Soul Searching (Is Harder If You Have Different Maps)
Leona (dream sharing) - Yuu (first words)
It’s been on your wrist for as long as you can remember.
A short paragraph in neat, flowing handwriting, forming one of the oddest sentences you’ve ever read.
Your half-siblings gave you no end of grief about it once the Words Resolved, at least one of them leaking it whenever you moved up a year in school so everybody always knew.
Your father ordered you to keep it covered at all times, then ignored it and you from then on. Just another way you were a stain on the family name.
One of the good things about leaving was at least it became your own.
You buy a new cover, the nicest you can afford with your meager funds. Not because you’re ashamed of it, but because for the first time in your life you could control who knew about it. It was yours, no one else’s.
Still. You really can’t imagine what sort of first encounter you’ll have with your soulmate that results in what’s on your wrist.
Maybe they have a pet? A dog or a cat?
Conversely, even though your meeting requires you to (you hope not seriously) potentially hurt an animal, you find yourself becoming hyper-aware of them. Always keeping a healthy distance between them and yourself.
It helps when you wake up in a coffin after dreaming about (maybe living through?) your gruesome death via monster to a talking, fire-breathing tanuki trying to steal your clothes.
You don’t think stepping on it would improve your situation any.
You’re distracted, is the thing.
You’ve somehow been transported to another world, forced to live in a should-be-condemned building, made a groundskeeper, watched as Grim the monster-tanuki burnt a statue and broke a chandelier with the help of a cocky feckless asshole and a dumbass wannabe honor student, had your ribs broken by a nightmarish ink-like monster that you still can’t find any information on, defeated that monster by somehow getting Grim, the feckless asshole and dumbass honor student to cooperate with your improvised plan, made a two-in-one student and a prefect, hosted Ace in your ramshackle dorm when he pissed off his dorm leader, had a weird dream about a queen and some cards you barely remember, tried to get Grim to attend classes, somehow got shanghai’d into making a mont blanc to appease the same dorm leader who Ace somehow belatedly realized was his soulmate, and—!
Look, it’s been a long two days, alright?
So maybe, when Grim dashes off the path to go steal some random fruit you’ve never seen before, you’re more concerned with catching him than watching where you’re going.
With your luck, Grim’ll end up rolling around in poison ivy. The magical equivalent of poison ivy. Which he’ll transfer to you first thing, but he won’t be affected by because he’s got fur.
You stumble as something… round and thin disrupts your footing by being inconveniently beneath your sole.
Maybe it was a hose? A greenhouse this big has got to have some sort of sprinkler system, after all. Hopefully you haven’t bent it or anything.
Also since when was Grim’s voice that deep?
“Oi. You’ve got some nerve, stepping on someone’s tail without saying anything.”
Oh, come on.
At least he’s good looking, the treacherous part of your brain whispers as a boy so tall and broad he can only really be called a man stands and pins you in place with a glare. With all the ways this could’ve turned out, you really got lucky with this one, didn’t you?
The rest of you mentally screams at it to shut up, because holy shit, this guy has animal ears and a tail and there is no way in hell you could’ve predicted this in a million years.
“Fnah? Are you the custodian here?” Because naturally, Grim would decide now’s the best time to abandon his quest for food. “You look like a rude guy, y’know?”
The guy who said the words on your wrist (your soulmate, your soulmate, he’s your soulmate!) curls his lip. “I may have been in the middle of a shitty nap, but you went and walked on my tail. I can’t just let you get away with that.”
You’re the one who left your tail lying where anyone can step on it…is what you want to say, but for some reason the words won’t come out your mouth.
He tilts his head. “You…aren’t you that herbivore the mirror said can’t use magic? Hmm…”
He seizes your tie and the front of your shirt in a fist, and you discover that being lifted by your clothes? Is something that can and does happen in the reality you now inhabit. You’re hauled up until you’re dangling just below your soulmate’s eye level, getting an unwitting closeup of his collarbone and down his shirt.
