstein the qualifications to attend Night Raven College as a student!"


"EEEEH...?!" I had a feeling it was leading to this.


I don't like it. "Even though I can't use magic?" I say with less sharpness than intended. You want me to get bullied? Everyone will pick on me!

.

.

So. Grim and I are halves of a whole student. Great. I am the brain and he is the brawl and I carry all the braincells here.


"Aha! Look at you. School's just started, but Yuu is already a prefect?" Ace teases me, more good-naturedly than I was led to expect. Wasn't it just today he was picking on us?


"Ah... I don't think dorms can have two prefects..." I look in askance at the Headmaster and he quietly shakes his head. Thank G-d. Prefect? That would just make me a big target.


Ace and Deuce trade looks. Deuce is the one to get it first. "Ah, it is not just you and Grim at your dorm?"


"No... Charlotte-senpai lives there too." I think, if I was alone in that big and ramshackled mansion, I would have cried on the first day. Instead I just didn't sleep too well because of the creaking sounds.

 

"Pfft, but isn't it unheard of on the history of this place? For there to be a magicless magic student who is unable to use magic." Ace smiles winningly. "It's cool. A magic student who is unable to use magic!"


"Don't think too much of it..."


Ace snorts. "Good luck!"


Crowley gives me a 'ghost camera,' a job, and dismisses us. Before we get out, he commends me on noticing the portraits, but say they are just representations of the Great Seven. So, they aren't alive like the other portraits.


Good to know.


Ace and Deuce bicker the whole way as we leave main building. I join them a bit, but I am content to leave things play out. And so is Grim, to my slight astonishment.


What I didn't count was for they paying attention to me. Ace, of sharp wind and sharp smile, turns to me. "Say Yuu?"


"Yes...?"


"What the Headmaster meant when he asked about your world?"


I bit my lip. It's knowledge I was advised to not share. I agree with the caution. I keep my expression relaxed as to not show my thoughts.


Deuce also turns to me. His eyes are sharp. "That's right. I am curious about it too."


Under their twin gazes I fold. "The truth is... I am not of this world. This is only my second day here."


"How did you arrive here?"


"I had gone sleep on my bed and when I woke up, I was in the coffin thing at the ceremony, with Grim opening the lid. So..." I shrugged with feigned nonchalance. "Your guesses are better than mine. Magic is a new thing for me."


Their matching expression of disbelief are golden. I have to bite back a laugh. On the path back to the hall of mirrors, I make my best attempt to field their questions and ask some in turn. I have fun. It's nice. Maybe these are my new friends on this world...?

Chapter Text

Chills.


Freezing chills.


Freezing chills on her elbow.


Charlotte lifted her mask with the all the air of a disgruntled bird who had their rightful rest interrupted and squinted at the white shade hovering over her. "What?"


"Someone's at the door." Miles said in a quiet tone. Seeing her raised brows, he continued. "Not someone who we have seen before."


"Student, staff or stranger?" Putting her glasses over her haircap, she considered the devices next to then. Her blackberry bracelet and magical pen were obligatory but putting her translator aids for something small would be such a hassle... And well, if this is an emergency I am NOT the person they should be searching for. She could use her rusty Japanese skills to talk to them. Hopefully, it will be short and she won't embarrass herself. And if she did, she would just own it.


"Student, they're in Heartslabyul clothes." Miles floated to the wardrobe and brought out a bedrobe. "Here."


Smiling in gratitude and throwing the garment over her t-shirt, she made her way to the floor below, avoiding the creaking wood. There, she could hear the racket done. Couldn't they have used the fucking doorbell?


Schooling her expression to the most unimpressed but not disdainful! It was very important to not appear disdainful she opened the door. "Speak."


The student a young red head whose eyes matched the vibrant color of the heart on his left eye jerked away. "You aren't Yuu."


Yuu, who became a student together with Grim tonight. Yuu who got a death sentence. Yuu, who is magicless. Yuu, who has no reason for someone to be interested on them.


Charlotte stayed silent. The student was, to her slight relief, under the effect of Riddle's Unique Magic.


She could take him, magical or physical.


They put their hands on their pockets. "You're the prefect from this dorm...?"


"Correct. Charlotte-senpai to you."


They grinned and leaned forward. "Well senpai, could I enter? This is not something I want to talk about in the open." It was, Charlotte decided, his attempt to be charming. Zenbe did it better.


She pointedly looked over at his shoulder to her dark and empty lawn. "We don't have other listeners at this point." Unless one of Lilia's familiars was near, but if one was trying to escape his notice they wouldn't go to Charlotte, of all people.


As if to disprove her point, the wood croaked behind her. Damn. Her lips thinned in displeasure. She was hoping to solve it before waking others up. For all this person may know, her dorm just croaked sometimes. Charlotte raised a hand, fingers open. "You have ten seconds to speak your business. 10..."


"That's are you serious?!"


"7... Yes, I am. 6..."


"I want to [transfer] to your dorm!"


It took her some seconds to try to parse the word. Involving her dorm...coupled with the collar... it painted a different light to the picture.


Footsteps sounded behind her, and the lights were turned on. "Charlotte-senpai...? Grim heard someone at the door..." So much to being alone.


"Oh, it's Ace! Why are you here at this hour?" Grim pressed against the opening and Charlotte had to open the door further.


Without taking her eyes off from 'Ace', Charlotte drawled. "Yuu, Grim, do you know this person?"


"He helped us to fight the monster [at the Dwarves Mine] today. Uh, yesterday, I guess? I don't know the time..."


That solved it. Smiling at him for the first time at the night, Charlotte leaned away from the doorway. "Very well. You may stay tonight as our guest, Ace-kun."


If Ace had an opinion about her switching gears, he didn't voice it where she could hear. As Yuu and Grim asked the boy about his reasons to be collared, she signed discretely for the ghost to bring her translator aids while she provided refreshments. Well. They had strawberry milk and orange juice that Crowley brought the other day, as market day will be only tomorrow. Yuu refused her offer, but Ace and Grim took it with gusto. Herself, a small glass of lukewarm water.


Yuu watched curiously as she put on her choker and earings, but not commented.


"...If there were three whole tarts, it might’ve been prepared for a party, yanno? Like for someone’s birthday? Man, I’m such a great detective, huh!"


Given the time they came back and Yuu's grumbling stomach, I am starting to think these tarts were his dinner.


"Birthday?" Ace repeated like the whole idea was novel to him.


"If that's the case, then it is no wonder he is mad."


Shot down by both sides, Ace groaned in the armrest. "Ugh... I came here thinking that you’d agree with me about the prefect being a little tyrant..."


Privately, Charlotte agreed Riddle could be more lenient in general. Some of the rules were ridiculous, as were his enforcement of them. On other hand, she had to give it to him: he always completed whatever assignment he took for himself. Even if it was enforcing the absurd rules of the Queen of Hearts. "Riddle-san takes his duties very seriously." He was reliable that way.


Her murmured commentary had Grim perking up, floating to her side. "You're a prefect too, right? D'you know what's that about?"


"Well, your deductive skills may be most close to the answer than you think. Chances are it's related to the Unbirthday Party." Seeing raised brows and blank faces, she elaborated. "Dorm-wide tea party held by Heartslabyul only, with some other events involved. As all of you are freshmen, it's a given you don't know. Specially considering your rather... occupied day."


"It's enough for a grudge?" Charlotte grimaced and Grim mirrored her. "Grudges over foods are scary, yanno. Speaking of it, the Headmaster owes me a tuna can..." Ah, I am glad I thought about your tuna now.


"It's important, then." Yuu added with a noted of finality. "Ace-kun, I'm sure if you apologize properly, the Prefect will take it off."


"Got it. Just an apology, right? Since it's your suggestion, you better come with me, Goldie."


"Goldie?"


"Your name, Goldstein. So, Goldie."


"Oh, okay, then."


Having finished their little interaction, Ace turned to Charlotte, fiddling with his mug. "In the meantime, where can I sleep?"


The dorm was old and finicky and more in shambles than she would like. It also had the strange habit of breaking around these that lingered for too long, the highest the magic the highest the possibility of it happening, and even herself didn't start exempt. Charlotte fooled it through a complicated blood array in thinking she was a part of the structure herself, but the work of it wasn't worth for guests or visitors. Note to self: do it at one point for Yuu and Grim. "We have a guest room ready on this floor, if a bit dusty. I can fix it in some minutes."


Retrieving the key wasn't a chore with Miles' help and her assessment proved true: it was dusty, but fit to be used. Charlotte only cleaned other bedrooms once per season as no one used them regularly and Reginald took the floors but hadn't access to all rooms, with such a big old building. Windows open, pen spinning in circles, 'Come little children' sang twice, the room was dusted and cleaned. Poking at the bedding proved it to be usable and so did the curtains.


Coming back to the living room, Ace, Yuu and Grim were having a quiet conversation. They stopped once she arrived.


The cups were removed in her absence.


"Done, take a right on the stairs, second door on the left, bathroom is the first door turning left on the corridor. Now, I don't mind you staying up, but I have my beauty sleep to take.  Good night."


They bid her the same and in a few minutes she was asleep.


If only she knew what lied in wait...

 

 

loOol

 

5:55
Good morning! Can I pass there?


Checking out Kyran's text too early! She knew he woke up to pray, but still Charlotte considered the water on the stove. Better put more then, considering also her guest.

 

 

6:04
Morning! Sure, go ahead


Checking out her schedule – only Ancient Curses and Alchemy, thanks to her wise past self Charlotte readied herself for the day. She was just finishing getting the coffee ready when the doorbell sounded.


Sending the ghosts to wake up the others, she went for the door. Kyran waited there, one hand pressed against the shoulder of spades, right eye a freshman student, whose hands carried an extra bag. What is this, a non-hostile take over from Heartslabyul? Charlotte blinked, curious at this, and choose to address the one she knew first. "Salam."


"Sälem. This is Deuce-kun, he's searching for his friend. I hope we aren't intruding...?" His voice tilted at the end glancing meaningfully at Deuce.


"Oh no, not at all." Shaking her head, she gestured for them to enter. As she moved towards the kitchen, Kyran and Deuce followed her. "I was just starting breakfast, feel free to join. The others will be up soon."


"Don't mind if I do." With a sureness in his movements, Kyran entered the room ahead of and went straight for a pair of mugs, sighing contentedly as they were half filled with coffee. Sitting away from the entrance, he was drinking his mug in a blissful state.


Charlotte took out milk flavoured and otherwise as well as juice from the fridge and set it on the table, sitting at the head and taking the mug ready for her, filling it with milk. Deuce fidgeted with his tie, so she gestured for him to sit with them. With hesitance, he took Kyran's right.


It was a host duty to see for these under their roof: once she halved her cup, she mustered a smile at Deuce. "So, Deuce-kun, were you looking for Ace-kun?"


Deuce startled a bit at being talked to. "Yes! I heard from our dormmates about his situation and I knew he'd be here. I hope he wasn't a bother to you, ma'am." He said in earnest.


It made her smile bigger. How polite! She was what, five years older than him, tops, and he was calling her ma'am.


She hadn't a chance to reply; Ace's voice, faster and louder like a condor's cry, preceded his entrance on the room. "Shut your mouth, Deuce! What're you even doing here?"


Deuce raised his brows and his bag. "Don't be an ingrate, I brought your things for you. I heard about your situation from our dormmates." Shaking his head, he striked. "You're really an idiot."


"I already said to shut it! I don't wanna hear this from you. And you, senpai, isn't there something more entertaining to gossip about?"


One of Kyran ears went down and he blinked away from his bliss no different from a bear waking from its torpor: slow and absolute certain it could take whatever it was thrown at him. "Hmm, only a bit. I guess compared to the burned statue and the destroyed chandelier, eating some tarts is very mild." He stated syrup stick. Ouch. Bro, I am not saying Riddle punished him for that too, but I am not not saying it. He probably had his eyes on him.


Ace grimaced, raising his palms forward and close to his body in a non-threatening gesture. He sat close to Deuce. "Okay, got it in one."


Yuu chose that moment to join, nodding at them all. They were already in their uniform, an open blazer ending well before their wrists over the frilly blouse and a straight necktie. No vest or armband in sight. "Good morning, everyone."


"Good morning Yuu. Grim is not joining us?"


"He said he'll stay on bed for some time. I don't think he slept much." They lingered close to the cupboards, sending her a thumbs up when she jutted her chin at the right ones.


"Charlotte-chan," Kyran enunciated every syllable in a sing-song voice and gestured with his mug, "you didn't say you had a kouhai."


She matched his tone. "Well Kyran-kun, it's a surprise for me too! But aren't they cute?" Charlotte pressed her hand on Yuu's shoulders where they sat at  her side. "We make a matching set, you know. Me and Yuu, you and Deuce-kun. If we add Grim and Ace-kun, we make sets representing our dorms." Removing her hand, she beamed at him."


Kyran surveyed the table. "That's only if we change the seats. One side mine, other yours."


"Ah, but I like the head. I don't think we will be shuffling soon."


Ace used the lol on the conversation to murmur hesitantly. "So... is the Prefect still mad at me...?


Promptly, Deuce answered. "Not completely. He’s in an irritated mood and around three people who didn’t follow the waking up routine shared the same fate as you."


" 'Not completely,' my ass! He’s totally mad!"


Kyran, who had more experience on this than everyone there, added in a light hearted tone: "In spirit of fairness, Rosehearts punishes at least four people per day."


Charlotte strongly suspected he was downplaying his statistics and that it spiked on September and February given they were admittance months. She will have to ask later to take a look at the data.


Also, who was the mad sunuvabitch to compute this data? Like, did people took turns tailing Riddle and registering the notes? 'Morning: 3 people were punished; one for coffee, other for adding sugar to their drinks and the last for using doorways on an odd Wednesday.' Don't be silly, Charlotte, obviously Riddle registers it himself. Still, someone did have the work to look at the register with Kyran's citing it. Gosh, I want to see the graphs.


"Isn't that against the rules? That's abuse!"


"Charlotte-chan, that's your cue."


Charlotte inhaled and her thoughts came back to the present. Better people pointing it out than expecting her to know. It still grated a bit. "Prefects are allowed to punish students as they see fit. Of course, if there's a worry about the conduct, excess or the unfairness of it, students may forward a complaint, which is reviewed by, guess it, a council made by all the prefects." And they did! Multiple times! It was just... Leona and Malleus didn't care; Vil thought it was fine as long he didn't try to punish Pomefiore members willy-nilly; herself and Idia were neutral on the matter for different reasons; Azul, she suspected, could be swayed either way, but not if he was minority and Kalim... well, she didn't know much about Kalim, beyond Lilia's and Cater's comments. He was nice if a bit naive, she heard. Since there was no complaint to be reviewed since he assumed his position, she had no idea in how he would vote.

"Spoilers ahead: Riddle-san's conduct is considered perfectly within bounds. Prefecthood oblige us to abide the school rules only. Being a Dorm Head, he has white card to conduct his dorm members as he sees fit, as do every other Head."


The mood in the room fell.


"Ace-kun only needs to apologize, right? It's his first offense. Surely, Riddle-senpai will understand." There was pleading pitch on Yuu's voice.


Kyran and Charlotte traded glances. Ah, to be this innocent. Mildly, as he went on his third cup, he answered. "Hmm. Yes. I suppose so."


Grim came down and Charlotte and Yuu went up to finish getting ready, but not before lending to Ace a comb.


Charlotte joked about it before, but she was right: a matching set was a good idea. So, she pressed a gray vest to Yuu and asked them to use it, before changing out of her clothes. Mournfully, her corset would be below her blouse today, but a tight vest would emphasize the shape of it. Of course, if she was attracting attention to her dorm, nothing better than to use the hat of the 'dorm uniform': a dim gray top hat with a pink ribbon she paraded around everytime someone as much as asked about her uniform – or rather, the lack of it. Searching on her room for other colors proved to be futile, and she didn't have time to look at other rooms. 


Returning to the kitchen with her bag and hat in hands, she found only Kyran waiting for her. Oh, well. "Can I ask for a favour?"


"You can ask."


She pushed the hat towards him. "Could you change ribbon's color for me? The shade of Grim's fire, if you will."


His ears twitched as he took it in his hands. He didn't even touched his pen, was just smoothly accompanied by a single flute note as it changed to aqua blue on his grip. Show off. Kyran returned the hat to her eager hands, who pinned it on place. He cleared his throat when she was done. "Are you playing politics now, Charlotte-chan?"


"Of course not. I only play games when I know the rules."


Kyran sighed and got up. While washing his mug, he spoke in a light airy voice without looking at her. "So you are telling me you changed for no reason?"


"I am telling you anything...?" She imitated him. "I just wanted to look cute, that's all. A matching set, didn't I say? A little effort won't hurt."


He hummed quietly and they made way straight to the Main Building, their steps leading them to below a suspended bridge of the castle. It looked ridiculous, extending from the castle into empty air, like whoever build it forgot the castle was on a cliff and had a limited terrain to support it. That was, if you didn't know what was it for. "If you say so. Are you coming for the Unbirthday Party?"


"I am being invited, then? When is it?"


"Tomorrow morning, nine sharp."


Friday... That was one of her more relaxed mornings.


Waving an arm up, she yelled at the building. "Castle, excuse us! Could you please lower the bridge in stairs for us?" Being a magical castle, it did so, silent except for the rustling of magic, like turning pages from an old book. That done, she lowered her voice to a normal tone. "I will be there. Just don't expect me to stay for long, I have swimming at ten and half."


"Of course. Don't forget the dress code."


"What, you think I will go with swimming clothes?"


"One can never know with you."


"Okay, first of all"



loOol

 

The day glitched again, but only once on the morning. As Charlotte only had two periods today and her strategy hinged on her being seen, she mournfully abandoned the opportunity for an early retreat and analysed her opportunities. If only the Mostro opened before midday...ah, but then, there would be few people there at this time. The Clocktower would be good if it was afternoon, so she dismissed it too. She did have a paper to write, but the library's computers didn't receive a high flux so early on the semester and neither did the library. Well, she walked to talk with Crowley, didn't she?


Path chosen, she walked it in sure steps to his waiting room. Mira, his ghost secretary, was chatting on the phone with someone and typing at the same time. Charlotte waited comfortably in one of the chairs. Other ghosts sure had it better, huh? Every other school ghost looked like people, no matter the species, if painted blue and legless, floating and moving through sheer force of something. Will, maybe. Melvin, Miles, Edwin, they were great, but they lost their shape somewhere before her time. Maybe that's what centuries being dead will do to you? I don


"Hello, how may I help you?" Mira intoned in a clear and professional voice, pointing towards the chair by her desk in which Charlotte sat. Her fingers drummed on the keys, without pressing. She was ready to type away, which was a bit of odds with her old age. At death.


"Mrs. Mira, good morning. I was hoping to talk to Headmaster about the new student, Yuu Goldstein. Or you, Mira-san, if you may help me."


Mira's frown gained wrinkles. "The Headmaster is an occupied man. Speak your concerns."


"It's... Goldstein-san situation is special, given their unexpected admittance." That is an understatement. If it wasn't for the entrance ceremony, Charlotte would take them under her wings and teach them magic or fake it well enough other people couldn't tell. They would be abysmal at some classes, but utterly unremarkable outside it. As it was, her reach was smaller. "For one, they were not provided any of their uniforms; I had to lend them my clothes."


"Do you have their measurements? I can fix it by the afternoon."


How efficient! "Yes, I have them on my phone. Here." And glad to have it done yesterday. She showed it to the secretary, who quickly typed it with a brusque nod. Her next words, however, were of greater concern. "For other, I am afraid Goldstein-san hasn't received the adequate medic care... they haven't received the necessary shots before coming here."


"Which ones?"


"All of them."


Mira-san opened and closed her mouth but no word went out. Her eyes watched her attently, as if waiting for her to say it was a joke. The longer her silence lingered, longer dread settled on her face. It was unfortunate it wasn't a joke. Charlotte still hasn't gotten up with all the shots she needs, but she wasn't a walking and talking safety hazard like Yuu was at this point, to themselves and other students. "Dr. Birdwell was most accommodating on the past, so I trust the problem will be fixed."


Her chest doesn't move. She didn't breathe. But Charlotte still got the impression of a sigh. "It will be. I will have their absences excused if necessary. Will that be all?"


If only. There were the matters Yuu didn't exist in this world. No historic, nada. For all everyone knew, they could just disappear or get kidnapped in their next breath and there would be no record, no way to remember them by but memories. Charlotte will have to talk to them about getting citizenship in the future, like Mor did for her. "I would like to request a copy of their forms, to be as adequately filled within their capacity, and the forms to activate a dorm." There was also the fact no one, absolutely no one would believe her that she was doing this by the goodness of her heart. NRC just didn't have students like that. So, she had to give them a motive, and there was an easy one already close by.


Even if it was selfishness. It was the closest to home Charlotte ever got in all her time here, taking out her own attempts to mimic it. Yuu didn't even need to be from the same country as her; it was enough they were there and in a similar enough situation to her past self not that anyone, even Yuu, could know that. It was enough to make her care, even if peripherally. She couldn't be much hands on without attracting unnecessary scrutiny.


"...excuse me?"


"I would like to turn my dorm active again."


"...it's... I don't–" Mira scrubbed her own face, suddenly more tired. "I can help you with Yuu Goldstein, Prefect, but I have never heard of such form."


Charlotte never told her she was a prefect. But it's a known fact that their college had seven dorm heads and eight prefects, she only had to connect the dots. "No? Well, do you know how I do it then? All the school chart says a dorm need two students to be 'active'. And my dorm fulfills that requirement. I am to understand it doesn't automatically changes status, though."


"You're right. Magically at least..." Mira murmured the last bit, and such she couldn't hear her. A research topic for later, maybe, or something to ask the teachers. Shaking her head, Mira got up and trespassed through Crowley's door. She returned a few minutes late with the copy asked. "Well Prefect, I will see what I can do for you. Come back here the next week. In the mean time, you have a permit to peruse the Archives to look for information."


Oh! This was amazing news. She got up and bowed low. "Thank you very much, Mrs. Mira. You were of great help!"


When she straightened, Mira's smile was warmer than it had a right to be.  "You're welcome, prefect." Ah, it seems like others forgot she's person, if she got glad for such small things as being thanked.


Mrs. Mira, how do I send you a fruit basket equivalent? She never understood the urge until this moment. After lunch she would ask one of the library ghosts if they could indicate how she was to proceed with such matters, or a book about it. Until then, Charlotte would have something to do with her time.


Or.


Or she could surf and shitpost on her social media.


It was an attractive prospect, so she walked to the north of the building, where the balconies were. It wasn't such a great vision, only the woods behind the school and the blue, blue sea, but it had strong winds and the surety to not be bothered.

nonlocalalientraveller
Day 700
Good news! I am not the only non-local alien! Extremely bad news! None of us should even be here. Neutral news! I miss home. The food isn't the same.

nyahkottheoriginal
I thought you said home is where the heart is?

nonlocalalientraveller
I have multiples <3

jazzhands
Several questions aside, how is the other alien?

nonlocalalientraveller
Despite my warnings about the poisonous ecosystem, socializing among the locals :)

jazzhands
I thought the locals were venomous?

nonlocalalientraveller
They're venomous among themselves and poisonous to us. Worry not, I have the time machine ready

#alien adventures #logbook #funnily enough the biosphere is just a bit poisonous. normal #the place we are stranded is one of poison vaults :) #the de-contamination chamber is also a blessing. if something happened to it i would kill everyone in the room and then myself
5206 notes


It ended being a relaxing time, that she wasn't aware that she needed. She's used to bring attention to herself by being herself and loudly and unashamedly exaggerating some of her quirks and personality traits: better fool around, be kind and oblivious sometimes downright clueless than be pulled in all directions by people wanting something or other and thinking she could give it. Want her it or not, NRC had it fair share of politics, not even counting the inherent politic figures like Malleus and Leona that not only shaped the internal politics of their dorms or the school, but strongly impacted countries and international politics and policies. To be unaware was suicidal.


Charlotte didn't have a strong taste for school politics and which dorm is the better or other petty matters. But if she wanted to keep Yuu safer, if only because her conscience wouldn't allow her to not try, no matter that the kid had already a target on their back. The vest was a message they weren't alone, and smarter minds would pay attention to it. Charlotte hadn't much in terms of magic, but she had time and creativity at her side and retribution would come.


Her basement worked as a lab for a reason; it could do more than help her to blend among magicians.

Chapter Text

The bell ringed. Midday. The cafeteria opened now. In ten minutes, she would go there. Logging out of her other accounts and scrolling on Magicam, she saw a photo of Morgan with her archeological gig centered on the background. Dramatic lighting, just like her.  Scrolling down, Cater posted a photo with the morning trio or would it be quartet, with Grim there? Given the mixed rose colours on the background, he was in the middle of painting it when the quartet appeared. There's a rule about mixed colours and new people, isn't it?


Chirp.


Chirp.

Eyes flicking around, Charlotte found a small brown bat perched on the shadowed hand rails with its wings open. It chirped again when she stared at it. She waved.


Coyly, it waved back at her.


A smart one then. "Hello, little one. Are you one Lilia's? Three chirps for yes, two for no." It chirped thrice. "Alright. I must apologize promptly then, for I only passed Animal Languages because familiars are allowed and, as you can notice, mine aren't here at the moment. What is it?"


The animal fled in circles around her and tugged insistently on clothes when it got close. As it returned to its original position, it stared expectantly at her. "You want to bring me somewhere...?"


Chirp, chirp, chirp. "Okay, love. Let me just take my things, alright?"


It fanned itself repeatedly as she took away her things, taking out her blazer and knotting it on her waist. If she didn't know bats did it when they flew on the sun, she would think it cheeky. A movement of her wrist had the blackberry branches on her wrist drawing blood and growing and hanging like a vine, only to circle her gloved little finger. Charlotte took out the thorns on the middle and waved her hand on the bat direction. "I could carry you there, if you wish."


The bat smugly roosted on her hand, making a thrilling sound and started pointing out the directions to her with its wings. If it tried to say anything more when it chirped, she was unaware of its meaning, except to praise it. "You're a smart one, aren't you, dear? I hope your master has something suitable to feed you."


It guided her to the cafeteria. Surprisingly, it kept itself roosted when they arrived, instead of flying straight away. Admittedly a bit awkward to carry it with her arm trusted forward, Charlotte beared it with the same grace she did when she was put in uncomfortable situations: squashing whatever uneasiness and embarrassment pushing out all of her self-assurance. It's a completely trivial interaction and it's other people being burdensome, botching an absolutely unremarkable occasion, or so help her. The last piece she learned by watching Malleus dealing with other people, and it was not always applicable, unfortunately. Yet it held true being confident or faking it transmitted an image that others were the ones overreacting.


Given that overreacting to things considered normal to everyone else would only out her as an outsider, she considered a survival skill to fake normalcy.


The bat pointed out at one of the exclusive tables, through which one could guarantee to always have a seating. Well, it's a waste of money, seeing as Malleus rarely comes. The occupants attested it: Lilia (awake), Silver (sleeping), unknown youth (frowning). Green jewel glittered on all three of them.


Truly, Diasomnia selecting criteria is having a resting bitch face. Lilia Vanrouge, the exception to the rule.

As Charlotte approached, she could see the food on the trays was not one of Lilia's Creations; mentally, she congratulated Silver in another victory. "Good afternoon, everyone. I believe I have something of yours...?"


Lilia chuckled and gestured for her to sit. She did and got close to poking Silver into wakefulness. "Afternoon, Charlotte." Thankfully, Silver only held her wrist for a bit. When he noticed who it was, she was freed. "Is that so? I thought the reverse. Something of mine has you. She has not let you go yet, see?"


"Mn. Little one, release me? I need my hands." It buzzed off and circled Lilia, whom obligingly feed it a slice of fruit, before flying to the ceiling beams. Charlotte broke the twig out and put it away on her pocket, using the time to analyse the newcomer. Golden eyes with slitted pupils. Pointy ears. Will your magic sound like nature too? "Hello there, I don't believe we're acquainted. Call me Charlotte; everyone does. How should I call you?" She smiled, closed mouth. Once, when comparing cultures, Malleus told her showing teeth openly on first meetings was a challenge among fae; as someone expected to take in international relations, he had learned to ignore it when dealing with other species and cultures, but avoided it himself.



("But Lilia's always showing his?"

"Mn. Lilia often wishes for a good fight. Sadly for him, he is lucky to get warm ups." Malleus said it casually, like it wasn't a sick burn he inflicted on the grander collective. More likely, he didn't care about it.

"Maybe it is both? Friendly for most but also, a challenge if you want to take him on?"

"May as well.")



The freshman nodded seriously, answering her in a sonorous voice. "Sebek Zigvolt, first semester Diasomnia." Glancing between her vest and  Silver and Lilia, he continued, now with a slight hint of hesitance. "Are you a member of Octavinelle, Charlotte-senpai...?" Still speaking clearly and loudly.


Great for my translator, not so great to my hearing. He must be easy to find in a crowd.


A fair question. Octavinelle colors are gray and purple.


"Despite the offers to induct me in, no, I am not part of their dorm." Lilia snorted. He, too, was campaigning on inducting her to Diasomnia. "But I like their ambiance. Did you like yesterday's club fair? Have you already joined one?"


"Sebek's in the horse-riding club with me."


"I can answer for myself, Silver...!" Okay, not touching that right now. Maybe Sebek's the childhood friend he mentioned? "Yes, I found Riddle-senpai's performance admirable. I knew then I had to join in haste, lest the available spots became all occupied."


"Oh, was it Riddle-san? I am told he does well there too, but as it is not my expertise, I can only trust the opinion of others.


"Against Riddle, even my skills are lacking. I'm still catching up with him."


"Hmpf. You better improve, then. Malleus-sama won't tolerate a lazy human among his guards." The statement's quite contemptuous. Maybe Silver misread this relationship? "Watch out: one of these days you will be catching up to me."


Charlotte could never say that with a straight face. It would come out much more teasing than the warning way Sebek said it. Is this a Sebek thing or a fae thing, she wondered. Moving to mouth the question to Lilia – who could be a questionable source, given his love for pranks, but the source when Malleus was not near  – she found him watching something behind her back.


Curious, she repositioned herself to look at it.


Charlotte found it immediately. A bright ball of flames fired and was immediately countered by a solid aura shield. From the shield, a jet of water fired. They sidestep it.


What these idiots are doing!?


Morning quartet, which only Deuce and Grim could use magic were fighting with magic against the rules with some seniors. Didn't she see these two at Unbirthday parties before? Are they fucking stupid, getting into fights in the open in the middle of the fucking place everyone goes on meal time? Fights were normal, but not on this way. Man, I hope they choke on Riddle's collar. He is going to be pissed.


And not only the seniors, but everyone else too. She didn't think legitimate would fly well in face of Riddle, well, everything. The fame of troublemakers the others were getting was not helping.


I don't want re-start the day if he offs Yuu's head on accident. I like it as it is. She would, if it happened. I don't even know if I can anymore. And this is so not the moment to test it.


