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Kana’s first night at Ishin had not been too dissimilar to her first night in Kagoshima. A new home, a new bed, and hours of fitful sleep she could have counted on one hand. She wasn’t exhausted, thankfully; she’d grown accustomed to an erratic and stingy sleeping schedule through long stretches of brickish mattresses in roadside motels, or the passenger seat of her father’s car. Ishin was generous enough to give her a soft bed, warm sheets, and clean air, and so whatever restfulness was lost had been made up for quite well in comfort.

She’d been awake when Wakako left, tempted to ask if they might walk to class together, but she refrained. Her roommate had put up with her enough yesterday, and the last thing Kana wanted to do was repay Wakako’s kindness by being a burden, or clinging too tightly. Instead, once she was alone, Kana shuffled out of bed—folding the sheets without much practice,—donned her uniform, and gathered her materials into a small satchel she’d tucked into the duffle bag. On her way out, she took quick stock of herself in the dorm’s bathroom mirror, and frowned.

Hoped you might not recognize yourself just because you’re wearing a fancy uniform? she thought bitterly. One decent day isn’t enough to wash her out of your face. Sorry.

The map and instructions were clear, and Kana arrived at the classroom early, it seemed. Earlier at least than the teacher. There were already a few students there, faces she recognized from the day before—the put-off foreigner, the “kind of stiff looking guy” Wakako had mentioned, and the friendly, gelatinous Nadeshiko.

Wakako herself was there as well, sat beside Osamu. Kana smiled to her, waved, and noticed the seats were labeled. It must have been good luck, Wakako being seated next to the one person she’d known from the assembly, luck that Kana was hopeful for herself. Unluckily, she didn’t find her name near Wakako, or even Nadeshiko. A bit anxious, she checked the seats nearby the foreign girl—as quiet and unobtrusively as she could—but she didn’t find herself there, either. That wasn’t much of a consolation, Kana had been hoping for a seat near the back. Out of sight, out of mind. But as she continued to search, raking each row seat by seat, that anxiety built, and built, as she went on and on and on fruitlessly until at last there it was, and suddenly more than ever before she wished her name was not Mutsuki Kana.

Mutsuki Kana was assigned to the front row.

Kill me.


Smith's Rest | Hangar
January 16th, 2677

Eli stared at him, waiting. He hadn’t given her an answer; she wasn’t sure what it was he’d given her, but it wasn’t an answer. A joke, maybe, Percy did that often and never subtly, always with a grin or a nudge of the elbow.

“Percy, this is important,” she said. “It’s about the new pilots. Have you seen them? Graham’s brought in nearly half a dozen and they’re all…outsiders. I don’t think any of them are even Alaskan. One looks a raider, Percy.”

Again her eyes went to the mechanic, and her mouth screwed shut. The worry had gotten to her for a moment, she’d nearly forgotten what was and wasn’t safe to say around nonessential personnel. It was one thing for her to voice distaste in Graham’s decisions to comrades, it was another for site employees to hear dissent from the pilots.

She sighed, and this time she chose her words a little more carefully. “It could be something worth discussing with one another.”

Kana nodded along to Wakako’s encouragement, and it did take, if just a little. It was the sort of assurance she’d been drip-feeding herself ever since she’d been accepted—You wouldn’t be going if they didn’t think you could cut it. And it was undeniably true, at least a little bit. Ishin didn’t seem like an institution interested in wasting time, especially not its own time. If there really wasn’t any chance she could make it through this, she wouldn’t have been on that train.

Still, like most of her thoughts, they didn’t really matter until someone else thought them, too.

Wakako was probably right about the faculty as well. Nekohara was not at all what Kana had expected of Ishin’s students, and she was upperclassman. Some—perhaps even many—of the teachers would likely be cold and hard and merciless, but Kana held out hope anyway that they might encounter some people of power and influence unjaded by their work.

