Running. Nothing was on my mind except the need to run; to get as far away as possible from the devil himself. Except, I couldn’t.
Shackles bound my arms and legs to the unforgiving stone wall. My limbs cried as I attempted to break away. The throbbing, hammering pain in my head made me lose all rationality as I relentlessly tugged at my chains; which were rusting in blood from my previous struggles.
Tears would no longer fall from my cheeks, for they had dried out long ago. I was only able to silently sob and scream in protest within the frigid cell, deprived of all light.
Suddenly, thundering footsteps began to approach. My screams stopped along with the beating of my heart as dread creeped in. My chains rattled in face of the impending storm that’d bring nothing but misery and strife.
Then the headmaster appeared with his face full of disgust; fully prepared to punish those for their very existence. And I could do nothing but scream and plead for mercy as he unlocked my cell; but of course no such grace came.
I was left bloodied, throat sore, eyes bloodshot, and mind broken beyond repair. I attempted to scream but then realized I couldn’t. My final thought before slipping into unconsciousness was, Is there really no point to my existence?
I woke up with my sheets drenched in sweat and my hands closed around my throat. I realized I was in the dorms of the academy and that I have yet again relived a nightmare from my past.
Still panting, I grabbed the water bottle from my nightstand and drank as much as I could until the bottle was empty. My throat still felt like sandpaper from all the screaming (thank goodness for soundproof spells) but it was slightly more bearable after the soothing cold of the water.
I glanced at the timer which read 3:46AM, and I sighed since this was the 4th time this week that I couldn’t get a decent night’s rest.
I stared at my emerald bracelet which always managed to soothe me during times like these. It was a reminder that I now had a purpose, that I was no longer useless, that I was actually worth something.
After coming down from my high of fear, I pulled up the covers and attempted to sleep again so that I could at least stay awake during class. I slept clutching my bracelet and by the time I woke up to my alarm ringing I had a feeling I was forgetting something, but I quickly brushed it off.
I began my daily routine. I tried to tame my wavy black hair but that didn’t really work out so I let it cover my emerald eyes. After doing basic morning things I grabbed my satchel containing all my school books and a chocolate chip granola bar since I could never eat much of anything in the morning. My stomach seemed to have grown used to not eating much of anything, but my doctor/physiatrist had gradually made me grow accustomed to eating decent meals or at least a snack. Finally I headed out toward Rein Academy.
In a world now full of magical creatures, reinforcers were kind of like police officers who specializes in all things magic. And I was one in training at the prestigious school for reinforcers.
Ever since scouts from the academy came upon the orphanage and saw extreme potential in my magical power, I was forever changed. But, the effects from living in hell for seventeen years never faded.
On the worst days which usually happened once a month, I’d break down in tears and wouldn’t stop crying over how worthless I am, and sometimes over nothing at all.
Sometimes during physical training I’d overwork myself up to the point of passing out just to get rid of the resurfaced memories that reminded me of my past.
I’ve gotten better, sure. But I knew I would never be completely healed from the trauma.
Anyways, back to the story at hand. After a brief walk in the early morning to the academy, I went to my first class of Magical Defense and came face to face with the only person in the entire school who I wanted to lock up in a tower for all eternity. Kaito Amory.
Ever since I offered my hand to him as a sign of greeting on the first day of the school year and he did nothing but glare at me in return for no reason at all, I knew we wouldn’t get along.
If I did a magical spell perfectly, he’d always find a way to one up me. If we were to duel, we’d always come out of the training hall with deep cuts, bluish bruises, or the rare broken bone; and having to go to the fairy godmother (aka. the academy nurse and my doctor/psychiatrist) to have our wounds healed. And whenever we held a conversation, it was filled with nothing but insults and roasts until class started or one of us had to actually go somewhere. Overall, we were like bitter coffee and sweet tea; we just didn’t go well together.
Though, Kai had been out of school for two whole weeks (not that I was counting or anything pshh), and I was curious as to why he was out for so long.