Excusing herself from the table, Charlotte sauntered toward the confusion. Everyone was giving it a wide berth and she noticed more than one phone recording it typical. Probably for blackmail later. She also would do the same if she was them.


What I do now?


She didn't have time to sing; most of her repertoire was out. The blackberry bracelet she carried was an option as it feed most on blood than magic, but it felt pretty much like an escalation. She didn't want resort to it. It would bring too much scrutiny on her behaviour, specially given her better option then would be to restrain and take out the pens of the involved. Tackling them finishing the fight also would bring attention to the conflict, despite being a valid choice.


Embarrassment is it, then.


Pulling forward her shield as she approached, Charlotte went for a bewildered tone. "Man, I heard people saying you guys're suckers for punishment, but public humiliation is a bit too far."


The duel came to a halt.


The taller of the upperclassman whirled on her, his pen pointing straight to her neck. She didn't have enough magic to keep the shield if struck. On her wrist, her bracelet drew blood. See, this is why she hated going unprepared for things. "The fuck you talking about?!"


"That's what you are going for, no...? I mean using magic to fight in a place where everyone can see... you obviously planned on this reaching your Dorm Head from the start right?" 


He winced and lowered his pen; his friend smacked himself and cursed too low for her ears to catch, catching up with was unsaid: Riddle was going to take their hides for this. Charlotte lowered her shield, frowning at Deuce until he cautiously guarded his own magical pen. Ace had a pensive expression and Yuu was keeping a tight hold over Grim's mouth. Good. She can't have him escalating this.


The crimson haired senior turned to her with a suffering face. "That's... you're misunderstanding us. So hard. So fucking hard, I don't know how you thought that was viable. You've friends at 'labyul, how could they..." He mumbled for a bit, before sighing tiredly. "Just... don't go repeating it. Yeah, I want to bleach my mind." He exchanged glances with his friend, whose hair was messed up from pulling it. "Charlotte-senpai, right? Go and tell us the punishment."


If Charlotte punished them, then Riddle couldn't. Say what you want about the guy, but he sticked to his principles: which included not punishing people twice over the same fault.


She is not telling him about division of spheres of justice. It's firmly against her beliefs to make herself an enemy of an entire dorm.


"Okaaaay. Six laps around the Sports Field before sunset."


They assented, took their trays and got out of the cafeteria. Charlotte turned to the quartet of troublemakers then, unfazed. "Is everyone alright?"


Grim jumped from Yuu's arms, sticking his paw at her. "We're fine! The Great Grim had it handled."


She looks over his head, and Ace assented as Yuu shook their head. The pair looked at each other and had a yelled whisper discussion. "We did NOT have it handled." "Goldie, we did. Also relax, we're fine." You know, when taking someone more experienced than me, I don't expect to win." Grim butted in. "Well henchman, with me in your side, you should." "Nope!" "Agreed. Grim, you aren't hot shit."


Deuce rolled his eyes at then both. And then bowed. Charlotte blinked, surprised. "Sorry for the trouble, senpai. Thanks for helping out."


"If I had my magic... yeah, thanks."


It's nice to be appreciated kids, however... "Ah, I didn't do much. Just came to confirm some info, really. I got it, so I'm going back out now." Actually... "Don't get into more trouble, please?" She pleaded and left not hoping for a positive answer.


They MUST have filled their quota for the month, right?


Ah, but Charlotte's not out of trouble yet. Lilia was smirking mischievously, downright giddy, when she came back to her spot. She ignored it, and took out her packed lunch. He waited until she was chewing to pounce. "Kufufu... Were you – how is it called? Ah, yes ―  kinkshaming the youngsters, now?"


She didn't choke. Silver did.


It was so unexpected for him to know it that even Lilia looked a little wide eyed as he smacked his back. Sebek had no reaction to these words.


Charlotte blinked all too innocent. "Oh, it was just a misunderstanding."


"To brazenly violate the rules when it's reasonable expectations... rather, the feeling of shame in their hearts is not displaced." Stating this clearly and loudly, it became obvious Sebek was oblivious to the meaning of it. If Lilia doesn't explain it to him soon, she will not so subtly talk about it to Hazel when she's hanging out at the infirmary, because then Dr. Birdwell will know. And bless his soul, the man will do something about it. Something, something, lack of sex ed among the young, something something consent, something, STDs. She will have to think about how pitch it later. 


"Right, Sebek-san? It felt really purposeful" it didn't "so I had to check it out the intentions behind it."


"And which," Lilia asked slyly "were they?"


"Oh, I can't say for sure." Sighing a bit more melodramatically than it was warranted, she pointedly avoided looking at their faces. "Only, they're rather empathic about not being about what I thought. Ah, but maybe my hypothesis is not fully wrong, they just aren't into collars.


Lilia snickered. Sebek, bless his soul, was frowning in thought. "Aren't these items part of Heartslabyul uniform?" More evidence for my other theory. The first years are skewing the statistics if he saw it among his classmates. Lilia snickered more.


Silver cleared his throat and shook his head. "No, these are the dorm leader's Unique Magic. They match the dorm aesthetic, so it's an easy mistake to make."


"Tsk, I could learn it by myself."


"Well, you didn't."


"Are you calling me inferior, Silver? Don't think so highly of yourself because you have an year ahead of me. I studied hard to follow the young master."


"I am helping you, Sebek. I thought you could use it."


"Well, I do not."


"Fine by me."


"Fine."


"Fine."


"Fine."


Well, that shook the mood fast. Wisely, Charlotte kept to herself and stayed silent and ate her food. She only raised her eyes from her plate when she heard the steady thrum of Lilia's magic stop. He wasn't there anymore. "Mn, guys...? Where's Lilia?"


The other two didn't move away from their mutual, shared, furrowed brows of belligerence. They, however, quickly found him.  "DaLilia-senpai's with Cater-senpai and Trey-senpai. The first years from the fight before are there too."


"I see, thanks. Hey Sebek-san, could I tell you my thanks straight away or you will be offended if I do it?"


Mouth as wide as his eyes, Sebek quickly schooled his expression. "Oh? I am surprised that a human knows faerie customs." The way he said human, he could be talking about the gum on the bottom of his shoes. "Very well, Charlotte-senpai, since Lilia-sama has spoken about this to me before, I won't take offense if you do. However, I would be remiss to not inform others won't be so merciful, since you know different."


Bro, the only other fae I know are Lilia and Malleus. If you find me dancing underhill, things have truly gone FUBAR and so did my sense. "Alright, thanks for letting me know!"


Moments later, Lilia appears hanging down from the empty air above their table. He's less than an arm's distance of her face. "Charlotte, you found a truly interesting pair for a protegee, are you aware?" An unearthly light shined on these red eyes of his, and a knowingly grin on his mouth. It's a completely normal expression for Lilia.


And yet.


And yet.


The empasizes raised her internal hackles. There's an undercurrent of something that she couldn't a name, an unseen tension she could feel on her throat. What, exactly, do you know, Lilia?


The first rule of avoiding being in a horror movie is to avoid horror movie tropes. Busted. There's a supernatural entity ahead of her.


"I had to check for myself."


The light's bright and his grin too wide. He was not a threat. Not a threat. He had no reason to know. Charlotte said it enough times before to register as truth now, even if her heart fluttered with the disconnect from the reality ahead.


It still made her profoundly aware of the steady thrumming of his magic and how his eyes didn't leave her face once.


He's watching her reaction.


He's waiting for it.


The second rule to avoiding being in a horror movie is to be unfazed by the threat.


As long as she didn't give in, he knew nothing.


The third and golden rule to avoiding being in a horror movie is to declaw the threat .


Charlotte blinked once, twice and raised a spoon of food to his mouth. "Yes, they're a duo student like Idia and Ortho. Their friends are color-coded, did you notice? In gradient, even."


Lilia obligingly accepted it but, to her slight dismay, moved to sit normally once he finished chewing. She wanted to see if he could gulp it upside down. "...you're right." With this sentence, his loses his unholy focus from before and returns to the Lilia she knew. "Truly, you say the most unexpected things. It's a pity that they haven't waited a week more, we could have added their shared feats to the bingo."


The mention of it had Charlotte perking up. "Right? I don't think any of us would expect to sucessfully pin these things on the property damage column, and yet..." "Silver, Sebek-san, will you join us for this round?"


Silver shrugged. Last time he got the highest amount of correct suggestions, but not the bingo.


Malleus won it. Before him, Hazel.


Sebek looked at Lilia's smile, full of mischief, and at her own, politely curious. "I won't shame myself by refusing to participate. Count me in!" Loudly and energetically, he entered the competition. With the same energy, he asked after: "How, exactly, this game works?"


"Well, first we pitch in some outcomes for the semester..."



loOol



"...And that is how I thought you would come straight from your trip to classes."


"Mn... yeah, I can see now how it caused a misunderstanding." And it was such a silly thing too! A sort of comedy of mistakes.


Malleus didn't look at his emails at all, so he didn't receive her message about the ceremony schedule – thank you, Riddle and Azul, for forwarding her – and with her phone not being waterproof, she left it at her dorm and used Morgan's if she really needed it, so the only communication they exchanged was through semi-normal mail. Malleus, who had few reasons to use his phone, and even less with her away and all his circle of people being from his dorm, aka, closeby at basically any time, just looked at it weekly, and the day Charlotte was at Diasomnia was not that day. Given his wandering ways and interest on architecture, he was researching in the archives to see if he could find some info on the ruins on college, and on that day, he reached close to a breakthrough! It had him on site away from Diasomnia and the library while she stewed in anxiety worrying something was amiss.


"My apologies." It was the contritest she saw Malleus. "I have been told you waited for me; if I had know you would come, I wouldn't allow for it happen." There was hint of guilt there.


Charlotte bumped arms with him. He was too tall to bump shoulders. "I accept it, and I'm glad to know so." Keeping her eyes on the moonlight path, she continued in an afterthought. "I thought something happened and that's why you're missing. Which. Stupid, but I couldn't help it."


"Ah."


Malleus didn't know what to make of her being worried about him more than that exclamation. Some steps later, he added with wry amusement: "It seems we are making habit of missing and misunderstanding each other."


"We do. We did it today." Since they didn't say where, exactly, they would meet, each went to the other's dorm. This time, however, Malleus carried his cellphone, so the mistake was easily rectified as he soon returned to Diasomnia. "We'll have to return to the time of 'are we in the same page when we say things?' "


Malleus who was among her greatest helps until Mor, on grounds he spoke English when no one else did and none spoke her native language  – scrunched his face. Slang and language had changed through time and space and they spoke distinct dialects of English, which led to more than one misinterpretation. Jokes on him, Charlotte bothered Malleus to explain himself more than he remembered. "Then, we better hope that your Duo looks out for us."


Duo. The owl. Patron of languages and communication.


She had much to be grateful for it.


Basic French lessons, for one and comprehension enough of the phonemes to bulldoze her way on it.


Thinking about it made her think about Mor – who loved languages
– which made her think about her trip which made her remember that she had a gift for Malleus. Searching within her bag Charlotte pulled out a sandglobe, the size of a closed fist. She offered it to him.


Face still as marble, without doing much more than blink, Malleus took it. He cradled it as if it was more precious than a small souvenir that anyone could buy. Without even needing to squint, he easily read the name of the small ship inside once it was level to his face. "The Dauntless Melody...?"


"It's an old shipwreck and a tourist location. I immediately thought 'hey, do you know who would love to see it in real life? Malleus', so I brought it to you."


"Oh. It's for me then...?" Charlotte bobbed her head and was rewarded by a bright grin, teeth showing, and his eyes crinkling at the corners.  "Thank you, my friend. I will treasure it. Which size is the real thing?"


She gestured for him to lower it, which was done with much reluctance. Malleus didn't release the sandglobe, leading her to awkwardly spin it to face her and then raise his hands for the moonlight illuminate it at the right angle. Malleus had night vision. Charlotte didn't.


"See the hole below, the biggest on the left? When I was there, it could fit two of me."


Malleus looked her up and down, bringing his hand to rest on his chin. "Was that before or after you changed potions?"


"Before." Charlotte used her basement to brew the water breathing potion. There were easier potions than the variation she chose, but she had a willing donor for mermaid tears and scrappings, and this one she had to take once per week compared to others daily intake.


And it did work!


It made her breathe underwater!

It turned out to be extremely effective!


"I stayed octomershaped for a while."


Mor had outright laugh at her once both stopped panicking. Controlling eight new limbs was an experience. Worse was trying to explain it to the authorities and to Mor's family. Buying transformation potions was illegal, not brewing them, but brewers had to have a license. Proving her potion was not originally a transformation potion took some time.


Malleus blinked twice. "Ah. Larger than I expected then." He shook the globe. Staring intently as the particles settled, he inquired. "Would you care to share its history?"


"I am a terrible storyteller." She was not a linear storyteller. She followed all the tangents like following the links through a Wikipedia article.


"I know. Nonetheless."


"That's the part where you disagree."


He smiled too innocently, teeth hidden. She didn't trust it. "Oh, don't you know, Charlotte?" Neither she did the condescending tone that followed. "Fae cannot lie."


Fae absolutely could lie. As society, however, they valued speaking true – which was different from being honest, as truth could be used to misled a far great real. At least, in the Valley of Thorns.


Charlotte only learned it a few months ago. Their friendship is longer than that. "YOU." She lunged for his hair. Being considerably taller, he only had to bat her hands. Which he did, while his other hand held the sandglobe. "Malleus, you're inciting me to commit bodily harm."


Non-plussed by her attempts to mess with his appearance, he replied calmly. "That's lèse-majesté and grounds for treason."


"Glad we're in the Isle of Sages then, and not the Valley."


"You say that as if it would stop me."


"You cannot prosecute people for thinking."


"No, you do it for planning."


"I am not planning bodily harm, I am being forced into it." Coerced, one could say. She could argue for it being public service; someone should knock Malleus down a peg or two; it is bad for ego to go unchecked.


Yet, she stopped lunging for his hair.


He gave her a look, as if saying 'are you finished with your tantrum?'. Charlotte pouted. Fine, she's telling him the story.


"...On another thought, I shall not prosecute you." His lips curled upwards in amusement. There was a joke she wasn't getting.


"..."


"Won't you ask why?" His eyes shined with glee. Oh, she knew what this was about.


"It's a joke at my expense it isn't...?" He kept grinning at her, not answering. She inhaled. "Fine. Why?"


He looked down on her with his nose. "Things must be in a truly dire state for you to harm me." The worst was she didn't know if it was on purpose or no. The horns tended to pull his head back and make him arroganter. "Your meager human powers are weaker than a fae toddler."


Slander! Slanderous words!


"What meager human powers?!" They were meager, but they existed and she was doing the most of it. She didn't need much to do damage. "You know that Madame Aimee had to ban me from using hammers, despite it being fully summoned." It was so unfair. Any idiot can conjure what shit they want, be the flamethrower they wished they had on hands as children and live their pyromaniac dreams, but apparently, a hammer causes too much damage.



("Look girl, you have at least an eight with me because of the creativity. I started laughing so much when telling the other teachers that Juan thought I was dying. But," and the elder woman looked deeply regretful, "I am going to have to ban it."

"On which grounds?" It was great to clock people with it. She had to get close, but the sheer terror in their faces when they noticed what she yielded was worth it. "Summons and conjures are allowed by the rules."

"The Headmaster fears the damage it can cause if allowed."

"So, any of my fellow students can crystallize their magic in an iron tire and swing it around but when it's me, I can't use the tools at my disposition?"

Aimeé shrugged. "Beats me. I teach Defense classes for a reason kid, and part of it involves getting you ready for anything that life throws at you." Her shoulders were weighted down from that burden. Suddenly, her appearance switched to a youth and slender beauty on her twenties. "Oh! But I'm using your trick!" She clapped her palms excitedly. The smile on her face bordered on mania. "Students are banned, not me.") 



"I am resorting to wrenches, wrenches, Malleus. But worry not, once we have classes together again I am summoning a drill just for you." Following the rule of the hammer, she could do it only once before she got banned, again, but it would be worthy it.


Malleus rolled his eyes. "Ah, yes. The power of power tools. The only way I could be truly defeated." Sarcasm dripped from his tongue, like venom from a snake. "Truly, why no one thought about it before?"


"It is because I am the pinnacle of creativity. Anyway, the Dauntless Melody was a ship famous for..."

 

loOol

 

Ace and Deuce passed the night at her dorm. Charlotte didn't mind and promptly informed them when she came back from walking with Malleus that if someone else came in the next day, they're sharing rooms; she only had so many habitable bedrooms.


She didn't see any of them or Yuu or Grim for that matter, when the morning came. But then, she didn't woke up her usual time. When asked, Edwin said, "oh, that ginger Heartslabyul fella, the one with the diamond phonebag, collected them", so that was that. Ace did ask for moral support the other day. Maybe it involved not only his friends, but his seniors, although she doubted that they knew of Cater status as dethroned Dorm Head. It became obvious once you noticed that people from every cohort and not only the diamond suit, looked up to him the same way they did to Trey.


At 8:30am, and exactly when her phone died Kyran came to escort her. As his guest, it was his responsibility; she would join at his table. The event had a bit of a more formal dresscode but counting on the fact she had a shift at afternoon and a class before it, she choose the simplest option: her nice, mid length dress –with pockets, of course – over one of her higher corsets, keeping her back upright AND braless the whole day without worries, her comfiest moccasins and a boater hat. After this is over, she will throw some  long leggings underneath and bam: perfect work clothes.


"It is a genius, if I say myself."


"You are just being lazy."


Just a bit. Not that Charlotte would ever admit it. "I can multitask. I contain multitudes."


Kyran snorted. "That's what I say when I put podcasts when doing dorm duties."


A close flap of wings had her turning to look. Before she could, a weight settled on her head, unsettling her balance. Kyran stopped her from stumbling and falling. "Miss is staying with us today?"


Yes. I terrorize enemies.


Miss, her other familiar. Also a dove, fluffy, white and pink and a pain.


Charlotte loved her.


Yet, she prefered when she didn't go looking for trouble. "Love, please don't go picking fights with the flamingos. I am not even staying for a game."


Our enmity - no connection - Lotte.


"Pick a fight with the hedgehogs. The orange ones, please. You win if you convince them to pass through the arcs without touching them."


Foolish mortal - enjoyment - playing tricks on me. Me, no pawn. Me, no player - your games.


"Not a pawn, you will receive payment in seeds. The campus has so many pigeons, no one will suspect you."


Charlotte frowned at him. Miss didn't need to be encouraged. She was already fighting against the crows. "Stop convincing her to help you cheat. And Miss," she shook her head just a bit to ruffle her feathers, "don't go acting your namesake for my own sake, please."


Miss, short for Misdemeanour. You - I do it.


"Thank you, angel, I knew I could trust you." As a reward, Charlotte opened one of the pack of the seeds kept for these occasions and offered it to the dove. She cooed in contentment.


They crossed the threshold mirror.


The green maze sprawled further than the eye could see, with more entrances than exits, taller than herself and more than a mere layer of privacy with its thick bushes and intense green. It followed its own whims and such was that it could rearrange itself at anytime and there was nothing more terrific than being inside it while it happened.


Further back and rising taller was Heartslaybul manor, imposing and more than a bit disquieting because while its outside was elegance and straight lines, its insides were full of non-euclidean decoration and rooms that made her head throb.


Charlotte felt like she was entering  a cave that only got smaller and claustrophobier the more she went in, its melody made of strange and diverse instruments each own adding to the feeling of Heartslabyul. The air was thick with the smell of roses, but not even it was enough to hide the paint fumes once a back wind hit them.


It was among the duties to paint the roses. Paint, not dye or color, else it would not stink so.


She gestured to the next rosebush. "Talking about it, have you," as in, everyone from the dorm, "I don't know, considered taking out half of the white roses and planting red roses on their place? That way, you only have to paint half each time."


Kyran gave her a considering glance. "Wise words. But you have forgotten two things." He raised two fingers to match and took a turn left. "one, our prefect would never and two, dorm duties are purposefully designed to keep us as busy as possible. Idle hands, idle minds."


"It isn't as good at that as you say, then. I always see people from our school downtown. Even from 'labyul."


And everytime, she gets really glad that NRC abandoned the full boarding school model once its students raised in age. If students didn't de-stress she was sure someone would've snapped and murdered someone. As it was, they just despaired internally and tempers blew with flying fists and the occasional flung spells.


It was manageable. No one is dead yet.  


He waved her argument away. "That is because your bookstore is half a coffee shop, and you know that only delinquents would dare to go in."


Charlotte who has seen more than half of his dorm there, and, most often than not, the vice Dorm Leader – raised her brows challenging. Kyran – who was an assiduous visitor at the coffee shop himself, to the point Alchemi could rattle his usual by memory ignored his own hypocrisy. Some anxiety crossed his face. "Oh. Right. Since I was helping with the organization this time, Trey's keeping me close at hand in case of a quick fix is needed."


"Which means...?"


He looked to a side. The other. Raised his ears. Avoided eye contact. "We're seated near Rosehearts."


She squealed. "And you tell me this NOW?!"


He scowled in disapprovation at her outburst. "Shhh, no need to be so loud. I learnt it today."


Charlotte took in a deep breath. Held it. Riddle ruled with an iron fist, but she could circumvent him. Just need to play smart. "Okay. Okay. We're still playing Uno or...?"


"Yeah. No worries, I have a secret weapon."


She was full of worries. More for Kyran than herself. One misstep from her would reflect badly on him; he reaped what she sowed. It was unlikely for Riddle collar her, but it was possible for her to get banned from future Unbirthdays. Which sucked, she loved these socializing events, but it was the worst he could do to her. To Kyran, however... they have been playing for so long in secret, surely the punsihment would be severe. "Kyran-kun, I don't know how to break this for you, but weapons have a limited use. You know, when fighting. Which we aren't."


Kyran gave her a look. It said he was deeply disappointed in her reply. "Dorm politics are a battlefield. Fear not, I know you aren't equipped for it."


"Thanks."


The only hint that he heard her was the twitch of his ear. "Which is why I am giving you your equipment." Oh, nice. I feel like one of these characters in a tutorial that just got armoured. "In case you forgot, I'm firmly on the faction of civil disobedience to the rules, but in a way it wouldn't be catched on." And this is the context that is happening.


"Oookay. What is the equipment?"


"This."


Kyran pulled his phone out. Some swipes of his finger later, he passed it to her eager hands.


Immediately moving on the configurations to make the font size bigger, it took some moments to notice what it was. She passed a page, and another and another.


This was revolutionary.


Charlotte was sure her eyes were the size of sauce plates. She couln't pick her jaw from the ground. "Unholy owl. That's– I didn't even know this existed, I don– just, how...?"


Kyran smiled, serenely. She could see he was genuinely happy with her reaction by the way his hazel eyes creased. "That is for me to know and you to wonder. Swear to me you won't mention it and go on reading, I will guide the way."


What Kyran had in his phone was worth more than its weight in gold. In the screen, highlighted to hell and back, were all of the eight hundreds and ten rules of the Queen of Hearts, sorted by applicability, occasion, event and day. Charlotte kept her focus on the rules applying to everyone, to Friday and the Unbirthday parties, which were more than she expected. Before she knew it, they arrived, Kyran pulling her along by the elbow. 


Hanging triangles of color and tables arranged in semi-circle around a larger, rectangular table, in which most of the food was kept, as well as the large, heartshaped chair, a throne in which the supplicants would come to beg for mercy. Small food portions were divided on the others, smaller round tables, as well as tons of decoration, most of it card themed and most tables had flowers on them. Surprised at seeing a bunch of white, Charlotte confirmed when she approached these were not roses, but other, different flowers. She typed a question on Kyran phone and returned it to him.


What's up w the flowers? Thought only red roses r allowed for Unbirthday?


He gave her a sharp smile and showed his answer.


Roses must be red for Unbirthday. That's all it says.


Charlotte nodded, contemplating about it. Quietly to herself, she thought the opposing factions in Heartslabyul were larger than she imagined at first if they were making blatantly power plays and semi-open rebellion like this. If the roses must be red, it was all too easy to sidestep it by bringing other flowers. One could even think it was too innocent, but the flowers were white. Not pink, orange, yellow or red, white. Considering the prohibition on white roses, it was deliberate.


So glad I am not involved in these things.


Some people were already sitting, others mingling around. Kyran brought them to one half occupied table with white flowers smelling of honey and plated with shek-shek and barsauk and they sit together with other third years. Charlotte was vaguely familiar with them, and strung them in a quick chat. At one point, she noticed the one with clubs make-up was shaking badly and offered him to hold Miss. Miss, who was actually an angel and didn't mind comforting others, beared it with grace while she was being feed.


"Make way for our leader, the Red Ruler: Dorm Leader Riddle!


If I was Trey I wouldn't put someone opposed him to do the honors. I wonder...is Red Ruler a statement of a sort or it's because of his original suit, hearts?


Nonetheless, everyone took their cue to rise and wait for Riddle to join them, in a move similar to a walkway. Charlotte cheered with the crowd when it was asked. Riddle passed by the tables with a critical gaze, analyzing the placements of everything. Greeting her with nothing more than a small nod, he passed by then and sat on his throne, Trey standing at his right. Everyone waited in bated breaths for his aval.


"Indeed. The roses are red and the tablecloths are white. The perfect Unbirthday Party. Accordingly, the dormouse is sleeping inside the teapot, correct?"


"Of course. The jam to put on it’s nose is ready, should it arise, as well."


"Well done." Riddle gestured for them all to sit and eat.


The garden collectively lost its tension.


Kyran, however, proving he had more guts than everyone, did not sit and instead approached the rectangular table, shoulder square and spine straight. She couldn't see his face from this angle. "Prefect Rosehearts?"


Riddle eyed him over the rim of his tea cup. "You're... Kyran. Do you need my permission for something else?"


What permission...? Oh. Right. Today's Friday. He has to get out earlier too.


"We are going to play Uno. Will you join us?"


Too forward! The hell!?


Miss flew away to sit on her lap. Looking at her previous holder, they were trembling again. The proximity to Riddle must make them nervous. Glancing meaningfully to her tablemate, she was baffled when he offered Clubs a bunch of flowers close to their face. More baffled yet when they ate it. Heartslabyul's such a bunch of weirdos...


She returned her attention to Kyran.


"Uno... that card game of yours?" Riddle made a face. Undoubtedly, he was remembering every time he has seen them playing. They got rowdy.  "I decline. It is unsuitable to my tastes." He looked away from Kyran to look at her straight on the eyes. "Be sure to not cause a ruckus while enjoying your game. Rule #498 of the Queen of Hearts: do not cause disturbances at the Unbirthday Party."


She smiled. Message received!


Kyran returned to their table with a self-contented smile.Taking out his deck, he started shuffling and without raising his head, offered: "Anyone joining me and Charlotte?"


Flower Offerer shrugged. "Sure, why the hell not?" He turned to Clubs. "Stop taking caffeine pills before Unbirthday."


"You would too if you slept through one only to wake up to the prefect's on your face."


"But you finished your paper, didn't you? Why are nervous now?"


"But what if it happens again?!"


Charlotte took her card hand and watched Clubs with unbrimmed curiousity. "Ooh, what's the paper about?"


And so she learned all about the effectiveness (or lack off) transmutated gold based on its differing properties compared to these of non-transmuted gold. Clubs made a thoughtful argument against its uses on electronics and such given the higher corrosivity and she and Kyran pipped in with questions along the explanation.


Also, Charlotte won three times, against Kyran and Flower Offerer one victory each.


A repetitive clinking had her looking for the source. Riddle was beating a spoon om his cup, calling for attention. It was a quick work to have them all silent and focusing on him.


"Let us toast before we proceed with the croquet match. All of you have your tea cups ready?" Charlotte didn't, but Flower Offerer fixed it for her. Others readied themselves on their tables. "Now then, a toast to the day with no birthdays. To this Unbirthday Party!"


They toasted together.


Charlotte washed away the taste of tea with shek-shek. Delicious. Soon, she would be on her way, better not eat much.


"Excuse me, Dorm Leader?"


Oooh, Ace's here!


Folding away from the game, Charlotte turned away to focus on the interaction besides her. She saw the moment that understanding dawning on Riddle. "You are... oh, the freshman tart thief."


Undeterred by this title, Ace carried on, smiling and holding a tray of sweets. "Ummm… I would like to apologizing for what I did, so I uh… I baked a new batch of tarts."


Charlotte searched for the other members of the quartet. Deuce was sitting a bit away in his dorm uniform, sharing a table with Cater, who winked when he saw her looking. Grim was sitting on the table why they haven't given him one of the chairs on a book pile? and at his side Yuu was intensely scratching their arms.


Weird, these aren't the clothes I lent them. Maybe one of the boys had clothes their size?


"Hmm? I’m curious, what kind of tarts did you make?"


"Thank you for asking! It’s mont blancs stuffed with lots of chestnuts!"


Kyran took in a sharp breath.


Since they came earlier, they must have time to change. Still...


"Mont blanc, you say?! How dreadful!"


"Huh??"


This had her away from watching Yuu to watching Riddle, who had his arms crossed and terrible frown marring his face. It was no matter, since the first year trio got on their feet and stood behind Ace, a few steps back. More likely curious about what was this about.


What's wrong with it?


"Rule #562 of the Queen of Hearts. 'Refrain from bringing marron tarts for the Unbirthday Party!' You have violated an imperative rule! How could you dare to do it!?" Ooh, he was pissed. "You’ve ruined this perfect Unbirthday Party!"


Lowering her voice and not moving her lips, Charlotte murmured. "Tell me he's joking."


"You wish." Kyran cocked his head and meaningful waved it to the scene beside them, before raising his brows at her. 'Did you not know?' he was asking. She read the rules on the way. Shouldn't she know?


She shook her head slightly. "Just learned mont blancs and marron tarts are the same thing."


While they chatted, Riddle was in the process of showing off that he knew all the rules of his dorm. Not that he would call that, but it was what she heard.


Cater and Trey were having a meaningful conversation behind Riddle's back, made mostly of signed gestures. Flower Offerer made a point to translate it to them.


Yuu kept scratching their skin and rubbing their legs together. Their face lost its color.


Riddle wasn't finished. "As the Dorm Leader of Heartslabyul, out of respect to the strictness of the Queen of Hearts, I cannot simply turn a blind eye towards this appalling rule-breaking. Dispose of these tarts immediately.  And throw this group away from our grounds at once!" With a sharp, dismissive wave of hand, he had some student rising to obey.


And neither, it seemed, was Ace. "Wait a sec! You really have ridiculous rules like that?


Grim also had to contribute. He approached Ace's flank, floating away from the ground. "He’s right! I'll eat them if you’re just going to toss it away!" Charlotte agreed. She hated wasting food.


Ah, but if they're making a commotion...


She pulled Miss away from her lap and placed her on the ground. "Hey love, do me a favour? See Yuu there? Can you discretely, Miss, please, pull their pant leg up? Come back and report to me what you see."