The topic shifted. Kana tried to pull an image of Osamu from her memory, but the auditorium was a blur of anxiety to her now. She did recall her seatmates, the gelatinous and polite Nadeshiko, and the awkward yet well-meaning Shun.

“A couple,” Kana said. “I know there were a few people who didn’t seem to be getting along, but thankfully the people I sat by were nice. One was that boy, outside, who helped Nekohara back up. He…brought a pineapple with him.”

Slowly, she saw flashes of unfamiliar faces, picked out snippets of conversations she hadn’t really heard but remembered by broken piece-meal after the fact. Blue hair, white hair, sharp words and words of tender arbitration, a foreign girl with a hard face and a girl with hair like a squid. People were thrilled, and anxious, and angry or eager overjoyed to be here, to be something. Kana did not know these people yet, but she felt a sudden connection to them, a sort of pride and also worry, because despite Wakako’s assurances, the Supervisor had seemed intent that not all of them would last.

“I hope they make it,” Kana said finally, and though she had excluded the two of them, it was perhaps them she meant most.

@Naw

Kana couldn’t help the shock—or the twinge of disgust—that twisted her face as Wakako explained the intricacies of her quirk. It was sympathetic, of course, and she cringed at the idea that her roommate might think she was disgusted by her and not the preparations she had to go through to get her quirk working, but it seemed as though Wakako understood. Perhaps she was even used to it; after all, how many people wouldn’t flinch at the idea of drinking dangerous chemicals, on top of god-knows-what-else?

She nodded appreciatively when Wakako suggested their quirks’ more finicky aspects were similar, but in truth, listening to the cannon’s explanation had her feeling grateful that all she had to put up with was pain. There were prospective dangers with her quirk, of course, but at the very least she never had to worry about drinking poison or eating metal, to say nothing of worrying about things exploding in her face.

Still, shock and worry aside, Kana found herself rather relaxed. She’d taken a seat on the bed she’d lifted, and while Wakako talked she had listened closely and almost forgotten herself. Her hands had stopped shaking, her heart, still hastened, no longer pounded against her chest like the feet of a rabbit. Her elbow still stung, but what was pain compared to anxiety? She was smiling, even, swept up in Wakako’s enthusiasm for what her quirk might do with a little practice, and her pride for what she could do already.

“I’d like to see that, when they let us,” she said, and did mean it. It had been years since quirks had been such a welcomed topic; back home her father had made discussing them practically taboo. Kana of course hadn’t spoken a word about her own quirk to anyone before Ishin had entered the picture, and so Wakako’s question stumped her, at first.

No, no. Don’t lie, you know exactly where your quirk is headed.

Perhaps it was the fact that, for the first time in a while, she felt like she had a handle on her nerves, but she managed to quiet her own thoughts before they could bring disaster back to fragile, tentative calm she’d mustered.

“Oh,” she said, surprised at the relative clarity of her own voice. “I’m not sure…maybe lifting two beds at once?”

Was that a joke? Had she tried to make a joke? Even in her own stillness she could feel herself cringing.

“Uhm…b-but, really, I don’t know. It might seem a bit…dumb, but I’m not really sure what I’m capable of. I guess I’d like to find out, here. I-is that wrong? I mean…Ishin is supposed to be…well, Ishin, and…”

Wow, you can’t go thirty seconds without trying to sabotage the conversation, can you?

Well, it was nice while it lasted. Kana felt her smile twitching. She bowed her head, cleared her throat.

“Sorry. I guess the…ah…speech, that the Supervisor gave still has me a little nervous. I guess we'll have to get used to imposing faculty, though, huh? I'm sure the teachers aren't any...warmer than he is.”


@Naw
Ianthe

Okay! Ianthe thought, frantic. Needed!

