What is this woman asking? After beating Ragyou, Diana, and Charlotte, each in seconds, isn’t this just unnecessary? “You… want to fight me too?”
“Yes, that’s right. If you’d oblige me for a bit, I’ll even let you have the first move.”
There’s no real harm in it. It’s only a mock battle, after all. So then why does Mio’s head go cloudy from just the thought of the others seeing it? Why does her body stiffen and her gaze drift to the floor? Why do her breaths turn shallow? She reaches up, tugging on the scarf around her neck as the world before her slips out of focus. Then that nagging again. That clawing at the back of her skull. “Oi. Boke. What’re you spacing out for?” Kuro.
I… I don’t…
“You don’t have to show ‘em how useless you are. Just let me take care of it.”
Mio stands perfectly still. Frozen in time to the others. But on the inside, the movement is rapid. Violent memories swirling around of Jun and that creature of his. Then how quickly it’d fallen to just one little bite. Closing her still-hazy eyes, she finally takes a deep breath as her scaly black companion takes shape atop her shoulder, those tiny little points in his mouth still seeming to curl up into an impish grin. “Mm…”
Kelly adjusts her glasses, measuring stick still in hand. “I’m ready when you are.”
Everything remains motionless. The breeze, the distant sounds of the city, it all falls away and leaves just the lot of them on that rooftop. Of course, all the easier for Mio to feel one lingering sensation – a pair of judging stares from the sidelines. Among them, though, a single encouraging gaze and reassuring smile. Mio focuses forward. Kelly. That’s all she need pay attention to, right now. Unclutching her scarf, she points straight ahead. “Kuro.”
Not a beat missed. The little gecko critter flings himself from the girl’s shoulder, jumping right at his mark. “Finally!” It accomplishes nothing. Kuro lands on the rooftop floor where his prey had been. More of this. Kelly stands feet away, as if she’d been there the entire time. The same as with Charlotte and Diana. And with Ragyou before them. The question is how. If Mio could just figure that out… but she may not get that chance. “Quit spacing out, idiot!”
Eh? Mio glances down with just enough time to stumble back and avoid being struck by one of Kelly’s measuring sticks, plunging up through the rooftop floor like some sort of rapidly growing tree. It missing isn’t exactly cause for celebration. Just as with Ragyou, another “branch” shoots from the side of the first, aimed squarely for Mio’s center. Already?
Crunch. Not just yet. Before the attack has a chance to connect, a row of tiny points sheer the measuring stick in two. Kuro lands on Mio’s head, having chomped his way right through the would-be fight-ending move. “Yeesh, you’re useless.”
“Boke. You just keep her busy.”
Take care of it? Like last time? Mio remembers getting close to that thing from before. But if this is just a mock battle, then it shouldn’t be as bad. And now that she thinks about it, Kelly’s Familiar has yet to make an appearance. So if that’s the case… “Okay.” Just like before, Mio rushes to get as close as she can.
Kelly doesn’t move a centimeter. But a forest of her measuring sticks erupts through the floor in Mio’s path. It doesn’t deter her. It’s far from graceful, but the unathletic girl weaves and dodges her way through the rising pillars. Several of them nearly nail her and others still graze her on their way up. “Oi! Careful, careful! Screw this up and we’re done!”
One-by-one the measuring sticks explode upward in her way. But she skirts through them all with surprising reflexes. At least if the bewildered expression on Ms. Kelly’s face is to be believed. Soon Mio ends up right before her stunned teacher. Now the only thing left is… Wait. A gasp passes through her lips when she realizes. In the time it’d taken for her to reach out, she’d already somehow gotten all the way back across the rooftop.
Off to the side, an unimpressed Charlotte bows her head with her arms folded. “Hmph. Of course that’s the outcome. Weren’t you paying attention?”
Ragyou, on the other hand, grins and turns to Charlotte with a wink. “Weren’t you?”
There, clung to one of the measuring sticks behind Kelly, Kuro grins. “Snacktime!” The lizard lunges straight down on Kelly, baring his fangs. But the young instructor tips her head, the gleam of the artificial sun reflecting in her glasses. Before anyone knows what’s happening, a vaguely feminine arm of some sort materializes from thin air behind Kelly, wielding a measuring stick of its own. One that Kuro can’t snap through like a twig. “Eh?”
Mio gapes at the sight of the disembodied arm flinging Kuro back across the rooftop, landing him perfectly on her head. Is that her…?
