St. Ezreal’s School of Espers

Here’s a novel I wrote in 2017 for NaNoWriMo

Big thanks to @mindsforge, @DoodleGarou, and @MuLlaak for the encouragement, support, and inspiration! I wouldn’t have ‘picked up a pen’ so to speak if it weren’t for you three!

Also check it out on gitbook for an easy-to-read format.

(editor’s note: git checkout 1108a75d108fad00763ed7161c26f7bc3733d83c)

“St. Ezreal’s School of Espers”

Nervously sitting at his desk, Marth glanced around the room to see that most of his peers were already relaxing with their pencils down. Five minutes and five seconds remained on the clock and Marth couldn’t stop sweating.

“They can’t be done yet. That’s impossible! They have to be cheating.”, Marth muttered to himself.

“The hour is almost complete, please finish up your entrance exams within the next five minutes.”, The administrator announced.

“Shit!”, Marth cursed. His exam not even half complete.

Marth quickly flipped through the incomplete pages, barely eyeing the masses of text.

“There’s no way. This much would take me another thirty minutes!”

A bead of sweat formed on his brow. Holding his exam with both hands, a pencil between his index and middle finger, Marth looked again at the room. The light gently shone in through the tall, contemporary windows. Luckily they were diffused so he couldn’t see outside, that would only distract him. He was sitting in the middle of the lecture hall, about half way up the elevated seating. From the view up here he could see the exam admin at the front of the room before the large green chalkboard. There the words “St. Ezreal Esper Academy Entrance Exam” were written in big letters.

“Who am I kidding.” Marth quietly considered. “This is St. Ezreal’s after all.”

Amidst the sound of pencils on paper, Marth was ready to concede, close his eyes and put his head down. With eyes halfway shut, Marth suddenly noticed a girl in the front row, frantically flipping through pages similarly to as Marth had just done. So focused on the test, Marth hadn’t noticed her before, but damn, she was actually kind of cute. Platinum blonde hair, side pony tail, and she wore that rushed, irritated expression so well.

“Is she even wearing makeup? Maybe she’s just a natural beauty.” Marth asked the room.

The sound of pencils stopped. Heads seemed to turn in slow motion towards Marth. Although softly, Marth had spoken aloud, and now many students were looking up at him. The girl in the front seemed to have heard as well, and her expression had changed from hasted to surprised. Her eyes were wide open and met with Marth’s. Marth just stared, not knowing what to do. She had green eyes, big green eyes.

The class let out a laugh and the test administrator stood up.

“Quiet please, eyes on your papers.”

The girl blushed, turning to her front and embarrassingly looking down at her exam book. She put her shoulders up as if to hide between them, with her hands together, arms tucked between her legs.

Marth let out an embarrassed cough and blushed just the same. He closed his eyes and tried to pretend that didn’t happen. He thought of those green eyes, like freshly polished emeralds glistening in the sun.

“Two minutes!” The administrator called out.

Marth hadn’t answered a single question in three minutes, too busy thinking about giving up and looking at cute girls.

“This is crunch time!” Marth thought, trying to get himself amped up. But that alone wasn’t enough. With half the exam remaining, and such little time, there was only one option remaining for success. The thing that got Marth into Esper studies in the first place, the thing that had gotten him into so much trouble, but so much fun…

Marth sat up straight with a stern look on his face, closed his eyes, and opened his mind’s eye. Astral Projection. A world within the mind, able to be summoned by any human being. The basis for Esper abilities. In this world, time stands still, as the Astral reality becomes that of the user’s design. There is nothing but one’s self and blackness, until one’s consciousness creates another thing. Marth had discovered this place by accident when he was young, bored, and lonely. Like many, Marth had created imaginary friends to keep himself company, but only after an accident did Marth actually migrate an Astral lifeform to the real world. It was an imperfect being, with it’s soul tied to Marth himself, but it lived, walked and talked for a short time. A taboo, creating life, but he didn’t learn that until later.

Right now the situation called for one of Marth’s best projections. HYPER DRAGON EYE! The name was a work in progress, because he couldn’t think of any more fitting names. This projection could be likened to an ancient dragon who is terrorizing a populous. The dragon’s seeming omnipresence in the people’s lives create the sentiment that the dragon is the seer of all secrets.

Marth began the projection by viewing himself in the Astral world. Standing tall, with arms stretched downward, he created a summoning circle at his feet. Elements of vision, mind, and body were contained within the circle. The circle spun slowly, gradually increasing in size. Silently and motionless in the real world, Marth opened both eyes in the Astral world, yelling at the top of his lungs, HYPER-DRAGON-EYE! A third eyelid suddenly appeared in Marth’s Astral forehead, opening wide as the summoning circle expanded drastically. Marth drew on his knowledge of the lecture hall he was sitting in, and superimposed it’s geometry into the Astral realm.

So far, this process was child’s play, an activity kids with wild imaginations do. The next step however, was what separated the men from the boys. The final step was bridging the gap between the Astral Realm and the physical world, a feat which only Espers were capable of. With the image of Hyper Dragon Eye in his mind, Marth opened his physical eyes, splicing the two realities into one. Obviously, he couldn’t reveal a third eye or giant summoning circle to those in his surroundings, so he made sure to bridge those features into a subvisual level of existence.

The projection was complete, and there was still one minute and fifty seconds on the clock. Marth flipped to the next page in his exam book, and just like a uneducated peasant’s delusions of an ancient dragon’s capabilities, he felt the secrets of those in his surroundings. His third eye darted around from left to right, gazing upon the completed papers of his peers. Answer 53, E=mc2. Answer 54, “Malcom’s Theorum solves for the natural fluctuations of space time after becoming cached in the Astral Flow”. Marth’s hands raced wildly as he wrote in answers gathered from the students around him. Answer 55, “Effects from personal reality cannot be affected by magic because magic affects the physics of the world, whereas personal reality is outside of that space.”

One minute remained, then thirty seconds, then ten. Marth scrambled to write in the last stolen answer.

“Pencils down. The exam is complete.”

St. Ezreal’s campus was lit up by the sun as students exited the Astral Science Studies building. ASS.

“That test was ASS”, Marth pouted, with one hand holding his book bag slung over his shoulder and the other in his pocket. He had a concerned look on his face as he walked close eyed down the concrete path which separated two sections of grass.

“At least I finished, and those answers seemed Okay.”, he consoled.

The other students who had been taking the entrance exam were walking in the same direction. There were school uniforms of all the nearby highschools, as well as uniforms Marth had never seen before.

“Hey you!”, an unfamiliar voice pitched in, Marth opening an eye to see.

There standing before him, was a long brown haired girl with arms crossed. She was wearing one of the uniforms Marth hadn’t recognized, and boy did she look pissed off. Is this some kind of lovers quarrel? Marth looked behind him to see who she was talking to.

“No, you! You right there with that dumb look on your face!”, she barked, and now he got it. She standing there with a fancy looking, one piece off-white skirt uniform and a book bag in one hand.

“Um, what do you want?”

“You said something about Shizuma and made her blush. What was it?!”, the girl asked brazenly, as she clenched her free fist. It looked like a vein in her forehead would pop at any second. Marth didn’t want to make a scene, but if this girl kept up, there was about to be one regardless.

“Oh that, that was uhh..”, Marth didn’t know what to say. If he came right out and said what he said earlier, she might get the wrong idea, as if he were a stalker or something.

“What’s that? I can’t hear you over the sound of your stupid mumbling face!” The girl rudely piped. She was serious. People were starting to look. Marth was even more speechless now, because of the weird crazy girl in front of him.

“Ummm”, A new voice quietly spoke. Marth and the crazy girl turned to see the same platinum blonde girl from before.

“Tanaka-chan, you shouldn’t yell at strangers.” The platinum blonde girl spoke, her words barely escaping from her bright red face as if she were afraid to talk.

Tanaka’s expression changed from enraged to surprised, as she turned to see Shizuma’s blushing face. Her escapade was over as she rushed over to Shizuma, grasping her on the shoulders.

“Are you Okay, Shizuma? I didn’t mean to make you blush. Please don’t cry!”, she pleaded as before she turned away from Marth. “We’re not done here, I’ll talk to you later!”

The two scurried away and Marth sighed, relieved.

“Actually, you are done.”, An man’s voice echoed. Startled, Marth turned to see a tall slender man in the shadows. He wore dark flared pants, pointy shined shoes, a partially buttoned white long sleeve shirt with rolled up sleeves, and a black choker. His hair was silver, short and combed, with hair covering part of his face.

“Who are you?”, Marth questioned.

“Allow me to introduce myself.” The man said as he stood up from his leaned position against a shadowed wall. “I am Aldo. Fifth pillar of St. Ezreal.”, he pronounced, before dramatically opening one hand and covering half of his face. His other hand opened, stretched out towards Marth.

“You have been found guilty of cheating on your entrance exam. You will not be attending this Academy!”

—“Marth, you have been found guilty of cheating on the entrance exam using condemned Astral methods. Now you must die!”, Aldo-sensei proclained, his expression going from stone faced to hysterical. His arm stretched towards Marth. The other students nearby stopped in their tracks, watching as the bizarre instructor made his threats.

Marth knew he was guilty, but what was this about condemned methods? With a dumbfounded look on his face, he took a step back as he processed what Aldo-sensei had just said.

“Wh.. What are you talking about? All I did was use HYPER DRAGON EYE!” He rebutted, not minding that the name he had given to his remote viewing projection may come across as ambiguous.

“Ah, so that’s what you call it. A user of a projection such as that cannot be allowed to exist.”, Aldo began. “It’s a shame, really. A talented Esper such as yourself could have been an asset to this Academy.”, Aldo went on with a pained look. “It’s no matter, the law is the law, and this world has no place for a deviant such as yourself.”, Aldo said with a bent smile.

Marth was in a state of shock, not fully comprehending the situation. In high school whenever he would use HYPER DRAGON EYE to cheat on a test, he’d get a slap on the wrist and an F. Was a teacher here seriously about to kill him? This must be some kind of sick joke!

“I.. I… WHAT!!?”, was the only thing the frozen up Marth could think to say. None of this made any sense, that was sure. Marth had even read about St. Ezreal’s Esper operatives who use projections similar to HYPER DRAGON EYE to scope out the terrain and blueprints of the facilities they’re about to raid. HYPER DRAGON EYE isn’t a condemned spell, it’s practiced at this very academy!

“Prepare youself, heretic.”, Aldo warned, as a ball of energy began to form at his palm. The other students began to express concern, one letting out a scream of terror.

“Where are my manners, please forgive me.”, Aldo apologized with a crooked grin, as he used his free hand to reach for the sky. As he did so, the blue sky Marth saw seemed to go black, as well as all the surroundings. Marth and Aldo were alone in a void. Marth had read about this projection as well, but never seen it used. Cryptic Isolation. This was Aldo’s personal Astral realm, and Marth had been dragged into it. Much like Marth’s own Astral realm, nothing existed unless Aldo created it within his mind. Aldo was good. This projection isn’t simple, and it’s something Marth had never accomplished.

The steps to project Cryptic Isolation are in reverse order of HYPER DRAGON EYE. An injection if you will. The process begins with a reality bridge, splicing another person’s reality into one’s own Astral realm. Injections are the most advanced class of projections because the creator must be aware of the other person’s personal reality, seizing it and making it part of their own. Using Cryptic Isolation on a stranger would be impossible, because the creator cannot know the stranger’s mindset. The better a creator knows the target, the more effective the injection. Aldo did his research; Any teacher would have what they needed with access to Marth’s educational history.

“The other students are innocent, they need not see your death.”, Aldo spoke as the ball of energy before his hand grew larger. Marth recognized that projection as well. Ionic Shock. Using the body’s natural electricity as a reference, the creator projects a concentrated clone into the world, repeating the process until an energy ball of the desired size is formed. At small sizes, the ball of electricity is harmless and feels like a static shock, but at large sizes it turns deadly as it’s high voltage would devastate a person’s nervous system. In the past, Marth had used this projection to start fires and play pranks, but never maintained concentration for long enough to create a ball as large as the one Aldo was creating. This one was already the size of a watermelon, and it’s size was still increasing!

“Any last words?” The instructor asked with a crazed look in his eyes.

Marth wanted to believe that this was a joke, but all signs indicated that Aldo-sensei was serious. Except for one, Aldo’s accusation that Marth had projected a condemned Astral method. HYPER DRAGON EYE, or Remote Viewing is not a condemned method in this Academy or even this region. Marth concluded that Aldo must be bluffing, and this is his twisted way of punishing a misbehaving student. No, this wasn’t a punishment at all, it is a test! Someone finally saw through his apathetic exterior, and recognized his brilliance as an Esper! This had to be the beginning of the course for the advanced students.

“Ok then, I’ll play along.”, Marth said with a mischievous smile. He assumed his fighting stance, a pose he had seen in a Kung-Fu movie. One leg crouched, with the other stretched out and planted on the ground in front. One fist near his face, and the other pointed at his opponent.

Aldo looked confused as the size of his Ionic Shock grew larger.

“Are you mocking me? This is not a game, this is your execution!”, Aldo said as he became increasingly upset. “Now, show me your afraid face!”, he yelled, again looking crazed.

“You’re pretty good, but I’m on to you.”, Marth laughed. “You almost had me thinking you were some kind of psychopath. Anyway, come at me, bro!”, Marth yelled, clenching his fists. Marth had already figured out his defense against the incoming blast.

Aldo’s expression revealed his ticked off state. He let out an uncomfortable laugh on the verge of hyperventilation. “You annoying braaaat!”, as he let Ionic Shock fly, now the size of an open umbrella.

Marth closed his eyes as Aldo’s Ionic Shock rapidly moved towards him. His face brought on a look of contentment and he smiled. The ball of energy sped closer, and the black void suddenly returned to sky.

“What’s this!?” Aldo cried as the two were returned to the campus. Students still standing there, looking on as the Ionic Shock almost reached Marth.

Marth’s forward fist became engulfed in the light of Ionic Shock. The energy engulfed his entire arm, then shrunk rapidly as his body seemed to absorb the voltage. A loud “TZZAP” sound permeated the air, echoing off the surrounding buildings.

Marth stood there motionless, smoke raising from his charred sleeve. Aldo became overjoyed.

“Ahahaha! Take that you little brat, there’s nothing left but an empty shell!” Aldo boasted as he flicked his hair, looking up at the sunlight.

“Sunlight?” Aldo quickly realized what had just happened. Cryptic Isolation had broken down mid flight of Ionic Shock. Looking back at Marth, from his drooped head, Aldo could see that Marth was still smiling.

“Is that all you’ve got?”, Marth spoke up, staring straight at Aldo.

“What!? You should be dead!”, Aldo replied, shocked that his opponent had not been.

Opening his fist and clenching it again, Marth revealed how he had survived the attack. On his hand hit by the blast, he wore a thick metal gauntlet.

“A metal glove? But that’s just a conductor, you still should have been electrocuted!”,

“Yes, if it was just a metal glove.”, Marth ripped off the sleeve of his charred school uniform, revealing an entire metal shirt below. Then he pulled up his pant leg, exposing metal trousers and a metal boot.

“You grounded yourself!”, Aldo caught on. “But you were in my Cryptic Isolation, you shouldn’t have been able to project at all!”

“That’s right. A normal Cryptic Isolation compartmentalizes the target’s personal reality into the projector’s astral realm.”, Marth explained. “It wasn’t possible for me to project from inside your realm because you created the restriction that I could not project. It was a perfect situation, really. Leave me completely without defense so you can take me down. But you forgot one thing. Because Cryptic Isolation is an injection, a projection which pulls my reality into your own, you first have to have a firm grasp on my personal reality. You must have done that by researching my past and hypothesizing my personality, but there’s only so much school records can tell you about me.”

“I can tell enough from your school history. I can tell that you suck at sports, you’re incompetent at all school subjects, and girls ignore you! That’s all I need!”, Aldo replied, ticked off.

Marth smiled again. “Yes, you got that right. I’m not good at school or sports. I’m a loser and girls ignore me. But that’s just what you can see on the surface level.”

“Surface level? Anything deeper is nonsense. You’re empty inside!”

“That’s where you’re wrong.”

“Get to the point! How did you escape from my Cryptic Isolation!?”

Marth smilled his biggest smile yet. “Shizuma Mizu, 153cm, 90-65-89. Tanaka Aoi, 159cm, 83-59-84. Those two, naked with cat ears pinning you down and nibbling at your chest seemed good enough.”

“Wha.. “, Aldo-sensei was speechless, as he instinctively covered his chest between his partially buttoned shirt.

“Easy enough, I just had to imagine something you wouldn’t have guessed I’d imagine.”, Marth casually explained.

“You.. You’re so perverted you broke my projection?! That’s impossible!”

The confrontation had caused quite the stir on campus. Students had gathered around in shock and awe and the fight they had just witnessed. From their point of view, a teacher had approached a student with death threats, the two disappearing for an instant before returning half a second later with a giant ball of electricity striking the student.

Marth prepared to follow up with a punch with a metal gauntlet to Aldo-sensei’s face, but before that could happen, another teacher arrived on the scene, breaking up the fight.

“Aldo-sensei”, the woman’s voice interjected as she spread her arms to block Marth’s view. “This is not how we do things at St. Ezreal’s. You more than anyone should know we are different than that place.”

Gritting his teeth, Aldo took a step back, relaxing his stance and closing his eyes. “Tsubasa-sama, this one used Nemesis of Time. YOU more than anyone should know he must be dealt with.”

“And he will. But using that transgression as an excuse to go off killing a new student is unacceptable.”, The teacher barked back. Aldo looked away, letting out a “tsk”.

Marth looked up at the woman in front of him. [To be continued]

She was tall, incredibly fit, with a long blonde ponytail. She wore a variant of the long white combat dress of St. Ezreal’s Esper operatives team. It incorporated a long sleeve button up shirt with padded shoulders and yellow cufflinks. A blue tie, and a hakama accented with blue and yellow. On her chest, an armored plate with an embossed Ezreal’s standard, armor extending all the way up around her neck. The look on her face was stern.

“Report to the administration building immediately.”, Tsubasa-sensei commanded Marth.

Marth paused a moment to let what just happened sink in. Aldo-sensei wasn’t testing Marth after all? A cold sweat broke out on Marth’s forehead as he realized he could have just died.

“What the hell, Aldo-bakka? You actually tried to kill me just now?”, Marth began. “Nemesis of time? I used HYPER DRAGON EYE. H-Y-P-E-R D-R-A-G-O-N E-Y-E! Read it out!”, Marth yelled in his defense.

“Only a little brat like you wold make a childish name for such a dangerous projection. What are you, 12? Are you sure you’re in the right place, the kindergarten is down the street.”, Aldo snapped back, the two arguing like kids.

“Quiet!”, Tsubasa-sensei had had enough as she squinted her eyes in disgust. “What is your intention here?”, She inquired.

Marth quit his bickering and stood up straight. “I just came here to take the entrance exam.”

“That’s a load of horse crap”, Aldo responded. “You’re obviously a spy, using a petty cheat as cover for stealing St. Ezreal’s secrets.”

“I am not a spy. Ever since I was little, I’ve read about St. Ezreal’s Academy. Espers, using only science and the power of human consciousness learn and practice to become a force for good. In my grandfather’s time, St. Ezreal’s operatives defended his village from invading magic users. During the last great flood, St. Ezreal’s rescued my village. Becoming an Esper operative is my dream. I just wanted in so bad that I cheated with Hyper Dragon Eye. The test was stupid and everyone else was probably cheating anyway.”, Marth passionately told his story.

“I see. report to the administration building immediately.” Tsubasa-sensei said as she loosened up a bit.

Marth wasn’t having it. “A moment ago, I could have died! I just want to go home.”

“No, you cannot leave this campus or I will kill you.”, Tsubasa-sensei threatened with angry eyes.

“I can’t leave?”, Marth was confused.

“That’s right, you are under my watch now. Don’t think you can escape either. Given what you’ve told me you know about this school, I have no doubts that you know what I’m capable of as the second pillar of St. Ezreal’s. Consider yourself a prisoner of this Academy. Had you passed the exam, you would have earned a different title.”

She was right, Marth would be powerless against a second pillar. St. Ezreal’s campus had five physical pillars, together forming a pentagon around the academy. These pillars were said to have been created using Esper projections, and powered a field which blocked Esper projections from traversing. A perfect barrier against astral attacks, and a shield to the secrets within. As tradition, five of St. Ezreal’s finest were chosen to serve as a namesake pillar of St. Ezreal’s. Together, the pillars of St. Ezreal form a council, police force, and commanders to the Esper operatives. Their mission is to serve and protect St. Ezreal’s Academy.

Not that Marth wanted to leave. Being here was his dream. Without a fuss, Marth headed to the administration building.

The administration building was smaller than Marth had imagined, and it bore a similar resemblance to the campus’s border. Five marble pillars surrounding a circular, domed roof building. As he walked up the staircase and into the building, another peculiarity found him. There was only one room, spanning the entire radius of the circular structure. Shafts of light from outside shone down through several vents in the roof, and a bird could be heard flapping it’s wings after taking flight from it’s perch above. More pillars cast shadows along the domed walls, reaching several meters higher than the average person. In the center of the room was an elevated stage, with marble ruins of what was once more short pillars. Marth found himself approaching the stage, looking for a clue of what to do next. As he stepped foot on the platform, dust in the air gave way to a booming man’s voice.

“Watanabe, Marth?”, A strange, monotone voice echoed in Marth’s head.

“Who’s there?”, Marth questioned as he looked around the room. Nobody was there, only the same vacant marble building was seen.

“Watanabe, Marth?”, Again the voice lacking in change of tone queried.

This time, a pair of eyes appeared, opening up before Marth. As if made of fire or some kind of Astral energy, these eyes were featureless, lacking pupils, iris, sclera or eyelids. Amber in color, the eyes stared down at startled Marth, who had to stop himself from falling off the stage. This was advanced, but Marth knew a projection when he saw one.

“I am Watanabe.”, Marth replied.

The fiery eyes closed, and everything around Marth went dark. Marth stood in complete nothingness.

“Cryptic Isolation again?” Marth wondered as he searched for a bearing in the void. A moment of nothingness passed, before a vegetable garden came into view and the black receding. Carrot, tomatoes and peas neatly in rows, green stems glistening with water droplets from a nearby sprinkler. A cool summer day with nothing but tall plants in sight.

The amber eyes returned and opened above a potato patch, the mysterious voice returning.

“Planar Shift.”, The radiant lens pair spoke. “An Esper injection, much like Cryptic Isolation, however your consciousness is not isolated within my own. Instead, we both have displaced to a different plane of existence. Here you are free to do as you please.”

Marth was relieved, yet curious why he was standing in a garden.

“So who are you and what’s up with the plants?”

“Please forgive me for not introducing myself sooner. I am Kaito-sensei, first pillar of St. Ezreal’s Academy. This is my garden.”, The eyes gently fluctuated as he spoke, becoming smaller, lower, and comparing in size to a teenager’s. A uniform and white pair of gloves faded into existence where a human body would have been to match the eyes. A head of short blue hair came into view above and behind the fire-like eyes, but no skin or body was present. The small stature of the teacher was revealed, but his actual face and body remained invisible.

“Where is your body?”, Marth wanted to know.

“Oh, I left that somewhere else.”, Kaito’s voice became less booming than before, yet monotone as always. Kaito’s uniform kneeled gracefully, careful to not dirty his white pant leg. The glove reached over and gently grasped a potato leaf.

“This potato.”, Kaito spoke, the amber eyes seemed to relax as they looked down at the plant. “One of the plants in my garden. It’s my job as gardener to care for this plant, nurture it so it becomes big and strong.”

Marth didn’t know if this kid was a creep or a god. Kaito continued.

“Have you ever seen a Leptinotarsa decemlineata?”, Kaito asked as he looked up at Marth, still grasping the leaf.

“I don’t even know what that is”, Marth replied.

“Colorado Potato Bettle. Potato bug. Both the larvae and adult beetle feed on the potato leaves. The damage they cause to the potato severely harm or even kill the potato.”, Kaito said, again gently gazing at the root vegetable’s leaves.

“So what, you squish the bugs?”, Marth was getting a little impatient and crossed his arms.

Kaito’s glove let go of the leaf and the figure stood.

“Yes. I murder the beetles and their larvae so the plants have a chance to grow.”, The fiery eyes looked at Marth’s. “Which one are you, Marth, are you a bug or are you a vegetable?”

Marth had remained in the Planar Shift with Kaito-sensei for some time. Kaito heard Marth’s story of cheating on the exam.

“What’s the big deal about Hyper Dragon Eye, and why does that idiot Aldo keep calling it Nemsis of Time?”, Marth asked Kaito’s form.

“Aldo was assigned to monitor the exam for Astral activity. You aren’t the first to cheat in that way, you know.”, Marth felt a little disappointed as Kaito continued. “Nemesis of Time is an astral projection in which the projector creates a gate to the fourth dimension, peering into another place in time.”

“Seeing the future?”, Marth had to make sure he was understanding this correctly.

“Yes. As you may know, a result of seeing the future can be completely benign, or it could tear a rift in the time space continuum.” For example, a famous occurrence of such a rift was in the Edo period. A passionate man who’s name has been dishonorably stripped from history books, saw into the future and witnessed his wife’s death. Wanting to save his wife, he changed the conditions that would have led to his wife’s demise, thereby saving her for a time.”

“For a time?”, Marth knew there was a catch.

“For a time. The man in his love for his wife, ultimately changed his wife’s destiny that Kami-sama (God) had created for her. This upset Kami-sama greatly, and Kami-sama set out to restore the wife’s destiny. Each time the wife was meant to die, the man saved her because he had repeatedly looked into the future. Each time the wife was saved, Kami-sama became more infuriated. Kami-sama, committed to impose his will, became forced to make the conditions of the wife’s death even more terrible and hazardous to those around her. The man, passionate about protecting his wife, committed countless acts of heroism in her defense. Kami-sama was forced to resort to wide scale natural disasters resulting in mass destruction in order for the wife’s destiny to be reached. Eventually, hundreds of thousands died, including the wife and the man. The authority to see the future is too much power for humans. It’s use has been strictly forbidden in the Esper community, and those who use it are executed.

@TODO soon dismissed him to the dormitory where he was to be assigned quarters. The sun was setting and the lamps above the walkways began to illuminate.

“Ahhh, what a day”, Marth thought to himself as he walked down the concrete path to the dorms. “I failed a test, almost got killed for failing a test, and now I get a new test to see if I’m worth keeping around long enough to fail the next test. This school sucks.”, The bookbag held over his shoulder bounced a little as he walked with frown on face.

As Marth approached the dormitory, his cheeks became rosy as he thought of a silver lining. “Mixed dormitories? Mixed baths? Hmmm, this place is full of eccentric faculty, surely they must have thought that a diverse living situation would result in the best possible rounding of an individual’s emotional development!”, Marth fantasized, no longer paying attention to what was in front of him.

The only entrance celebration he would receive at St. Ezreal’s, was the gong-like resonating sound made when his forehead collided with a hollow metal lightpost.

Marth found the manager’s room in the dorm and knocked on the door. Greeting him was [To be continued]She was tall, incredibly fit, with a long blonde ponytail. She wore a variant of the long white combat dress of St. Ezreal’s Esper operatives team. It incorporated a long sleeve button up shirt with padded shoulders and yellow cufflinks. A blue tie, and a hakama accented with blue and yellow. On her chest, an armored plate with an embossed Ezreal’s standard, armor extending all the way up around her neck. The look on her face was stern.

“Report to the administration building immediately.”, Tsubasa-sensei commanded Marth.

Marth paused a moment to let what just happened sink in. Aldo-sensei wasn’t testing Marth after all? A cold sweat broke out on Marth’s forehead as he realized he could have just died.

“What the hell, Aldo-bakka? You actually tried to kill me just now?”, Marth began. “Nemesis of time? I used HYPER DRAGON EYE. H-Y-P-E-R D-R-A-G-O-N E-Y-E! Read it out!”, Marth yelled in his defense.

“Only a little brat like you wold make a childish name for such a dangerous projection. What are you, 12? Are you sure you’re in the right place, the kindergarten is down the street.”, Aldo snapped back, the two arguing like kids.

“Quiet!”, Tsubasa-sensei had had enough as she squinted her eyes in disgust. “What is your intention here?”, She inquired.

Marth quit his bickering and stood up straight. “I just came here to take the entrance exam.”

“That’s a load of horse crap”, Aldo responded. “You’re obviously a spy, using a petty cheat as cover for stealing St. Ezreal’s secrets.”

“I am not a spy. Ever since I was little, I’ve read about St. Ezreal’s Academy. Espers, using only science and the power of human consciousness learn and practice to become a force for good. In my grandfather’s time, St. Ezreal’s operatives defended his village from invading magic users. During the last great flood, St. Ezreal’s rescued my village. Becoming an Esper operative is my dream. I just wanted in so bad that I cheated with Hyper Dragon Eye. The test was stupid and everyone else was probably cheating anyway.”, Marth passionately told his story.

“I see. report to the administration building immediately.” Tsubasa-sensei said as she loosened up a bit.

Marth wasn’t having it. “A moment ago, I could have died! I just want to go home.”

“No, you cannot leave this campus or I will kill you.”, Tsubasa-sensei threatened with angry eyes.

“I can’t leave?”, Marth was confused.

“That’s right, you are under my watch now. Don’t think you can escape either. Given what you’ve told me you know about this school, I have no doubts that you know what I’m capable of as the second pillar of St. Ezreal’s. Consider yourself a prisoner of this Academy. Had you passed the exam, you would have earned a different title.”

She was right, Marth would be powerless against a second pillar. St. Ezreal’s campus had five physical pillars, together forming a pentagon around the academy. These pillars were said to have been created using Esper projections, and powered a field which blocked Esper projections from traversing. A perfect barrier against astral attacks, and a shield to the secrets within. As tradition, five of St. Ezreal’s finest were chosen to serve as a namesake pillar of St. Ezreal’s. Together, the pillars of St. Ezreal form a council, police force, and commanders to the Esper operatives. Their mission is to serve and protect St. Ezreal’s Academy.

Not that Marth wanted to leave. Being here was his dream. Without a fuss, Marth headed to the administration building.

The administration building was smaller than Marth had imagined, and it bore a similar resemblance to the campus’s border. Five marble pillars surrounding a circular, domed roof building. As he walked up the staircase and into the building, another peculiarity found him. There was only one room, spanning the entire radius of the circular structure. Shafts of light from outside shone down through several vents in the roof, and a bird could be heard flapping it’s wings after taking flight from it’s perch above. More pillars cast shadows along the domed walls, reaching several meters higher than the average person. In the center of the room was an elevated stage, with marble ruins of what was once more short pillars. Marth found himself approaching the stage, looking for a clue of what to do next. As he stepped foot on the platform, dust in the air gave way to a booming man’s voice.

“Watanabe, Marth?”, A strange, monotone voice echoed in Marth’s head.

“Who’s there?”, Marth questioned as he looked around the room. Nobody was there, only the same vacant marble building was seen.

“Watanabe, Marth?”, Again the voice lacking in change of tone queried.

This time, a pair of eyes appeared, opening up before Marth. As if made of fire or some kind of Astral energy, these eyes were featureless, lacking pupils, iris, sclera or eyelids. Amber in color, the eyes stared down at startled Marth, who had to stop himself from falling off the stage. This was advanced, but Marth knew a projection when he saw one.

“I am Watanabe.”, Marth replied.

The fiery eyes closed, and everything around Marth went dark. Marth stood in complete nothingness.

“Cryptic Isolation again?” Marth wondered as he searched for a bearing in the void. A moment of nothingness passed, before a vegetable garden came into view and the black receding. Carrot, tomatoes and peas neatly in rows, green stems glistening with water droplets from a nearby sprinkler. A cool summer day with nothing but tall plants in sight.

The amber eyes returned and opened above a potato patch, the mysterious voice returning.

“Planar Shift.”, The radiant lens pair spoke. “An Esper injection, much like Cryptic Isolation, however your consciousness is not isolated within my own. Instead, we both have displaced to a different plane of existence. Here you are free to do as you please.”

Marth was relieved, yet curious why he was standing in a garden.

“So who are you and what’s up with the plants?”

“Please forgive me for not introducing myself sooner. I am Kaito-sensei, first pillar of St. Ezreal’s Academy. This is my garden.”, The eyes gently fluctuated as he spoke, becoming smaller, lower, and comparing in size to a teenager’s. A uniform and white pair of gloves faded into existence where a human body would have been to match the eyes. A head of short blue hair came into view above and behind the fire-like eyes, but no skin or body was present. The small stature of the teacher was revealed, but his actual face and body remained invisible.

“Where is your body?”, Marth wanted to know.

“Oh, I left that somewhere else.”, Kaito’s voice became less booming than before, yet monotone as always. Kaito’s uniform kneeled gracefully, careful to not dirty his white pant leg. The glove reached over and gently grasped a potato leaf.

“This potato.”, Kaito spoke, the amber eyes seemed to relax as they looked down at the plant. “One of the plants in my garden. It’s my job as gardener to care for this plant, nurture it so it becomes big and strong.”

Marth didn’t know if this kid was a creep or a god. Kaito continued.

“Have you ever seen a Leptinotarsa decemlineata?”, Kaito asked as he looked up at Marth, still grasping the leaf.

“I don’t even know what that is”, Marth replied.

“Colorado Potato Bettle. Potato bug. Both the larvae and adult beetle feed on the potato leaves. The damage they cause to the potato severely harm or even kill the potato.”, Kaito said, again gently gazing at the root vegetable’s leaves.

