Author's Note: Forgot to insert lines when exporting the story! It's fixed now.
The Eternal Tale
The First Chapter - Opening Act
This is a story of a 'story'.
"Oh, you're here as well, Reika."
The tall young man with neat, combed hair and round glasses pulled up a chair. His school uniform was immaculate in every aspect, which only served to further the image of an obedient and diligent student. He took a chair for himself as well and sat down, and gestured towards the empty seat with his right hand.
"They had to call us back, Mikado. We are the most fitting for our new 'roles', even if we did lose in the end."
A young woman shrugged her shoulders elegantly after taking a seat herself. She was smiling with closed eyes, and was dressed in the same kind of uniform as the young man called Mikado. Of course, she wore a grey skirt instead of black trousers, and her top was short-sleeved instead of the black blazer that Mikado wore.
"I wonder what our real selves are doing now?" she continued, slightly raising an eyelid. A hint of gold could be seen through the narrow slit that this produced, creating a catlike effect on her grinning face.
Mikado sighed deeply. "Well, since I lost, I'm probably off being a student in some second-rate university."
"If you're in a second-rate university, then I must be in a third-rate one."
"Perhaps," he replied. "Anyway, since we're just 'ghosts' now, there is no real point in wondering about such meaningless matters."
"Mm. It is regretful, but our time is over. We should do what we can for the next cycle, 'student council president'."
The two students looked around the room that they were in.
Shimmering circles surrounded them. Two of these strange formations were empty, but the rest were slowly filling up with lines and characters made of blue light. A triangle, a rectangle, a six-pointed star - various shapes took their place within the circles. The characters and words that were forming did not appear to be of any human language. As each circle filled up, a vague, humanoid outline faded in place above it, becoming clearer and more defined with each passing second.
Reika walked next to one of these sigils and inspected the face of one of these human figures. "Some of our old comrades are joining us, I see."
"That's right," Mikado said. "Like you said, though, we've stepped off the stage. The 'characters' that follow us will determine everything. We're just here to help."
It was right after the most frightening, bizarre, and incredible speech that he had ever heard. In the space of half an hour, everything Hikage Keisei thought he knew about Engi High School had been proven false. Perhaps 'false' was not even a term that could be used to describe it. When one talked about truth or falsehood, the usual meaning was one of opposites. To use a mundane example, saying that you 'did your homework' when you actually didn't. The truth that Keisei had learnt about his school, however, was simply so unimaginable that 'false' was too minor a term for it. It was in an entirely different field. So much so that you had to hope it was a bad joke, like going fishing and discovering that you just hooked an intergalactic battleship which was about to invade your planet.
Taking his thus confused and disoriented state of mind in consideration, it was perhaps not strange that Keisei, after opening the door to his dormitory room and stepping inside, ignored the girl lying down on the bed. She was covering her forehead with the back of her hand and had most likely been resting. Upon hearing the rustle of the door opening, she immediately rose into a sitting position and stared at him as he bent down and began unpacking his luggage.
"Erm, yes? How may I help you?"
It was quite a polite response considering that an unknown guy, from her point of view, had just barged into her room for no apparent reason.
Keisei snapped out of his trance and stared right back at her as though seeing her for the first time, which was after all quite true.
She was not, Keisei felt, exceptionally beautiful, and yet he found himself quite attracted to her despite that. Her straight brown locks were not bound by any accessories, just the way he liked it, and framed her sharp, thin face nicely. Similarly, her eyes were quite narrow, but her pupils were coloured with such a brilliant blue that he found it difficult to ignore them.
His mouth opened wordlessly, and he next directed his gaze at the key that he held in his hand.
I must have messed up while thinking about things again.
"Sorry. I must have made a mistake. I'll try the next room," he said, backing out of the room slowly.
The girl stopped him with a gesture and went on, "If you were able to open the door to this room with a key, then you can't have made a mistake, because I'd locked it earlier and you must have used the right key to unlock it. In other words, either there is no mistake, or you were given a wrong key. Now, the latter seems more likely to me, don't you agree?"
"In which case, there is an equal chance that I was given the wrong key, and not you, as we both have a key to this room. We need to find out who is actually supposed to have this room."
A fair point.
"You're right, but how do you plan to do that? According to the student council president, there are no teachers in this school. Is there even an administration office or anything like that?"
The girl frowned. "I doubt it, but as you mentioned, there is a student council president. He told us to talk to him if we had any questions, didn't he? It looks like the only thing we can do is to ask him if he knows anything about this, but..."
Her voice trailed off and she nibbled on her lip as she gave him a worried look.
Ah, I think I know why.
"...But, if you can, you'd rather not approach him, right?" he said.