You try and will yourself to stop staring.
He leans forwards and his nose twitches as he inhales repeatedly. Is he…is he smelling you?!
“I-I bathe daily!” You splutter out.
You immediately want to find a wall and slam your head into it. The first words you say to your soulmate, what he’ll have been judging your character by right up until this moment, and this is what you come up with? “I bathe daily”? No wonder your soulmate’s wearing gloves.
Your father was right to disown you.
“Ha. I really can’t smell a spark of magic on you.” Your soulmate drawls, one of his ears flickering. “I don’t really feel like taking on an opponent that can’t resist…but it’s not like I, Leona-sama can let you just walk away after stepping on my tail, right?”
You have a sinking feeling in your stomach. “Wh-mmfph?!”
It’s hard to finish your sentence around the hand that this guy has just shoved into your mouth.
“Now,” You can feel his glove-clad fingers poking and prodding at one of your canines with intent. “I was having a shitty dream, and got woken up so rudely that it’s pissed me off. I think a tooth is a fair trade for that, right?”
Oh fuck no.
You think you can hear Grim babbling about running away somewhere around this guy’s ankles, while your legs windmill uselessly in midair.
The hand that’s not trying to fruitlessly pull at his wrist scrabbles for sharpened pencil in your pants pocket. You rip it out and brandish it as menacingly as you can.
“Hoh?” He still looks amused, damn him. “And what are you planning on doing with that, herbivore?”
“Ay’ll ta’e y’r othe’ eye ‘f y’dun ge’ y’r ‘and ou’ a ma mouf!” You threaten with as much bravado as you can muster.
Judging by the way his grin widens, it’s much less effective than you were hoping it would be.
He opens his mouth—
And just like that, it’s like someone’s flicked off a light switch. His eyes go flat, his ears droop, his mouth thins into an annoyed scowl.
He also drops you.
You land hard on your tailbone on the stone path, coughing and gagging from the sudden removal of his entire hand from your mouth.
“Minion!” Grim pounces on your stomach, which does not help with how winded you are. “Are you okay? Did he take all yer teeth?”
You shake your head, trying to wordlessly convey that you’re mostly unharmed.
“Leona-San, there you are.” Another boy with ears and a tail and dyed blond hair comes strolling up the path. “I’ve been sent to get you for your remedi—ah? Don’t tell me you’ve traumatized another firstie again already.”
“Already?!” Grim squeaks.
The guy who is apparently the other half of your soul turns his head to shoot you a dangerous smirk.
You scoop up Grim and run for your life.
You’re panting by the time you reach the outside of the greenhouse where Ace and Deuce are waiting.
“Ah, Prefect, Grim, we found some…hey, what happened to you?” Deuce asks, taking in the sight of you, bent almost double as you try to get your breath back.
“Th-there was a really rude custodian sleeping in there!” Grim bursts out. “He was super scary!”
“Custodian?” Ace tilts his head. “What are you talking about?”
“I just met my soulmate.” You sing-song quietly.
“Wha-seriously?!” Ace’s face begins quirking in an astonished grin. “Both of us in the same day! Damn, what are those odds?”
“Congratulations, Prefect!” Deuce says, clapping you on the shoulder. “Who is he? What’s he like?”
“He was going to rip my teeth out.” You say brightly, unable to get the sing-song out of your voice.
There’s a moment of uncomfortable silence.
“Hah?” Ace says blankly. “Wait, seriously?! This isn’t some kinda joke?! And I thought what the dorm head did to me was bad.”
“Maybe it’ll get better?” Deuce, the kind, naive sap, suggests.
It does not get better.
Turns out that the weird dreams about the Queen and the cards and the little girl? Get followed up by Dorm Head Rosehearts overblotting and becoming the same kind of monster that broke your ribs.
You leave that encounter with a torn ligament in your ankle, and another dream of that monster murdering you brutally.