Nestmate? Yuugrim?


"Just Yuu, love. Grim's fine for now."


Miss assented and stalked their way under the tablecloths. When Charlotte arose, Kyran was watching her more than a bit curious. Deliberately, he tugged on his long ears. He heard her whispers.


She raised the bridge of her glasses in a gesture of his silence. He shrugged and returned his focus to the Dorm Head.


Trey and Cater were trying to mollify Riddle, without much sucess.


"Riddle, these are just freshies that are still learning the ropes." Cater was using his most charming smile to try to convince him with logic to be clement. Cay-kun patented smile for getting out of sticky situations.


It even could've worked if it wasn't for Ace shaking his head and standing his ground. "Nah, I’m gonna say it." And louder, for everyone hear. "Anyone that obeys and throws out the tart is an idiot. Stop messing around."


Deuce stepped ahead. "I’m of the same opinion as Ace. Of course, I admit that rules are meant to be followed but…" He steeled himself "This is too much already."


Welcome to Heartslabyul, kids.


All the confrontation, Riddle had kept his back straight and comfortably in the chair. Now, he bent forward, elbows on the table and chin on his hands. "How audacious of you, talking back to me. Listen well." Tugging on her clothing made her bend down. "Even breaking a seemingly insignificant rule will lead to big problems. If these small rules aren't enforced, one will think they may do the same to others of more gravity and then, where will we be? Chaos, utter chaos."


It's Miss, with her ruffled feathers. Uneven skin. Many bumps. Red. Yuu, okay?


Charlotte took a look at Yuu, swaying on their feet and at their friends, which haven't noticed yet. Yeah, no. They are having an allergy reaction.


Yuu said nothing about allergies. Maybe, a nut from this world? No, never mind that, who here has epinephrine?


Heartslabyul had a separate table for people with allergies. All the process, including the tableware used, was kept separated from everything else, to avoid cross-contamination. It was regular and, Kyran told her once, one of the few things that Riddle never needed to enforce as the users of it kept to it with fervor and absolutely will retaliate if someone thought to mess with it, even as a joke. Which, fucking amazing of them and for them, but it means none of them are carrying adrenaline.


Charlotte had it on her dorm, but she couldn't summon it so far away from the dorm grounds. Think, Charlotte, think. What can you do?


Oh.


Wow. Shitty moment to see if it's working, uh? Well, WORSE it can't get.

.

.

.

The last thing Charlotte sees is the white of shoes, white of tablecloths, white of feathers.

She closes her eyes.

.

.

.

She opened them to the repetitive clinking of a spoon on a teacup and Miss' gaze on her. The optimal result was waking up on her bed. Disapponting to know the glitch affected her so much, but better than it not working. She could work with minutes. She will think about the impact on her other plans later.


Charlotte smiled at her familiar. "Hey love, can you do me a favor?"

Chapter Text

Huh? What's Ace doing sitting? Wasn't he with the dorm leader?


Everyone cheers. Absently minded, I do it too. Thinking is like walking through a thick pool of liquid, but I concentrate my efforts. I was on my feet, wasn't I?


Cater offered Ace the chance to apologize. The tarts... there's something wrong with them. They're forbidden. I try to warn him, but I can only croak. My tongue is too big on my mouth.

Cater notices, already on feet and one step away from the table.  "Huh? Yuu-chan, is your throat dry? Drink a bit of tea and stay here."

I don't think tea will fix it. But Cater is older than me and he's the one who lead us in this situation and he and Trey were speaking with Riddle-senpai. I trust he's trying to help.

I drink the tea with one hand while the other scratches my thigh.

My skin is itching. The clothes Cater-senpai fixed for me are scratchy, but not the ones he did for the others. Maybe he did it on purpose?

Bad thoughts.

Something to reflect on later.

Not when Cater's on Riddle left, smiling at us.

But even his face fell to the Dorm Leader's reaction.

Deuce rises and so does Grim. Doing it only made me sicker, so instead I lie my head on the table, watching.

Riddle says against the tarts. Mentally, I agree with Grim about eating it, were not for the stomach pains I feel. I must have eaten something bad.

Something really bad, but everything tasted good.

Trey-senpai can change the senses of a food. What if he purposefully gave me bad food? Someone who can boldly lie like that...

Ah, bad Yuu. I try to take a deep breath, but it's like only half of it filled my lungs.

Yesterday is affecting me more than I expected.

I don't know what to think of Charlotte. Trey's nice, but he boldly lies, no sign of it on his body language. Cater's nice, but he tricked us into doing his job for him twice now. Charlotte's nice, but... what? Everyone here has hidden layers. Ruthless, maybe? She was going to exorcise Crowley. No shame on her as she attacked the dudes from yesterday. Nice but ruthless.

Ace makes a point in how everyone's afraid. Grim agrees. Riddle answers and even in my half-mudled state I can say there's something wrong with it. Something about might and right...?

Ah, but then he tries victim-blame. Very uncool of him. I hope his heels break while he walks.

Worse, Cater agrees. I know his type now.

My friends disagree. In a show of solidarity, I make my hand in a thumbs down. Weird, my fingers feels so big.

Deuce and Grim get collared too. Oh shit.

Trey and Cater get the duty to throw us out. Well, I understand I am included on the group thing. Ace fights him, but Trey easily subdues him with magic and Cater makes clones for the rest of us. One of them is pulling me along by the shoulders, and I can't help but be grateful for it. No brainpower to think.

We're show the entrance or is it the exit? of the rose maze.

"Alright Ace-chan and co, see you soon~!"

"We'll work on pacifying Riddle so you guys can apologize and come back to the dorm. Try to not trouble Charlotte in the meantime."

"Damn it! I'm never apologizing, alright!?

Cater just smiles. He must be thinking...something. Children and tantrums are what my brain leftovers pull. The one to my side, so energetic, speaks. "Oh, and don't forget to bring Yuu-chan to the infirmary!" And then disappears.

Ahh, that's no good.

Ace is ranting about Riddle, going further in the rose maze. I hope he knows what he's doing. Grim follows him, and Deuce is at my side, a warm hand on my shoulder. "Are you feeling sick, Yuu?"

I wheeze. "Yeah."

He smiles reassuringly. "Don't worry, we'll be out of here soon." Then louder, for these ahead. "Won't we guys?"


"What?!"

"Yuu's not feeling well. Let's get out of here."

"Not feeling well? Not feeling well?" Ace whirls around and marches to me. "Where were you when I needed it?! So you can go and fight a monster but is too cowardly to fight that tiny tyrant head on?" He pokes me at the chest, a bit too forcefully.

He says something more but I can't parse the words.

I can't answer. The words stuck on my throat choke me.

The world goes dark.

.

.

.

"That guy’s been a serious one since he was little... fufu~" I don't know who's talking but the person is close. Curious, I open my eyes.

I met a grin, which grows larger when I met golden eyes of slit pupils, framed by strands purple and lavender. Higher yet, there are... "Catboy?"

I am a dumbass.

The person ignores my blunder. "Hihi, sort of~ I'm Alchemi Alchemivich Pinka, an enigma with magic that's both like a human and cat."


"He says that again and I still can't understand it."

I hear Deuce's murmur and I turn to it. He and Ace are sitting criss-cross on the ground beside me, Ace with his arms crossed and an expression of a sour lemon. One of his cheeks is redder than the other. Deuce has his hair all mussed and his uniform askew. When our gazes meet he lets an anxious sigh. "Ah, Yuu, are you all right now? Feeling okay?"

I don't have cotton on my brain anymore and I can breathe normally. My hearts races too fast, though. I say that much.

Alchemi holds a small container in my field of vision. "That would be the adre-nya-line. I had to give it to you because you went in anaphylaxis."

Ah. My heads is on his lap.

Oh shit.

"Thank you. Where is Grim?"

I hear a huff where my feet are. Looking down, a mass of gray fur is keeping my legs raised. "The Great Grim is doing the most important job! Be grateful, minion!"

"The most important job was injecting Goldie with the adrenaline, furball, and Che'nya did it." I frown. Ace may be angry at his dormleader but it is no reason to direct it to Grim.

Who's Che'nya...

Ah. Alchemi. Che'nya. Right.

"Actually, she did the meowst important job."

"She...?"

In answer, a flutter of feathers echoes. A white pigeon flies by and seem to find purchase in staying on my stomach. It cooes at me.

I watch my friends to know if it is normal. Deuce is nodding along and even Ace lost his frown. Okay, animals are smarter than my normal.

"Your guardian angel is looking out for you." Che'nya offers her his finger and she jumps on it. He caress her with a smile. "If Miss here wasn't carrying the epipen, you would be dead on the ground." The pigeons cooes, and I think it's agreeing with the statement.

Transported to a different world with magic and taken out by allergies, of all things. What a tragic and lame way to die.

And unfortunately for me, all too realistic.

"Thank you." Truly, I would be fucked if it wasn't for them. "All of you."

Ace frowns severely at me. Ah. I ain't forgiven just yet. "Don't go eating things freely, dumbass." Ace flickers my head. Oww. His hands are moving frantically through the air, after. "Just 'cause you can go through your nuts doesn't mean you eat ours."

Different world. Different food. Right, should've been more careful.

"Is the innuendo intentional or...?"

Che'nya snorts. Deuce shakes his head, and ignores Grim question about innuendos. Ace grins wide enough I can see most of his teeth. "I've been thinking about it since we heard about what could've been the causes for your black out episode." He turned to Che'nya, his face more serious. "You're saying the dorm leader's always like that. You know something about it?"

"Hmm, one of you, trade with me~ Nya legs are sleepy."

Not that I am complaining, but why I have to rest my head on others laps?

The pigeon flies away when Che'nya moves.

Deuce switches with him. Lower, nearly a whisper, he speaks. "I... we I was really really worried, Yuu."

"Sorry."

"Don't apologize. It's... I'm glad you're better now."

We watch, in silence, as Che'nya bends on poses that no human body should bend. Yoga teachers want to be him, I fear him. The sort of fear and amazement at something that not seems to be possible, but it is. Without looking at us, he says: "I guess you could say if you think I know, I do. If you think I don't know, I don't.

Schrödinger's cat?

Talking about cats, mine is confused. "That makes no sense. Which is it?" I feel you, little dude.

"Hmmmm? Ya guys want know more about Riddle~?"

You just want us to say it out loud, huh?

"Hell yeah, I do! The kinda of upbringing raises a tyrant like that, what's it?"

Che'nya points to the maze at our backs. "Then, you should ask your glasses fur-riend."

"Charlotte?"

Che'nya shook his head. Ooh, he doesn't have a second set of ears. Good to know. How these people use glasses, I wonder. "Char-nya knows a lot of interesting trivia, but I'm talking about the your other glasses friend." He must see the shared realization on our faces, because he continues. "He's unmeow-atched on this; he's known Riddle since they both were tiny, little things."

"The tyrant's still a tiny little thing."

"If you want know meowre he's the one to talk to."

"So they’re childhood friends? It didn't seem that way at all..."


I have to agree with Deuce. "Wrong vibes."


Che'nya grins. Grandma, why are your teeth so big? It feels a bit predatory. "If that's what you think, then it might be so~" He shrugged and brought his hand behind his neck. "I guess there's nothing to talk about anyamore. See nya." With that, all his body, except for the head, disappears before my eyes. I have a feeling the rest will follow soon.

Wait, no! "HEY!" I lurch forward. Grim yowls. "I love your piercings!"

Che'nya, or rather, his head, winks at me. "Thanks, I liked yours too!" And with that he disappears from sight and touch. No grass bent in his footsteps, nada. Just the faint sound of him singing.

Grim huffs indignantly and sticks his paws to me. "Do NOT do that again. You may be my underling, but I will let you to die."

"Sorry, Grim." I am genuinely remorseful. My motion had to have knocked him at the ground. "Can you forgive me?"

He turns his nose up. "I will think about it. With a can of tuna I can think faster."

"I will see what can be done." I turn my gaze to my other friends. "We're making a plan now, aren't we?"

Ace's grin has knives on it. "You can bet your ass we are."



loOol




We end up at the infirmary anyway, because anaphylaxis is serious and we don't want relapsing. I stay on the oxygen for some time, as well for monitoring. The doctor, one Ruq'a Birdwell, asks if we know what caused it; our answer is negative. Ace and Deuce end up describing my black out episode, and Ace receives a bag of ice for his swollen check. I must have been really out of it, because I don't remember our senpais smacking him on the face.

The boys bring food from the cafeteria for us. Grim stayed with me; he also had to take some exams, something about his biology, and soon we're drafting plans.

"So, we ambush him on the library."

Deuce raised his finger. We wait until he's finished chewing to talk. "What we do if he asks someone else to deliver the book for him?"

Ace had an answer ready already. "We ambush him on his way to classes. Or club, maybe."

Grim pipes in. "But we don't know which club Glasses is in."

I have an answer for that. Imagawa-san, thanks for putting your things on everybody's view. "Ah, but there must be a list with it, somewhere, right? Name and club, if only for organizational purposes. Budget too."

Grim looked curious at this. "Why'd they need a list for a bucket?

"No, a budget." Deuce repeated the word, emphasizing on the syllables. "I forgot you're a monster..." And what is a monster here, exactly? "Budget is how much money someone plans to use in time-window. Like, how much you can use on clothes that month and such."

"Your mom budgets the market, right?"

Deuce blinked in surprise before giving me a shy grin. "She does."

Ace looked between us and bodily put himself between me and Deuce. "Hey! Focus on the plan." I roll my eyes at him. I am focused. "Book. Library. If it doesn't work, we're going ambush him after the club, I don't want him to use excuses he's late to classes or club activities. Something else?"

Something else...? Then, I guess "Where you will be staying in the meantime?"

Ace doesn't wait a second. "Ramshackle, of course."

Trey-senpai also mentioned something on these lines, but... "That's not the name of the dorm." Charlotte-senpai had yet to name it in my hearing, but not once she called it Ramshackle. Judging by the origins, I think that's just the nickname it catched. All dorms have cool names and ours don't? I can't believe it. "And you're forgetting I don't have decision powers about it."

Deuce catches on my hint easily. "It's... if we explain the situation, senpai will, right?"

I shrug. I don't know much about her, besides 'controls vines that I THINK are invasive species, but don't quote me on this', 'gives out great advice' and 'my other source for answers about this place'.

Deuce hangs his head and chews his food aggressively. "Fuck, she's not letting us stay."

Ace points his fork at him. "Or she will, but since she knows we have no choice, she will be unreasonable about it." He runs his hands through his hair, a sign of stress. He's still high strung from Unbirthday. "Damn it! I won't switch from a tyrant to an extortionist!"

Grim voices my thoughts. "You're really hoping for the worst."

"Coupled the students' fame with the attitude from everyone we've met so far, what else are you expecting?" Grim cocks his head to the side, confused and I wait for the clarification. I was told everyone's an asshole, which I don't doubt, but is the fame that bad? "Right, forget it." Or it's just the normal complaining?

Ace smacks a fist on his palm. "We are camping on the main grounds. Yeah, brilliant idea."

Time to intervene. "Don't be an idiot." I turn to my companion; his face is full of crumbs. I point to him and wipe out my face, hoping he will catch my meaning. "Grim, you remember the first digits from the number I told you?"

"Of course I do!" His tongue extends and clean his face. It surprises me with its length. That is not a cat, my brain yells. Great brain, I already knew that.

"Great. One of you, lend me your phone."

Deuce offer me his first. "What are you going to do?"

"Take you two out of your misery."

"Like in a date way or in a murder way?" Wiggling his eyebrows, Ace draws a snort from me. I'm seriously tempted to answer.

The phone rings and rings and rings. Nothing. I had accounted for it.

I call again. Deuce tries to ask me a question, but I shush him. This time, the call is accepted.

"Hello?"

I see the dawning understanding on their faces. I put the phone on speaker, picking faint voices on the background. "Senpai? Hi, here's Yuu."

"Hi Yuu, what's up? Three bowls, please." I'm under the impression we are not meant to hear the last bit, but the phone catches on it anyway.


"It's..." I should had planned it better. I don't know how to say this tactly. Catching my friends' eyes, I proceed, anyway. "Ace and Deuce need a place to stay, can they stay at our dorm?"

"Hang on." Charlotte-senpai asks someone on the line about the juice ones. She's at the market, maybe? But it doesn't sound like the Mystery Shop...? "Okay, are they there with you?"

"Yeah, the phone's on speaker."

"Hello, boys." Her voice picks an upbeat tone. "You can stay at the dorm, but I have some ground rules to go through." I nod along. She had gone through these with me too. "And, if you're staying for more than the weekend, I will have you doing some small jobs for me. Most of it is to do with the upkeep of the dorm, don't worry. Is that good for you?"

I offer them the phone. Ace picks it first. "The rules, it's reasonable, yeah? No Unbirthday shit, or something?"

Charlotte laughs. "They are. If you have concerns, it's possible to flexibilize it. So, you guys in?"

Ace looks to Deuce. Deuce considers the proposal for a moment, before giving his agreement in a thumbs up. "Yeah, count us in."

"Excellent." In an equally cheery voice, she continues. "Hey, anyone want something from the farmers' market?"

"There's one close?"

I was right. Sort of.

Also, I definitely should find a map of this place. I couldn't recognize the one that Crowley showed me, and it won't hurt to know more about the places nearby.

Even when I won't stay long on this world.

"Yeah, downtown. Every Friday, eight to four, it's here. I've an afternoon shift today, so I will be back only by the evening, but if you've suggestions, I am all ears."

Grim jumps between us yelling at the phone. "Fish! Mackerel and tuna and salmon..."



loOol




Magic, I learn, is very, very cool.


I have to catch up with like, years of it, but it is very cool. Grim will have to do most practicals while we're here, but there are some things I can do. Potions, and some alchemy; astrology (a real science here!), maths, and all the theory. The boys say I cannot fly, since I have no magic, but honestly? Flying on brooms is so overrated. You are with a broomstick between your legs and that's what holding you up on the air? Not, say, a comfy cushion, but a piece of wood? And I only have it to hold, and not, say, a seat belt or something? No other safety measure?

Easy pass. Even motorcycles have helmets and regulations like closed shoes (no high heels) and the recommended clothing – thick, from the wind and cushion the body in case of accidents.

"Goldie, you don't understand. Brooms are a formative experience."


Ah, the nickname catched. Even Deuce's using it.

I raise my brow. "A formative experience on fear, you say? I don't have a fear of heights, but these things..." I shudder, "they make me afraid."

Grim jumps on the couch I'm using to read. Since Charlotte-senpai convinced Rosehearts to free him, he's perky. "You don't need be afraid, yanno, since the great Grim'll be the one flying it!"

Deuce watches me with pity. "I must not be explaining it right... Ace!" He whisper-yells to the corner where the red head is keeping watch. "Back me up here." He waves his arm, catching his attention, and makes a gesture of 'come here.'

Throwing one last look at the entrance, Ace saunters to our little nook, pulling his headphones away when he is near.

"What's up?"


Deuce points to me immediately, like a child tattling to the teacher. "Goldie here doesn't like brooms." Ah, but with his past, he's the one used to getting tattled. "Rather they don't understand why they should."


Ace turns with me, arms crossed and a puffed up chest. It makes him look like one of the pigeons I saw on campus. "What are you, a mermer?"

My thoughts are immediately derailed by the concept.


"That exists?"


"Yeah, why'd it not?"


Wow. That's– that's nice, yeah. "We don't have mermaids at home. Or merman. Or mermer, if it follows the same logic of the other words."


Ace gapes at me and Deuce does the same, if a little less pronounced. Grim, who already knew this, continues to read his picture book on the ground.

"Seven, that's so dumb." Shaking his head, he points at the position he was in. "Deuce, switch with me; gotta talk with Goldie." Acquiring Deuce's couch, Ace tucks one legs under the other and rest his chin in one hand. I see I won't get my reading done. "What, next you will say that you don't have therianthropes." I don't meet his eyes. Okay, I won't say it. Ace correctly interprets my expression. "You don't either? The hell?"

I look up. He's gawking. I shrug. "Just humans, I'm afraid. And myths and folklore." I don't want talk about the subject anymore; fiddling with the piercings on my ears, I ask, "What's so good about the broom, anyways?"

Ace holds his hand in a fist. "It's flexible, quick to carry, quick to use, to maintain, and you use it to play Magift." His hand is open now and his fingers wiggle. "What's there to not like?"

"It has no brakes, no security and if I fall from it I will die."

"Ugh, live a little, Goldie. You agree, right, Grim?"

"Hehe, of course!" Grim raises his head from the book and blinks in confusion. "...what's magift?"

"Just the most amazing sport on all the worlds..."

Magic Shift, or just magift, which I honestly thought it was from magic gift, seems to be very similar to American football, with seven players on each team. They can all use magic and play on brooms, although some moves can be made on ground. Ace enthusiastically goes through the rules for us and eagerly show us clips of past games when either of us I pipe in, although Grim is the most curious among us. It looks awesome, but doesn't interest me much. "Again, pass. Grim, take glory on our stead."

"Yeah! Leave it for me!"

"Only one of them get it and it's the monster of all things.."

We've been in the library for some days, waiting on Trey-senpai. I think maybe someone returned his book for him or he renovated the book subscription online or something and it will be another week before we catch him. I don't think the boys will have the patience for it, and it isn't just because of the things back on the dorm.

(Truly, of all things to exist in an old building, that's the weirdest one. Not the dolls, not the ghosts, the hands. But they're pests, so maybe it shouldn't be on this category.)

On the meanwhile, however, we read. I study, Grim learns words with picture books, Ace reads popular bookseries or audiobooks, while Deuce combines studies with comics. I am not sure if the last's a guilt pleasure, or if he feels guilty by watching me study and so he joins me.

Magic, the one of spells and such, I learn, is will and imagination given shape. Which make sense considering Deuce's cauldron, and Ace's wind, when you consider the motion as a shape. Talking about motion, it has an influence on the casting, according to this book from 'Those Lethal Arts' series. I haven't reached the lethal point yet though. The author classifies casting on three main types: physical, artificer and aura. Physical casters use the whole body on casting, like in hand-to-hand combat, artificers casters do it as if they had weapons in their hands and aura types make it appear through their will alone or something. The last type seems more dangerous somehow because what if you lost your focus or couldn't concentrate? Then what, your magic just goes out around you area in all directions?

I am glad to have this book, though. Looking back on the times I've seen Grim use his magic, it's either fireballs – which seems to come from him opening his mouth but not from inside him – and straight up making fire appear, few extra movements, making it fall closer to aura casting. If Grim loses control...

Yeah, I am glad to have this book. At least I know what is happening this way and can look up for solutions. I don't know for how long I will stay, and for the time being I should try to adapt myself.

Pondering about Grim's magic, makes me wonder about Deuce's and Ace. So far, Deuce's Cauldron seems to involve his whole body on it, but I'm hesitant in classifying him as primary physical caster from only that. Maybe it's only this spell he's that way. Ace, on other hand...

"Hey Ace, how do you cast a spell?"

"You concentrate on it and then pull it forward...?" He ends with an inquiring tilt on his voice, watching me bemusedly.

That is not what I want. "No, no, how you cast a spell? How you move?"

"That's easy, like this." He demonstrates, rising and pulling his pen out of the blazer.

I ask him to repeat it thrice and he does, after some needling. Ace's initial movement is taking out his pen out with his right hand, doing a half arc in clockwork with a bent elbow to his face then straightening his elbow and bringing his arm down. Meanwhile, his left leg is pulled behind his right and when his arm goes downwards his left steps on the ground slightly bent while his right widens, like if he was dancing.

"Goldie, why I'm doing this again?"

"Because I'm trying to classify you according to my book. I think you're an artificer or a dancer, which is a sub-set physical casting."

His face clears in understanding. "Oh. That." Then he grins. "Whom else you did?" I answer easily and a devilish light appears on his eyes. "Hey, we saw Cater-senpai doing magic more than once, right? Do him."

Cater-senpai brought the pen to his face and pulled his right arm down, at the same time he brought his left arm and leg upwards. But... " I remember his basic casting, but he did something more complex when doing our clothes."

"Yeah, he did." He brings his hand to chin in contemplation, before lighting up. "I think I remember one of his moves. Watch."

Ace repeated the same move from before. This time, when he brings his arm down, he follows the movement with his elbow, before stopping and doing a half-arc with his arm parallel to the ground. He lowers his gravity center by bending his left knee and bringing his right leg on diagonal like he is drawing a line on sand. "How's it?"

It seems to fit among my memories. "You did fine, I think it matches." I analyse it in my mind for a time. I'm having the same problem as before. "I think he fits the same as you, but it looks like's he dancing too."

Ace snickers. "Please, tell it to his face. I will film."


I nod.

I will never speak about it again.

Another book informs me that magicians usually have two affinities: one stronger, and the second weaker, but still stronger than if they had no affinity. As far I could understand, it means some spells are easier because of the affinity, but no spell is made impossible because one lacks it. Grim, I am nearly a hundred sure, has a fire affinity.

I say that much to him, that puffs up. "Of course, my fire's the greatest."

Without looking from his book, Ace speaks. "That just means your greatest accomplishment will be lighting up a candle."

That gets a raise of Grim, literally. He's floating. "Wanna fight Ace? Oh yeah, forgot you can't."

"I can take you on any day, furball." Ace's smile is more a baring of teeth. Someone's eager for action. "Let's get out of here, I will show you."

I sigh. Being the voice of reason, seems it is going to be my role. "What did you mean with the candle?"

"Much of magic is about control." I stare blankly at him. What? Isn't it will and imagination?

Sensing my thoughts, Ace continues."Control your aura field and you can do household magic; control a broom and it will follow your directions." I hesitantly agree. That seems to track. "Some things can't run with power alone. Is a circle of fire the absolute coolest? Hell yeah, but if I do it on the street I'll be fined for property damage. Worse if I commit arson or start forest fire." Shit, he is right. G-d be good, Grim needs to learn control, or else... "So, what most accomplished magicians do with fire magic? Light up their stoves, warm their food, heat their packs..." Shrugging in false nonchalance in a gesture of 'what can you do about it', he grins.

Still. That's a great explanation. One of the best I had until now for the practical uses of magic. It seems to make things easier, when there's no corresponding technology. I haven't seen a microwave so far. "Ace-sensei, please take good care of me." I bow in a 90 degrees to him.

"Wah!? Shuddup, Yuu!" "You're MY underling, Yuu!

 

Either way, I am glad to not be alone.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, something different breaks away the routine. For once, Miles wakes me up a bit earlier to ask me if I could to start the coffee. It's usually senpai that does it, so I figure something must be going on. I don't mind it, however. It makes me feel better to not be freeloading on her. I use the downstairs bathroom to shower and once I'm done I finish the coffee. The smell lingers and attracts Deuce, who isn't dressed up yet.

"Morning, Goldie, Grim." He goes not for the coffee, but for the juice on the fridge.

"G'morning!" Grim dislikes the strong taste of it, but he is satisfied in drinking it with milk.

"Morning." I sip from my cup. Ace took the bathroom after me, so it will be a while before he shows up.

We're content in staying quiet, even when Ace's shows up. He still spooked about the doll incident; he watching the corners like's waiting for one to jump out. Not a mandrake though; Grim burned these on a bonfire yesterday. It was a bit morbid, what with these being weird walking plants.

Charlotte-senpai only appears when we're ready to go out. She is in another of her beloved hats, a straw hat with a wide brin and, to my surprise, she is in a pink dress, with a jacket with the puffiest sleeves I've ever seen covering her arms, a bag on strapped to her shoulder and heels. Not the clothes I expect her to be in. "Good morning people!" She waves to us from the stairs and her hoop earrings catch light.

Ace whistles. "My, Charlotte-senpai, you going in a date?"

"Why, interested?" She winks. "Sorry, you all are too young for me." When she comes closer, I can see she has put more make-up on her face and not only the usual eyeshadow/eyeliner she told me was part of the dress code. Her lips are colored deep pink, like a ripe watermelon, and her eyes are contoured in dark eyeliner. "I'm going to the library, actually, feel free to tag along."

The library? With this get up? "Is there an event happening?"

Charlotte-senpai laughs. "Oh, sorry. Not NRC's library, RSA's library. They only open a few times per year and today is one of these times." She looks to the ceiling, then blinks a few times focusing on us. "Some teachers will go too, so maybe you get a free period today. Thanks a lot for the coffee, by the way. Now, if you excuse me..."

 

On the way to classes, we talk about it. "What's RSA?" Grim asks the more important question as soon as we're out of the door.

I am curious too. I didn't peg senpai for the type to miss classes, so what I know?

Deuce swings his bag back and forth. "Royal Sword Academy. It's a college on the other side of the island." Right. I had forgotten we're on an island.

I really should get a map.

"Where's the good gossip, Deuce?" Ace snickers and yeah, Deuce, where the good gossip? "It's college yeah, rivals with Night Raven. Importantly, we're better than them because we're a mixed school with a lax curfew while they are an all-boys schools with a rigid boarding system that only relaxes on Fridays and weekends." See? This is useful context. " It's a private college, so they think themselves better than us on public education."

Deuce's more willing to help me out and Ace's the more practical insights. Together, they complement each other. Not that I'm saying it to their faces.

I grunt under the weight of Grim shifting to my other shoulder. "And how ya know that? Ya never went there."

He shrugs. "One of my brother exes was from RSA and he whined about it allll the time when they're dating." He switches to a falsetto. "Ugh Ace, I was planning to watch the meteor shower with Alan but his stupid college doesn't allow it! I want to do something for our anniversary, but RSA has exams this week! God hates meee...!"

It makes my lips curve up. "You have a brother?" Funny, he striked me as an only child.

"Yeah, seven years older than me. You two?"

"Only child." "Same."

We discuss more about the merits of each school and conclude that Night Raven wins by a landslide, despite its distance from the nearest settlement. We also all agree that once we stop waiting on Trey, we have to go explore the city. Ace's brother gave him some recommendations and he's eager to look at it.

On classes, we sit on the back. Our first period is with Alair-sensei, on Magic Analysis. He is a bird therianthrope who seems to be exasperated after dealing with everyone, and his explanations are amazing. His voice is captivating as he goes through the meaning of magic and the consequences and reason for each definition.

Our second period is less fun. P.E. with Vargas-sensei. Now, don't get me wrong, I like P.E., even if it involves running laps and sit-ups and other exercises. That's fine, if boring. What I dislike is how every asshole on my class decided that would be free season to pick on me. We're divided on groups and me and my friends each gets a different group. I fall I am pushed more than once, and once classes end, visible bruises litter my skin. Deuce expression is dark, and while Ace has an arm slung over my shoulders, his smile is tight.

"You're so clumsy, Goldie. Just stick to us to avoid another 'accident'."

Fair.

Following Charlotte's prediction, we don't have our last period, Biology. Isla-sensei is one of the teachers that is absent for today.

