Life goes on

BY : walkerofdarkness
Category: +G to L > IS: Infinite Stratos
Dragon prints: 3613
Disclaimer: I do not own Infinite Stratos or the characters from it. I do not make any profit from this story.

Tags: Nosex

Chapter 1

Let's face it. No kid in high school feels as though they fit in.

-Stephen King



The air was thick with excitement as incoming students walked onto the grounds of the IS Academy.  Buildings gleamed with fresh paint, the windows had an unmatched shine as they reflected golden hues from the morning sun.  The new attendees, all of them girls, stared around with awe widened eyes. Heads swivelled continuously, tracking from the long spire marking the arena to the squat dormitories and athletic fields.  Voices squealed in delight as new wonders presented themselves to all the teenagers, creating shrieks that would pierce the local quiet.

One girl stood apart from her classmates, attention focused ahead on the path in front of her.  The IS Academy grounds held no interest to her, but it was what she had agreed to do.  Kirika Nakano jerked to a halt as she avoided two giggling classmates rushing by.  One girl still managed to clumsily bump into Kirika, who reached up and smoothly caught the girl by her shoulders.  The quick action saved both of them from falling in a heap.

“Oh!  Sorry about that, I didn’t see you there,” she apologized.  The thick European accent made the words almost unrecognizable.  “It wouldn’t do for you to get dirt on your uniform.”

Kirika smiled lightly at the thought.  “Especially not on the first day.  But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve gotten in trouble.”  The smile widened, touching pale hazel eyes.  “And I’m sure it won’t be the last.”

“Well, okay then!”  Waving once, the brunette disappeared off into the crowd.  Kirika took a moment to smooth out nonexistent wrinkles in her white uniform, then ran one hand through her short red hair.  Two long bangs flopped back to frame her face, eliciting a small grimace.  Kirika started to grab for the bangs again only to be stopped by a voice.

“I would suggest you let ze hair remain.  It suits you, n’est-ce pas?”

Kirika opened her eyes to find a girl looking at her.  Blond hair cascaded down behind the newcomer’s narrow shoulders, a few bangs drifting across her forehead.  Inquisitive purple eyes radiated warmth as a single slender arm raised a delicate hand.  “My name is Charlotte Dunois, from France.”

Shaking hands lightly, Kirika tried not to notice how soft Charlotte’s hand felt against her own.  “Kirika Nakano, from Japan.  And as for my hair, I should leave it hanging down more, but I usually don’t have to worry about it.  I usually am doing something fast, keeps the hair behind me.”

Charlotte broke into a quiet laugh, settling down into an infectious grin that prompted Kirika to do the same.  Taking a moment as she laughed, Kirika quickly appraised Charlotte.  Slenderly built, Charlotte’s uniform skirt seemed shorter, her long legs wrapped in socks that came up over her knees.  It provided a solid contrast to Kirika’s own proportioned form and nearly shorter than average height.

“Your ribbon, you’re a first year student,” Kirika asked, tapping her own cyan ribbon around her throat.

“Oui, I am in class one,” Charlotte confirmed with a nod.  

Bobbing her head to the information, Kirika’s grin grew into a smile.  “Me too.  Guess that makes us classmates.”

Charlotte’s eyes widened slightly as her smile settled into place.  “Mais oui.  I do not know where ze class iz, but at least we can be lost together.”

“Just as long as we’re in class when it starts,” Kirika added with a shudder.  “I can’t imagine what punishment they would use for tardy students.”

Walking side by side, the two teens headed through crowded hallways packed with girls of varying sizes and colors.  Hairstyles of every description and done with every color in the rainbow danced through the halls, the owners rushing to find their classes.  Friends, old and new, greeted each other with squeals and shouts.

Hopefully this will be better than my last school experience.  Kirika thought, her mind drifting into her past.  It wasn’t until the sharp twinge that brought her to realize Charlotte was poking her in the ribs.  “Sorry, I was thinking about some things.  Did you say something?”