“So what, you squish the bugs?”, Marth was getting a little impatient and crossed his arms.

Kaito’s glove let go of the leaf and the figure stood.

“Yes. I murder the beetles and their larvae so the plants have a chance to grow.”, The fiery eyes looked at Marth’s. “Which one are you, Marth, are you a bug or are you a vegetable?”

Marth had remained in the Planar Shift with Kaito-sensei for some time. Kaito heard Marth’s story of cheating on the exam.

“What’s the big deal about Hyper Dragon Eye, and why does that idiot Aldo keep calling it Nemsis of Time?”, Marth asked Kaito’s form.

“Aldo was assigned to monitor the exam for Astral activity. You aren’t the first to cheat in that way, you know.”, Marth felt a little disappointed as Kaito continued. “Nemesis of Time is an astral projection in which the projector creates a gate to the fourth dimension, peering into another place in time.”

“Seeing the future?”, Marth had to make sure he was understanding this correctly.

“Yes. As you may know, a result of seeing the future can be completely benign, or it could tear a rift in the time space continuum.” For example, a famous occurrence of such a rift was in the Edo period. A passionate man who’s name has been dishonorably stripped from history books, saw into the future and witnessed his wife’s death. Wanting to save his wife, he changed the conditions that would have led to his wife’s demise, thereby saving her for a time.”

“For a time?”, Marth knew there was a catch.

“For a time. The man in his love for his wife, ultimately changed his wife’s destiny that Kami-sama (God) had created for her. This upset Kami-sama greatly, and Kami-sama set out to restore the wife’s destiny. Each time the wife was meant to die, the man saved her because he had repeatedly looked into the future. Each time the wife was saved, Kami-sama became more infuriated. Kami-sama, committed to impose his will, became forced to make the conditions of the wife’s death even more terrible and hazardous to those around her. The man, passionate about protecting his wife, committed countless acts of heroism in her defense. Kami-sama was forced to resort to wide scale natural disasters resulting in mass destruction in order for the wife’s destiny to be reached. Eventually, hundreds of thousands died, including the wife and the man. The authority to see the future is too much power for humans. It’s use has been strictly forbidden in the Esper community, and those who use it are executed.

@TODO soon dismissed him to the dormitory where he was to be assigned quarters. The sun was setting and the lamps above the walkways began to illuminate.

“Ahhh, what a day”, Marth thought to himself as he walked down the concrete path to the dorms. “I failed a test, almost got killed for failing a test, and now I get a new test to see if I’m worth keeping around long enough to fail the next test. This school sucks.”, The bookbag held over his shoulder bounced a little as he walked with frown on face.

As Marth approached the dormitory, his cheeks became rosy as he thought of a silver lining. “Mixed dormitories? Mixed baths? Hmmm, this place is full of eccentric faculty, surely they must have thought that a diverse living situation would result in the best possible rounding of an individual’s emotional development!”, Marth fantasized, no longer paying attention to what was in front of him.

The only entrance celebration he would receive at St. Ezreal’s, was the gong-like resonating sound made when his forehead collided with a hollow metal lightpost.

Marth found the manager’s room in the dorm and knocked on the door. Greeting him was [To be continued]A moment passed and Marth heard some fumbling behind the door, followed by a girl’s voice.

“Just a minute!”.

More fumbling was heard, then a loud thud. Someone had just fallen and Marth’s uncontrollable help-a-girl-heroism kicked in, turning the doorknob, and swinging open the door.

Concerned, Marth barged through the threshold, blurting out, “Are you OK?” Marth stood there, doorknob in hand, looking down at a pink long-haired girl sitting on the floor, holding her head.

“Ow ow ow”, the girl spoke as she winced her eyes. Under her hand was a yellow headband, and she wore a matching color knitted sweater. Her sweater reached the tatami mat where she sit, and Marth couldn’t tell whether or not she was wearing any bottoms. Her long tone legs were in clear view, next to a basket of yarn which was tipped over at her bare feet.

The girl looked up curiously at Marth, revealing her low-cut sweater and even lower-cut white blouse underneath. Marth looked away, trying not to stare at her chest, and blushed.

“Um”, he said while the girl seemed unaware that her girls were showing.

“Welcome!”, the girl said, ignoring her pain for a moment and letting out a big smile. “I tripped over the table.” She said, sitting up straight. Her sweater lifted enough to reveal short lounge shorts, and finally Marth noticed the coffee table behind her with pieces of fabric spread over it.

“Do you make clothes?”, Marth asked, putting the two together.

“Yes! It’s just about the only thing I’m good at.”, The girl said, placing her hand over her heart and the yellow knitted sweater.

Marth remembered his manners, taking his hand off the door and bowing. “Please forgive me for intruding. My name’s Marth, I’ve been assigned to this building.”

“I’m Miyagi, Riko, 4th year” She said with a smile. She approached marth, grasping his hand with both of hers. “nice to meet you!” The world seemed to go rosy and Marth couldn’t stop his face from turning red.

Just then, the sound of bed sheets sliding was heard, and coming out of hiding in the top bunk in the room, another girl sat up and threw a book aside.

“Riko, get away from that man!”

The girl looked about the same age as Miyagi, her hair short blue, with dark blue eyes. She descended down the bunk bed ladder, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants.

“What is it, Hanna?”, Miyagi asked the blue haired girl.

“Check the Astral net. This man is not a student. He does not deserve your respect.”, Hanna put it coldly.

“Hey wait a minute, there’s been a misunderstanding, I could use at least a little respect.”, Marth said in his defense.

“Marth, I’m Sato Hanna, dorm manager. I’ll show you to your quarters now. And next time you come to this room, make sure you knock before entering.”, Sato said, her eyes seeming to pierce through Marth’s soul.

“Hanna-chan!”, Miyagi seemed concerned about the tone Sato had taken.

The three walked down the hall, leaving the girl’s section. Marth realized there wasn’t mixed dorms after all, and let out a sigh.

“Marth, this is your room.”, Sato announced. Marth looked at the direction indicated, looking for a dorm door. Instead, a closet labelled, “storage” lied ahead.

“Nani!??!”, Marth yelped, and Miyagi seemed to reel as well.

“Is this the right place?” Miyagi worried.

Sato opened the door, showing the minimal accommodation. A shelf with cleaning supplies, some stacked cardboard boxes, and a corner full of empty potato sacks. Damn potatoes. That virgin newfag Kaito must have been the one behind this.

“Wait a minute, I’m expected to make a bed out of potato sacks?, This is just inhumane!”

“Don’t do the crime if you don’t got the time”, Sato said as she turned to leave.

Miyagi stayed, holding her hands to her chin.

“Is he going to be alright?”, she said with concern.

“Riko, we’re leaving.”, Sato commanded.

Miyagi stood, staring at Marth briefly. A moment passed as Marth stood next to the ammonia based spray cleaners in the dimlit room. He wasn’t about to look weak in front of a girl, so he let out a laugh.

“Hahaha, this is nothing, It’s like camping in the barn at my grandparent’s place!”, he made up the story as he sat down on the sacks. There were enough of them to be firm, and he thought it might not be so bad after all.

Miyagi smiled, joining her hands behind her back. “Breakfast is at 7, come join us!”, and with that she left.

Marth kicked back, recounting the day’s events. The fifth pillar of St. Ezreal’s accused Marth of a projection he didn’t create. The first pillar of St. Ezreal’s lectured him on the projection he didn’t create, yet didn’t kill him. Could there have been another student in the lecture hall who cheated as well? Did the idiot Aldo-sensei accuse the wrong cheater? Marth had so many unanswered questions. He drifted off to sleep and couldn’t help but dream of potato beetles.

Marth awoke to a knocking at his door.

“Five more minutes, onae-chan.” Tired and groggy, Marth didn’t remember where he was.

The door burst open and Tsubasa-sensei walked in. In her hands she carried a set of blue work clothes. She tossed the clothes ontop of Marth as he laid in bed.

“Get dressed.” Tsubasa-sensei told Marth, her voice jolting him from his slumber. “you have two minutes.”

“What is this!?”, Marth had expected the Academy would provide a school uniform, not a work uniform.

Tsubasa waited outside as Marth got dressed. The uniform’s fabric was a stiff blue cotton, with a few vertical stripes on the long sleeve shirt. Marth cheekily grabbed a spray bottle on the way out of the supply closet and breached the door like something from an action flick, kicking open the door then rushing out into the hall, looking down the sights of the sprayer.

“Clear!”, Marth yelled mischievously.

Tsubasa-sensei rewarded Marth with a chop to the head. “Let’s get going, you’ve got a long day ahead of you.”

Marth followed Tsubasa-sensei down the hall in silence, watching other students as they walked from their dorms to begin their day. Marth remembered Miyagi-chan.

“Hey, sensei, what time is it? I don’t want to miss breakfast.”

“Oh don’t worry, you won’t miss it.”

The two walked to the mess hall. A large area with a brick vaulted ceiling, the varying brick colors forming boxy patterns. The asthetic reminded Marth of a cave carved out of a mountain, although he knew it was just a regular campus building on the outside. A few tables were occupied by students using the space to study and sip their morning beverages. A kitchen staff could be heard prepping the meal, and Tsubasa-sensei guided him straight for the kitchen.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, Marth muttered to himself as he read 5:58 from a large clock.

“Have you brought me a hard worker, Tsubasa-sensei?”, A heavy set man wearing a chef hat asked.

“The hardest worker you’ll ever know”, Sensei replied. “If he doesn’t live up to that expectation, let me know immediately.”

Marth gritted his teeth as the chef laughed.

“Oh I’m looking forward to this! I’m Adish, head chef. Please do your best!”, He said as his big belly bounced with joy.

“I’m in your care”, Marth said with a bow.

He spent the morning swapping out oil in the deep friers, de-icing large refrigerators, and peeling potatoes.

“Damn that virgin newfag Kaito.”

Breakfast was served to the masses of students, after which Adish released Marth for a break. Helping himself to the breakfast leftovers, Marth sat down at a table and dug in. He practically inhaled a large stack of waffles with strawberries and maple syrup. With time still on the clock for his break, he looked around the cafeteria for the chance to meet Miyagi before he had to head back.

Visiting each table in the large room, Miyagi was nowhere to be found. With a few minutes left of break, he sat down at a table, defeated. Marth’s eye drew to another worker as she wiped down a table. Past her, a group of students was seen in the commons area checking posted exam scores from the day before. That’s right, those students got to go home after the exam yesterday, and Marth was stuck here on the impromptu prisoner work program.

Two girls jumped for joy as they read their ID numbers from the passing list.

“Good for them”, Marth mumbled as he stretched his arms. The large breakfast had made him sleepy and he put his head down on the table to rest his eyes. “They will be getting the actual school uniform, and get to start classes next week.” Little did he know that he had drawn attention to himself as his arms were in the air.

“What the hell are you doing here?” The familiar voice asked as she stormed over to the resting Marth. His morning had just gone from bad to worse, now that this annoying cat girl knew of his presence.

Marth didn’t want to raise his head for the continuation of yesterday’s argument, so he just waved her away, face buried in his arms.

“Move along, nothing to see here, just a man taking his work break.”

A vein seemed to pop on Tanaka Aoi’s forehead, her face wrenching in anger.

“At least address me properly, you inconsiderate bastard!”, She said as she got physical, grabbing the back of Marth’s head and pressing it into the table. Marth’s arms tensing in the air.

“Oww! What gives?” Marth cried

as he resisted Tanaka’s push.

“Hmmph!”, Tanaka let out, crossing her arms and turning her head as she closed her eyes.

“Geez, you’ve got too much energy in the morning”, Marth said as he fixed his hair and rested his head once again.

Tanaka pretended not to care, but had to open one eye to peek at Marth to see why he was so gloomy. Shizuma Miyu walked up behind Tanaka Aoi.

“That uniform. Did this man get a job here?”, Shizuma broke the silence, reminding Marth that he hadn’t introduced himself to these two. Not that he could have, as their meetings prior were so brief and awkward.

Annoying or not, he was going to be seeing more of these two from now on, so it was a common courtesy to tell his name. Marth lifted his head.

“I am Watanabe Marth. It’s been a little difficult since we met. How about we start over?”, Marth started his diplomacy.

Shizuma Miyu nodded her head twice with a confirming, “mhm, mhm.”

Tanaka Aoi clenched up and looked away again, blushing a bit as she was thrown off by his congeniality. It only lasted for a moment and she faced Marth to yell.

“Don’t think you can play nice guy, Mr. nice guy pants!”, Tanaka struggled to make a comeback.

“Come on, Shizuma, let’s get away from this creepy man and visit the school store.”, she blurted, grabbing Shizuma’s wrist. Shizuma seemed to have more to say, her mouth open as her green eyes looked at Marth as Tanaka dragged her away.

“What a bother.”, Marth muttered to himself as he let out a sigh.

Marth spent the rest of the day assisting the kitchen staff, bussing tables, washing dishes, and cleaning. As the sun went down, Adish released Marth for the day.

“At least I won’t go hungry.”, Marth saw the silver lining as he thought about the large meals his work afforded him. But that alone wasn’t enough to satisfy him. Marth had other plans that were being sidelined because of his captivity.

“I can’t become an Esper if I have to work like this every day.”, Marth was troubled as he walked down the campus path towards the dorms. As he turned a corner, he could see Sato Hanna taking a jog in the distance wearing a blue, white and yellow tracksuit. Even her workout clothes were color coordinated with the School.

“A healthy body makes a healthy mind”, Marth quoted his parents. Espers especially need exercise to retain a clear mind. Luckily, the day’s work had provided plenty of physical exercise. That reminded him, when was the last time he had created a projection? Just like muscles, Espers need practice or their skills dull. Marth figured this might be the only moment of freedom for the day, so he took the opportunity to walk over to one of the courtyard’s fountains.

Resonant Wave, a basic projection which has hundreds of applications. Resonant Wave uses vibration to affect a target. Resonant Wave can create a sound when a target material vibrates fast enough to reach it’s resonant frequency, or it can create heat as a result of target’s accelerated particles.

Marth squared up to the fountain, pushing both his palms outward in front of him. Marth closed his eyes and saw his naked self in the Astral realm, holding the same position. In this realm, he created a summoning circle in front of his hands, with symbols representing sinewaves, particles, and random movement. He increased the size of the summoning circle to match the size of the fountain, and opened his eyes, merging his Astral realm’s reality into his own. The summoning circle now was in the real world, and Marth focused on the fountain past his bare arms and blue translucent summoning circle. Marth spoke the words, “Resonant Wave, I project!” and the summoning circle vibrated considerably. Slowly, the temperature of the fountain’s water began to increase.

“Let’s turn you into some steamy hot steam!”, Marth thought accelerating the water molecules would be good practice and he could tell from the bubbles that it was getting warmer. Just when Marth was getting ready to see steam rise from the display, he heard a girl yelp as if in pain.


“Sato-senpai?”, Marth called out as he broke down the summoning circle and began to run towards where he had seen her last. Did she fall? Marth wondered as he ran naked.

“Naked?”, Marth looked down at himself, realizing what he had just done. In his projection of Resonant Wave, he envisioned himself naked in the Astral realm, before merging that personal reality with the real world. It’s not always that Marth saw himself as naked in the Astral realm, but often the projector’s true sense of self is projected there. In this new school and with all these new experiences, it’s only natural that the creator feel naked and vulnerable inside.

“Damn, forgot to create clothing!”, Marth cursed as he jumped behind a bush. As he did so, he saw Sato lying on the ground, tightly grasping herself.

Marth wanted to call out, but couldn’t draw attention to himself as he hid there naked.

“So hot!”, Sato cried as she pushed a hand between her legs, the other still around her chest.

Marth was confused. Did she overheat from running? Is she having a heart attack? Naked or not, if Sato-senpai was in danger, this was no time to be hiding.

“Sato-senpai!”, Marth jumped out from behind the bush, running towards his senior.

“It’s cooling down?”, Sato said as she opened her eyes, then looking up at the incoming Marth. All Sato Hanna could interpret from the sight of nude marth was the image of a charging elephant, it’s large flailing trunk letting out a wild trumpet call.

Sato stood immediately and instinctively dealt a perfect roundhouse kick to Marth’s face, sending him flying backwards. Marth floated through the air in what seemed like slow motion, and he finally understood the situation. He had Sato’s athletic body on the mind, and in heating up the fountain he had also heated up her sweat. Under normal circumstances, he’d be happy to make a girl squeal, but this was Sato Hanna, 4th year student and dormitory manager. Marth’s limp body hit the ground.

“So it was you?!”, Sato said with rage in her eyes. This was bad. Marth was already living in the supply closet, now where would she send him?

“You are the most disgusting human being I have ever laid my eyes on.”, Sato began. “Using Esper abilities to take advantage of a student, pardon me while I do your job and take out the trash!”, she said with a fury. Marth had underestimated the punishment he would receive as Sato raised her hand and created a white summoning circle in front of her.

“She doesn’t even need to close her eyes?”, Marth hadn’t realized what a 4th year Esper was capable of.

The sky went from dark to stormy, lightning striking the background as the wind picked up, blowing Sato’s short dark hair and ruffling her tracksuit.

“Tell me, Marth, do you wish to die?”, Sato asked as the world seemed to turn against Marth.

Was Sato Hanna the type of girl to kill out of spite? Marth, stunned and afraid, could only beg for his life.

“I.. It’s not what you think!”, Marth pleaded. “It was an accident!”

Sato paused to consider his words, then closed her eyes. Marth seemed off the hook, until Sato opened her eyes a second later.

“Cosmic! Bind!”, Sato yelled as a rope jettisoned from her summoning circle, wrapping tightly around Marth.

The sky cleared and Sato walked towards the dormitory, dragging the snared Marth behind ad the end of a length of rope.

“I can’t breathe!”, Marth complained as his bruised cheek was pulled against the ground, leaving a trail of drool behind.

“Serves you right.”, Sato said as she continued her march, closing her eyes and resuming her stoic demeanor.

The two reached the dormitory and Marth was thrown into the supply closet, still bound by the ropes. Sato slammed the door and went off to her room, leaving Marth to his quiet room and potato sack bed.

“Damn Kaaaiiiitooooo!”

Marth awoke to a knock at his door. It was morning and Tsubasa-sensei had returned to see him off to work. The ropes from the night before had loosened, allowing Marth to shake free.

“I need another uniform”, Marth said through the door before Tsubasa could enter.

Tsubasa-sensei fetched another uniform from the Astral warehouse, blindly tossing it through the doorway.

“Today you will be mining Admirite. Get dressed.”

The two left the dorm building and headed towards the administration building. It was early morning the same as yesterday, but no students seemed to be out and about. Marth fondly remembered what it was like to sleep in on Saturday.

“I didn’t know the school had a mine.”, Marth spoke his mind.

“The school doesn’t. It’s on another plane.”, sensei replied.

“The administration building is empty for a reason. It’s vacancy symbolizes raw potential. Just like a human mind, we could turn that space into whatever we wanted to make it. The students here have that same potential, they can become whatever they want to become. The building is empty on the inside, but we make of it a portal into different planes of existence.”

“That made no sense, sensei”.

“I know, little one.”

Marth sucked his thumb and rubbed his soft cotton blankey between his fingers. From the tiny fluffy cloud he was sitting on, he could see the big cloud on which the Academy sat.

“Look at all those pillars, mommy!”, Marth used a third arm to point.

“Snap out of it, Marth!”, Tsuba-sensei was looking at Marth as he lay in the fetal position on the ground of the quarry. “It’s the Admirite, it’s amplifying your Esper abilities, you need to stay in control of your mind!””Admiriate? I think you mean Adamantium.”, Marth slurred his words towards Tsubasa-sensei as he remained curled up.

“Marth! Snap out of it!”, Tsubasa-sensei gripped Marth’s shoulders and propped him up before dealing him a swift slap to the cheek.

“Ow! Why does every girl hit me?”, Marth complained as he came to. His vision of Cumulous riding fading out to a partly cloudy green sky. On the ground was a mixture of gravel and a blue ore mixed into rock outcroppings.

“What just happened? Where are we?”, Marth was still confused.

Tsubasa-sensei let go of Marth’s shoulders as he regained composure.

“We transitioned to this plane of existence from the administration building. Technically, we are still there.”, Tsubasa-sensei explained.

“Technically?”, Marth was still confused, and Tsubasa stood up and crossed her arms.

“Yes, technically this plane of existence is physically located within the administration building. As we move around on this plane, we are also moving around on our native plane. We can’t see or interact with anything there, and likewise nobody there can see or interact with us, but we are indeed there.”

Marth’s head began to hurt, althought it might have been from being kicked and slapped around too much in the past 24 hours.

“So we’re equivalent to being there, but we’re also here. Could I move ten meters here, shift back to there, and I’d have moved ten meters there?”, Marth could get technical too. Placing a hand on his knee, he rose to stand with sensei.

“Normally, yes. But this plane’s units of measurement are smaller than what you’re used to. Ten meters here is roughly ten millimeters there.”, Tsubasa-sensei was getting Marth up to speed in front of a large conveyor belt meant for loading dump trucks with earth.

“Then that means you could make the inside of the administration building as large as you wanted!”, Marth said excitedly.

“Or as small. But that’s the point, the Adminstration building can be whatever we want it to be, just on a different plane.”

“Where is this plane? The green sky doesn’t look like Earth’s.”, Marth questioned among the wheelbarrows and shovels.

“As I said, we are in the administration building on earth. We didn’t go to another place in space such as you can do by translating your body on an X, Y, or Z axis. We didn’t move on the time axis either. This plane is a creation by one of the five pillars. A new universe within the multiverse, containing an Earth-like planet and solar system.”

Marth shuddered as he tried to understand how a human could create an entire universe from scratch. One of the pillars made this planet? The first pillar seemed like the most plausible candidate.

“It couldn’t be… Did Kaito-sensei create this planet?”, Marth didn’t want to believe that Kaito-potato was a god.

“No, It wasn’t Kaito. This universe was created centuries ago by ancient Espers. No pillar today could do this, the knowledge to do so has been lost.”

Marth was relieved to hear that the gardener brat wasn’t a god after all. With a clearer mind, Marth looked around to see tools, machinery, and earthy colored rock. Down in the quarry of a strip mine, the only other thing to look at was the green sky.

“A surface mine for Esper enhancing minerals. What’s up with the sky?” Marth wondered.

“This planet’s sun is a red dwarf. It’s giving off less blue light than Earth’s sun, so the sky appears green. The atmosphere here is much like Earth’s.”

“This is an interesting place, I’d love to explore it.” Marth got excited, but Sensei wasn’t having it.

“Not today you won’t.”, Tsubasa-sensei’s all too familiar stern look returned as she tossed Marth a pickaxe. “The school needs fifteen barrels of raw Admirite.”

“Fifteen barrels?!” There was nobody else around to share the work, Marth gripped the pick with a confounded look on his face.

“It’s the blue rock. pick at it and gather the little pieces.”

Marth wondered if this was a joke, but then again, this was Tsubasa-sensei, too tight-assed to joke.

“You can’t be serious.”, Marth asserted.

“Do your best!”, She said as she walked off, disappearing as she shifted planes.

Marth was left alone with the rocks on the desolate planet,

A couple hours had passed and Marth had filled a quarter of a wheelbarrow with the blue ore. Swinging the pickaxe so hard had begun to make his hands raw.

“I’m going to get blisters if I keep this up.”, Marth was concerned as he held the pickaxe with one hand like a walking stick, while looking at his other.

His hands weren’t the only thing fatigued. Marth’s skin was starting to feel the burn under the red star.

Marth set down the pick and looked around the quarry. Nearing a rock wall where the mining came to a stop, Marth found a small open shack made from corrugated sheet metal. Inside were enough supplies for dozens of workers. Hard hats, thick gloves, a first aid kit, and water.

In the shade of the shack, Marth wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. Next he didn’t hesitate to don a pair of gloves and a hat.

“Ahh, this will be much better”, he said relieved.

Marth took a few gulps of water before heading back out, clapping his hands together and adjusting the gloves between his fingers.

Back at the rock where Marth had been mining, Marth looked at the small pile of ore he had dug up so far.

“An eighth of a barrow per hour, and I need how many loads?” Marth did the math, realizing that this job would take days at his current pace.

“Could this be another test?”, Marth wondered as he thought of a better way. An Esper should be able to mine this using only their mind.

Marth eyed the pickaxe on the ground. A simple tool, with a wooden handle and a steel head. Using Matter Synthesis, Marth should be able to create such a basic instrument. Marth closed his eyes, expecting to envision his lonely self in the astral realm. Instead, Marth saw a burst of glowing blue light fluctuating in his mind’s eye. The light pulsed over and over, several times a second and Marth became dizzy as he tried to see the Astral realm.

“This must be the Admirite.”, Marth hypothesized, opening his eyes and looking down at the rock. Indeed it’s effects had made him halleucinate as he arrived here, and the effects could be felt now as Marth tried to create a stable projection.

“This stuff is supposed to amplify Esper abilities, but all I’m feeling is interference!”, Marth tried again, closing his eyes. The blue pulsing waves of light were too strong to ignore.

“It’s no use.”, Marth resigned his efforts, plopping down to sit on the ground. “I can’t work against this material.”

Marth considered going back to the old fashioned way, although finishing with that method today would be impossible. The Admirite’s waves were crashing against Marth’s consciousness like the sea against the shore.

“Admirite, I don’t admire you. You’re only getting in my way”, Marth jokingly thought.

“Waves. Admiration. Back home, energy from ocean waves are harnessed by boyant floats attached to generators via large pistons. The generators produce electricity from the ocean’s movement!”, Something seemed to click in Marth’s mind. He stood up and faced the mine with a determined look.

“The ocean of Admirite is too strong to swim against. Instead, I’m going to ride those waves!”, Marth closed his eyes, embracing the blue pulses instead of trying to filter them out.

“If I can feel their rhythm, I can ride them out.”, Marth didn’t try to picture himself in the Astral realm right away, Instead, he just let the feeling of blue be as it were. The feeling of Admirate came over him. His whole body felt cool, like he had just stepped through a portal to a mountaintop with clean, fresh air. A pushing feeling came over him, not like a person would push, but like a wind would blow a leaf. His mind felt like it was being gently blown from his body by a slumbering giant’s exhales.

Marth felt like his mind was about to leave his body. What would happen if the two separated? Would Marth’s body stop breathing and suffocate?

“No. My body can breathe on it’s own. I have to stay calm.”

The waves of Admirite seemed to intensify as Marth struggled to stay in control. Control, that’s what Tsubasa sensie said Marth needed to do when they got here, but right now, Marth felt he needed to do the opposite.

“Admire the Admirite.”, Marth calmed himself once more and he relaxed, feeling wave after wave of the cool blue light wash over him. He thought of a warm smile and just let himself have an experience with the pulsing light.

Time seemed to stand still as a wave of blue hit Marth in his state of tranquility. Although blue like he had never seen it before, he could see the Astral realm with himself in it. He moved around, looking at himself from an out of body position.

“Are my arms that skinny?” Maybe I should do this the old fashioned way after all!” Marth smiled and continued moving around himself. His self was standing with his arms pushed out at his sides, forming a T shape. His legs were slightly spread apart. He was seeing himself from only his consciousness which had left his body and created the feeling that time had stopped. This feeling wasn’t abnormal for Astral projections, but the Admirite seemed to make the effect more pronounced.

Marth felt like another thing was different about this projection.

“The Admirite, perhaps?”, Marth looked around at what was usually black, but this time a light blue. A feeling of comfort was present in the blue, but here there seemed to be something more.The Admirite provided a feeling of powerful natural forces, strong like a hurricane’s wind yet peaceful like a flowing river. The feeling Marth felt was more like something within his own mind was out of place.

“A person?”, Marth thought of one explanation, although he was sure he was alone on this rocky planet.

“Alone on the planet, but what about this Astral realm?”, Marth began to hypothesize. This realm was his own, existing entirely in his subconscious reality. Could it be that the Admirite had opened up a region of his subconscious that had been previously locked?

“I have to find out what is going on here.”, Marth was determined.

Floating around in consciousness form like a ghost in his Astral realm, Marth drifted to the right, away from his body, pursuing distance places in his mind he hadn’t explored before.

“I’ve never been able to go this far.”, he attributed the new possible distance to the Admirite, looking back at his body, it’s size now seeming like an ant. A new feature in the bluish background came into view as he went further. A dry lake bed followed by desert mountains.

“Dry lake bed? I’m in a desert now? Mountains? I didn’t put these here.”, Marth began to be confused, but pressed forward towards the alps. As he did so, the flat ground transitioned to a rocky hillside. A sensation of a bright orange light arose among the Admirite’s persistent feel. The light started to feel brighter.

“I’m getting closer.”, Marth realized as he proceeded to the hills.

A few dead trees were seen among the nearby dead earth. The scenery was completely foreign to Marth, like something he would not or even could not have come up with. The ground contained tan, brown, grey, and bits of orange. Everything was dead and dried, wrinkled and saline, with no sign of healthy vegetation anywhere. No wind, no sun, no sounds, except for around a hillside where a gleam of amber light shone from the ground. Marth wisped towards the eminence, wondering if this was the source. As he rounded the corner, turning up at the foot of the dry desert mountains, Marth saw the yellow-orange light was coming from a cave tucked into the mountainside.

“What the hell?”, Marth grew more and more curious as he approached the lighted opening. The cave’s mouth was recessed in the mountainside, hidden from view if not for the light. From the ceiling, a few small stalactites hung down. Entering the cave, the source of the light revealed itself as an uncommon gold clock resting upon a granite pedestal.

Marth approached the clock, awestruck. He wanted to reach out and pick it up, but remembered he had left his Astral body behind. It had two clocks stacked on top of each other, each showing a different time. Individually connected to two gold platforms, a set of four gold rods joined the timepieces. The lower clock propped up by the bottom platform, and the upper clock suspended from the top platform. The upper clock’s hands were moving counter-clockwise!

“What is this?”, Marth wondered as he watched the clock for a few moments. It didn’t seem to do anything other than keep time in opposite directions. Marth searched the cave and found nothing else of interest, and he soon returned to his body. His body was still standing there, eyes closed and arms at it’s side. Marth tried to put together the pieces of the puzzle he had just seen.

“An unfamiliar desert plain, and an unfamiliar gold clock tucked away in an unfamiliar desert mountainside. Who put that there?”, He asked, almost forgetting that he was in his own Astral realm, where a creator other than him would be almost impossible.

“Almost impossible?”, Marth questioned himself. He had seen his share of things he thought would have been impossible before coming to St. Ezreal’s academy. From reverse projections to creating entire universes, the Espers here had quite the repertoire. It may not be out of the question for one of the five pillars to modify Marth’s consciousness.

“But why?”, The unanswered questions began to make Marth’s head hurt, so he tucked the mystery for the moment to deal with the task at hand. Mining in the quarry with an Admirite empowered projection.

Marth looked down at his body as he drew a massive blue summoning circle in front of it. Normally summoning circles had to be drawn small, then grown larger, but thanks to the Admirite, Marth was able to create a huge one to begin with. Within the circle were elements of iron, heat, and wood. Slowly, Marth activated the summoning circle, which began to glow a bright white. Arising from the circle, Marth lifted an enormous steel pickaxe head, and sizeable wood handle to match. Floating above the summoning circle, Marth envisioned the two pieces coming together, and they did just that, snapping into place with a large THUD-D-D.

Marth returned to his Astral body as he continued to hold the giant pickaxe with his mind. It was as if vast ghostly arms extended from Marth’s own shoulders, their strength more than sufficient to hold the structure in place. Marth let go the summoning circle which faded into nothingness. Back in his astral body, he began the process to merge his Astral reality with the real world.

Marth’s eyes opened to see the quarry, and a giant pickaxe floating above. Easily the height of a five story building, the pickaxe cast a shadow on the ground below him. Marth took a moment to adjust his hard hat and gloves, before stretching his shoulders, attached to his large invisible arms. Eyeing the ground in front of him, Marth looked for the perfect spot to make the first blow. Marth crossed his tiny arms, putting one hand to his chin, while his giant invisible arms held their position, grasping the giant pickaxe.

A perfect rock outcropping was seen with a chunk of exposed Admirite. Marth’s vision tunneled on the jutting stone, as his crossed tiny arms synchronized position with his huge. His pair of arms reached for the sky, still grasping the mammoth wooden handle, before cocking back and moving the immense tool over his shoulders and to his rear. The backwards motion made a loud whooshing as it pushed a substantial amount of air out of it’s way before coming to a stop. Marth’s eyes glowed with anticipation for what was coming next.

Tensing his muscles in both pairs of contrasting arms, Marth threw their weight forward while tightly grasping the enormous pick handle. Whooshing was heard, louder than before, as the mass thrust forward and down. Air pressure built up as it went, gaining speed and momentum as the massive pickaxe reached a 45 degree angle to Marth’s standing body. Faster still, Marth fell the axe, as it’s fresh sharp tip came within ten meters of the ground. Faster still, the momentum of the tool’s weight now too much for Marth to stop, came rushing and rushing towards the heap of rock.

An explosion of Admirite was sent flying in all directions, as the pickaxe stuck the earth with incredible force. Like TNT, pieces of rock and gravel came flying out, flying to heights they had never before known. The pickaxe still going as it’s momentum propelled it downward, large spinning boulders forming as the solid layer below shattered like glass. The pickaxe slowed, with Admirite at the tip, crushing and compressing and crunching into chips. The air pressure which had formed at the front of the weight, blew down like a tornado, blowing dust in all directions and rustling Marth’s clothes. The vibration in the earth was felt across the quarry, knocking over tools leaned against the storage shack and spilling over a pile of dust which had gathered on it’s rooftop.