She nodded in response. That was not at all surprising to Keisei. After the display that the student council president had given during the speech earlier, he very much doubted if there was any student who did not view him with fear.
"Well, it's not like we have any other choice," he went on after a period silence. "And he does seem like a nice enough person to me. He said that what happened earlier was an exception, after all, and I think that we should believe him."
The girl pondered this for a few more moments before finally nodding a second time. "I suppose so. Well, since we've been led to meet together like this, what's your name? I'm Shinki Aoi."
"Hikage Keisei. Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you. Well then, Hikage-san, shall we go? If I remember right, the student council room is in the tower at the centre of the school compound."
Aoi walked out into the corridor, but Keisei, instead of following suit, stood rooted to the spot.
"Is something the matter, Hikage-san?"
"Ah! Sorry, I was just thinking about something. Don't worry about it. Let's go, Shinki-san."
Keisei neglected to elaborate any further and gave Aoi a smile.
"...Alright," she conceded, resuming her footsteps.
"Maybe I'm over-thinking things, but there's something strange about this. The 'story' that the student council president mentioned...Could it be related to this?"
Keisei shook his head and followed Aoi.
Engi High School was a most unusual establishment. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that it could be considered a legendary school in many ways. One of these reasons was that it was difficult to confirm its existence in the first place. Its location was unknown to the general public, and search engines provided little useful information. What was known, however, was that unlike other schools, it was a boarding-only school and accepted no student applications. Instead, selected students would receive an invitation from the school, which they could either accept or reject. Despite all of that, it managed to be the most prestigious school in Japan - this was achieved due to its policy of strict elitism, and the unconditional success of its graduates. And it was precisely because the school had such unmatchable results that it was able to get away with such a unique entry policy.
However, what was most unusual of all was that everything that was known about it, everything that had been written above, were nothing more than falsehoods, lies continually perpetrated in order to hide its real secret.
For the newly-enrolled students of the school, such as Hikage Keisei and Shinki Aoi, who had discovered this from the student council president's speech, it had come as a complete shock.
The rules that governed the existence known as 'Engi High School' were varied and myriad, but two things stood out more than anything else.
The first was the simple fact that the school was not a school at all. It was a battlefield, and the students were the warriors. This may sound absurd, but it was completely possible and viable. And what made that the case - was the existence of the abnormal. The ability to conjure fire out of nothing. Teleportation. Changing your shape at will. Magic, supernatural powers, ESP...Whatever you wanted to call it, its form did not change. The students of this school had access to such incredible powers that normal humans did not have.
The second was the existence of a governing spirit behind the school, otherwise referred to by the students as the 'story'. To put it in another way, it was something that controlled fate. The 'story' assigned a 'role' to each and every student in the school. Now, when I say 'role', I mean concepts like the wise old man who serves as a 'mentor' to the other 'characters', the evil, dastardly 'villain' that opposes the good 'characters', or the powerful 'lord' who is perhaps a neutral party. In other words, it made the students play the parts of the actors in a giant play that spanned three years, until graduation. Regardless of what they thought or felt, they would be forced and influenced to follow what the 'story' dictated. Similarly, the 'story' could force events to happen through such manipulation. A battle, a war, betrayal, friendships forming...All of those things were possible. On the other hand, the students were not without free will either - the 'story' did not dictate everything - and it was possible, perhaps even expected, of the students to manipulate the 'story' for their own ends.
I'm sure that you're curious about certain matters, such as why the students of the school would even choose to submit themselves to such a situation in the first place, but that can wait. Suffice to say that there are good reasons. The most important thing to remember is simply this - in a battle created by fate, even fate itself was but another tool to be used to attain victory.
"...If the 'story' bothered to put together a situation like this, then I can only say that it's not a 'story' that deserves my respect."
So said Aoi with a frown and half-open eyes.
She's angry, huh.
Keisei thought to himself while wisely remaining silent, instead choosing to nod in agreement with what she said.
The two freshmen were walking towards the clock-tower where the student council room was located. Despite the size of Engi High School, as well as the number of buildings that comprised it, the tall clock-tower could be easily seen from all over the campus, which made it a good landmark. The campus was mostly devoid of people, which was not unusual at this time of the day - most of the students were probably relaxing in their dormitory rooms, just as Keisei and Aoi would have done if not for their current unfortunate situation.
This fact did not escape Keisei's attention, and he decided to make some small talk to pass the time until they arrived at their destination.
"It looks like everyone else's already relaxing in their rooms, huh. There's almost no one around."
Aoi, too, looked around at the vast campus which they were in.