“I was wondering what your specialty at ze Academy iz,” Charlotte stated simply.  Her eyes had some concern, but the voice was carefully open.

“Well, officially I’m here to get trained as part of the Maintenance Branch, working on maintaining and developing IS’s.  But I did pass the pilot quals, so I’m also a Representative Candidate contender,” Kirika paused, a grimace crossing her face.  Her voice dropped down into a quiet place, “Even though I doubt I would ever be allowed to be a Rep with my history.”

Hearing the last sentence, Charlotte opened her mouth to ask for more details.  Seeing the look upon her classmate’s face, she instead chose to forego further questions.  “Ah, here we are!”

The doorway to their class was open, half the students were already inside.  There was one girl sitting on the far side, seemingly sulking as she stared out the windows. She had long black hair that was tied up into a split ponytail by a green ribbon.  Another girl, golden blond hair running in waves down her back, was standing with a group of others.  Her hands bobbed and wove around her waist describing some sort of aerial maneuver, and showing off the calf length skirt she was wearing.

Kirika’s eyes scanned the room, then chuckled softly.  “Well, I guess this is like normal high school after all,” she stated wryly.  “Guess that one isn’t a morning person.”

“What do you mean?” Charlotte asked, confusion on her face.  Kirika pointed out one girl wearing a jacket with overlong sleeves, her head resting on folded arms.  Even from the distance, Charlotte could see the girl was asleep.  “Well, we should let ze teachers decide if zhat iz a problem, non?”

The bells started to ring and the students all started to take to the desks.  Kirika and Charlotte separated, finding open seats without much trouble. A green haired woman walked in the classroom, holding a pile of folders in her arms.  The teacher was wearing a pink top with yellow sweater that seemed to emphasize her chest.

Adjusting her half glasses mechanically, the teacher looked up at her new students.  “Good morning class, I am Maya Yamada.  I will be your assistant homeroom teacher for this year so let’s try to be friends and have fun,” she squealed in a breathy, squeaky voice.  The voice kept it’s high pitch as she continued on.  “Our teacher will be here in a few minutes, so let’s start with class introductions.”

Kirika kept her groan to herself as the first girl stood up and proceeded to introduce themselves to the rest of the class.

<—*—>

“Hello, I’m Kirika Nakano.  I’m here as part of the Maintenance Branch.  I like cars, boats, pretty much anything that has a motor and can go fast.”  Bowing her head once to her classmates, Kirika smoothed out her skirt as she sat down in her chair.

The introductions had gone well enough, even if it was interrupted by the arrival of their teacher.  Kirika had read the stories about Chifuyu Orimura, but she found of them hard to believe.  Evening hearing stories from her own mother did not seem real compared to the woman before her now.  Kirika found it impossible to place what was wrong the teacher, but she knew there was something off.  Dark business suit with matching skirt, white shirt and a black tie.  Black hair that went down past her shoulders, brown eyes that managed to meet everyone in the room even staring directly ahead.  After a moment’s contemplation, Kirika placed it.  Her eyes, she realized with a start.  She’s just going through motions, but her eyes don’t really have the right feeling.  They’re detached, haunted.

Standing in front of her desk, instructor Orimura casually leaned a hip against a corner.  “Now there’s only one more introduction to do: mine.  My name is Chifuyu Orimura and I am the teacher around here.  I do not make suggestions.  I give orders.  You will study hard in the next three years here.  I will make sure of that.”  Her eyes flickered around the room making contact with every student present.  “We will divide our time between the classroom and practical training in the arenas.”

Most of the students squealed in the silence following Chifuyu’s introduction.  Shouts of encouragement, worship and outright begging all clamored for attention. Chifuyu let it carry on for three seconds before slapping a book on the desk producing a crack like a whip’s passage.  “That’s enough!  This IS a classroom, and you will all act accordingly.”