(Except this time, Ace, Deuce, and Trey are trying to fight it and dying to it alongside you, and before its teeth close around your head, you glimpse that the beast’s front paws are actually a grasping, disturbing pair of hands…
You wake in a cold sweat, body shaking and fingers numb around charcoal you don’t remember buying as you try to sketch out the monstrosity, as if confining it to paper will lessen its threat.)
Despite your terror, life goes on. You’re lulled into a routine of going to class, corralling Grim, trying not to die when bits of your Dorm collapse suddenly, making repairs, dealing with your ghostly roommates, hanging out with Ace and Deuce, and doing homework when you find the time.
And then your soulmate decides the best way to prepare for a sports tournament is by maiming the competition.
Your bad feeling from the dreams returning, this time with a Lion rather than a Queen, is only intensified when the headmaster threatens you and bribes Grim into investigating the “accidents”.
Even if he says “The Prefect is so diligent at note-taking I’m sure it’ll be a cinch~” isn’t pushing this kind of thing onto you really way too carefree for an adult?!
The only good thing about this investigation is you, Grim, Deuce, and Cater-senpai get a front seat to Ace’s corny flirtations at Riddle-senpai, and Riddle-senpai’s flustered reactions to him. It’s nice to see they’re getting along well.
It becomes readily apparent from your interviews that the only dorm to be entirely unaffected is Savannaclaw. Even if there are strong players from other dorms who haven’t been injured, they’re usually the type whose…personality quirks have provided them with a defense against the fates that befell their weaker dorm-mates.
Savannaclaw is the only one with all players in fighting form. That, combined with Jack Howl’s certainty that he won’t have an accident when rebuffing Grim’s offer of protection…
Of course, this is when three upperclassmen decide that it’s time to circle you, Ace, Deuce and Cater. Their threats are almost laughably cliche, but when they’ve got the muscle to back it up…
“What’s all this yapping for? Annoying.”
All the muscles in your back lock up.
“Dorm Head Kingscholar!” One of the upperclassmen barks as the jerk who might match your soul strides towards your group followed by the dyed blond guy who took Grim’s sandwich.
Well, at least that gives you a complete name to put to the face. Not that you wanted one.
He looks…? He’s slouching like he hasn’t a care in the world, like he’s the one with all the power here but it’s. Off, somehow. Not quite the casual ease he had when messing with you in the Botanical Gardens, no matter how hard he’s trying to seem otherwise.
“Aren’t you the herbivore who stepped on my tail?” Dorm Head Leona Kingscholar asks rhetorically, prompting his riled up dorm mates to turn towards you, teeth bared.
Your jaw clenches. “And you’re the creep with the tooth fetish. How’ve your naps been lately? I hope karma isn’t making your nightmares too unbearable.”
That gets his eyes narrowing at you, a growl rumbling from his chest and dumb tail swishing as his groupies’ snarls ratchet up a notch.
You can’t say you aren’t grateful for the way Ace and Deuce step in front of you, Grim hissing from the safety of your shoulders, like they could actually do anything if your soulmate decided to assault you again.
The impromptu game of Magift that he challenges the investigation team to certainly feels like one, a beat down dressed up in the guise of a “friendly match” with how often your boys are getting body checked out of the way and the sparks of white hot magic coming from the disk that even have you ducking for cover. There’s no way that this can be safe. It’s as if they’re hoping to take all of you out of commission if they injure you badly enough here.
It takes Jack Howl intervening for you all to have the pretext to escape without any major injuries. You should be following Cater’s speedy retreat, it would be the smart move…
But something stops you in your tracks, leaves you gnawing at your thumbnail as you watch the Dorm Head of Savannaclaw.
All this—the dreams, the plotting for control over something that’s usually left to chance, the weary dorm head you suspect is behind it all, it’s pricking at your brain, drawing comparisons between what happened a few weeks ago with Riddle-senpai. Which is ridiculous, Crowley told you that Overblot is rare and that Riddle’s case was the first time there’s been a major outbreak in decades, but—
Well. You didn’t survive the last 15 years by having the luxury to write connections like this off as mere coincidence.
