Chapter 2 - Sakura’s Secret
“I can’t just sit here, Christen!” I said, quite annoyed. “You can and will, because until you get some rest, I am not letting you out of this room” came the reply. It had been about 5 minutes since Sakura left, and Christen was trying to force me to get some rest. “I’m sorry, but that’s not going to happen. I’m going after her, one way or another.” I tried to move forward, yet ended up tumbling into christens waiting arms. “Byaku, why are you so determined to follow her? You’ve only just met her.” Those words made me freeze. I leaned back and looked into christens eyes. To my surprise, she was… crying. Christen Kaede, the toughest girl in school and my partner, was standing right in front of me and crying. “Please, Byaku, I don’t want to be alone… not again. Not after Meysa…” Her knees began to buckle, so we took a seat on my bed. “Christen, I… I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you” I said, my voice shaking. “I know Byaku. I know, but still I…” I wiped a tear from her cheek and gave her a hug. “You saw what that girl did to me with one touch. I don’t want to have to put you through that again. So let’s do this together, yeah?” She sniffled and gave me that bright smile. “Yeah. Let’s go!”
As we got to the lobby, the health teacher entered the dormitory. He saw us hurrying and looked a bit surprised, as I never disobeyed a teachers orders before. “Byaku, Christen, where are you off to? I told you both to get some rest for the day” he said, looking angry. “Sorry doc, change of plans” said Christen, and we rushed past him and out the dorms. Sakura was halfway across the courtyard when she turned, probably to see what the noise was about, when she saw us. Her eyes widened with surprise, and she started running. “Hold it!” I shouted, and attempted to run from christen. She let me go surprisingly easy, a semi-shocked look on her face. As I ran, my heart began to pound and I started feeling warm. As I took my next step, my body felt light. Next thing I knew, I was in front of Sakura. She stared at me in shock. “You…How did you…” she stammered. “That’s what you’re going to tell us when we’re finished with this ‘Arcania’.” She seemed even more shocked that I knew the word. “You mentioned it before” I said, and that seemed to answer her question. “Now, where to?” Sakura seemed to come back to reality. She leaned forward. “Just follow me, keep your head down and let me do the fighting” she whispered into my ear. Fighting? I thought. What have I gotten myself into…?
Sakura led us to the empty Gymnasium, where that girl – the “Arcania” – was waiting for us. When we entered, Sakura turned around and raised her hand to one of the stands. Purple flames appeared in her hand in an instant, and she thrust her arm toward the stand. The flames jumped forward immediately, almost responding to her will, and torched the stand - but not the person sitting on it. When the flames cleared, she was sitting on what looked like a circle with glyphs. It started to descend. “Now, now Sakura-san, no need for that” she said jokingly. She flashed that smile again – but this time her teeth were something similar to a cat’s teeth. “Tch” I heard Sakura say under her breath. Sakura looked at her with a calm face. She placed her hands on the floor and jumped, moving with cat-like agility. Somewhere along the line, a shotgun appeared in her hand, and she aimed it at the Arcania. The girl looked at her in surprise, and Sakura pulled the trigger. At that range, the girl didn’t stand a chance and she seemed to disappear in the flames. When the fire cleared, there was a hole in the side of the building the size of a cinema screen. Christen and I stared in shock. We had been hiding behind a stand the entire time. “Well, now that that’s over with,” She said, landing on all fours, the shotgun seeming to have vanished into thin air “let’s get you two outa here.” She took our hands and led us out to the field track – where the same girl from before re-appeared in front of us, smiling once again. “You really think I’d die from that?” she asked, crossing her arms. “Nope, just hoped it would stall you. Apparently it didn’t do shit.” Sakura said, her face going calm once again. “What do you want, Leone?” The girl laughed. “Oh, I’m soo scared. As for what I want…” She pointed to me. Sakura put her hand up, and those purple flames jumped to life, forming a shotgun which was aimed at the girl once again. “Well, tough. I got the claim first, and you know the rules.” “As do you, miss Bellthorne. If I so wish, I can challenge you to take possession of my soon to be Hunter.” Sakura disappeared and re-appeared in front of the girl – Leone, I think her name was – and in the place of her shotgun was a longsword. “Over my dead body” she said under her breath. Leone then did the disappearing act and was in front of me before I could blink. She wrapped her arms around my neck, leaned in close and whispered “Join me, and we shall destroy them a…“ She stopped abruptly, as I had kicked her in the stomach. She stumbled backwards, and looked at me in complete shock – different to what I had seen before. “How did you…” She said, stopping abruptly as Sakura appeared in front of her, pointing the shotgun barrel to her head. “Game over. Now, behave yourself or I will incinerate you. Understood?” Leone gulped and nodded, then scrambled to her feet and ran as far as possible.
