Specter Protector

Chapter 1

A New Chapter in Life! Enter Mai Marlain and Trace Carnel

What is it about the end that frightens causes such fear? Is it the idea of leaving behind the very world you've grown up in? Or perhaps having very little impact on said world before your sudden departure? With only a few having gotten only a peak beyond the veil of death, most remained in the dark of what awaited them. Yet, among the morals knew of its secret yet refused to spill the beans. Knowledge of such would remain only with them until the end of time. They may be few, but they our only defense against threats beyond the mortal world.

To the far eastern coast of the U.S.A, there laid a town named Farlew, a small city composed of local residence and businesses. Though, not as expansive as New York City, it still had its charm with its diverse selection of shops and diners, as well as other facilities such as gyms and even their own water park. But for this story, we must venture to a place where many teenagers attended: Farlew High School.

Summer vacation was upon them. For everyone, it meant more time to themselves, and plenty of rest and relaxation. No more anxiety ridden tests or physical examinations, just fun, fun, and more fun. But for others it meant just a bit more. Seniors were preparing for graduations, which meant moving up in life. No longer would they be confined to the same rules but would be free to make their own choice and take their own paths. Yet, some found themselves disappointed. Not in the situation, but what they had failed to accomplish during their 4 years of attendance. For Mai Marlain, that meant one thing: confessing to her crush.

There wasn't much time left, and despite her gut telling her to get it over with, she remained sitting in her seat, watching from afar. It wasn't like it was any different from any other day. Despite her cute appearance, with long, black hair that was tied together into one large braid in the back, pretty, violet eyes, a great feminine figure, and a cheerful disposition, she often found herself staying put rather than taking the initiative.

"Come on, Mai, you can't keep sitting here like this. If you don't do it now, you'll miss out on your chance. Just talk to him like you would anyone else." she told herself while adjusting her round glasses. "No big deal. No big deal…"

Handsome, kind, and helpful, those were the three most popular words commonly used to describe Trace Carnel. Being a senior as well, he had proven to be quite the wiz kid, with dedication towards his studies taking top priority during times of tests and exams. His wardrobe reflected as such, with a white, button up shirt adorning his toned torso, a pair a khaki pants covering his lower half, and a pair of black and red sneakers. His medium length dark blue hair. And how could she forget his sparkling blue eyes? But it wasn't just his looks that had her infatuated, but his personality and attitude as well. Speaking of which, he had returned with their teacher, carrying a box full of scantrons and essay booklets essential for their exams later that week.

"Thanks for the hand, son. You can place it down on the floor right." their instructor said, letting out a light sigh.

"No problem. Anything to help." he replied, giving one of his signature bright smiles before placing it beside the front desk. "Need anything else?"

"I think that's about it for now."

"Cool." he enthusiastically said before returning to his little study group.

Four years and she had yet to strike up any meaningful conversation with him. There had been a few instances where she approached, but nothing would come out of her mouth. It was as if her voice had left her to her own devices. But even though, inside she knew remaining silent wouldn't solve anything. She had to get her voice out there in some way.

"Maybe I could write a letter and slip it into his locker? No-no, it's got to be face to face. I must let him know through my own words." she used as an excuse, turning her attention to the history book open on her desk. "By the end of this week I'll try having a conversation with him, for sure."

With exams beginning in the next two days, all teaching lessons had ceased, allowing their students to study amongst themselves. Having been doing such for the past week though, Trace offered his assistance to two of his fellow classmates who were having trouble remembering certain dates of events from the 1800s. However, they had something else on their mind.

"Yo Trace, not sure if you've noticed, but I think you've got a little admirer over there." one of them asked, pointing his thumb in her direction.

"Hm? Who's that?" he wondered while turning to look behind him. Though they had hardly ever spoke to one another, her attitude during class gave him all the info he needed. Attentive, courteous, smart, and cheerful. An overall good person at the core. What gave them that impression of her, though? "You talking about Mai? I think you're a little confused. We've hardly spoken to each other."

"You seriously haven't noticed? She's always looking at you, dude. Every time you speak her attention is always on you."

Though a tad surprising, at the same time he was someone who became completely absorbed in the lesson being taught. You could throw a ball of paper at him, and he would likely not even flinch. It was as his mother always told him: studies took top priority over everything else.


"Yeah. She's totally into you." the other said.