"You're right. To be honest, it's a little scary when there's nobody around like this. I guess the phrase 'there's safety in a crowd' is quite true, huh?"
"Still, it's just a baseless fear that we're experiencing. It's not as though we're in any actual danger."
Speaking impartially, saying something like that was a bad decision on Shinki Aoi's part. Not that she could be blamed for that. After all, there was nothing at all wrong with what she had said - for a normal person. But she was no longer an ordinary person. She was now subjected to the 'story', and that was quite a different situation altogether. 'Watch what you say' - basically, she was tempting fate. She was completely unaware of it, but the 'story' wasn't going to let a chance like that pass by idly.
"That's not a good thing to say, you know."
Keisei turned his head sharply to his right, where the voice had originated from. A young man, most likely a freshman like themselves, was leaning against the wall of a building.
This guy's bad news.
One look was all Keisei needed to determine that. Hair bleached to a snow white that couldn't possibly be natural. Three earrings pierced his left ear, and another two clung to his right. In his hand, he held a lighter that he clicked over and over, producing small plumes of flame each time. A long scar ran down his cheek, marking the right side of his face. Surprisingly, his round, cherubic face and soft, downcast eyes gave off a conflicting expression of innocence, but nobody was going to be fooled by it.
His entire appearance could be summed up in one word. 'Delinquent.'
"And who might you be? It is only polite to introduce yourself first, you know."
Aoi crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. Keisei had a strong suspicion that the newcomer's appearance did not earn him any favour with her.
The boy raised his hands in a defensive posture. "Okay, okay. My bad. The name's Amakawa Daisuke."
"Well then, Amakawa-san. I'm Shinki Aoi, and my companion is Hikage Keisei. What might you want with us?"
Hey, is it really fine to continue talking to him like that? He looks like the kind of person who'll get violent at any moment...
And yet, while Keisei was pondering his misgivings, the conversation continued on in spite of his unvoiced reservations.
"It's merely a very simple proposal," Daisuke replied, still holding his hands up. The sincerity of his actions was quite ruined by the presence of the lighter.
"I'm sure every student here must have heard the student council president earlier. He mentioned a bunch of complicated stuff, but the end result is the same. We're in a dangerous situation where we have to fight each other, and with supernatural abilities at that! Definitely not a situation I enjoy being in. And so I decided that it'd be a good idea to look for allies."
That did make quite a lot of sense. Being left alone in a battlefield was surely the worst possible scenario. Making a move to prevent that was a wise decision.
"And so you decided to ask us?" Aoi asked.
Daisuke grinned and nodded repeatedly. "Exactly. What do you say?"
We should definitely accept this proposal, thought Keisei to himself. It's better to have this guy on our side than as an enemy, and since this is just a simple verbal agreement, there's nothing to be afraid of. At the very least, it'll get this guy to leave us alone -
"I'm sorry. I refuse. Have a nice day."
In an instant. Without feeling or remorse, Keisei's plans were dashed to bits.
"Hey! Wait a minu - "
He tried to protest almost immediately, but was once again interrupted.
"Oi, oi. That was fast, man. What was wrong with my suggestion?"
Aoi curled a few errant strands of hair around her ear. "There was nothing wrong, but I prefer not to make acquaintances with suspicious men like you. Please don't take it personally."
And, having said her piece, she started strolling off, paying no heed to Daisuke. Keisei could only stare dumbly after her retreating back. It had been but a few seconds, but his plans had been completely ruined.
"Hah. You're a tough customer, little miss. I'll give you that, but nothing more."
The white-haired boy threw his head back and laughed.
"Fine. That's how it is, then. Overwhelm - [Sylph]!"
Looks like you're in trouble, buddy.
Keisei looked around wildly, but failed to discover anyone else besides Aoi and Daisuke, who had just flicked his lighter open.
Keisei's vision burned bright red as a series of explosions rocked the area and the very air itself caught on fire. A ring of flames surrounded them for an instant, but the fire was not the major cause of concern here. It faded away soon enough. Rather, the shockwaves that the explosions had created battered his body like a row of sledgehammers, slamming him against the ground. His ribs felt as though they had cracked.
Struggling to regain his bearings, Keisei heard Daisuke's voice as though he was speaking from a hundred meters away. "...I didn't mention this earlier, but I had a little insurance in hand just in case things didn't go according to plan. Remember the supernatural abilities that I mentioned earlier?"
"I've already awakened my own ability."
...Yup, definitely in trouble.
Who are you?
The voice had sounded clearly and loudly in in his mind despite the unceasing ringing in his ears. It was, quite obviously, not a voice that communicated via normal sound. Keisei had thus decided to answer with a thought, rather than speech.
Just a friend.