With the weight of the pickaxe finally settled, Marth’s giant arms lifted the pickaxe again, lifting it to it’s original height before smashing it down into the ground again. Whoosh. Pause. Whoosh. Explosion! The bursting sound reverberated off the quarry walls, freeing dust and gravel to roll down the slopes. Chunks of rocks and ore sent soaring took moments to fall, their sound like an artificial dry rain. Again and again Marth lifted the huge pickaxe, quickly turning the rocky landscape into a field of ruin.

Marth made short work using the large pickaxe. The hard part was over, with the enough square meters of loose material to load into the barrels for refinement. Using his large hands as loaders and a shovel for his small, he scooped the ore into the barrels with time to spare before Tsubasa-sensei’s return. Dissolving his projection of the enormous pickaxe and arms, he returned to the supply shack for some water, before sitting on the ground near the barrels containing his handywork.

Tsubasa-sensei appeared as she walked, shifting into this plane. She stopped in her tracks as she saw a completely new layer of rock on the quarry’s floor.

“You did all this in one day?”, Tsubasa-sensei was shocked.

“Thaaaaat’s right!”, Marth replied, popping a thumbs up and showing his pearly whites.

Tsubasa-sensei looked at the 15 barrels, neatly lined up, filled up to the brim with coarse chunks of blue ore. Her arms were down at her side and she couldn’t shake a look of astonishment.

“Marth, I was going to bring you here every day for a week to finish this job. But it looks like you don’t need that extra time!”,

Marth saw an opportunity to slack off.

“Well seeing as this is a seven day job, I guess I’ll just take the next six days off!”, Marth smiled, wishing she’d take the bait.

“No, I’ll have a different job for you tomorrow.”, But good work.

“What a let down!”, Marth pouted.

“The sun is setting on our native plane. Are you ready to head back?”, Tsubasa-sensei asked.

“The sun isn’t setting here?”, Marth wondered.

“No, this quarry always faces the star, it never gets dark here.”

[tbc]”It never gets dark…”, Marth thought it was weird how he had worked up such an appetite while the sun was still in the sky. “Appetite?” Marth questioned himself. He hadn’t eaten all day, and the feeling of hunger had only just met him once he sat down to relax.

Marth eagerly agreed he was ready to return, and Tsubasa-sensei initiated phase shift. The two faded out of the mine, and into the empty Administration building of the school. Marth’s stomache growled.

“I apologize for not sending you with lunch. I admit my mind has been preoccupied lately.”, Tsubasa-sensei expressed regret, avoiding eye contact and blushing a little. Seeing Tsubasa-sensei, built like a tank, and normally exceedingly confident, in an embarrased state, made Marth a little excited. Knowing Tsubasa was a teach at this school, Marth’s sentiment quickly shifted to uneasy. He had to change the subject and break the silence of this awkward moment.

“Say, sensei, how come you didn’t hallucinate when we got to the mines?”, Marth asked in a hurry, blurting out the first thing he could think of.

Tsubasa-sensei took a moment to regain her composure, closing her eyes and easing her face.

“Let’s walk to the cafeteria, I skipped lunch as well. I’ll answer your question over dinner.”

“Okay.”, Marth replied, holding back his excitement once more as he took in this experience. This may have been the first time a mature woman had asked Marth to have dinner with her.

The two walked in silence to the mess hall. It was a short walk, thanks to the compact layout of the campus.

The two queued up to be served. Adish was in the background prepping the next meal, but he took the time to wave with a large smile to Marth and Sensei. The servers behind the counter did the same, scooping up large portions for each. Dinner tonight was a lentil salad with a side of steamed broccoli almondine, and a banana pastry. Marth and Tsubasa-sensei added their dishes to trays and sat across from each other at a table.

The salad was a deep green, with snippets of parsely, chunks of carrots and other garden vegetables, mixed with a curry-like sauce. Thankfully, no potatoes were there to remind Marth of that damn Kaito.

“Dammit, I was reminded anyway.”, Marth mumbled with his mouth full. Marth thought of Kaito’s non-existent face, with just those beaming fiery eyes. Kaito never did give Marth a full explanation of his lack of a body. Marth looked up and noticed Tsubasa-sensei chewing her food, curiously looking over at Marth.

“Why does Kaito have no body?”, Marth figured Tsubasa-sensei would know.

Tsubasa-sensei closed her eyes, finished chewing her food, and swallowed.

“That’s not my story to tell.”, Tsubasa-sensei was a closed book; she returned to eating.

“Ok then, tell me about you.”, Marth wanted to hear the answer Tsubasa had promised earlier.

Tsubasa-sensei’s mouth was full of food, but she suddenly stopped chewing, turning red and staring at Marth. Her cheeks were puffed out like a chipmunk’s stuffed with nuts. Marth realized he didn’t phrase his question very accurately.

“I mean, how were you able to not hallucinate like I did, when we arrived at the mines? I.. It’s your Esper level, perhaps? You are after all the second pillar of St. Ezreal’s.”, Marth hurriedly clarified, stumbling over his words

“Oh, right”, Tsubasa-sensei said with food in her mouth. Quickly realizing she talked with food in her mouth, she covered her mouth with her hand and looked away.

It wasn’t like her to act like this. Marth wondered if she gets like this when she’s hungry, so he took a moment to noisily shovel some food down his throat.

“Oh boy, this food is really tasty! Let’s eat up while it’s nice and hot!”, Marth blurted, giving her a chance to do the same.

Still covering her mouth, Tsubasa-sensei looked up and laughed. The two nom’d their food for several minutes, washing it down with a large glass of water.

“Ahhh! That hit the spot!”, Marth reported with a smile. It felt good to have food in his stomach after a long day of work.

Tsubasa-sensei seemed to have gathered herself. After wiping the corners of her mouth with a napkin, she began to speak.

“Admirite. St. Ezreal’s Catalog of the Elements number A.43.X20.”

Marth knew of the Catalog. It’s a standardized classification for all elements in the world, natural or Esper made. A for anatural (unnatural), 43 for it being cataloged as the 43rd unnatural element, and X meaning the effect level the element produced on Espers. The X level is a range from 0 to 50, signifying the strength of the element’s effects on Espers. Theoretically, an X level 50 would explode your head just by thinking about the element. Luckily, the highest strength element cataloged so far was only X30. Such a level element can provide enough strength to an Esper to match the nuclear power of Plutonium. Naturally, anything 25 or above is tightly regulated.

Tsubasa-sensei continued speaking of Admirite.

“Astral Wavelength, 501 nanometers.”

The waves of life. Everything from sound to sight, to electricity, thought, radar, and gamma radiation all exist as a wave on the cosmic stage. Astral creations are no different, they simply exist at a different level of consciousness. 501 nanometers is responsible for every aspect of Admirite, from the color to the effects it has on Espers.

“I’m immune to Admirite, because I carry it’s inverse in my Astral realm.”

“Brilliant!”, Marth blurted out, before making sense of it. “I don’t get it, but it’s brilliant!”

Tsubasa-sensei smiled a bit, then went on with her explanation.

“Admirite in it’s most basic form exists as a wave. That wave is what pulsates, sending out ripples which interfere with your consciousness. If say, another element was in the vicinity, sending out ripples which perfectly interfere with those of Admirite’s, the effect of Admirite can be nullified because an equal yet inverted force is acting upon the waves, cancelling them out.”

Marth’s eyes lit up.

“Just like noise cancelling headphones!”

“That’s right. I wear X cancelling Astralphones. It’s a basic defense barrier required by all pillars.”, Tsubasa-sensei finished, crossing her arms.

“Defense barrier”, Marth was even more curious now. “Does that mean it protects you from other kind of Esper attacks?”

Tsubasa-sensei closed her eyes with her arms still crossed in front of her. She looked like she was done talking.

“Marth, that’s all for today. Thanks for your hard work. I’ll escort you back to your quarters, now.”

Marth’s expression went from impressed to upset. “What a bummer!”, he said. He liked Tsubasa-sensei more when she was relaxed, but now all he could think of was holding back his desire to call Tsubasa a tight-ass.

Marth and Tsubasa returned their dishes to the kitchen and began their walk to the dormitory. Marth wondered why he was being escorted to his room tonight. He wondered if news gotten out about his mishap with Sato Hanna the night before. He was too embarrased to ask about that, so he broke the silence with something else on his mind.

“Tsubasa-sensei, have you ever explored your Astral Realm while under the influence of Admiriate?”, Marth felt like a child asking if his big sister had ever gotten drunk.

“Yes, Marth.”, Tsubasa-sensei kept her response short. Marth was surprised she answered at all. The lit stairway to the dormitory was just ahead and Marth wanted to know if what he had seen in his own Astral Realm was an oddity after all.

“Did you ever see anything strange there?”

Tsubasa-sensei kept her head forward, but turned her eyes to look at Marth. Her eyebrows lowered.

“What kind of strange things do you mean?”

Marth wondered if Tsubasa-sensei was getting the wrong idea. She had been blushing all evening at even the slightest potential of sexual innuendo. Just how dirty was her mind?

“I mean, Uhm, like, hidden caves and fancy household appliances”, Marth made sure that his description was free of naughty implication as the two arrived at the steps.

Tsubasa-sensei picked up her pace, pulling up her long hakama as she bounded up the stairs leaving Marth behind.

“Hey!”, Marth cried out, surprised at her actions once again. He matched her pace, skipping every other step of the stairs on his way up.

Tsubasa-sensei thrust open the outer door, walking quickly through. The door on it’s pneumatic hinge started to swing, and Marth several steps behind Tsubasa just barely caught the door before it closed.

“Wait up!”, Marth called out to Tsubasa who was power walking her way through the dormitory halls. She focused forward, not looking back or responding.

“What the hell is up with her tonight?”, Marth wondered as he transitioned to a jog to keep up. Tsubasa-sensei got to Marth’s door first, opening it for him as she stood in the hallway.

“Did I say something weired?”, Marth asked as he stepped up to her, slowing his jog. He stopped before entering the door, facing Tsubasa.

Tsubasa-sensei didn’t reply, instead she grabbed the back of Marth’s shirt, pushing him through the open doorway.

“Hey!”, Marth was surprised at Tsubasa’s strength. She was tall, strong, but she really must be packing some guns beneath the long sleeves of her battle attire.

Marth got his footing as he decelerated from Tsubasa’s throw. He turned back to her, upset.

“What gives, you old hag? You’ve been acting strange all night.”, Marth had had enough and let the insult slip.

Tsubasa-sensei’s expression didn’t change. Marth expected her to leave him without an explanation, but she did the opposite, walking through the doorway and closing the door behind her. She turned to the door, locking it. Marth was speechless until Tsubasa-sensei walked straight towards Marth. Marth felt a punch coming and he reeled back, throwing up his arms in defense.

Tsubasa kept walking, pressing her metallic chestplate into Marth’s outward arms. Tsubasa kept walking as Marth’s demeaner switched from defensive to utterly dumbfounded. Tsubasa kept walking, as Marth stepped backwards until he was pinned against the back wall of his room. Marth let out a sound as the wind was knocked from him. Tsubasa stopped and her strong hands pressed against Marth’s shoulders. Marth’s arms were still stretched out, and now they were hovering on either side of Tsubasa’s. Marth couldn’t look her in the eyes, and stared down at the metal chestplate between their two bodies. Marth thought this might be hot if not for her metal armor, but quickly snapped back to reality.

“What are you doing, sensei?!”

“Look at me”, Tsubasa said to Marth who was still looking down. Still confused and a little pissed off, Marth decided to look up.

Tsubasa’s face had lost it’s regular stern look. She had relaxed again, and her blushing was back as well. Marth still wasn’t sure what had gotten into her, and his hands continued to hover beside her armored torso.

Tsubasa stared into Marth’s eyes, and she looked concerned. “Marth, I’m only eight years older than you.” She said, trying her hardest to hold back emotion. Marth seemed to have hit a nerve.

“I… I’m sorry.” Although this situation still wasn’t making sense, Marth tried to patch things up. His face was so close to Tsubasa’s, it was like they were about to…

“Marth”, Tsubasa said, as her face became flushed. She moved in close, and whispered in his ear.

“Hold me?”

Some sort of flag went up in Marth’s head. Steam seemed to escape from his nose and ears as Marth’s face matched Tsubasa’s. Dinner, and some quality one on one time with a mature woman in his dorm. “BINGO!”, Marth yelped as he finally granted permission to his hovering arms to go in for a feel. His fingers writhed for a moment and he let out an awkward chuckle. He wrapped his arms all the way around Tsubasa, reaching until his hands made it back around to her front.

Ping, a sound was heard as Marth’s hands touched nothing but metal.

“Tsubasa, you’re wearing metal armor…”, Marth said as her clothing got in the way.

Tsubasa’s expression changed again, her eyes looking down at Marth in an evil way. She looked at the ceiling with an mischievous grin to match, before rocking her head forward to deal a concussive headbutt to Marth’s forehead, sending him into darkness.

Marth awoke, laying on his bed of burlap potato sacks. Tsubasa-sensei was still in the room, leaning against the wall near the door. She wore a smirk on her face, and floating above her hand was a rotating micro compact disk.

“What did you see in your Astral Realm when you were at the mine?”, Tsubasa-sensei demanded.

“Why did you hit me? Ow!”, Marth held his head, aching from the headbutt he had received. “How long was I out?”, he asked as he sat up in bed.

Tsubasa-sensei looked troubled, standing up straight, gripping her fist as the micro compact disk faded into another realm.

“I don’t think you understand the situation. You’re my prisoner, and I’m interrogating you. I’m the one asking questions now.”, Tsubasa set the ground rules.

“Sensei, I don’t understand, you were just hugging me!”, Marth was reaching his maximum mindfuckery.

“An act, so you would let your guard down. It’s easier to inject you with my Astral Projection when you’re at ease.”

Marth felt like he had just been taken advantage of. Violated by a teacher.

“You’re a teacher at this school! Surely you just broke some kind of social contract between student and teacher?”

Tsubasa-sensei looked excited as Marth made his case, her eyes lit up. “Oh yes, and you went along with it, even enjoyed it!”, She laughed mischeviously. “But aren’t you forgetting?”, Tsubasa sensei paused with a smile. “You aren’t a student here.”

Marth knew she was right, and damn, was she spot on. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get pushed around and teased by a smoking hot teacher, chest armor or not.

“So what did you do inside my head?”, Marth got to the point.

“I needed to see what you had stashed away in there. Now I know everything. From your cheating on the test to the double clock in your so-called hidden cave.”, Tsubasa-sensei talked large. “I know everything, but I want to hear it from you. Why did you use Nemesis of Time during the entrance exam?”

Marth didn’t know what to say. Did Tsubasa-sensei just pick up where Aldo-sensei had left off? Was Marth’s execution about to be rescheduled? Tsubasa-sensei seemed to be much brighter than Aldo, saner too, so maybe things would work out if he just told the truth.

“Tsubasa-sensei, I…”

Tsubasa-sensei began to laugh. Nothing like Aldo’s hysterical laughs, but more like a friend laughing at their buddy who just spilled juice on themselves.

“Tsubasa-sensei?”, Marth was speechless again.

“You should have seen the look on your face!”, Tsubasa-sensei continued laughing, slapping her leg and pointing at Marth. “Priceless! I should have brought a camera!”

“Tsubasa-sensei?”, Marth asked again, and started to wonder if Tsubasa wasn’t sane after all.

Tsubasa-sensei calmed herself down. “You are just adorable! Don’t worry little buddy, I saw everything, you’re in the clear!”

Marth was so over it. This teacher’s insane just like the rest of them.

“You old hag! Where the hell do you get off? Seducing me, knocking me out, working me up like that, what the hell is wrong with you?!”

Tsubasa-sensei laughed more, and some moments passed before the two settled down. Tsubasa-sensei crossed her arms and spoke.

“The hidden cave you mentioned. You didn’t put that there, someone else did.”, Tsubasa-sensei explained, as Marth’s interest piqued. “Inside the cave were the blueprints for Nemesis of Time, manifested as a two-faced golden desktop clock.”

Suddenly things were starting to make sense to Marth. “Aldo-sensei could have put it there, when he Astral Projected my conscious into his own!”

Tsubasa-sensei closed her eyes and shook her head. “No, it wasn’t Aldo-sensei. Aldo-sensei may be a maniac, but he’s not the type to scheme. He was being honest about your use of Nemesis of Time. You really did use it.”

“I did not! I used Hyper Dragon Ey… I mean I used Remote View.”, Marth had to get defensive again.

“Yes, you did use Remote View to cheat on the exam, but at the same time, you unknowingly cast Nemesis of Time as a proxy for someone else.”, Tsubasa-sensei kept her arms crossed, opening her eyes and looking at Marth.

“That’s impossible!”, Marth was shocked at what he’d just heard.

“Impossible?”, Tsubasa-sensei raised her eyebrows.

Marth thought a moment, remembering everything he had seen during the past few days. Injecting another consciousness into one’s own. A body-less person. Planes of existences within a plane of existence. Girls who payed attention to him. As an Esper, the concept of impossible was obsolete.

“I suppose this is possible.”, Marth conceded.

Tsubasa-sensei smiled.

“Now that we’re on the same page, we can move on to the next order of business.” Tsubasa-sensei unfolded her arms and walked over to Marth.

“Are you going to kill me?”, Marth leaned back, not knowing what she was about to do.

“No, dummy. If I wanted you dead, I would have let Aldo do the job.”, She said as she walked over to Marth, grasping both his hands with her own and bringing them near her heart. Marth leaned back further so she wouldn’t get too close this time. “I need to teach you a thing or two about safe hex!”

Marth pulled his hands away from Tsubasa-sensei’s, reeling back. “As if, you old hag! Like I’d want to take advice like that from you!”, Marth had had enough with this woman’s teasing and he turned away.

Tsubasa-sensei chuckled some more.

“If I’m to get to the bottom of this mystery, I need your full cooperation. Otherwise I might just let Aldo kill you!”, She said as she raised her arms in the air, closing her eyes with a smile.

“I might just go ask Aldo to kill me so I can be free of you!”, Marth saw through her bluff, assuming more teasing.

“Oh my!” Tsubasa-sensei was having a blast as she laughed before resuming her serious conversation. “I have a theory. Whoever used you as a proxy for Nemesis of Time is likely doing so to hide their presence from the Academy.”

“So that’s why you haven’t killed me yet.”, Marth was starting to figure her out.

“It’s just a theory, don’t press your luck!”, Tsubasa snapped back with a grin. “They’ve stashed the instructions for Nemesis of Time in your subconsciousness, which mean’s they’ll probably return to make use of you again. I want to watch you, and catch them when they try.”

“So I’m your bait? I’m already your slave. Give me a break.”, Marth exhaled with a sigh.

“That’s right! Be a good slave for me and bait out the evil Esper!”, Tsubasa-sensei proposed her plan, lifting her arms like a preacher spreading gospel.

Marth sat in silence as he considered his options, wondering if he even had any.

“What if I say no?”

“I might have to buy a whip! I can’t have you wandering the campus unsupervised, knowing you may project Nemesis of Time at any moment.” Tsubasa-sensei got excited about the thought. “Ooo, what colour whip? Black or white?” Tsubasa-sensei was revealing her true colors.

Marth now understood the situation; he had no choice. Biting the bullet, Marth got back on Tsubasa’s track.

“Why do I need to learn about safe hex? I’m not a mage”, Marth wondered aloud.

“Oooh!” Tsubasa-sensei showed her excitement as she clapped her hands.

“Remember my X-cancelling Astralphones? We need to make one for you, so no more dirty Espers bore holes in your Ass-tral Realm!” Tsubasa-sensei was overjoyed as she spoke the line, laughing at the top of her lungs.

Marth sat expressionless as he wished he could just die. This teacher might just be more of a hopeless deviant than he.

Morning came, and Marth felt refreshed. The night before, Tsubasa-sensei had assisted Marth in creating X-cancelling Astralphones which would prevent further injections into Marth’s consciousness.

“Pillar-grade defense barriers. Hell yeah.” The thought of the teachers at this school no longer being able to get inside Marth’s head made him feel good.

“It’s too bad we had to create an exception in the X-cancelling protocol.”

Indeed, Tsubasa-sensei saw it necessary that the original Esper who used Marth as a proxy for Nemesis of Time still be able to access Marth’s Astral Realm. Without Admirite, Marth would have no way of detecting the Esper’s intrusion, so that job was left to Tsubasa-sensei.Marth sat on his potato sack bed as the morning light shone through the base of the supply closet door. Marth looked at the door, expecting Tsubasa to come knocking at any moment. Minutes passed in silence, and Marth began to wonder.

“Where is she? Tsubasa-sensei is usually punctual.”, Marth quickly ate his words as he remembered how her suppressed personality didn’t match her rigid appearance. More minutes passed and Marth quit wondering if something had happened, and settled on the theory that she was just messing with him.

“Well, it can’t be helped”, Marth said as he stretched his arms. “I’m not about to sit in a potato sack bed all day.”

Marth got dressed in his work uniform and left his room. As he closed the door to the supply closet, the golden stained glass windows across the hall let in a beautiful shimmering light.

“The past few days, Tsubasa-sensei stands there, blocking the light and barking orders for the day. It’s nice to have a chance to enjoy the view.”

Marth looked down the hall, looking for students exiting their rooms, but saw none. It seemed a little strange that he was alone in the dorm hallway in the morning.

“The schedule!”, Marth figured students must be off to classes already. “Did I sleep in that long?”, Marth thought yesterday’s work may have taken more of a toll on his body than he had thought.

Marth ran to the end of the hallway and down the stairs, reaching the foyer of the dormitory. Marth found a large clock on the wall.

“9:59AM!”, Marth was shocked to see he had slept in so late. It didn’t help that his room had no windows to let light in, and no alarm other than Tsubasa’s fist on the door. Thinking of the teacher, Marth was just realizing the worst part.

“I missed breakfast!”, Marth cried to the heavens, arms tensing up. Breakfast here was the best, with perfectly ripened fruits, expertly crafted muesli, and a variety of freshly baked breads. The thought of such a feast on an empty stomach made him keel over in agony.

The large clock struck 10, ushering in a new hour as it’s gentle Westminster chime echoed throughout the room. Warm sun rays beamed down through the front windows, casting shadows on the maroon colored carpet and illuminating the stylish granite walls. It was Monday, the first day of a new quarter. “That explains Tsubasa-sensei’s absense. Surely an initiation ceremony is just wrapping up, and home room will be starting soon.” Marth fantasized about participating in the ceremony, or being assigned a home room. Just wearing the uniform would be enough to put a smile on his face, but instead, he stood alone in the dormitory’s entrance hall wearing a worker’s uniform.

“The uniform?”, Marth looked down at his attire, navy blue with sky blue vertical stripes on the chest. This wasn’t cool at all, unless one’s idea of cool was a utilitarian superlative of stain resistance and deep pockets. “The first day of academy, and I’m wearing this.”, Marth was becoming a downer to himself. All the years he had spent dreaming of coming here to train and become a great Esper, were quickly crumbling into a forced career of lackluster manual labor. He didn’t feel like an Esper at all, he felt like a tool.

“This isn’t my dream.” Marth gritted his teeth, refusing to accept the reality before him. “Did Tsubasa-sensei expect me to just show up in the kitchen to work? I’m a prisoner, not a employee!” Marth saw a golden opportunity before him.

“Tsubasa-sensei’s too busy to put me to work, that’s not my problem!” I can’t become a Esper if I’m spending all my time doing someone else’s dirty work!

Marth closed his eyes, seeing himself in his Astral realm. “Get rid of that stupid uniform!”, Marth yelled, tearing away the work uniform from his astral body, disintegrating it within his mind. Standing with only trunks and socks, Marth saw a perfect canvas to work with. Drawing from his memories of student attire, Marth reached for the concept and drew in the image of the academy’s standard attire.

White trousers, white long sleeve shirt with a yellow tie. A matching crisp white outer jacket with a large emblem on the back, blue stripes down the sleeves, blue accents near the chest pockets, and white gloves. Marth’s astral representation of himself spun as the individual pieces of the suit were summoned and applied to his body. He stood there with a smirk, inspecting his new clothing created with Atomic Relegation, the same projection used to craft a giant pickaxe the day before.

Atomic Relegation does not summon something from nothing, as that would violate the natural laws of thermodynamics. Rather, Atomic Relegation requires raw materials from somewhere. The ground nearby, the projector’s body, a different Astral plane, all are valid places for raw materials. In the mine, plenty of iron was in rocks in the ground. Wood for the handle was easily created by rearranging carbon and oxygen molecules from the earth and air.

Opening his eyes, Marth brought the Astral creation into reality, he stood there wearing the school’s student uniform. His work uniform served as the raw resources, and it’s makeup was completely re-arranged to suit suit.

Now Marth was armed with the proper attire, next he had to sneak into a classroom. “I did a week of work in a day, so I deserve it anyway”. He rationalized. Although he was a prisoner, he was present on the campus of his desires. Although he was a rejected student, he was a student none the less.

“Aint nobody gunna stop me from attending classes.”, Marth contested his situation as he walked through the front door of the dormitory. Students were seen in the distance exiting the auditorium. Armed with his clever disguise, Marth jogged to catch up and blend in with the crowd.

Dozens of smiling students walked to different parts of campus to attend their home room class. New faces were all around and a congenial chatter was present. Marth tailed a group headed to the west most building on campus, the Incorporeal Science building. It was on the highest grounds of the school and had a modern look. Steel framed, with an exterior accented with dark stone. Splitting into several smaller groups, Marth followed the largest looking crowd into a laboratory classroom, taking a seat near the back.

Marth’s seat was next to a window, and from there he could see beyond the school grounds. From the building’s height, a gentle green slope descended to a narrow river, and past that, a forest. Beyond the forest was Marth’s home city, barely visible past the dense woods. It was there that Marth would look up at St. Ezreal’s, and dream about the heroes who were cultured there. Marth was off in fantasy land and he barely noticed a girl sit at the chair next to him.

“I don’t believe this. This man is in our same class? It is as if the school administration wants to bring me down!”. The loud complaint was heard from the familiar voice. Marth cringed as he turned from the window to look at Tanaka Aoi. She sat there, turned in her seat, hunching over and glaring at Marth. Her long brown hair was pinned at both sides, showing her forehead, and she was wearing the School’s white uniform for the first time. The girl’s uniforms were way cute. White tulip skirts that accentuated their hips, along with a sky blue blouse, yellow bow tie, and a white button up jacket.

“That uniform really suits you, Tanaka! It shows off your figure way better than your old school uniform.”, Marth jested, throwing Aoi into a fit.

“Right off the bat? This man has no shame!”, Aoi’s face turned red and she stood up to join the platinum blonde Shizuma Miyu. Miyu’s eyes looked curiously down at Marth.

“What luck that the three of us end up in the same home room!”, Shizuma Miyu spoke.

Marth chuckled a bit, “Yeah what a coincidence!”

The two girls walked to the middle of the classroom, taking a seat together at a vacant table.

Some time passed and a teacher walked into the room. Luckily, it was one that hadn’t met Marth yet. The teacher began role call, and Marth started sweating. If he couldn’t pose as a student, he may not have another chance to attend classes. One after another, the student’s names were called.

“Kato, Amane?”


“Kobayashi, Inoue?”


Marth hoped for some miracle, that his facade wouldn’t be blown away in the first day.

“Matsumoto, Shuu?”

Silence swept the room, and the teacher asked again.

“Matsumoto, Shuu? Are you here?”

“HERE!”, Marth yelped, taking the chance, hoping that no other students were an acquaintance to the real Shuu.

His loud announcement drew the looks of his peers, especially from Aoi and Miyu.

“Shit! They know my real name!”, Marth cursed under his breath.

The rest of the class reported their presence, and the teacher introduced themselves to the class. Afterwards, the teacher gave the time to the students to mingle and offer their own introductions to each other.

Tanaka Aoi came over to Marth right away.

“Hey, Shuu, how’s it going, buddy?”, She began, playing along. Shizuma Miyu tailed along, standing at Aoi’s shoulder as she played Ms. nice gal.

Shizuma joined the conversation, although a little slowly. “Does Watanabe Marth have four parents?”

Marth looked up at Tanaka Aoi’s grinning face. She held that expression for a moment longer before switching to the loud and obnoxious Tanaka Aoi he knew.

“Matsumoto, Shuu???! I knew something was off with you! It’s not enough to be a pervert stalker, you also have to be a scheming liar! And after you acted all cool in the cafeteria the other day. You really are the worst!”, Tanaka said, throwing another fit.

“Aoi, they’re looking!”, Shizuma said as she tugged on Aoi’s sleeve. The other students were staring as Tanaka caused a commotion.

Tanaka Aoi quickly composed herself, joining her hands together near her waist. “It’s very nice to meet you, Matsumoto Shuu!”, she said with a happy expression. It was like she was a different person, but Marth could see she was just trying to keep up appearances.

“Tell me, Watanabe, I mean Matsumoto, what subjects will you be studying this quarter?”, She asked joyfully, pausing with a smile to let Marth reply.
“She must be onto me”, Marth thought to himself. “Oh, this and that”, he said aloud, dodging the question.

“This and that? What kind of answer is that?”, Aoi grinced her teeth and clenched a fist. It looked like she was going to throw another fit, but she stopped herself after looking from left to right, not wanting to make a scene. Tanaka collected herself and decided to ask a different question.

“I wonder what it’s like to work in the kitchen! Do the workers get free meals?”, Tanaka asked the question looking at the ceiling, with one arm across her abdomen, her other hand grasping her chin.

“Free food? That would be so nice!” Shizuma Miyu’s eyes lit up at the thought. Her hands joined together below her chin as she chuckled, lost in a daydream surrounded by brightly coloured pastries.

“Yeah! That would be the best!” Marth laughed uncomfortably, trying to dodge Aoi’s question once more. Marth’s mouth started to water as he thought of filling his empty stomache from the cafeteria’s awesome selection.

Aoi tried to hide her irritance, but decided to back off for the moment.

“Well, aren’t you going to ask your new classmate about herself?”, she asked with her hands on her hips.

Marth was delighted at the chance to have a proper talk for once. Free from bickering, Esper fights, or deception. Well, this one could be deception free as long as Marth quickly changed the subject.

“What uh, do you do outside of school?” Marth asked the first thing he though of.

Aoi moved her hands from her hips, and she started to look a little insecure.

“I um, I like to collect…”, She stopped herself. “Nevermind, it’s not important.”, she said bashfully. Just then, Shizuma stepped in.

“Aoi collects cute little stuffed aaaanimaaaals!”, she joyfully held out her syllables, holding a small stuffed puppy above her head.

“Miyu!”, Aoi loudly replied, embarassed as ever. She reached for the puppy and the two both held on, struggling for posession. Tanaka tried to pull it away. “Where did you get this?!”, she demanded.

“It was in your baaaag!”, Miyu reponded, refusing to let go.

The two tugged and pushed and contended for the stuffed toy, with Tanaka eventually winning control and hiding the faux creature in her bag. It was too late though, and a laughter broke out as much of the class had seen the event.

“Is she serious? Makeup is more important than toys”, a pretentions twat spoke her view.

“Stuffed animals are for little girls!”, an opinionated deuchebag chimed in.

“Well, so much for a peaceful dialogue.”, Marth said with a drooped head.

Marth abruptly stood from his chair, still looking at the floor. He spoke up and adressed the room.

“I have been known for having some low-brow entertainments, but that doesn’t stop me. If a stuffed animal is enough for you imbeciles to scoff at, allow me to introduce you to my hobbies.”

The classroom stopped laughing, shifting their attention to this weired boii standing in the back near the window who was burning with a black aura.

“True love has no bounds when it comes to life’s simple pleasures. My eternal delights are from Ecchi body pillows!”, Marth confidently hollered, planting his foot on his chair. In his hand, stretched towards the ceiling, he held an open heart shaped locket which was around his neck. It contained a glossy picture of he and his waifu, 2D anime idol Tahou Mitsubashi. Portrayed, Marth’s right arm wrapped around the high dots-per-inch printed girl, with his other arm obviously holding the camera for a selfie with his puffy spouse. The class looked on in silent disbelief.

Moments passed before the lot burst into a collective uproar.

“He’s a pervert!”

“He’s actually proud of that? What a freak!”

“Did he really take a selfie with his pillow?”

The classroom went on, questioning the behaviour of their peer. A student in an adjacent desk gathered their belongings and relocated to an empty seat further away.

Tanaka Aoi was no longer focused on being her embarrasement. Instead, she looked at Marth, showing a look of concern and bewinderment.

“I’m going to go back to my table, now”, Tanaka said as she walked away from Marth. It was only Shizuma who seemed to grasp what Marth had really just done. She smiled largely at Marth, throwing a peace sign as her head tipped to the right. She followed after Tanaka.

The sensei stood up from their desk. “All right, that’s enough for introductions. Please take a seat. I have some announcements from the administration.”

The laughter and ridicule for Marth died down as the students took their seats. Marth held the locket in his hand as he sat, briefly closing his eyes before opening them to an empty hand.

Homeroom ended and Marth funneled through the door with the rest of the students. The session had been more eventful than he had hoped, and now he was sure that half the class would never talk to him again.

“Stay away from the pillow pervert!”, A couple girls stared back at Marth as they escaped into the hallway.

Marth slowed his pace as he passed through the doorway into the hall.

