That Miri Nori was uncomfortable was stating the obvious. That she felt out of her comfort zone would be phrasing it in a slightly more exact term. That the First Year “Maternity” Uniform variation looked like a exaggeratedly long sun dress fused with a gardening apron and looked absolutely ridiculous on her would be putting it firmly in the “What the Hell was I thinking?” Category.

The Maternity Uniforms for all three years of student use shared the exact same design and looked absurdly silly, differing only in the coloring scheme. They were supposedly designed with the same high standards of magical protection that the normal uniforms had, but Miri was certain the wards and spells were woven to be even more potent and protective. The tailor who had made her the dress said that if she ever got into trouble out on the field, it was supposed to summon giant warding shields of massive magnitude. And although the dress looked like and its fabric felt like it was a simple light cloth; the way the thing simply moved was wrong. It moved as if made out of a stiffer material, and if one tried to tear the fabric, it suddenly resisted like it was made out of hardened steel.

Compared to her brother’s first year uniform (which was what all of Ayako’s had probably looked like before she’d torn the sleeves off, just with a skirt instead of pants), Miri was absolutely certain that there had to be more to the design than what it seemed to be. And that brought her right back to ‘Why didn’t I put this off for another year?’

“Because,” another part of her replied, “you didn’t want to fall behind everyone else.” And just who was that ‘everyone else’? Her Brother? No, Tony would have waited a year just the same if Miri had said she’d wanted to wait. Lizzy? They’d barely known each other despite sitting together in class for as long as they had.

Tsukia? Tsukia, who had been her best friend after she and Tony had arrived on that island. Tsukia, who was the daughter of the man who had gotten her pregnant. Tsukia who had similarly lost someone important to her. …Tsukia who was in a coma.

Miri supposed that was it. She and Tsukia had never really talked much after that fateful day. They never really had a chance to, all things considered. They’d spent the night after it all sleeping away the nightmares of Muiri and Matoi’s plans, and then went to Mystryal the very next morning. Then…

Then Tsukia had been so tired that she kept going to bed, or barely said a word. It turned out that Tsukia had the Demon hitching a ride and then tried to kill both Kendal AND Lizzy… and now Tsukia was in a coma. Hell, Miri had talked more with Kendal in that entire, blindingly short time span than she had with Tsukia.

What kind of a friend was she?

One who was staring at her reflection, wearing a silly looking maternity dress in place of the standard student uniforms, and looked absolutely miserable for the experience.

“Miri, I’m back!” Called her brother after the front door to the apartment closed. “I got the snacks from the convenience store you wanted and– Ah… geeze…” Tony blinked upon entering her room, or more specifically, seeing Miri’s sad face reflected back at him in the full body mirror. “Not you too,” He muttered, mainly to himself, but loud enough for Miri to overhear.

“What?” she asked, turning to look at her brother, fully wearing the first year’s proper uniform.

“Ah, well, over the soul bond, I can Ayako feeling…,” Tony clarified. “Well, something upset her pretty bad. Don’t tell me it’s got you too!”

“What’s got me?” Miri asked, pouting at him. For all Miri loved her brother, after reigniting that soul bond, sometimes he just didn’t speak in any language but that one very strange flavor called ‘metaphor.’ It was getting rather annoying very quickly for reasons she didn’t want to dwell on.

“You look really sad,” Tony answered, frowning. “Is something wrong?”

Miri thought on that for a moment. What was really wrong with her at the moment? It was… “I’m worried about Tsukia,” she answered. “I don’t want to leave her behind.”

“Ah,” Tony’s eyes sparkled in understanding. “C’mere, Sis.” He lead her out of her bedroom and into the living room.

The student apartment they now shared with Ayako was, despite being built in a separate building structure and designed by a completely different designer, almost a completely mirrored match of Kana Mayoi’s apartment, where Miri and the others had stayed for that first night. It was probably intentional on Ayako’s part, what with the given physical differences between the two locations.