All the students promptly sat up straight and silently waited for Chifuyu’s next words.  Eyes blazed brightly with admiration as they waited intently for a new proclamation.  Chifuyu’s dark eyes scanned the room once, then looked back over her shoulder to Maya.  “Yamada-san, did we miss anything?”

Maya picked up a tablet and quickly tapped in commands on it.  Her face scrunched up in concentration for just a moment, then her eyes opened wide in shock.  “We need to get a class rep selected for the student council.”

Nodding curtly once at the info, Chifuyu faced the class again.  “Okay, this class will select their representative, and then we will begin our lessons.  Whomever is chosen will be our face to the student council, as well as being our contender in the first inter-class tournament next month.  So do we have any suggestions?”

One hand shot up, invisible inside the overlong sleeve.  “I nominate Charlotte Dunois!  She seems like she will get along with everyone, including the council.”

Charlotte blushed and started to rise out of her seat, only to stop as a loud thump rang out from a desk.  A tallish girl, with long blond hair and deep blue eyes rose up.  “NO!  I will not stand for that.  In terms of skill, I am superior to everyone here.  I, Cecilia Alcott, am the only one here who should be the representative for this class.”

“Oh shut up already, we’re not impressed by that grandstanding.”  Cecilia’s eyes widened in outrage as she turned in place to identify her tormentor.  Kirika, for her part, did not realize the words had left her mouth until after the Briton faced her.

“What—what did you just say?” Cecilia demanded in an imperious voice.  Her fair complexion had started to flush red from her rage.

Blinking hard, Kirika fought to keep herself in the chair as she responded in a neutral tone, “I said ‘we’re not impressed by that grandstanding’.”

Cecilia stalked over to where Kirika was still seated.  Towering over the sitting teenager, Cecilia tipped her head slightly higher to let her gaze track down along her nose.  “I guess I can’t be surprised that there is someone jealous of my superior skills as a Representative Candidate.  Or that I’m in possession of a personal unit.”  A smug smirk crept across glossy lips.  “Especially coming from a lowly grease monkey.”

Kirika slowly rose from her seat, her face completely blank.  The redhead tried not to focus on the fact that even standing up, her eyes were just barely at the height of Cecilia’s shoulders.  “The only superior thing about you I can see is your ego.  But if you find a way to power an IS with that, then you would be invincible.”  A lean wolfish grin broke her lips, causing Cecilia to lean away.  “But I’m not just a ‘grease monkey’ like you think.  I passed my exams with a pilot’s qualification.  I’m here as both a pilot candidate and a member of the Maintenance Branch.”

Cecilia laughed haughtily, making the friendly gesture sound extremely scornful.  “Well, I am the only student in this class to have beaten an instructor during their entrance exams—“ Cecilia  drifted off only when Kirika started shaking her head.

“I beat the instructor who administered my exam too.  Granted, my exam was a bit unorthodox, but I still did win against the instructor.”  Kirika tried not to smile as Cecilia’s outfit turned brown against the bone white face.

“But...but they told me I was the only one—“

The wolfish grin grew wider on Kirika’s face.  “Hey, maybe it was a fluke.  Maybe your instructor didn’t know.  I mean, it was a bit of a flap, so they might not have told everyone about it.  Or maybe they knew about it and decided not to tell you to protect your swollen ego,” sarcasm dripped from Kirika’s voice as she finished her thought, “from any possible harm.”

Cecilia’s eyes flared in outrage, her right hand racing up to slap the life out of the shorter teenager.  It never made it, as Kirika’s left hand caught the offending wrist before it cleared the Briton’s chest.  Kirika’s right hand darted up, pressing a pen hard in the hollow of Cecilia’s neck.  Cecilia’s eyes went to the size of golf balls, the blue irises clearly reflecting her fear.  A tight smile locked into place, Kirika growled out quietly, “Careful there, you don’t want to start something you can’t finish.”