Which leads to your next quandary: do you attempt to say something? Leona Kingscholar may be a bastard, but you are still his soulmate, even if he doesn’t act like it. The idea of him ending up as one of those monsters that Riddle-senpai became…it makes your fingers go cold and bile rise in your throat. But how—?
He catches your eye.
“See something you like, herbivore?”
You can feel your expression fall flat. “Hardly. A fool on an errand is never an impressive sight. Except, perhaps, for seeing how deep he can dig himself.”
“Hn. I feel like I could say the same whenever I see you.” Kingscholar-senpai retorts, the same damn amusement on his face again as he saunters over to you. Like he’s enjoying himself.
You have to take a breath to keep from gritting your teeth, letting him see how much he’s riling you up, even as he starts reaching towards your face. “Listen. If I could offer some advice? I would tread carefully, if I were you. The path you’re going down with all this, this, you may not like where you end up. If you do, more power to you, but…I wouldn’t want to see you biting off more than you can chew.”
“Even if I knew what you were talking about herbivore,” His grin curls wider when he pinches you chin between his fingers. “Which I don’t, what makes you think that someone like you has any right to tell me what to do? Even among lions there are limits to arrogance, you know.”
You can feel blood rush to your cheeks are indignation flares hot in your gut. Why this little—!
You pull your face out of his hand and turn sharply on your heel, striding off after your friends as his laughter echoes in your ears.
Fine. Fine! It seems that you’re going to have to take Ace’s approach to the problem. Try and put a stop to whatever mayhem Leona Kingscholar is causing before he can reach overblot status. Your soulmate, your responsibility.
You’re just hoping you’ll be slightly more successful this time than you all were with Riddle.
So you end up in the infirmary again.
Jumping off of a set of collapsing bleachers while your soulmate’s Unique Magic eats a hole into your side during his overblot doesn’t make you a better Magift player, surprisingly.
Though you were mostly sitting on the sidelines and shouting directions to Grim, Ace and Deuce until the disk came flying at the back of your head.
At least you’re not alone here though.
In the bed next to yours is Kingscholar-senpai, with Buchie-senpai in the one on his other side.
Your thoughts are still fixed on what Kingscholar-senpai was saying before his overblot, his anger at his powerlessness and his despair at being unable to change anything due to something as immutable as birth.
You’re wondering whether it would be good to talk to him about it once everyone else has left, to tell him a bit about yourself and where you come from, just enough to let him know you understand, even if you don’t condone sabotaging sports tournaments or overblots. Except no, Buchie-senpai will still be here too, the last thing he wants to be subject to is the pair of soulmates who are responsible for his injuries getting mushy when he can’t escape. Maybe this kind of conversation is a bit too heavy to have while you’re both still trying to heal, so perhaps it would be better to ask him to meet you alone once you’re both out of the infirmary?
And then a tiny, excitable angel of a child scurries into the room, looking for Leona-oji-tan, and your soulmate’s hands come up to stabilize the boy when he clambers onto his stomach.
His gloves are off.
There are a limited number of areas where your soulmate’s words can appear, and all of them are localized to the arms, hands, and neck. The lowest anyone has ever had words appear outside of these areas was over the breastbone, and the studies you’ve read showed that this was purely because the poor girl’s soulmate was giving an extremely long and impassioned speech on women’s right to suffrage that took up her neck and both of her arms besides.
Leo—Kingscholar’s overblot form didn’t exactly leave much to the imagination, and it makes sense, given that he hadn’t shown any reaction to your first words to him, but with the inky blot over his hands, you had thought, you had hoped—!
Your words aren’t there. At all.
Of course it is. Of course.
It’s you, after all.
You spend a few days moping once you get out of the infirmary.
It’s not helped by the fact that the dream of the monster that kills you is back with a vengeance, tearing apart Riddle, Cater, and Buchie-senpai before shaking out its leonine fur as it prepares to pounce—!