While there were no external balcony or non-magical windows, or the entire floor plan being every so slightly smaller- over all, the layout was the same. Although, instead of a large dining room table, Ayako seemed to have opted for a lot of couches and sofas.

It was on one of these large sofas that Tony lead his sister to sit down on, wrapping his arms around her in a hug as he did such.

They didn’t talk at first. No words were really needed. Just the sheer fact that they were together, and had survived through whatever horrible plans that their aunt had planned for them- that was enough.

Finally, though, Tony spoke, “She’ll wake up soon, Sis. Just you wait and see. And I’ll bet you she’ll be a better aunt than our Aunt was!”

“Thanks,” Miri smiled faintly, she felt like giggling at the odd statement, but… there wasn’t anything really funny in that at all.

Chances were, whenever Tsukia finally woke up, she definitely would be a better aunt than their own aunt had been.

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Smith, Spriggain Enchanter Extraordinaire, and Reincarnation-Apparent Muse of the Serenade Song- Zuzol- steadfastly ignored the light switch in the room she was staying in, lest her nose start bleeding again.

She sat on her bed in total darkness, or as much as could be managed without totally breaking the enchanted part of the wall that simulated a window. She had figured out how that rune-set worked within seconds of seeing it. It was a tear in space- reaching impossibly across a vast distance of world to the glass windows that marked the exterior of the student apartment building.

That she’d known all of that– without actually knowing that the building had been designed like that to begin with- in a matter of seconds was new, and exciting… Her nose starting to bleed after mere moments of focusing on it was frightening. In holding Kendal’s Pyromander magic in check for so long, something had been strained rather badly, and now she was seeing things and the sheer sudden knowledge being implanted in her mind was a bit much for her Spriggain brain to handle…

For some people, rediscovering their past lives was a joy. Some people found a strange comfort in knowing that they’d been someone important in a previous life. For Lizzy- or was it Zuzol now?- that was not the case.

Before, her talents in rune deciphering had been ones thought honestly earned. Now? It was like she couldn’t shut the damned power off. Everywhere she looked after that traumatic experience… She could see nothing but Runes, how they were made, and how to break or enhance them. It was blinding, seeing how every single little enchantment worked down to the tiniest little detail. She’d heard from some Lamias down at the docks back home that their Sight was somewhat similar to this…

Except they could turn it OFF. She couldn’t turn it off. She couldn’t turn this incredible, potentially world breaking gift off and IT. WAS. PAINFUL.

Furthermore- what if she didn’t WANT to be Zuzol the Muse? What if she just wanted to be plain ol’ Lizzy Smith, nobody Spriggain with a knack for enchanting? Wasn’t that supposed to be the beauty of being reincarnated? That your previous lives didn’t affect your current one in TOO much detail? With TOO much heavy influence?

People didn’t look at someone like Kendal and say, “Oh, there goes the reincarnation of some Cataclysm Era Great Mage!” No, they simply looked at the girl who was there in the Here And Now. But ZUZOL? The MUSE? That had “Lookit me! I’mma Somebody Important even in mah CURRENT LIFE!!!” written all over it in size six hundred font, drawn up in the most obnoxious design ever imagined, and plastered on a magic billboard that floated above her head like a giant flashing neon sign.

And hell- Lizzy shuddered- after hearing the revelation that her past self was one of the CREATORS OF THE FREAKING WORLD, her entire thought process had been thrown for a loop. What even WAS a Neon Sign?! The words brought forth the image of squiggly lines made out of some kind of glowing tube filled with a gas and then shocked into glowing by an electric charge.

Who designed something like that!?

It was absolutely insane- no enchantments at all and even WITH her current blinding world view wedged into place somehow the mere THOUGHT of there being NO ENCHANTMENTS AT FREAKING ALL somehow was even MORE MADNESS DRIVING. Somehow. It just made her scratch at her head and wish that SOMEHOW she could go back in time and SOMEHOW stop The Spoiled Brat Kyiahlnah from even ESCAPING and SOMEHOW go back to her perfectly ordinary life back on Egg Roost and SOMEHOW forget about EVERYTHING that had transpired so far…. Some, Freaking, How.