As we entered our room, Sakura shut the door behind us and said “Right, you tell anyone about what you saw, and you’ll have me to deal with. Understood?” We both nodded. She sighed, then sat down on my bed, crossed her legs, and breathed slowly – a technique for calming your mind. “If you have any questions before we leave ask them now, because there won’t be time until we get to your new home.” “New home?” Christen and I said simultaneously. “What are you talking about? We aren’t going anywhere!” said christen, her voice raising. “Christen, calm down” I said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Calm down? How can you tell me to calm down when… “This time, I was the one who got angry. “Christen Kaede, Calm down!” I shouted, anger pooling in me. She looked at me with wide eyes, as I almost never got this angry. “Right” I said calming down. “First and foremost, who are you and how did you get those flames?” She smiled slightly. “I’m an Arcania” she said, and bared her teeth. “Shee that?” she pointed to her teeth, which were more like a cat than human. She closed her mouth, and waved her hair back to reveal her ears – which were those of a cat. “What on earth…” I stammered. She laughed at the look on our faces, and let her hair down again. “I’m a Neko – a hybrid of human and cat. All Arcania are… non-human, for lack of a better term. And we serve the hunters, who are often human males. It’s rare you get a female or non-human hunter, but it isn’t impossible and vice versa. It’s rare you get a male Arcania, as almost all non-humans are female.” She looked at Christen. “Miss Kaede here is also an Arcania. She’s a Dragoon, half human half dragon – I can tell from her large size and strength, as well as her sharp teeth and catlike eyes.” I looked at christen dumbfounded, yet she looked at Sakura with a frown. “But I was born and raised by Humans, so I can’t be… wait.” Her eyes went wide - they really did look like those of a feline… She went to her draw and looked for something. After about a minute, she pulled out a photo of her family, one taken when she was 8 – 2 years before her mother’s death in a car accident. “You said most huntresses are female, right?” She was visibly shaking at this point. “Christen” She cast her gaze at me, and I saw fear in her eyes. “It’ll be okay. You still have me.” She sniffed, and sat down next to me. I put my arm around her and pulled her close, then looked at Sakura and gave a nod. “Yes, most huntresses are female.” She continued. ”That means your mother was a Dragoon. She most likely didn’t tell your father because she was scared he would think she was crazy and leave her.” Christ, this girl ever heard of sympathy? I thought, giving Sakura an angry look. She ignored it and continued. “We Arcania mostly seek out our own hunters and test them to see if they live up to our expectations. In your case, Miss Kaede, I think you’ve deemed Byaku-kun here worthy of being your Hunter, as have I.” Christen and I both looked at her like she was mad. “Well, I still need to test you, but you resisted a tier 3 spell without training. That gives you some credit. Now, if that’s all, I’ll be taking my leave. I’ll speak to you again after class tomorrow.”
The next day, after the bell rang to signal the end of classes, Sakura came to my class with Christen. “Byaku-san, we need to talk. Meet me in the dorms in 2 hours.” She turned around as she was leaving and whispered in my ear “Oh, and don’t worry about Leone. She won’t be a problem anymore.” And with that, she left the classroom, taking Christen with her again. As she walked out I heard whispering among the other students. “I can hear everything your saying, you know” I grumbled. The whispers went silent.