“Where do I go now?” Marth wondered, his scheme to sneak into class hadn’t been planned past homeroom.

Marth stood in the hallway next to the wall, watching as masses of well dressed students shuffled through the corridors, bags in hand.

“I can’t use the same trick twice.”, Marth thought about how he had used Shuu’s name. “If I pose as an absent student again, I’ll have to assume a new name. The chances that I get outed by a student with a common class go up exponentially every period!”

All the scheming made Marth feel drained. His stomached growled.

“Tea time?”, Shizuma Miyu appeared frmo the crowd, inviting Marth. Unbeknownst to Marth, there was a twenty minute break before the next class.

The two left the Incorporeal Science building as Marth held the door open for Shizuma. She politely bowed and the two walked south towards the cafeteria. The sun was brightly shining down, casting short shadows from lamposts and students as they walked to their next appointments. The healthy green grass along either sides of the concrete walkways was cut short with care, edges trimmed neatly.

“Um, Mr…?”, Shizuma wasn’t sure which name to use in her address.

“It’s Marth.”, He set her straight, knowing she’d find ou when the real Matsumoto Shuu turned up for class tomorrow. Shizuma looked happy to know his real name.

“Marth-San, come this way!”, She cheerfully spoke before turning and running in another direction.

“Oi!”, Marth called out, “The cafeteria is that way!”, Marth pointed to the shortest path which ran along the fountains in the yard. “A scenic route?”

Marth followed Shizuma along a walkway that ran between another building and the west edge of campus. A small recessed parking lot for maintenance vehicles was tucked into the building’s exterior, and across from it was a rolling lawn with a large maple tree. Shizuma ran into the grassed area and up to a pillar at the brink of the school.

“St. Ezreal’s Pilaaar!”, Shizuma joyfully raised her arms in the air, her book bag dangling from her left hand. Reaching towards the pillar, she ran up and wrapped her arms around it’s stone face.

Marth slowed his jog to a walk once he saw what Shizuma was up to. The pillar was important enough to her to hug.

“I used to dream about coming here.”, Marth spoke, as Shizuma rubbed her cheek against the marble structure, grinning from ear to ear.

“Me too!”, Shizuma said with a smile, still hugging the stone, her face resting against it.

“When I was young, my village was disorderly. My mother and I lived alone, I never knew my father. Every few months, bandits would come to our village, stealing whatever they wanted, and abusing the vulnerable. One night, bandits came to our home. My mother did her best to protect me, but was overpowered by the bandits. They might have got away with terrible things if an Esper hadn’t shown up then.” Shizuma spoke calmly as she looked up at the pillar with her arms wrapped around.

“That righteous Esper saved us. He was from this academy’s defense force.”, Shizuma rest her had aginst the pillar once more, pausing for a moment while she smiled. Finally she stepped away from the pillar to face Marth, clutching her hands against her chest.

“That’s when I decided I would become an Esper too, so I could save those who are in need.” Shizuma said it with a glow in her big green eyes. Marth looked at Shizum, able to relate her cause.

“Let’s become great Espers, and make the world a better place!”, Marth said, invigorated.

“Yes!”, Shizuma said, smiling.

The two made their way to the cafeteria’s western entrance. The campus’s main parking lot was there, next to the bus stop which Marth had arrived at for the entrance exam several days before. A bus was pulling up to the stop.

“I could catch that bus and get out of here.”, Marth thought to himself. The bus came to a stop, and two students exited through the rear doors.

“There’s nothing stopping me. All I have to do is show my high school ID and I get a free ride home.”, Marth continued his thought. He was a prisoner after all.

“Marth, we only have a few more minutes. Let’s hurry!”, Shizuma warned Marth as he stood and thought. She was holding the door open like he had done at the last portal. Marth politely nodded and the two entered the cafeteria as the bus drove off.

The air conditioned cafeteria created a refreshing feeling. The two enjoyed green tea and snacks from the drink bar as they sit under the elegant brick vaulted ceilings. Marth gobbled mini muffins as fast as he could, in order to sustain himself until lunch. Shizuma laughed and sipped tea.

—“What class do you have next?” Shizuma asked Marth.

Marth paused, with muffins half chewed in his mouth. He hadn’t thought that far ahead, as he was appreciating the moment of eating yummy snacks with Miyu. Marth quickly chewed his food and swallowed.

“P.E.!”, Marth impromptly came up with the answer.

“Ohh, cool!”, Shizuma was impressed. “Which course are you taking? Mixed martial arts? Krav Magaw?”

Marth wasn’t the sporty type, and taking either of those subjects were out of his comfort zone. Regardless, the emerald eyed Shizuma Miyu was right there, and he didn’t want to look lame in front of her.

“MMA!”, he went with the subject that seemed the most difficult.

“I have applied Astral Physics!”, Shizuma replied with a smile. She looked up at the clock, and started to rush. “I have to get going, I want to get a good seat in the lecture hall.”

“Ok, see you later!”, Marth acknowledged.

“Bye for now!”, Miyu ran off, waving back at Marth.

“I better get going too.” Marth took one last sip of his drink, pushed in his chair, and briskly walked through the cafeteria towards the east exit. As he passed by the kitchen, he strategically scratched his head to mask his face from the Kitchen staff.

As Marth exited the building, the sight of students was sparce. Any left in the vicinity were running to make it in time to their next class.

“Shit, I lollygagged too long”. Marth picked up the pace, jogging between the Administration and the yard. The splashing water in the fountains was evident, it’s sight intermittently visible as Marth ran and tall hedges partitioned the view. As usual, activity around the administration was unsubstantial.

Marth arrived at the walled-in range where he figured P.E. would take place. Marth passed through the arched entrance, The walls were made out of a thick light, tan coloured stone. Through the doorless entrance, another wall lie in his path, forcing a left or right turn. The sky was visible above, as well as the two story dorm building to the north.

“This must be to block any projectiles from escaping through the door.” Marth shuddered at the thought of an incompetent trainee endangering others with a misfired projection.

Marth turned to the right, walking parallel to the second wall. He came to it’s end, turning left. The full range came into view.

Covering the ground was a thin layer of sand above packed in dirt. Within the rectangular barrier formed by the walls, several human torso shaped steel targets were attached to spring loaded mechanisms planted in the earth. A line was drawn in the sand, fifty meters in front of the dummy targets. A few emtpy wooden tables were placed on either side of the line.

No other persons were present; Marth was alone with the range.

“No class here? Dammit!”, Marth cursed, striking the interior wall with his fist.

A clock in the yard chimed, signalling the top of the hour and the start of class.

Marth sighed with his fist still against the stone wall.

“This sucks.”

Looking down at the ground, he shuffled his foot, pushing it through the thin layer of sand and into the dirt.

“This is St. Ezreal’s practice range.”, Marth lifted his fist from the wall and chuckled. “this is a day of firsts!”

Marth stepped forward, stopping at the firing line. He pushed his palm in front of him and imagined firing a volley of hot lead from a summoning circle.

“Ratta-tat-tat-tat!” Marth made the noise with his mouth, then stopped to chuckle. With his palm still stretched out, Marth continued to look down his arm, turning his body to face the left wall. He rose his arm, pointing it above the wall at the second floor of the dormitory.

“Hey, my room is up there!” Marth drew his hand back to his side, wincing his face at the thought of a novice misfiring a projection into his quarters.

“I guess first year noobies can’t be trusted in the range, until they’ve studied up on safety!” Marth shrugged as he raised his hands next to his face.

Marth thought the first day of school would be too soon for new students to use the range. Instead, they must be in classes somewhere else on campus.

“Where would that be?”, Student or not, Marth didn’t want to fall behind.

“In times like these, the dragon knows best.” Marth turned to face the center of campus, eyes piercing through the rock wall in between as he imagined the yard and it’s fountains. He took his fighting stance, firmly planting his right leg in the sand. A plume of dust formed beneath him as sand and dirt were slung into the air. His left leg stretched forward, dragging in the sand and producing more particles. He crouched with most of his weight on his right leg, with his left foot pointed out towards the campus. He rose one fist near his face, and the other pushed out again towards the yard.

“The town may be occupied by villagers, but the dragon controls the earth.” Marth spoke with a firey passion. “No petty secret is safe from the Dragon’s gaze.” Marth closed his eyes, diving into his Astral realm.

Marth saw himself standing in a vast expanse of sand surrounded by four walls. Wearing Hakamashita, Tabi, and Hakima, traditional Japanese martial arts atire, Marth held his stance amidst dust devils of pure energy kicking up large volumes of sand. The view before him was that of St. Ezreal’s campus, although it was augmented by Marth’s imagination and the prestige he felt for the space.

The campus was completely black, with wavy blue threads outlining every feature. The walls were black with blue lines. The hedges were black with blue lines. Lifeless and still, this image of the school which Marth had in his mind since childhood, was imperfect and Marth quickly brought in the proportions to match that of what he had seen so far. The range wasn’t that big. The Incorporeal Science building was new. The cafeteria had a couple sections.

Marth scaled his mental model of the school, creating a perfect match, then from distant astral mountains, Marth summoned an ancient dragon to scope out the location of the Martial Arts class. The dragon wisped in, slithering vigorously through the air.

“HYPER-DRAGON-E…”, Marth was interrupted by a figure emerging from a large blue portal two meters in front of him. With Marth’s eyes still closed, the palm of the figure’s hand met Marth’s forehead, knocking him backwards. His arms and left leg flew up in the air as he pivoted on his crouched right leg. There was no time to react as Marth’s body met the sand with a loud thud, the air escaping from his lungs, the mana for HYPER-DRAGON-EYE absconding.

With his back against the ground, Marth opened his eyes. His projection had already fizzled away into nothingness as he reached up to hold the back of his bumped head.

“Oww!”, Marth rubbed the back of his head as he sat up to see who had just pushed him. Marth had to turn to see the silver haired slender man standing there, staring at the steel targets.

“Aldo-sensei.”, the shaken Marth said, still holding his head. Without turning to face Marth, Aldo spoke.

“Tell me, boy. Do you have a death wish?”

Aldo pointed his hand towards the steel target, fingers spread apart. A blue summoning circle the size of a bus appeared in front of his hand, before spinning rapidly and letting out a stream of energy. Blue and white energy ripped through the air, creating a sound like a string of firecrackers. The energy hit the steel target, exploding into dozens of blue fireballs on impact and sending a burst of air in all directions.

Sand blew from the epicenter, blowing Aldo’s clothes and forcing Marth to squint. The dust settled down, revealing the scorched earth and streaks of newly expanded glass. All that was left of the target was a molten stub of iron which would have joined the target to it’s hinging mechanism.

“Tsubasa-sama ordered me not to kill you, but you’re testing my patience.” Aldo turned to face Marth for the first time. “She said nothing about kicking you around, though.”

Marth stood up and sighed. His day of freedom had been cut short.

“I should have known I couldn’t use Remote View. Tsubasa-sensei said she’d be monitoring my Astral activity.”

“I as well. Tsubasa-sensei may be the higher rank, but I know trouble when I see it. If she had the school’s best intentions in mind, she’d gladly let me finish you off.”

“Aldo-sensei, you’re like a broken record with that line! You should already know that I’m innocent. I was framed!” Marth defended himself.

“Oh I’m well aware of Tsubasa-sensei’s report, and I disagree. You should be killed anyway. You’re are an accident waiting to happen.” Aldo’s distaste for Marth was clearly visible.

“If you killed me, we’d never find out who was behind this. I want to know just as bad as anyone about who was in my head. My goal of becoming an Esper is on hold because of this whole fiasco!” Marth rose his arms in contempt.

“Pfft, you’re more trouble than you’re worth.” Aldo-sensei said with arms crossed.

“Is that because I beat you last time?” Marth said with a smile. Aldo glared at Marth.

“Tsubasa may have ordered me not to kill you, but she didn’t say anything about kicking your ass!” Aldo’s glare intensified as he took a step forward, his flared pants and loosely buttoned white shirt flapping in a gust of wind. With his open left hand, he covered half his face, and with spread fingers, stretched out his right towards Marth.

“Bring it on!” Marth egged Aldo on. “I missed the martial arts class anyway. I think I could learn a lot from destroying you again!” Marth was feeling confident. He resumed his fighting stance, with one fist pointed at Aldo.

“Oh, you want to get schooled? I’m happy to oblige!” Aldo took another step forward. “First lesson. Know your enemy!” With that, took another step forward, and disappeared before Marth’s eyes.

Marth held his fighting stance and shifted his gaze from left to right, top to bottom. Aldo had just vanished from before him, and Marth expected Aldo’s next move was to attack from Marth’s blind spot.

Marth kept scanning the viscinity, quickly turning his head like a bird looking for prey. Several moments passed, and the feeling of an immediate threat started to wear off.

“I’m waiting!”, Marth called out in the silence. “I thought you were going to school me!”

Marth stood there with one fist streched out, and the other defensively held near his face. A minute passed before Marth lost his patience.

“What gives, sensei?” I thought we were going to have a bout. Marth relaxed his posture, standing up straight. He scratched his head, wondering why Aldo had talked such a big talk then just off and disappeared.

“Disappeared?” Marth remembered seeing Tsubasa-sensei achieve the same effect. “She wasn’t disappearing, she was Planar Shifting!

The silence expired with a concussive air burst and a loud Z-Z-Zap sound. Aldo sensei emerged into view, mere inches from Marth. Instead of an attack as Marth hypothesized, Aldo was being flung backwards away from Marth, as if he had just taken a strike to the forehead.

“AhhhhG!”, Aldo cried out as he was tossed through the air like a ragdoll. The Zap sound reverberated against the stone walls as his head was tilted backwards and his clothes shred from the birsting air pressure. His hair blew in all directions as his ragged body tumbled head over heels. His head and right shoulder hit the ground first, arching his back. The crashing thud of his arms and legs followed as he roughly bounced and slid on the sandy ground before drifting to a stop.

Aldo lay face up with his arms and legs spread randomly in all directions. With badly torn clothes exposing even more of his chest than normal and hair standing up on end as if he had just stuck his finger in a toaster.

Marth looked in disbelief at the teacher who lay motionless in the dust. Had Aldo attacked, Marth would have been completely defenselesss since his attention span expired. Marth hadn’t done a thing, yet Aldo lay there incapacitated.

“What happened?” Marth couldn’t explain the blow Aldo had taken. “Aldo used Planar Shift to conceal himself, but then what was that?” Marth thought of seeing Aldo accellerate away.

Aldo grumbled in pain. Unable to move, his body twitched as he struggled to speak.

“Since when have you had a defense barrier?!” Aldo strained himself to ask the question before he lost conciousness.

“What the hell?”, Marth was shocked at what had just happened. “Defense barrier?” thinking back on Tsubasa-sensei’s work, Marth was relieved. “So that means…”

Aldo-sensei had attacked Marth, but he had done it in a way that left Marth completely vulnerable. Aldo attacked Marth’s mind directly from an alternate plane.

“No way!”, Marth had been wide open. Aldo was on a whole other level. “I’m no match after all?”. It was true that Marth was up against one of the greatest Espers at St. Ezreal’s.

Yet this great had fallen from Tsubasa-sensei’s defense barrier left in Marth’s Astral Realm. Marth walked up to the teacher, zonked out from the Astral barrage.

“Note to self, don’t piss off Tsubasa-sensei.” Marth reasoned from the rattled mess that was Aldo sensei. “If Tsubasa-sensei can send Aldo flying from just a defense barrier, I can only imagine what she’s capable of in-person.”

Marth crouched down to try and wake Aldo, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking.

“Hey! Teacher! Wake up!”, Marth shook Aldo. Aldo didn’t respond, his unconcious face only held it’s position with eyes closed and mouth wide open. Aldo-sensei was out cold.

“This incapacitation must have been meant for the Esper who used me as a proxy. Once that Esper was down, Tsubasa-sensei would have a chance capture them”, Marth continued to hold Aldo up by the shoulders, then looked back at the entrance.

“Where is Tsubasa-sensei? If Aldo saw me use Remote View, shouldn’t she have as well? Not to mention, her barrier kicked in. Surely she has some means of realizing that.”

Marth didn’t like the idea of waiting. The next class could show up to the range and he’d have a lot of explaining to do. Marth decided he’d bite the bullet and drag Aldo to the infirmiry.

“The infirmiry? Where is that?” Marth hadn’t been given a tour of all the buildings yet. “I can’t drag him across campus looking for it, there’s a chance I’ll be noticed.”

Marth remembered the Administration building.

“That’s it! Nobody’s ever on this plane there, and it’s just next door!”

Biting the bullet, Marth grabbed Aldo-sensei from under his arms. Walking backwards, Marth dragged the Aldo as the teacher’s heels ground agains the sand leaving a solid double trail.

Marth pulled the teacher near the entrance and sat him up against the wall. Marth pied the corner, scoping out the walkway in front of the yard.

The five water fountains in the yard were partially visible past the tall hedges, and the concrete path going from left to right which split a range of grass was free of passersbyers. The administration building’s entrance to was visible to Marth’s left.

“Nobody’s here.” Marth deduced after looking from right to left.

Picking up Aldo, Marth took burdened step after step as the heels of Aldo’s pointy shoes dragged across the concrete walkway. Encumbered by Aldo’s weight, Marth cut through the grass, blazing the shortest possible trail of pressed down grass from Aldo’s limp bases.

Marth reached the entrance amidst the tall marble pillars around the circular building. Dragging Aldo, Marth proceeded to the innermost section, strenuously climbing the short stair set to the center stage.

Marth lowered Aldo’s upper body until he reached the stage top, lying him on the stone surface. Marth then looked up at the ceiling from which rods of light were shining.

“Is anybody here?” Marth raised his voice and shout out into the abyss. “I could use some assistance!” he said as his voice echoed. “They’ve gotta have Astral cameras or something, so they can see visitors from whatever plane they’re on.”

Indeed, someone was watching, and suddenly an attractive young doctor in a white jacket was standing in front of Marth.

“Good morning!”, The doctor chimed in with a bubbly expression, a stethoscope around her neck. She rose and fully extended an arm to wave as she stood on one leg. With her other leg bent at the knee, she briefly held a pose as if she was a figure skater. Marth wasn’t expecting a cheerful woman in this situation.

“Uh, good morning.”, Marth replied to the curly pink haired woman.

“Please allow me to take a look!” The doctor put her arm and leg down, producing a tool from pocket above her well endowed breast.

“Yes, go right ahead”, Marth said, trying not to stare at her chest. He took a step back and allowed the doctor to begin triage.

The doctor gently held open Aldo’s eyelids one by one, using a flashlight on her tool to see his iris react.

“Mhm!” The doctor said with a smile. A reflection shone off her thick framed glasses as her eyes squinted.

Marth couldn’t help but stare at the cute doctor as she inspected Aldo. She never seemed to stop smiling.

“The patient is stable. Let’s shift to the infirmary!”

Without any delay, the dark interior of the administration building faded away, and a brightly lit medical room came into view. Two beds with privacy curtains, a long desk with a sink, and cupboards of supplies. Aldo was still on the floor below the doctor.

“Let’s get him up to one of these beds.” The doctor gestured Marth for help.

The doctor had already taken Aldo’s upper body, so Marth stepped up and grabbed the teacher’s legs.

“On the count of three!”, The doctor said with a smile. Marth awkwardly returned the smile. He was taken back by her carefree attitude as they got a firm grasp on Aldo.

“One. Two. Three!”

The two lifted Aldo up to the bed with ease. The doctor was two heads shorter than Marth, but she wasn’t lacking in strength. With Aldo-sensei in the bed, the doctor turned to Marth for introductions.

“Thank you! I’m Yoshida-sensei, nice to meet you!”

Yoshida sensei extended her hand to shake with Marth’s. Marth joined his hand with hers and the doctor brought in her other hand. The two warmly shook hands.

“I’m Watanabe, Marth”, he replied as their hands were together.

Their hands released and Yoshida walked to the long desk. “I’ll take it from here. Aldo-sensei may be out for some.” She said as she retrieved a card from a cupboard, then walked over to Marth.

“Take this. I’ll let you know when he wakes up.” The doctor reassured Marth, although Marth preferred not to be around when Aldo’s consciousness was regained.

Marth took hold of the card, holding it in front of him. It was similar in size to a playing card. Rigid paper construction and smooth. On it’s face was a painting of a blue stained glass window, the art within it was a yellow shooting star in a deep blue night sky. On it’s back side, The symbol of St. Ezreal’s.

“Are you giving me a tarot card?” Marth was perplexed.

“Ah, you must be a first year!” The doctor chuckled before explaining. She walked over to the cupboard, pulling from it a stack of cards. She spread them out between her hands, showing nothing but blank card stock. “We call these place cards. They are specially designed to hold an Astral projection to be used at a later time.”

Marth was fascinated. He inspected all parts of the card in his hand, comparing it to those in Yoshida’s.

“You created the image of the stained glass window and St. Ezreal’s emblem as you handed it to me?”, Marth was catching on.

“Yes, as I embedded a projection into the card, I drew onto it’s face the image I’ve associated with the projection.”

“What was the projection?” Marth wondered.

“Starry Notif.”

“Starry Notif?”

“Think of it as a communication device. With that place card, I can get a hold of you from anywhere in the universe.”


“Well then, I better get Aldo sensei into a gown.” The doctor said as she looked back at the passed out teacher. Marth took that as his queue to get out of there and started for the door.

“Marth-chan!” Yoshida called out. Marth stopped in his tracks.

“Yes sensei?”, Marth replied, a little embarrased that the doctor had addressed him so casually.

“You won’t get back to the school that way. Allow me to phase you back.”

In his rush to avoid seeing Aldo naked, Marth had forgotten that the infirmary was not on the same plane of existence as the school.

“Oh, right.” Marth stood there, then turned to face Yoshida-sensei. Moving his head as if to point towards the door, Marth couldn’t help his curiosity. “Then what’s out there?”

“Nothing but hot springs for as far as the eye can see!”

Marth’s mind went wild. A place such as this was a dream come true. A hot doctor heals you up, then sends you out to the hotsprings to recover.

“<< How about I join you? The doctor says once I’m simmering in the hot bath. >> Why not, m’lady, there’s plenty of room in the pool to my left. << But I need to be in the pool with you so I can nurse your wounds!” Marth burbled so fast that his words smooshed together. He danced in place as his excited flow of speech hit critical mass, his bright red head letting off pressure through his ears like a steam train’s whistle.

Yoshida-sensei looked on at Marth as he frolicked in place, letting out squees of joy.

“Is he Okay?” She asked to herself as she pressed a finger to her chin. “Marth-chan, you look a little red, how about I take your temperature?”

Marth snapped back to reality at the thought of Yoshida-sensei pushing her head up against his own. “Has the doctor read my mind? My imagination is one thing, but sensei, we just met!” Marth’s conflicted internal dialog came to a halt and he spoke up, replying to the doctor.

“No thanks, I’m fine. I’ll be going now. Good luck!” Marth rushed to speak, not ready for another intimate encounter with another hot teacher.

“Ok then, See you soon!”, Yoshida spoke with a smile. With that, Marth’s view of the bright infirmary transitioned into a view of the dark administration building. Marth walked down the stairs from the stage, and out the door into the sunlight.

From the steps of the administration building, Marth could see dozens of students with bags in hand, walking down the path towards the commons.

“Lunch time!” Marth was elated as he cried out, and jumped down the stairs.

A distant plane revealed a war torn city underneath a grey, polluted sky. In the metropolitan’s heart, a large red cross of a crumbled hospital was dark, backlights snuffed out by the lack of electricity. The hallways were intact, although shaken from the shock of bombs. Ceiling tiles and broken shards of glass littered it’s floors, inactive light fixtures dangling from the mess.

Long abandoned, the bulk of the broken institution was vacant, save for a subterranian ward, tucked away beneath the battle scorched earth.

Here, where the sounds of gunfire and chaos were absent, but a different kind of hell was present.

“Subject 43, on your feet!” A armed guard shone a light into the dark room, illuminating three ill captives. Against the walls parallel and to the left of the doorway, two people lay asleep on their sides. Sitting against the wall to the right of the door, a slender blonde haired teenager rose his head.

“But I just returned. I need to rest.”, the dirty clothed teen softly spoke, barely able to keep his bruised head held upright. His blonde hair was tangled, and his white long sleeve shirt stained with buttons missing.

“What’s that, you dare speak back to me?” The guard rushed into the room, metal clad feet gliding across the floor as if cushioned by patches of air. With his arms held up at the ready, torch held like a baton, his cape gust backwards before he came to a stop above the exhausted boy. “Subject 43, on your feet, NOW!”

The booming voice of the guard drew the attention of the other subjects, both waking from their slumber. Seeing an opportunity to escape, the captive near the left wall stood up and dashed for the open door.

The guard reacted immediately, reaching out his hand and
projecting a disruptive spherical blast of Ionic Shock. The attempted escapee’s body went limp, legs collapsing and his weight crashing down the the floor with a thud, their unprotected head hitting the ground with a loud SPLACK. With his motor skills completely disabled, he let out no cries of pain or agony. As he lay motionless, his eyes teared and drool escaped from his mouth, his distressed, helpless face yearning for the exit.

The guard glide across the floor to the fallen boy, stopping above his head.

“Only with hard work will you be set free.”, The guard cited his motto, the creed of his clan. “If you don’t like it here, I’d be happy to let you go… to the gallows!”

The guard lifted his foot, stepping it down onto the downed boy’s neck. Already void of his body’s natural electrical impulses, there was nothing he could do to defend himself. As the pressure from the guard’s metal boot increased, the prisoner’s vision began to blacken, his consciousness beginning to fade.

“I’m ready to serve.”, Subject 43 stood, supporting his weakened body with his hand against the closest wall. The guard stopped pressing down with his foot for a moment to look up at Subject 43.

“Excellent.”, the guard eerily answered, removing his foot from the laying prisoner. With palm of his hand, the guard gesturned Subject 43 towards the door, who promptly exited through. The guard waited for Subject 43 to leave before projecting another Ionic Shock at the incapacitated subject, restarting his muscular system. The guard locked the door.

Subject 43 walked ahead of the guard accompanied by the sound of the downed prisoner gasping for air and coughing as he regained control of his body.

Subject 43 walked through the dark corridor in the basement of the battered hospital. The only light was that from the guard’s torch, and sparcely placed emergency light fixtures powered by a generator.

The two reached a surgery room which had been retrofitted for the clan’s purposes. Instead of a table, a single restraining chair was anchored to the floor. From the high ceilings, a robotic arm hung down, carrying a variety of surgical equipment from inspection lights to stainless steel bone saws. The wall facing the chair was covered in glass, revealing beyond it a staffed observation suite, packed with document laden tables, chairs, monitoring equipment and clipboards. This was one of the few well-lit rooms in what was left of the entire hospital.

The blond haired subject 43 intuitively sat in the chair, fastening the buckles around his legs and around his waist. The guard finished strapping his arms in, and the white coated personnel behind the glass shifted their attention to the subject. One of the men with thick glasses and a slick haircut put down their coffee and spoke into the an intercom microphone as the guard left the room.

“You will be receiving 50,000U of Esperin.”, The man spoke calmly, skipping all pleasantries. “Afterwards, you will proceed to Sector D4 and neutralize all opponents. Do you understand?”

Subject 43 sat with his head bowed, his tangled blonde hair shadowing half of his face. Over the past few days, he had been on countless missions like this. The clan, eager to bolster their control of the region, imprisioned hundreds of people and pumped them full of the blue chemical. Trained as an Esper or not, the substance fortified their physical strength, and immensely augmented their Astral capabilities.

Subject 34 was so lucky to be a low enough level Esper to be disposable. Young and manipulatable, he was the clan’s perfect soldier.

“Subject 34 do you understand?”

“Yes.”, Subject 34 replied. Resistance was futile. If he didn’t comply, the guard would come back. The guard always brought incentive.

“Good. Subject 34, why do you fight?” The man shielded by glass asked the loaded question. Subject 34 wouldn’t fight if not for his oppressors, but he knew from experience that that was the wrong answer.

“I fight for the clan. I fight to earn our freedom.”, Subject 34 cited the canned response. In this concentration camp which produced super soldiers to wipe out the opposition, individuality was forbidden.

“Good.”, The glassed man reinforced the inception of the clan’s ideals. Turning to his associates he gave the command, “Administer the Esperin.”

The robotic arm above Subject 34 decended towards him, rotating tooled segments like a complex clock until the desired tool was selected. A large syringe full of a thick blue substance came down and was positioned over the boy’s wrist. The robotic arm brought the needle to a stop and it’s mechanical eyes computed a vector to the nearest vein. Moving in slowly, the sharp point cleared the large polyester restraints around Subject 34’s wrist, and dove deep under the skin.

The boy let out a cry as a nerve was pinched among extensive scar tissue from injections past.

“Administering 50,000U Esperin”, A female voice behind the glass was heard. Subject 34 writhed in pain while the blue fluid began to flow into his body. 50,000U was about to be the biggest dose he had ever received.

Esperin created such an overwhelming feeling of power. A 10,000U dose was enough to make him feel invincible. At 20,000U, his mind would lose the capabilithy of rational thought. 30,000U sent him into a berserk of rage, pulverising anything in front of him that moved. The substance affected his Astral abilities in a similar way, allowing him to project neverending fields of Astral distruction without hesitation or remorse.

The drug fully dispensed into Subject 34’s arm, and he started to feel it’s effects. Waves of blue light hit his consciousness, over and over, repeating it’s pattern and incresing in frequency.

“I think I’m going to be sick!”, Subject 34 wanted to hold his stomache.

“Stand by for transport.”, The glassed man ignored the boy as he spoke through the intercom. A switch was flipped and the intercom’s speakers let out a pop as they were powered off.

The guard re-entered the room, along with another caped Esper. He wore a large brimmed hat and a black blindfold over his eyes. On the fabric, the outline of a single large eye was drawn. As they entered, the glass to the observation room went opaque, tinted dark by a embedded layer of liquid crystal.

The guard and the caped Esper walked up to Subject 34. Still strapped into the chair, the nauseating effects of the Esperin futher affected his body. His head was spinning and he couldn’t see straight.

The masked Esper stood by Subject 34’s side, holding out his hand and creating a summoning circle on the skin of his palm. The summoning circle separated from his hand, floating a few centimeters outward and increasing in size.

“Please look away.”, The mysterious Esper spoke to the guard.

“Ok, but remind me why I’ve gotta do this every time?”, The guard turned his head but kept one eye open.

“As long as you can see him, the subject exists in your personal reality. If I am to transport him from here to D4 in my own reality and that of others, it becomes much more difficult.” The masked Esper explained as he kept his focus on his summoning circle.

“Right, right.”, the guard closed his open eye.

The floating summoning circle in front of the masked one’s palm continued to increased in size until it was as large as 34’s body.

“You know, in the Bible, those with sufficient faith were able to move mountains.”, The masked Esper said as his summoning circle began to spin.

“Are you saying there were Espers documented in the ancient text?”, The guard inquired with his eyes closed.

“Perhaps. And at that time with fewer conscious people on earth, the easier it was to break the rules that those minds imposed on reality.” The Esper spoke the words before a wind-line sound violently emanated from his rapidly spinning circle.

“Damn!”, the guard cried out, covering his ears to shield from the gusting noise. As he did so, the noise subsided and the room became silent.

The guard peeked open an eye, turning to look at the back of the masked Esper. The summoning circle was gone, and the projector’s arms were relaxed at his side. Facing away from the guard, the projector’s body blocked the view of the chair. The guard walked up next to the projector to get a better view.

The light shone down from the robotic arm, revealing an empty chair, with it’s tough fabric restraining straps still securely fastened. With 34’s body no longer present, the waist strap drooped under it’s own weight.

“You’re pretty good.”, the guard laughed, looking up at the masked Esper and patting him on the back.

Subject 34’s head was spinning. His laboratory surroundings appeared to be stretched horizontally as if being pulled by a gravity well. The chair he was strapped to was there one moment, then gone after looking away for a split second. He fell on his buttocks, landing on a chalky ground of pulverized concrete.

In his drugged out state, his feeling of exhaustion was fading at the expense of feeling in control of his own faculties. The disorienting pulsing effect of the Esperin matched with the Physical Translation he had just experienced became too much. 34 vomited on the ground amongst the mountains of rubble.

Keeled over with both hands planted in the particulate, the near constant waves of Esperin swept his mind to a degree that could no longer be ignored. A constant ringing in his ears loudened, a noise that hurt. Covering his hears offered no relief, the waves of blue Esperin within his bloodstream the source.

34 cried out, the pain in his head triggering a rage. His muscles in his entire body tensed from the Esperin’s pulses resonated within his body. Strained to it’s physical capacity, his hair color faded. Feeling an unbearable pressure build up within his body, his gaze shifted to the nearest source of light in the dark.

34 had been transported to the outer fringes of the clan’s opposition. The wooden watch tower under the blacked out sky became clear as day as 34’s vision was subjugated by the Esperin’s power. No longer a pulsing, but a constant deep blue, 34’s sight was drastically improved by it’s Astral meld. Like a pair of night vision binoculars, 34’s vision tunneled on a sole sentry manning the search light.

More animal than human, Subject 34 dashed towards the tower. His sprint, aided by Esperin, let up a cloud of dust as his nimble feet struck the ground stride after stride. Like an explosion of adrenaline, the Esperin fueled his temper, letting out a lustful growl for blood.

The tower sentry noticed the trail of dust, turning their high power spotlight to the aggressor. An alarm was sound as 34’s last shred of a conscience faded.