We go on exploring the castle. We get lost more than once it is so big! and it's only by Grim's sense of smell coupled with a guesswork of our position by the windows and verandas that we find ourselves back to our main path. We still haven't explored everything yet when Deuce's alarm warn us that we should go to the cafeteria. Since we're collectively avoiding Riddle, we're either eating after everyone, or, like today, before everyone.

The food is great.

After, we head to what I've been calling in my head The Great Stakeout and once my guard shift ends, I find myself some maps.

It's truly different from home. Even the shape of the continents isn't the same. Intellectually I knew that; Crowley showed me the damn maps and I am unfamiliar with some of the common kanji. But...

It kind of only really hammers out that I am in a different world this time. No grandmother to call home when I miss the States or cousins to message and to consider the timezone. No father to lift me up when other students make fun of me or a mother to tear a new one on people when I get the fame of a delinquent. We had debated whether I would try for an university in Japan, where my father was born and where we had moved in only for the recent years, or try to one in the USA, in which I would live with Grandma. I wanted to be a marine biologist. Now...

Now I just cannot.

I knew I would miss Father's hugs and his love of horror movies and how Mother away burned a bit of rice and did the funniest book commentary on live, and the smell of home, fragrant tea and the cleanness of pine but-

I wasn't ready.

I thought I would have more time before we parted ways.

What if Crowley never finds a way home?

What if I am doomed to stay in this world forever?

I never kissed Father and Mother goodbye. Never hugged them and knew that would be a while before we saw each other. Never hanged out with Michiko and Takenosuke one last time or messaged José or-

Or-

Or-

Grim' bright flames are all I can see in my clouded vision, as well as his big, blue eyes. "Why ya're leaking? Stop it." His voice is low and he watches me with concern.

"Sorry."

"It's because of the folks earlier? I can make 'em leave ya alone."

"No, it's... I expected that, it's fine–I..." It's with a large puff out of air that I say that, like a bursting dam. "I miss home."

Grim goes through many emotions. Not being a human, it's harder to detect them when he isn't intentionally mimicking us, before settling in downturned ears and a curled tail around his body. "I can't fix that now."

"I know."

"I... I don't have a home to go back to." I nod along. I already gleamed it. He points to me with his forked tail. "So ya should just focus on helpin' me to become the greatest, 'right? I'll send ya back."

"What...?"

His grin is positively devilish. "Grim-sama will help ya out Yuu, back to yer world, but that won't happen if you're moppin' instead of focusin' on me. So stop that!"

I muster a smile. It's his attempt to cheer me up and while it could use some work, it works as intended. I only have been here for what, a week, it's too early to lose hope. Who knows, I should have more faith on Crowley. If that guy is the Headmaster, he should have access to more resources than me, a no one, gets. He must be just occupied, he has other things to focus on. I should, however, start my research once I get hang up of the basics.

Grim's right. Someone must be able to help me out.

"Than-"

.

.

.

 

"-ks."

Huh? What?

I open my eyes.

I am back on my bed and Miles is hovering on my elbow. He is a cold presence in my room. "The Prefect is inquiring if you could start the coffee? She sends her apologies for-" He does finger hands,"-'springing it' on you."

Again? "It's fine, I can do it. Does she plan on needing it tomorrow too or-?"

"I don't know." He moves away from me and watches me blue sclera eyes.  I don't know what he's hoping to find with his gaze. "Will you ask her it yourself?"

When I went to bed, again? I am having trouble remembering. "Later, she must be occupied now. Thanks, Mr. Miles."

With that, Miles disappears from sight. I turn to Grim, who takes the other half of the bed, and poke him.

"Whazzup...?" Voice thick with sleep, his ears don't do more than flip.

"I'm going to take my bath downstairs and start breakfast. Are you coming this time?"

Grim stretches, very much like a cat, but also, very much not. Something on the movement and the way he bends whispers of other. "Course I am. If I leave ya alone ya'll be killed by mandrakes and how's my career goin' to advance this way?"

I roll my eyes. You use the flash one time and no one leaves you to forget it. Moving away to the wardrobe, I get out my student uniform. "I thought you took care of it the day before yesterday?"

"No...? That was yesterday."

I stare at him. He stares me back. "You set them on fire on Monday...?"

"Yes. That was yesterday. I know how to count." Grim crosses his arms. "Are ya still asleep, Yuu? It's Tuesday."

"No, it's Wednesday. Tuesday was yesterday."

"That's a funny joke Yuu, but I'm too smart to fall for it." He says confidently. I am confused for the reason for it. "Look, Sunday we slept with Charlotte 'cause of the mandrakes on our heels and her bedding's good, but I'd to squeeze myself to fit in with the three of us-" and it was tight, but I slept just fine while senpai cuddled a pillow. The sound of the fan was a better lullaby than the silence in our bedroom.

Besides, you only need to be chased by plants once before you refuse to sleep without someone with magic close-by or a good weapon until the problem is dealt. "-and Monday's the day I got my fire AND my bed back. I'd remember if I had it again for 'nother day."

It's a thought out argument and I have to give it credit where it's due: Grim would remember because he's insufferable about his pillow. One would think he never had one for his reaction to it. But I remember being Tuesday too. Maybe...

Maybe this is just in line with the other weird dreams I had about Alice in Wonderland and the visions when fighting the creature in the mines.



loOol


My theory is proven true. Everyone does the same as my dream: Charlotte-senpai's late for breakfast, with the same clothes as before; we talk about RSA and classes proceed the same this time I manage to avoid some bruises; we explore the castle and the damn design is the same, which, neat. I never had future visions before, but I also never got transported to a different world before, so maybe this is all part of the package. No magic of my own, in exchange of glimpses of the future. If I had a say on it, I would prefer magic, but since I didn't, the exchange is fine.

The books are the same and that may be just the best part of it, since I can skip a lot of content. Trey-senpai won't appear either so I'm glad to relax in the library.


loOol


It happens thrice before I decide I am in a shitdamned fucking time loop. In my defense, I had no reason to think it wasn't any other of my weird future visions, but you can only live the same day a few times before you notice it. And this thing doesn't even happen as a normal time loop: I am all dandy in the middle of a book when I am fucking yeeted back to my bed, with Miles waking me up. It's terrible, that's what.

"This is my fifth Tuesday and if I have to go through it again I going to commit something. I'm still on the fence about it."

Deuce settles his cup and watches me with a blank expression. "Goldie, how old are you?"

"Eighteen...? My birthday's on February."

"Eighteen what?"

I stare confusedly at him. "Eighteen years...?"

He sighs in relief. "Don't scare me like that." Scare him like what? "I'm sorry you have to learn about this this way, but Tuesdays happens every week." The thing is, he sounds really regretful about it. Like he thinks my calendar works differently.

It doesn't. It's funny, really, but time here is counted in the same way as home. Same blue skies too.

"I know." I sound more aggressive than I wanted, so I chew my toast with the same aggression. "I specifically want this Tuesday to stop happening."

"We don't know how to time travel Yuu, unless you do...?"

No and there lies the problem. "I just want skip this day. I just want this time loop to stop."

A hand snags my toast. Huh. "Why'd you get in a time loop?" Ace takes the seat ahead of me. "No offense, but you're magicless." The way he says the word, dragging out the -less in the word only emphasizes his disbelief.

Right? It shouldn't be happening to me. "I don't know and I hate it."

Ace snorts. "Timeloops don't just happen. Tell me when you find it." I know he doesn't believe me. It's written on his face. "Or don't, it doesn't make a difference."

I switch my gaze to Deuce, but he doesn't meet my eyes. "Ace's right. I mean, are you sure it isn't just a sense of dejà vú?"

"Er... what ya talkin' 'bout? Deja vi?"

Absently minded, I answer Grim. "The sense that something has happened before and is happening again."

"Oh, that. Happens all the time."

It is not a dejá vú. It's hard to convince them but neither I would believe it if someone I met only for a week told me it. But I have proof. "Okay, when we will be nearly going out for school, Charlotte-senpai will appear. She won't be going on college for today. Alair-sensei will mention Merryweather, Bell, and White on his discussion about the meaning of magic. Vargas-sensei will put us in groups for exercises and Isla-sensei will miss today's period. The vegetarian option will be eggs and tofu and we won't meet Trey-senpai today either."

The day proceeds just as predicted and I am smuggest bitch around when it is time for us to stay at the library.

Hands raised in defeat, nonetheless, Ace stick his tongue at me. "Okay, okay, stop with that face. I concede something's going on, but it is not a time loop."


"Future visions, maybe?"

"Yeah Deuce, my money's on that too."

Uuuugh, why these people can't just believe me??? "It is not future visions, okay? I have these awake, not when I am on my bed."

It's time for them both gape at me. "Since when you have future visions, Goldie?"

"Since I came here...? You think I could just know where the creature on the mines would attack?"

Realization light up their faces. Ace's eyes are wide like he only remembered that now. Deuce goes through that state faster, pursing his lips and hesitating, before speaking. "...did you know we were going to help you?"

Oh.

Oh.

It hits different if he thinks I knew it from the start. "No, I didn't. I... I don't control it. I was ready to fight alone, it's- it doesn't happen when I want, just when I am in danger." And dangerous it was. I am lucky for not dreaming of it until now but-

Blood red and bone white and splash-

It will be only a matter of time.

I don't know if he sees something on my face of if it was the quality of my voice, but I hear a quiet 'oh' and a hand settles on my arm. "That's... I'm sorry for asking."

I lean against the warmth. "You didn't know."

"Well, I am not." Ace interrupts the moment by shaking me by the shoulders. His fingers dig into bruises I am not sure if he remembers are there. "What you mean, 'danger'? Like, you're going to fall from the stairs danger or if I don't move right now I'm going to be killed danger?"

How do I rate my visions? I never stopped to think about it, just went with it. "Er...I had one of you and Grim fighting, on the Main Street...?"

"Ah. That." He releases me. "Then it's just set to normal things. You'd be fine that day, Goldie."

Because fire and wind are such a great combination, right?

"Are burns on the fine category to you?"

"Yeah." Ace makes a dismissive wave. "The worst you'd get would be some second degree burns, nothing to worry about."

I cannot stop myself from rolling my eyes. I would get pretty pissed if I got burned because he and Grim were so careless. And talking about Grim...

He has been quiet for some time now. His tail is curved around my bag so I am stringing him along, but it isn't normal for him not say anything when we are chatting. I have to call his name twice before he looks at me. "What's up?"

"What are you thinking about? You have been quiet."

He points his paw to our destination. "Look."

Night Raven's library is a simple and small building when compared to the giant castle where we have classes. Painted in beige with towers of soft grey-blue, it holds a big, circular on window above the entrance, and the only others I've seen are on its back. I can safely say I can navigate it. "Something wrong?"

"The crows. They're watchin' us."

Now he points out, there's a distressing amount of these birds turned toward us. And when I say distressing, I truly mean it.

Night Raven College is true to its name and hosts a horde of ravens and crows, although there's a staggering amount of pigeons too. None of the latter are close by, however; only a sea of dark wings.

"That's-" worrying, distressing, fucking eerie "let's not worry about it."

"Yeah, maybe they're curious. Corvids are really smart."

I am really inclined to agree with Ace, if only because I don't want to think about the implications of the birds watching us. If a pigeon helped me the other day, what nebulous thoughts do corvids hold? It's enough I am in another world and in a time loop. My plate can only hold so much.

 

When it's time to change shifts, Deuce gives me a book on prophecies, visions and other omens on the future. It's... nice that he thought to give me it, and I read it because perhaps it could help me out to understand these danger visions, although I have mixed feeling on the matter. It's a time loop, I am sure. It's... upsetting I am the only one who knows and this is done with good intentions, but...

I am speaking the truth. I am.

It keep my eye on the clock. 17:41, 42, 43, 44...

.

.

.

Miles hovers on my elbow. I sigh tiredly. This is going to be a loooong day.


loOol



I give up on telling my friends about it on day fifteen. They keep insisting on it being prophetic dreams and I have no patience to continue arguing when they will all forget. Instead, I settle on missing classes with Grim – who can be convinced in doing that by mere power of suggestion alone and exploring NRC.

It's there that I learn that Crowley was right and a bunch of self-absorbed prideful idiots think it's funny to mess with the magicless student. I am thrown from the stairs, get water throw on me - ocean water, even, it tastes salty get my things throw around, get more 'accidents' not accidental at all... Ah, truly a school full of prestigious students. This isn't the first time I've been bullied either and although it is fucking annoying, I give some of these assholes as good as I am given. Grim helps out with his claws; better not have him raising the stakes and have one of these bastards to reply in kind. I don't even notice how much relaxed I get until after a fight.

It has implications I'm all too happy to ignore.

Although... it is not everyone.

Some older students watch. I don't know which classes they are, but I can guess whether they are first years or not by the way they carry themselves; more relaxed, more sure of themselves, more dangerous. They don't interfere. They don't say a thing about what is happening, they don't get involved on it themselves, but they watch. There are smiles and wiggling eyebrows and money exchanged, but they don't touch me or Grim.

Not everyone, no, but enough that I know to be wary of what's happening. It's possible something more insidious is going on. People love their rumours and it wouldn't surprise me if some of them were about me.

Truly, how predictable.

On the 27th Tuesday, I know about the school grounds like the palm of my hand, not included the forest. Time to go out.

"I'm going to the library, actually, feel free to tag along." Charlotte-senpai says again and again and this time, my answer changes.

"Really? I'm going then."

Charlotte-senpai blinks twice. "It's on the other side of island, you sure?" I nod and she claps. "Great, just let me take my coffee! Anyone else?" She turns at my friends, like she's truly eager for their answer.

Deuce crosses his arms, and looks away. "Er... Sorry, senpai we have classes to go." His brows furrow. "Goldie, you shouldn't miss them either." Ah. The frown is for me. Not sorry to disappoint.

"No, but because I won't skip classes to go to another library. I'm tired of getting cooped up there." His next words are mumbled. "God, I should swear off libraries for a month at least..."

Senpai accepts their answer solemnly and turns to my smallest companion. "And you, Grim?"

Grim looks at me, then at Ace and Deuce before finally setting on Charlotte. "Ace and Deuce are right but this place's so boring! Let's get out!"

This out of the way, we have to only wait a bit before departing from the dorm. Since I'm going out too, senpai lends me some clothes, again. Her skirts can serve me just fine with a belt to hold them, despite her bigger measures than mine and while the shirt feels a bit baggier due to my glaring lack of breasts. I fix it by tucking it inside and using the skirt in a very high-waisted line. None of this is any problem to me because: one, I am broke; two, they both come with the most important feature in any clothing article: pockets. The skirts has four on the outside alone, and Charlotte mention there are inner pockets on both. Truly, the most magnificent articles of clothing that I've ever used. I say as much.

Charlotte-senpai laughs through her nose; her smile is knowing. "Amazing right? All my clothes have pockets, even the corsets. It's against club rules to not have pockets."

"Really?"

"Yes. We hold competitions each year to see whom can fit most and whom can fit most content in them without sizing potions too." Ooh, cool new thing I didn't know existed until now spotted. "Biggest record is a woman that put a hungred and eight pockets on her dress, but we count the entire outfit, so each of her petticoats counted too."
 

That's a ton of pockets, what the hell. She could outfit an entire wardrobe with these numbers and this is not a case of only one for each piece. No. She's an outlier, that's what she is.

"What ya need pockets for?"

Charlotte-senpai smiles. "Well, we need to carry things, right? But holding everything on hands is annoying as hell, not even mentioning sometimes you need these hands." She talks with hers; chopping the air in the same position over and over, and when she advances on the topic, she changes the place she's chopping. "So, we create bags. It can store more things than hands-only and we even upgrade that so we can carry them in shoulders and such. But sometimes you need a closer place to store things. A bag is too bothersome to only keep a pair of keys too. So, you find a way to add it to clothes!" It's a progression. Her hands are following her thoughts. "It's easier and it's less of a risk to lose it, like a bag. However, some people thought that despite their usefulness, clothes SHOULDN'T have pockets and part of that idea continues to influence clothes today. Did you catch it all?"

"Yeah!" Looks like Grim is happy in learning things when it is made easier to him. It was a great idea to show him the picture books instead of only books with letters alone. "A pocket's like a pouch! I've one of these."


I-

What.

Charlotte blinks twice. It's the only sign she takes her time to process the information as something unexpected. "Really? Could you show me?"

"Sure!" Grim jumps on the air ahead of us, hovering with the aid of magic. He runs a paw through his belly and the lining of a flap of skin appears. "Look at it and be envious of my amazing capacities!" Like a fucking kangaroo, he sticks his paws inside. The worse of it all, I can't see any mark, any shape, of his limbs being hidden there. He could be hiding whatever there and I would never know.

Grim is not a cat. He is an unholy fusion of a cat, possum and some other things I have yet to learn. In these moments, I am glad to have an excellent pokerface because this is not fucking normal. But neither I can freak out because whatever Grim is I heard monster throw around I cannot alienate him. So I just have to endure the crazy.


I am ignoring the voice in my head saying that he must have these thoughts about me too.

"That's really amazing. Do you have a limit on how much you can carry?"

Grim and Charlotte go making a conversation all the way to the gates. There, I find it isn't only us waiting for the bus. A couple of students stand out their uniforms, and even a teacher or two although why there is a tent outside, I can't even start to guess.

We're approached by a tall girl with animal ears on her head, freckles and  furrowed brows. "Charlotte." She dips her chin into a nod. Her face is somewhat familiar.


Senpai lights up. "Hazel! Good morning! These are Yuu and Grim, they'll be accompanying us." Then turns to us. "You two, this is Hazel, she's one of my friends on 'somnia."

Hazel-senpai furrows her brows more. "Charlotte, not everyone's like you." I don't understand what she means by that, but I agree. I don't know how senpai has so much energy. "I'm Hazel Oakenheart, currently on 2-B. Nice to meet you."

"Yuu Goldstein, class 1-A, and my partner, Grim." I'm equally polite.

"Grim-sama!" He tries to correct me.

She watches him in deep judgement, before trying to cowe Charlotte-senpai under her intense gaze. The latter doesn't even flinch, only keeps her mega-watt grin, coupled with a dimple on one side. Hazel sighs in defeat and takes out her phone. Awkward.

Charlotte-senpai turns to us, something softer on her face and a smaller smile. "Don't mind Hazel, she isn't much for socializing. Any other questions?"

Me and Grim have a few, and she answer each with much patience. She sits with us when the bus arrives and I have to hold myself from speaking against every sharp turn. Grim has no such impulse. "Why everytime we've to go slower...!"

"History of Magic will explain, unless you want me to?"

The bus make another turn and I have to hold my seat to not lurch on the window. "Please."

"Weell... magic wasn't always THE thing nor the norm and not every user was all welcome in their community. Sometimes your child breaks a leg and while they're yelling in pain they set fires in their surroundings and once it catches, conjured fire can only be stopped by magical water." It explain the ceremony entrance. Charlotte sends me a knowing look, like she also knows what I'm thinking about. It's weird seeing her with the hat on her lap. I know it's because we're on a bus, but again: weird. I don't think I have ever seen her without one.


"This isn't the child's fault obviously they cannot help it, however the damage exists all the same. My example is fire just because it's very destructive, but maybe they just can speak to animals. Maybe they can fly on the wind, or their punches take the air out of your face, literally. Maybe they suck the nutrients on the soil to their plants only or they accidentally curse someone. On this period, we don't have schools for magic, just an apprenticeship if you are lucky to find an older magician." I have the impression not many are lucky. "However, once we get schools, they are set in remote places, like on the middle of a forest in a far away island, as to not hurt the people on the surroundings if they couldn't control it. You both with me so far?"

I assent and so does Grim. Charlotte grins. "Great! So, magic schools. Not every country has them, not every country is happy with them. And a lot of the students are children and teenagers. Some leaders want power, some want others to not have that power, some are plain afraid; what these people do? They attack the schools with armies, steal students, kill students... and some they have their own mages. It's what, four adults? Four, five adults and children versus trained personnel, hundreds of them. The results are obvious." Wow. That's- that's really dark. I thought that magic was commonplace but to learn it wasn't always so... what it meant...


Oblivious to my thoughts, she continues. "The rumours spread. Some schools stop existing, stop appearing, but others go more underground. Get harder to access or even enter the grounds. Night Raven College is one of these. A ton of mages, lead by the Headmaster at the time don't ask me for his name, I'm terrible with these then go and create the mountain."

"Create the mountain!?" Thank you Grim, for voicing my thoughts. What the fuck. I cannot even wrap my mind around the concept.

"Yes. They raise the ground that the school is in until it's not only a mountain, but you have to pass through a raised bridge AND and the path to the school is in zigzag. You can't put an army without people sounding the alarms. Clever, right?" 

Yes, it is. It makes sense for the castle to stand in a cliff. If Night Raven was meant to stand a siege, to be a fortress, the people responsible for it succeeded. It stands to this day, tall and mighty against foes and time. But damn, all these stairs...I bet there are incidents when it's raining.

The view shifts, from tall and verdant trees to crops to small houses to a river to bigger homes and other buildings and we are on the city proper. There are some stops along the way and more passengers enter but at last, the bus enters the station.

There, I am given a choice:

"RSA is a lot boring. These of us that go, go because we're academically inclined."

"Not me." Hazel-senpai adds. She's lingering, dragging her legs, while others have gone ahead.

Without missing a bet, Charlotte answers. "Shut up Hazel, you use your spare time to study to become a magical healer."

A magical healer? The thought shakes a faint idea on my mind, but for the life of me I cannot remember it.

Something to think about.

"But I am not here because I'm academically inclined."

Senpai has a knowing smile on her face. I'm under the impression these two are friends. "You're Artie-inclined, I know. I promise to not suck up all your boyfriend's time. Anyway" She twirls in my direction and her dress swishes. It must be on purpose "there isn't much to do, unless you've something in mind already. So, do you want to join me or would you prefer explore the city?"

"The city's better than a library. It's just a bunch of books, yanno..!

Staying in the city is the most alluring option, and if I change my mind later on, I can just say I want to go with her. Although... "But how I will go back?" I don't have money to pay the bus fare.

Charlotte crisps her lips, before holding a finger up. She goes through her bag, searching for something.

Hazel is faster. She presses coins in my hand until I accept. A quick look shows its more than I needed. "There. There's a bus schedule if you want to go earlier, but we'll stay on RSA until 18:00 if you want to wait for us."

"This covers more than the bus fare." A part of me bristles. I don't want charity. "Please take it back, Hazel-senpai. It's too much."

"It's impolite to return gifts." She says it sharply; I try to not take personally. "Burn it, use it, it's yours now." She shrugs and walks away, not a glance behind.

I gape. "Did she just do that?"

Charlotte-senpai snorts. "That's Hazel for you. She won't accept it back either."

Grim taps my head. "What's the problem in accepting some money?"

He wouldn't understand it. "It would be fine if it was just a bit extra, but this is the equivalent of asking for money for some candy a getting an entire package of it. It's too much." It's burdensome, it's what it is.

Or maybe it's me that is ashamed of needing it. I don't like asking for things much.

Charlotte looks sympathetic. She pats my free shoulder. "It's part of being from the Valley, everyone's intense. They surprise me too."

Ugh.

I don't like this situation at all, but there is nothing I can do about it.

Or maybe...

Maybe there is.

"What's the college's official policy on jobs?"

"You can have them freely, but you need authorization from Crowley if you're going to return after curfew. Do you remember when that is?"

She had gone through it with me the other day, although that was more than a month by now. I shake my head and she explains it again.



loOol



I do a fair amount of job hunting the next few weeks.

It's still Tuesday, though.

It's hard to find one than I thought; the hours are hardly compatible and many of them ask for experience. Mx, I am the brokest college student to exist here, do you think I am going to have any referrals? I still have to consider the commute time.

And of course, I meet a barrier I didn't expect.

The Isle of Sages receive students from over all the world, given the two colleges on it. The economy is also stimulated by these students; it had to become flexible to adapt to different cultures interwining as must have society. I can see a bit of it on the architecture on different styles, but given this is not my world, I cannot separate the influences on it or say which is which. I don't even know what countries exist here or what is their culture, although Japanese seems to be the common language shared among everyone. 

My point is. People here are flexible.

But not flexible enough to accept someone without an identification, and my student I.D. isn't enough. I don't have any other proof of my existence on this world, no citizenship or birth certificate, so I cannot be hired either.

I can't even appreciate the city like a damn tourist so stressed this is making me.

Grim keeps convincing me to use the money I was given no matter the day, and this time I use it to hit a sand bag in a gym I'd found.

"We'd better uses for that money! Think on how much tuna I could eat...!" He shrieks, far away from the bag. He learnt his lesson after he got hit by it once.

One day I spent nearly all madols on his beloved tuna, only keeping enough for lunch. He already had his day.

I grunt and punch the bag. I'm so fucking pissed.

I was just fixing my life back home. Now, here I am and my life is in fucking shambles. A hit. I've no money, no family and no knowledge.  Another hit. I can't fix the money because I've no papers and I can't fix the lack of papers because I don't know shit on how to get them. Another hit. I can't fix a family. I miss them like I have lived my whole life with long hair, until one day it was cut at my chin and now I have to re-learn how to style it, how to move my head and with every step I can feel the lack of it on my back. Another hit. The difference is that hair grows back. Another hit.

Maybe that was a bad metaphor.

Anotherhitanotherhitanotherhitanotherhit-

The bag breaks, and sand spills around me. It's like a poetic representation of my bearings.

"Fuck." 

I've to go back to the library.



loOol



I accidentally went to classes today because I had to talk to Adeuce about citizenship on the Rose Kingdom and whatever else they can tell me about there.

I didn't forgot that people disliked me. However none of them dealt with me when I am getting close to my limit, so a fight breaks out at Vargas-sensei class. I put a guy in the infirmary.

As punishment, I have to clear a shed, which hasn't been cleared for ages, by the state of things.

One of these days, I am going get the two months mark on the same Tuesday. I am not cleaning the damn shed and Deuce's disapproving gaze won't cowe me.

.

.

.

I clean part of it, because I'm an idiot and have an example to make for Grim. Even if he won't remember it. I should develop a stronger defense against my morals or something.

"But why are you so interested in it?" Deuce makes me company. Ace is taking our food from the cafeteria.

"The only proof I exist is my student I.D. What if something serious happens on the future? Besides, I need a job and for that I need a bank account."

"And for a bank account you need to exist." He rubs his chin and stares blankly ahead for a few minutes. When he speaks again, he sounds sure. "Maybe not in the Rose Kingdom, but I can help you to look at other places."

"That'd be great, thanks."

Two heads are better than one and three heads are better than two. I don't need much to convince Ace and I await on my corner of library while the boys go to the computers inside.

I'm leaning against the wall, reading more on the general history of this world, when a shadow covers my vision.

I look up. Heterochromatic eyes and sharp, sharp (!!!) teeth, like a mouth full of canines are close to my face. I flinch and hit the wall. The mouth widens in a grin.

"Nee, are you a crab like konpeito-chan?" The owner of these teeth asks casually, like he's not invading my personal space.

Crab? Konpeito? Isn't that candy?

When it seems I won't answer, he speaks again. "I asked ya a question, y'know." Ah, here is the current of danger. Green hair, freaking tall, no tie or vest that I can identify him by. Neither I see his pen to use the gem for it and he's to close to me look at the arm band.

"I don't know what you're talking about."

He regards me coldly. "Konpeito-chan's out today, I heard. Ya live together, ya should know it. So, are you a crab like her?"

With these hints, I get an idea about who he's talking about. "You mean, Charlotte-senpai?" Who's he, her boyfriend?

He raises a brow as if to say 'yes, now get out with it.'

"I am not a crab." I think. What he means with crab?? Maybe I'm a crab and I don't know it.

He moves away, only to grab my chin and study the bruises on my face. "A shame, ya should learn with her." He mumbles his next words. I'm under the impression I am not supposed to hear it. "But if's a different animal..." Louder, he asks. "Ya a fishie?"

"No...?"

"Thought so." He releases me and takes some steps away. "Bye, koebi-chan~" He walks to where Grim is hidden in the shape of a ball and pokes him. "Bye Azarashi-chan~ see ya whenever."

A shrimp? A seal?

I'm too shocked to react until he left my vision. I turn sharply to my companion. "What was that?"

"That" speaks a dismayed Grim  "is an upper year. Heard he sucks blood or somethin'."

A vampire...? "You sure?"

"Yeah. Yanno, ya saw that teeth? That's for blood."

Ooh, this is why Charlotte-senpai is always with that collar on her neck, even when she's on casual clothes. Makes sense.

Poor senpai.

"Did you understand what he was talking about?"

Grim shakes his head. "That guy's fishy."

Yeah. What's up with the nicknames? I don't even know him.

Fuck.

I don't even know him.

Why did he came looking for me?

Is it because I got in a fight? Or is the loop unraveling? I hope so, because I can only take so much. There's only so much you can do in a day - less than a day, closer to twelve hours - before you start going crazy. Brains need stimulation and I can only go around so much before everything gets boring.

Things to do if the loop continues: figure out the citizenship problem, play games on the boys' phones.



loOol



The citizenship problem is a damn terrible problem, because in most countries I've to be living there to request citizenship, and the ones that don't use a blood criteria or need to have a parent, sibling, spouse or children living there as citizens. I know more about immigration process in sixty different countries than I've ever wished to know, although that's all my knowledge about most of these.

Maybe if I ask our kind Headmaster he can do something about it. Senpai has to come as moral support because I don't think myself and my friends would be on even foot negotiating it, being juniors.

I pitch the idea to her in the bus.

She stills, then laughs a bit nervously. "About that... I have another idea."

"What's it?"

Charlotte avoids my gaze and fiddles with one of her curls. "Ah, I spoke to my friend not about your full undisclosed situation, just a redacted version and she knows a lawyer that can help you out. Are you familiar with the seas and oceans here?"

I had to look many maps up since this world lacked the Wikipedia equivalent to give me some quick info on countries and continents. This is a capital crime. "Vaguely."

"It's okay. Good." She inhales loudly. "So, the Glass Sea. Home to four different countries, but, the important part, the Glass Sea Confederation. It's the union of these countries plus the people living under the sea. The countries may have individual requisits for citizenship, but you can do just fine in them with a Glassian one."

"That's, uh- great, Charlotte-senpai, but I don't understand how it will help me."

Her next words are spoken in a half-singing voice as she pointedly doesn't meet my eyes. "Because of the uh– how I say that – shifting nature of the sea and the people in it, you can request a citizenship, even if you don't live there, but if you are ah, planning to stay there in the next years."

!

This is the best new I've heard all Tuesdays.

"You are telling me merpeople are migratory."

"Some. It's because of the diet. Psiculture is a thing, but not all space can nor should be dedicated to it, neither do all species fare well in captivity. People go out to other seas and, if they can find a way, to land."

Makes sense.

There's so much to do now but-

"Can I hug you?"

For the first time, since the entire conversation, she looks me in the way, smiling a bit awkwardly. "Yes. The answer to that yes most often than not."