As the writhing, green hulk brought its limbs to bear against the party, Ianthe pulled her sword from its scabbard—and plunged it into the ground behind her. She kept an iron grip on the hilt, bracing herself with the very ground as leverage, and brought up her shield. Perhaps she’d underestimated the shoddy metal, or her own wherewithal, or the intangible yet undeniable effects of Luna’s music, but when that vegetable tendril came down upon her, it found her unyielding.

The impact shook her to the bone and took a chunk of wind from her lungs, but she weathered it. When the worst of the strike was behind her, she yanked her sword free and whirled the edge around to carve herself a path forward.

Baldur was thrown aside, the dragoon—well, Ianthe kept an eye out for her. Behind her, Artemisia had made weapons of the air itself, and behind the monster, Avaddon had begun an assault of his own, simpler in practice but no less effective in execution. A sword—at least, her sword—would be wasted if she used it trying to carve the Malboro apart for glory. She knew her place in this fight, and it wasn’t to wring the sap out of the wretched thing, it was to keep the others safe while they did.

“You fight!” she called back to Luna, but she could only spare a moment’s glance back to the anxious bard before instinct screamed at her to keep her eyes on the giant turnip that was trying to kill them all.

Ianthe weaved forward, shield ahead, trying to keep the thing’s attention narrowed. Big beast, it was, but a beast nonetheless. Vicious, dangerous, but single-minded. Easily distracted.

She hoped.

Kana found the dormitories pleasant, certainly more than she thought they would be. There wasn’t anything particularly extravagant about them, but beds and desks and closets, and above all, space and fresh air, were things she’d taken for granted before leaving Goshogawara. In Kagoshima, at least where she’d lived, everything was salt and brine, and the humidity that clung to the air carried the scent of the docks with it, which was something she’d never quite grown accustomed to.

Once they were inside, Kana was quick to close the door behind them out of habit. Reflex wanted her to lock it as well, but she figured that might have seemed strange.

Now you’re worried about being weird?

She silently thanked Wakako for carrying her bag, and shuffled it out of the way while her roommate surveyed the room for herself. Cozy, that was apt. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d thought of a place as cozy.

“Oh, no, this is wonderful.” Kana answered, pleased to hear the evenness in her own voice. Their departure from the public had done more for her nerves than she’d thought. Without the eyes and ears surrounding them, with the excess anxieties sheered away, she was quite surprised with how comfortable she felt. It wasn’t perfect, the jitter was still in her bones, and her heart was still just a bit too lively, but compared to earlier, she was practically calm.

Time to absolutely ruin it, then, while she still had the confidence.

“Thank you for…ah, humoring me. I’m sure there’s still plenty you want to go out and do, or see. I just wanted to get, uhm, grounded first, I guess. So, thanks—no, I already said that.”

She’d meandered to the window without realizing it, and nearly lost her train of thought, again, looking outside at the academy. It was still jarringly unfamiliar to her, and she worried that, just like the smell of Kagoshima’s harbor, the sight of Ishin would never quite settle with her.

“Anyway,” she said, pulling herself back. “My quirk isn’t…it makes me stronger, and…uhm, well, it sort of hurts when I use it. But I guess that’s the…point. I’m sorry, I’m explaining this really badly. I should just—”

Kana knelt down by one of the beds and got her hands underneath it. The mattresses were thin, the frames thick but manageably light. Altogether it was still too heavy for her on her own. She considered activating her quirk, but letting it build up on its own could take a minute or two, and while Wakako had proven to be an accommodating sort, Kana didn’t want to push her luck. So, instead, she braced herself, and then banged her elbow deliberately against the bedframe.

“Ow…” she muttered, but it wasn’t so bad, really. More pins than needles. Still, it was enough; she could feel it in her veins, or her muscles, or wherever the quirk made its nest within her, and for a few moments she felt decidedly bigger than her own skin. She managed to get the bed up, not very high, and more tilted against the wall than straight, but it was a good enough display, she hoped. The effects wore off quickly, and she lowered it back to a proper rest while she still had the means to do so gently, then got back to her feet.