(You hate how the drawing is getting more detailed.)
And that’s not even mentioning the other dream where you heard knocking from the inside of your mirror…
Between the stresses of the dreams, exhaustion from the crutches you need while the injury on your thigh and hip heals, and the new revelation about your soul’s other half…well, is it any surprise you don’t feel as energetic as before? You’re dealing with enough as it is. Between school and navigating your broken down excuse of a dorm, it’s a wonder you can get out of bed in the morning, much less socialize.
Kingscholar-san sends Jack bearing a brand new uniform to Ramshackle, only one size too big. It takes everything you have to smile and thank him without the annoying waver your voice has taken on lately.
It only ends when you look up one morning to see Grim nudge his tuna can back towards you, a worried frown on his furry little face.
“I dun’ need it.” He insists. “You eat, minion. You need ta build up yer strength and fill yer tummy, you’ve been all droopy and sad and not eatin’! What kinda great magician would I be if I couldn’t look after one a’ my minions? So be grateful, fgnah!”
You try and tell him that you’re fine, you’ve got your rice and egg, but he refuses to budge until you’ve choked down a little under half of the can.
You’re not sure whether it was the shock of greedy, selfish Grim insisting you take his food or how unpleasant eating the oily, unseasoned cat-food-level tuna was, but after you clean your teeth you give yourself a long, hard look in the mirror.
You…well, let’s be honest.
You look like shit. Tired and in pain, yes, but more than that you look like you did when you were floundering on your own for the first time at 14. Alone and directionless and reeling from loss.
You look like you’ve given up.
That more than anything else, makes you scoff in disgust. Really? Of all the things you’ve lived through, all the letdowns you’ve experienced, this is what beats you? A guy? One you don’t even know very well, and is under no obligations towards you besides? Are you seriously making yourself miserable over the hope of a possibility that’s been crushed?
You didn’t let your middle school graduation break you. You didn’t let your disownment break you. You are not going to lose yourself over an unrequited soulmate.
You’re trying to get back to your world, after all. And sure, you may be leaving a piece of your soul here, and it will hurt, but you’ll live. You’ll move on. You’ll survive.
You slap your cheeks twice.
At lunch, you announce, “I’m going to need some help carrying paint and wood back to my dorm after classes today.”
Ace and Deuce stare at you as you continue, “It’s seriously a pain to try and guess where I can put my crutches that won’t send them through the floors again. Even the ghosts are getting tired of all the holes. Plus, it’s just, really filthy, you know? If it’s going to take the headmaster this long to send me back, I’d rather live somewhere that isn’t going to fall down on me and Grim in our sleep or give us tetanus.”
You feel your smile begin to falter slightly as the silence continues.
“Freaking finally, fgnah!” Grim cheers through a mouthful of your curry. “It’s about time Ramshackle got an upgrade to reflect the majesty of the Great Genius Grim!”
“O-of course, Prefect!” Deuce, angel that he is, puffs out his chest. “I’d be glad to help out!”
“I’m not carrying jack shit.” Ace says, little shit that he is. “But try asking Jack or Riddle or Trey-senpai with that face—it’s so pathetic they’ll probably do anything you ask.”
You kick him in the shins, out of principle.
And then it turns out that Ace, Deuce, and Grim have all gone and sold their souls to the dorm head of Octavinelle in exchange for academic success.
Because, lest you forget, your closest friends and associates are absolute morons.
At least they had the decency to wait until you’d been off the crutches for two weeks and finals were done before springing this onto you.
(You should have known when you woke on the last day of exams to dreams of mermaids and shipwrecks, but you were so busy trying to track down who this figure could possibly be, trying to uncover something, anything more about overblot in the texts that are overdue for the library to update your wall that—!
But that’s hardly an excuse. You should have known.)
Crowley once again commands you to investigate the Octavinelle Dorm Head, with the understanding that your meager allowance for food will be jeopardized if not.