Around 2 hours later, I checked into the dormitory and headed to our room. When I got to the door, I knocked – Christen should have just gotten back from training, so she might be changing. “Come in!” came the reply. I opened the door to find Christen sitting on her bed cross legged, wearing a white tank top, short blue jeans and reading a book, while Sakura lay on mine wearing a T-shirt with flower patterns and a miniskirt, as well as headphones. Sakura looked up as I came in. “Took ya long enough” she said, sitting up and grinning. “Yea, one of the first years was quite the bully in his previous school. Thought he could do the same here, and now he’s in the infirmary.” She laughed at that. “Reliable and strong? You’re turning out to be quite the prize. It’s a wonder you haven’t got a girl yet.” Christen narrowed her eyes but said nothing. “Now, it’s about time for me to teach you how to use your Aura.” Sakura continued, taking off her headphones, and Christen put down her book to listen. “You remember those flames I used in the Gym? That’s my Aura.” I recalled the purple flames that jumped to life in her palm. “All Aura take the form of flames at first, but this may change over time. As you gain understanding of other elements, your aura will change appropriately. Each Aura is unique, as no two entities are the same. Your Aura is basically your resolve in corporeal form. The stronger your resolve, the stronger you’re Aura will be. If for instance, you poured all your strength into protecting something, or someone, your Aura would respond accordingly and increase your physical and mental abilities tenfold. Any questions so far?” She looked over at christen, then at me. “Yes, actually. When you faced Leone, you mentioned that you got the claim first.” She must’ve forgotten about that, because she frowned. After a few seconds, her face lit up again. “Ah, yes. We Arcania have a bit of a pact. Anyone wishing to test or claim a certain hunter or, in rare cases, huntress, have to go through the court. After that, a bulletin is put out to say that you’ve been claimed and no other Arcania is allowed to interfere unless they wish to challenge you for rights to the claim, or the hunter or huntress decides to start a family.” I was a bit surprised when she said family. “You mean as in marriage or something?” Sakura almost fell off my bed with laughter. “No, no, nothing like that. A family, in this context, is like a guild. But back to the point.” Her face turned serious. “Do you have anything you want to protect, Byaku?” Okay, that came from nowhere… “Yes, I do. Christen.” Christens cheeks, went red as she turned away from me, blushing profusely. “Oh? Well, what would you say if I told you I was going to kill her?” My body suddenly tensed up, a heat starting to build inside me. “If you tried that” I mumbled, my words almost incomprehensible “I would rip you apart one piece at a time.” She smiled devilishly, and her eyes began to turn blood red – the same way Leone’s did when she forcefully knocked me out. Don’t underestimate her. You’ve seen how strong she is. And I am going to protect Christen at all costs. I can’t lose her too. No, I WON’T lose her too. As I thought that, Sakura grinned and her eyes returned to normal. The tension in my body released, and it took me some time before I realised that my body was hotter than before. “Is it just me, or did the temperature rise?” I looked over at Christen, who was now staring with open eyes. “What, did I say something wrong?” I asked sarcastically. She shook her head. “Byaku, your body…” I frowned, and looked down. Only then did I realise that my entire body was covered in a paper-thin layer of white, blue and green flames.
Chapter 3 – Change of Plans
“Well, well, looks like Leone did my job for me.” Sakura said, after looking at my reaction. I glanced at her questioningly. “She opened your Aura when she touched you on the stomach.” I stared at my hand in curiosity, watching the flames dance around my arm as if it was awaiting my will. “I wonder…” I raised my hand and pointed it at the wall. As if sensing my intentions, the flames centred in my palm. “Whoa, whoa! Take it easy there, tiger! You don’t want to accidentally incinerate another student, do you?” Sakura attempted to pull my arm down, but the flames formed a protective layer around me in the blink of an eye as if to say “Don’t even think about it”. “Byaku, did you do that?” I shook my head. “Umm, quick question… how do I turn it off?” Sakura shrugged. “Don’t ask me. Like I said, each aura is unique.” I decided to think calm thoughts in an attempt to settle me down. The flames seemed to realise they weren’t needed anymore and dissipated. “Well, that was… awkward.” Said Christen, finally speaking up. “There’s one more thing I neglected to mention.” Sakura shifted uncomfortably. There are certain Arcania which… let’s just say, don’t appreciate the hunter’s pact. Normally, hunters never stay in one place for more than two days as they become easy targets outside their domain. I’ve been here three, which is more than enough time for them to track me. There’s only one place they won’t dare touch us. We’re going to have to leave Nexus tonight.” “Wait, what?” Christen and I shouted in near complete synch. “Leave Nexus tonight?” Sakura frowned. “Yes, tonight. I don’t appreciate people parroting me, if you wouldn’t mind” Saying that, she got up and stretched. “Hmmmm, been about half an hour since I moved… I’m going for a walk.” She swung her legs off the bed, but made the mistake of facing towards me while wearing a miniskirt. I caught a glimpse of what she wore. She seemed to realise her mistake, but she just smiled mischievously. I was a bit at a loss that she’d treat something like that as a trivial matter, but Christen and I got up to follow her as she made for the door.
That evening, Christen and I were packing our bags to leave. She was listening to some soothing music in her headphones, but I saw the worried look on her face. I, too, was worried for our future. During our walk, Sakura had told us about the other Arcania. Apparently, they were a terrorist group called the White Claw. They believed humans to be the weakest race, and thus treated us like cattle. However, although they were a major threat to the balance of the economy, they followed the one rule no race dared break - never reveal yourself to a human unless no other choice is available. If anyone broke this rule, they were punished by a mysterious entity known as the Seraph. Rumours she’d heard said he’s a divine deity, but no one could be sure. By the time she finished explaining, it was already 6 pm. She walked us back to the dormitory and told us to start packing. “Wait a second” I said. “If what you say is true, then how do we know they didn’t find me before you did? For all we know, they could be right here in the school.” She’d frowned at that, and said she was going to check the perimeter. We made our way up to our room, began packing, and that leads us to the present. “Do you think they managed to find us?” I asked Christen, who looked like she didn’t hear me. I shrugged and turned around to keep packing. “I… I don’t know.” Came the reply after a few seconds. I smiled slightly. “This is just like in the books we used to read as little kids, eh?” I tried changing the subject to lighten the mood. This time, however, I got no reply.