“And that’s it, really. The more pain the more…that. I haven’t really done a lot of, uhm, conditioning. I’m not very good with pain. I guess that’s something I need to work on. But, sorry, I’m talking a lot. I do want to know more about you—your quirk, I mean. N-not that I don’t want to know more about you, too, of course.” She bowed her head. That too had become a fierce habit. “Sorry if that was rude. I didn’t talk to many people in Kagoshima, and I guess I’m a bit nervous, and I’m…still talking a lot. I’m sorry.”


@Naw

Kana had figured she’d recognize Wakako’s mother when it finally came up, and she was right. Tanegashima Sanae was indeed who she’d been thinking of, and though she’d never seen the Warship Hero personally, the stories were plenty. She wasn’t just some local talent, she was the real deal, someone people admired from Tomakomai all the way down to Kagoshima.

Suddenly the resemblances were uncanny, albeit Kana didn’t have much to go on but a few pictures she’d only seen years ago. Still, now when she thought about the child of the famous Tanegashima, it seemed so obvious. Then, to snuff out even the finest traces of doubt, Wakako presented irrefutable proof: the cannon. Kana had seen plenty of quirks before, and it was hard to define, or at least adhere, to any idea of what a “normal” body was in a world where so many people—revered people—were decidedly abnormal. She wondered then whether it was rude of her to stare at the giant, metal artillery cannon extended out of her roommate’s stomach, but she was excited by the idea of getting to see it in action. Not now of course. Wakako was right, a demonstration here would have been…problematic, in the kindest word.

Still, she had questions. Did it hurt? Was it heavy? Did she just…carry cannonballs around with her? It would have made sense, given all the muscle. She tried to think to what she knew about Sanae, but the details were fuzzy, and perhaps Wakako had her own methods anyway. Just because she was Sanae’s daughter didn’t mean she had to do everything the same way.

Or maybe you just can’t understand why someone would want to be like their mom.

"So yeah, uh...how about you?"

“Oh…uhm…” Kana could feel the blood in her cheeks. She’d been paying perfect attention that time, she was just…slow. “I’m from G-goshogawara, in Aomori. It's not...super far from here. I mean, I was born there, but I lived i-in Kagoshima. That's farther, and there's lots of…boats. My, uh…uhm…”

Kana’s jaw twitched, she bit her lip to keep it shut. Her tongue didn’t seem to know how to make the right words, and her throat was being stingy with the air. It was like her body was protesting the idea that she might…what, be honest with someone? No. She was right to be careful.

You’re not being careful, you’re being a coward. And worse, you’re being very, very rude to Wakako.

“I’m sorry…” she said, finally managing to force her mouth open. “Could w-we go inside first? It’s very…ah…people-y, out here.”


@Naw
Ianthe

And there went the monk.

Ianthe heard the concern in Edgar’s words, she felt the same. Though Avaddon had been a rather loud and seemingly excitable man, she doubted he meant to face a nesting of miniboros all by his lonesome. Still, intentions often held little weight to what could actually happen, and if he wasn’t careful—or perhaps even if he was—he may find himself in a dire situation without aid. She hoped not, not just for his sake, but for the group’s as well.

Balder seemed to be holding together well, which was a relief. She’d seen plenty of leaderly-types among the bandit troupes, and plenty of them were quick to crack when faced with a real threat. Of course, she didn’t want to compare the Hunters Guild to them, but in the back of her mind, the part that denied the existence of true altruism, she couldn’t help it. She felt like a mercenary.

The dragoon pulled her back, and it was nice to hear another voice of reason among the group. Ianthe shifted to the right flank, casting quick, occasional glances back at Luna, Artemisia and Blaike. She kept her focus mainly upon the fog, but pushed from her mind its more mystical qualities. Balder was right, forward was the only way. Everything had an end, and this forest—this fog—was no exception.