Azul Ashengrotto, as you and Jack discover while following him around, is for all appearances a model student, if a bit of a kiss-up. He is careful to never do anything untoward where the public can see.
Azul Ashengrotto is a boy with what romantics call “a threefold soul”. The one in his body is partnered with the two inside the twins, who only leave his side to slink up to you with promises of deals that will solve all of your problems.
Azul Ashengrotto will only consent to freeing all the students if you sign a contract with him. Three days to steal a photograph from a museum in the Coral Sea, or you join Grim, Ace and Deuce in servitude.
It’s not the first time you’ve signed a contract with every fiber of your being screaming “NO”, but hopefully this will be the last.
And, just to add insult to injury, what Azul Ashengrotto wants as collateral more than anything else? Is your dorm that you and your friends spent the past months making downright hospitable as a way to distract from your soulmate issues.
You think you’re meant to be grateful that those twins let you grab what few changes of clothes you could before throwing you and Grim out.
You are grateful to Jack for offering you a room in Savannaclaw so you don’t need to squeeze into a bed with Ace and Deuce in a four student room, even if that means you’ll definitely come into contact with the person you’ve been avoiding since his overblot.
This gratitude lasts for about as long as it takes Kingscholar-san to open his mouth.
“They can’t stay here.” He grumbles, looking almost as weary as before his overblot. “The empty rooms have been dumping grounds for stuff from the other students—even if they’re used to living in that decrepit wreck, trying to sleep in one of those rooms would be impossible.”
“Hey! Don’t insult our dorm!” Grim protests, hackles raised. “It’s really, really nice now, fgnah!”
“I don’t care.” Kingscholar-san replies.
“Senpai.” Jack groans.
“Ah, I’ve got it.” Buchie-senpai says with a grin you’re really learning to dislike. “We’ll put them in Leona’s room.”
“Do you want me to sew your mouth shut?!” Kingscholar-san growls as you loudly proclaim, “HELL NO.”
“Eh? But Prefect, Leona’s digs would be waaay comfier than any old dusty room.” Buchie-senpai wheedles. “Plus Leona-san is used to having servants sleep in his room as a prince, so this’ll be just like home, right? Plus this way the Prefect and Grim can earn their keep by helping look after him. It’s a win-win!”
There’s a weird interest in Kingscholar-san’s eyes that sends a shiver down your spine (no, stop, stop that, it’s unrequited, he’s not, he doesn’t), before his growl increases in volume. “Ruggie, you—!”
“Right, thanks for the offer Jack but we’re just going to share with Ace or Deuce in Heartslaybul, so…” Back up slowly, very slowly, eyes on them, don’t run.
You don’t entirely mean to freeze in place at the sound, but your pesky survival instincts have other plans.
Kingscholar-san attempts to cover his scowl with a nonchalant expression. “Well, if you’re truly intent on running away with your tails between your legs, I can’t stop you. After all, only the strong are welcome in Savannaclaw, even if it’s only for three days. But if you’re really sure…oi, you lot! Get out here!”
From the depths of the dorm, three upperclassmen come trooping out. The same three, you note to your displeasure, who tried to waylay the Investigation Team last time.
“Ah! It’s the prey that got away last time! It came back all on its own!” The biggest one crows.
“If you want to stay, you’ll need to prove yourself. Otherwise these three will have the pleasure of escorting you to Heartslaybul.” Kingscholar’s smug look really shouldn’t set your blood ablaze by now. “After all, such delicate, weak herbivores who got taken advantage of need to be looked after so they don’t get gobbled up late at night, right?”
“Who’re you callin’ weak?!” Grim hisses, back arched.
“Aw, does the kitty cat have claws?” The one with floppy ears simpers. “Better have me carry ‘im for you, little prince, otherwise you’ll get aaaall scratched up!”
The three of them cackle like this is the funniest thing they’ve heard all day.
You feel your lip curl.
Fine. Fine! These brats want a piece of you so bad? You’ll show them precisely why the headmaster appointed you “Beast Tamer”.