"And you're sure she wasn't looking at anyone else?" he questioned as a bit of excitement began welling up inside his head. "I mean, we've got three rows separating us."

"Not a chance. No one pays that much attention to someone unless they have a mad crush on them."

Were they telling the truth or just trying to pull a fast one on him? It almost seemed too good to be true, but what if it wasn't? What if she was really into him? It had always been a goal to find a cute girlfriend before the end of his high school years. Though little time remained, perhaps he could still lay out the foundation of a strong friendship first and foremost. The last thing he wanted to do was raise his own expectations, only to be met with denial down the road.

Friendship could wait, though. You know what couldn't, though? Lunch. After a rather boring morning, what better way was there to replenish one's energy than with a decent school meal? And with-it being Pizza Friday, you bet plenty would be lining up for a slice. He on the other hand hadn't the patience and would instead partake in his own homemade lunch. A sandwich made from last night's left-over ham, a small bag of chips, and a bottled water. Nothing special, but it worked for him.

It came as no surprise that tables were hard to come by when passing by the lunchroom. Oh well, there were alternatives. Directly across from the cafeteria was a small outdoor area where those who wanted a change in scenery were welcome to go. The surrounding beds of flowers helped give the area more cover, while the open roof allowed for the sun's warm embrace. Stepping through the entryway, his sights would land on the table closest to the door, hoping it remained vacant. But as it turned out someone else had already laid claim to one of the four chairs sitting around with their back facing him.

"Really? Well, I guess I could change it up a bit for today." he thought, his gaze shifting to the second table. It wasn't all that bad, he just liked being able to see back inside through the window present. "Ah well, no big deal. It's not like it really matters. A table is a table."

However, while passing by he took notice of the familiar face sitting at the table. Those purple eyes, those long, black hair, that curvaceous figure, and those oval glasses, he had stumbled upon his fellow classmate, Mai, as she partook in a video game; a JRPG if he had seen it correctly. Being an institute of education, such things were prohibited during normal class hours. But during break period, such a rule did not apply. However, he never took her as a game lover.

"What was that? It looks like traditional turned based gameplay, but its art style looked pretty anime. Didn't something new come out recently?" he pondered about inside his head. While a bit of a bookworm himself, he too enjoyed the occasional game during free time. "Oh! Chaos's Order, that's the one! It came out a few days ago, but I haven't had the time to grab mine yet." he recalled.

By the frustrated look on her face, she had gotten herself into a bit of a pickle. Chaos's Order had proven quite popular with its intense difficulty and intertwined storyline. Having firsthand experience with the first four, he knew all too well how aggravating it could get having to grind materials and experience for stronger weapons and magic. Simply leveling up your character wouldn't be enough to beach the area's boss. No, you needed plenty of materials and runes to enhance your armor, weapons, and spells. The trick was to seek out rarer materials, which gave beefier buffs to equipment and spells. The only problem, many of them were held by stronger enemies.

"Should I lend a hand? No-no, that's why too nosey." he thought to himself while also taking notice of her rising frustrated state. It may have been a few months since he sat down to play the previous game, but by memory alone he could recall several solutions he found while venturing throughout its rich fantasy world. Certain items, locations, and NPC that helped him throughout his adventure, they all became integral to reaching the end. If only he could see her build, then he could ascertain what the problem was and help her fix it. "…Screw it. Go for broke." he said under his breath before rising from his seat.

Running around the open world would only delay the next encounter even more. For as much fun as the series could be, they always managed to get a rise out of her occasionally. Specific item locations and enemy spawns were marked in her character's journal, making the hunting, and gathering portion of the game rather simple; it was the special enemies that posed the biggest problem. These feisty beasts often hit much harder and were quicker than the average enemy, while also holding more valuable loot. All she needed was this single ring to help boost both her Light magic and evasion, but this one single tentacled beast knew nothing of mercy as it proceeded to kill her over, and over, and over again.

"Ugh. How many times has it been? One…two…three…bleh." she said while resting her head on the table, letting out a deep sigh. "Maybe I should go back grind more, again."

It wasn't that she hated the thought or idea of it, but only having an hour-long break meant less time for playing. Glancing up at the screen, she only saw the Continue or Exit to Title Screen options. The answer was obvious, but the moment she returned to the game a voice would give her a little startle.