With a powerful thrust of leg muscle power, 34 jumped through the air, over the walled perimeter and up towards the spotlight. The sentry reeled back at the sight, letting go of the spotlight and lifting the rifle slung from around their neck.

The fearful face of the sentry lit up as rapid fire shots burst from his rifle’s barrel. 34 flew towards the tower’s platform, legs tucked towards his bare chest beneath his buttonless long sleeve shirt. The bullets bounced left and right from a blue projected bubble shield from 34’s left hand.

With a hysterical look on his face, his bubble shield met the gun with such force that it was knocked away. His left fist closed, shuttering the projection of the shield. Grappling on with his knees and right hand, 34’s momentum threw the sentry off balance and off the tower’s platform. Missing the tower’s ladder, 34’s bodyweight continued to push the man backwards as the man looked up at 34 with terror in his eyes.

Falling down towards the earth, 34’s light blonde hair blown back by the wind, 34 lustfully growled for blood. He pushed the helpless sentry away, accelerating his fall to the ground, before projecting a Esperin empowered ball of Ionic Shock towards him. The ball accelerated towards the man who brought up his hands to protect himself, but before the ball made contact, Subject 34 exploded the ball, sending out a shockwave which accelerated the man’s descent, and slowed his own.

The man hit the ground with a crack and a thud, instantly killed by the impact. 34 landed on all fours, looking up with a crazed smile. Inside the wall of the outpost, the intruder alarm continued to sound. Militia men, roused from their slumbering, rushed to face the threat.

Subject 34 rose and bolted towards the first man he saw.

“Stop right there!”, vapor escaped from his mouth into the cold air as the man yelled. He was armed with a carbine and carried a chest rig full of magazines.

34 didn’t stop, he accelerated towards the bearded gunman.

Gunshots and a blast rang out in the night, alerting more of the defenders to 34’s position.

A group of militia men came around a corner of wooden shacks among the crumbled city, taking aim at 34. He was standing there, legs shoulder width apart, with hands at the ready. Behind him, the bearded man lay on the ground, killed from another blast of Ionic Shock.

“You’re surrounded!”, The group of men with guns in hand warned. Their hands shaking at the sight of their fallen comrade. 34 turned to face the group.

“Put your hands up!” The men yelled to 34.

Surrounded by dozens of guns, 34 brought both his hands upwards.

“That’s right. Raise them high above your head!”, 34 continued raising his hands, but stopped them in front of his bare chest.

“Hands up! Do it now!” The men yelled as the standoff’s intensity increased. Rifles aimed at 34 as he held his hands in place. He tilted his head back and his light blonde hair was swept back, revealing a wild smile.

“Open fire!” The men called out, a barrage of bullets breaking out. 34 strained his arm muscles, opening his hands wide and creating two large spheres at the end of each.

The lead flew in, accelerating toward’s Subject 34’s unshielded body. Meters before making contact, the bullets veered off course, gobbled up by the magnetic field created by his double Ionic Shock. A storm of bullets flew in past the fireballs expelled from the rifle muzzles, each bullet taking a turn away from the intended target and into the spheres of electricity.

The men’s mags were emptied, and a moment of silence broke out. Amidst the smoke blown from the guns, Subject 34 stood unscathed, breathing heavily with a crooked grin.

“Reload, reload, reload!”, A commanding voice beckoned of his comrades. But it was too late for them, as 34 reversed the polarity of his magnetic field, expelling bullets in all directions. Like the sound of a string of firecrackers, the bullets ripped through the air towards their original source. Simultaneously, the militia men took hundreds of hits, falling backwards as their own bullets did them in.

34 stood alone in the decimated outpost, surrounded only by bodies.

“No mere human can stand against me. I’m INVINCIBLE!”, he cried out to the emptiness. As the Esperin’s influence faded, he felt the shame at the massacre he had just committed. Covering his face with one hand to hide the tears, he swallowed his guilt, masking his pain with a bout of hysterical laughter.

“For the clan!”

34 collapsed as the compulsory strength from the Esperin diminished.

34 awoke in his cell, along with a long silver haired captive. The captive had a bandage around one eye. Seeing 34 rise, the bandaged captive crawled over.

“I heard you wiped out the human’s last outpost.” he spoke with a glow in his remaining eye. His excitement got the best of him and he tugged at 34’s shirt. His clothes were stained, his body was frail, and his breath stank. “Now all that’s left is their main stronghold!”

34 still had sleep in his eyes as he heard the story. He pushed the one eyed man away, angered by his closeness.

“Sorry, sorry.”, the man went back to his corner, looking up at 34. “Your hair.”

Aldo walked to the door of the cell, looking at himself through his reflection in the glass window.


Subject 34’s hair had been permanently dyed silver from repeated high doses of Esperin. Not only physical, the chemical left psychological scars that might never be reversed.

A guard approached the cell door and called out.

“Subject 34, please come with me.”, the summons was less severe than most.

34 followed the guard into the hallway, who brought him into a large room.

“With hard work will you be set free. Congratulations on yesterday’s attack. You have earned the next level of freedom!”

34 was surprised. Up until now, he had been treated like trash, used and abused as a consumable tool of the clan. Was this his break?

“Victory to the clan!”, 34 replied, straightening his posture. Maybe this cause wasn’t so bad after all.

“That’s not all”, the main guard went on, as the door to the room opened. Two more guards entered, dragging along two bound and gagged captives. “These are your subordinates.”

The two guards pushed the prisoners forward. With chains around their legs, they stumbled forward and fell to the floor as they attempted to catch themselves. Their hands, chained behind their backs, unable to reach the floor and slow their fall. Their chests hit the ground with a thud as they avoided hitting their heads.

With a troubled look on his face, 34 looked at the head guard.


“They’re worthless trash,” The guard laughed, pushing down one of the captives with his boot as they tried to sit up. “but with a lashing or two, they should get right into shape.”

The captive grunted as he hit the floor again. 34 looked on in disbelief.

“Subject 34, tell this one to stay down. I don’t want his ugly face on my eye level”

The other guards laughed, backing away from the two tied up men. It wasn’t long ago that 34 had been the captive in situations just like this. The clan maintained a pyramid hierarchy of oppression, and the shit always falls down.

“This is for your own good,” Subject 34 gritted his teeth, leaned forward and delivered a kick to the side of the captive’s head as he struggled to sit up again. The thump reverberated from the walls as the captive writhed in pain, letting out a muffled cry of agony through the fabric gag between his teeth.

“Yeah! Show him who’s boss! You’re the man!”, The guards applauded as they watched 34 continue to beat the men. 34 threw more kicks at the man as he lay with hands tied behind his back. As the kicks were delivered, the captive struggled to turn and distribute the blows evenly.

“The other one, look at his face!”, a guard cried out in disgust at the sight of the other captive looking on in anger. “Teach him a lesson! Teach him some loyalty!”

34 was worked up, feeling a different kind of rush. Unlike his Esperin fueled rampage, this was his own doing. These men were helpless before him, and for the first time his own power was both feared and praised. In his cruel, unforgiving world, he was on top.

34 delivered punch after punch to the second captive, knocking him to the floor. “Don’t look at me! You are filth! Your eyes disgust me!” the punches kept flying as the captive’s face was bloodied. The guards cheered and 34 kept punching until the man stopped defending himself, slipping into unconsciousness.

34 stood up, catching his breath from the violent workout.

“Damn, any more and he’d only have one subordinate.” The guards chuckled.

The head guard stood at the side of the room, observing 34 with his hands behind his back.

“Why do you fight?”, the guard inquired, stepping forward.

“For the clan.”, 34 solemnly replied as a bead of blood dripped from his bruised knuckles.

Weeks had passed, and Subject 34 awoke for the day, alone in his room. Besides his large quarters, his achievements on the battlefield had earned him comforts of home, including a futon.

An expected knock came on his door, and a guard came in.

“It’s time.”, the guard told 34.

“For the clan!”, 34 recited his creed, standing up and following.

The two walked to the laboratory as 34 was briefed.

“The pawns are being sent in as we speak. Most will be killed by the human’s defenses, but not before establishing a beach head.”, The guard spoke of the lowest ability Espers who would only serve as meat shields. “After that, we’re sending you in.”

“My subordinates will scout past their barricade”, 34 followed suit, intending to place his inferiors in harm’s way.

“You’ve really broken them in. We weren’t getting anywhere with those two, but you’ve turned them into killing machines.”, The two captives that had been assigned to 34 had indeed become subservient, enabled by a constant fear of death.

“It’s all for the clan. We’ll break the humans next, their time is at an end.”, 34 spoke his determined words as his silver hair swayed in the air of his quick step.

34 and the guard reached the laboratory, it’s restraining chair in view. The observation window was blacked out. The masked Esper and a woman wearing a white jacket stood along side it. Next to the woman, a rolling cart full of syringes containing blue fluid. The observation window was blacked out, with no sign of the experimentation staff.

“Please sit in the chair.” The guard spoke. “We need to get you in the field as fast as possible.”

34 sat down, and began fastening the restraints.

“There’s no need”, the woman stopped 34, cleaning his arm with a alcohol wipe before promptly injecting the blue goo.

“55,000 Units of Esperin.”, She said as she plunged the liquid into 34’s arm.

“55,000 Units? I’m not going to have any hair left after this!”, 34 thought back to the 50,000U that was enough to turn his hair silver.

“The body builds up a tolerance.”, she explained as she finished dispensing the blue toxin. “You need more than last time.”

The syringe was withdrawn, and a bandage applied to the wound. The woman discarded the syringe into a container, marked a sheet of paper, turned her back to 34, and donned a pair of large headphones. The guard turned away as well, holding his ears.

Waves of blue came over 34’s consciousness, striking him like bursts of cool air from an industrial sized ventilation fan. The masked Esper raised his palm towards 34, projecting a large summoning circle and spinning it rapidly. A loud blowing noise filled the room, emanating from the spinning summoning circle. The guard held his ears tightly while wrenching his face. With eyes gently closed, the woman nodded her head to the sound of her music within her noise cancelling headphones.

Silence met the room as the masked Esper relaxed his hands. The guard let go of his ears and turned to see the empty chair.

“Next Subject, bring ’em in!”, the guard yelled towards the hallway.

34 caught himself as the chair disappeared from the normalizing scenery before him. Being physically translated by an Esper while high on Esperin was becoming routine to him, and he wasn’t about to fall on his hindside again. The piercing wail of the Esperin had him on edge, reflexes at the ready.

“I’m in control! This feels amazing!”, 34 laughed hysterically, with his mind and his heart racing faster than ever. Looking down the road with empowered vision, 34 spotted fire, smoke and gunfire from the breached stone wall of the human’s stronghold.

A few moments passed and 34’s subordinates were transported behind him. 34 turned to see them fall on their butts one after another. The battered road they were on was surrounded on three sides by crumbled buildings, the one free side leading up to the human’s stronghold.

“The human’s inner sanctum will be ours!”, 34 encouraged his platoon.

“Kill the humans!”, one of his inferiors yelled out. He had messy hair tone body, and would be completely naked if not for cloth wrapped around his wrists and his tight blue pants.

The other stood and shook silently, glaring at the fortress up the road. He wore a bandana around his head, and sported a dirty shirt without sleeves.

“With hard work will you be set free. Earn your freedom right here and now!” 34 yelled at his inferiors once more.

“For the clan!”, the two yelled in unison before charging ahead of 34 towards the site.

34 knew they wouldn’t last long. Their Esper abilities were poor, but their strength brought on by the Esperin should buy some time.

This wasn’t a surprise attack like before. The humans were ready, and aware of the clan’s aim to eradicate those who lacked or opposed Esper abilities.

The three ran towards the broken wall as the sounds of gunshots and explosions continued on. The outer defenses had been eliminated, as a few clan Espers brought the fight inside.

34’s lackeys climbed up the rubble that was the human’s wall, jumping down to the fortress’s interior. Looking around, they saw hundreds of dead bodies from either side. Dirtied, malnourished Espers lay alongside bulletproof vest wearing, automatic rifle toting men.

“Filthy low levels. As weak as humans.” 34 looked at the carnage in disgust. “Blue jeans, Bandana, seek and destroy!”

The two inferiers looked back at 34, confirming his orders.

“Yes master.”, the blue jeaned man said, as the bandana wearer nodded. They ran for the interior buildings, searching for their prey.

34 was becoming impatient and the Esperin withim him kindled a raging fury.

“I’m going to snuff out every last one of the weak! For the clan!” 34 yelled at the top of his lungs before sprinting after his subordinates.

34’s subordinates quickly advanced toward the center of the stronghold. The surrounding buildings were razed, walls smashed as if by gigantic wrecking balls. In other places, fire was ablaze, disintegrating dwellings from the top down.

The low level Espers had done more than expected. Most of the human army were at the outer walls, trampled easily by the Astral barrage.

As 34 ran through the alleyways, the shattered homes were empty.

“The peasants are hiding! Find them!”, 34 yelled ahead to his men.

Running between the ruined homes, the three men bolted towards the city center, emerging into a vacant open marketplace.

A gust of wind blew, blowing a tattered wicker basket on the carefully placed cobblestone. It rolled into an empty wooden selling stand, it’s torn cloth awning producing a flapping sound in the gust.

34 and his men stopped for a moment to scan the scene.

Past the marketplace, a tall stone citadel pierced the night sky with it’s four exterior towers. Surrounding the final keep, a thick fortified wall, This structure was ancient, reinforced by modern jersey barriers, razor wire, and steel infused concrete.

34 scoped the wall of the fortification, eyeing from a far machine guns atop sandbags, their gunners at large.

The base of the citadel was silent. Smoke rose from craters in the ground, surrounded by chunks of bloodied flesh.

“Explosives?”, 34 looked back at the wall tops, scanning it’s expanse. Between two battlements a soldier’s arm was spotted lifting a mortar in hand before dropping it into a tube, emitting a fast puff of spoke.

“Move!” 34 cried out, alerting his subordinates as he dashed forward. A loud blast was heard, sound waves trailing after the sight of it’s launch. Mortars, precisely lobbed at distant objects, fly for seconds before meeting the target. The human operators would be know this, and their aim would have to compensate for their target’s position seconds from the mortar’s launch.

A howling whistle of the bomb screeched in the sky. Not traveling faster than sound, the bomb would be impacting soon. Did the humans anticipate 34’s forward rush, or did they expect him to not notice and stay stationary?

34 had no time to rationalize. The clock was ticking and a single mortar could kill all three if nothing was done, quick.

34 looked upward as he ran forward, using the Esperin’s effect to locate the pin sized bomb against the black sky.

“Ionic. Shock!”, 34 pointed both hands at the incoming projectile, using the Esperin’s effect to instantly project a massive ball of electricity and sending it soaring.

The mortar collided with the electricity mid-air, it’s shell melting instantly inside the field of high voltage sparks. With it’s hull compromised, the warhead burst, sending shrapnel to the ground where the three had just stood.

34 looked to the wall as he continued his dash, eyeing the section where the mortar crew would be hiding.

“Petty foes! They’re no match for me, they can’t even anticipate my moves!”

The subordinates ran along side 34, struggling to keep up the pace as they jumped over bodies astrewn on the marketplace.

The machine gunners on the wall sprung into action, gripping on the .50 caliber’s handles and pulling the oversized trigger with their fingers.

34 already had a massive spherical pair of ions in front of him.

“KLACK. KLACK. KLACK. KLACK.”, the relatively slow cycle speed of the gun sent thumb sized masses of hot lead towards 34 as he led the charge towards the wall.

Round after round was swallowed up by the electro magnet that Ionic Shock created.

“I like this game!” 34 let out a laughter of evil joy. The rounds kept coming, and 34 could only do one trick at a time. “Bandana, do something about that gunner!”

The bandana wearing lackey nodded, pointing two fingers at the machine gun emplacement as if he were holding a pistol. A small blue summoning circle appeared at the tips of his pointed digits.

“Pow!”, The bandana man’s voice cracked as he yelled. His arm was shaking from his running movement and from the fear of taking a bullet. His thumb dropped to his index finger, like the hammer of a revolver striking a firing pin.

A rod of wind sourced from the summoning circle at his fingertips. Like a tiny tornado, a vortex of air spiraled from the summoning circle, restricted to a cylindrical vector extruded by the aim of his fingers. Ripping through the air like a bullet, the vortex of air spun towards the machine gunner. Missing completely, the vortex shred deep through a sandbag, briefly leaving a wide hole in the sand before more sand filled it’s place.

With a long chain of bullets, the 50 continued, 34’s field of magnetism filling up with more bullets. The effect of the field began to diminish, encumbered by the increasing pile of bullets.

34 stopped in place, unable to continue. The energy of the bullets was becoming too intense as they closed the gap between the wall. The bullets flew towards 34, getting closer and closer before the magnetism’s power slowed the bullet enough to draw it in.

His subjects stopped as well, looking towards 34 for orders.

“KLACK, KLACK, KLACK.” The bullets continued to fly, their path becoming closer and closer to making contact with 34.

“Bandana! Take him down!”

With sweat dripping down his forehead, bandana nodded. He pulled his thumb back, creating another summoning circle and firing another vortex of air.


Another miss. Bandana man put out his other hand, creating the same gun shape and summnoning another summoning circle from those fingers.

“Bam! Pow! Bang!”

Bandana fired as quickly as he could. A beginner Esper, every shot followed a difficult process of closing his eyes, observing himself in the Aastral realm, creating a gun of air in that relm, and merging his Astral reality with the reality he sees when he opens his eyes.

“Amateur!”, 34 yelled out, the large 50 cal bullets coming in close to his face. “I need more POWER!”

34 increased the size of his Ionic Schocks, straining his mind to create a larger magnetic field. He couldn’t let his cache of bullets fly until there was a break in the firing.

Just then, a plume of smoke accompanied by a deafening burst arose from the wall top.

“Shit! Mortar!”, 34 was desperate, and the two Espers behind him weren’t pulling their weight.

“Both of you are pathetic. The gun, now!”

The mortar would have fired almost straight up to be able to hit 34 where he stood. The gun had to go, to allow any sort of counterattack to the incoming bomb. Blue jeans was about to fulful his role.

Blue jeans dashed for the wall, augmenting his sprint with the Esperin’s power. His attacks were melee only, and 34 knew it. The gun shifted it’s bead to blue jeans, the threat the gunner deemed imminent.

“88, no!”, Bandana called out to his friend as the howling whistle of the bomb made more noise than the gun. Still letting out air vortexes as fast as he could, Bandana continued to miss the recessed operator.

34 smiled, letting the mountain of bullets caught in his electromagnet fly. Focusing the heavy metal upwards and towards the wall, the sides traded hits.

Blue jeans took a shot to the heart from the gunner, blood spewing from his back, going limp and dropping to the ground.

The gunner and mortar teams were propelled backwards from hundreds of high velocity shots as they penetrated stone wall, sandbags, and flesh.

The mortar exploded mid-air, torn apart by a volley of bullets 34 hand sent upwards. Shrapnel continued downward, only to be caught by a fresh projection of Electromagnet Ionic Shock.

Bandana rushed to the fallen Subject 88. Heart destroyed by a bullet meant for taking down engine blocks, there was nothing to be done. Bandana grieved for his friend, holding his dead body in his arms.

“Bandana, this is your fault.” Bandana looked up at 34 as he dropped the shrapnel to the side, dissolving his Ionic Shock projection. Startled by 34’s gaze, The bandana wearing Esper dropped his friend down and held up his arms in defense.

34 had beat this man repeatedly. Bandana had become conditioned to expect it, and 34 conditioned to deal it. 34 cocked back his arm, ready to throw a punch.

A wailing siren increasing in loudness interrupted 34 before he dealt the punishment. As if an air raid was taking place, the siren built up it’s pitch to a high wail, before reversing it’s tone until it became a low howl. Repeating the pattern, 34 looked around for whatever force would respond.

The front gate of the Citadel began to open, it’s large steel doors opening up like a barn’s. The front gate was not of interest to 34, as it would be more havily guarded than a random section of wall. 34 ignored the gate as it’s doors were ajarring, and reached down, grabbing Bandanna by his sleeveless shirt.

“We’re going.”, 34 commanded to his inferior. 34 began to scale the wall, using the strength from the Esperin to dig into gaps between the large stone bricks. Bandana followed below, using the holes created by 34’s hands as anchor points.

The two Espers reached the top of the wall as the siren continued. A bloody mess of four bodies greeted them. The men’s arms were sprawled, heads were drooped, and green coloured helmets hid everything but defeated open mouthes.

“Disgusting.” 34 looked at the fallen humans. “I can’t wait to squash them all.” 34 said with a look of distaste on his face. Now with clear sight of the citadel’s interior, his dream was feeling more real than ever.

At the ground level, a large church

stood at the center of the inner sanctum. Surrounding it, large buildings which likely served as armories and housing.

“To the church!”, 34 commanded Bandana. “It’s the last place the humans can hide!”

“Yes, master.” Bandanna nervously looked at 34 in fear, replying subserviently.

As the air raid siren continued to sound, 34 ran ahead of the Bandana man. Approaching the church’s entrance as they ran over cobblestone, A group of men emerged from the building, rifles in hand.

“Protect the church!”, The men yelled, concern and anger in their eyes. Forming two lines, with crouched men in front, triggers were pulled, guns erupting with flames.

34 smiled at the sight of talentless humans. Their small arms were nothing compared to the .50 caliber and mortars he had just dealt with. A quick blast of Ionic Shock was let loose, both drawing in bullets and mortally electrocuting 34’s enemies in a single strike.

The large zapping sound left mothing but charred bodies and smoking barrels. 34 stopped at the entrance, looking down at the murdered men.

“Tsk”, the pompous 34 bawked, not staring for long. “Weak men, good riddance.”

Bandanna followed 34, trying not to look at the fallen men.

The two walked through the entrance, opening it’s large wooden doors. More fearful men with guns were quickly dispatched with more blasts of Ionic Shock.


34 and Bandana entered the sanctuary, floor littered with blankets, pillows, backpacks and other supplies. People had been sheltered here.

Cries were heard from the church’s interior.

“They’re fleeing to the basement!”, 34 deduced.

34 ran beyond the alter, scanning from left to right for the remaining humans. Down a large hallway, cries of panic were heard. 34 spotted women and children, madly shuffling through a large door to the basement.

The last of the group was pushed through the doorway, as an elterly woman stayed behind, closing the door and standing between it and 34.

With her back to the door, the woman stretched her hands to her sides.

“Get out of my way!”, 34 shouted as he came within firing range. Tears built up in the woman’s eyes as she held her position, arms blocking the door.

34 projected a ball of Ionic Shock in front of hum, but hesitated to let it fly. He had killed so many times before, but in this woman’s act of defiance in the name of protection before undeniable power, he was reminded of a time when he had done the same.

“You’re a monster!”, The woman spoke, her words breaking as tears run down her face.

The words struck 34. Like a slap to the face, 34 was forced to think. It wasn’t long ago that he had been a captive, beaten, starved, and forced to kill. It wasn’t long ago that 34 was free, with no ill will towards humanity.

But now was different. 34 may be a strong Esper, but there were stronger who were forcing his hand. The only way out of this mess was from the top of the pyramid. 34 had to become the strongest, only then would he be set free.

Beyond the door were hundreds of women and children. The clan wanted them dead, and 34 was in no position to bargain. It was their lives, or 34’s life.

“There’s no room for the weak in this world!”, 34 had made his choice, and let Ionic Shock fly. The woman closed her eyes tightly, her tears cut off from flowing. In what she thought were her final moments, she turned her head to the side, yet kept her arms stretched, protecting what lay beyond the door.

Ionic Shock sped towards the woman like a bowling ball towards a single pin. 34 knew his target would fall just as easily, and he closed his eyes with a smile.

No familiar zap was heard, and 34 opened his eyes. Ionic shock hadn’t made it’s deadly contact, instead it was frozen in place, suspended by some unknown force.

“What’s this?!”, 34 stared in astonishment at his stopped projectile, while it’s electric particles continued to spin. 34 looked at his servant who was equally confused.

“Is she an Esper?”, 34 looked at the elderly woman, her teared up face still wincing in anticipation.

“No, she’s not an Esper.”, A confident new voice behind 34 echoed through the church hallway.

34 kept his hand held towards the frozen ball of Ionic Shock, as he turned to see an armored, blonde haired woman walking calmly towards him.

34 and Bandana peered at the woman with perplexed looks on their faces. Her shoulder length hair was in a ponytail, and she wore a blue tie partially visible beneath a shiny chestplate of brushed steel. Her long sleeve blouse was white with padded shoulders, and covering her legs was a white hakama, large pants often worn in martial arts. She was unarmed, walking with arms at her sides.

“What the hell?” 34 felt a sense of unease for the first time during this mission. “You aren’t a human?”

“I’m a human”, the woman explained as she continued to close the gap between her and 34. 34’s unease grew as the bold woman grew closer. If she was really a human, there was no need to continue the conversation.

“Bandana, kill her!” 34 had a look of rage in his eyes as he commanded his lackey.

Bandana’s confusion vanished as he heard the words. Nodding, he pointed two fingers at the woman as if he were holding a pistol. Reciting a mantra and blinking his eyes, the blue summoning circle formed in front of his fingers let out a focused vortex of wind, letting out a sonic boom as the wind spiralled towards the woman’s unarmored face. At this distance, Bandana couldn’t miss.

The woman stared forwards with a plain face. As the vortex spun within centimeters of her face, it disappeared instantly, as if it hadn’t even been fired in the first place. The sonic boom which had started to reverberate within the hall was no more, it had been deleted completely.

“What just happened?” 34 had never seen anything like this. Had Bandana not shot at all?

Bandana stood with his fingers pointed, dumbfounded at what he had seen.

“Again, Bandana! Kill her!”, 34 dissolved his original Ionic Shock, focusing all his attention towards the armor clad woman. “Ionic Shock!”

A ball of electricity spun up from in front of 34’s hands, then rocketed towards the woman. The humming of the electricity neared the woman, before it disappeared completely. Ionic Shock had been dissolved.

“What is going on?!” 34 became frustrated. “Bring her down!!” he yelled, firing volley after volley of Ionic Shock towards the woman. She kept walking towards 34 as both he and Bandana fired their projections as fast as they could.

Each projectile dissolved within centimeters of the woman, as she calmly approached the two.

“What are you!?” 34 demanded, breathing heavily from fear and the mental stress of projecting.

The woman stopped meters ahead of 34, as 34 and Bandana stepped back, desperatelty trying to take her down with their projections. The plain look on her face changed to annoyed, and she rose one arm as if to signal a halt.

As if the woman had willed it, Ionic Shock and Wind Vortex could no longer be created. As if their Esper abilities had been stripped, 34 and Bandana could no longer create their summoning circles in front of their hands.

“You’re no human!” 34 reeled back in terror. “Ionic Shock!”, he desperately cried out with both palms forward.

“You’re done.” the woman decreed. “I’ve revoked your talents as an Esper.”

34’s eyes widened, the thought striking like a bolt of lightning. His whole existence was reliant on his Esper abilities. Those without abilities were weak, trash to be disposed of. Had he really been reduced to such a level? What kind of Esper could do such a thing?

“No way!” 34 couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and wasn’t aout to just stand there. “Bandana, get the old woman!”

As he ordered Bandana, 34 stepped towards the armored woman. Even without Esper abilities, the Esperin flowing through his veins would be enough to overpower her. 34’s vision tunneled as he reached for her neck. 34’s hands closed on the neck, gripping tightly at the flesh. 34’s victim began gasping for air and choking as 34 intensified his grip. 34’s eyes lit up at the feeling of power returning again.

34 looked up at his victim, expecting to see the pompous woman writing in pain. In her stead, Bandana was being strangled, as 34 had traded places with the old woman against the door.

“What the fuck?” 34 let go of Bandana as he held his own neck and coughed. “I didn’t grab you! What the hell just happened?”

34 looked to the hallway with the armored woman still standing there. The old woman was in front of her where 34 had just been, with her arms still spread out and wincing face looking away.

“She’s frozen?”, 34 tried to rationalize what was going on, but there was no rationalizing this. The amount of abilities the armored woman posessed was astounding. “The clan has the strongest Espers in the world, no other group has stood up to us. Are you a traitor?” 34 demanded.

“You’re probably right about your clan, but I’m not from your world. I’m from a diffent plane.”, The woman replied with arms crossed. “Your clan has been terrorizing the vulnerable for decades. It took years, but they were able to reach out to us for aid. My Name’s Tsubasa Hinata, fifth pillar of St. Ezreal’s. Your clan’s abominable reign of fear ends today.””A different plane? That’s a lie!” 34 said in shock, beginning to hyperventilate. He had barely avoided strangling his own servant because of her, and there was no telling what she was about to do next. Tsubasa was on a whole other level.

“It’s no lie. 200 years ago, St. Ezreal’s Academy developed the ability to traverse plains.”, she explained. “We’ve been conducting humanitarian aid ever since.”

“Humanitarian… You said before that you were human! Another lie!”, 34 called Tsubasa out.

Tsubasa showed a look of concern on her face.

“Tell me, what’s your name?”, she asked.

“I’m Subject 34 of The Clan.” Dignified, 34 recited his label.

“I see. Your humanity has been stripped from you, beginning with your title.”

“I’m not a human!” 34 barked back.

“Then what are you?”, Tsubasa inquired.

34 took a moment, looking at the old woman who was frozen in place, standing in front of Tsubasa with her arms stretched out. Tsubasa had given 34 a tremendous opportunity to reflect on his past. 34 was a killer, a mass murderer for his cause. The old woman was right, 34 was a monster, but he wasn’t about to admit it.

Tsubasa was on a whole other level, and with no countermeasuers against her powers, this confrontation was beginning to look like his last.

“I’m an Esper, a superior race!” 34 angrily expressed. Backed into a corner, 34 charged at Tsubasa once again. The clan would not accept defeat. One of them had to go down. “For the clan!”

34 charged forard, only to be overwhelmed by a burst of white light shining from Tsubasa. The light was so bright, 34’s eyes naturally shut on their own.

34 was basked in the light, competely surrounded by it. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, the people, all gone. Nothing but whiteness remained in 34’s view, and his sprint game to a stop after his target vanished. His eyes took a momemnt to adjust before he could open them all the way.

“What’s this?”, 34 questioned. He stood alone in a field of white, which seemed to go on for infinity. “Did I die?”

A moment passed while 34 looked in all directions, searching for a person, place, or a thing other than white. Walking didn’t seem to move himeslf in this place. There didn’t seem to be an up or down, left or right.

“You’re not dead, yet.” Tsubasa’s voice filled the whiteness, as if coming from all directions. 34 was a little startled, and looked for the source.

“Where are you!? Show yourself!”, 34 demanded.

“I will not. I can tell you’re on a mission, wanting only to kill. I’m not going to fight you. Surely you must realize I could end your life in an instant?”

34 knew it was true. Espers of the clan who could translate other people could kill by moving their target into a wall or under ground. Tsubasa seemed to be able to translate and much more.

“I’ve brought you to a new plane of existence.”, Tsubasa continued. “In this place, you will not hunger, age, or die. This place is timeless, physicless, and inescapable.”

“A perfect prison!”, 34 was impressed, but the thought quickly faded as the fear of staying her forever loomed over him. “Alone for eternity, that’s more like Hell. I may as well be dead!”

“I think you misunderstand”, Tsubasa went on. “This isn’t your sentence, this is your trial. I only put you in here because it’s the only way I can talk to you without you trying to attack me!”

She was right. Moments ago, 34 was trying to get himself killed so he wouldn’t have to face The Clan. If Tsubasa wouldn’t kill him, the clan would. Either way, this was defeat. 34 relaxed his posture.

“What do you want from me?”, 34 gave in.

“Tell me your story.”

“My story? I’m Subject 34 of The Clan. I’m here to remove the weak.”

“No, not that story. Tell me the story you don’t tell people. The real story, not the one that’s been forced on you. Let’s start with your birth name.”

“My birth name?”

“You know, the name your parents gave you.”

34 hadn’t used that name since his childhood. It had stopped being his name since The Clan had taken him in during the war. It had been so long, he’d almost forgotten.

“I’m Subject 34.” he hesitated to recount his past.

“34? So that’s what people called you for your whole life?”

“No…” 34 looked from left to right.

“You’re alone here. Nobody but me can hear you.”

The Clan had strictly forbidden the use of birth names. One’s Subject number became their sole name after joining. Alone in this plane, 34 would have been comforted, if not for the fact that he was dead either way. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

“My name’s Aldo.”

Aldo remained in the plane of white for months. Day and night, Tsubasa would listen to more of Aldo’s story. Time didn’t seem to matter to Tsubasa, her ears and voice were always present whenever Aldo had something more to say. He recounted losing his mother and father. He recounted The Clan’s recruitment. He recounted his days in confinement when he stood up for other cell mates. He recounted killing hundreds of innocent people, and how it felt good to exercise power over them.

Little by little, his conciousness returned, and a feeling of guilt swept over him. He begged for Tsubasa to kill him, and she refused. Aldo tried to kill himself, but there was no means to do so in his endless sea of light. Tsubasa wouldn’t allow it regardless, somehow able to monitor Aldo around the clock.

As Aldo hit the rock bottom of despair, Tsubasa offered him a new start. To join St. Ezreal’s academy, and put his abilities to work, this time for good. With a path of redemption at hand, Aldo accepted.

Aldo awoke in a hospital bed, with an oxygen mask over his face. Trying to sit up, an intense pain came over the back of his neck.


“Don’t sit up so fast”, Tsubasa said as she entered the room. “A nurse will be here shortly. You’ve been unconsciousness for five months.”