A strong hand casually snatched away Kirika’s threatening pen as a second one slapped both teens across the back of the head simultaneously.  Chifuyu Orimura stood next to both of them, deftly spinning the purloined pen in long fingers.  “IF you two are done, we can resume our discussion.”  Dark eyes flashed once as her voice dipped to a low snarl.   “But I will see both of you after class.”

Walking back to the front of the class, Chifuyu sat behind her desk next to Maya.  “Now then, we have Charlotte and Cecilia for class rep.  Would anyone else like to nominate someone?”

One girl at the back of the class, her bubblegum pink hair in a flared ponytail raised her hand.  “I nominate Kirika Nakano as our class rep.”

Trying hard not to turn and glare at the girl, Kirika frowned as she groaned mentally.   I wonder how I can convince them all not to elect me as class rep, she wondered idly, almost missing the next statement.

“While I am honored to be nominated,” Charlotte said, her voice almost cheerful, “I must decline.”

Kirika’s mind instantly tried to wrap itself around the concept that now it was only her and Cecilia in the election.  Chifuyu’s hand came up to rub her chin thoughtfully.  “Well, that makes things interesting.  Guess we can call for a vote right now—“

“Ma’am I must protest!”  Cecilia screamed, rising up out of her seat.  “This position has to go to someone who can handle themselves in all arenas, including the IS arena.”

Chifuyu leveled a glare at Cecilia with the intensity of a laser beam.  Cecilia’s enthusiasm withered and she started to sit down only to be stopped by a gesture from Chifuyu.  Shifting her gaze to Kirika, Chifuyu motioned for her to rise.  “Nakano, it seems that Alcott wants an IS fight.  Would you be willing to let that decide the outcome of this election?”

Swallowing hard and hoping it wasn’t visible, Kirika nodded once.  “Yes ma’am, I would be willing to let the election be determined by an IS match.”

Chifuyu motioned for both teens to sit as her lips broke into a half grin.  “Very well then, I’ll make arrangements for us to get arena time to have our little match.  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s start our lessons.”

<—*—>

Kirika waved briefly to Charlotte as she walked out of the classroom with the rest of the girls.  Cecilia glared daggers at Kirika before coming to stand next to her, eyes locked forward on the two older women seated behind the desk.  The teens waited for in silence for almost a minute before Chifuyu looked up from her paperwork, her dark eyes burning with intensity. “I am only going to say this once to you two.  What happened in class today does not happen again.  Alcott, if you ever interrupt me or Yamada-sensei in class, I will make you run laps around the campus until your legs fall off.  Then you will do laps by dragging yourself by your hands around the campus.  Am I clear?”

Her fair complexion going pale, Cecilia kept her blues eyes locked forward, while barking out, “Crystal ma’am.”

Nodding marginally at the response, Chifuyu tilted her head towards the door.  “Dismissed, Alcott.”  Cecilia turned sharply on one heel, walking briskly from the room before either instructor could decide to inflict such punishments on her.  Chifuyu twisted her head slightly, bringing her full gaze crashing down on Kirika.  The weight of gaze threatened to intimidate Kirika as she fought to keep her eyes locked on the smartboard behind the desk.  “As for you, Nakano—“

Not waiting to hear the rest, Kirika broke into Chifuyu’s statement.  “Ma’am, if you’re going to throw me out, just say so and I won’t even bother to unpack my bags.  Just let me have enough time to call someone to meet me at the train station when I arrive there—“

Any further comments were interrupted when a gracefully thrown book slapped Kirika directly in the face.  Head reeling from the grazing strike, Kirika fell a step back and raised her hands into a defensive posture to block further attacks.

“Nakano, do not interrupt me again,” Chifuyu intoned, in a voice utterly devoid of emotion.  “As I was going to say, you will also not interrupt me or Yamada-sensei in class again.  If you do, the punishment I come up for you will be as equally horrific as the one I promised Alcott.  If not more so.”  Chifuyu’s voice grew colder now, drawing heat from the air in the classroom,  “and IF you ever threaten another student again like you did today, you will be out the door and on the street fast enough to get a full body road rash.  Am I clear?”