Grim gave up his fire magic to Azul, so the only real magical support you’ll have against these guys is Jack. But from what you remember from Magift, these upperclassmen are only really good at coordinating when Kingscholar-san is keeping them in line. When they’re on their own…
“Jack, think you can distract the big one until I’m ready?” You ask. “Grim, give the one with the smallest ears the runaround. Pretend he’s Ace and you stole his lunch again.”
“Can do, Prefect.” Jack growls, while the upperclassman with small ears claps a hand over them and yells, “SHUT UP!! THEY AIN'T SMALL, YA BASTARD!!”
“Nah, they’re tiny!!” Grim cackles, darting away like a tiny streak of grey wind, prompting the guy you’ve given a complex to roar and give chase. The biggest one is having similar problems hitting the equally quick Jack, which leaves you in careful position to deal with…
“I’ll make you eat those words!!” The third upperclassman vows as he aims for you with his magic pen.
The last one has the floppy ears of a prey animal rather than a predator. At a guess you’d say some kind of impala or oxen, something with horns. Which means that unlike the other two, who probably rely on their ancestor’s habits of intimidation and claws to inform how they fight, this one is much more used to—
“HIIIYAAAH—!” Charging at threats headfirst.
You skip to the side to avoid the spell he slings at you and hook out your foot to snag one of his.
“Hah!” The punk leaps over your leg. “You gotta try haaaraaaauuowhOAAAAAGH!!”
There’s a large splash as he drops into the pool of water behind you.
You make a show of peering down. “Oh my. Is that much blood normal?”
“GOTAMA!!” The biggest upperclassman shoves past Jack with ease while the one with small ears gives up on chasing Grim, the pair of them rushing to the water’s edge in an attempt to see if their buddy is alright. It’s almost sweet.
Though you’d think with their more sensitive senses, these beastmen would recognize a lie when they hear one.
You catch Grim’s eye and draw an english “m” with your finger. He beams.
All it takes from him is a running leap at the nearest punk to sending him sprawling into the pool on top of his buddy with a scream. Grim spring-boards off of the last one to complete the set and lands safely in your outstretched arms.
You cuddle him to you as he cheers. “Yeah!! Take that, fgnah!”
Jack huffs, looking disapproving even as his tail swishes from side to side. “That was sneaky, Prefect.”
You give him a cheeky “v” with your fingers and a grin, “Well, underhanded tactics are still strength, after all. Right, Kingscholar-san?”
“Don’t go putting words in my mouth, herbivore.” He says that, but his eyes are raking over you, as if seeing you in a new light. As if you’ve impressed him, somehow.
Bad for your heart, that.
It’s possible you may have gotten caught up in their pace and forgotten what this grudge match was for.
“You’re gonna fry in that.” Comes the unwelcome commentary from Kingscholar-san’s bed. “It gets colder at night, but not that cold.”
You clutch at your discount Night Raven College hoodie. Sure it’s big and bulky, but. “Then I’ll deal with it. It’s comfy.”
He rolls over, away from the futon where you and Grim are bunking. You think you hear a mutter of “annoying”.
Grim sticks out his tongue. You do too.
“I heard that.”
You’d almost hoped that being away from Ramshackle would mean the dreams don’t come again.
And for one night, you’re proven right.
It’s the second night, after you’ve gone to bed with advice churning in your brain about destroying the contracts rather than attempting to complete the task Azul had set you, that’s the when they come for you.
You blink awake in the quiet dark of the room, a thin layer of sweat clinging to you.
“Another deal…?” You mutter sleepily to yourself, scrunching your eyes shut. “Guess even mermaids don’t know any better than dealing with octopi…”
There’s a sudden rustle of fabric.
You open your eyes to find Kingscholar-san about half an inch away from your face.
“Are you dreaming about weird twisted versions of the Great Seven?” He demands.
Your mouth goes dry.
He lets you shove his face away until you can sit up before grabbing your wrist and yanking it off.