"Cute character." she heard coming from behind, causing her to jump a bit.

That voice, it was one all too familiar to her. A light blush would cover her cheeks while slowly looking back. His pretty blue eyes were looking directly at her while casting one of those sweet smiles of his. Like before, her heart rate steadily climbed as sharp, nervous tingle shot up and down her back. Something wasn't right. She felt nervous, far more nervous than she ever felt before. She tried speaking, but all that came out was a raspy hiss. It sounded and felt as if her throat had dried out completely, and it would only get weirder. Her vision began to blur as his voice grew more muffled.

"Mai? Are you okay?" he asked, noticing immediately the oddities present in her behavior. His concern only grew when she slouched forward, her eyes closed as her body ceased all movement. She was still breathing, but it did little to help quell his ongoing concern for his fellow classmate. Hoping she would wake up, he would give her shoulders a few good shakes, which yielded no such results. "Mai? Shit, what just happened? No, questions can wait. She needs the nurse."

For someone of his size and strength, scooping her up in his arms wasn't that strenuous, thought it also meant he would have to abandon his lunch. Whatever. Her wellbeing was far more important than some bagged lunch. And with that, he was off, using his foot to gently pry open the door before moving quickly towards the nurse's office. Of course, the sight of a young man like himself carrying an unconscious girl would arouse suspicion. It wouldn't come as any shock to him when the school's art teacher caught a glimpse and immediately stopped him to ask a few questions. Due to his helpful reputation though, it would not take much to convince her after explaining what had happened. Whatever it was, they would soon find out.

Surprised by their arrival, Nurse Hailey Bower would give her one six beds of rest in while she performed a routine check-up. All the while he sat off to the side, watching and waiting for the results.

"What do you think did this?" he asked, curious if she had found anything.

"Honestly, I'm not sure. Nothing seems wrong with her. Her heart seems fine, there's no fever, it seems she just passed out." she stated, confused by the ordeal. "And you said she just fainted like that?" she asked while giving her fingers a snap.

"Yeah. One minute she was looking fine and the next, this happened."

"That's odd. I wonder if it could have been from stress. Either way, I'd like to keep her with me until the end of the day. For observational purposes."

"No problem here, though would you mind if I stuck around? I feel like I stay and make sure she's alright after what happened. You know?"

"I don't have a problem with it, but you'll need to inform your remaining instructors."

"Not a problem. It's been nothing but studying today, so I highly doubt there will be any lessons." he said with enthusiasm, giving her a thumbs up.

Did it sound weird that he wanted to stick around for someone he hadn't talked to much? Probably, but at the same time he had been the only one around when she passed out. Explaining the aftermath would fall on him. The way she looked at him though, she appeared flustered. Could his mere presence have been the root cause? They would find for sure soon enough. For now, all they could do was wait.

The darkness that had engulfed her seemingly went on forever. No matter how far she walked or ran, it never ended. It seemed pointless to proceed any farther. The further in she ventured, the more hopeless she became. That was until a bright light erupted from before her, causing the eternal darkness to disappear without a trace. In that moment something would appear before her, its six white, feathered wings outstretched as light poured from them.

"What…is that?" she wondered while trying to step closer for a better look.

Alas, it was impossible with how bright the area had become, though she could have sworn to have seen a pair of red eyes peering at her from behind the ruffling wings. This light, it felt so warm and comforting. All her worried and stress were no more as the light enveloped her. Only then would her eyes snap open, revealing the reality of the situation. The void, the light, and the creature, it was all a dream. And instead, she found herself looking up at the ceiling, her vision blurred due to her missing glasses.

"Oh good, your awake." she heard the nurse say, squinting as she tried making out the secondary figure beside her. Without her glasses, everything appeared blurry. "Are you feeling any better?"

"What happened?" she asked in confusion.

"It would probably be better if he explained." she said in return, handing over the glasses she desperately needed from the nightstand to her left.

With a clear view, her eyes shifted towards the second person sitting at her bedside. This someone though caused her heartrate to rise as he gave her a friendly wave and smile.

"Tr-Trace? Wait, don't tell me you-"

"Hm? Did I do what?"

"C-C-Carry me here?"

"Yep. Wasn't that hard either. Although, Mrs. Wilkson seemed puzzled when she saw me." he answered with a humored chuckle.