The first thing I said to him out of habit was, “Well look who decided to show up. I thought you tripped over a mushroom and fell into a well.”
Kai’s face was clearly not amused, and it was evident from the slight twitch of his eyebrow that he was pretty irritated. But, as I payed more attention to his face, I noticed the eye bags he had on his usually flawless face, which were barely visible thanks to the concealer he put on. Looking closer, I also saw how his sandy hair was out of place in many areas, which was extremely unusual considering the fact he always tried to look prim and proper.
I expected him to say, “I’d very much appreciate if you’d stop blocking the entrance to the classroom like the waste of space you are.”
But instead he threw me a glare through his lapis eyes and slipped pass me into the classroom. Clearly, something was terribly wrong.
I stood there stunned for a moment, but then realized I really was being a weirdo standing near the door, so I went inside too. Five minutes later, class started.
Instead of our usual Magical Defense teacher coming through the door, the principal himself walked in with his royal guard outfit (which he claimed was his anesthetic in life).
Everyone came to a standstill, as the principal, Mr. Grimm, sauntered in while swinging his scabbard and whistling an old Disney tune. Once he made it to the front of the class, he cleared his throat and began to speak.
“As you all know, today is the day you all get assigned to your lifelong partner which you’ll be bound to throughout your reinforcer career.”
I blanked once he said that, and slowly came to realize that I completely forgot about Partner Selection Day. Basically, it was the day all 2nd years went through a simulator which tested the compatibility of each student and ultimately determined who’d work alongside you for the rest of your life. The simulator was generated by the mana (magical power) of a storybook relic and was considered to never make mistakes. Never.
After everyone experienced the simulator, there’d be a mandatory ball at 8PM where all partners were announced and said partners were magically connected with a red string which came with several side effects. One, was that you could feel the extreme emotions of your partner or sense when they’re in danger. Two, it helped synchronize both of your abilities which comes with an insane power boost. And third, it gave you flashbacks into your partners lives. There were many other effects but those were basically the only ones I remembered.
Basically it was a soulmate kind of thing, but not all partnerships ended up being romantic. Also, there was no known way to cut the string or change partners. It was pretty much set in stone. Well, that’s the gist of what you need to know about reinforcer partners; back to the story.
The whole class started to talk excitedly and bet on who would pair up with who. I was honestly pretty terrified. What if I didn’t get a partner? What if I’m not good enough for my partner? What if my partner hates me?
As all the what ifs swirled within my head, I started to revert back to being self-loathing. As I nearly started to have a mental breakdown, I suddenly felt something land on my head. I reached up and grabbed the small object, to find a small caramel candy in the palm of my hand. I immediately thought, What the fudge? But then realized all my negative thoughts flew out the window. It was a welcome distraction.
The candy was of Gretel’s Confectionaries (which was a pretty expensive brand), and I myself had a pretty huge sweet tooth so I popped the candy into my mouth, no questions asked but only slightly curious as to who decided to rain candy on me.
Mr. Grimm announced that our class would be the first to go through the simulator, and although I was terrified, the sweetness of the caramel soothed my anxiety.
We all left our things, except our weapons which we kept in vessel form (like my bracelet which was actually a bow), and followed the principal to the training hall where the simulation would be conducted.
Once we arrived, Mr. Grimm explained that we all just stand there until he left and closed the door behind him, and then simulation would automatically begin since the spells were already set all around the room.
After he left, nothing really happened at first. Then suddenly, I blacked out.
My vision came back just as quick as when I had lost it, and the first thing I saw was a gray sky full of brooding clouds. I wondered if it was going to rain, then I realized I was surrounded by trees and had absolutely no idea where I was. Fudge.
I lifted myself up from the ground and quickly confirmed that I still had my bracelet with me. I was bad enough with directions, so I honestly had no idea how I’d get out of these woods.
Abruptly, I felt a powerful source of mana which had a familiar smell but I couldn’t quite tell what it was. I then came up with the idea that maybe it’s one of my classmates and thought I’d be better to group up then get lost alone, so I followed the the trace of mana.