Glancing down from the smartboard to see the full promise of violence in Chifuyu’s eyes, Kirika felt her spirits start to fall.  Wait...if I do it again?  “Ma’am?  Does this mean I’m not going to be kicked out of the Academy?”

Nodding once in a professional manner, Chifuyu looked up easily at the teen.  “Nakano, I feel that every student in my class is allowed one mistake.  You have used up yours.”

Relief flooding through her, Kirika locked her eyes back onto the smartboard above Chifuyu’s head. "Thank you ma'am. I'll remember that in all my future interactions."

Chifuyu's eyes focused hard on the teen, coring straight to the younger woman's soul.  "Don't thank me yet.  I might not be doing you a favor by letting you stay in the Academy."  A hand drifted lazily onto the desk's ingrained controls.  A brief set of touches brought up Kirika's student file, while more taps on the controls brought up new screens.  Breaking contact briefly, Chifuyu dropped her eyes to the display as both hands tapped in commands.  Kirika's picture floated on the display for a minute then vanished.  "I've made a change to your schedule, Nakano.  Starting tomorrow, you will report to the Maintenance Branch for the post-lunch classes instead of with me.  They'll be ready to get you suited up with an Uchigane so you can start your IS familiarization.  Alcott is going to be a very tough fight, and you're going to be working against long odds."

A ghost of a smile traced Kirika's face, tugging at the corners of her mouth.  "Wouldn't be a first time, ma'am."

Chifuyu stared at the younger woman for a minute, her face inscrutable.  “Let’s talk informally for a minute, shall we, Nakano?” she asked, one eyebrow raised thoughtfully.  “I get the feeling I should know you, but I don’t.”

Relaxing her stance, Kirika dropped her gaze to meet the older woman’s face.  “You met my mother, Orimura-sensei.  Even worked alongside her for a bit.  Her name is Misato Nakano.”

Shock and pain flashed across Chifuyu’s face for a brief instant before disappearing behind a professional mask.  “Yes, that is a name I am familiar with.  I guess I saw you and figured it out subconsciously.  There’s something about you that reminds me of her.”

“I’m told I look a bit like her, especially in the face,” Kirika replied smoothly, falling practiced habits.  Shifting slightly on both feet, she glanced back towards the two teachers.  “Is that going to be all, Orimura-sensei?  I need to see about getting settled in the dorm.”

Eyes narrowing slightly, Chifuyu nodded curtly.  “Just remember what I said about mistakes.  I will not make any tolerances for you in the future.  Nakano you are dismissed.”

Stepping away from the desk, Kirika quickly grabbed up her book satchel and left the classroom.  Upon turning down the hallway, a hand clasped down on her shoulder.  Jumping into the air, Kirika spun to face the offending person.

“Zorry, zorry,” Charlotte said, holding both hands up defensively.  “I was worried about what ze teachers were going to do so I waited for you.”

The abrupt adrenaline surge passing, Kirika dropped her hands to her side.  “Nothing to apologize about.  That meeting just left me a bit high strung.”  Glancing down at her hands, she noticed her left hand was shaking uncontrollably.  Clenching the fingers tightly into a fist, she shoved it quickly into a pocket on her jacket.

Charlotte watched the gesture carefully without comment as she grabbed up the dropped satchel.  Her face melted into a sympathetic expression, purple eyes full of worry.  “What did ze teachers do?”

Walking slowly alongside Charlotte, Kirika tried to calm down boiling emotions.  “Pretty much told me that I was on probation.  I make any mistake, I get kicked out of the Academy.”

Butter blond hair bobbed in time to Charlotte’s nods.  “But you are still here, non?”

Running her right hand up to a bang, Kirika wrapped it around her middle finger and rubbed it between thumb and index.  “For now, anyway.”