If you ever tried to hug someone sitting beside you, you know it's awkward and all of you hit weird places. Her bag's on the way and she has to move it as to not crush uncomfortably against us. My piercing snags on one her curls and I've to hold my laughter at her embarrassment.

I miss it, when it's gone.

I have so much to do. I have to remember this talk, remember to mention this again when I get out of the loop, look up the Glass Sea, look up the confederation and its participating countries, look up the culture and the laws, look up the full requisites for citizenship, but

I feel lighter. A giant weight was taken out of my shoulder and I ain't Atlas anymore. More like a pressure cooker chortling after the fire is gone: yes, the pressure is still there and cooking my insides but there is no flame of dread trying to stroke it any higher and longer.

Now, if I only could find a way to exit these time loops...



loOol



I pass an entire day switching between lying on the grass, and lying on the bed. Between, I find some giant-ass zucchinis growing on the backyard and the child in me that saw neighbors gifting out zucchinis left and straight, dropping them on strangers' cars and had recipes with them forced down on my throat shudders. This must be the reason for the cafeteria serve it. I eat the blackberries growing on the iron gates, but no matter how careful I am, I get pickled in their thorns. Some have a slight tartness to them, while others are overly sweet. Some pigeons coo at me from the top of the fences, and sit fearless close. I find it justified when I find a pigeon house, curiously empty, but clean.

Th sun doesn't sets fully before I am yanked back to my bed.

Then, I get into researching time on NRC.



loOol



None of my current research yields the results that I need. The closer that I get to it is a mention on truly powerful mages being capable of rewinding time back on objects; most books go on winding time forwards to induce growth, but this is reserved to plants.

So, I go to Royal Sword Academy.

You can't access Royal Sword normally either: once you go closer to the city limits, you have to take a bunch of stairs again, I think people fall on these when it's raining, on spite of the handrails pass a basic security check and then you have to cross a bridge. Again.

Grim watches in open interest as we get closer. A castle is visible from far away, with its vibrant towers and icy white walls, built like a layered wedding cake. "Yanno, it's as big as ours...!"

I bet there are defensive measures here too, but I find it weird that the on the other side of this small peninsula, there a high wall circling the RSA, but not on the path we are taking. Senpai is nearly marching ahead, on spite of the click-clack of her heels and her small stature, although Hazel is closer, so maybe she will catch her if she was to fall. Grim isn't exactly what I call light, but switching my pace keep up takes few effort.

We cross half of the RSA, in what Hazel-senpai dubbed the peasants route. She offers some commentary on things, however it is Charlotte-senpai the one pointing out things more often than not. The architecture is all the same and the colors mirror castle; it's pretty to look at, but I think after some months living there, I would hate it passionately.

Also, there a sword on the stone at the central plaza.

"That's Artie's sword." Who's Artie again?

"Our king." It's said solemnly.

Like King Arthur?

I don't notice I let it slip out loud, until I see the mirthful grin on Charlotte's face and even Hazel has her lips upturned. On her back, her tail is swishing. "Exactly like him."

"There's a king here!?" Grim exclaims loudly, attracting passersby eyes.

Charlotte-senpai enthusiastically waves at them until they either wave back or look the other way. She pouts. "Ah, some people are rude, huh?" Then, gentler. "Grim, there isn't a king here, although I heard there are some princes studying on RSA. That was a joke because Artie's name is Arthur, like the king Arthur on stories, but they aren't related nor is Artie royalty."

A quiet 'Ah' leaves his mouth. His next words are brash. "Already knew that...! Pfff, 'course there isn't a king here."

The three of us trade looks. I shrug helplessly. It makes no difference to me if Grim keeps his pride or not. He won't remember it.


They still let him keep it and we proceed.

RSA's library is bigger than ours. This means they have more content to peruse. I find another picture book for Grim and search for titles that I haven't read before. It's hard, since the book that I need cross over diverse sections, but it is no trouble when I have all the time in the world. And is in that that lies the trouble.

When I return to our corner, Grim is already in another book, running his paws through the kanji. I should give him pen and paper to train his calligraphy at one point. Hazel-senpai disappeared and Charlotte-senpai is with a thick tome labelled...

Clearing my throat to get her attention, I point out to the book. Obligatory, she raises the cover.

...The transfer of power through the generations.

Sure, whatever interests her. I give her a thumbs up and she returns to her reading.

Somewhere in the middle of theories of the nature of time, Charlotte-senpai disappears.

I don't see her again.



loOol



She consistently disappears, I notice. The longer she stays is for an early lunch and giving out money for food, until she says has either to avoid an acquaintance or to meet one. I am trying to eliminate the variables on whom is it, but the library is filled with people and I cannot copy and paste my exact behaviour on past loops, so there is some variation. I am trying to stick to my wardrobe choices too, but you can only use the same set of clothes so many days on a row before you get sick of the combination. I am the variablest variable here, but I suspect Charlotte disappears when I ain't here too.


You would think that a woman in all boys college with a hat that big would attract more attention, right? So did I. Even without her hat, her get up would attract attention, dressed in painfully pink and heels as she is. For fuck's sake, I bet she has a corset under that too...!


Charlotte-senpai presence is loud! Loud in a way you can't miss! She's like a roseate spoonbill: it stays among heros and other birds but you will pay attention to it the moment your eyes find it. It's the lost cousin of a flamingo and no one misses a flamingo.

Begrudgingly, I admit there must be magic afoot, because you can't lost a people like her on this place. She must have hidden her pen in one of the many pockets her clothes have and used it, otherwise I would have found her by now.

I learn some interesting gossip, either way, like the rumour of a cryptid boy that can help you out if you are a RSA student and haunts the library corridors. So far, I haven't meet him yet, but mayhap he's a ghost. The rumours are inconclusive about his status and whether he is always on the library or if he can only be found on the library, some very helpful students tell me when asked. All I can think of is this dude is a reclusive sort, and we have these on NRC. The only day that I've ever seen proof that Mystos-senpai exists is that afternoon I spent all day on the dorm, and she appeared on early afternoon and jumped like a cat when she saw me. Mystos-senpai supposedly spends most of her afternoons and some evenings on my dorm and that was the only time I confirmed her existence.

On line with this, I learn that Che'nya studies here too, by virtue of seeing him on uniform. He was dragging a small boy along and the latter was desperately clutching trying to tug Che'nya's uniform in the other direction. "Come on Jameow, it will be fun!"

The boy continued to drag his legs. He was stout, and his long straight hair was wild around his face, parts of it in his mouth. He spits it out and the strands falls on his beard. His features look somewhat familiar, but I can blame it on the glasses he shares the model with Charlotte-senpai, but his is black while hers is red. He hisses something too low for me to decipher the words, but I understand the meaning. Che'nya fun won't be his fun.

Che'nya grins and leans down to whisper something on his ear. The boy stills and a reluctantly expression cross his face. They discuss for a bit, before the boy settles on a loud. "Only this time, Alchemi...!"

"Call me Che'nya, Jameow~"

Honestly? I pity him. Che'nya seems to be the extroverted type, which this boy isn't. On another loop, I see him in a quiet corner of the library reading manga. He was already slouching, but when he sees there's someone near, he hides on himself more, hunched shoulders making him look like if he could, he would become a pill bug and go out rolling. Or maybe he will go the raccoon route and hiss at me if I get closer he alreday has the matching eyebags.

Do you ever saw a duo and thought: how these people can stand each other in the same space? That was it.

After much research, I finally admit there's no way I can fix this. Fuck, you know what? I'm going to become a magicless magician and solve this by spite, just see.

First, however, I have to stop whatever is taking my focus out of it. "Senpai?"

"Hm...?"

"Are you hoping to avoid someone?"

She blinks twice and smiles nervously. Ah, this must be one of the Tuesdays that she 'sees' an acquaintance. "Angel, why do you think that's what I am doing?"

"Yeah Yuu, why d'ya say that?" Grim shifts his attention between the two of us, eyes sharp and curious as to lose nothing.

I shrug. "Just a guess."

"Welll, I guess it could be said that's what I am doing, but in actuality I'm meeting Artie." Airly, she adds. "Or Hazel, whichever appears first. I just need to borrow a phone and call them, I forgot mine." Not nervous then, but embarrassed.

"I see. Can I ask who you're sorta avoiding or...?"

Charlotte fidgets with her hair. "Ah, I suppose being here you'll know about it either way, so better to know it from my mouth." She takes a breath and look me in the eyes. "It's... I have a brother. He and I haven't spoken to each other in years." Oh.

It must be painful to be in that situation. Or the situation that led to it.

It has to be the raccoon pillbug dude. I knew he was familiar.

Shit, now I feel bad for asking. "...sorry to pry."

Her curls bounce with the headshake. "It's fine, you didn't know. Just..." There a melancholic lilt on it. Old bruises, left to heal. "If you find Charlie, warn me and leave him alone for the most part."

"Charlie?"

Her smile shifts from reassuring to sly, like she is sharing a joke. "Charlotte and Charlie James."

"Hey, yer names match...!" Grim is delighted about this discovery, and Charlotte's answering chuckle is amused. His words, however, struck a realization down my throat.

Oh shit, these two are twins.

The embarrassing deal of being know? What about the embarrassing deal of knowing people, huh?

Charlotte-senpai, stop oversharing, it is making me self-conscious. You can't just dump your tragic backstory on people.


But I asked for it, damn it.

It's all fine and dandy, but she disappears for a few hours again. I content myself in not prying anymore into her matters and focus on studying the content for this semester based on the list I brought.

Later on, she returns with an elder woman, hair fully covered and long skeletical limbs. She is sprightly and energetically moving her limbs, although senpai is carrying a lot of books on her arms. I suspect these are from the  elder woman. "...and so on this hypothetical potion, the proportions of unicorn horn would be highly skewed to stabilize the coral on it unless you could find a more efficient stabilizer. I think something that shares the same ambient as the coral would possibly be it, but this is not my specialty. Do tell me if you find it, I find myself curious for the result."

Oh, this is Isla-sensei.

When they reach close, Isla-sensei rakes me with her eyes, analysing me up and down. "Ah, it's you. The Headmaster's pet project." She takes over a seat and watches me like a hawk.

"Hey lady, I'm no one's pet!" Grim angrily retorts, but that only gets him a look of utter loathing before her attention settles on me again.

Please don't let the teachers have a grudge on me, please don't let the teachers have a grudge on me, please don't let the teachers have a grudge on me-

"They are my pet project." Charlotte-senpai interjects affrontedly and settling the pile of books between us, cutting her line of sight for a moment before taking her own place.  "If Crowley wants them he better pay me child support at minimum." There's a playful undertone to it and I don't take offense. "This counts towards both of you."

"Truly, Charlotte, how kind of you." She drawls out kind; she means far worse. I bristle. "You better not expect a different treatment from other students." 'From normal students. Not someone like you.' Goes unsaid.

I don't-

"Oh Isla-sensei, thank you so much!" Charlotte beams in her direction and what- "I was so worried teachers would discriminate against Yuu and Grim! I am glad that this won't be the case with you!"

That was not what she meant Charlotte-senpai.

Isla sputters. "I-"

Oblivious to our thoughts, she continues brazenly and interrupting Isla. Charlotte is eager to speak. "It's very distressing to think I will have to go to the Board of Directors and report it." Thing is, she sounds distressed. "Imagine, all the paperwork! The scandal! I have been anxious they will be graded unfairly, but I am happy you won't be one of these people!"

It's fascinating watch the emotions go through Isla's face: surprise shifting to pale as paper shock shifting to dismay before she carefully arranges her face in a purposefully neutral expression. "It's- That won't be necessary, dear." Her gaze lands on me and on Grim at the armchair. "You can trust my integrity as a teacher." 

I nod along her words. I don't think I trust it so much as I trust that Charlotte-senpai will metaphorically set her ass on fire if I as much can prove she is picking on me.

Now I am going to keep receipts on every teacher, just watch me.

Although I don't understand why senpai would go out of her way for me. Is it pity? Or a sense of morality?

Isla-sensei pulls the first book on the pile, An Overview on Bird Plumage, and settles it . "This out of the way, you should be more careful with your words, Charlotte. You will pick a fight you cannot win."

"I don't understand what you mean...!" Charlotte hisses, sounding very frustrated all of sudden and wringling her hands together. "I am fluent on four languages and I always have to think thrice when I am trying communicate." Ah, the bilingual experience. Or multilingual, in this case. And everyone has something to say about it, but I don't pick fights, I settle fights. I am a Prefect, if I start fights I am going against my main duties." She ends with a note of finality, as if this is enough to settle the argument.

Did-

Did she NOT noticed what she did?

Isla-sensei massages her temples, equally frustrated. "Why did I pick you to be my TA again?"

"We didn't have competent himbos on stock so you had to settle for a competent bimbo. But you can ask Mr. Sam about it next semester."

 

I hide hysterical giggles behind my hand. Just what? 

 

Grim whispers. "Yuu, what's a himbo? And a bimbo?" He is too loud, however, and the Isla scrunches her mouth like she licked a lemon.

Looking just done with all of us, she starts her book on birds.

I explain quietly to him both concepts to my knowledge, but I add that for context, bimbo seems to held the same significance as a himbo, but a woman.

Time passes by and only Charlotte-senpai shaking me later is the significance that any time passed at all. "Come on Yuu, the time for visitors is nearly ending."

"Already?" But me and Grim leave all behind to follow her.

Isla-sensei is nowhere in sight, but Hazel awaits for us near the gates with a blonde guy near her height dressed in RSA uniform. I guess that's the famous Arthur. Her lipstick is smudged as hell and she looks like a cat that got the canary, so I am guessing she had a good time.

"Hi Artie, thanks for everything, see you Friday?" Senpai calls to him.

"Sure."

"Sweet, bye Artie! Come, Hazel!"

Hazel-senpai lingers; we don't wait for her. I look back and she and Arthur are kissing. I immediately look forward.

Less than a minute later, she is at senpai's side, posture straight and more composed. "Productive day?"

"I found more primary sources that confirm my theory but not what I need to advance. RSA could be a lot less stingy with knowledge, hah?"

"It wouldn't be RSA if it was so."

I let their talk was over me, observing the changing colors from the sky. Already it has a faintly hint of gray on the east and it will be only a few moments before the world loops again. Ah, it's a shame that the Ghost Camera won't keep the memories I have, otherwise I would bring it with me in one. Soon I will be back on my beed and it is with resignation that I anticipate my fate. Soon.

Soon.

Soon.

Soon.

I confusedly chew on my skewer.

Wait, what?

I look down.

Pieces of meat rest on my skewer, and the taste on my mouth lingers of chicken. Like yakitori. Hazel-senpai is feeding Grim a piece of her own, and an empty skewer lingers on her plate, same as Grim. Charlotte-senpai tied her hair in a bun, hatless and gaze far away, chewing on her food.

It-

It's still the same day.

The chair scrapes painfully loud against the tiles. I don't care. I have to get out. I have to look.

The streets are full and the lamps lit. The sky is a pleasant mix of black and blue, and faint dots shine from far away.

My heart threatens to burst from its cage and I have to hold it carefully in my hands. Is this real? It asks with each beat. Is this real? It asks with every inhale. Is this real? It asks painstakenly against the odds and I never understood Pandora so much as I do now.

Pandora, all evils in the world unleashed and in the box: hope.

Pandora, all evils in the world unleashed and the box: empty.

Pandora, all evils in the world unleashed and in her heart: hope.

Heart empty; box filled, held in trembling hands. You can't let it go away. You have to keep hope.

Like a dream, I return to the shop. I can't focus on my words and the world passes in flashes. Sweet artificial mint. Forest and sharp turns. Loud gates. Hazel, a blur of red hair waving off and going to the Mirror Hall. A furry limb pulling me along and a hand pressed against my shoulderblades. A melody, sang in a language I don't know.  Deuce, staring at me worriedly and Ace, marching away. Edwin, the biggest ghost, passing through my insides.

I jump away from my skin at the last one. "The fuck!?" It isn't cold. It's freezing.

Deuce sighs relievedly and presses my shoulder until I sit. "Thank fuck, it worked. Thank you too, Edwin-san."

"Glad to be of assistance. If you excuse me, I have a series to watch." With this, he disappears, no wisps in sight.

"ACE, YUU WOKE UP."

There's a sound of pans crashing and Ace yells back. "GOT IT!"

"What's happening?" I feel like got thrown in the middle of a cartoon with only the vague context of what's happening.

"What you remember?"

"I went to RSA but I am at here now...?" Here the dorm lounge, in one of the plastic chairs. I see no sign of my companion. "Where's Grim?"

Ace appears with a large and wet plastic bag on his hand, a towel on a shoulder and Grim on another. "Here, hold this." He forces it on me.

It's cold and I flinch away from it. Ace presses it down. "None of it now, this's for your own good." It's a homemade ice-bag.

"Do as he says, minion!"

Deuce bobs his head along and offers me the towel. Looking very serious, he says. "We aren't going to RSA in the future."

"Why?"

Ace sits at my side. He knocks our shoulders together. "Your dumbass got sick from being there." 

"I did?"

"Yeah..! Ya didn't answer ever so nearly I spat fire on ya!" Only Grim to say terrifying shit very proudly.

I look at Ace, who's grinning and and petting Grim and Deuce, who's clenching and unclenching his fist like he really wants to punch something. I make faces at Ace and Grim for them to explain, but they either are ignoring me or they don't care to do it.

Deuce tiredly falls on the chair beside me. Our arms bump together. "You got sort of poisoned because of the lack of dark magic around you. Royal Sword is brimming with too much light mages and not enough dark. It's like putting food straight from the oven on the freezer."

"But don't worry Goldie, you won't die!" Ace cheerfully adds, putting his arm around my shoulders. "The treatment is basking with dark mages and guess what we are...!"

Senpai isn't here; must be a light mage.

Although I suspect this must be a side effect of the time-loop than to a magic posioning. Only one way to know. "Slumber party, then?"

"Suuure. Say, I heard about this game called Uno..."


loOol


I wake up at the lounge, Ace's arm on my face, my elbow digging on Deuce's spine and Grim on my legs.

Today, it's Wednesday. (Finally.)

We meet Trey-senpai. (Finally.)

Chapter Text

Despite the weird nature of her power, Charlotte knew it was no true time loop. If you threw a bunch of dice or used a randomizer, the results were ALWAYS different; she tested it and probability wasn't bound. If she played cards that day, she would get a different hand. People, however...

People were weird: they weren't bound by anything other than themselves and their personalities. If they were on the fence on some matter and chose A on the first time, it doesn't mean they will continue choosing it if the day re-starts.


If the day re-starts enough times, some patterns emerge. These people will go to the library at X time, these other people will eat that food, others will be at that place... A slight variation sometimes, but it's the only way she has to account for people every loop.

Which she needs, because while 'Charlie' 'is' a RSA student, he doesn't carry a magical brooch that would identify him as one and per consequence, he cannot enter their archives. What he can, however, is pull an innocent RSA bystander along and for the low price of answering any question that isn't about himself. Enough bystanders and this makes a curious pattern; in the aftermath, people will remember Charlie exists and that maybe you helped him out one (many) time (s), but not the exact content he is looking at.

It's necessary: Charlotte hasn't outed herself as someone from a different world yet and she doesn't feel it's safe to do so.

It's fine. She has scoured the NRC library in many, many loops and it was in one of these she found proof she isn't the first world traveler and won't be the last. So did her travel to the Glass Sea and Charlie's to RSA. There are diaries. Registers. Some half-comments from other people on the traveler and their behaviour. And none, so far, on how to travel back.

This world was weird: magic and strong similarities with the works of the rodent aside, it was surviveable. Like many before her, she adapted.


A part of her, the one that got used to this and think about plans, about stability, isn't sure that she wants to go back. She misses things and people, but-


But.

It has been so long. Longer more for her. Not two years, so much more.

(What you would do, if you had all the time in the world, and all you needed to do was die to keep it? And you know, surety brought by experience, the world will bring you back? How many times would you say no?

How many times until you say yes?)

And she maybe would agree with this part of her and let matters rest, was it not for Yuu.

Charlotte owes to them to at least try. If only because no one tried it for her, no one knew to try, first she couldn't speak the language and then she couldn't trust her safety on them, and she wishes for herself to be better than the ones before.

She wasn't surprised on seeing Yuu choosing either staying at the NRC or going with her: she too would weight the choice and had a 50/50 on the answer. Neither would she be surprised if after all this time Yuu's memory on Tuesday became not unreliable, but confused. Most likely they would remember the last loop and have an uncanny knowledge on the books they read while on NRC, and not know why.

What surprised Charlotte was a Wednesday call while she was on Night Raven Archives looking for ways to revive her dorm. Ace was the caller 'and senpai, we're fighting the dorm leader tomorrow and Grim says you are in the same class as him, so maaaaaybe you can help us out?'

Well.

"...I can't guarantee that my advice will be sound since this is my first time in a class with Riddle-san but I have an idea... I only need you to do something for me first..."


loOol


I pull Charlotte-senpai along by the hand, who docile complies despite her protests. "Are you sure you guys can't just follow Pru's directions?" She has left her blazer on the dorm; both of us are in our uniform for classes.

Ace and Deuce are in their flamboyant Heartslabyul clothes. They are sure of their victory and I don't know how much of it is false bravado or is the unshakeable belief of teenager boys that think they can do everything. I am within my rights to judge so: I was tasked with bringing my camera when in case they win.


At least we have a plan.

"Senpai, we only have animal classes next semester; please bear with us." Deuce says earnestly.

Ace sends her fingerguns. "You helped us train Charlotte-senpai: take responsibility and see us through."

I nod along. Senpai snorts and rolls her eyes, while her pigeon, a gray bird with dark stripes on the wings, scouts ahead.

The reason why we need help is simple: Heartslabyul's maze changed its layout since the Unbirthday Party and none of us has the slightest inkling on how to navigate it. It was only by words of a loud senior talking about ADeuce that we knew it. This wouldn't be a problem if Crowley hadn't passed for us and told that he would be waiting there before we knew that information and we had given him the time for the duel.


So, I told my friends that we should ask Charlotte-senpai for help, on grounds certainly she was more familiar with Heartslabyul than us, based on her presence at the Unbirthday. At least she had to know someone who could help out; neither Ace or Deuce know their dormmates besides few exceptions like Cater-senpai, Trey-senpai and, of course, Rosehearts-senpai. And none of these will reliably give us assistance.

That her familiar is a pigeon and can see from above is a strong point on her favor, although it makes me wonder: how many of birds on NRC are familiars?

Other thing that makes me wonder is the maze. Something feels different on it. Grim too notices it: "Somethin's weird on this place."

A beat and "No need to feel nervous for us Grim."

"Haah!?" He jumps on Ace. I hold him by the scruff of his neck before he can reach him. "Nervous? Grim-sama doesn't get nervous...!" He tries to wrestle himself away from my hands. "Yuu, let me go!" He inhales sharply-

He's reading himself for a fireball-

Charlotte takes Grim on her arms and holds him up, like she's presenting a baby to the world. "You are doing very well, but magic isn't the solution for everything. Ace and Deuce need to be in their best condition if they want to win, so how about you not attack them and Yuu not restrains you?" She turns to us eerily calm. "Right?"

"Sure, whatever." Ace says and Deuce nods seriously.

I give a thumbs up.

"Well, Grim, do I have your agreement?"

Grim squirms. "Ugh, fine! The Great Grim-sama agrees to your terms."

Charlotte-senpai releases him on the ground. "Great!" At the same time, her familiar returns, cooing when she hold a finger for it stop. "Really, sweetheart? No, I trust you, just a bit baffled." She takes the head of our group. "Come on, Pru says there is a lot of dead ends ahead."

We follow the bird's direction and find ourselves in one of these dead ends, although this one is our destination. Against the green, the Headmaster is easily found, as well as Rosehearts-senpai and other Heartslabyul students. Unsurprisingly, Trey-senpai and Cater-senpai are here too.

I wish the boys luck as they go to their positions and withdraw to the sidelines. We stay close to a tall boy with dark hair and rabbit ears.

Crowley takes a step ahead and clears his throat. "The match for the title of Heartslabyul Dorm Leader will begin shortly. The challengers are Ace Trappola and Deuce Spade. Defending his title is the current Dorm Head, Riddle Rosehearts." I hear Charlotte-senpai draw a sharp breath, but when I look to her in askance, her back is off and, from what I can see that the hat doesn't hide, she is in a gesture match with the rabbit-boy. "In accordance with the no-handicap rule of this decisive match, please remove their magic-sealing collars."

Rosehearts-senpai does a sweeping movement with his magical pen and the collars are off. Ace rubs his neck in relief. "God, it feels good to finally have these off."

Rosehearts-senpai smiles mockingly. "Don't worry, you'll have it back soon enough. Savor the taste of freedom while you can." His smile disappears. "I couldn't believe my ears when I heard about this challenge. Are you sure you want to go through with this?"


My friends don't back off.

"Most definitely."

"I wouldn't challenge you as a joke."

Riddle looks like he thinks these two are idiots. Which, fair.

Cater-senpai waves to ask about tea time, and arrogantly Riddle answers. I already said it before and will say again: I hope his heels break. Since we are on grass, there is a high chance it will break while they are fighting.

Crowley holds a mirror. It falls with a loud crash and the battle begins.

Ace and Deuce throw themselves to the ground in opposing directions, with Deuce managing a roll. Just in time for Rosehearts' UM miss. Ace throws a bunch of dirt at him. It is stopped by a short-timed shield and I relish the expression on his face. Deuce has enough time to conjure a cauldron and Rosehearts has to shield again.

They are doing great. 

Our strategy hanged on both of them attacking and in not only not being a static target but on constantly changing the placement of their necks. If the Dorm Leader couldn't get them to stay on the same place, his Unique Magic couldn't be employed.

Credit where it's due: Rosehearts quickly notices their strategy and changes his to fit it. Arm moving in long sweeping circles - I am thinking he is an auratic caster, but don't trust on my words - he separates Ace and Deuce with a fire wall. The wall grows into two separate circles of fire, high flames.

The moment he cut their exits, the battle was finished.

"Off with your heads!" The collars lock on their necks with a really loud click.

Crowley comments on it. "Although Trappola-kun and Spades-kun's showed ingenuity, that alone isn't enough to surpass a magician like Rosehearts-kun, whose strong magic comes from both imagination and his indomitable will. His magic only continues to become even more polished."

"Fwaaa... Our difference in skill is so big." Grim says dejectedly and I agree. This isn't like the mines' monster.

Rosehearts-senpai extinguishes his flames, leaving charring marks on the grounds. He shakes his head dejectedly. "This hasn't taken more than five minutes. You thought to challenge me with that level of ability. Are you not embarrassed?" He stares arrogantly at Ace and Deuce. "This just proves that rule violators are useless in everything they do." That-

That is wrong is so many levels.

And who is this idiot thinking he is?

"It's just as mother said." I don't think we're supposed to hear this, but his voice carries on this place.

I yell at him. "Hey, don't call my friends useless!"

"Yeah, only us can do that!" Grim complements.

Not what I meant, but sure.

Rosehearts throws us a sharp look, but his attention is taken by Deuce: "You're right, rules should be followed. But enforcing absurd rules just makes you a tyrant!"

He looks genuinely offended. "Excuse me? If one disobeys the rules, logically they must be punished. And inside this dorm, I am the absolute rule." Then, angrily. "That is why those who refuse to obey have no right to complain when it's off with their heads!"

Do you know what? I survived a time loop without going crazy. What this little dude can do to me that is worse than anyone here could do? I don't have magic for him to seal.

I step forward, ignoring Charlotte's hiss to 'stay put'. "If the rules are wrong, of course people have the right to question it. Rosehearts-senpai, you aren't above criticism because you are a dorm leader. Rather, you should be hold more accountable."

"Yeah Yuu, tell him!"

Rosehearts whirls in my direction, cape dramatically following behind. "You, Ramshackle student," Oh, someone doesn't know my name! "should learn to keep your mouth shut and be mindful of your status. As the leader of this dorm, I am the one who decides what is wrong!" His tone switches to belittling. "If you can't even understand such a simple rule, just what was your education like? Born from parents that can't even use magic, I'm sure you haven't received much in terms of a good education before coming to this place." He shakes his head in contempt. "How pitiful."

"Asshole...!"

"At least, ain't got mommy issues." But my reply is shadowed by Ace screaming "SHUT THE HELL UP" and punching Rosehearts straight on the face.

There is a collective gasp as Rosehearts-senpai crumples on the ground.

"That's a beautiful right hook, Ace!" Grim yells in the middle of the confusion. I agree.

Ace sighs very loudly and put upon. "Man, I don't care anymore. This duel? Becoming the dorm leader? Really couldn't give a fuck about any of it." Very strong change of attitude for someone who trained via dodgeball yesterday, but sure. "Kids aren't their parents' trophies, and kids' achievements don't determine their parents' worth." Is this about me? I'm feeling it is a bit.


Ace is off in a rant and I have a feeling nothing could stop him now. "The reason you're such a bastard isn't your parents' fault, I finally understand that!" Go off, Ace! "It's your own damn fault for never making a single friend who had the balls to tell you off for being a controlling tyrant!" Ooh, he is dissing Trey-senpai too.

Rosehearts raises, a hand on his cheek. That will get swollen. "What... are you saying?"

"Yeah, sure, gotta say growing up under an obsessive mother was probably some kind of hell." He points his fingers to Rosehearts. "But is all you have to say 'mama this' and 'mama that'? Try thinking for your own damn self!" Maybe the reverse. He is doing something no one has done before.

Finally, the nail in the coffin. "You're no 'Red Ruler'! Just a baby that's good at magic!"

Rosehearts gapes. "A... baby? Me…?!" He gets out of his funky to yell back. "You don't know anything... You don't know anything about me!"

My friend has a retort ready already. "You’re right, I've got no idea. There's no way I would! What the hell do you think I'm supposed to understand when you keep up this kind of attitude?" He shakes his head and looks down on him. "Don't be stupid."

That's too much for the leader of Heartslabyul, that starts to scream hysterically and sets small fires on the ground around him.

That is what spurns other people to react. Trey-senpai walks away from his place from the crowd to try to calm him down and Crowley finds his voice to disqualify Ace for his physical outburst. What surprises me is the duel wasn't even considered finished.

"You will break the rules if you do more than this." And okay, here is obviously an authority figure and surely he can calm him down.

It seems to work since the fire-

Splash!

Someone just threw an egg at him.

I look around to see if I can identify the perpetrator. Just curious.

Senpai is clutching firmly to her bird with both hands and looking at the ground while her tall friend holds her hat as to not hinder the view from others. Cater is in shock holding his phone out, but these are the people who I know so far. In the middle of suits of clubs, diamonds, spades, and hearts, many look shocked, and some, I judge, even a bit satisfied.

Rosehearts-senpai demands to know who was it.

No one is brave enough to step forward.

Of course. The crowd is safe.