Kelly adjusts her glasses yet again. “I see. All right.” Another flash of instant repositioning places Kelly directly in front of her confused student. “That’s enough for now.” There she raises her hand and flick’s Mio’s forehead. Just a flick. Yet Mio trips back and lands on her backside with a thud, looking up to the woman that’d put her there. “I got what I needed.”
A flick. All of that effort, only to be beaten with just a flick. That cloudy sensation from before returns as those contemptuous stares settle on her from the sidelines. She manages to stand and rejoins the others, but her feet drag like cement blocks. Ordinarily, that sunny smile of Ragyou’s would cut right through the gloom as she grabs hold of Mio’s hands to offer her cheerful praise. But not this time. This time that smile just feels… heavy. So heavy.
Meanwhile, Kelly throws her jacket back on and steps to the center of the rooftop with her hands in its pockets. “Thank you all for humoring me. Sorry to put you through that.”
Diana leans against the wall near the door to the rooftop entrance. “So what was all this about, anyway? And don’t say exercise. The whole point of a workout is that you have to try.”
An inward laugh. Kelly looks up, straight into the sun – that false thing illuminating the city from up above. “You got me. I suppose you could just call it the selfish curiosity of an adult. Or maybe it’s just the interference of a concerned homeroom teacher. It doesn’t really matter. I was just meddling, honestly. There was something I needed to know. And now I have the answer I was looking for.”
Charlotte raises an eyebrow. “And did you like the answer you got?”
“Hm…” Kelly brings her head down and approaches the girls. “Alice, Jun… you four are the last from my class to be enrolled in the Royale. I wanted to know if you had a good chance of winning the whole thing. You had a good idea, joining forces like this. However…” She stops dead across from her students, looking them each in the eye. “This alliance is doomed to fail.”
Those words hit like a truck. If Mio’s chest tightens up after hearing that, then how would the others take it when they’re so talented? Not especially well. Even Ragyou, the unwavering bastion of cheerful vibes she is, sweats bullets under the pressure of that assertion. But she tries, still, to brush it off, rubbing the back of her head. “A-aw, really, teach? I thought we did pretty okay! What makes ya think we won’t make it to the end, exactly?”
Charlotte scoffs. “I can guess. It’s because she’s won before. Am I close?”
Kelly simply stares back without a word and Ragyou balks. “Wait, for real?!”
It makes sense. The Royale isn’t televised. It isn’t reported on to any major extent. If not for damage reports, most people not participating might barely notice one was even happening. To the greater population of the city… they’re invisible. Winners seldom become famous for it. But Mio goes back over it. A flick. Such an effortless gesture. If that’s the kind of skill and power expected to get far in the Royale, then she’s right. What chance do they have?
“As I said. The alliance was a good idea. But numbers, alone, aren’t going to be enough to win. You’ll run into other teams. You might even run into individuals who can take all of you at once.” At least it’s humble of her not to admit that she could likely do such, herself. “So that brings me to the point. As your homeroom teacher, you lot are my responsibility. And perhaps it’s a bit selfish, on my part, but I don’t want to lose any more students. So…” Just then, an abstract body appears behind her, eventually morphing into a more certain form – an otherworldly, womanlike figure adorned in what appears to be an elegant gown and a headdress reminiscent of a graduation cap. Her Familiar. “Tutor and I are going to train you all, from here on out. I hope you’re ready.”
I’m fairly certain one could see this coming, no? Once Kelly started “testing” them? Yep. This is why I said I was looking to get into her character. I’m interested in seeing what she can teach the girls and how she helps them throughout the Royale. And why did I highlight Mio’s fight? Well, for one thing, she hasn’t had an action scene in quite a while and she is the main character. But something else I wanted was to contrast her to everyone else. We didn’t need to see Diana and Charlotte again, I felt, since we just spent a good amount of time on both of them. Ragyou just got her own action scene just a couple chapters ago (her first one, in fact) to show what she could do. Mio’s first fight isn’t truly a great showcase of what she’s capable of, at this time, since she was taken off guard by the fight even happening. Kelly is a good… heh… “measuring stick” for not only Mio, but all the others. Sure, we don’t see Diana or Charlotte fight her, but the condition they’re in after their fight(s) at least displays that they put up more of a fight than Ragyou or Mio, both of whom were basically beaten in one hit. And the hit Mio lost to wasn’t even really an attack. I wanted to show exactly the kind of people they’re eventually going to be up against. What they’ve been dealing with is early days. And given the way this whole thing is set up, if they continue in that fashion, they’re well and truly screwed. In the early drafts of the story, Kelly was just a moral support style mentor. She never helped them directly. She just gave them sage advice and stuff. So shifting her into a more active role is something I can’t wait to explore.