Sakura walked in the door as we shut our suitcases, but her expression was not a good sign. “Byaku, you were right. The White Claw have infiltrated the school.” Sakura had changed her clothes. The miniskirt and t-shirt had been replaced with a thin, black fur coat and black leather boots, both with a white fur trim, a short black top which revealed her stomach and short black jeans. Christen blushed slightly after seeing her, and said “Isn’t that a bit daring?” Sakura smiled slightly, revealing her sharp catlike teeth. “I suppose. You certainly know how to lighten the mood, Miss Kaede. But there’s no time for jokes. Have you got everything you need?” she asked, looking around the now barren room. We both nodded, and she gestured for us to follow her. As the elevator door opened on our floor, Sakura tilted her head over her shoulder and raised her ear. Her body suddenly tensed, and she yelled “Get down!” We did as we were told, and she jumped over us and released her Aura. Almost instantly she was covered in purple flames. She stuck her hand out and, using it as the centre, released a storm of fire that torched the passage – and the black-suited girls within it. “Shit, they’ve found us! You two, take the elevator downstairs and wait for Leone!” And with those words, she ushered us into the elevator and hit the ground floor button. “She smiled and turned around, and we caught a glimpse of her sending one of the men flying with a punch before the door closed. For the next minute, all we heard were explosions which shook the elevator. When we got to the ground floor, we were greeted with the sly, smiling face of Leone, who had changed her hair colour from purple to silver. “So we meet again, Byaku kun” she said, stepping forward. “Stay away from us, or I’ll burn you to death” I whispered in her ear. “Oh? So Bellthorne taught you how to release your Aura, did she? Well, no matter. I’m on your side for the moment.” We narrowed our eyes at her, and she laughed. “Say what you want, these guys are a pain in my ass too, so I’m coming with you. I talked it over with Sakura last night, and I’m supposed to meet you two at the rendezvous point. But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, things didn’t exactly go according to plan, so I’m taking you there instead. Follow me.”
We left the building and found 5 young girls in business suits waiting for us. Leone looked at the girls around us but merely gave her devilish smile. “You two might wanna get back.” She told us, and she released her Aura. The air started to shimmer around her, the temperature dropping rapidly. The pavement around her started turning a shimmering light-blue as a thin sheet of ice enveloped it, spreading like a plague. The women’s smiles wavered for a second, but recovered surprisingly quickly. One by one, they took slow steps forward, their eyes observing us carefully, looking for any type of opening. “That’s close enough, ladies.” Leone said. All of the girls stopped, but one was either very stupid or over confident and took another step forward. As her foot touched the ground, she stopped and the expression on her face became one of fear. I heard a small cracking noise, like when you put ice in a glass of water, and her skin turned white. “I warned you” she said jokingly, and Leone extended her arm and snapped her fingers. Almost instantly, the other four were enveloped in a thick sheet of ice. “Now that there are no more distractions” Leone said, the air and temperature around her returning to normal and the ice sheets on the concrete dissipating “Let’s get the hell outa here.” As she said that, we heard the sound of a window breaking. We turned around and looked up just in time to see Sakura jumping through the window of our floor, a trail of glass raining down behind her. She landed with catlike precision, her Aura seeming to dissipate. “I hope you didn’t go too overboard while I was away” she said, standing up and looking over at Leone. “Oh, I just froze a couple of their goons who tried to stop us leaving. No big deal.” Sakura looked back at us, and Christen and I gave her a nod. She gave us a feline grin before stretching her arm out in front of her, her Aura flaring up once again – this time as white flames. The air started to shimmer and distort, but this was different than Leone’s Ice Aura. “I think you two should have the honours.” She gestured for us to walk through the distorted space, and we did. As we entered it, the world around us seemed to fade and disappear. Sakura and Leone came in after us, and the exit also faded and disappeared. “Oh, there’s one thing we forgot to say.” She and Leone walked in front of us, looked over their shoulders, smiled and said “Welcome to the Aura Kingdom.”
Chapter 4 – A new face