This is, of course, when Rosehearts-senpai snaps and laughs maniacally. "I can't take this anymore! No matter how many times I punish you, no matter how strict I become, you all keep breaking the rules! Each and every one of you are just selfish idiots!" Wasn't that in the profile for NRC students or...? "Fine, have it your way. If you won't come forward, I'll just punish all of you!"

He pulls out off his pen and starts to chant. I am surprised it is in English. “It’s time to give you your sentence." His pen moves is long, elegant swipes. "The verdict comes afterwards. Are you ready?" Rosehearts then switches styles and makes a move like he is throwing something at us. "Off With Your Head!”


(A snap, so loud it rattles your brain.

Thud.

You hit ground and rolls.

Rolls?

The fall is painful. Your nose is wet.

Must be broken.

Your friends make truly horrific faces and so does everyone else. Senpai curses out loud and Grim is like a terrified statue, staring at you without not really seeing you.

You don't understand-

From the corner of your eyes, you see: vibrant vermillion grass and-

Vermillion grass and-

Grass and-

The last thing you see is your headless corpse, staining the world around it crimson with your blood.

The world goes dark.

.

.

.

)


I blink.

"If you can't even understand a simple rule, just what was your education like?"


What?

Was this... another vision?

It-

It felt too real.

I rub my neck with one hand, while the other goes for my nose, phantom pains on my spine and skin. Is this how it feels to be guillotined?

Just what?

Rosehearts-senpai can cut off my head?

LITERALLY CUT OFF MY HEAD...?

That makes no sense. He only cuts off magic.

But these future vision have yet to steer me wrong.

If his Unique Magic cuts off magic, what it does to someone who has none?


loOol


Proving that the glitch could be useful sometimes despite interfering with her own skill set – and they were again at the time before the punch.

(Crimson blood like paint, stark contrast against the green it dyed.

It was one thing to be used to your own walking corpse. It was another to see it-

Don'tthinkaboutitdon'tthinkaboutit-

Charlotte was a master of compartmentalization.)

The timing was bad for Charlotte that needed to take attention off Yuu. This entire incident went from bad, to very bad to worse. She went from taking second-hand damage to wanting not be here desperately Charlotte did not need to be present at this airing of Heartslabyul laundry, it is better for all parts if she isn't, especially since Crowley made an exception for this duel and that is already setting Riddle offto needing to get Yuu out of here.

Yuu can't handle magic.

Magic will kill them, just like it killed her countless times before and will kill her again, but differently from Charlotte, Yuu didn't have a nifty ability who allowed them to avoid getting caught in perilous situations.

She can plan for it all later.

Charlotte has to focus on what she can do now.


What I have?

First, Charlotte herself didn't get collared. From her glance around when Yuu got beheaded, neither did Cater or Trey or the Headmaster, proving that these on the frontlines either were removed as potential suspects or Riddle doubted that the people themselves did it, even in his snapping. However, he collared Yuu, so this hypothesis isn't reliable.

Or he thought Yuu was the kind of person to throw eggs at people. Given the short time Yuu's had been on NRC, they already had an unfair fame as deliquent.


So.

She took her hat from Kyran. "Thanks for holding on it for me."

"No troubl- oh." His ears stood up. "He punched Rosehearts." He sounded mildly shocked. Then, quietly. "Good."

"Yeah, he did." She passed the hat for Yuu. "Here, hold on this with both hands. I'm going through some voice exercises, don't pay me any mind."

The best options would be having Yuu hold Grim or Pru, but this had two problems: first, Charlotte held an agreement with Grim to have him free and she couldn't go back on her word; second, Prudente didn't tolerate people handling him besides Charlotte herself, on spite of being a very well-behaved familiar otherwise. So. In her arms was it.

She stretched her vocal chords and watched the confusion unfold with a strong desire to not be here, like a child watching their parents fight or hearing their shouting. Maybe, that was the wrong metaphor, given the roles here. A cousin, seeing parent and child screaming at each other and wishing this rage didn't turn towards them.


When the egg came, Charlotte quieted down and pretended to be as shocked as everyone else.

Riddle laughed hysterically. Imagine having a breakdown like this in public. She could never live it down.

That's her cue. "He's not thinking straight. Get ready to go down."

She didn't take her eyes off Riddle, holding herself very, very still as she heard the harmony of his magic starting to take hold. His was a classic violin; she could even call it beautiful, like a polished blade is beautiful: deadly and cutting.

Yuu dodged, Charlotte held on Pru with both arms, the bird a beacon of piece, and the crowd of Heartslabyul students got beheaded.

Metaphorically, this time.

"Stop this at once, Rosehearts-kun! This isn't like you at all!"

The thing was: Crowley couldn't do horseshit about this besides speaking. Since the dorms were nearly autonomous, they could conduct themselves as they saw fit.

Which, given all this scene and everything else, Charlotte imagined she will have to deal with another Dorm Head soon. The discontent was high and this wasn't helping matters at all.

"Riddle, that's enough!" But the only move Trey did was take another step ahead, distancing himself from Cater and the crowd.

Proving that teenage boys skill for decision-making was truly skewed, Ace took the attention for himself. "Hey, you! Not everything is going to go the way you want! Throwing a tantrum when things don't is what makes you a baby!"

Riddle grew to a magnific shade of red, one she wasn't aware people were capable of reaching. "Take that back! You wish to skewered!?" He was leaking magic. Leaking enough Charlotte could hear it not as a faint whisper, but as if he was playing in the music room just across her.

Ace stood his ground. "Hell no, never."

Riddle screamed. High pitched, raw and setting fire on his surroundings, the violin playing in a fervent rhythm.

Charlotte set Pru on the ground besides Grim.

Ace and Deuce took some steps back away from the chaos.

"This is bad!" She heard Cater yell and his voice carry over. "Everyone, get out of here, now!" From the corner of her eyes, he was pushing the crowd away.

Dirt started to float. Then pebbles. The air was thick with magic made visible, dark skies and mist.

Charlotte saw the rose trees moving up up and up. Fuck.

Summoning her own vines, they latched on both her forearms, thorns puncturing through muscle and reaching blood. She can feel its wishes to grow and consume. Mentally, Charlotte commanded it to wait. Soon.


Instead of running away from danger, the teenagers were staring shockedly at it.

Doing some quick calculations, Charlotte considered the shape and size the vines would have to take to pull them out.

"Rose trees-" the Dorm Head of Heartslabyul started,

And Charlotte was running towards him before he could finish, vines growing in an alarming rate-

And the rose trees grew vines poised in attack, to skewer-

And her own blackberry vines latched on their targets-

Charlotte pulls Ace and Deuce-

Let it be enough-

The rose trees become playing cards while a viola plays.

Ace opened his eyes. "H-Huh!? We're alive? And what is happening?"

"Don't matter, don't care are you two fine...?!" Charlotte pushed them in the direction of the crowd, extra growth making her forearms bulkier and heavier.

Riddle must not see them.

There's too much people here too, what the hell, you vultures, go away.

Neither of them bat away her hands as she puts them besides Yuu. There's some sort of exchange in the background, viola and violin, but that is irrelevant now.

Deuce was processing what happened. "...he really did that."

"Question. Answer. Fine, you?"

Yuu approached, speaking calmly. "Senpai, they're both well, because of you and Trey-senpai." Too calm.

Charlotte had no idea in how Trey got involved in the first place; she can hear him running interference, and that is good and well, but-

"Great, you're all getting out of here now. Your safety is more important than watching drama unfold." She pushed them towards Kyran - giving him and Pru the same meaningful look, untold command - and spins back to Riddle.

Second lesson of defense classes: never turn the enemy your back.

Riddle is not thinking straight. Riddle Rosehearts is a composed, top of class student and a reliable prefect and this is not the person she is used to, so she can't trust he will react as usual.

If he does something, she needs to know.

She needs to be fucking ready like yesterday, so Charlotte disables her translator and starts a song.

"Heeeead, shoulder, knees and toes..."

Her breath hitched with the weight lodging itself on her throat. Charlotte breathes deeply and bears with it, bears with the weight of duty and doesn't let it choke her. She only needs to breathe to calm down the rabbit creature inside her that wants to run.

Her eyes are on the scene unfurling ahead of her, mouth moving through the syllables quietly while her hands secured her hair him a tight bun. Can't have it hindering a battle. Her legs moved her close to the battleground.

Crowley, who was paying more attention to the drama playing than in starting a fucking evac, shouted. "Rosehearts-kun, you mustn't! If you keep using magic, your magic crystal will be covered in 'blot'!"

"And eyes, and ears and mouth and nooose..."

"I am... I AM!!! Absolutely, definitely CORRECT!!!"

That is not what correct people say, but who's asking her? No one, that's whom.

"Heeeead, shoulder, knees and toes, knees and toes." Her fingers point to the body parts of a non-exist body in the air, motions increasing the magic to her disposition. On her back, the two separate clutch of vines unite itselves together.

Charlotte watched, in transfixed dread, as a layer of liquid darkness that was not darkness grew from his pen and swallowed Riddle whole. It moved like it had a its own mind, blobbed like a parasite. In cancerous growth, it expanded to include than the Heartslabyul Dorm Head just as it released his skin, with all the right stages for a degenerate butterfly just leaving its cocoon.

"Heeeead, shoulder, knees and toes..." It was earsplitting. She couldn't hear her own voice; moving lips and vibrating neck, a secret prayer that only she knew.

Riddle stands not on his legs, but in extensions made by cardsuits, holding him higher. His clothes changed form the bright colors of Heartslabyul uniform to duochromatic red and black dress - oh, a corset! - and his right eye held a crimson flame.

Riddle acquired an even paler pallor hand and boots just dripping with ink. Is blot literally accumulated on the body? Like, on the blood? Riddle has literal magic ink on his veins???

The question doesn't unfocus her from the equally big problem on Riddle's back. A giant parasite - or is that a symbiote? - dressed in a simpler version of his clothes - with visible seams like a thing that a child put together - and heart-shaped bottle head, half full with ink, emerged.

Have you ever felt the daunting dread of a deadline for an assignment counting for the majority of your grade that you thought that was for the next week and you just learned it is for the next period?

I can't win.

"Those foolish enough to disobey, there's no need for them in my world. I am the law. I am the rules! No other response than 'yes, Riddle-sama' is acceptable! It's off with the heads of any who disobeys me!"

Oh fuck.

There are lots of people on Heartslabyul. It's Thursday late afternoon. There are still lots of people on the surroundings, and despite Cater having splitted himself and ordering them away, he wasn't easily obeyed.

And...

If Riddle is truly gone...

Crowley is the only person that can quickly do an evacuation now.

Someone has to keep Riddle attention.

Someone has to keep his focus away from all these people.

I have to fight him.

Planning making herself a giant vine suit, thorns already curling together to make the spine, Charlotte-

Charlotte gets yanked back. "Time For a Tea Party."

Something breaks and she is spun around like a ragdoll, meeting face to face with Kyran and Cater. All Charlotte can see the wide of his eyes and the shocked expression on Cater's, before Kyran releases her: "What you think you are doing?!"

What YOU think you are doing, there's no time-

Wait. 

Kyran just blessed her with the thing she desperately needed.

Nevermind.

Charlotte cannot stop singing to talk. She points to her throat, then to herself fully and to Riddle. Next she points to them all then to the ground.

Kyran shakes his head fanatically. "No, Charlotte-chan you're oblivious, not an idiot." His tone is flat. "What are you doing?" She repeats the same gestures. "I am here because you are about to do something stupid and I know you are not. Explain." She gestures to her throat. She cannot stop.

"I can carry the tune, Lotte-chan, just do it again." Charlotte is eternally grateful for Cater offer. Light Music Club for the win.


She uses the break to pull a water bottle from her pocket. She is thirsty. "I am going to fight Riddle."

For his credit, Kyran doesn't do more than mess with his bangs as he runs a hand through his face. "And why" voice tinged with exasperation "you are going to do that, instead of helping us to do an evacuation, and Crowley to fight the dorm leader?"

"Because if Crowley isn't running the evac, it will fail."

Twins expressions of astonishment. "What?"

Do I really need to spell it out? She wants to snap at them. But.

It won't fix things. It will only make things worse. None of them deserve it, just because she's stressed out of her mind. She inhales loudly and calms her nerves. "Heartslabyul defenses are activated. You saw Riddle-san pull on the trees; do you think with his Overblot, these will be the only ones?! Right now, the entire rose maze is a death trap for everyone.  Despite all the-" Charlotte waves to indicate everything that just happened. "-he is right. He is the law here. As the Head of the dorm, he commands Heartslabyul and it will obey; it's the prerogative of Dorm Head." If there was ever an attack in dorm grounds, the Dorm Heads had to have the option to activate the defenses. They could operate by themselves, isolated from the rest of school, and protect the students.

"But Heartslabyul, despite its autonomy, is magically obliged to allow Crowley to come and go freely because he is the Headmaster of Night Raven. It's a prerogative of the title." Charlotte smiles helplessly. "You can see now how he's uniquely qualified to do the evacuation." He could do it. She couldn't.

She takes over the song again, studying her companions. Cater has schooled his features, but she saw the moment he understood what she meant, being the previous Dorm Head. Kyran...

Kyran looks at the sky like he is asking for patience. "I see your point." Then, more serious, hare ears twitching. "Can't everyone just fight Rosehearts? Crowley too? He can't take us all."

Charlotte starts to gesticulate her answer, and Kyran takes over the song, a pointed glance at her. "Do you saw who was here...? A bunch of first years, one of these with no magic, others that already fought him and failed, but-! First years!" These people didn't even have a lesson on Defensive Magic, it would be the height of irresponsibility to expect them to fight.

She has to breathe and settle her nerves. Kyran just didn't think about it: it was a heartfelt suggestion. "Besides, the other residents are too afraid to take Riddle head on normally, do you think they will go now?" She is resigned to it: she will have no help from that side.

You don't ask for someone afraid of horses to ride the angry and scary stallion. That's setting you both for failure.

Besides, there was also another important aspect that Crowley would take care by conducting the evacuation. "I need them out of the way to cut Riddle's access to the residents' magic." Again, they are surprised.

What? Surely, Cater must know? She points her arm at him and he shakes his head with the slowness of a predator that just took sight of prey, or maybe the reverse: prey that just learned the world is far more dangerous it thought. "I told you, he is the Head of the dorm. If he's in a pinch, can suck out magic of the dorm members and use it."  Which was why she needed to take people out quickly.

The more access to magic, harder it will be.

They do the fun game of: someone starts singing so the other can talk.

Kyran smashes the shards from a cup his magic conjured on his pacing, hands pulling along his inky hair in stress. Until he sighs tiredly and turns to face her. "Okay. Whatever is your plan, count me in."

"You sure?"

"Charlotte-chan, obviously you gave this a lot of thought. Despite my initial misgivings about this, fighting is the only solution and you can't do it alone."

Oooh, if Kyran is with her, then-! "Okay, you guys may want look up for this."

"Why wou-" her hand goes through her bosom to the inside of her corset. "Looking up now."

"Hands out, hold my things, please."

The full storage consists in: her magical pen, her phone, a half empty bottle of water, fifteen caramels, six gums, eight needles of varying size, black thread, chalk, her keys, a pad, coins of various values, two hair ties and various hairpins, a wench, a small knife, a potent homemade pepper spray, iron supplements, a large bottle labelled 'poison' with concentrated sleep potion, a smaller spray bottle labelled 'antidote' with a strong dosage of a paralysis potion, and a full smaller bottle of water.

"How can you carry so many things without shrinking them...?"

Charlotte beams, hands returning most of her kick-knacks to their place. "I usually have a potion for that too, but my stores are low so I am carrying it only to store my broom, which I only in some occasions. The potions, pepper spray, knife and pen I keep on the corset, 'cause it's harder to someone other than me to get it." Like, who is going to dare to put their hand inside the front of her corset? "Anyway, the plan depends a bit on whether the head of that thing" she points to the Overblot "is glass or not."

"If it is?"

"We break it. It either dies or hang uselessly or distracts Riddle long enough to sedate him."

"Sedate Riddle...?"

"Look, he has to stay down somehow and it's either the power of extreme violence or drugs." He could lose conscience, but hit him hard enough and they would kill him.

"And if it isn't?"

"We go the harder route and drug the Overblot thing. Only need to unscrew the crown and throw a potion down there."

Cater and Kyran exchange a look. Cater pats her shoulder. "Lotte-chan, sleeping potions take a bit of time to work."

"This can take out a horse, it will be fine." It was the swifter and painless method for her dying.

"And you want use it on Riddle."

Charlotte had on herself to grin sheepishly. "I was going to ask for one of you to make some bottles for me distribute it...?"

Kyran and Charlotte go through the painstaking process of distributing a share of potion across bottles, while Cater stares, oddly conflicted. "You two... what are you thinking? That's- None of you can win against Riddle. And this... this is an Overblot." Pure disbelief things his tone.

Why are you here if you aren't going to help?!

Charlotte inhales, posture straightening with more confidence she feels as her anger rears its ugly head. She isn't panicking anymore and she has a plan. She doesn't need to win. It literally didn't matter before when she was set on this path alone, and it doesn't matter now.

I have to do it until either I succeed or Riddle gets consumed.

Kyran looks oddly disappointed, raising a finger. They have a minute.

A minute before hell.

Charlotte grows a vine to hold her pen as she steadies herself and more for some bottles. Her plan hinged partially on Cater protecting Trey so he could do whatever he did again but-

She drowns her temper hot red anger by clinically pointing out that at least he said it now. Charlotte can do a lot of things when she has a warning.

"Cater, it's-well, not fine, if you aren't in the battle with us, but- it's okay. I can't ask it of you." She can't. "If you can, call the teachers. It's just...someone has to stop Riddle, and if it isn't us, who will be?" Charlotte is dutiful to a fault; this isn't a burden she can lay on others. She smiles, a little self-deprecating, and a little sad.

However that is not what Cater needs from her. He needs her in control so he can't worry about her, so she grins, wide and confident, bordering on mania. "Thanks for holding my tune Cay-kun, I can take over now." Charlotte pats his shoulder in a mirror of his previous gesture and there's a hitch on his breath.

She stops paying attention to Cater after that.

She hears the moment Kyran's magic stops, over her own little rhythm.

Kyran starts running to the other corner of the battlefield. Two distant targets are better than one and he could attack better in mid range while she was all too happy to play distraction.

Vines around her waist, her arms, they unfurl on her command and bury themselves on the ground, roots flaring out and wide with purpose. Without taking her eyes of the Overblot, Charlotte shouts. "Hey, Headmaster, if you could kindly handle the evacuation, I will handle things here."

Damn, Trey is too close to him...!

Part of the plan hangs on having him on their side and they cannot do that if he is dead!

The vines circle her waist extend as she grows her own extra plant limbs to mirror the ones on Riddle. Charlotte hollers. "RIDDLE, YOU STUPID HYPOCRITE, NRC RULES ARE VALID ON ALL SCHOOL GROUNDS AND MURDER IS A VIOLATION OF THEM."

She feels the collective intake of breath and gasps; her hearing is impaired by Riddle's raising the other deadly roses in vicinity and the Overblot parasite taking one of these in its hands. Over it, however, are his words, monstrous and dripping with disdain. "Charlotte-senpai, you truly are a fool."

This may have worked better than she expected.

She is so fucking dead.

Luckily, for her, being dead isn't a permanent status.


loOol


Charlotte weaves around his vines with all the grace of a drunk arachnoid ballerina: she is ditzy and dizzy and drawing on her trees to hold his, hoping to have all his attention on her and not on the other equally upsetting people around them. It is in one of these spins that she catches a glimpse of a black uniform, body lying still on the ground close to a blob of grey and blue.

Heartslabyul uniform is white. Oh.

Oh fuck, the pressure-

Her inattention costs her. Thorns bite her neck uncaring for muscle and tissue, only worried about making her bleed. It will kill her in a minute or less.

Ah, shit, what a waste-

Charlotte doesn't have time to blink before she is hearing Kyran's time bubble cut short and Riddle's mad violin raising up. The world glitched again.

She looks back, at Yuu clutching their chest and staring surprised at it and why is Yuu looking at-

Oh no.

The glitches-

Oh.


loOol



I can vaguely hear Crowley saying something about Rosehearts-senpai. The words ring around my head and it's hard to focus with all the static around.

There's a shrill and the world shifts.

The air - already hard to breathe - acquires a thick density of cold syrup and the pressure increases unmeasurably - crushing down from all sides the weight of a continent - my bones, my lungs-

I fall to my knees - lungs trying to move but failing failing before the full angst of a person-

No, that wrong, that's not a human being, it can't be a human being-

The mines-

Black spots dance across my vision, as do blurs of grey, red and blue, a dance for my conscience. I can't discern the words but there's the tone - concern fear what's wrong Goldie you Yuu-

I trying to breathe but I'm choking on pure air-

The pressure increases.

It's like wading through cotton with none of the softness of numbness: ground and earth and the weight of continent and it's so painful whatsgoingon

G-d-

My throat closes.

NohopenohopeitssodarkpleaseletthisstophurtingPLEASE

I close my eyes.

I am not given mercy or peace, but the world opens its gaping maw to spit me out just at the time to hear out Trey yelling Rosehearts-senpai name and the answering scream.

I clutch my chest, heaving as the pressure rises again. It's-

It's-

It's like trying to breathe while you are being half-drowned. No matter how much air I try to pull in, none of it is enough to keep me well when there's water - when there is magic-

I choke.

I die.

.

.

.


I see myself die a lot, until each vision the air becomes just a little more bearable, not clear, but a lot like a diver having to be very careful when coming to the surface even when the pressure is lessening. The static has been keeping all my hairs raised and all my instincts tell me I should run. I feel like I should follow my gut.

Crowley has a legit to G-d crisis: he starts to cry. "What a mess... what a mess! A student has overblotted before my eyes!"

"The hell's an overblot?! He looks super evil...!"

Crowley gives us a short summary, when he interrupted by Charlotte-senpai, who's going towards Riddle: "Hey, Headmaster, if you could kindly handle the evacuation, we will handle things here!"

There's a split second in which the headmaster stills, before he is all puffed up feathers and frantic moves. "Hold a second Miss James, that's too dangerous!"

I don't think she hears him: she already in motion. The vines on her forearms grow to circle her waist and raise her from the ground just like the famous Spider-Man villain, Dr. Octopus. Then she hollers at overblotted Riddle and the resounding inhale is too sharp to be anything but shock.

Senpai always sounded so polite when speaking about him, all 'Riddle-san' that, 'your Dorm Leader this, 'your Dorm Head' that. Not what I expected for her to react.

"I knew she's fearless but God...!" "RIP Prefect, you'll be remembered."

I understand their feelings, seeing all rose trees floating in the air versus Charlotte-senpai and her own lonely vines.

I am still clutching her hat.

Crowley clears his throat, and there's a shift on his posture from 'crow man, maybe responsible' to 'I am an authority here and I will act on it'. "You heard the Prefect. Now, you will be swift and obey me, else it be to her cold corpse I return." There's a tight and intense quality to it.


He is serious.

She's making a sacrifice play. (She also singing 'Head, shoulder, knees and toes and what???)

Oh no.

But I don't have time to process any of it, because my friends are recklessly throwing themselves into the fray.

Ace changes the course of one of the attacks and Deuce does the other, while Grim is blowing fire on the vines. 

"What are you doing?!" Cater is just as surprised as myself.

"It's unmanly to run from a fight you started...!" Deuce calls for another cauldron, this time aimed direct at Riddle. It gets held back by the rose tree that the creature on his back holds.

"Yeah, that's uncool!"

"Besides, we haven't gotten our apologies yet!" One tree goes for Ace's unprotected back and he throws himself on the ground. A sudden cluster of thorns holds it back and I look to Charlotte-senpai to see she has an arm raised and attention split.

Rosehearts turns his attention to them." You all will be appropriately disciplined." A blackberry vine goes to attack him. He stops it by setting it on fire.

I don't think I should be here.

But all my friends are. Countless times, they have helped me before, for all I am the only to know how much. And I know these idiots can't coordinate to save their lives.

(The Dwarves' Mines-)

Dammit.

I run towards them, hat haphazardly thrown around.

"Yuu-chan, you too?!" "Goldstein-kun...!"

"Somebody gotta coordinate their efforts." I raise my voice. "Everyone, aim for the bottle!"

"Easier said than done, Goldie!"

"Then defend yourself and wait for me to tell you the time!"

Charlotte-senpai moves away from us and shouts more insults at Rosehearts, vines going for both him and the giant creature at his back. Annoyed, he throws a fireball the size of a house at her.

I hope her shield can take it.

His attention then focus on Trey - unshielded, gripping his pen as he does his Unique Magic - and fire circles him, flames taller than him, growing steadily inwards. It leaves Rosehearts unprotected and I tell Deuce when to hit the creature.

A fucking anvil hits the ink bottle, just after the cauldron. It cracks like a spiderweb, but no drop falls.

Was the bottle always filled so?

The fire never burns Trey.

Cater shields both from it and they get near me.

Surprising me a lot, a lot of other spells hit Rosehearts himself. It means more people and their battle-cries include "YAAH!" "I'VE BEEN WANTING DO THIS FOR AGES" and even "THIS IS FOR MY COFFEE STASH!" It seems that a bunch of seniors have chosen to air out their grievances in the best (worst) way.

I hear Cater joke "I told you she held a grudge." Trey subsequent answer is a nervous laugh. He settles besides me, and I can't focus on him anymore, as Cater splits himself in many Caters, one of them staying to protect us.

I yell commands at the students, but they are happy in ignoring me. They help and hinder each other with each spell.

Rosehearts throw cards at them instead of his UM and curses Trey. Meanwhile, the creature on Rosehearts back guides the trees and their attacks are concentrated in that instead of the true vulnerability. My friends are the only ones focusing on it.


It won't be enough.

They only know one attack each.

We are only in our first semester of college.

It isn't fair.

"Yuu-chan what's your plan?" I glimpse at Cater-senpai's face. His expression is kind and curious, out of place for a battlefield. One of his clones is following my lead when I say for Grim to attack, fire made larger, stronger.

"We've to destroy the glass bottle. It's the only way to stop it." It's the only way I know to stop it. Maybe it won't stop Rosehearts-senpai for all, but it will slown him down to someone knock him out.

(The Dwarves Mines-

How do you stop a person, once for all?)

"Got it." Cater-senpai smiles, but there's an odd twist to it. "You and Lotte-chan think a lot alike."

A knots of vines get launched at the overblot. Rosehearts-senpai holds a giant, visible sphere, to hold it at bay. The knots shifts, a hidden Charlotte dropping over the blot's head, tendrils suspending her body like a harvester spider.

She goes straight for the crown, arms moving in quick movements to remove it.

The shield only stops magic.

"I don't think I'd think to do that." You have to lack self-preservation to do what Charlotte-senpai is doing or to be absolutely sure this is the path for victory.

"Give it a few months."

Rosehearts-senpai shrieks. Flames fill the sphere at the same time they expand from his side to his surroundings, a circle of all consuming heat taller than a person spreading quickly across the battlefield.

I can't see her anymore.

Rosehearts drops his shield and the fire close to it. The creature goes to swing the rose tree-

It tries to. However, a bunch of vines circled it in quick and sharp movements, holding it back like an animal that just got restrained. It thrashes wildly, but the vines don't bulk. For every piece of it that gets burn, more are added to the parcel.

I can't see who is holding it; there are hedges on the way and they're on the other side.

I am more worried on trying to stop the flames from reaching us. It eat the grass and the vines and the maze like it's trying to win a race.


I prefer if it lost.

If only people heard me-

Trey-senpai bellows: "If you all don't follow the newbie here, I'll stop baking forever!"

The threat works.

Now that I can coordinate more skilled and stronger students, we can stop the fire from spreading out and harming us. Not much to be said about the vegetation around, however, except for the acridic smell smoke and ashes.
 

I look at the creature behind the dorm leader. It has lost the crown, revealing to be a real bottle and cracks like lattice litter the surface. Some of the thick, petrol like substance is dripping, but not enough. 

Surprisingly, it moves back, pulling Rosehearts-senpai body like he's a puppet under its strings. The creature releases an unholy howl, just as thunder rumbles.

Rain falls in drizzling mist.

I flinch away.

All around me, the reactions are the same.

Water that isn't rain: droplet of boiling, searing heat fall on us, scorching skin and scalding like the world's worst sauna. I take out my blazer and hold over me, but it won't hold for long. Already, I feel the hot pain of burns on my skin, and my clothes can only take it for so much before it falls on me. "Someone, call for umbrellas!"

"I don't know how to make one!"

"Then summon yours, dumbass!"

"I DON'T REMEMBER WHERE I LEFT IT, ALRIGHT?"

Weird exchange aside, I turn to Cater. "Senpai, could you...?" With a pointing of his pen, he offers me one umbrella while the other he holds over Trey and himself. "And my friends...?"

"Ma~ Cay-kun got you covered, Yuu-chan." Senpai winks at me and gently spins my chin to show my friends. Ace and Deuce share a single umbrella with Grim, who's slumped on both their shoulders. I can't see well their expressions from this distance, but I have the impression they are as astonished as me about this turn of events.

I don't see another Cater at their sides. "Cater-senpai, you are the original?"

"Of course, gotta protect the kings..!" He jokingly elbows Trey and myself.

I understand Trey-senpai, but me? Trey blinks confusedly for a bit, before smiling wryly. "Cater..."

Something to ponder about later. Rosehearts-senpai has to be stopped.

The Heartslabyul Dorm Leader is holding both arm wide, pure rage painting his pale face making his expression demoniac. I don't like to consider what is causing so, neither do I like to consider what he will do if given more time.

"These that can still fight, prepare yourselves! Fire and wind attacks together, then water, followed by the remaining attacks! Hit the head of that thing on his back on my signal! The harder the better!

"Fire and wind! 3...2...1... GO!"

It's like being on the eye of a hurricane. I can see all the effects of it, without being much affected by it all. Besides the thinning in the air and my deeper, longer breaths, only a little painful. The burns bother me more.

"Water! 3...2...1... GO!"

"Last attack! 3...2...1... GO!"

To its credit, the overblot tries to protect itself. It's slower than before, sluggish, and it is not long before it loudly breaks under the last combined onslaught with a loud, deafening crack.

Just as well, I fall to my knees, and my conscience drops.

Chapter Text

Night Raven is a College. (Truth, both times.)


Night Raven is aimed to young adults. (Lie? Truth?)

Night Raven is aimed at teenager magicians. (Truth? Lie?)

Divergent memories fill your brain, leaving you wrong-footed, like you are existing in the world inside a mirror, where everything is opposite yet not. What is truth and what is a lie? You know this place. You don't know this place.

Two images in the same design, a figure that changes from different angles. There are no angles to be looked at. Only what happens. Only what happened. There should be no angles, and yet it is 3D figure that you can't make sense of. That makes no sense even when you try to find sense on it. You miss places, people, that you never saw before. Of course you saw, you lived there.
 

You are Trey Clover and Night Raven fills you with excitement coupled with inexplicable dread. Something went wrong. You know that in your bones, with each breath you make, each step you take. You are supposed to be here, and that is a truth you cling to, even when the days mix together and your don't know if your memories will happen (have happened?) again.