“Five months? What are you talking about. I’ve been awake non-stop for five months in the plane of light you put me in!” Aldo’s eyes spasmed as the light from the laps in the dim lit room hit his eyes. “Why are these lamps so bright?”

“You haven’t used your eyes in five months. Take it easy.”

Aldo looked down at himself, covered in a hospital gown, with an IV in hand, and a feeding tube in his throat.

“What the hell, Tsubasa? I was fine a moment ago, now I feel like shit! What has really been happening for the past five months?”

“I suppose this is abnormal for your native plane.” Tsubasa started to explain. “You’ve been in Cryptic Isolation for five months. It’s an Esper ability which pulls your consciousness into my own. It’s how I defeated you back in the Human’s stronghold.”

“I’ve been trapped in your Astral realm for the past five months? Then that plane of white light?” Aldo was shocked.

“A fabrication in my mind. I bluffed that you were on a different plane. Your consciousness was only compartmentalized within my own.”

“Then the fight, and the old lady at the Church?”, Aldo wanted to hear the whole story.

“I made a copy of her appearance. As you fired Ionic Shock, I injected you and your partner into my consciousness when you blinked, along with your Ionic Shock. Everything from there was in my Astral Realm.”

“So that’s how you stopped our attacks.”

“That’s correct. You were in my lucid dream. I was in control of everything.”

“So you didn’t actually take away my Esper abilities?”

“I did, but only in that Astral Realm. Your abilities remain here.”

Aldo looked at his palms, relieved to know that Ionic Shock was stil a part of him. He looked at Tsubasa. In the real world, would his Ionic Shock have any effect on her?

“If you’re thinking of picking up where you left off, I’d be happy to put you back in Cryptic Isolation for another five months.”

Aldo put his hands down on his lap. He swallowed, feeling the feeding tube rub against his throat.

“I’ll pass.”


A nurse entered the room, adjusting the bed to the seated positon and removing the feeding tube from Aldo’s face.

“There’s just one more thing I want to know.” Aldo asked. “How was I defeated so easily?”

“Your native plane is years behind St. Ezreal’s. Your people have a lot to learn.”

“How did you pull off a projection like Cryptic Isolation?”

“When I went through the front gate of the Human’s stronghold to cut you off, I began a Remote Viewing projection to observe you. I saw how you acted towards your subordinate and the fallen men. That was enough to figure out your personality and state of mind, the prerequisite for injecting your consciousness. From there, it was easy, a lucid dream. Meanwhile, your body was collapsed on the church floor. All I had to do was grab you and plane shifted back home.”

“That’s incredible. I really had no chance.” Aldo shook his head.

“In time, you’ll learn Cryptic Isolation too.” Tsubasa encouraged.

“That’s all fine and good. But when will I get a rematch?” Aldo was itching for another fight.

“You’re free of The Clan now, but you’ll have to get used to how we do things here. We’re the good guys! Once you get up to speed, you can expect a rematch.” Tsubasa smiled.
Aldo sensei’s eyes opened slowly, revealing the end of his hospital bed, long table with a sink, and storage cabinets full of supplies. He was tucked under a blanket, wearing a hospital gown.

His eyes widened, letting in the whole view of the room. To his left, Tsubasa-sensei sat in a chair next to the bed with her arms crossed and eyes closed. Her head was drooped and she was breathing lightly.

“A nap?”, Aldo wondered quietly. “How long have I been out?”

Aldo sat up in his bed, and looked around the room. A fresh set of his clothes were neatly stacked on a shelf. Aldo pushed his covers down, swinging his legs out to the side of the bed. He paused to look down at the intraveinous needle in his arm.

Aldo removed the medical tape holding the tubes in place, and pulled out the needle. A pool of blood rose from the wound. He stood up and walked to the long desk, helping himself to a cotton swab and tape which he applied to his arm to stop the bleeding.

Aldo grabbed his clothes, putting on his pants before removing the hospital gown. After his shirt, Aldo sat on the end of the bed to put on his socks and shoes. As he lifted his first shoe to pull over his foot, he stared in horror at it’s sight.

“Who scuffed my shoes!” Aldo cried, enraged at the numerous scrapes atop their refined brown pleather.

“You’re awake.” Tsubasa-sensei said, roused from her nap.

“Tsubasa-sama, nevermind me, my shoes are ruined!” Aldo held them up, their damaged surface in plain sight.

“Well, I see you’re fine. I’ll take my leave then.” Tsubasa-sensei stood up.

Aldo dropped the shoes, standing and turning to face Tsubasa.

“Wait, what happened to me? How long was I out?” Aldo needed to know about that more than worry about his shoes.

“I placed an attack barrier on Watanabe, in order to catch the Nemesis of Time culprit. If you had exercised some restraint, you wouldn’t have set it off and caused your latest coma.” Tsubasa-sensei explained.

“Why didn’t you tell me?!” Aldo clenched his teeth.

“There was no need. The fewer who know about the barrier, the better.”

“No need? Are you questioning my loyalty?”

“I’m questioning your environment.” Tsubasa reasoned. “There’s a possiblity that the culprit is among us. I’m merely keeping the chance of a leak to a minimum. You shouldn’t have been fighting with a student anyway.”

“A student?” Aldo’s eyes widened at Tsubasa’s mistake. “He failed the entrance exam, he’s not a student!”

Tsubasa’s mouth opened. Her little play thing had grown on her and she had begun to think of him as a member of the school.

“Right…” Tsubasa said, a little embarrassed.

Aldo stepped back.

“Well anyway, I’m not about to make a habit out of gettting put into a coma by you.” Aldo spoke as he winced his forehead and putting a hand to his face.

“I’m glad you’re Okay.”

“Pfft, that was nothing. An attack like that isn’t going to keep me down for long. After all, we still haven’t had our rematch!”

“Hah!” Tsubasa laughed. “When that happens, don’t think I’ll go easy on you!”

Marth ran to the cafeteria, joining a flock of students as they queued for service. The cafeteria was lively as voices echoed through the styled brick ceilings. Marth stood in line and watched a pair of girls in short skirts lean over the salad bar to pour some dressing.

“Ooooh, stripes!” A voice behind Marth swooned.

Marth turned to see a messy haired girl staring in the direction of the salad bar using a pair of binoculars. A drop of drool was running from her mouth.

Marth wondered what was up with this girl. Her jet black, shoulder length hair was as if she just rolled out of bed. The sleeves on her school uniform seemed too long, and they covered much of her hands, only revealing her small fingers as they gripped the binoculars.

“Umm, those binoculars…” Marth wondered aloud.

“Lace!!” The girl called out as her cheeks went rosy beneath her military spec binoculars. Just then she noticed Marth staring intently. “Oh?”

The girl lowered her large optics to curiously look up at Marth. She glanced over to the girls at the salad bar, then back at Marth. She offered the binoculars to him, her long eye lashes coming together as she smiled.

“Schtinarr?” Marth read aloud the brand name on the top of the optics. “Holy shit, those are the real deal!” Marth hastily grabbed the set of eyes, forgetting about the girls. He brought them up to his face, looking through the apertures. “Which model is this? 7X? 8? Wooow, the objective size is incredible! It’s even got Mil dots, so cool! Where did you get this?” Marth looked back and forth through the cafeteria, googling over the expensive piece of kit.

Another girl walked up to the salad bar, bending over to reach the dressing. A pair of white panties glistened through Marth’s magnified view.

“White cotton!”, Marth was captivated. His mouth hung open as a drop of blood ran from his nose. “Hey, this hobby of yours is not bad! Here, partner. Take a look!”

Marth pulled the binoculars from his face, handing them to the girl behind him, while keeping his eyes focused on the panty covered shapely derrier.

The messy haired girl didn’t take the binoculars, and Marth turned to see why. She was gone. In her place, Sato Hanna stood staring at Marth with a menacing look of disappointment.

“You’re the worst!” Sato shouted in disbelief before lifting her leg and dealing a powerful Kung Fu side kick to Marth’s chest. Marth flew backwards into a brick column, shaking it and knocking a potted plant from it’s perch above. The plant fell, ending in a crash as the ceramic pot shattered atop Marth’s head. Battered and mind scattered, all Marth could see was a flock of chirping panties flying in circles above his head.

Marth cleaned up the mess and aquired his lunch. He carried the expensive binoculars on their sling around his neck with his lunch tray in his hands. He walked through the sea of tables, looking for a place to sit. Most of the other students had got ahead of him in line, so most of the seats were taken by now.

“What horrible timing.” Marth thought about Sato Hanna. “And who was that short girl with the messy hair? I need to return her binoculars.”

Marth stopped in the center of the cafeteria, scanning the room for an empty seat. Amung the mass of students, one stood to wave at Marth.

“Watanabe!” A smiling girl with a platinum blonde side tail was waving at Marth.


Marth walked over to the table where she and Tanaka Aoi were sitting.

“Watanabe-san, please sit down!” Shizuma beckoned as she picked up her lunch tray, making room for Marth. She walked to the other side of the table and sat next to Tanaka.

“Thanks.” Marth said as he took a seat.

“Miyu, don’t you mean Matsumoto-san?” Tanaka set down her fork to tease.

Marth laughed uncomfortably. “It’s really packed in here today.”

“You haven’t heard? There is supposed to be an announcement during lunch today. Normally lots of students eat outside.” Shizuma told the news.

Tanaka continued to eat her lunch, avoiding eye contact with Marth. Marth dug in as well.

Minutes passed before a hushing clap was heard. “Everyone, please may I have a moment of your time?”

The students turned to the small stage at the side of the cafeteria, usually reserved for live music, where Tsubasa-sensei was standing. The idle chatter became silent as the students gave Tsubasa-sensei their ears.

“The yearly competition for induction to St. Ezreal’s Esperly Order has been rescheduled. Teams of three must enter by the end of tomorrow, and the competition will take place two weeks from today. That is all.” Tsubasa-sensei said, before she turned and walked off the stage.

The students in the cafeteria collectively worked themselves up to an outroar.

“What! Why is this happening?”

“No way, the semester just started!”

Shock and confusion spread like a wildfire. St. Ezreal’s was known for it’s Esper competition, a yearly event which pitted students against students in a simulated battle royale. The event consistently drew large crowds of spectators as the trial determined the highest skilled Esper teams in the school. The award for the top three teams was admittence to the Academy’s secondmost prestigious group, the miliatarized St. Ezreal’s Esperly Order.

The order was at the pinnacle of Marth’s aspirations. In addition to the five pillars, they were the heroes of the school, carrying out humanitarian aid while promoting freedom and justice.

Tanaka’s jaw dropped as she heard the news. She quickly regained composure, standing up and yelling after Tsubasa-sensei.

“How dare you change the schedule! I demand an explanation!”

Tsubasa-sensei continued walking with her back to the crowd.

“Miyu, Miyu! The competition is traditionally at the end of the semester. We first years won’t stand a chance if it’s only two weeks away!”, Tanaka continued her concerned speech as Shizuma Miyu listened anxiously.

“Come on Miyu, we have to get more information. This will not stand!” Tanaka stood up, grabbing Shizuma by the arm.

“Aoi!” Shizuma called out, surprised by Tanaka’s haste. The two left their lunch trays behind as they hurried after Tsubasa-sensei.

Marth sat behind, finishing the last of his meal. Many of the students in the cafeteria were outraged, but Marth chomped his dessert without issue.

“I picked the right year to cheat on the entrance exam!” Marth chuckled as he wiped his hands on his napkin.Marth had returned the trays from his table and left the cafeteria. With the mysterious girl’s binoculars in his book bag, Marth passed by the yard. The water from the fountains was glistening in the sun beyond the tall hedges. With the administration building to his right, Marth glanced over, wondering about the teacher he had carried there.

Marth looked to the Astral Science Studies building, the same building he had taken the entrance exam from.

“The auditorium is so large…” Marth’s plan for the next period was forming.

Marth continued his walk to the building, turning onto it’s wide concrete path lined with cherry blossom trees on either side. A handful of students converged at the glass doorways, one by one holding the door open for the student behind.

Inside the foyer was an elevator, retrofitted to the building’s legacy structure. A hallway stretched from left to right, leading to stairs and the building’s four large audauditoriums. Martdecided to revisit the same room which he had taken the test, the last door down the left hall. Throught he door, other students were taking their seats. Marth took the first available seat, sitting down and placing his book bag on the floor.

Marth remembered this auditorium. Tiered seating, with long wooden desks spanning entire rows. The desks had intricate carvings, representing the school’s iconic pillars. Tall stained glass windows let in light through their translucent surfaces.

The large student audience was the perfect cover. No role was called in this room, and Marth blended in perfectly. Marth took notes as the sensei drew diagrams on the chalkboard at the head of the room.

The period came to an end, and Marth relocated to another auditorium in the same building. Blending in with the crowd once again, Marth sat through a lecture in which the instructor explained ethics in the Astral realm.

“The nuances between reality and personal reality may feel minute, but it is up to the individual to educe their own personal reality which aligns with the honor code set in place by St. Ezreal. Property rights, including that of self ownership, must be observed at all times and shall not be infringed. Thus, it would behoove all students to refrain from such acts of impersonation, plagurism, and defamation.”

Marth took notes, careful to not misspell any of the large words.

The period ended and Marth switched auditoriums once again.

“Molecular stucture is important to project accurately.” The lecturer droned.

“Here we can see an example of an Esperite molecule, and it’s similarity to crystal Quartz. The former can be refined to form beneficial products for Espers, while the latter has little practical use to that end. Thus, accuracy is key to molecular synthesis.”

The lecture concluded and Marth left the building, bag in hand.

“My brain hurts!”, Marth complained about the long winded presentations. “Note to self. Next time, spread the lectures throughout the day!”

Marth walked past the cherry blossoms towards the dormitory.

“Time for a break!” he rationalized skipping out on what would be the final period of the day.

Marth hopped up the foyer stairs, speed walked down the hall, and opened the door to his room. With his mind crammed full of new information, the potato sacks on the floor never seemed so inviting.

Marth tossed his bag on a utility shelf, and plopped face down on the sacks. He exhaled into the bags before turning his head to one side. Smiling, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Marth dreampt of the messy haired girl in the cafeteria. The two of them were on a grassy hill in a field of tall grass, overlooking the school’s campus. Both of them were dressed in camoflage uniforms, wearing laced up military boots and netted bulletproof helmets on their heads. Weaved between the netting were long bits of grass, forming a camoflage crown.

They were both on their bellies, laying side by side with their legs stretch out and feet flat on their sides against the ground. The girl held her olive drab green binoculars up against her eyes.

“Target sighted. 1250 meters.” The girl spoke as she peered towards the campus through an opening in the tall grass.

Puzzled, Marth pushed the tall field grass to either side, trying to catch a glimpse at what she was talking about.

“Here”, the girl offered her binoculars.

“Thanks”, Marth grabbed the specs, pressing them up against his face.

An elevated view of the campus shone through the lenses. The blacktop of the wide parking, the flat top of the commons building, littered with AC units, the fountains in the yard were clearly visible from this height, the tall hedges looking like miniscule plants from up here.

On the wide concrete walkway between the commons and the exam hall, a girl walked with her back to Marth with both hands grasping her book bag in front of her.

“The target?”, Marth wondered aloud, pulling back from the binoculars and looking at the messy haired girl.

“Roger.” The girl replied. This time, in her hands she held a large black collapsed umbrella with a hooked wooden handle, as if it were some kind of sniper rifle. Her right shoulder pressed up against the wooden handle’s curve, and her left eye was squinted as she looked down the umbrella’s shaft and past it’s pointy cap. “Taking the shot!”

Marth watched in peak curiosity as a 8 bit video game sound emminated from the Umbrella’s ferrule, accompanied by a pulse of a yellow beam of lazer light.

Marth quickly looked through the binoculars in his hands. The laser instantlty struck the hind quarters of the girl on the path, disintigrating her white mini skirt on impact.

“Ahhh!” The girl cried out as she covered her front with her book bag.

“Perfect shot!” The messy haired girl’s face glowed as she looked at the skirtless girl through a second pair of binoculars. A smile on her face stretched from ear to ear.

“Wow! Bear print!” Marth eyed the low-cut pink panties with a brown teddy bear. He was getting into this game, as the long brown haired girl on the pathway crouched in embarrasement.

“Hey, hey, find me another target!” The skirt bursting girl asked of Marth.

“Eye, eye, captain!” Marth sat up straight to salute his pervy superior before snapping back to view through the binoculars.

“1.3 kilometers. 10 o’clock low. Notable mirage, offset 12%”, Marth called out the target.

“Mhm, mhm!” The messy haired girl nodded with a smirk as she adjusted her imaginary rifle scope. “Target aquired, taking the shot!”

A loud lazer zap burst through the air, as frightened nested birds took flight from the tall surrounding grass.

The lazer hit it’s mark, zapping the white tulip from the girl’s hips. As she walked facing the mischevious snipers with her bag at her side, her skirt seemed to disappear in slow motion, revealing…

“No panties!” The two yelled in unison, eyes tearing up and blood gushing from their nostrils. In the distance, the shocked girl with blonde curly hair and studious glasses, had a look of surprise as she dropping her bag and covered herself with both hands.

The two skirt snipers lay back, eyes glassed over and losing fountains of blood from the sight. As Marth lay there twitching, Something in his pants began to overheat.

“So smoothe!” Marth said with slurred speech as his pocket became hotter. Hotter and hotter, a burning sensation increased so much that Marth was jolted from his dream, the pain receptors in his leg inciting a twitch.

Marth’s eyes opened as he look down at the right pocket of his pant leg. It was glowing a hot white, and something inside was burning his thigh.

“Ow ow ow!” Marth sat up, unbuttoning his pants and pulling them down to the floor. Standing in his underwear atop the potato sacks, Marth grabbed the pants by the opening in the legs and shook wildly.

The place card from Yoshida-sensei fell out of the pants pocket and onto the floor. Lit up like a torch, the card burned a hot white. Marth grabbed a shoe and tried to stamp out the heat.

“What’s going on?” Marth held his shoe in his hand as he it the card over and over. It’s heat transferred into the floor, creating a black burning mark in the concrete. Marth remembered the projection stored in the card.

“Starry notif? Was this thing undergoing nuclear fusion in my pocket?!” In a panic, Marth looked around for something to handle the ablazed card.

From the utility shelves in the room, Marth found a metal pail and used his shoe to scoop the burning card inside. The rubber sole of his shoe letting off a whisp of smoke.

Marth slipped on his shoes and ran out the door and through the hallways, narrowly missing a couple girls as they walked down the stairs into the foyer.

Marth ran outside, and down the path towards the commons. Past the range, he turned down the path to the Administration building, hot pail in hand, it’s metal bottom beginning to glow red.

Entering the building, Marth called out to the doctor. “Yoshida!”

Marth’s view faded from the dark interior of the Administration buildiing to the bright medical ward.

Marth dropped the red hot pail holding the white hot card as it’s heat travelled up the wire handle. Although the card was made of paper, it didn’t seem to show any damage from the intense heat.

Yoshida-sensei looked over to Marth as the pail hit the floor with a echoey thud. She promptly rolled her chair away from the desk and stood up.

“Marth-chan, What happened?!”

“Starry notif happened!” Marth pointed to the pail with the glowing hot card. “Are you trying to kill me?”

“My oh my!” Yoshida walked to the pail, staring down at the heated content.

“This isn’t right!”, Yoshida sensei said with a concerned look on her face. “Starry Notif only reaches 44° celcius and expires in 10 seconds!”

“Something has clearly gone wrong!” Marth rebutted.

The white coated doctor lightly grasped each end of the stethoscope slung over her shoulders. Closing her eyes, she brought her lips together and meditated for a moment of silence. The bright ceiling lights above Yoshida flickered, momentarily darkening the beds and privacy curtains spread throughout the room.

Marth looked to Yoshida-sensei who’s eyes remained closed. It wasn’t normal for a teacher to close their eyes when projecting. Usually, it was beginners who needed to close their eyes to aid in the differentiation between shared reality and their own.

“Sensei?” Marth wondered if everything was alright.

The doctor didn’t respond. She held her eyes and mouth closed as the lights in the room continued to flicker. Her hands remained in place, grasping her stethoscope.

Marth continued to stare, wondering. His view of the room behind Yoshida began to warp as if it were being viewed through a slowly rotating mirror. Connected sections of wall panels ceased to form straight lines, but began to angle themselves, becoming three dimentional facets like that of a crystal. The surfaces glistened in the flickering light, giving off a smooth, shiny finish. The effect expanded to the left and right of Yoshida, the whole room beginning to feel like a gleaming, glassy tunnel.

“Yoshida-sensei! You’re pulling me into your projection!” Marth cried out, concerned for his safety.

During a projection, the projector must clear their mind of all thoughts save for the task at hand. This warping of space around Yoshida looked like an amateur mistake, the creativity of her Astral realm interfering with her and Marth’s shared reality. It was strange to see a sensei slipping up like this. Was this a flaw of hers? Had she mis-projected Starry Notif before placing it in a card?

The elongated infirmary room, newly shiny and faceted from Yoshida’s projection, began to slither like a giant crystalline worm. With Marth and Yoshida in it, the floor abruptly moved. Marth struggled to keep his footing as the floor on which he stood tilted backwards. Marth caught himself, leaning forward just in time to not fall behind. The hospital beds began to slide as the writhing room’s surfaces expanded and contracted in a melodic rhythm.

“Yoshida!” Marth called out again as he was forced to his hands and knees by the muscular movement of a section of the hard blue crystal floor. The room was becoming more worm-like, the four discreet sections of walls, floor, and ceiling merging into a hollow crystal cyllinder. The pail with burning place card, Yoshida’s desk, the hospital beds, and curtains became absorbed into the crystal, their features remaining only as two dimentional images in the faceted surfaces.

As the source of the phenomenon, the doctor stood unmoved, anchored to the room. On her face, she held her meditative expression and her hands continued to gently grasp her stethoscope.

Marth crawled forward as the altered room continued to move like a creature. Pulses of light travelled through the room along with the rhythmic movements. From far to near, the rings of light came in waves, seeming to travel through the uneven panels. With it, a collection of tribal drums syncronized their beat.

“Goa music?” Marth wondered as he was pulled futher into Yoshida-sensei’s projection.

Marth stood to a crouch, keeping his center of gravity low so as not to fall under the moving floor. Marth looked to Yoshida, determined to pull her out of her leaking mind.

Step after step, Marth held his arms out to his side to aid himself as the floor facets continued to move up and down, left and right. As he approached the doctor, the beats of the tribal percussion intensified to a thumping roar. Within reach of Yoshida, Marth put his hands atop her shoulders and shook her back and forth. The pulses of light continued to traverse through the cylindrical structure along to the beat of the music. Yoshida’s hands remained on her stethoscope, with her eyes closed.

The music reached it’s peak volume as it’s percussive beats became a white noise of reverberating echoes. From Yoshida’s forehead, a spherical mound festered as if something beneath was coming alive. A horizontal slit in her skin formed as if a wrinkle of concern was giving birth. The gap widened, revealing a large green eye on Yoshida’s forehead.

Marth’s view tunneled on the large green eye. It had long black eyelashes actively waving back and forth like a writhing worm being held in the mouth of a mother bird. The eye’s iris lacked small muscle detail, instead it was a solid green, shiny on the outer edges. Further, the iris was was oversized, taking more space than usual and leaving only a small part of the sclera visible on either side.

Marth wanted to scream, but somehow his voice was unable to escape his mouth. Frozen in place, the large eye seemed to look into his soul, rapidly shifting it’s gaze as it looked over Marth, top to bottom.

Marth closed his eyes, wanting this experience to stop. As he did so, the Goa music ceased.

“Did Yoshida stop projecting?” Marth opened one eye cautiously.

The infirmary room was back to normal. The walls, floor, ceiling, beds and curtains were back in place. Marth was standing where he had been before hastily approaching Yoshida.

Yoshida was back in her chair, with legs crossed and pen and clipboard in her hands. With no sign of her third eye, she looked up from her glasses at Marth every few seconds, jotting down notes.

Marth looked down, placing his hands on his body to make sure everything was still there.

“Why are you projecting if you’re an amateur? You could have killed me!” Marth directed his confusion towards Yoshida.

Yoshida finished scribbling a note and lowered her clipboard. “Everything is A-OK, Marth-chan!” she said, looking up at Marth with a smile.

“What do you mean everything is A-OK? Do you not realize what just happened here?” Marth contested, gesturing his hands towards the walls. “And please do something about the card, it’s probably melted through the bucket by now!”

Marth looked down at the charred pail expecting to see a hot new hole in the floor. Instead, the plain place card sat inside, white hot fusion extinguished. Marth stared at the card, puzzled.

“You put it out?”

“Uh huh!” Yoshida smiled again, setting her clipboard on her desk. She stood up and walked towards Marth.

“What you just experienced was Astral Inspection, a quirk I developed over many decades of research.”

“You mean you aren’t incompetent?”

“Marth-chan, don’t be so mean!”, Yoshida-sensei leaned in and frowned before standing up straight again. “Astral Inspection induces a heavy halleucination while it’s performed. What you saw and heard was your own imagination based on your impressions of your surroundings.”

“But you closed your eyes! Teachers shouldn’t need to do that.”

Yoshida looked at the ceiling, putting one finger to her chin. “Hmm, I’ve never been good at that. Everyone says it’s because my imagination is so lively.”

“So she is incompetent!” Marth thought to himself, trying to hide his blunt thought. Although her methods were sloppy, the concept was starting to make sense. “So is Astral Inspection an injection? Why didn’t my defense barrier kick in?”

“Mhm! Tsubasa sensei’s defense barrier is well made. I avoided it only because I looked at you. No touchy touchy!” Yoshida squinted her eyes as she held out one finger like a shaming parent.

“Is the barrier that obvious?” Marth asked.

“No, no, it’s a strong barrier, but it’s hidden as well. My Astral Inspection is very sensitive. The average Esper wouldn’t notice the barrier until it was too late.”

“I see… So.. What did you find out?” Marth was a little embarrased that the doctor had taken such a close look at his consciousness.

“I saw that you’re a healthy young man!” Yoshida smiled again. Marth blushed.

“So what about the card?” Marth asked, changing the subject. “Luckily I had this bucket in my room. If you give Starry Notif to someone else, you might really kill them!”

“Oh that. You must be very popular on campus, Marth-chan!” she began.

“What do you mean?” Marth’s puzzled look returned.

Yoshida-sensei’s bubbly personality made a change to serious.

“Marth-chan, from my inspection, I was able to query the muscles in your body. Someone was in your bed with you as you napped this afternoon.”

“Eh?” Marth’s puzzled look persisted. “WHAAAAAAAAATT???!!?!?!!!!”

Marth’s knees buckled and he held out his hands in shock.

“Yes, Marth, someone was with you and they pulled the card from your pants.”

Marth collapsed to the floor at the mental burden.

“You mean I had my first time in bed with a hot girl, and I wasn’t awake for it?!” Marth began to pant heavily as his mind began to race. “A girl was digging in my pants, but I was asleep? What if word gets out, that I can’t stay awake during romantic encounters?! Was the person even a girl? What if it was a boy? Oh no, what if I can’t get a date because of this? Will I be celibate for my entire life? I might as well kill myself now!” A bead of sweat formed on Marth’s forehead as his mind wandered.

“Marth-chan, Marth-chan!” Yoshida-sensei jostled Marth back to their shared reality. “I don’t think you need to worry.” she reafirrmed, patting Marth on the head.

Marth snapped back, picking up the card from the scortched bucket.

“So someone did something to this place card?” Marth held the card in his hand, looking over it’s artistic face.

“Well, that’s the strange thing.” Yoshida said, looking up at the ceiling. “Place Cards are difficult, if not impossible to alter.”

Marth wondered if Yoshida-sensei was trying to cover her own mistake, but kept listening.

“The artwork we at St. Ezreal’s draw on the back side of Place Cards is incredibly detailed, down to atomic levels of precision.” Yoshida explained. “This proves the projector’s affiliation, and prevents counterfeiting.”

“Can’t someone just change the front side of the card?”, Marth wondered.

“No, they can’t. There is no way to change a part of an existing Place Card. Any alterations require that the Place Card be erased and a new projection stored within.”

“It’s like a bad computer program!” Marth made the comparision.

“Yes, Marth-chan. But there are good reasons for it to be this way. For example, my Starry Notif has two variables. Temperature, and duration. If those variables could be overriden by anyone by appending new data to an existing place card, Starry Notif could become a dangerous weapon.”

“Thermite on steroids!” Marth’s eyes lit up.

“Marth-chan, don’t get any bad ideas!” Yoshida’s bubbly personality returned as she bonked Marth’s head with a meter stick.

“Yoshida-sensei, if your card can’t be modified once it’s projection is initially sealed, doesn’t that mean you just made a mistake?” Marth asked the obvious, rubbing his head.

“Marth-chan, have some faith in me!” Yoshida stood, waving her arms in the air and wincing her face.

“I might if you’d act your age”, Marth muttered to himself.

Yoshida composed herself, sitting back down in her chair.

“There are some known exploits in Place Card technology.” Yoshida crossed her arms, looking down at her lap.

“Exploits? Like in a video game?”

“Yeah!!” Yoshida smiled again, with eyes wide she lifted one hand in the air. “Think of when you’re playing Opposing-Attack:Origins and all of a sudden someone whizzes past you as fast as a speeding bullet. Nobody in the game should be able to run that fast!”

“A speed hack!” Marth related.

“Yeah! 100 points to Marth-chan!” Yoshida raised her hand again, smiling from ear to ear. A ding and applause was heard and confetti fell from the ceiling.

“Are you saying someone used a speed hack on your place card? I thought you said the cards can’t be altered.” Marth tried to piece the puzzle together as he brushed confetti off his shoulder.

“The speed hack would have to exist in our shared reality, our world, not the Place Card itself.”

“You mean it’s a server-side hack!”, Marth caught on.

“Yeah yeah yeah!” Yoshida raised both arms. “Just like in the video game, the change in speed must take place in the server’s model of the game. That’s the only way the speed hack will be seen by all participants.”

“So the place card wasn’t modified, but the space time around it was!” Marth had figured it out. “Yoshida-sensei, who did this?”

“All I know is that small hands searched your body and grabbed the card from you pocket. Anything beyond that is just speculation!” Yoshida leaned back in her chair. With a frown, she shrugged her shoulders.

“Sensei, please speculate! Someone’s been messing with me and it’s got me into a lot of trouble. I need to find them!” Marth bowed, desperate for answers.

“Well, all I can say is that this person is quite the Esper. Most projections involving time are strictly forbidden at St. Ezreal’s, but this Esper seems to have a knack for that type.”

“You mean like Nemesis of Time?” Marth inquired.

“It’s certainly possible.” Yoshida hypothesized. “Someone who can create fields in which time becomes dilated may very well be able to peer into another place in time.”

“So the culprit has small hands, and is a talented Esper. That’s not much to go on, but it’s a start!” Marth rationalized the new information. “Now about starry notif?”

“Yes Marth-chan, the reason I summoned you with Starry Notif was because Aldo-sensei woke up. He already left along with Tsubasa-sensei.”

“Was he alright?” Marth wondered if any lasting effect would persist from Tsubasa-sensei’s defense barrier.

“Oh he’s fine, although he was pretty upset about his shoes!”

Marth walked back towards the dorm with his hands in his pockets as the sun was setting.

“Ahh, my adrenaline was pumping. I’m not ready to go back to the dorms now.” Marth looked towards the yard, the gentle white noise of it’s water fountains evoking a feeling of relaxation.

Marth decended the three steps from the elevated path to the yard’s ground level. As the central part of the campus, the yard stretched out for hundreds of meters.

Marth walked through the short trimmed grass to the central fountain. Built into the outside of it’s circular stone base, a stone ring platform meant for seating. Marth took a seat on the cold stone surface, and with his back to the fountain he leaned his head back, looking up at the sky.

Amber sky turned to a deep starry blue as the Sun set further. Marth exhaled, breathing in the fresh air.

“If I help catch the culprit, I’ll be sent home.” Marth thought aloud, considered his future. “I don’t want to go home. I want to be here!”

The stars in the sky were starting to become more visible within the dim lit yard. A distant twinkling was seen.

“If I do nothing, I can stay here forever!” Marth had the epiphany. He was already learning so much by sneaking into classes. The situation was ripe for milking.

“Watanabe? Is that you?” An all too familiar voice beckoned. Marth turned to see Tsubasa-sensei approaching.

Marth exhaled at the thought of more work orders. The situation wasn’t as perfect as he had imagined.

“We’re sorry, the number you have called cannot be completed as dialed. Please try again.” Marth leaned back, answering sarcastically.

“I know it’s you, Marth. Seems like you had quite the day without my guidance!”

“Yeah well, I happen to thrive on freedom. I guess you could say I’m ready to be a regular student!” Marth continued his facetious banter.

“Yes, you’re probably right.” Tsubasa concured.

Marth sat up, caught off guard by her willingness to comply. Tsubasa the hard ass was loosening up?

“Sensei, are you feeling OK? Have you had enough to eat today?” Marth inqured, half expecting her to start blushing again.

Tsubasa loosened her neck and shoulders, relaxing the stony expression on her face.

“Watanabe, you’ve proven to me that you are not a threat to the Academy, however not everyone is convinced.” Tsubasa crossed her arms. “The Pillars are worried. They expected the Esper responsible for Nemesis of Time to be captured by now. They’re losing patience with my plan and I.”

“The other Pillars, you mean Kaito and Aldo?” Marth thought of those thorns in his neck.