The thought of being cradled in his well-toned arms, held so close, it caused her face to light up a bit. It wouldn't go unnoticed by Nurse Bowser.

"Well, I'll leave you to it. If something else happens come get me." she said in a rather playful tone, giving them some alone time together while moving to the room next door.

The two sat in silence for a minute or so, with only the rustling of the swaying trey branches outside the nearest window to break it up. Looking over at her, he couldn't help but take in just how cute she was. There were plenty of attractive girls walking their school halls, but the purity she gave off only helped enhance her overall cute factor. At least in his eyes. To his surprise, it would be her who would break the silence, though not in a way he had expected.

"How long have you been here?" she asked while trying to look him in the eyes.

"I'd say maybe a little over two hours?"

"Oh. I'm sorry then." she replied apologetically.

"Hm? Why's that?"

"You carried me here and had to miss the rest of your classes. Plus, you got in trouble with a teacher."

"Mrs. Wilson? Nah, she just wanted to know what was going on. I mean, you were unconscious after all." he explained, assuring her that nothing severe had happened during that time. "And don't worry about the classes. I chose to stick around."

That took her by a surprise. So much so that she would instantly look up towards him, both shocked and confused by his answer.

"But why? We don't really know each other…"

"That's not exactly true. It may not look it, but I'm pretty good at paying attention during class. I've seen how you act. You're smart, kind, and caring. You're always following the rules and avoiding conflict with others." he unveiled, feeling she may have felt awkward about the whole situation. "Plus, you're a gamer? That was a bit unexpected. I didn't think you would be into something like Chaos Knight. That's awesome!" he followed, his tone taking on that of excitement.

"It's…It's nothing, really. I just like the challenge." she said while veering her eyes away, feeling the heat upon her cheeks.

"Mhm. I agree with you there. It's always so satisfying when you finally crush your enemy after restarting over and over, and over again." he replied in agreement. It was only a moment later that he remembered something important. Reaching into his right pocket, he brandished the same handheld she had been playing on previous. "Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. You probably want this back, yeah?" he mentioned, offering up the device to her.

Without saying a word, she took it back. Somehow, she thought having an actual conversation with him would have turned out terrible. Stuttering all over the place, her face a lit, sweat running down her forehead, she would have felt like a fool. Yet, sitting down and talking with him, it felt nice. Even if she appeared a bit flustered, he felt no need to tease her about it. All he did was keep up that positive disposition. It must have been infectious too because she too couldn't help but smile as well.

"Thanks, Trace. I guess I owe you for helping me out, huh?" she stated, giving off her own little chuckle.

"Nah. Like I said, it's cool. There's no way I was going to leave you there alone." He reminded her. "I mean, what would have happened if some creep had come across you. Nah, that's not going to fly." he told her, before tapping the handheld's screen.

"I guess you're right there." she replied with a giggle. "Are you sure there's nothing you want from me, then?"

"Nope. And hey, if you ever need someone to talk to or hang out with, hit me up." he proposed so graciously. "It's as my mom always said: "It's always a great day to meet new people." he enthusiastically uttered.

Was it all just a dream? After four long years of delay after delay, they were finally having a real conversation. Confidence surged through every fiber of her being, her blush having been reduced to a faint pink as her heart rate lowered. Her feelings remained true, but compared to before, it felt so much easier to talk to him. She felt tremendous!

"I'd like that. I'd like that a lot." she replied, flashing a rather bright smile of her own.

Seeing that sweet smile of her triggered something within him. For the last four years he had received many compliments from both boys and girls, yet it was she that caused his heart to race a bit. Her sweet nature combined with her lovely appearance had him on the cusp of blushing himself.

"Heh. Good. I'm glad." he replied in a somewhat more awkward tone, though that smile of his never left. While enjoying the talk though, he had forgotten one important detail. A low grumbling rumbled from within his stomach. He had forgotten about lunch! "Uh…mind if I grab something from the machine outside?" he would ask politely.

"Oh, sure. You didn't eat anything?"

"Not really. I kind of left my lunch behind, but I'm sure someone's either eaten it or thrown it away at this point. I'll just be a minute." he reassured her before darting out the room.

Hearing the door close caused Nurse Bowser's return, noticing he had left for some reason. However, it wasn't his absents that drew her attention, but her giggling patient who looked happier than ever. Little did they know just how bizarre their lives would become in only a few days.