You recognize Cater. He was the vice to your Dorm Head.

(You never were a Dorm Head. How do you know him?)

And he is bright, all smiles and jokes and a phone on hand, always running from one place to another in search of a rush, but also, surprisingly kind sometimes. It's like something clicks when you are with him, the rush of seeing a new recipe to bake and knowing that not only you can do it, you are familiar with the steps.

Che'nya is different: childhood friends through thick and thin, you share a similar brand of mischief that isn't stopped by you going to different institutions. You are on the same island: with all the childhood shenanigans, it's easy for Che'nya to go through the barriers of Night Raven with a small heartbeat, and easier yet for you to go to the coffee shop he works at afternoon on weekdays. And if the last idea makes you feel underfooted, that's just your own uneasy at being in a coffee shop when it's a forbidden liquid by the rules of your dorm.

But if Che'nya's workplace leaves you feeling a bit displaced, it is not compared to the dread of the command that echoes in your mind, written on your magic by your own hand: you are a normal guy. Not the worst, not the best, you are normal.

You don't understand it, you don't remember writing it and you don't know the reasons for it. It is outrageous, that you shouldn't strive, shouldn't give your efforts.

You disobey. Of course you disobey, it's your magic and you can re-write as you see fit. Still, the warning persists, and this time around, you become the Vice-Leader to Cater's leadership.

You could do better, but...

You are a careful guy. You take the words as a guideline, not a command.

On your third semester, Riddle, small, uptight, nothing but the best, rules must be followed all the times, Riddle Rosehearts, enters Night Raven. Enters Heartslabyul. And you know, as you know the sun rises east and sets west, that he will go for the title of Dorm Head. And, Cater is not something you subestimate, but Riddle has been forced to eat books you are only reading at college since childhood, has perfected his Unique Magic at his teens: Cater doesn't stand a chance.

(You stood, you won,what is Off with Your Head against something that can re-write reality itself?

Doodle Suit is a misleading name.)

That month, you dream: a collar in your neck, tight, so tight, so heavy; you, begging, the Dorm Leader uniform constricting, useless, so useless; blood, red as paint, so dark, bodies lying on the grass, grass you know, grass you have been stepping in for years; the smell of roses, so strong, so sickening, mixing together with the rust; and finally, the creature, heart-shaped bottle head, dressed like a facsimile of a queen. Overblot.

You know this magic.


You know.

You have to be normal. Can't exceed expectations, can't be the best, can't give your all. This is what happens when you are too good. This is what happens when you give your best. Being normal is an acceptable price to pay for saving your friend.

Not childhood friend. Your friend. Riddle's mother is nothing compared with two kids with access to magic and library, determined to keep their friend. Riddle can't see them anymore, well, Che'nya can make himself invisible. Even became a real cat with the help of transformation potions. You had fewer resources but no less tenacity, and Che'nya was all to happy in helping you to trade correspondence.

Stolen moments, made all more precious when Riddle's stopped answering, stopped letting you two in.

This isn't a future you will let pass. You won't.

Riddle challenges Cater the day of the next entrance ceremony and wins. You are glad to stay as his vice, doing your duties.

And there are so many.

You help to keep the peace on Heartslabyul. You keep the rules, you memorize them, you smooth over Riddle's jagged edges and picky personality, you try to keep his stress at minimum, all over your jackrabbit heart. For six months, it works.

Until it's the day of the entrance ceremony again, and, as if it wasn't enough that a monster tried to ruin it, you recognize the faces among the new members. (Deaddeadeaddeaddeaddead-)

Your nightmare returns, more details this time. You start to take potions to sleep at night.

Che'nya notices, because of course he notices. "Trey-nya, why don't nya tell lil' ol' me what's bothering nya?"

"Just a nightmare. It isn't- It isn't important."

Che'nya grins wide, like he just ate one of your cakes. "If it isn't, then there is meow problem in sharing." He looks very proud of himself, in catching you.

Usually, you pay more attention. Che'nya is fond of word games.

Usually, you aren't worried your friend will overblot if you take one step wrong.

You tell him, not everything, but only as much as you allow yourself to be vulnerable. You don't even understand everything.

(There are no worlds in which you don't have this conversation. But this, you don't know.)

"If nya are worried he will kill people, don't let him kill people."

"Che'nya, that's terrible advice-!"

"Is it?" He cocks a brow and kicks your leg. Not one to be left behind, you kick him back until you are both sporting bruises under your pants.

"Nya told me ya been doing everythin' under the sun to manage his stress and 'keep the peace'." Che'nya fingerquotes you, face like he sucked a lemon. He still disagrees with your methods. "Even remembering ridiculous rules. If the overblot happens 'cause he killed people, don't let him kill them. Easy peasy."

You can see his reasoning and yes, if the blot happens because Riddle killed maybe-in-acident maybe-on-purpose, it sounds like an easy step to take. Yet... "Just like that? You believe in me?"

Che'nya throws an arm over your shoulder, bringing your bodies together. The easy affection of a friend, and you relish on it. "Trey-nya, I have been on college fur years. This don't even ranks on nya top five weirdest experiences."

Somehow, you doubt it. For one, the students of RSA are much more well-behaved than NRC. But having Che'nya to stand by your side calms you enough that you feel you can weather the storm. Riddle won't overblot because you will be by his side.

And yet...

Why can you see him be consumed by the blot now?

Didn't you give your best?

Didn't you give your all?

 

loOol



I am in a world of black, white and grays, like being inside a black and white movie in which every object is, somehow, a lot bigger than it should. There's a kid around my height with big eyes, similar to Rosehearts-senpai and a giant woman with a lot of resemblance to him. The boy is sitting at the table, and so I am.

The woman approaches the child, a cake on her hands. "Happy eighth birthday, Riddle." Ah, so this is really Rosehearts-senpai. How did I get here, then? "Your birthday cake this year is a low-sugar cake made with soy flour and nuts filled with lecithin to make you smarter."

Little Rosehearts makes a face. "Thank you, mama. But, hmmm, I..." He hesitates for a moment before he steadies himself. "Just once, I really want to try a tart covered in bright red strawberries..."

His mother looks like he said the most scandalous thing she heard. "How could you say such a thing?! Such a mound of sugar is basically poison!" Her tone is just as scandalized. When little Rosehearts flinches away, she controls it back to poised and gentler. "Just one slice would exceed your daily sugar intake." Ah, it's the 'mother knows best tone and how dare you think different?'

"It's one thing if he had diabetes," I jump on my chair. A teenager girl sits ahead of me, playing with a falling curl of her tightly coiled hair. "But he never has. That woman is just a controlling bitch."

Different from the scene she has colors. "Who are you?"

The girl turns to me, shocked. "You can see me?!" She quickly waves it off. "Nevermind that, just watch. We don't have long."

And watch I do. The world is big because we are in the memories of a child; I see Rosehearts making friends with Che'nya and Clover at the same time he endures a harsh treatment at home. Rosehearts eats the tart he wanted before in his ninth birthday; and it isn't long before his mother finds him and forbids him from meeting either. My nails leave marks on my palms for how long I have been pressing them.

This is abusive.

Finally the world around us disappears and it's only me and the teenager girl in a blue dress. "Huh. More was supposed to happen. Where the dramatic soliloquy?" She squints at the air. "Things are very weird this time around."

Blue dress, all the theme of Heartslabyul, my dreams, the queen... "Are you Alice?"

"What? No, I am you!"

"Me? You aren't me."

"Of course I am you, Yuu! That's my name." She giggles, excited. "But I am Alice too, as much as you are." I am confused. Did she come to this world too? "Although you could call me the First Failed Alice, while you are the current Alice-in-progress. Which is weird, because I'm pretty sure you died, but we are still on the same narrative!" What?! "So, Yuu Alice-in-progress, do you have any questions? Our time is short, so be quick!"

If we are pressed for time... "I really died?" I...

I thought these were visions. Weird, fucked up visions, but-

A future that wasn't. Not a future that I lived and died.

The teenager frowns at me. "I just said that. You're pretty weak compared to me, but Yuu're also older, so I don't know how things work." Sometimes, I can't parse whether she is saying my name, Yuu, or if she is saying the pronoun, you.

"Weak?"

"Yes! You died from the pressure from the Overblot, silly, not from the attacks." She pouts. "Be glad that Yuu alive and kicking is wanted." She has a somber expression, before clearing it. "More questions?"

Many. I need answers and there's much to ask. "You said things are very weird this time around...?"

"Yes! Everyone is older! Even you! " What? "I always thought Riddle would grown up a bit, so imagine my surprise to learn now he's smaller?!"

What she is saying makes no sense. How Rosehearts-senpai could be smaller than when she met him? And me? "Have we meet each other before?"

The teen giggles. "No, silly, I told you, I am the First. We never met until this moment." She looks to the sides and takes a step backwards. "Time to go! Byebye, see you whenever!"

She loses colors. Shape follows.

I wake up.

loOol


You are the Headmaster of Night Raven and you failed your students.

You are doomed to fail. You doomed yourself to fail.

You will succeed, despite your failures piling up.


You have been advancing, despite everything.

This is the last time. The last chance, to make things right.

Oh Yuu, I am sorry. I am so sorry you have been brought here. But I have to trust you yet again.

And on the Prefect, who is not Y(o)(u)u, who didn't hesitate to call attention to herself, actions seizing you by the throat to force you to act faster instead of delaying the inevitable. You would conduct the evacuation. You always conducted the evacuation.

(You are fool: a good, kind-hearted fool, whose only sin's to love your beloved so intensely that you would mirror her; or so you speak each time the tired eyes of your reflexion meet yours. A fool, but one that would minimize harm, given the choice.)

Only Yuu, so far, has ordered you so before, and even then not always. It's exciting (and frightful, so frightful), the little alterations happening. You can't foresee it, only lay guidelines.

The parameters are changed. You changed them, the mirror changed them, the world changed them, divergencies climbing upwards like the tree that upholds the skies.

The parameters are unchanged: there a story to go, a tale to tell, roles to play and challenges to be meet. A tale of hope, bright enough to shame stars with its fire.

Your hands are tied; you tied yourself to save others. Now, you exist like a drowning man under a layer of ice. One last time.

You have to depend on someone to provide rescue, while you wait in the dark.

You can only hope Yuu succeeds.


You can only hope to succeed.

Chapter Text

Kyran and herself watch the fight, way too far to do something straightforward, singed and tired, but not done yet. Charlotte is keeping the remaining rose trees firmly on the ground, choking them through her own latticed roots and surrounding them in cages of thorns, while Kyran forces the rose trees to grown downwards, to take roots firm and deep and so glued to the soil it would take much effort to torn them away. A big umbrella made out of the blackberry tree in her back keeps the sizzling rain away while another branch holds a crown-shaped lid.

"Hey Kyran-kun, do you have the sleep potions yet?" Kyran offers them back to her, and she straps it to her things. Her own share went already inside the blot bottle, as did her wench. Take it out from the inside.

Mute, moving fingers appears on her vision and she looks up. Kyran is speaking. "Kyran-kun, I am sorry, but my tinnitus is attacking, so I have no idea of what you are saying."

Charlotte takes a deep breath. "Thanks for the save." Her shield disrupted all magic, temporarily. Even her own. Were it not for Kyran, when she jumped from the Overblot, crown secure on her arms and bottles empty, she would have a lot more than swollen shoulders from the fall. "And for the anvil. And helping out and following me that time. Just... thanks a lot." She has to dry the tears when she blinks.

Charlotte thought it would be just herself. Herself and a world of pain until she succeeded. It wasn't she was an individualistic or couldn't bear the thought of asking for help: it is that, for reasonable reasons, she never thought help would be given.

Although, she is glad to be wrong. Glad to see other students fighting the overblot on the other side of the field.


Kyran offers her his phone, notes app open. "No problem. Hey, what the song you are singing means?"

Right. English is a dead language here. Charlotte sings it again, even if her heaving breath is painful, this time pointing out each body part. The lyrics were not so important as was the meaning she could give to it: knees and toes, supporting the body, just like her network of underground roots cover the maze and support the rest of the plant. She could recconnect to it by plunging any vine down and she would have access to the entire battlefield.

It was why Charlotte was so fond of children's songs and nursery rhymes: not hard to remember, good rhythm, and very, very easily repurposed.

Kyran shakes his head, but he has a smile so she counts it as a win. He offers her his phone. "Charlotte-chan, why did you choose to fight?"


That's obvious. "Someone had to give time for Crowley handle the evac."

"Yes, but why you?"

"I am a Prefect. I have a duty to other students." She can't hear the cacophony of their magic over Riddle's, but she can see the joint directed flamethrower they use on the Overblot. "Ooh, that's cool."

"Would you still do the same, if you weren't one?"

For that, Charlotte has to look at Kyran's face, to try to pry out the meaning behind these questions. Kyran is impassive but for the wry twist to his mouth.

Still, the answer is obvious. "Of course. If you think 'someone needs to do something,' and you are someone capable of doing it, you do it. At least, it's how it works for me."

The violin and the rain stop nearly timed together, but the ringing on her head persists.

"Hey Kyran-kun, how good are you at assessing wounds?" Kyran gestures in a 'so-so' way and raises a brow. 'What are you thinking?' "No fight, specially one as this, leaves people unscathed. Can you help me to set a triage while we wait for reinforcements?"

Kyran agrees easily, and while he goes ahead to the group of tired students, Charlotte cuts the excess of plant matter, leaving only the vines that are stopping her from bleeding through. Although her heart is beating like a hummingbird on her chest, it is to be expected: another symptom from blood loss, her body is compensating from the lack of oxygen.

Duty, however, comes first: Charlotte has a pit stop to make too.

She settles her fingers against Trey's shoulder, light, just enough to call for his attention from where he is cradling Riddle's body, still with marks of an overblot and ink on his skin. She keeps the expression on her face kind and voice low. "Trey-san, I understand you are worried about Riddle-san, but I don't think now would be the best time for him to wake up."

Trey blinks, surprised, and says something she doesn't catch. It could be her name, a 'what', a 'why' or even 'why are you carrying the crown'. She doesn't know either: the crown stayed, even when the blot parasite was destroyed. She holds it out of a sense of entitlement: neither the gloves nor her clothes stopped her from getting burned when she was holding on the glass, so it's fit she has her due.

Charlotte goes on, regardless, and takes out one of the bottles Kyran returned to her. "If I had a very public breakdown that ended in me fighting everyone, I wouldn't want to wake up in the same place with the same people that it happened. Waking up privately in the infirmary is much kinder." She presses the bottle to his hands. "It's a sleep potion. It should keep him down. But-" She raises from her crouched state, world spinning around her, and shrugs. "Your choice."

There are certainly things to be said about her balance. Blood loss is showing its effects, but this won't be the first time nor the last she suffered under it. Just worse, since she never had to make her vines to grow to this level, this wide. She wants to sit down and rest.

Charlotte carries on. She still has things to do.

Slipping away from Trey and Riddle, and closer to the tired students, she raises her voice and claps her hands. "Hey, everyone! A minute of your attention please...!" It's hard to know the timing for herself to speak through the ringing on her ears, but she makes do. "Kyran-kun here is doing a triage, I will be helping after, however, first I have some words to say. Everyone here knows the situation was... unprecedent, to say the least. I have many feelings about what happened, you may have noticed it's very unusual for me to throw shade at Riddle-san." She laughs nervously, both for the crowd and for herself. Charlotte never wanted to alienate Riddle, but she may have succeeded in doing so by taunting him. "But also, among my feelings, I hold profound admiration for everyone that chose to stay and fight. It's... I know it wasn't an easy choice to make and I would never begrudge you from choosing differently. But it's because you chose to fight that the Overblot was defeated. So," she goes to her knees, crown set aside to hold a seiza position "from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much."

Charlotte bends her body until her chest and lap touch, hands sprawled flat and together making a triangle just below her face, who itself is a few centimeters from the ground.

Saikeirei, the most reverent and formal way of bowing. It has a meaning.

Charlotte holds.

She feels sick and the mother of all headaches, like being stabbed through her brain. She is breathing like she just sprinted all the way here.

She holds.

The ringing on her ears won't abate fully for some hours. Charlotte may hear magic, but it isn't without its impacts.

She holds.

She holds, until there are hands on hers, raising her up. Ah, she knows these people. Flower Offerer and Clover Gold, that both have a light flush to their skins. This close to her, Charlotte can hear some words said. "Don't believe... the hell... nice... crazy..."

Charlotte's smile is stolen when they try to pull her through arm strength alone. "Careful, hurt my shoulders."

Clover Gold looks apologetic, while Flower Offerer frowns at her. They help her up more carefully, and while the world is shaking, but nothing that some deep breaths won't fix for a bit.

Flower Offerer knows a language she signs, so she recruits him on helping her with the triage, translating the students' speech to her until she can hear better - enough so she can discern their word given focus. Charlotte herself offers some candy and hugs at the end for each person, and while the former is widely accepted, not much take on her offer for the latter. It is still a stunning number of people that accept her hugs, but maybe, like her, they need the physical comfort.

(Flower Offerer and Clover Gold both do, one more reluctant than the other.)

Cater accepts her hug, although she has to move him from his position, sprawled on the ground as he is. It's also close to her own first years, with who she has to have a serious conversation about 'acceptable risks' and 'not going in a fight you can't win' and 'you know ONE move, don't go into magical fights or you will lose'. Yuu has woken up too, and is lying down with a dazed expression on their face, while their friends bicker besides them.

Charlotte also has to have a conversation to Yuu about dying, but that's for when she doesn't feel like a knotted ball of stress and nerves.

Instead, she settles it for later and grins at the ginger man she knows as her friend. Her brain sort of forgot his name. It happens. "Thanks for helping out, honey. Also, thanks for keeping my kids safe."

He repeats jokingly. "Your kids?" He tsks. "Also, are you stealing my cards now, Charlotte-chan?"

Charlotte intentionally misinterprets him. "Cay-kun, I swear to you, I never touched your credit cards in my life." She says, very seriously.


"My people cards."

"You have business cards?! That's nice!"

Cater takes her by the chin and holds her facing Ace and Deuce. "These cards."

There's a question to be asked since when they are his cards. After all, Cay isn't the head of the dorm anymore, so, if anything they are Riddle's cards. But that will be very unkind of her, and Charlotte tries to not be, so she doesn't say that. Instead, with an expression of glowing enlightenment, she goes "Aah, these cards! I never stole them away, they came by their own spontaneous wishes."

"You have a point, I think we may have to share custody."

"I will sue your side for neglect, abandonment willful endangerment." She winks and gets away.

Charlotte goes for Ace and Deuce, hugging them both before they can say anything. She whispers. "I want wring your necks out, but you also did something very brave and I think that should be acknowledged so I will only lecture you later."

"Senpai...!"

She answers it in a normal voice. "You did something that few would dare, and this... this wasn't something small. I also noticed you were dodging the vines well, and did a lot better on the duel than the crowd thought you could. So, I am proud of you!"

"...it's...ah, C-charlotte-senpai..."

Ace wrings himself out of her arm. "Stop saying embarrassing things!" There's a pleased flush on his cheeks that contradicts his reaction.


"But, sweetheart," Charlotte pouts "I am taking responsibility! Just like you asked!" Ace sputters and Charlotte is very proud of herself for turning his words against him.

A flash shines by. Yuu holds out their camera. "I feel like I should register this moment for posterity."

"Goldie, I will throttle you!"

"No, I have to take Deuce's photo first, I think he's overheating."

Charlotte didn't even notice. She releases Deuce from her hug, and the poor boy pointedly avoids looking at her, blushing hard. "Er... thank you..." She saves him the awkwardness by moving away.

Charlotte thinks Yuu managed to catch on camera the exact moment that Deuce looked down.

Ace and Deuce have their revenge by tickling Yuu mercilessly.

"And Grim-sama?! Did I do well?" Grim clings to her corset, eyes wide and enormous.

Charlotte shifts him to her arms and has to keep a wince at bay. He's surprisingly heavy, or maybe it's her that can't stand his weight. Still. "Yes. Your fire is blue, which means it burns hotter than other fires, so it was very easy to say when you did what. I saw one of the rose trees attacking me burning blue, so I have to thank you for saving me."

Grim grins, pleased with himself. "Pfft, 'course! That's child's play for me!"

"Uhum. Can I give you a hug or will the Great Grim-sama reject me?"

Grim thinks for a bit. "Well, fine! A short one...!" That's just fine by her. He allows her to hold him like the world's heaviest baby, before moving and jumping out of her arms.

Only Yuu remaining.

Yuu, who tries protect their sides, and is grinning so wide it has to be a little painful. It's a good look for them.

Charlotte drags out her voice. "Yuu-chaaaan, time for your own hugging season."

Yuu is practically shepherded to her arms, under Ace and Deuce's ministrations. "Sorry... about that..." They say, very much out of breath.

"No trouble!" None at all. What Charlotte really wanted when she died was a good hug, to know she was alive and safe. From the way the kid sags on her embrace, maybe this is something they need too.

Charlotte whispers. "And you, Yuu? I heard that you coordinated everyone, and, kudos to you, I was both very proud and very scared when I saw you there, so how are you feeling?"

It takes a bit of brainpower to understand their words, since Yuu seems to like her shoulder very much, although they are careful to not lie all their weight on it. Charlotte appreciates the care. "Tired. A bit confused. You jumped... on the head of the blot. How you are feeling, senpai?"

Charlotte felt many overlapping emotions. "Sore, really dreading all the time I will have to sit down in the future because my tights got burnt, proud, grateful for everyone and a bit stressed out." Really stressed out. She was keeping it a bay for now only because people needed her to be okay.

"That tracks."

"It does. Turn to the camera, Ace is waiting for you."

Not even a minute later, Crowley appears together with some other teachers, together with Dr. Birdwell, a trio of ghost nurses and the pretty squirrel woman that is also Charlotte's friend and that she also forgot the name. He zeroes on her. "Oh goodness gracious, if you are alive then...!"

A dry voice interrupts him. "Everyone's alive and kicking." Everyone is surprised to see the Defense teacher appear from apparently nowhere besides Riddle, purple hair and sprightly limbs the obvious tell of the shapeshifter. Despite her old age, she was the best duelist they had, enough to win the title 'Invictus'.

Charlotte's outraged. If she was here all the damn time...!

She is also in a dire need of sitting down, so she walks to the squirrel girl. She has a task to do, even as Charlotte fights to ignore the Defense's teacher words. "I am monitoring Rosehearts-kun, but he appears well, if under the effects of a potion. My personal recommendation would to keep him under for a bit."

Charlotte throws her arm around the girl. "Sweetheart, I am once again not bleeding for vampire people reasons."

The girl doesn't bat an eyelash, instead circling an arm around her waist, steadying her. You are the best! "So, business as usual?"


"Unfortunately." The girl snorts.


It's an understatement.


loOol



Using blood magic is a bit of a taboo; it's primitive, gross, and easily gets you cursed because it is the strongest taglock on existence. Charlotte hasn't been cursed yet, blood magic has cut immensely the time and the cost of doing of magic by herself because the substance is very potent on its own. Her brand of blood magic includes summoning pieces of the vampiric blackberry plant that Malleus gifted her - she is growing it all around the boundary of her property - and commanding it to do her bidding, magic only necessary to change the flexibility of the brambles, but everything else? Blood and intent. Her own blood, because that was a special plant that only obeyed the one it was bound to, first blood it took, although it would still suck blood, bone and fertilizer like it was nobody's business.

(Malleus gives the best gifts.)

Charlotte still has to get a blood transfusion. The range the roots took was too large and she had to grow too many branches on the fight to suspend her body.




"You... you are crying?"

"I loved that hat, okay??"

"Sorry about that, senpai. It's my fault."

"There, there. You have other hats at home."

"It-it will be fine, Yuu. I... I'm just being emotional. Ignore me."



"ANYONE saw my bird?"

"Crowley had a pigeon when he took off. That's yours?"

"Yeah, Pru'd escape. Must be at home, thanks."


loOol



Charlotte's the worst option for this.

She is a depressed bitch who relies too much on death to say she is living. It isn't an addiction: that would imply that Charlotte likes the rush of it, the brief space when the world goes dark and painless - that is just wrong, because while death isn't painful, dying is. The process that leads to death is more often than not agonizing. And Charlotte herself hates being in pain. One could think that suffering in diverse ways would increase her pain threshold, but no. Unless she is powering through it, each of her injuries distresses and bothers her.

Not an addiction: a mean through an end and that is just as bad.

Before, she died for carelessness, either of others or herself. She couldn't stand magic until she did - and wasn't that anguishing? To discover she could develop a resistance to magic, only she had to get grievously wounded to do so, until it was only aches. Even now, she is extremely vulnerable to potions and magic poisons - her body just doesn't produce some of the enzymes to break down the ingredients, leading to stronger and longer effects.

Once, on that earlier year of their friendship, she shared some... alarming news with Malleus, who had gone from fine to Extreme Distress and accidentally released the control he had over his aura.

It was only a nanosecond: she got vaporized.

Charlotte woke up on her bed with three thoughts: one, what in the name of all that is holy happened and two, damn, I cannot not tell him this and three, this is going take a looong time.

(She never meant to cause distress. Charlotte at that point had no magic nor trick to hide behind and was fairly sure that Crowley's 'kindness' wouldn't extend to a non-prospective student; it was better that Malleus learned from her mouth that despite her advancements on understanding the languages around her - which seemed to be the greatest obstacle on her way if you didn't know the truth - it was practically impossible that she would attend the magic university.)

Early on their acquaintance, Charlotte noticed that Malleus used aura casting - it relied a lot on the emotional regulation of the user, she learned later. And her friend was among the most powerful magicians of this world, or so some ranking claimed. When Malleus leaked magic on the ambient, unintentional as it was, it killed her the on the spot. At least this way, she had control of the interaction. At least it didn't come as a surprise, a shock.

It's terrible to die.

It's terrible to die by the hand of a friend.

It's terrible to walk to your death with eyes open and knowing the danger.

Charlotte still did it. She rationalized in between deaths that if Malleus releasing some of the tight control he had on his aura didn't kill her, no one else on Night Raven could unless they were actively trying to do it. Not by excess of ambient magic, not by doing magic close by and hitting her on accident or on purpose, and not by doing a simple magic trick such as levitating like she asked Malleus oncd.

(Another on the terrible list: to ask your friend to unknowingly kill you. There are lots of things she did, but that was the one which made her feel ashamed of herself later.)

Now, Charlotte died because she needed time to go through all the interesting or important books in Night Raven. She died because she needed time to access collections. She died because 'Charlie' needed time read the records. She died because there's only herself to remember and much to do, and morality sometimes is a slippery slope when you are desperate.

It is okay, not fine, never fine - because that way lied madness and lowering her own worth and Charlotte sees that side path and refuses it  - that she dies. That she died. That she still has some days she has to coach herself out of the bed through gentle and kind words because the world sucks and she can't open up about dying to no one and it's a heavy burden to carry. Charlotte excels at using the right words; years of managing attention deficit on her own lead to convincing herself just a bit, just continue, it's easy, less than five minutes and there is no problem is complaining the whole time, I know it feels better to not show up, but some things we can't skip Charlotte, you will feel bad AND guilty if you miss it, Charlotte, just a shower, we can use a chair in the bathroom if you don't feel like standing up, come on honey, you can do that, I believe in you-

It is okay. She is managing. The problem lies that what is acceptable for her is not what is acceptable for others, and she refuses to pass these bad habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms to Yuu.

Charlotte spin a toy in her fingers, thoughts far away. Yuu deserves someone more competent and emotionally stable to help them out. They deserve someone good, someone nice, someone who could open up to them and bless them with truth, camaraderie, understanding, someone to guide them on the way, a lighthouse shining the rocks lying ahead.

What Yuu gets is Charlotte, who spins spiderwebs of lies out of truth as easy as breathing, who fell so many times against the rocks - knowingly, unknowingly - that she developed layers and layers of protection. Charlotte, whose sincere kindness serves multiple purposes: heartfelt comments that feed egos and endears herself to others, establishing herself as an amiable character who doesn't raise hackles, genuinely giving everyone her attention when spoken to, thoughtless acts of benevolence that costs her nothing... 'Charlotte' exists not only out of her own personality, but out of deliberateness.

What Yuu gets is a mess of a self-made person.

This, Charlotte wants to laugh in despair, is going to be a disaster. I am not cut out of that.

She isn't. Still, Yuu shouldn't have to pass through all the trauma alone. It's only... Charlotte buried so many conundrums in her chest it rooted on her ribs. Now she has to take one out, the one so tightly guarded it never hoped to see the light. She must be careful to not have it entangling with her other equally important secrets when she explains it. And she will - it is necessary on spite of being a hard call to make.

(There's also the fact that Yuu's skill was affecting her own. For Unbirthday, Charlotte was fifteen minutes back - extremely unusual. For Tuesday, twelve hours back, on her bed - as things normally are. Charlotte had time to process her deaths; Yuu didn't.)

There also another problem, that Charlotte will ruin Yuu, because that was the way she survived, because it's the only way she knows and she doesn't want to do it.

She is the worst role model.

She will also continue to go in a spiral if she doesn't do something else right now.

Charlotte raises her head from Malleus' couch to look at his desk. The pile of documents on the 'read' side is taller than when she came to Diasomnia and yet there is much to be added to it. Her hands continue to play with the spinner, while she watches Malleus review a propose or some equally important document, brow low and thoughtful crinkle on his face. Being Crown Prince was a demanding job; she didn't even talked to him about the overblot - doing her own overdramatic rendering of it - despite coming exactly to do it more than an hour ago. She only stayed still so long because Malleus' presence was a balm of safety to her frenzied nerves, but now the silence and lack of another activity to do other than moping is eating at her.

"You should have an... uh, the word for someone that works for you and helps you out?" Ah, the joys of being multi-lingual.

"An assistant...? I already have these, half a dozen, in fact."

"Really? Why you have so much paperwork?" He was a future head of state, but surely, some of the proposals could be dealed by other people? Ministers, or whatever the Crown Prince has in his cabinet. "Shouldn't they filter it down?"

Malleus stops middle-reading to look up and smile wryly to her.  "This much is 'filtered down', as you said." Taking a quick look in the 'done' pile, he stops playing with his fidget toy to pull out some papers and place it on the corner of the table, away from himself. "Here."

The couch was ill-positioned for the task of taking it while staying in the same position. Too far away.

Charlotte tenses and untenses her muscles, getting up like it's a most demanding task and approaches the table.

While most countries provided documents in their own language and Bridgian - the common tongue of Twisted Wonderland and which was basically Japanese, to Charlotte's ears and eyes - the Valley of Thorns more isolated status led it to keeping Thornlands as the standard written language unless it was official correspondence or branches whose attribution included dealing with other countries.