Smiling softly at her classmate, Charlotte reached up and wrapped one arm across the shorter girl’s shoulders. Kirika jerked lightly at the motion, but made no effort to break Charlotte’s embrace.  They walked in silence down the hallway for a minute.  Finally letting the arm fall down, Charlotte shifted her head to look at the shorter girl.  “What will you do now, mon ami?”

Kirika’s eyes unfocused for a moment as her brain worked on problems.  “Orimura-sensei has arranged for me to get some training in on an Uchigane starting tomorrow afternoon.  For now, I’m going to go over to the Maintenance Branch.  Probably get some food after that, depending on how long it takes.”

Charlotte’s face went slack for a moment, purple eyes narrowing as she thought furiously.  “I might have some helpful advice if you want it.  Perhaps we can discuss it in ze cafeteria later?”

“I can always use helpful advice,” Kirika replied, a genuine smile creeping onto her lips.  “I’ll see you at dinner then.”  Waving goodbye, Charlotte walked off down a connecting hallway leaving Kirika alone in the rush of students.  A wave of sadness passed through Kirika briefly until she shook her head and started moving with the flow of traffic.

<—*—>

“Ah, Kirika!  Over here!”  Charlotte called out, her voice rising above the din of students eating in the cafeteria.  Kirika smiled in acknowledgment, trying not to disrupt the delicate balance of her tray.  Meandering through the tables, Kirika found the level of voices in the room growing as she got closer to Charlotte.

Finally setting her tray down, Kirika slid into the booth across from her classmate.  A pang of guilt twinged in her as she eyed Charlotte’s half eaten meal.  “Sorry about it taking so long.  There were complications over there.”

Charlotte’s fork stopped midway to her mouth as she glanced up under butter blond curls.  “Iz something wrong?”

Snapping her chopsticks free, Kirika deftly removed the lids to her meal one handed.  “Nothing wrong, just complicated.  I was hoping to catch the Maintenance Branch chief there, but Pickett-sensei wasn’t there.  And the only person in charge made me go through a bunch of administrative hoops before they at least would admit I was supposed to be there.”  Kirika took a break to pop food into her mouth before continuing, “What can I say?  Bureaucracy at it’s best.”

“It iz ze same at home too,” Charlotte suggested, her fork partly obscuring a smirk.

The two ate in comfortable silence for a minute, enjoying the quality of the prepared food.  “So,” Kirika started, broaching the subject as delicately as she could, “you thought you might have some suggestions?”

Her mouth full of food, Charlotte only nodded a response.  Swallowing, she reached out and sipped at the glass of cold water.  “I might.  But I want to ask you something first, si vous plait.”

Kirika felt her breath catch in her throat for just an moment, a reaction she hoped Charlotte missed. Chewing her food for longer than required let her buy up some extra time.  “Go ahead,” she said with a swallow.

“Why did you accept Cecilia’s request for an IS duel even knowing she was a Representative Candidate?” Charlotte asked simply, purple eyes radiating curiosity.

Blinking hard at the question, Kirika reached out and picked up her teacup.  Staring down into the cup, she sipped at it thoughtfully for a moment.  “Well—that’s a good question.  I suppose the easiest answer would be to say she just rubbed me the wrong way, and that I don’t care to back down to anyone who gets on my nerves like that.”

Nodding thoughtfully, Charlotte dropped her voice down a bit lower.  “But zhat was not ze reason was it?  A Representative Candidate who has her own personal machine will be a very difficult fight.  Some might even say impossible.”

Smirking back at her classmate, Kirika smoothly placed her tea down on the table.  “No, it wasn’t the only reason.  I think the biggest reason is that even at this point of my life, I’ve already gone up in some competition against people who were good at what they did.  Some of them were even the best in their fields.”  Setting down her chopsticks, Kirika let her hazel eyes lock directly onto Charlotte’s purple ones.  “And for every person who told me I couldn’t win against them, I’ll show you someone I ultimately beat after they misjudged me.”