And there, Lizzy realized, somehow, she had suddenly developed an insane obsession over the word “Somehow” and wanted to work it into every possible sentence, somehow.

At least the only other person besides that Traitorous Princess who knew about this was Kendal- and even that was an iffy factor, depending entirely on how much the girl remembered from their encounter with the Flame Princess.

At the same time, that “At Least” was both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, in that nobody else knew. Bad, in that she had nobody to talk to about it all… Not without venturing outside.

Outside. Outside with the world full of runes that made her head hurt and her nose bleed and…. and….

Her partially wilted skin itched for the feel of actual, non magically filtered, sunlight on it. Yes, well… maybe she could try braving the outside world to visit Kendal.

Kendal was surprised to see not only her father return with lunch, but also Miri and Lizzy to come in at the same time. “Heeyy! You both came to visit me before I got out?”

Lizzy just nodded uncomfortably, while Miri gave an energetic nod along with her reply, “Yeah,” she paused, looking sad for a moment as she glanced over at Tsukia. “Although, I wanted to check on Tsukia again.” She sighed, “I’ve got a feeling I’ll be making this trip a lot until she wakes up.”

“Ah, yeah,” Kendal nodded. That had been one of her few hang ups on getting released, leaving the poor Drow girl alone in a hospital room. However, any sadness was pushed to the side as her newly enhanced nose picked up the wonderful smell of toasted bread. “Mmmhhh, that smells good.”

“Here you go, then,” Ranagi handed her the bag marked “Beetle’s Donuts,” and gave a faint smile. “I ate mine on the way here.”

“Boo!” Kendal jokingly pouted at him as she opened the bag and fished out the first, foil-paper wrapped bagel. “You just couldn’t wait, could you?”

“Sorry, I didn’t want to get crumbs on my uniform,” Ranagi joked back at her.

It brought a small warmth to Miri’s heart to see the two of them getting along… again? Well, for the first time since Miri had even met them, really.

“It’s time to eaaatt!!” Kendal cried out before biting down on the cream cheese filled bagel with a NOM! It was amusingly adorable to watch as Kendal’s new ears wriggled and twitched at the delightful taste.

Miri settled down next to Tsukia, and simply watched as the recently turned… Lycan?… ate with a surprising speed. “I guess the hospital food doesn’t taste that good?” Miri stage whispered towards Tsukia, who, as expected, did not reply.

They all sat in relative silence for a little bit- with the only real noise being the sound of Tsukia’s heart monitor and Kendal eating.

And then there was a loud clap of thunder from the north-west-ish direction, startling everyone in the room- even Tsukia had flinched in her coma state at the sound- but none reacted more energetically to the sound than Lizzy, who actually jumped high enough to nearly hit her head on the ceiling. Miri sent a concerned frown Lizzy’s way, and the Spriggain girl waved it off.

“What the hell was that!?” Kendal griped, having dropped her mostly finished second bagel to cover her ears.

“Thunder,” Miri smiled in sympathy at the recently turned girl. “Although, I didn’t see any storm clouds on my way in, so… maybe?”

“That sounded like a Shock Spell Discharge, only on a massive scale,” Lizzy deduced after having had a few moments to process the sound. “The last time I heard something like that, though, was back on the island when Yuki’s shock spell overload, but it wasn’t that loud.”

“Mayoi did mention something about Yuki having to take a remedial class when she left earlier,” Ranagi commented. “That was probably her demonstrating it.”

“Now then!” Mister Waatt called out near the end of the half-hour length class. “There are some of you I noticed who have the makings for Great Magical Potential. I will call out your names in a moment. I would like to speak to you all in private after the rest leave. Yuki! Nitta! Purchit! Eh’yre!” And then, he looked to the rest of the class, and said, “The rest of you are dismissed, but I expect to see you all back here again tomorrow at the same time as we met today.”