Luckily, the trail led me out of the woods but then I came face to face with a place that looked like the most intimidating mansion I’ve ever seen. Suddenly, I wished I could go back into the woods but when I looked back it was completely gone. Trees and everything literally disappeared, leaving a blank void of space. Well that settles it. I headed into the mansion.
Once I made it in, I noticed how elegant and victorian the inside looked. I felt underdressed even though all of this wasn’t real. I wonder if I’ll see a butler next. I immediately realized I was getting off track, so I resumed to tracking down my classmate.
The trace finally led me to one door out of the many on the 2nd floor, but what was odd about it was the fact that it was chained, almost acting like some sort of prison. Panic started to bubble inside of me but I quickly pushed it away in order to save whoever was trapped inside.
I summoned Noir (my bow), and quickly used it to break away the iron chains from the door. When I opened it, I was surprised to see Kai shackled to a desk with a pen in hand, looking like he hadn’t slept in weeks. I’ve never seen him so miserable and defeated.
He didn’t seem to notice me since he looked like he was in trance. He looked from one of the many textbooks on his desk and wrote, after a few minutes he’d glance at it again and write some more. It was a never-ending cycle. He reminded me of myself when I was at the orphanage; dead inside.
I softly said, “Kai?”
He didn’t answer.
I then went up to him a broke the shackles that bound him to the desk and did the only thing I thought would snap him out of his daze, I hugged him.
I said, “It’s okay now.”
And after what felt like an eternity (which in reality was only a minute), Kai’s body suddenly jolted within my arms and I started to hear small hiccups come from him. He began to silently cry, and I held on until he pushed me away and turned around to wipe his face with his sleeve.
He quietly said, “Don’t speak of this to anyone.”
And I promised I wouldn’t.
After he recovered I told him about the woods and me tracing his mana (which I found out later it smelled of the ocean breeze) and he suggested that we wait in the ballroom to kill time until the simulation ended.
I then asked, “How do you know there’s a ballroom here?”
He shrugged and said, “Because I live here, duh.”
He then proceeded to walk past me and I followed suit. But, once we got there, my heart sank. There stood the headmaster of my dark past. The devil in my nightmares.
A flood of fear and dread consumed my mind, and I felt myself reverting back to that terrified boy who felt their existence was meaningless. The shadow of my past didn’t even need to speak in order to have me sink into the depths of despair.
I began to hyperventilate and sweat as if I were inside an oven. The headmaster walked towards me and muttered words such as “scum” and “trash”. Then single words turned into full blown sentences which grew louder and louder as he shouted at me about how worthless I am and didn’t deserve to live.
Gradually I lost my ability to breathe and fell to my knees while clutching at my throat.
I thought I was going to suffocate to death until Kai appeared in front of me a grabbed my shoulders yelling, “Vasin Wyss you’re better than this!”
Clearly shocked, I stared into his ocean blue eyes which helped me breathe, even if only by a little.
He lowered his voice and said, “What happened to your goofy attitude? What happened to the strong person who always stood up against me, whether it was a physical or verbal battle? What happened to the rival I called Vas?”
Wait… rival? I thought he’d never acknowledge me, much less consider me his rival.
“I’m your r-rival?” I stuttered out while staring at Kai wide eyed.
“Who else would it be? Listen up since I’ll only say this once. You’re strong, brave, funny, stupid, and a complete dork, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. You’ve seen my personal hell, and believe it or not you gave me the courage to fight against it. Therefore you aren’t worthless; your past doesn’t define you. You don’t need anyone telling you whether or not you should live. You’re stronger than that.”
I stared as tears began to fall from my eyes. I realized all I ever wanted was to be worth something. I just wanted acceptance. And the fact that this jerk of a guy actually considered my existence worthwhile meant so much.
I wiped away my tears and stood up with my bow while summoning one of my arrows. I drew back and aimed at the headmaster, at the shadow of my past.