“So you are saying you will win?”

Kirika’s head gave a quick sideways jerk, tossing her bangs around.  “I’m not saying I will win.  I’m saying that I can win.  My winning isn’t sure, but my making damned sure if Cecilia wins, then she’s going to have to work hard.  Good enough?”

Charlotte grinned lightly at her classmate.  “Oui, zhat iz good enough,” she said, pushing her tray away from her.  “Zhere iz something I like about you, Kirika.  So I would like to help you out with your match, if you agree.”

“What do you mean,” Kirika asked in a guarded tone, her face emotionless.

Charlotte’s face settled into a relaxed, open expression.  “I suppose we should be properly introduced, n’est-ce pas?  I am Charlotte Dunois, from ze Dunois Corporation.”  Reaching under the collar of her uniform, Charlotte pulled out a simple chain from around her neck.  A pendant in the shape of a small orange egg with protruding wing-like edges hung delicately from the chain.  “I am also ze Representative Candidate of France and in possession of my own IS.”

Kirika’s eyes widened at the last statement as her jaw dropped free.  “So you’re saying...?”

“Zhat I will help train you as much as possible for your match, if zhat iz what you want,” Charlotte finished with a twinkle in her eyes.

Fighting to regain her composure, Kirika closed her mouth with an audible snap.  Realizing some response was appropriate, her mind raced to come up with a solution.  “I would be honored,” Kirika said at last, “to have you help me train for my upcoming match Charlotte.”

“Ses trop bien.”  Placing her utensils on the empty plate, Charlotte smiled angelically at Kirika.  “I will talk to Ms. Orimura tomorrow morning, see if she will approve my getting some extra time to train you.”

Picking up her chopsticks, Kirika started to race through the remaining food on her plate.  “Guess I’d better get finished up. I need to go find my room and unpack.”  Eating quickly, she noticed how loud the room seemed to be now.  “Is it just me, or is this place getting noisy?”

Sipping from the last of her water, Charlotte nodded once.  “Oui, it has gotten louder since you arrived.  Zhat would be natural, I think.  Everyone iz talking about you.”

That tidbit stopped Kirika cold, the chopsticks held mid-motion.  “You mean everyone in our class?”

Shaking her head slightly, Charlotte’s voice softened to a near whisper.  “Ze whole school.”

Her face going pale, Kirika dropped her food and almost her chopsticks.  “The school?”  She asked, her voice incredulous.  “The whole school?”

“I am not certain, but I should think most of it,” Charlotte replied apologetically.  “It iz not everyday zhat a person without an IS should accept a challenge from a Candidate Representative.  You will be quite popular.”

Cursing softly under her breath, Kirika tried to just focus on eating.  I am in such deep shit now.

<—*—>

Looking up at the room number, Kirika double-checked it against the key she was issued.  The door unlocked quietly, swinging open smoothly on well maintained hinges.  Inside the room, two desks were visible, while the edges of a bed peaked out from the room’s dividers.  Walking in and closing the door, Kirika heard water running from the closed door to her left.

 

Dropping her bags by the nearest desk, Kirika tried to figure out her roommate while she waited.  A bokken rested on an open gym bag, with a hakama top visible through the zipper.  Unbuttoning her uniform top, Kirika started to pull off clothes as the water sounds ceased.  The side door opened, revealing a very tall teenager, a towel wrapped around her voluptuous torso and another one rubbing long black hair.

“My name is Houki Shinonono, sorry to greet you like this.  Since I guess we’re roommates, let’s try to take care of each other this year.”

Kirika smiled mechanically, the expression revealing nothing.  “Yes Shinonono-chan, I know who you are.  We are in the same class, after all.”

Houki paused a moment to wipe water away from her eyes with the hair towel.  “You...you’re Nakano-chan correct?  You sit in the middle, near the back?”