“That’s not important. What’s important is the supermajority vote of all Pillars. They’ve given me two weeks.”

“Two weeks then I get sent home?” Marth felt his dream slipping away.

“Two weeks then you’re executed.” Tsubasa closed her eyes.

“You’re kidding me. I’m innoncent!”

“I know that. Most of the Pillars know that. The problem is that you’re a capable proxy. Your existence is forbidden.”

“But we’ll catch them, right? Your proxy kicks ass, we just have to wait until the bad guy tries to use me again!” Marth stood up, wildly gesturing his arms in front of him.

“It’s not that simple. The Nemesis of Time culprit has all the time in the world to wait for us to let down our guard. Meanwhile, the Pillars and Guard cannot conduct meetings with any expectation of privacy.”

“What do you mean? All you have to do is Phase Shift!”

“You don’t understand.” Tsubasa opened her eyes, the skin on her forehead bunching up in frustration. “If you can see through time and space, no knowledge is out of your reach. With a quick look, a Nemesis of Time user can discover the ins and outs of our past, present, and future security protocols. Nemesis of Time enables god-like ability, and our existence as an Esper Academy is jeopardized.”

“So that’s it then? I’m to be disposed of simply because that Esper chose me to be their tool?”

“No, it’s not too late. I have a plan.”

Marth returned to the stone fountain seat, leaning against the back and looking at the stars. He stared at the glistening lights before turning to face his sensei.

“Tsubasa-sensei, I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Prepare yourself for the hardest two weeks of your life!” Tsubasa repositioned her crossed arms.

“What exactly do you have in mind?” Marth could only imagine the size of the next pickaxe he would have to synthesize.

“Watanabe Marth, I want you to participate in the St. Ezreal’s Esperly Order competition, and win.”

“What the fuck!” Marth burst a gasket at the thought of winning a contest meant for experienced Esper compatants. “I haven’t had a single day of combat training or a week of classes, how can I possibly win a competition for the secondmost prestigious gorup within the most prestigious Esper academy!? You’re nuts, Tsubasa, you might as well kill me now!”

“Watanabe, it’s the only way. I rescheduled the competition just for you.”

“So that’s what that was about! You pisseed off the whole school by serving them a test they aren’t ready for, just for me?”

“Yes, Marth.” Tsubasa replied simply, lowering her gaze to a spot on the ground away from Marth.

A moment of silence passed. Marth looked at Tsubasa who was trying to avoid eye contact. Tsubasa had been there time and time again in Marth’s defense, ever since Aldo tried to dispatch him on his first visit to the Academy.

Marth promptly stood, respectfully lowering his head to bow at Tsubasa.

“Thank you, Tsubasa-sensei! I will do my best!”

Miyagi Riko sat wearing fuzzy yellow pajamas with legs at her side on the tatami mats of her dorm floor. Needle and thread in hand, she sewed the shoulder seam of a yellow bunny costume atop the room’s center chabudai table. Sato Hanna sat in a chair at the side of the room, brushing her hair in front of a well lit vanity mirror.

“Hanna, have you decided who you want on your team this year?” Miyagi asked with sleepy eyes locked on her stitches.

“I.. hadn’t thought of it yet.” Hanna replied. Her hand paused for a moment as she looked to her side.

“Really? Every other year you’ve been dying to get a team together for St. Ezreal’s Esperly Order competition.” Riko looked up from her craft at Hanna. “Don’t tell me you aren’t planning on competing this time. You haven’t given up, have you?”

“It’s not like that. There’s just nobody befitting my team.” Hanna closed her eyes tightly and continued to brush her hair.

“Oh?” Riko looked on curiously. “It’s not good to exclude yourself. You may develop a complex!” She lowered her costume to the table, still holding it.

“Well there is one person, but I don’t think he’d join.” Hanna spoke in a sad tone, her brush pausing again.

“You don’t mean, it’s a boy you like?” Riko asked, seeing right through Hanna’s secret.

“As-if!” Hanna scoffed, shaking her head. “I’ve got no time for boys!”

“Your secret’s safe with mee!” Riko smiled from ear to ear, picking up her costume and continuing to sew.

Hanna kept her face turned towards the mirror, slowing her brushing.

“I mean, if I did like someone, he’d probably be tall and handsome, and completely inelligibile for the competition as he’d already be in the Esperly Order. The only boys available are good for nothing perverts!” Hanna slipped out the words, red in her wincing face.

Marth arrived back at the door of his room. As he opened the door to his private supply closet, he let out a sneeze.

“Tchoo!” Marth wiped his nose with his hankerchief. “Summer cold?” He wondered.

Marth’s day began at 4:30AM. The sun had yet to rise on the elegant campus, as dew drops formed on the unlit blades of grass. Marth was in blissful dream land, fast asleep on his back, with mouth wide open and a bubble of spit on his lips.

Tsubasa-sensei kicked in the door.

“On your feet, minion!” The sound of Tsubasa’s voice violently rousing Marth from his slumber.

“Ah, I surrender! Take my money and belongings but please leave my Hatsune Miku collection alone!” His spit bubble burst as Marth sat up in bed and raised his hands in the air.

“You collect Hatsune Miku dolls?” Tsubasa asked, pausing her hostile takeover for a moment.

“They’re figures, not dolls!” Marth rubbed the sleep from his eyes, realizing it was just Tsubasa.

“How cute. My niece collects dolls too!” Tsubasa hunched over laughing, revealing a large pack on her back.

Marth threw off his blanket, standing up in t-shirt and shorts.

“Fig-ure-s!” Marth defended his hobby. “What’s with the backpack? It looks like you’re armed for bear today.”

Tsubasa stood up, composing herself and resuming her drill seargent voice. “You’ve got thirty seconds to get dressed and rendezvous in the hallway, peon. I’m about to whip you into shape!”

Marth followed Tsubasa from the dormitory to the administration building. It was still dark out and Tsubasa’s pace was quick.

The administration building was darker than ever, with not a shred of light shining in from the vented ceiling.

“Watch your step.” Tsubasa warned as the two climbed the short stairset to the stage.

As soon as Marth’s trailing foot touched down on the stage’s surface, the dark surroundings shifted to a bright green sky.

“The mine!” Marth recognized the surrounding quarry on the planet with two suns. Marth walked to a pickaxe leaning against a boulder and picked it up. “I didn’t think this is what you had in mind when you said you were going to get me fit for combat.”

“No Marth, put down the pickaxe.” Tsubasa said, turning her head to look at Marth. “This planet is useful for more than mining.” Tsubasa faced forward and began walking.

Marth tossed the pickaxe to the ground which landed in crushed rock with a thud. It’s wooden handle bounced with a knock. Marth jumped into a jog to catch up with Tsubasa.

Tsubasa walked quickly until she reached a wall of the circular quarry. With no need for large dump trucks or excavators to come and go, the quarry had been burrowed straight down, without ramps or elevators descending from the surface.

Tsubasa turned, facing Marth with the steep wall behind her.

“You’re trapped in a pit with no ladders or methods of climbing out. What do you do?” Tsubasa crossed her arms, testing Marth.

Marth looked up at the wall beneath the perfectly clear green sky.

“I’d use Atomic Relegation to redistribute the wall’s surface into something that resembles a staircase.” Marth eagerly responsed, having done similar in his youth to make ladders to tree houses.

“Wrong.” Tsubasa shook her head.

“What do you mean, wrong? It would work wouldn’t it?”

“You’re in a battle. A pit was projected below you, and you fell to it’s bottom. How would you get out?”

“Atomic Relegation!” Marth persisted.



“In a war between another Esper, two thing determine whether you live or die.” Tsubasa blinked. “Imagination, and stamina.”

“I can imagine a stairway just fine!”, Marth rebutted.

“And how many stairways can you make before you need a nap or a snack?” Tsubasa went on. “And how many HYPER-DRAGON-EYES or Projection Breakers would you have left?”

The concept hit Marth like a bolt of lightning. Tsubasa was right. Running around, projecting, dodging, absorbing and countering projections would take a serious toll on an Esper’s energy. Every projection would be as ammo in a rifle with a small magazine; every shot counts.

“Tsubasa, what should I do?” The humbled student asked the guru.

Tsubasa smiled and uncrossed her arms, placing her hands on the hip belt of her large pack.

“I’m glad you asked!” she prounounced.

Tsubasa kept her left hand on her belt, flicking her thumb upwards to pop open a clasped pouch. Her right hand moved to the same position as she slightly crouched her legs to hold a position that resembled a samurai about to draw their sword.

Exposed by the open clasp were stacks of partitioned place cards laid out like tiered credit cards in a wallet. Without needing to look, her right hand felt the separated stacks, drawing a card from the top of the fifth stack.

Tsubasa threw the card out in front of her towards Marth with her right hand, as her left stayed holding the card pouch.

“Whoah!” Marth cried out, startled at the card as he dove to the ground to avoid whatever projection it contained.

The card flew edge first out in front of Tsubasa, before it suddenly stopped in place, mid-flight. Hovering in space, the card quickly rotated before coming to a stop with it’s face oriented in the original direction of flight.

The graphic on the face of the card showed what looked like a soap bubble, spherical and transparent. The floating card began to vibrate rapidly.

“Get close, Marth!” Tsubasa ordered. “Also, I recommend standing up.”

Marth rose, using one of his knees as support. Two meters above the vibrating place card, a translucent arch formed, continuing to constitute downards in three dimentions as it’s shape became a large hollow sphere.

“What the hell is a bubble shield going to do for us?” Marth questioned as the sphere’s construction continued downwards past their waists.

“Don’t let the bottom cut off your legs.”, Tsubasa said calmly.

“What!?” Marth quickly shuffled over to Tsubasa, avoiding the vibrating card on the way.

“Jump!” Tsubasa barked, drawing a card from the third pocket in her card pouch.

The card was thrown downward at the contracting opening of the bubble shield as Tsubasa and Marth jumped to avoid the terminus. A half meter off the ground, Marth and Tsubasa’s feet came to a rest on the sloped inward curve of the sphere.

Marth struggled to balance on the slope, naturally sliding toward’s it’s lowest point, pressed up against Tsubasa. Marth tried not to grab anything as his arms hovered on either side of her.


“Stay away from me.” Tsubasa’s large hands palmed Marth’s face, pushing his head away from him.

“Mph, Tshubasha, hwhat waf dhat cward yhew fthrew ohn thh ghround?”

“Fire.” Tsubasa calmly articulated.

A burst of hot flames eruped from the card below the bubble shield, sending the bubble flying straight upwards along the quarry wall.

Marth lost his footing again and again, rolling back and forth in the bubble’s interior as Tsubasa calmly stood upwards. The ball continued to ascend, rapidly pushed upwards by the firey hot air bred from the flames.

“Tsubasaaaa, I’m too young to dieee!” Marth gripped Tsubasa’s legs.

The flames below died out, no longer propelling the bubble shield as it slowed down. As the bubbleshield’s vertical speed decreased, the shield began to open up from the top, in similar fashion as it’s creation.

“Tsubassa, the shield is breaking down!” Marth screamed in terror. “We’re going to fall to our deaths!”

Tsubasa held her calm look as the bubble’s exterior slid away, becoming nothing but a dish.

“Get ready to jump!” Tsubasa commanded Marth once more. The dish became a plate at it’s apogee, reaching the perfect height to be level with the planet’s surface above the quarry.

Tsubasa hopped forward, grabbing Marth by the back of his shirt.

“Ahh!” Marth was surprised at Tsubasa’s actions as she pulled Marth onto solid ground from the vanishing bubble. Marth fell to his hands and knees, shaking from the experience.

“Now do you understand?” Tsubasa asked Marth.

The Place Card which had been contained within ceaced vibrating, falling back and forth like a benign piece of paper. Tsubasa placed her left hand above her card pouch and flicked her thumb downwards, locking the clasp.

Marth took a few deep breaths before responding.

“Do you think you could have briefed me before you pulled that stunt?” The shake of Marth’s hands lessoned as he got the feeling off his chest.

“As an Esper, you have to be ready for the unexpected. Graceful reaction is an important skill.” Tsubasa coached her student.

Marth looked down the face of the cliff they had just ascended. The bubble shield Place Card was halfway to the ground, tumbling as it fell like a maple tree’s leaf in autumn.

“Sensei, this doesn’t make any sense.” Marth shifted his weight to his legs, standing up.

Tsubasa stood silently with her arms at her side. A gentle breeze blew her blonde hair.

“How did you pull off such a perfect combo, with Place Cards that can’t be modified?” Marth was beyond curous. “The cliff wall has to be 50 meters high. The bubbleshield might not weigh much, but you with all your armor and cargo along with I…” The questions in Marth’s head were getting all jumbled as he pieced together the puzzle, so he asked the question differently. “The fire below the shield erupted with the perfect duration and velocity for us to reach this precise height. Since place card variables can’t be modified after the projections have been sealed, how then were the variables so perfect for this situation?”

“I’m glad you’ve been learning about Place Cards. That will make my job much easier.” Tsubasa smiled. “Place Cards are essential tools for combat. They allow a projection to take place, without the projector’s stamina to be drained.”

“The projector could have placed the projection the day before, and recovered since then. I get that.” Marth butted in.

“Indeed. But one thing you haven’t got yet is that Place Cards can be sealed with more than one projection.” Tsubasa taught.

“More than one? But what about the artwork on the front?” Marth rationalized. “Each projection has a unique piece of art. There isn’t room for a second.”

“That’s because the second projection doesn’t affect shared reality like the first projection.” Tsubasa crossed her arms as she expounded. “The second projection is for augmenting the first.”

“You mean like the variables?”

“Exactly. Variables, or conditions to set the variables.”

“Place cards have an initialization function?” Marth was reminded of a programming class he had taken in High School.

“Essentially, yes.”

“How do you do it?”

Tsubasa nodded, then assumed the position she had held before drawing each card. Knees bent, a slight forward lean, her left hand on her left hip, and her right hand reaching across to meet her left hand.

Tsubasa concealed the opening of her card pouch from Marth’s view with her left hand. With her right hand, she slowly produced a card from the pouch, pushing her hand with the card forward towards Marth. In slow motion, Tsubasa extended her arm, card pinched between her index and middle fingers and thumb. With an obvious twisting motion, Tsubasa flicked with her fingers, released the card a few centimeters in front. The card held it’s position in air, rotating until it’s face was pointing at Marth.

“A camp fire.” Marth’s eyes widened at the sight, quickly turning to dive for cover.

Marth jumped to the ground head first, agitating the dirt on the on the ground which formed a plume of dust. Marth’s hands covered his head, bracing for an imminent blast of heat.

“You’re so cute.” Tsubasa laughed as the card let out a match head size flame. The flame went out almost immediately with a puff of smoke as the card fell gracefully to the regolith.

With hands still covering his head, Marth looked up from his prone position. “Would you quit messing with me?”

“Uh, uh uh!” Tsubasa waved a finger. “A good esper must be ready for anything!” Tsubasa chuckled.

“Seriously.” Marth stood up, unimpressed.

Tsubasa calmed herself and cleared her throat.

“Do you understand now?”

“Not really. You threw a fire place card at me and it happened to make a small fire this time.”

“But how did I throw it?” Tsubasa retorted.

“Slowly, and with a twist of your wrist.” Marth answered.

“How was that compared to how I threw the first Burst of Embers?”

“That one was thrown faster, with more twist.” The concept clicked in Marth’s mind as he spat out his hypothesis. “The velocity and orientation of the cards are measured by the second augmentor projection. When thrown, the augmentor sets the first projection’s variables!”

“You catch on pretty quick!” Tsubasa replied. “You may just have a chance of winning this thing.” she said, referring to the upcoming competition.

“Tsubasa, that’s it? The combo was so precise. How did you know how fast to throw?”

“Burst of Embers has three variables.” Tsubasa crossed her arms again. “The intensity of the flames, the delay before the projection is unsealed, and the duration of the burst. Those three variables are set according to the speed of my arm’s extension, speed of my finger’s flick, and angle of rotation at the end of my wrist’s twist. I asked Yoshida-sensei for your weight, added it to my own, and calculated the joules needed to force the ball to the precise height of the wall. The precision of my throw which influenced the variables just comes down to sheer practice.”

“Sensei, I am not worthy!” Marth put his hands at his side, bowing his head in the most courteous form he could muster.

“Maybe not, but that’s what we’re here for.” Tsubasa uncrossed her arms and turned to walk away from the quarry’s ledge. “Let’s get on to your next lesson.”

“Yes ma’am!” Marth rose from his bow, jogging after the mighty Pillar.

The mine planet was a rocky expanse for as far as the eye could see. Devoid of trees or wildlife, the warm planet was lonely as can be.

“I see you’ve become used to the Admirite.” Tsubasa said with her back to Marth as she led the way up a lifeless hill with scattered jagged boulders.

“I guess so. It’s waves of blue light are always in my mind, though.”

“Just think of it as a friend, not a foe.” Tsubasa advised.

Marth looked ahead to the place Tsubasa was taking him. The terrain around the mine had been mostly flat with moderate rolling hills for as far as the eye could see. The two began to descend towards a shallow gulley, with tall brown rock outcroppings on either side. The ground was more of the same, powderized rock atop solid stone beneath.

“Why is powdered rock all over the place?” Marth wondered aloud.

“It’s from the wind. Small stones are blown, crashing against bigger stones. Over time, those crashes produce powder, and more small stones.”

Marth dragged his feet in the dry ground as he walked, kicking up dust.

“Where’s all the wildlife? A planet this warm should be able to support plants at least.”

Tsubasa shook her head. “This planet has been kept sterile since it’s creation.”

“Sterile? Like with chemicals?” Marth’s curiosity continued.

“Aastral rovers. Soulless wandering beings with a single task. Seek and destroy all living things. If you see one of them out here, run.”

“Are you kidding me? You left me alone in the mine for an entire day. What if I had run into one of them then?”

“They don’t visit the mine unless specifically ordered to.”

“So they just patrol the planet, killing anything that moves?” Marth’s questions kept coming.

“Yes. They are able to detect large mammals to the smallest microbes. Anything alive they fry with extreme ultra violet.”

As Marth walked next to Tsubasa into a valley of rocks, he was suddenly thankful that his desire to explore the planet had not been undertaken previously.

Tsubasa walked into an open area at the base of the gulley, surrounded on all sides by the rocky slopes of the hills.

“Marth, the Esperly order competition allows projections of all types, except for two. If you’ve been paying attention during your stay at St. Ezreal’s, I’m sure you know which are forbidden?” Tsubasa spoke as she unbuckled her large backpack and dropped it to the ground. Her tactical belt around her waist remained, detached from the larger pack.

“Time, and the creation of life.”

“That’s good.” Tsubasa put her hands on her hips. “As for the allowed types, anything goes, so long as direct attacks are of the non-lethal variety.”

“Okay?” Marth was aware of the rules. The competition was a regular spectator event aired on TV.

Tsubasa bent her knees and leaned slightly forward, reaching her right hand across her body to join her left hand at her card pouch.

“Spar with me. Don’t hold back, because you should know I won’t.”

“You’ve got stacks of Place Cards! I can’t hope to compete with you!” Marth tried to stall, but crouched a bit ready for Tsubasa’s first move.

Tsubasa drew a card from the pouch’s opening concealed by her left hand so fast that Marth couldn’t see the artwork. Throwing the card out at Marth with no twist of the wrist, the card halted instantly after leaving Tsubasa’s fast flicking fingers, sending a massive burst of hot air flying towards Marth.

Marth braced, not having prepared a defense for such an attack. The air blew Marth’s hair and clothes back as the hot gust kicked up dirt and pebbles. Marth held his arms in front of his face, guarding from the debris.

“A wind place card?” Marth thought to himself has he tried to keep track of Tsubasa’s inventory.

Marth looked up from his shielded position expecting Tsubasa to be charging towards him under the cover of the blast of wind. Instead, Marth saw nothing but the scattered dust of planet’s regolith.

“An aerial attack!” Marth hypothesized, immediately ducking and rolling to his left.

Tsubasa’s steel toed boots slammed into the ground where Marth had just been, creating two craters in the dry regolith.

Marth continued his roll for another meter before putting his feet down and returning to his knees.

“Cheese and crackers, Sensei, are you trying to hospitalize me?” Marth said, agitated.

“Are you saying you can’t handle this situation?” Tsubasa sternly gazed at Marth as more dust expanded from around the impact of her feet.

“I.. Uh..” Marth stuttered, conflicted by Tsubasa’s question. Tsubasa Hinata, the second highest rank at the legendary St. Ezreal’s Academy was standing before Marth, emmanating an aura of viscious intent. The easy way out was in sight, Marth simply had to give up.

“You aren’t giving up, are you? Should we just end this right here, right now?” Tsubasa moved her hands to her card pouch.

Never had Marth heard of an Esper from St. Ezreal’s doing such a thing. St. Ezreal’s Espers were widely known heroes who rose to any occasion and took on any enemy no matter how dire the situation.

“Tsubasa, with you as my opponent, I can’t possibly hope to win.” Marth voiced his concern, the one thing blocking his path to try.

“Marth, there is more than one path to victory.” Tsubasa flicked open her card pouch with her thumb as her gaze locked with Marth’s. “Find yours.”

Tsubasa drew a card from her pouch, concealing it with her left hand as she threw it forwards towards Marth. The card locked mid-air, emitting a sound much like a cracking whip. Around the frozen card, the air distorted like a mirage in a distant desert plain. From the distortion, a dark humanoid figure emerged, moulding it’s own bodyshape as if a liquid within was re-distributing it’s mass.

The colorless body’s final transformation was to convert it’s colours and proportions to form a perfect spacial replica of Tsubasa, armor and all.

The copy dashed towards Marth, sprinting as the real Tsubasa followed behind, doing the same.

“My path to victory…” Tsubasa’s words echoed in Marth’s mind as she and her copy raced towards him. “I’m outnumbered, outskilled, and outgunned. All the odds are in her favor.” Marth figured his situation was looking grim.

“…But I’m not about to die.” Marth decided as he shifted his focus to his survival. Tsubasa and her copy drew even nearer. Marth concentrated on Tsubasa and her copy’s form. “No weapons, no cards. Are they planning to drop-kick me?” Marth remembered the copy. “Her counterpart isn’t alive, as that would violate the St. Ezreal’s rules of engagement. It must be a doll then, animated to match the movements of a person. She’s using her doll as a shield. She’ll force me to react to her doll’s attack while her self attacks me from behind.”

The Tsubasa in front leaped in to the air, preparing for a
heavy drop kick.

“Pfft, the doll distraction, one of the oldest tricks in the book. I’m not about to fall for that.” Marth ignored the flying Tsubasa, instead turning to the right to face the second Tsubasa who had circled around.

“The doll is nothing but a series of light reflections, it won’t have much mass” Marth thought aloud, bending his knees and brought up his fists. to face the second Tsubasa head-on.

With a crash and a thud, the steel toed boots of the flying Tsubasa fell down on Marth’s back, her weight knocking Marth off his feet, falling face first into the ground.

The second Tsubasa stopped in place, looking down at the real Tsubasa sitting ont he ground with her legs atop Marth’s back.

“What the hell? The first Tsubasa was just a doll!” Marth was confounded.

“I switched places.” Tsubasa said as she backed off of Marth, standing up and joining her doll.

“Why did you do that?” Marth pressed his hands into the regolith, lifting himself from the dusty surface.

“I saw that look in your eyes.” Tsubasa crossed her arms. “It’s the same look you had when you fought Aldo for the first time.”

“You mean you changed your plan in the middle of your attack?”

“Yes. I knew you were analyzing the situation, so I simply applied game theory. Instead of using my doll as a distraction as I theorized you would theorize, I switch places with my doll, turning the distraction into a direct attack.

“When did you do that? I was watching the Tsubasa in front the whole time!”

“The doll is simply an illusion, a hollow, malleable surface which can absorb or reflect light to give off the appearance of a person. Because of it’s false structure and the illusion that we share the same physical size, switching places was simple. All I did was run through the doll, becoming the Tsubasa in front.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

Marth wiped the dusty particulate from his clothes.

“Welp, I guess I failed.” Marth admitted. “But I’m not giving up. It’s going to take a lot more kicks like that before I keel over.”

“That’s the spirit!” Tsubasa and her doll jumped backwards, landing and sliding in the dirt. “When you can’t win through skill, win through persistence.” Tsubasa said with a grin.

“I can’t help but think that you’re taking this opportunity to make fun of me.”

“I wouldn’t dare!” Tsubsasa said with another smile.

“I think she’s enjoying this a little too much.” Marth muttered to himself.

“Now then, let’s take this up a notch.” Tsubsa suggested. “I want you to go on the offensive. Attack my doll and I. First strike wins.”

“Well this is a first.” Marth commented. “Usually it’s the teachers doing the attacking.”

“Let’s see what you’ve got!” Tsubasa encouraged.

Marth thought a moment about how he would proceed. Again the thought of quitting in the face of one of the strongest Espers came up, but was quickly dismissed as Marth focused on what he could do in the moment.

“Resonant Wave!” Marth cried out with both palms pointed towards Tsubasa. Aided by the nearby Admiriate, a large blue summoning circle took form at hils palms, vibrating intensely.

“First, I’m going to level the playing field, by forcing you to take off that stupid armor!” Marth called out as his resonant wave targed the hardened steel atop Tsubasa’s chest.

“Ooooh, my oh my!” Tsubasa cooed. “If I had known you wanted to take off my clothes so badly, I may have worn prettier underwear!”

Marth’s face began to turn red at the thought of what Tsubasa was hiding under her thick layered armor, but quickly snapped back to shared reality as he felt something was wrong.

“Hey, quit messing with me!” Marth barked at his teacher. “I’m projecting Resonant Wave at you. Why isn’t your armor burning up? The Admirite is amplifying my projection like I’ve never seen. Steel should be red hot by now!”

Tsubasa let out a laugh and she held her stomach.

“I guess I should have sent you to classes after all. I didn’t realize you hadn’t learned the basics of combat.”

“Hey, what’s so funny! A teacher shouldn’t laugh at their student!” Marth barked back, embarrassed.

“Ok, I’ll clue you in.” Tsubasa wiped a tear of joy as she composed herself. “As you know, Astral Projections are a manifestation of one’s own consciousness. By default, projections exist only in the projector’s personal reality. Astral Projections on their own are nothing but imaginary dreams. Espers bridge their projections into shared reality, time and space in which we both participate.”

“That’s right. I know that already, or I wouldn’t be able t project at all!” Marth explained, still holding his vibrating summoning circle in front of him.

“Yes, you already know. Your projection originating in your imagination is brought into our shared reality through your conscious mindfulness. But what happens when your projection directly alters my own personal reality?”

“I don’t know, the same thing that would happen if I projected to a tree. It would heat up!” Marth jumped to conclusions.

“A likely scenario.” Tsubasa agreed. “However, I’m not a tree. I’m an Esper.”

“So what? Resonant Waves will affect any mass by accellerating it’s particles to the point of heating up.”

Tsubasa shook her head. “Marth, are you aware of the projection, Etherial Void?”

“Sure, it’s infamous. The Esper Tobi Maru from the 18th century used it to end the Great War.”

“Correct. It’s a massively destructive weapon which erases anything it touches. What do you think would happen if I projected Ethereal Void directly inside you?”

Marth laughed uncomfortably. “The battle would be over very quickly.”

“Exactly. As Espers who can produce incredible weapons only with our minds, we must always be aware of the possibility that such a weapon could be used on us. With this fact alone in mind, it serves as a most basic barrier shielding us from direct attacks on our personal realities from outside Espers.”

“You mean just by being aware of the fact that I may direcly alter your personal reality, your personal reality is safe?”

“That’s all it takes.”Tsubasa explained.

Marth closed his hands, cutting off the summoning circle’s presence along with Resonant Wave. Marth blinked his eyes and put one hand to his chin.

“Sensei, that can’t be right.” Marth considered the new information. “I have seen the direct effects of my own projections on other people’s personal realities. How then does your explanation make any sense?”

“Good question.” Tsubasa nodded her head. “Many people don’t make any distinction between shared reality and personal reality; They simply accept shared reality as their own. Such a mindset would be vulnerable to your every projection. However, an Esper proficient at combat must excel at one defensive ability, Reality Rewriting. Reality rewrites are in essence, acceptance, or rejection, of shared reality. Just now, I rejected the reality that Resonant Wave affects atoms in my personal space, thus rendering your attack useless.”

“I still don’t get it.” Marth’s eyebrows lowered. “If Reality Rewriting is so prevalent among Espers, how then do any Esper battles ever take place?”

Tsubasa smiled. “The question you should be asking is this. If I can’t attack a personal reality, what reality can I attack?”

“Shared reality!” Marth’s eyes widened. “You mean to tell me that most Esper Attacks are indirect?”

“Precisely.” Tsubasa nodded with a smile. “For example, a common practice is to project an attack close to your target, followed by translating or scaling the projection until it makes contact.”

Marth took a step back, lowering his hand from his chin. Resuming his crouching stance, Marth dashed forward towards Tsubasa. As he ran, he blinked, creating a one meter summoning circle in front of his right hand.

“Resonant Wave!” Marth cried out, as he projected a spherical field of the resounding attack out in front of his palm. Marth continued sprinting towards Tsubasa and her doll, leaving a trail of dust behind him.

Tsubasa bent her knees, placing both hands at the ready on her card pouch.

“A counter-attack?” Marth reasoned as he sped closer. “She’s really not making this easy for me.”

Tsubasa threw a card quickly drawn from her card pouch. Responding immediately, Marth abruptly pushed his summoning circle forard, throwing his Resonant Wave field towards Tsubasa as his summoning circle dissolved. Marth dove to the left, tumbling into a summersault as Tsubasa’s Place Card emitted a percussive burst of red hot flames, Marth narrowly avoiding it’s path.

Tsubasa reacted as well, jumping laterally to her left to avoid the Resonant Wave field, simultaneously adding more distance between she and Marth.

Marth concluded his roll, transitioning smothely to his feet as he stood up and came to a stop. Breathing deeply, Marth stared at Tsubasa, reconsidering his method of attack.

“Resonant… Wave!” Marth called out the projection, creating a 50 centimeter summoning circle in front of his right hand, and producing a Resonant Wave field of equal size. Marth pushed his open palm forard immediately, launching the sphere at Tsubasa.

“Trying that again?” Tsubasa reached for her card pouch.

“Resonant Wave!” Marth followed up with the identical projection from his left hand, sending another Resonant Wave from that side.

Tsubasa dodged to the left again, gracefully jumping into the air and landing on her feet with a thud. In unison, her doll did the same, tucked almost out of view as it shadowed Tsubasa.

“Resonant Wave!” A third projection came from another 50 centimeter summoning circle from Marth’s right hand which was sent flying towards Tsubasa. Marth took a step forward, beginning a slow jog as he continued rapid firing Resonant Wave fields.

Tsubasa dodged again, jumping with her doll to her left as each volley neared.

“She’s fast.” Marth thought to himself as he jogged and fired. orb after orb of Resonant Wave fields. Tsubasa’s jumps were nimble, and covered lots of ground. “How can she jump so far? Even if I run, I can’t close this gap!”

Marth came to a stop, feet sliding on the hard dusty ground. He took a moment to catch his breath.

“Ready to give up?” Tsubasa jested as she flicked some dust off her shoulder.

“As if.” Marth snapped back. “Resonant Wave!”

Marth restarted his rapid fire attack, thinking to himself as he threw another orb.

“I can’t speak the words fast enough to project as quickly as I want.” Marth felt hindered. “If I had place cards, I might be able to achieve the firehoze effect that I’m looking for. I’m at a major disadvantage here, Tsubasa jumps to avoid my first orb, and my second is way off target. She’s way ahead of me.”

Marth thought to himself some more, watching the Resonant Wave fields make contact with the surrounding environment as Tsubasa jumped out of the way at the last second with a grunt. The orbs touched boulders, pebbles and dirt, disintigrating with a fizzle of steamy hot particulate.

“Resonant Wave!” the orb flew through the air, seemingly on-course above the plain brown rocky surfaces. With every other projection, Tsubasa jumped backwards to her left, landing safely and increasing the space between Marth.

“Wait a minute, every jump is the same.” Marth had an idea.

Marth fired another Resonant Wave orb towards Tsubasa, but waited a moment before following up with another shot. Tsubasa flew through the air to her left, and Marth saw a golden opportunity.

“Resonant Wave!” Marth threw his next attack at the spot on the ground where Tsubasa would likely touch down. Mid-air, Tsubasa descended, unable to change course as the Resonant Wave field accellerated towards her future path.

“Ahhhhhg!” A shrieking cry of pain was heard as Tsubasa’s body made contact with the Resonant Wave field just before she touched down. She crashed backwards, charred by the intense vibration the wave had caused her atomic structure.

“Tsubasa!” Marth was shocked that his plan had worked, but shocked that he had done harm. Marth dissolved a summoning circle still at the palm of his hand, and ran towards his fallen teacher.

“Sensei!” Marth approached Tsubasa on the ground. Her Hakama had burned to ash in many places, revealing her hard bare legs below. Her blouse was the same, burned and tattered showing her tone arms. Her chest plate remained intact, although it’s finish was melted off as smoke rose from it’s exterior. Place cards were scattered, burned at the edges and giving off scentless smoke. Tsubasa’s body shook as she tried to sit up, her blonde hair messy and burnt, face covered with second degree burn blisters.

Marth grabbed Tsubasa, helping to hold her upright.

“Sensei, don’t try to move, I’ll get you help!”