Unfortunately, neither were any of them.

Kana shuffled after Wakako, adopting a fairly brisk pace to keep up with her. This girl was certainly…different, compared to most adults Kana had met, let alone people her own age. It wasn’t off-putting, but she did feel a bit guilty using her new roommate as what was, essentially, a social blast-shield. The way people’s eyes were naturally drawn to Wakako made Kana wonder if she hated it too—the attention, the spectacle. Did children shy away from her? Did men and women who were too old for petty derisiveness, still gawk and grimace at the sight of her? Did friendship come rarely, and unnaturally, and never for long?

Maybe she was overthinking it. Wasn’t attention part of the deal? People were supposed to look at heroes, and heroes were supposed to like being looked at. Kana had always viewed fame as an unavoidable drawback to heroism, something that had to be endured, but she also hated the sound of her own name, so really, what did she know? Maybe it was a good thing to be famous, even if the idea twisted her stomach into knots.

“…I can lift things real easy, you know.”

Stop. Spacing. Out.

It took her a painfully quiet moment to piece together what Wakako had said—or rather, asked. Kana looked down at her bag, which she hadn’t stopped holding in her arms like an animal since they’d left the auditorium, despite that it had straps. There wasn’t much in it, because there hadn’t been much to take, so it wasn’t as though carrying it was a strain. Did she look like she was struggling?

It’s called being polite, you moron. It’s something good people do. Take notes.

What was she meant to say? Was it polite to accept Wakako’s friendly offer, or would it be demeaning to make a hero’s daughter carry her things like some pack mule? She hadn’t known Wakako very long, but she was nice, and Kana was suddenly very sure that she didn’t want to offend her.

“Oh, ah…I’m sure you can. Y-you seem very strong.” She offered the duffel out, more than a bit sheepishly, and tried to put on a smile that was at least familial to gratitude. “It isn’t really heavy, but i-if you want to, then…thank you very much.”


@Naw
Ianthe

Well, that couldn’t be good.

In her admittedly numbered years, Ianthe had seen men turn tail and flee when faced with greater numbers or a lost cause. Wild animals, too, shared a similar instinct for self-preservation. Fiends, however…fiends didn’t care if they died, they hardly cared that they were alive in the first place. Fiends didn’t run.

Luna hissed beside her, flinching as if she’d been struck. Ianthe whirled, shield raised, putting Luna between herself and the other front-liners. Artemisia, while some steps away, was at least still standing and apparently unharmed. Ianthe kept her in her peripherals as she scanned the backend for whatever might have struck their nervous archer. Her hand, gripping the hilt of the blade at her side, still hesitated to draw it.

Not yet, she thought. Split hands, split mind. Wait. Wait ‘til it’s needed.

But nothing came. The fog grew heavier, sinking to the earth and pooling at their feet, but there was no sign of their assailant. She made a quick, sharp hiss to Artemisia, nodding for her to come closer to the group. Something told her the mysterious woman had more than a few tricks of up those viridian sleeves, and they’d need the arms still attached to make use of them.

Blaike, who she saw with the steadiest flick of her eyes was within comfortable reach of Mitra, put forth the idea that they split up, and Ianthe nearly broke form to gawk at him. She supposed under normal circumstances, that might have carried some merit. Splitting up against human foes was, well, suicidal at best—and, really, at worst—but fiends had no mind for strategy, or lack thereof, and could perhaps have been…surprised? But these were clearly not normal fiends, which only made the need for closeness even more pressing.

Whatever science he had studied in Alexandria, it had not been the science of war.

Luna winced again, and Ianthe adjusted, cursing herself for missing yet another strike. Only, no, there had been no attack. Luna wasn’t injured, she was…oh, dear.

“Easy, easy,” Ianthe offered, quiet and gentle-like, as she’d spoken to a few of Argo’s more nervous defenders in the past. “We’ve got you. String up that harp.”
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