Nodding as she folded her uniform coat, Kirika turned her back to the other teen.  “That’s me.  And since we’re going to be roommates around here, call me Rika.  At least while we’re in the room.”  Finishing up with the coat, Kirika proceeded to remove the skirt and hung it carefully in the closet.

A brief smile graced Houki’s face as she kept drying off her hair.  “Okay Rika, please call me Houki since we’re roommates.   And I do want to apologize not greeting you when you came in, but—“

“You were dirty from your kendo activities and just wanted to be clean,”  Kirika finished for her.

Houki blinked hard at having someone else finish her sentence.  “Wow, you paid attention to the introductions.  I only really caught names.”

Grinning at Houki’s reaction, Kirika turned and faced her roommate.  “Well, I did pay attention a bit, but it wasn’t the introductions that tipped me off,” she said smugly.  Stretching one foot out, the toes came to tap the open gym bag.  “I had a bit of help.”

Houki’s face went blank for a moment as her eyes traced Kirika’s motion.  “Oh.  You saw my bokken.”  A quiet laugh started to bubble up through her lips.  Her eyes lit up brightly with laughter, which prompted Kirika to join in.  The laughter stopped abruptly as something caught Houki’s attention.  “Hey, is that a tattoo?”

“Yeah, it is,”  Kirika acknowledged as she pulled up the sleeve on her left arm.  A tiger’s long form decorated her biceps, head down and stalking towards the elbow.  The emerald eyes of the tiger gleamed brightly, the muscles of the beast were tight.  Making a fist, Kirika flexed the biceps and made the tiger dance in the soft reading light.  “But if you think that’s something, you should see the other one.”

Quickly unbuttoning her short sleeved blouse, Kirika spun away from Houki and dropped off the shirt.  A desert scene showed two mesas, the moon partially obscured by roiling clouds.  Caught at the end of a canyon  was a female rider on a rearing white horse, her face lost in the shadows of a mask.  Opposite the rider was a king cobra, hood out in threat posture while two more snakes laid trampled under the horse’s hooves.  Lying on the rider’s lap was a small child, while blood leaked from wounds on the horse’s flanks and the rider’s side.

Staring at it in awe for a moment, Houki raised on hand tentatively towards it.  “It’s beautiful Rika,” she said, gesturing with a hand.  “May I—?

“Sure Houki.”  Kirika nodded quickly.  The first touch was light and barely grazed the skin, then Houki’s calloused hands started stroking the entire design.  A minor shiver went through Kirika as Houki finally removed her hand.

“That’s awesome.  I thought it would feel like paint, not skin...” Houki drifted off thoughtfully as she continued to admire the artistry.

Turning to face her roommate, Kirika shrugged lightly as she opened one of her bags.  “Everyone does at least the first time.”

Houki started to open up her other bags, the moment passed.  “I can’t imagine what your parents said when they saw that.  They must have freaked out.”

Flashing a knowing smile at Houki, Kirika kept digging in her bag for the right clothes.  “Well, by that point I think they were past the excitable stage.  But we did have words.  Eventually we came to a sort of agreement about it.”

Kirika finally found the relaxed clothes she favored, a faded gold sleeveless shirt with a pair of blue gym shorts.  Sliding the clothes on, she turned to face Houki who was pulling on a simple yukata.  Houki’s hands quickly tied off the accompanying obi with practiced motions “Looks like I’ve got a long day tomorrow, Houki,” Kirika stated, only partially feigning at exhaustion.  “I’m going to sleep now, but don’t worry about making noise.  I’m told I can sleep under a moving train.”

Smiling at the imagery, Houki yawned herself.  “No, I’m a bit tired myself.  The rest of this can wait til tomorrow.”  A flick of a switch killed the remaining lights in the room, leaving  a couple of clock displays as the ghostly illumination to the room.  The quiet rustle of sheets made itself known, and so the first day ended.

 



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