Marth was traumatized by what he had done as he held Tsubasa. Her normally muscular shoulders felt weak and featherweight. Her chapped lips moved as if to speak, but no sound was heard.

“Sensei, sensei, just stay quiet. I’ll get you help.” Marth tried to hold back tears as Tsubasa’s shaking arm reached up to Marth’s face.

Tsubasa’s laugh sounded behind Marth, as the real Tsubasa’s steel toed boot pressed down on Marth’s back. Marth was forced to the ground as the burnt Tsubasa doll in Marth’s arms flattened into a dark lifeless liquid.

“Sensei?” A tear rolled down Marth’s cheek. Once again, he had been played.

“Ha ha ha ha! You should have seen the look on your face!” Tsubasa blurted out, laughing loudly with her hands on her hips. The real Tsubasa had been completely unharmed.

“What the hell, Tsubasa!” Marth yelled with his hands planted in the planet’s regolith. Tsubasa’s foot still rest on his back. “I really thought you were hurt!”

“Ha ha. I’m sorry, I just got so bored!” Tsubasa composed herself, wiping a tear of joy from her cheek. “I wasn’t sure if you’d ever figure out how to lead your shots!”

Tsubasa stepped off of Marth, who promptly stood up.

“So you planned all that?” Marth inquired as he brushed off the dust.

“Of course! One lesson at a time!”

“Gee, thanks, Tsubasa. Preparing me for the time I accidentally roast a friend. Lesson well done, 10 out of 10.” Marth’s sarcasm was palpable.

Tsubasa looked into the distance, smiling.

“Marth, I like you.” She spoke.

Marth was caught off guard.

“Uh, I… Like you too? I mean as a teacher. At least when you’re not teasing me anyway.” Marth struggled with his response.

“The truth is…” Tsubasa looked at the distant rolling hills which seemed to go on forever. She seemed relaxed for once. Tsubasa didn’t finish her sentence.

“What’s that, Tsubasa?” Marth looked at his teacher as her long hair blew in the wind.

“It’s nothing.” Tsubasa shook her head.

“Ok then.” Marth changed the subject to a burning question. “Would you mind telling me how you weren’t actually hit by my Resonant Wave?”

Tsubasa turned to Marth, smiling. “It’s a secret!”

“Gosh, I thought you were here to teach me!” Marth waved his hands in the air. “At least tell me if I’m wrong then.” Marth tried to negotiate.

“Alright. Tell me what you think.” Tsubasa agreed.

“You were with your doll until right before the contact.” Marth used his fingers in a walking motion like the legs of tiny people to illustrate his theory. “I could tell that much because every time you jumped, the sound of your boots against the ground was audible. Right before Resonant Wave hit you, you somehow disappeared and translated out of the way, leaving your doll to take the full strike of the Resonant Wave.”

“That’s not wrong. Tsubasa crossed her arms with a smile.”

“That’s all I need.” Marth crossed his arms as well. “Now, how about teaching me how to make place cards? I’m starting to see the benefit.”

“I suppose I can do that, but only on one condition.””A condition?” Marth wondered.

“Up until the competition, every moment of free time you have, during every waking hour, you must spend practicing your projections.”

“Every waking hour?” Marth thought for a minute at what this meant. “You mean you don’t want me playing Chess in the lounge? I can handle that.”

“I don’t want you to study.” Tsubasa frankly replied.

“I can’t even study?” Marth was shocked at Tsubasa’s words.

“We’ve got no time for classroom material. What you need to learn in our short time before the competition will come straight from me.”

“But Tsubasa, there’s so many books in the library that could give me an edge.” Marth pleaded. “I don’t want to limit my chances because I hadn’t read up on past competitions. Not to mention the physical strain that projecting non-stop will have on me. Are you trying to wear me out?”

Tsubasa closed her eyes and put a pained look on her face.

“Marth, I know this may not make a lot of sense right now, but I need you to trust me and stick with my plan.”

“She wants me to trust her, the ultimate tease?” Marth mumbled to himself.

“Can you do this for me, Marth?” Tsubasa asked.

Marth cloesd his eyes, shrugging his shoulders.

“Well, you are the second pillar of St. Ezreal’s. If you say this the way to train, I’ll take your word for it.”

“Thank you Marth.” Tsubasa nodded her head. “I promise this will all make sense soon. Now, before we get to Place Cards, I have to ask. Have you given any thought to who you might want on your team?”

“Well, there are only so many of my peers I’ve actually had the opportunity to meet, but somehow I think most of them would turn me down.”

Shizuma Miyu sat naked on a stool in front of a row of faucets in the girl’s bathroom. Her platinum blonde hair was let down to above her shoulders, a contrast from her usual side pony tail.

Her bare shoulders and curvy hips were quickly drenched by water as she poured a bucket of hot water over her head.

“Ahtchoo!” A sneeze came from Tanaka Aoi, sitting to the left of Shizuma. Naked as well, her thin figure was partially hidden behind her long brown hair.

“Tanaka, hurry up and get washed so you can get in the warm bath. I wouldn’t want you to catch a cold!” Shizuma said as she filled another bucket of water.

“I’m fine, I’m fine!” Tanaka closed her eyes as she waved her hand.

Shizuma stood with the bucket of water, pouring it over Tanaka’s head as the water covered her body and fell to the floor with a splash.

“Miyu! My hair!” Tanaka covered herself with her arms, with her unplaced shower cap held tightly in her hands.

“Sorry, sorry!” Shizuma took a step back, red in the face as she held the wooden bath bucket against her chest. “I’m such a clutz!”

“Well, it’s too late now. I guess I’ll be washing it today.” Aoi made the compromise, setting her showercap next to the faucet.

The two girls took turns washing eachother’s backs, using a large sponge to scrub suds of soap against their sparkling wet skin.

Marth crouched near the ground, holding out both palms towards an empty place card sitting in the dirt. A single white colored summoning circle formed a centimeter in front of Marth’s hands, containing elements of enclosed trees. The summoning circle slowly rotated, and a second blue summoning circle formed directly atop the card, spinning slowly in the opposite direction. “Emminential Provenance, I place within, Resonant Wave!”

As Marth spoke the words, the two summoning circles accellerated their spin. A cracking sound of elelectricity rang out as an arc spanned the gap between the two circles, transferring to the card as the card let out a bright white light. The summoning circles quickly faded as the light from the card dissipated, leaving behind an imprinted piece of art.

“Congratulations, you’ve made your first place card.” Tsubasa watched over Marth where he crouched.

Marth’s stare was locked on his creation, too distracted to regard his teacher’s praise. The unique painting shown on the card resembled a rippling pool of water as if disrupted by a dropped steel ball bearing.

Marth picked up the card, holding it in front of him as he inspected the art up close.

“Sensei, how is the art determined? As I sealed the projection within, I had something else in mind.” Marth thought back to his Resonant Wave mishap with Sato Hanna at the center fountain in the campus yard.

“Nobody knows.” Tsubasa crossed her arms as she explained. “There is a belief that some etherial intellect exists universally in Astral space, and that by creating Emminential Provinence, that consciousness is tapped, and art from it spills out into the card.”

“Deep.” Marth continued to stare into the card as he slowly flapped it like a bird’s wing between his fingers. “So the art is from god?”

“I think of it as a single consciousness that we are all a part of. Maybe that’s god to you.” Tsubasa spoke the words.

Marth flipped the card to it’s opposite side. Freshly imprinted, the academy’s detailed emblem was laid.

“Tsubasa, how is this possible?” Marth waved the card at his sensei. “I thought you said the Acacemy’s emblem was uncounterfeitable due to it’s required atomic-level accuracy.”

“You are correct, the emblem is uncounterfeitable to all but the most talented espers. The reason you were able to set it in the card is because I have granted you access to it’s data stored in the Astral net. Simply recalling the concept of the emblem opens up the complete blueprints of the emblem to Emminential Povinence.”

“Astral Net, that’s like the internet for Esper’s minds.” Marth had read about this. “Are you saying you’ve just given me access to St. Ezreal’s massive archive of research?” Marth’s eyes lit up.

“No, Marth. I’ve given you access only to what you need right now. The Academy’s emblem, and Esper-to-Esper communications.”

“Aww, I don’t even get the Academy’s NEWS feed? Even guests get that.”

“Remember our deal, Marth.” Tsubasa reminded.

“I know, I know. two weeks of constant projection practice.” Marth pouted.

“I need you to be laser focused.” Tsubasa urged. “It’s the only way you can win.”

“Sensei, I thought you were saying there is more than one way to victory. Are you saying that dosn’t apply now?”

“Don’t twist my words, idiot! When it comes to Esper battles, that sentiment applies absolutely.” Tsubasa shook her head. “But think of the big picture here. You’re a provisional first year student, about to go up against experienced second and third year Esper teams. As you are, you wouldn’t last thirty seconds in a match. In this arena, you’re as smart as a brick.”

“Ouch.” Marth reeled back. It wasn’t every day that his intellect was compared to building materials. Marth forgot the inqult quickly. “Hey, did you just say I’m a student?”

“Provisional student.” With her eyes shut, Tsubasa shook her head.

“So you’re saying there’s a chance!” Marth grinned from ear to ear.

Tsubasa opened one eye, and couldn’t help but smile a little.

“Well, you’re definately capable, however the deciding factor won’t be your talent, but your persistence. If you can get through this, you might just end up with the most unique induction story the Academy has ever seen.”

“Sensei, Why no fourth year teams?” Marth’s questions shifted to serious.

“It’s rare for a fourth year student to participate. If they hadn’t been recruited in their first three attempts, most of them move on to focus on studies for other careers.”

“You mean there are other jobs for Espers besides being a hero?” Marth hadn’t thought of such a thing.

“Yes of course. There are jobs in administration, manufacturing, research and development…” Tsubasa began the list.

“You mean work with Admirite?” Marth butted in.

“Yes, that’s part of it, yes.” Tsubasa explained. “Pushing the boundaries of what is possible is always a pursuit. Also there are medical and educational positions, of course. So what do you say, Marth, how about a nice maintenance position? The grass in the yard is starting to look a little long.”

“Hah!” Marth laughed. “You ought to know by now that I’m aming for the top! Pillair number one!” Marth boasted.

Tsubasa walked up to Marth, with something clutched in her hand, she reached it out to Marth. Marth held out his hands and Tsubasa delivered a tall stack of empty place cards.

Tsubasa took a step back and put her hands on her hips.

“You’re falling behind, get back to work!!” Tsubasa ordered.

“Yes, sensei!” Marth crouched again, placing one knee in the planet’s dusty regolith. He sat the stack of white cards on the ground, separating the top card and setting it next to the stack.

“Emminential Provenance, I place within, Resonant Wave!”

Tsubasa watched over Marth as he projected summoning circle after summoning circle, placing projections one after another into the fresh Place Cards.

“Blink if it helps you, there’s nobody around to interfere.”

Marth placed Resonant Wave into a Place Card.

“You can speak faster than that. Just mind your pronounciation.”

Marth placed HYPER-DRAGON-EYE into a Place Card.

“Put the finished cards in your pocket, getting them dirty will make drawing them difficult later on.”

Marth placed Atomic Relegation into a Place Card.

“Again! You’ll need lots of those.” Tsubasa guided Marth as he placed multiples of his repertoire into cards.

“Tsubasa, how many am I to make?” Crouched in front of his stack of blank cards, marth looked up at his teacher.

“Place cards are your main ammunition. Any projections made on the fly are only reserves. Therefore, you should always enter a battle with as many as you can carry.”

“As many as I can carry? These cards are pretty light, but with enough stacks, they might start to encumber my gait.”

“That’s where a 3 day pack comes in handy.” Tsubasa gestured towards the pack in the distance she had abandoned before their sparring match.

“What good is a pack if you’re not hauling it?” Marth looked at it’s rigid blue and white cloth.

“As the name implies, the pack is large enough to carry supplies sufficient for three days of survival. It’s heavy, so it’s not suited for combat. The best way to use it is to stash it at a base camp before fighting, returning to it as needed to resupply your on-person inventory.”

“So that’s why you unclipped your belt from your pack before we fought. But what if the opponent finds your pack? Any extra Place Cards stored within would be sweet loot for an enemy!”

“Right. It’s best to hide it.” Tsubasa offered a solution.

“With camoflage?” Marth wondered.

“Camoflage is a poor method in most cases. Remember your opponent will be other Espers. Using Remote View, they could easily scout out the position of your camp, and the contents within. It’s best to hide the entire camp on another plane, out of sight from Remote Viewers.”

“A Plane Shift for concealment? Sensei, I can’t do that!” Marth looked bewildered.

“As expected. Luckily, most of your opponents are in the same boat; they haven’t learned Planar Shift yet.”

“Wait, can you teach me?” Marth saw an opportunity for an edge.

“Unfortunately, no. We don’t have the time. You will need to win this competition using other means.”

“You said most of my opponents haven’t learned Planar Shift. Do you mean to say that there are some who do know it?” Marth stood up from his crouched position.

“Yes, a few third years do know it.”

“What if they shift me into another plane, and leave me there? I’ll be trapped, as good as eliminated!”

“It should be fine, Marth. As long as you keep your distance from them, they can’t shift you with them.”

“Oh great, another element of complexity. Don’t get close to the other competitors.”

“Remember before, when you tried to get up close for a sure to hit Resonant Wave?”

“Yes, you kept jumping away.”

“It’s called kiting.”

“Kiting? Meaning your evasions were as if to tell me to go fly a kite?”

Tsubasa smiled.

“My movements were as the outline of a kite. I held my position at a point in the kite’s outline. Then, I moved quickly to another point, where I held my position. During a fight, holding position gives me the opportunity to project. After the projection is created, I immediately move, maintaining space between my pursuer and I.”

“If you’re using ranged attacks and your pursuer has only melee attacks, they would never be able to hit you!” Marth blurted out his interpretation.

“Precicely. Kiting plays on the strengths of my ranged projections, while minimizing my exposure to the opponent’s close range attacks.”

“It seems kind of cheap to me.” Marth pouted again.

“This isn’t Final Fantasy, Watanabe.” Tsubasa shook her head. “Having turns and taking hits isn’t going to get you anywhere you want to be. Winning is always about gaining the upper hand, honorable or not.”

“Geez, sensei. When you put it that way, being an Esper doesn’t seem so glorious.”

With eyes closed, Tsubasa exhaled deeply before speaking.

“Being an Esper means choosing a side and honoring ideals. Our battles may be for the right reasons, but that doesn’t change the fact that we take lives. It’s dirty work, I feel no glory in it.”

“This doesn’t make sense.” Marth put his hand on his chin. “Most stories of Espers are bristling with a sense of righteousness, duty, and strength. But you’re telling me you don’t feel a sense of accomplishment?”

“I feel renowned and honored by those who do not fight, but I do not feel encouraged from it. Killing others, seeing my friends be killed… In Esper combat where a gruesome death can be as simple as a thought, there isn’t a split second to consider honor or your own humanity. War makes me ill.”

“Tsubasa…” Marth looked at his teacher sympathetically. “I didn’t know.”

Tsubasa looked at the ground for a few moments before shaking her head and laughing.

“I lost track of time. It’s almost 10PM already! I think this is a good point to call it a day.”

Marth looked up at the sky, the bright sun shining down from the green sky.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot. 24/7 sunshine on this planet!” So busy with his training, Marth hadn’t though to check the time all day.

“Let’s head back” Tsubsasa said as she started walking towards her backpack.

“Right.” Marth replied. Crouching down, Marth collected his stack of empty Place Cards, careful not to disturb the dirt below. After picking up the cards, Marth jogged to catch up with his teacher.

Tsubasa-sensei and Marth walked through the dry hilly terrain for some time before reaching Tsubasa’s pack. Tsubasa crouched down and unzipped an outer pouch, revealing rations of food and water. She grabbed two plastic pouches, tossing one to Marth. Marth reacted, barely catching the container.

“What’s this?” Marth inquired, looking at a silvery sealed plastic drinking pouch.

“Electrolyte water. Drink up.” With her serving in one hand, she zipped closed the food pouch of her bag. “Hold this.” Tsubasa tossed her drink to Marth as she swung her backpack over her shoulders. Standing up, Tsubasa clipped the sternum strap of her pack, and rejoined the pack with her belt.

“Let’s move out.” Tsubasa commanded as she reached out her hand towards Marth. Marth handed the drink back to Tsubasa and they began walking towards the mine.

Tsubasa and Marth sipped their drinks on the quiet walk back to the mine. Upon reaching the steep drop to the quarry, Tsubasa readied her Place Cards.

“Watch and learn, Marth.” Tomorrow I want to see you repeat this technique. Tsubasa bent her knees slightly as she threw a card from her pouch. “Burst of Embers, high intensity, ten second delay, two second duration.” Tsubasa spoke her chosen parameters as the card fluttered down to the quarry floor.

“What the hell are we about to do?” Marth’s heartbeat quickened.

Tsubasa didn’t answer, instead she counted down from ten as her fingers ran through her stacks of cards. “Seven. Six. Five. Bubble Shield!” Tsubasa quickly threw a card directly in front of her over the edge of the cliff. “Jump!” Tsubasa grabbed Marth by the shirt as she leapt forward over the cliff.

“AhhhHhhh!” Marth cried out in fear as Tsubasa’s foot touched down on the Bubble Shield’s forming dome bottom. The weight of the two sent the Bubble Shield into a descent as it continued to form upwards into a translucent perfect sphere.

“Two. One.” Tsubasa counted calmly as she and Marth fell towards the hard quarry ground inside the Bubble Shield. “Zero.”

A roar of flame erupted from the Place Card below, spewing hot conflagration upwards and meeting the Bubble Shield, slowing it’s descent. Like a pillowy cushion, the heat of the flames brought the ball to a halt mere centemeters above the surface. The flames extinguished, and the Bubble Shield gently plopped into the quarry’s gravel.

“Oh my god!” Marth’s voice echoed inside the bubble shield as it’s exterior faded away, starting from it’s base. Collpsing to his hands and knees, Marth shook from the excitement. “You’re crazy! We could have died!” Marth’s hair flew back out of his face as he yelled up at his teacher.

Tsubasa just smiled, stepping forard as the bubbleshield’s translucent dome gradually disappeared from the bottom up.

“The first bubbleshield dissolved from the top down” Marth noted. “Do your bubble shields have an initialization function for that direction?”

Tsubasa began walking as the top of the bubblsheield vanished.

“No, I just threw the card upside-down.” She said plainly.

Marth struggled to his feet and he jotted after his sensei among the disparate mining equipment.

“Food?” Marth asked simply.

“Food.” Tsubasa and Marth walked side by side as Tsubasa Plane Shifted the two back to the administration building.

Tsubasa and Marth ate in the cafeteria under it’s vaulted brick ceiling. It was late, but a few students were scattered throughout the mess hall, having a bite to eat or studying with their notebooks spread across the table.

“I’ll be going ahead.” Tsubasa put down her chopsticks and stood with her empty tray.

“Same thing tomorrow?” Marth asked as Tsubasa prepared to leave.

“No, tomorrow I have pressing matters I must attend to. I would like you to practice on your own.” Tsubasa said as she stood holding her meal tray. “The range should be empty, use that place to project. Be sure to remember our deal.”

“I remember. Non-stop projection during every waking hour.” Marth waved his hand in front of his face.

“Good then. I’ll be off now.” Tsubasa carried away her tray toting her large pack on her back.

“Why’s she in such a hurry?” Marth wondered, poking a bit of uneaten food with his chopsticks. “She didn’t even remove her backpack to eat.” Marth grabbed the remeaing morsel and immediately put it in his mouth.

Marth closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the moment as he chomped his food. From the kitchen he could hear the clinks and clangs of pots and pans rattling together in the sink as they were cleaned, and freshly cleaned ceramic dishes being stacked at the ready. From the nearby tables, the voices of students as they chattered, laughing at jokes and pondering difficult textbook questions. The sound of small footsteps drew near as Marth’s jaw worked his food like a cow chewing a wad of grass.

“You there! I’ve been looking all over for you. Where on earth have you been?!” An girl’s upset voice rang in Marth’s ears.

With food still in his mouth, Marth opened one eye to see Tanaka Aoi with an angry expression. Hands on her hips Tanaka was bent over, leaning towards him.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself? Keeping a lady waiting, what gives?” Tanaka persisted.

Marth finished chewing his food and swallowed.

“I’m sorry, why are you here?” Marth was enjoying his peace and quiet up until now.

Tanaka looked surprised, and lessened her lean. “W.. w.. ww.. we…” Tanaka struggled to maintain eye contact as she spoke. She pressed her two index fingers together repeatedly.

“We… We had a date!” Tanaka blurted out as she turned red from embarrasement. “Don’t tell me you forgot…” Tanaka bashfuly continued as she slowly pressed her fingers together again.

“A DATE!?” Marth tensed up in his seat, impacted by what he had just heard. His knees hit the underside of the table, knocking his plate and his chopsticks into the air.

“Wh.. Why are you acting so surprised?” Tanaka tried to hide her embarrasement as she waved her hands at her side.

“I’m not sure what’s going on…” Marth was utterly confused at Tanaka’s claim. “Are you messing with me? Did Tsubasa put you up to this?”

Tanaka grumbled, increasing the pitch of her voice until she seemed to burst. With her head bowed, she put on her usual angry face. “Watanabe, it’s me who’s being messwed with! I should have known this was a prank.” Aoi threw a neatly folded piece of paper at Marth, which landed atop his empty plate. “Well joke’s on you because I was just kidding. As if I would go on a date with you. Idiot!” Tanaka stormed off, hiding her face as a tear rolled down her cheek.

“What was that all about?” Marth thought to himself as he picked up the folded piece of paper. Unfolding the document revealed a hand-written note.

“Dear Tanaka Aoi,

I have been watching you for some time, and I think the ribbon you wear in your hair is super cute. I would love to have you join me for a night on the town. I hear the nearby festival has some wonderful crepes! It’s this Friday evening. If you would join me, I’ll be waiting in the cafeteria.

Yours Truly,

Watanabe Marth”

Marth read aloud the note in shock and disbelief.

“I didn’t write this!”

Marth stood up, looking quickly from left to right for any sign of Tanaka.

“I have to apologize. She seemed really upset.”

Marth grabbed his empty tray, hastily returning it to a stack above the garbage cans. With the note in hand, he took off running towards the last place he had seen Tanaka, determined to find her.

Marth’s hands met the metal handle of the heavy glass door with a slap. The south exit of the commons building faced the main road to the campus. Swinging the door open, Marth saw the main campus parking lot, well lit by rows of elegant street lamps below the night sky. The dark colored asphant was painted with fresh yellow parking stall lines. Beyond it, the main road, sparingly populated by headlights of automotive traffic. The bus stop Marth had arrived at the school from was at the parking lot’s outer fringes, and there was Tanaka, sitting alone at a bench at the stop.

A bus was rolling up, slowing down to a jot. Tanaka stood up, waving to the driver.

“She’s boarding the bus!” Marth gasped seeing the bus come to a stop as it’s brakes noisily squaled. Marth dashed forward, sprinting towards the bus.

“I’ll never make it!” Marth worried as Tanaka stepped foot onto the bus from the curb. “Wait for me!” Marth called out, as Tanaka stepped up the short stair into the elevated bus cabin. Just then Marth remembered the day’s training as he reached for his stack of place cards. Holding the cards in front of himself as he ran, he sifted through the pile, selecting two of the most appropriate for the situation.

“Thank you, Tsubasa!” Marth threw one card after another in front of him. The cards locked in place, vibrating. From the furthest forward, a bubble shield began forming from below, as Marth slipped past the ascending barrier into the bubble’s interior. An explosion of fiery heat blasted out from the second card to the rear, jettisoning the enclosed bubble shield forward with Marth in it.

Not graceful in the least, Marth tumbled in the ball like the rattle of a pet’s play toy as it was lobbed towards the bus, crashing to the ground and rebounding like a basket ball. The bus’s accordion door was closing as it’s air brakes were released. Tanaka took a seat, and Marth’s bubble shield ball smacked against the side of the bus with the force like an angsty teenager trying to retrieve their stuck candy from a vending machine.

The bus driver hit the brakes, retarding it’s launch. The driver looked to the side of the bus as Marth’s Bubble Shield faded away, Marth dizzilly stumbing through the door.

“Sorry.” Marth apologized to the driver as he walked up the stairs and displayed his High School ID.

The driver nodded and Marth proceeded down the aisle of the bus. Marth looked at the faces of the passengers. A few elderly in front, a business man, a mother and her child in the middle. Marth continued towards the predominantly empty rear, where Tanaka was seen looking at the floor.

“The bus is starting” The bus driver commented over the intercom as it lurched to a start. Marth grabbed the overhead railing as he approached the girl.

“Tanaka, I’m sorry!” Marth called out, lowering his head to a bow as politely as possible while still grasping the overhead railing and being jostled back and forth in the moving bus.

Tanaka looked up with big eyes, then quickly hid her face to wipe away a tear. Composing herself, Tanaka spoke again.

“Why did you follow me? I don’t want to be with an idiot like you!” Tanaka made an angry face.

“Tanaka, I’m sorry!” Marth repeated himself, persisting his bow. He rose, handing the paper out with both hands. “I didn’t write this. We were both played. I’m sorry.”

With arms crossed, Tanaka closed her eyes, lifting her chin and facing the window. “Hmm! It’s not like I would be bothered by something like this. It is you after all, a complete worthless idiot.” Tanaka was beginning to sound like herself again.

“So you’re not upset?” Marth questioned.

“Not at all! It’s nothing but an inconvenience.” Tanaka peeked at Marth with one eye, before quickly closing it again to avoid eye contact. “But it is rather inconvenient. No, it’s really inconvenient! I demand compensation!” Tanaka made full eye contact with Marth, scowling as she changed her mind.

“Compensation? You mean money?” Marth wasn’t expecting this.

“I demand a date!” With a frown, Tanaka held her eye contact.

“A date? But that wasn’t my writing!” Marth reminded her, showing an expression of concern.

“Doesn’t matter! I was promised crepes, and now I’m not going to get them. Surely you aren’t going to back out now? After you have already taken responsibility?” Tanaka squinted, half disgusted at the potential folly Marth was being given the chance to make.

“Ok, ok! I’ll get you some crepes!” Marth was already waist deep in this muddy situation, this was no time to turn tail and run.

“Yay!” Tanaka smiled for what seemed like the first time, giving off a rosy red aura of genuine delight.

“Whoah.” Marth thought to himself as he took the seat next to Tanaka. “She’s actually more cute than the ribbon.” Marth eyed her blue ribbon holding her long brown hair.

Tanaka lifted her feet one after another, happily swinging them forward in the limited space behind the next row. “C-re-p-s! Crepes crepes crepes!” she softly sang with a smile.

Marth chuckled as the bus drove down the campus hill towards the city. The road curved through patches of trees before emerging to an open view of the city below the barriered road shoulder.

“Look at the lights, they’re so pretty!” Tanaka’s eyes lit up as she stared at the shining populous.

“I’ve never seen the city from this vantage point.” Marth thought out loud as the bus cruised along the hillside next to a stone retaining wall.

“Really?” Tanaka wondered. “Have you only left campus during the day?”

Marth wondered for a moment before feeling a sinking feeling in his stomach. Since his arrival at the start of the semester, under the threat of death, he hadn’t been allowed to leave.

“Yeah, something like that.” Marth laughed uncomfortably. “Tsubasa’s going to kill me!” Marth thought to himself as a cold bead of sweat formed on his forehead.

“Look! There’s the festival! The whole street is lit up!” Tanaka pointed down at a street lit up brighter than the rest. The city grid shown bluish white light, but the festival seemed to glow a firey amber hue.

Marth looked at Tanaka who was already having a good time in the bus. “It’ll probably be fine.” Marth thought to himself. “Although I did make a deal to learn Place Cards, I suppose I should keep my end of the bargain.” Marth blinked for a moment, projecting Hyper Dragon Eye at the festival below.

“Do you think there will be fireworks?” Tanaka asked Marth with a smile.

Marth tried to shove the remote image Hyper Dragon Eye was showing him into the back of his mind, continuing the projection although focusing on the girl next to him.

“Yeah, I think so.” Marth answered with surety as his view through Hyper Dragon Eye conveniently came across pyrotechnicians making the final preparations of a grand spectacle.

“Ooooo, so cool! I wish I had brought yukata!” Tanaka looked back through the window at the incandescent lights.

The bus zig-zagged through the hills to the city below, where it shortly stopped at the street of the festival.

Tanaka and Marth departed the bus, thanking the driver.

The two walked side by side, wearing matching school uniforms of white, blue and yellow. Portable vendor stalls lined the street, brightly colored by amber coloured lamps.

“Would the young couple like to try a game? Land the ping pong ball in a jar and win a stuffed toy for the girl!” An boney faced attendant with large moles called out to Marth. The stall had a large table lined with small neck green glass bottles.

Marth blushed at the comment as Tanaka hid behind him.

“Just keep walking!” Tanaka whispered in Marth’s ear. “He’s scary!”

Marth looked at Tanaka who was hiding her face from the man, then at the attendant who was beckoning them to play.

“Come on now, you look like a strapping young man.
Three tries for five dollars. Twelve tries for ten!” The attendant smiled from ear to ear.

Tanaka buried her face in Marth’s back.

“No, thank you!” Marth replied to the man, then turned and grabbed Tanaka by the wrist, dragging her behind him as he quickly walked away from the booth.

Tanaka kept her gaze low to the ground but smiled as she followed Marth through the crowd.

“Are you alright?” Marth asked as he slowed his pace and looked back at Tanaka.

Tanaka pulled back her hand from Marth’s grip, shaking her head and waving her freed hand in front of her face.

“No problem! It was nothing.” Tanaka put on a brave face before smiling.

“Well, we’re here!” Marth gestered to the stall they had arrived at.

“Crepes!” Tanaka’s eyes widened at the smell wafting from the dazzling yellow colored tent. A smiling curly haired cook was pouring a ladel of batter onto a hot circlar griddle.

The inviting aroma from the cooking pan hit Marth’s nostrils. In the mouthwatering moment, it took all of Marth’s concentration to upkeep Hyper Dragon Eye in the back of his mind.

Captivated by the essence, Marth immediately turned to Tanaka.

“Leet’s order right away!”

The two placed their orders and Marth footed the bill. Crepes in hand, the two found a place to sit and eat.

As the fireworks began to shoot into the air from the adjoined park, Marth and Tanaka bit into their flavorful morsels and smiled.

“So pretty!” Tanaka looked at the night sky, awed by the pinks, blues, and greens the mortar shells produced above the horizon.

Marth chewed a part of his crepe and smiled at the double firework scenes his own eyes in combination with Hyper Dragon Eye were affording him. With Hyper Dragon Eye, Marth had a front row seat, bare meters from the exploding mortar tubes.

Marth enjoyed the moment of peace, the first of it’s kind since he had been imprisoned at St. Ezreal’s. It was nice to leave the campus, but he wasn’t running. He would be returning to the academy shortly of his own free will.

“I’m ready to take on the competition.” Marth spoke to himself, his voice concealed under the loud crackling burst of burning magnesium as it lit up the sky. “I’m not going to lose. I can do this. I can do anything.”

Marth leaned back in the park bench next to Tanaka as she happily ate her crepe.

Under the lights in the dark sky, a short figure walked between Marth and his view of the show, stopping in front.

“Hey, what’s wrong with your head?” The figure asked, voice partially obscured by the booms.

Marth sat up, curious as to who would be making a conversation at this moment. The path on which she stood wasn’t well lit, but Marth made out her features. It was a girl, short, with messy black hair. Marth had met this girl before.

“It’s you! Oh, hey!”

Tanaka sat up as well, curious as to who Marth was talking to.

“Marth, do you know this girl?”

The girl didn’t seem to be in a good mood today, and Marth wondered if it had to do with their last meeting.

“Yes, Tanaka, I borrowed her binoculars. This is… Uh well I’m not sure of her name?” Marth looked to the girl who’s hair was partially covering her face. With one eye, the girl was glaring at Marth, brooding.

“I’ll ask you again. What’s wrong with your head?”

“Watanabe?” Tanaka turned to Marth, then back to the girl, then back to Marth.

“Um, I’m not sure I understand?” Marth was equally confused at the question. Marth’s curiosity of the girl drew his own Hyper Dragon Eye to a second viewpoint of her, from the sky at her back.

The girl stepped forward into the light, revealing her dark colored, poorly fitting t-shirt and brown jeans. Her hands made fists her side.

“Quit fucking with me.” The girl spoke brashly, gaze locked with Marth’s. She blinked, and simultaneously a red glowing spear seemed to shoot from her hand, projecting upwards and directly into Marth’s floating Hyper Dragon Eye.

The spear struck the invisible eye, sending a shock of pain into Marth’s mind as if his own eye had been penetrated.

“AHHHHHGHHHHH!!!” Marth cried out, standing up and holding his hands to his face.

“What’s wrong!?” Tanaka rushed over to Marth, staring back and forth between Marth and the girl.

“What is this, you bitch!” Tanaka demanded of the girl as she put on her angry face. “Who are you and what do you want?”

Marth blinked several times, realizing his real eyes were unharmed. With his Hyper Dragon Eye dispelled, he focused on the girl.

“It was you who was sneaking in my room the other day, weren’t you? What’s wrong with my head? What’s wrong with yours! I want to know too, who the hell are you?”

The girl tensed her hands again, making a fist. She made a scowl before her reply.

“I’m Nishi Hotaru. Seems like someone closed the Back Door to your Astral Realm. I left something in there, and I’m going to need it back.”


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