That is to say that Charlotte is given a report with a language written in Latin scripts, with lots of double letters and words ending in consonants, no similarity to any romance language she is familiar, more similar to German. To her credit, she knows it follows a structure of subject-object-verb from past discussions, but any attempts to decipher the contents is utterly thwarted.

"Malleus, you overestimate abilities. I can't read it."

Malleus flushes in lilac, taking it back and translating it out loud for her.  It's a summary of the contents of the document below it, together with some relevant notes. "...as you can see, these packets pass for a review before they are sent to me. It is only that I must be aware of all the content on it."

"I understand." It was mind numbing but important work; sometimes, Malleus would even give Charlotte a broad overview or gossip about politics. Not that he would call it gossiping, 'merely commenting on the state of affairs'. "Well, your dedication to your job is inspiring to me for do mine, so I will take my leave for now."

Malleus waves her off, and she returns the fidget toy to him before leaving the room.

Uh.

There was a guard shift change.

Charlotte is only mildly surprised in seeing Sebek. She wasn't aware he was part of Malleus' protection deal; no one tells her these things, but Charlotte can draw her own conclusions about how they act around him. A secret is keep as long no one mentions it.

She was ready to open her mouth and greet him, but the tall Fae is ahead of her. "Charlotte-senpai!" Gazing disapprovingly at her, he bellows. "As befitting of someone who the Younger Master has chosen to bless with his presence, you have to take better care of your appearance...!"

Charlotte became instantly aware of the holes on her shirt made from piercing thorns, as with her sootstained shoes, which still have dirt to it. Her eyeshadow has to be smudged from pressing her face against the cushion with no care in the world. She must look like a mess to Sebek, with his pristine uniform and rigid shoulders.

Sebek continues his lecture and she raises a finger, like a student raising a hand for a question. It doesn't work, which only proves that he was either homeschooled or he is ignoring her.

Charlotte decides being annoying it is. She starts repeating his name middle-speech until he has to stop in outrage. "Weren't you schooled on manners? It is bad form to interrupt someone speaking."

You didn't let me talk until I did!

"I had teachers with distinct lessons, which is all that I can see on the matter-" Having siblings teaches you the fine art of annoyance like no other "and while I can appreciate the care you have for Malleus and extended to me, but could I bother you to direct me towards Lilia? I have to ask him something."

 

loOol


Report file: HE-4RT21
Status: Pending review
Filled by: Prefect Charlotte James
Location: Heartslabyul's rose maze
Time: 3:30 - 5pm

Incident description: Fight for the position of Dorm Head. Exacerbated tempers led to physical force, unqualifying a side. Taunts led to exacerbated tempers on both sides. Interference of witness to fight. Interference leads to challenged using magic on witnesses, thus leading to unqualification. Exacerbated tempers coupled with magic leads to mental instability. Attempts to calm down challenged doesn't work. Use of more magic leads to full mental instability.

Safety measures incurs on Headmaster starting evacuation of witnesses and other dorm members. For the success of evacuation, engagement with unstable individual. Engagement starts as triple effort. Lack of compliance with the evacuation leads to challengers and other students engaging too. Main objective is subduing unstable party; lawful use of magic by engagers.
Evacuation being successfully conducted in the meanwhile.

Success at engagement. Party subdued and unconscious. Triage and assessment of injuries by untrained students until arrival of qualified professional. Unconscious student transported to be monitored in infirmary; common student injuries are abrasions, burns and lacerations, mild. Medical care provided on site; one student required a blood transfusion.
Unable to assess property damage.

Recommendation: At least X sessions with a therapist, coupled with mandatory rest (seven days) from strenuous activities and these that demand active magical usage. 


loOol



"Recommendation: At least a number of sessions with a therapist and mandatory-"


"Boo!" Someone touches her.

Charlotte is alone.

She flinches. On the edge of the chair as she is sitting, she hits a knee and nearly falls down. An arm around her shoulders pulls her back.

She raises her chin to meet Lilia's twinkling eyes.

"Don't you know that you should sit with your back to the chair?"

"I hurt my thighs and it hurts to put pressure in it."

"Is the cause of injury the same reason for the torn garments?" Lilia releases her, only to pick at her ruined sleeves, inspecting it and the skin below.

"Yes." Charlotte would do it again, but this only means now she has one less shirt to college. Maybe not if she fix it on club time. "Hey, how many therapy sessions I rec for someone I don't know well and they probably won't want it but their personal issues are affecting others around them and they need at least a starting point?"

"Three is a traditional number for a reason. Not too many, not too few."

He is right. She edits the document with the correct quantity and continues to write the report, aware of Lilia looking at the screen over her shoulder. It's his computer she is using to do it; filing the report through phone would be too slow and the library feels too public for the subject matter.

"You were the one to require blood." He says it with surety, as if that was the obvious conclusion.

Charlotte pouts. "Just because I need transfusions every semester doesn't mean it was me."

"No?" He laughs and turns her wrist upwards. "How will the lady explain these then?" He presses his gloves against the needle mark on her skin and her fingers clench. It's a little sore.

"I got bitten by a serpent."

"A serpent? And it had a tooth only?

"Yes. It must have lost it before meeting me."

"Hmmm and where it was that you met?" "Far away from my dorm." "Curious. I wonder what your friend Hazel would have to say about it; she is the one to treat your usual injuries, no?"

Hazel conducted illegal healing sessions (and experiments) on Charlotte because she wanted to practice spells for when she became a magical healer; Charlotte was alright with being a lab rat because her main style involved get her blood suck out, tearing through skin and muscles, aftermath leaving her an open wound.

Lilia was not supposed to know about it.

I knew he spied on people with these bats of his!!


Charlotte doesn't use her doves to spy. It's to catch gossip. Completely different.

"Okay, you caught me. But NOT because of the report."

He innocently brings his hands to the side of the head, as if to say he bears no weapons. "Of course, of course." He waits until she opens her mail to continue. "Recommending counseling is most unusual."

A fishing for information. A necessary fact made for the way she wrote the document.

"Sorry, you aren't getting more info until I talk to Malleus. Besides, it is such a shame." Charlotte hits send and logs out from her account, spinning on the chair to find Lilia looking down at her, brows raised in polite inquiry. "Everyone could use a little help."

Lilia crosses his arms and his answering smile is that of a shared joke. "Ah, but to be vulnerable enough to ask for it, you surely comprehend it is not something fit to Night Raven students?"

Everyone had opinions about what, exactly, made a Night Raven student. Selfishness, ego, loads of magic...

Loads of bullshit.

Night Raven students each should decide on their own what they are and they do or don't instead of letting other decide for them.


Defiance propels her. "I don't. Actually..." Lilia was Silver's father. And a father was like a mentor, but with more responsibilities "Since we are on the topic, I need your help. Could you give me some advice on a matter?"

That makes Lilia still like a stone marble, not even breathing. He covers for it two seconds later, dragging her and her chair close to his bed, where he sits very prim and proper, a hand laying dramatically against his chest. "A lad as young as me can only be honoured to by the nature request." Yeah, and how OLD is that?? "Tell me what ails you."

loOol



"I understand." With chin on hands and a far away gaze, Lilia was pensive. Indeed, she thought he was reminiscing something. "You feel as if you are unable to provide the proper care and, for undisclosed motives, that not only you will fail at the task of guiding them, but, quoting you, 'you will ruin them'."

Layed out that way, yes, that was the core of the problem. Charlotte huffed nervously and assented. Talking about it has helped to calm her nerves to manageable stress levels, but high enough to still tense her muscles.

"Charlotte, your charge is not you."

"I know but-"

There was something hard on his eyes. "No buts." Lilia was serious, slipping away from his school boy persona to whatever he did at home. "Yuu is not you; your trauma, your issues, they won't inherit it."

Charlotte wanted to laugh. The other option was to cry and both were equally bad this time. But they will, oh, they will.  

Lilia must see it in her face, because he frowns. "They won't inherit it. You know better than to project your troubles at them."

The thing was, Charlotte did.

"Second, are the reasons why Yuu would be under bad guidance real or fictious?"

Real: Charlotte is a mess. Fictious: Charlotte is a competent mess and it is her fear of failure is speaking. "Mixed. Imagine stumbling in a dark room full, littered by sharp objects and the only way forward is through it. I know a path but because I got cut all the way and any other path through will also involve harm. It's a bad situation for everyone." She shrugs, a bit hopeless. Death all the way, to live.

Lilia murmurs, high enough for she to catch. "I forget you don't have night vision..." He sighs. "Very well. You will explain the situation and warn of the dangers onward to the best of your skill."

"Yuu will still get cut."

"Because you put them in the dark room."

"Not me!" Charlotte had no idea why the two of them died and lived. Somedays, it felt like a most cruel joke. "I got thrown in the dark too...!"

He has a pinched expression, smile fixed on his face. "And we can re-visit that matter another day," Uh-oh. "but you already know what you have to do now."

Charlotte nodded. Now she had a plan. Sort of. Talk about dying, make contingencies, explain risks, especially about potions, be there for Yuu if they want to talk, avoid encouraging reckless behaviour. Truly, the ADHD mind only worked well if it could map out the future.

"Excellent." Lilia clapped his hands and smiled for real this time, less sharper and more softer. "You are a fine young lady" she giggled "that has proven herself capable of every assignment taken or given and as such, in this too you will flourish."

She can only do one compliment per time. Her cheeks are warm and her own confidence restored. "Thanks Lilia. Sorry for the trouble."

"No trouble at all. Even I have my moments too."

"Of course. Still, thanks. For lending me your computer too."

"That reminds me, won't you join us for dinner? Silver roped Hazel in helping him."

"If it's no trouble..."

loOol

"Thanks for filling my bingo's freespace."

"...what you put there?"

"You getting a tranfusion before Hallow-OW"

"Don't hit Hazel at the dinner table."

"The table is a most improper place. You must overcome your differences by challenging each other on the battlefield!"

"You heard him, Charlotte, challenge me."

"Yeah, no. Too much challenges today. Throwing the towel on this one."



"...You also filled a bingo spot on mine."

"Et tu, Silver?"

"What was it?"

"Property damage on either Heartslabyul or Octavinelle until November."

"Ooh, I have a similar! Mine is Pomefiore and Ignihyde."

"...I had an Overblot on mine."

"...at least we made this before this all. Not like you are going have another Overblot to fill the space, Malleus."


loOol


Zenbe CHEBOI
17:23
u alive??

Maliza CHEBOI
17:44
I can't believe the shit you say
Like, of all you could have said, you said that??

Ariadne MYSTOS
18:46
Yo
Ppl r speaking about u
Thought you should know

MOR
19:58
isnsisndidkdkso
what Riddle did???

20:49

Charlotte J. to Zenbe CHEBOI
Yeah
Why the question
?

Charlotte J. to Maliza CHEBOI
I said what again?

Charlotte J. to Ariadne MYSTOS
Ty!
Speaking well or no?

Charlotte J. to MOR
many things
why the question

Zenbe CHEBOI
20:52
audiofileCharlottegoesoffonRiddle
videofileAcelayingoffRiddleEggSceneandsubsequentOffWithYourHead
audiofilefromAcecallingRiddleababytoOverblot
everyone is talking about it

Charlotte J.
I had no idea
thanks for letting me know!


sure
no injuries?

Nothing worse than Defense Classes

ok

 

Charlotte J. to Cay-kun ♢
20:55
3 files sent
you aware of it?

Cay-kun ♢
!!!!
NO


Thought so

Charlotte J. to Ortho SHROUD
20:59
ORTHO
ORTHO
ORTHO I NEED YOUR HELP
Answer when available pls

Ortho SHROUD
21:00
Hello Charlotte James-san. How may I be of help?

I need these files (and variations) PURGED from the internet, cloud and devices, with only a copy remaining, mine.
I am also aware that is not easy, so is there something that I am able to offer in return?
3 files sent

It can be done.
I have done my analysis and friends hang out with each other.
My brother needs more friends.
Charlotte James-san, you should come to Ignihyde in the future

One: I don't mind hanging out but this is very vague and I don't agree with vague terms. Two: Idia will find a way of pulverize me if I invade his space

Your concerns are valid. But if you come to hang out with ME, it is only coincidence that my brother and I share the same space.

I feel like you are introducing two cats lol
What about the time? Say, six hours? Paid in different days instead of all at once?

Six hours is too few for what you are asking.

Eight hours?

Twenty four hours.

Idia will kill me in less time. Sixteen hours and I bring candy.

I agree with your terms. You have until 31th of October to fulfill your part.

What about yours?

It is done already. I am keeping the file for safekeeping in my server but besides that and yours, all other files are extinct.

!!!
Ortho, you are the best!

Cay-kun ♢
21:21
can you send me it again?
mine disappeared lol

Charlotte J.
sorry I can't find it on my app either
maybe it got corrupted?
or had a timestamp for duration

Maybe
Let's hope this stays contained

Chapter Text

When all it is said and done, Cater and Trey rope the students in helping with the clean up. Charlotte-senpai has been long gone and neither me nor Grim are part of Heartslabyul, so we are free to go, despite my friends' protests that we contributed for the battle as well.

It is good, because I have much to think about.

First things first was to go back to my dorm. It was a safe-ish place, the safe that I have been here. On the way, I pointedly avoid thinking about everything, except when we are at the gates - which I stop by to look closer.

Stem as thick as two fingers, and long and sharp thorns on its body: these are the plants that senpai was using.


"Whatcha looking at, Yuu?"

I take a broken branch and give to Grim. "Don't you recognize these?"

Grim bites into it, makes a face and throws it out. "Duh. Charlotte used it to throw balls at Adeuce for dodge trainin'. I guess these are vines from today too...?"

"That's my guess too. But it doesn't look like they can hold much weight, does it?" At least not enough to pull on Ace and Deuce without breaking and much less to carry a person without breaking. A branch alone no, but a bunch of these, however...

"Nah, but appearances can deceivin', yanno." It mattered to me, because otherwise I would have to confront the things which I was avoiding and I was pointedly trying to not think about it by giving myself other things to think about.

"Fine. Let's go."

On the doorway, fiddling with the keys I accidentally let them fall. On the process of kneeling and taking it back, I see a dude carrying two of the backyard's zucchinis across the courtyard. Small, spiky blonde hair, two animal ears and a tail and with the biggest zucchinis on his arms.

I feel like I have seen him before.

"S'nt that our food?!" Grim gives chase to him and I, unfortunately, have to go behind. "Hey, thief! That's mine!"

The guy looks him up and down, then does the same as me. I feel like we are being assessed. He laughs. "Shishishi, aren't you being too harsh? Callin' me a thief... Your senpai's fine with me taking these, y'know?" He cocks an eyebrow and shifts his on his feet. It brings my attention to how his uniform looks too large on his body and to the arm-band on his clothes. Savanaclaw.


"Hmpf, she shouldn't give our food away...!"

I give Grim a Look, but he is determinedly ignoring me to try to stare down at this dude. 

If Charlotte-senpai allowed him, it's unfair to call him a thief. And rude as hell. I give him a slighty bow. "Ah, my apologies for Grim, er..." I don't know his name.

"Ruggie Bucchi, I am what you can call 'a regular second year'. And you...?"

"I am Yuu Goldstein and this is my partner, Grim. We're juniors." Grim is trying to look down on him from his nose, but the size difference is hilarious and it doesn't work.

"Ah, Yuu-kun and Grim-kun." A big grin spreads through his face. "Tell you what, I'm gonna let this slide by if you carry these for me."

I agree. My initial thought was that he wanted it for freeing his hands, but once I have it on my hold, he asks me to wait and leaves us. The vegetables are heavy.

Then he comes back with a pumpkin on his hands. "Come now Yuu-kun."

Grim takes one look at us and decides he will stay to 'protect the food.' Rude, but I am not in the mood to reprimand him. I am on the mood of lying down in the bed and existing on it, reflecting about all these realizations. On my bed, alone, with Grim maybe and not-


Not this.

I try to not resent Grim, but if only he was less impulsive...!

Ruggie-senpai stares at me curiously. I am only a few centimeters taller than him, but he seems much smaller because of his large clothes. "Aah, so what is that thing in your neck, kiddo?"

Oh. I kinda forgot to take it off. "It's called a Ghost Camera. It's old, but supposed to work." I still have to see the photos, tough. Perhaps I should use the old antique ways to reveal these, putting it into the right solutions and G-d know what. "The Headmaster said I should use it." I tack in the last bit.

"Aah, so it isn't worth any money, then? Tough luck."

Worth any money? I have seen lots of students with phones on their cameras and what else. I guess digital cameras were a thing here too, so the ghost camera with all the steps it had to take to reveal pictures, most be kinda worthless. I don't know what Crowley was thinking in giving it to me. "I guess not." Is there a magic in it besides that one of 'the pictures coming to live', like holograms?

I like the turn of this conversation. Much better than giving my attention to the stressing things on my mind. Since he mentioned the camera... "Do you want a picture taken, Ruggie-senpai?"

He laughs, carefree and mocking. "Shishishi, d'you think I am gonna look good in any picture like this?" He raises the pumpkin higher, and I can see the dirt stains on his clothes, specially at knees, elbows and front. He lowers it a moment later, shaking his head. "A model like Vil-senpai could do a miracle, but it is me and the vegetables, Yuu-kun."

We have a model here too? Huh.

Just him and the vegetables? But..."You can make a funny photos with these," I have seen some farmer calendars that were great, doing such a good job on perspective that it looked like it was edited "but there is no need if you are camera-shy.

"Camera-shy? That's a thing you don't hear everyday..."He mumbles, before switching to a louder and cheery tone. "Aa, but if you are interested on taking a pic, I could pose for you." He smiles, big and bright like the sun, but it doesn't reach his eyes. "Say, 800 madollars per photo?"

How much is that worth again?

"I thought you weren't a model. Why are you trying to charge me?" I say, trying to gain time to think of the answer. Not that I am going to accept.

"Nothing personal, I charge everything that I do for others. So, d'you agree?" He smirks, raising a brow and looking quite confident on himself.

I don't think I will ask for his help on the future if it is like that.

"Nope."

"Aww man, here I thinking that I could get some easy money..."

It has me curious." You ever got money like that?" I normally ain't so talkative, but anything to distract me.

"because I'm pretty sure you died-"


"Well, yes! I'll let you know that my Halloween fantasy was so great that people asked to take photos with me. For a price, I let it."

They have Halloween here too. It is more of an American holiday, and yet... every step in this world leaves me more confused. I shouldn't assume things.


If it worked for him... "Ruggie-senpai, I think I'll adapt your money-getting strategies for myself." I don't know when I will get a job so I better find a  way to get money soon.

"Eeh? And why is that?" He sounds genuinely curious and his ears stand straight in attention. "Aren't you in Night Raven College? Everyone here has more money than sense." A college for delinquents, assholes, rich people... isn't this place supposed to be a renowned institution? 


Maybe that is the reason for the way things are here.

Despite his body being angled firmly on the path, I can feel the weight of Ruggie's gaze on me. He is side-eyeing me hard, with his cold gray eyes. "Specially you, seeing as you haven't gonna back to your home."

Everyone is not really let go that I have no magic, huh?

If so why did I came ba-

I deliberately not stiffen at the turn my thoughts have taken me. It won't do to show weakness.

Instead, I focus where I am. The cobblestones are a grayish white, there are faint smells of the chemicals in the air, coming from the Alchemy workshop and the sun is weak at this hour, but still a little warm; the zucchinis are tiring my arms and I can breathe. I can breathe and that is pretty important. Nothing is suffocating me. My heart beats with every step that I take.

Everything is as it should be.

I nod at his words, before the silence has become too long. I go for a casual tone. "I'd if I'd the chance." Am I even aliv-? "The only thing that I don't have to pay for is rent and food, but everything else is coming from my empty pockets."

If he thinks that my parents have cut me off or something, all the better.

There is a slight shift on his posture, one that I can only see because I am paying attention. "Ah, my bad. Tough luck, Yuu-kun." I can't judge if the sympathy in his voice is real or fake.

Once we cross the bridge going to the hall of mirrors, Ruggie clears his throat. He is pointedly not looking at me and instead looking straight-ahead. "Truth is, if you are smart, you can get some easy pocket money here." His voice is soft and careful, like he is threading in the dark and has to walk with light steps. "Just keep your eyes open."

He didn't have to give me this advice. It makes something warm bloom in my chest as I smile at him. "I will."

He winks and that is all acknowledgment that he gives to my answer.

Some steps ahead, Ruggie-senpai squints and shifts the pumpkin to an arm alone. "Oh, isn't that Jack-kun?" He waves his free arm and yells, "Jack-kun!"

'Jack-kun' is a really tall man, with - wolf? dog? - ears and tail, fur and hair the same matching white colour. He must work out, not only because his muscles are big like someone who dedicates time to it, but also because he is in his gym clothes, arms bare to the sun. Jack is a sweaty mess, one that switches his path to approach us.

He nods at me, but his focus is on the person on my side. "Ruggie-senpai." He says curtly, but respectful.

"Are you going back to the dorm?"

"Yes, I just finished my run." And he only come this way because his senpai called.

Ruggie-senpai grins wide. "Excellent! Carry this." He puts the pumpkin to his arms and turns to me, taking the zucchinis too and passing it to Jack's arms. "This too."

Proving that Jack is jacked - I don't regret the pun - Jack holds it with ease, for all he is awkwardly shifting on his legs. I understand you, buddy. I too would fumble if it happened to me. "Er, Ruggie-senpai why are you giving me these?"

Ruggie laughs. This time, it sounds a little mean. "Shishishi~ I am not giving it to you." His mirthful grin is knowing. "I'm helping you. It's important to train all the muscles on your body and not focus only in your legs, y'know? So for training, you are carrying these back to the dorm." He slaps softly the vegetables.


Don't tell me...?


Jack falls for it, nodding very seriously. "Ah, I see." Do you?? "These are pretty light, though...?"


Light...?

Ruggie-senpai shares my thoughts. He blinks once and points an indignant finger on his face. "Are you complaining I gave you a light load...?" He shakes his head as if he is banishing an unwanted thought and returns to his original slouched posture, hands on his pockets. "You know what, next time you are coming with me."

Jacks furrow his eyebrows in a confused manner. I lament for the future of Charlotte-senpai's vegetable garden.

Ruggie-senpai waves me off. "Bye, Yuu-kun. You are free to go now." My distraction is gone.

I think about vegetables. Zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes...

I wave to them. "Bye Ruggie-senpai, Jack-san."

 

 

I come back to the dorm to Grim waiting for me in the porch. He jumps when he sees me. "I remembered! That guy's with the other guy that day! With the chestnuts!"

Right. I had forgotten about it, but now that Grim mentioned yes, Ruggie-senpai was talking with the other dude in the greenhouse. He kinda of saved me of trouble.

Not that I am telling him that.

"You're right."

Then, ignoring everything else, I go for our bedroom. One of the ghosts joins me on the path and disappears once I cross the door. I can't put this away any longer.


loOol


First things first, I note down everything that I can about 'Yuu, the First.' I don't have a photographic memory, so I record the gist of our talk, despite feeling more confused than ever about it.

I thought she was Alice, because this world is weird and seems to be inspired by a specific version of fairy tales - it is hard to believe it's real. Just look at the Great Seven. Riddle is supposed to be like the tyrannical Queen of Hearts, so it would make sense if this girl was 'Alice', right? She even had the right colours, dressed in baby blue and white. But Yuu, the First didn't call herself 'Alice', but 'the First Failed Alice'. Alice not as a proper name, but as something else. A title, I suspect. I am an 'Alice-in-progress', but what this means, exactly? And what mean that she was the first to fail? Fail on what? Fail how? If she was the first, were there others?

And how she appeared? She was surprised at me seeing her, so is she supposed to be unnoticeable? And her connection to Rosehearts-senpai... what is it? What is her connection to me? Is there even a connection between us besides our shared first name?

And she said... she said that I died. That it was real all these times. I... I don't really know how to feel, except for the uneasy coursing on my veins. It still doesn't feel real, but all these deaths...

My hearts beats too loudly in my ribcage, like wardrums. Thump, thump, thump, thump, thumpthumpthump-

They happened. I remember them. I know how is to die from a fire, from wind, from cauldrons to being pierced by rocks-


the cloying scent of iron in the air, a wet and sticky liquid all over me, wait, no, NO, sTOP-

to the most recent: choking on air. The pen shakes in my trembling hands and I have to put it away. The feeling doesn't stop and utter dread runs in my veins.

I am going to die. I am going to die here and now.

I lay down in the bed, sick and dizzy, short of breath. What is it? What is it that will kill me? There is nothing here. Just me, alone.


There is nothing here. I am going to die.


I am going to die here and now, painfully wheezing, the beast in my ribcage insistently trying to get out of its enclosure.


I am going to die. What is killing me? There is no one here.


I am going to die in my bed.



Intangible hands choke me, not cold but hot. I am warm, too warm.



That is it. I am going to die from a fever, from going hot like a wildfire IaMgoInGtodIE-

 

 

 

 

I don't know for how long I spend there with these thoughts on my head. Eventually, my body gets tired of putting me under the wring and relaxes. I am utterly spent, like I just ran a marathon. But I am, despite the odds, alive. I didn't die this time.


Despite being alive, I am utterly spent. I feel like I got ran by a tractor, and reverse ran so it was sure to make me stay down. Unpleasant enough on its own, and yet, like a masochist, I cannot stop myself repeating the that completely damning fact: I died.

Somehow, for some kind of time-travelling or time-reseting reason, I don't stay dead. I don't know the source of it. Is it me? Is it an outside source? There is no way that I can verify. I don't have a hint of magic in me, the Mirror said; so either I have a thing going that the Mirror can't perceive or it isn't me. I know where I place my bets.

If it isn't me, who or what is it? What it wants? Why me? Is it the reason why I keep dying?


(Is this whole thing a terrible dream? Some coma-induced hallucination? It would make sense, right? The die and reset thing, like a video-game. A bad video-game that is my live.


But do coma patients even have sort of coherent things like the one that I am living? It is all very weird, but makes sense kind of weird and not pure nonsense. There is a logic, even some real world logic. Gravity works just the same and do physics. And the people... I don't think that I can imagine so many people, so different from each other.


The damning evidence against I being in a coma are the books. The content of the books to be more specific. It is consistent through the days instead changing like a fever dream when I return to it and even when it presents me new information, there is a sense to it. I have opened a book on math and the formulas were real, Bhaskara, sen, cos... and some new, like the quantity of magitrons necessary to keep a closed loop spell moving once you start it. I can't even start to imagine this, so it has to be real and not a figment of my mind.)


This Time Thing is all very good, for I am alive at least; which is all very bad, because the thing which killed me most of times, taking aside the thrice-damned blot monster in the mines, is magic. And if it is magic keeping me alive...

Magic, which doesn't kill others, which is lethal for me. I am in a college for magic, something as natural as breathing for these around me and my only way home. There is no way that it won't happen again.

I am going to die again; my racing thoughts were right.

I don't want it. I want to stay alive. I don't want these painful feelings on my chest, spilling through my eyes and stealing my breath again. 

Alas, they are there, and there is nothing I can do about it except drown in them, sobbings wracking my frame.


It isn't fair.

It isn't fair.

This shouldn't be happening.

I should have been at home. I should be coursing biology and having fun at college and not- not having to worry if in the next hour someone or something will kill me accidentally. I should have normal worries and not whatever this is.


The door opens. "Nee, Yuu- ah, ya crying?" I hear Grim exclaim in surprise. I cannot see him in my position, and moving my chin feels like too much effort. "First ya black out and now this... ya really a scared cat, huh?" He says in a disbelieving mocking tone.

I don't care for his tone, and instead focus on the ceiling. White, with green wallpaper on the walls.


His opinion doesn't matter. I-I died, I have a right to feel bad about it.

My sobs aren't quiet.

I died. I am alive. I don't know how this works.

It was painful, each time. Torturous so. There are blanks in my memory, points that I blacked out from pain and can only remember faint sensations and, above all, the ache.

It isn't fair.

The bed dips with a new height added to it. "At least ya are leakin' by your eyes instead of in your pants."

I cannot stop my hysterical wheeze. "That- that isn't comforting, Grim."

"No...? Well, this' my first time, gimme a break."

This was his second time, actually. He did it that day in the library. It was clumsy too, but it made me feel better.

Grim taps me insistently until I eye him. There is a tilt in his head, some unidentified emotion on his eyes as he whispers: "I won't share my tuna with ya, but ya can pet me this time. But don't tell anyone, 'kay?"

Animals are supposed to help, when you are distressed, right?

"Okay."

Grim lays on my stomach. His fur soft, not at all rough and I am careful to untangle the knots that I find. I avoid his ears for the fire on there, but not the rest of his body.


It-

It helps.

Each dry sob takes longer to appear. The tears are not so fast to fall. My breath shifts to a more calm rhythm as I regain my bearings.

My name is Yuu and I am alive and breathing.

And my objectives are to survive this world and go back home.

Even if...

Even if I fail the first one, I cannot forget this: I want to live. Live.

There is a vibration under my hands: Grim is purring, nearly quietly so. For someone who is not a cat, this certainly makes him look like one.

It makes me smile more than a bit fond even as my thoughts take another turn, faintly detached about the subject.

Alice, death, well, there is one last thing remaining: what exactly is an Overblot and what it entails?


Rosehearts...

Rosehearts was alive in the end, but...

"Whatcha thinking about?" Grim snaps me from the idea appearing in my mind, for all that I can feel its shape taking.

"Do you remember," I start, with a far away voice "the monster in the mines?" An unhinged big shape carrying a pickaxe. "He looks awfully similar to the thing that appeared on Rosehearts' back."

Grim's ears snap up, as do his tail. "Oh, it does! But Riddle's wasn't leakin' ink at first." He adds as in afterthought.

"You're right. And it could talk too, right? What..." The words die in my throat. I have to forcefully expel it out. "...what if this is what would've happened to him?"

The logic conclusion dangles on my mind like a shiny pendant and I cannot take my attention away from it, for all that I am emotionally detached from it. I should be more worried, but I am too tired to care "...did we kill somebody, Grim?" It feels like a taboo, to say it out loud.

It feels like an exorcism. I am free of it, now it is spoken. You can fight against what you know, but how can I fight this?

I don't know.

"...no."

I am genuinely curious about his answer. "No? How can you say that?" How can you free us from this burden, Grim?

 

He jumps away from me, a snarl on his mouth. "There wasn't a body."

Huh. He is right. There wasn't a body to bury, and even if Grim magic was fire, nothing was carbonized, turned to ashes. Just the loud sound of the bottle-shaped head breaking and it disappearing. Not even its hat stayed.

He calms down, watching me with severe eyes. "It was gonna hurt us, Yuu. Even kill us. But it couldn't think more than that or the stone." There is surety to it that makes me want to believe in him. That it just wanted to hurt us, uncaring for all that stood on his path. It did hurt us

It killed us, I know "If it was a person before, it wasn't anymore."

It wasn't anymore.

It wasn't anymore.

Much more malicious than a ghost. Just an impression of a person, but not...

But not the person. They were gone.

"...that actually helps. Thanks."