Can you help me?
Not right now. Give me a little more time.
Gotcha. I'll run away in the meantime, then.
No, you can't do that.
The voice sounded so disapproving that Keisei had no problems imagining it as a faceless figure, shaking its finger at him.
There are...complications. Suffice to say that running away now will not fulfil certain conditions.
What am I supposed to do then?! Fight him? He just exploded everything!
...Do your best.
There was no response.
Keisei managed to drag his upper body off the ground after some struggling. To his right, Aoi laid prone, but he could tell from the twitching of her body that she was, at the very least, not dead.
Daisuke was, obviously, unharmed, and continued his trick of repeatedly flicking his lighter with his thumb.
"You made a bad decision, man."
Keisei swallowed before answering him. His throat felt very dry.
"Okay, calm down a little. I get it. I'll accept your offer. Just because she rejected it doesn't mean I did."
The other boy shook his head. "Nope. Can't do that. Can't take it back. You didn't say anything to defy her, either. Can't blame me for thinking that you had the same opinion as her."
"It wasn't my fault, either."
Come on, you said you needed 'a little more time', didn't you? Well, you're getting it right now, so hurry the hell up.
Daisuke laughed harshly once again. It sounded almost like a dog's bark rather than any human noise.
"You're another tough one, I swear. Just my luck to run into the pair of you, eh? I don't care if it's not your fault. You opposed me. Pay the price, friend."
I won't let you!
Keisei leapt at the other boy and tackled him to the ground. Above his head, another ring of explosions burst through the air, but unlike the first time, Keisei did not feel anything, not even the rush of humid air against his face.
I knew it!
Daisuke was creating these explosions, but it didn't look like it he could control the explosions themselves. In other words, he had to make sure that his own attacks would not backfire on him. Considering the nature of the explosions, Keisei felt quite confident that there had to be an area around Daisuke that was not subjected to those explosions - a so-called 'safe area'. And that area was none other than next to Daisuke himself. That was also the most likely reason why he chose to form his attacks in the shape of a ring.
Keisei grabbed the white-haired boy's shirt. "If you create an explosion here, you'll blow both of us up. Surely you're not crazy enough to do that."
Daisuke merely cackled and grabbed onto Keisei's hand with his own.
"Maybe I am. Nah, I'm not nuts, you know. But I don't need to use my 'ability' to take you down."
He drew his other fist back and planted it against Keisei's cheek, causing him to release his grip. Daisuke next followed up with another straight punch that landed squarely on Keisei's jaw, blowing him backwards.
Daisuke rose to his feet and dusted off his hands, still grinning. "A good old punch to the head works just as well, you know, and now you're back in my range."
He readjusted his grip on the lighter. Keisei, still reeling from the two blows he had received, had no doubts about what was coming next.
Great job, buddy. That was a pretty good show. You've fulfilled my requirements. Here, knock yourself out.
Yet another series of blasts tore apart the air.
More clouds of flame filled the space in between.
But once the fires died away, Keisei was still standing. What exactly happened wasn't clear, but he had dodged the flames, somehow. He had leapt to the right and avoided them.
"You know, earlier, you announced the name of your 'ability', didn't you? [Sylph]. It was a requirement, wasn't it?"
Daisuke stared in amazement. "Maybe. Who cares? So what if it is?"
"Oh, it's nothing really...I was just wondering."
"How the hell do you know about that, anyway? It's almost as though you have - ! Damn!"
Daisuke's grin widened until it could not stretch any further. It was no exaggeration to say that it seemed as though it took up his entire face.
"I'd forgotten the playing field we were in. So this is a 'story'-like development...!"
Keisei chuckled and clutched at his face with one hand, concealing his eyes.
"Maybe. Come to think of it, we're in a 'story', aren't we? It's just like you said. In which case I suppose it's only polite to the 'audience' to announce your attacks and 'abilities'."
"Engage - "
"Peeping at little boys? Not a hobby that I approve of myself."
"And yet you are here yourself. And they are not little boys, they are just three years younger than us. What are you, jealous?"
"Maybe I am," Mikado admitted.
The student council president adjusted his classes and observed the battle that was unfolding some distance away. Next to him was an elegant young woman with long blonde hair, and eyes which seemed perpetually closed. It seemed that Reika had already been watching the freshmen for quite some time.
"Hmm. You'll just have to live with that," she answered.
Mikado sighed and redirected his gaze on the two boys were fighting each other.
"So? Have you used it on them already? Your [Queen Cassandra]."
"And?" He prompted with a touch of impatience.
"Fine. Amakawa Daisuke. 16 years old. Birthday, 1st of March. Blood type, AB+. Ability, [Sylph]. It grants him the ability to control gases."