And before I released the arrow I said, “Thanks.”
The arrow hit true to its target and the shadow screamed as it dispersed into ash. I looked back and locked eyes with those stunning blue orbs and smiled. Then everything went black.
I woke up to find myself in the training hall again, except I was lying flat on the floor with a pounding headache. I lifted myself up and saw many others do the same, but a few were still knocked out.
Then, I realized something fell off my head and found it was another caramel candy. I smiled and took a deep breath as I put it into my mouth.
I was still a bit shaken up, but I found a sense of closure from it all. I looked around for Kai but he was nowhere to be found, so I decided to thank him later.
I checked the time which read 6:30PM and realized I better eat something before the ball so I headed back to the dorms to snack and get dressed.
8PM came pretty fast and I was at the entrance of the ballroom dressed in a classic black and white suit (I wasn’t that creative when it came to fashion). I wasn’t really a fan of parties so I just stood to the side with a shirley temple in hand, picking at the cherries with my straw while keeping a lookout for Kai. I still couldn’t find him.
After about ten minutes of just debating in my head whether a unicorn or pegasus would make a better companion, Mr. Grimm stepped onto the podium and thanked everyone for their cooperation and patience and that he’d now announce the pairs.
I nervously played with my bracelet as a names were called one by one. Finally, my name was called and I walked towards the stage with a bunch of worries buzzing in my head.
Then, my partner was called up, “Kaito Amory.”
I was honestly stunned, and I’m sure everyone in the ballroom was since all they ever saw us do was fight. But, deep down inside of me, I wasn’t really surprised. Like Kai said, we both knew each others hells, and we each helped the other from drowning in their own nightmare.
Finally, I got to see Kai in his navy suit, and lapis eyes met emerald as we stared at one another in a silent acceptance. We then proceeded to link pinkies and a red string automatically appeared between the two fingers, but quickly became invisible to other eyes since it only showed itself if the partner willed it to.
We both walked off stage and watched everyone else get paired until the traditional dance between partners began. I totally forgot about this part of the ball.
I certainly couldn’t dance and I think Kai could see it in my face since he grabbed my hand and spoke to me for the first time that night, “Just follow my lead, and you’ll be fine.”
I nodded dumbly as we joined the rest of pairs on the dancefloor and began to slow dance. Kai successfully led me through the beautiful tunes of the piano and violin; clearly he was used to this kind of thing.
As I gradually got the hang of dancing, I actually started to have fun and it was obvious in my growing smile.
“What do you have that goofy grin for?” Kai said.
“It’s something called having fun Kai. I wonder if you’ve ever experienced it.”
“There’s the guy who had the nerve to mock me on the first day of school.”
“Wait what!? I did no such thing; if anything you were the jerk who did nothing but glare at me when I said hello.”
“Wait… you weren’t mocking me?”
“... but the way you greeted me was so cliche that I assumed you were making fun of me.”
I sighed and then I began to laugh hysterically out of nowhere. Kai started looking at me like I was crazy, but he too started to join me in the laughter.
“We really need to work on our miscommunication if we’re ever going to be partners. I mean, if you’re okay with it that is.” I timidly said as I looked down at the floor.
Kai let out one last chuckle and said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
We both smiled. Even though we got along like cats and dogs, I believed we could work things out. We both had our differences, but were similar in the way that we both struggled with trauma from our past demons. If it’s with Kai, I’m sure we could both heal each other more than we ever could alone.
After the party ended, we walked back to the boys dorms together. Before we parted ways, Kai grabbed my hand and placed a small object in it saying, “It’s thanks for helping me out back there.”
He softly smiled at me (which made my heart beat at a disturbing rate) and he swiftly left my side to walk into his room which was actually next to mine believe it or not.
I opened my palm to find the same caramel candy I’ve been finding on my head all day, and immediately felt warmth course through my chest. I let out a chuckle, and smiled while thinking of what candy I should give to him in return.