And so, as the the group of students dispersed, the four students who remained behind by request stood there under Mister Waatt’s observation. He looked at the four of them in turn- Mikari herself, the Undine girl from before, a Lycan boy, and an Iconox girl- and seemed to observe them with a piercing gaze. Had he been a Lamia, he might very well have been using the Sight to look at their auras.

Once the other students had disappeared, Mister Waatt coughed once, and then began speaking, “It is with great pleasure that I stand here today before you four. You all, as I previously noted, showed great skills in Magic that few others did. Starting next month, one of our most highly esteemed teachers will be teaching a sort of… elective course. I cannot tell you who they are, for fear of clouding your decisions, but I can say that they are Black Arm Certified. This class may, and I do stress may, depending on your refined skills, propel you to that same rank.”

There was a shared pulse of energy between the four of them. Alec Purchit, the Lycan, looked eager to hear more, his ears flexing in anticipation. Olivia Nitta, the Undine, seemed taken back in surprise. While Elise Eh’yre, the Iconox, looked just about ready to faint.

Mikari Yuki herself gulped. Black Arms- the sign of truly powerful mages. Kendal had once expressed her desire to become one, back before she’d started to become angry at her inability to due to her Pyromander heritage. Now that Kendal was cured of that, though, it almost felt like stealing something away from the girl, and Mikari didn’t like that feeling. Not one bit.

“Putting that aside, however, I want you all to think this decision through as hardly as possible,” Mister Waatt continued. “This optional, elective course will be excruciatingly difficult. The tests and skills required in it will take you beyond your average Detective rank. The missions you will be assigned after completing such a course are of a more secretive nature. A job, as well, may be presented at the end of it. A Job in the Restricted Vault.”

Mikari and her fellow students felt the same reaction. A gut punch of surprise. Every student was told their first day that the Restricted Island housed a security Vault of some kind. Nobody knew exactly what was stored there, except that it was so crazy and top secret that not even the Day staff that worked there knew who worked on the Night staff- or who was even in charge of leading the section. Some people theorized it was a crazy research division like the Isolation labs. But that was just a redundant idea.

Even from where they were standing, glancing to the east, Mikari could see the massive storm-ward wall that kept all intruders from sea and air from approaching the Restricted Island. It was said that the warding was crafted by an ancient Battle-mage who had fought in the Cataclysm War- it certainly looked the part.

“I see I have your attention, now,” Mister Waatt smiled, almost sadly. “I can neither confirm or deny any rumors you may have heard- only that if you complete this elective course and are offered an active position, that you will finally see for yourselves what is inside that vault.” He took a moment to look each student in the eye, testing their wills against his own.

Only Eh’yre flinched in response- glancing away sharply as if she’d been slapped.

“If you wish to take this course, make your decision by next Friday, and come meet me in my office. I will help you fill out the paperwork then, and make the proper introductions afterwards.” And then, he clapped his hands and said “Dismissed!” before fading away with a shimmer of wind.

For a moment, those students stood there in shock, and then the Iconox girl to Mikari’s right let out a short, high pitched squeal of- happiness? Confusion?- a bundle of emotions that caused everyone else to flinch.

“Oh- Oh Mizar!” Elise Eh’yre breathed out. “Someone Pinch Me! That really happened! Didn’t it?!”

All Mikari could do was nod mutely in response, even as Nitta replied, “Yes. That did just happen.”

“Oh Mizaaarrr…” And then the Iconox girl fainted, almost to the ground if Purchit hadn’t caught her mid-fall.

“Great!” the boy griped as a wave of cold radiated off of Eh’yre’s body, “Now what do I do with her?!”

Mikari Yuki and Olivia Nitta shared a look before both decided that the best answer was to… take out imaging gems and snap off a pair of photos before running away before lycan boy could react.

“OH COME ON!” Alec Purchit yelled out after them, but they were already gone. “Just… great. Thanks for that…” He looked down at the girl who was still unconscious, and shook his head. “Okay, I guess I’m carrying you down to the nurses office…” He tried to move, only to find that the ice-elemental nature of the girl’s body had frozen her feet to the ground. “….Seriously?”

Now he had to wait for her to wake up.


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