"What about the other one?"
"Hikage Keisei. 15 years old. Birthday, 27th November. Blood type, O-. Ability - "
" - [Material Ruler]."
Keisei drew his hand away from his eyes.
And entered a different world.
What is this?
What he saw was exactly the same as before. But he learned from what he saw was entirely different.
He cast his gaze over Daisuke and marvelled over what he could see. Height - 170 cm. Weight - 622 N. Velocity - 0.23 cm/s, 73 degrees from North.
He could see it all. The parameters of everything in his sight. Even the speed of the wind and the make-up of the air itself -
What is this? It's my gift to you, buddy. Use it well.
'Your gift'? So you are -
Gotta run. See ya.
Again, there was no response.
Keisei shook his head a few times and placed his concentration back into the fight. It was pointless to dwell on the mysterious voice. He could think about it after he overcame this ordeal.
"Those are some wacky ass eyes you've got there."
Keisei could not, of course, see what his own eyes looked like, but Daisuke could. And what the white-haired boy saw were pupils lit up by characters and symbols that he could not decipher, constantly scrolling from left to right.
"So you've awakened your 'ability' too, huh? Fine with me. I'm up for a good fight."
It was clear that the situation was no longer overwhelmingly in his favor, but Daisuke's grin did not slip a bit. He was not at all disheartened by what had happened. If anything, it only served to excite him further. That was the kind of person he was.
Keisei didn't reply. Partly because he couldn't be bothered to, and partly because he was too busy avoiding Daisuke's attack.
Previously, he only knew that Daisuke could somehow create explosions, but he had no idea how this was done. The name of his ability - [Sylph] - had not sounded like such a power. But now, with his own ability, he knew. He could see it with his own eyes, the way the make-up of the air changed.
The puff of flame from the lighter ignited the flammable gas in a brilliant red burst.
Keisei, who had already began moving once he detected the change in the composition of the air around him, pushed his legs even further and avoided the danger zone in a single burst of speed. A second later, he found himself staring right at Daisuke's face.
He realized that I would dodge it and moved into close range first to gain the advantage!
Daisuke's fist sailed through the air, but Keisei was more than ready for it.
I can see it. The speed of his fist, the path of motion, everything.
Strictly speaking, [Material Ruler] was not an ability that allowed the user to see the future. It simply measured things. All he could see were the composition, parameters, values, statistics - things like that. But the user could see the velocity vector of objects. That was, after all, a value. The user could thus visualize a punch being thrown right as the attacker himself decided to do so.
It was not at all difficult for Keisei to dodge Daisuke's attack, and go for his target.
He grabbed onto it tightly with both hands, and, summoning all his strength, managed to yank it out of Daisuke's grasp.
Once that happened, they both knew that the victor was determined. A person who had just awakened his ability versus a person who could not longer use his ability. There was no doubt as to the conclusion of such a fight.
"Goddamn, today really isn't my lucky day!"
Daisuke yelled at the sky and relaxed, allowing his arms to dangle loosely by his side.
"Well, well, well. So - what now?"
Keisei raised his eyebrows. "What do you mean?"
"What do you mean? What I'm saying is - you've won. We both know that I can't beat you now. So what are you gonna do?"
"...Nothing. Why should I do anything?"
"What? Come on, man. I just tried to kill you. At least beat me up or something."
"...Are you a masochist?"
"Whatever. I don't know about you, but my body hurts like hell. I'm not going to do anything if I don't need to."
"So you're really just gonna let me go? Goddamn."
The white-haired boy cackled once again and strolled over towards his lighter. Keisei tensed immediately, but -
"Don't worry. You've already beaten me once even when I had this thing. It's pointless for me to try anything."
Daisuke bent down and picked it up, sliding it into his breast pocket.
"Remember this, ya hear me? I'll be back."
And with another laugh, he walked off.
"Quite the show."
"For once, I agree with you."
Mikado walked next to Reika and gave her a swift chop to the head.
"It's fine to play around, but I'm being serious here. What's the boy's 'role'?"
"Ouch!" She closed her eyes in pain and clutched the top of her head. "Weren't you ever taught to be gentle with girls?!"
"I don't bother being a gentlemen if the girl isn't a lady."
"...How rude. In the first place, there's no point in your pretence of not knowing his 'role'. There's no one who would know it better than you."
"So his 'role' really is that, then."
Reika nodded and once again opened her eye just a sliver.
"Hikage Keisei. 15 years old. Birthday, 27th November. Blood type, O-. Ability, [Material Ruler]. The ability to measure the values of objects.
Role - 'Protagonist'."