“Answer the question.” He snarls, grip tightening until the leather of your cover begins to creak under your hoodie.
“I—what?!” You try and parse his nonsensical demands. “No, I just—that was one of the weird dreams I’ve been getting. There was a small fish mermaid, and eels, and this octopus lady who had a contract she was making the little mermaid sign to…I don’t know, go on land, I think? But it’s only recently it’s been mermaids, before that it was lions and then it was queens and cards, and…what’s that look?”
He’s staring intently at you, ears forward and pupils so much larger than they are in the day.
“The Witch of the Sea.” He says, so low that you almost have to strain your ears to hear him. “That’s who the mermaid was making a deal with. The Witch of the Sea, whose benevolence is the basis for Octavinelle House.”
You feel yourself waking up so quickly it’s like caffeine has been injected straight into your veins.
“Then the, the previous two sets of dreams?” You ask, hardly daring to believe your luck.
“The Queen of Hearts, of Heartslaybul.” His eyes dart away from you. “And…the King of the Beasts. For Savannaclaw.”
You gape at him.
You need your notebook, you need to write this all down, this, this is—!
“How’d you not even know who they were?” There’s stifled amusement in Kingscholar-san’s voice as you tear through your clothes from yesterday at the end of your futon, trying to find it.
“I only started hearing about them when I arrived here this year, forgive me if I can’t identify them on sight yet.” You retort, finally finding the little spiral notebook in the pocket of your blazer.
Something long and thin tickles beneath your chin, something fluffy at the end flicking your cheek.
You rear away from it, falling backwards.
You hit something warm and solid and upright, rather than the quickly cooling sheets of your futon. Your position puts you in the ideal position to look up and see Kingscholar-san smirking down at you as you’re caged between his chest and knees.
Oh Seven help you, this is too dangerous.
“I won’t say this isn’t a surprise.” He starts, as the fluffy thing comes back to flick your chin again. His tail. “But it’s not. Hm. There are worse people in this school who could be my soulmate than you, I guess.”
Ice slides down your spine.
“Who,” You rasp as you push yourself up and away. “Who the hell told you?!”
Grim hasn’t been away from you long enough to say anything to Kingscholar, either with you or serving in the Monstro Lounge. Ace may have teased you about it before the Magift Tournament, but after, he clammed up and would always change the subject when someone tried to ask you about it. Deuce is the same, though that doesn’t mean he didn’t blurt something out on accident. Maybe Jack? But no, Jack didn’t know, and even if he did he’s the kind of guy whose moral compass would never—
“What?” Kingscholar-san’s face is a mask of confusion. “You just—”
“And if this is some,” You can feel your face twist as you spit it out, heart pounding double time with hurt. “Pity thing, trying to make the poor, arrogant Prefect feel better because it’s unrequited, then I’d like you to stop, right now. I don’t need to be pandered to, not about something like this.”
His eyebrows lower until he’s giving you a steely glare, and his voice has gone cold. “The hell does that mean?”
“Don’t play dumb.” You snap, one hand coming to rub the wrist where your cover lies. “I have your Words, but you don’t have mine anywhere on you. Your dorm uniform is sleeveless, and I’ve seen you without gloves.”
Rather than looking away from you, shame-faced, or admitting to you straight that it was all one big game, to see how he can toy with the person who’s devoted to him but not the other way around, Kingscholar-san says something that leaves you aghast.
“Words? What kind of bullshit are you spouting now?”
You yank up your hoodie sleeve and attack the fastenings on your cover with a ferocity you didn’t know you had, letting it land on a sleeping Grim with a thwap as you shove the underside of your wrist into his face.
He blinks, pushing it back, eyes flicking back and forth as he reads your Words. “What? When did you get this…?”
“I’ve had this since I was four years old!” You cry. “The first Words my soulmate will ever say to me, the way I’ll know who he is, and trust me, if I could have gotten them to Resolve as something else, I would.”
His mouth works soundlessly for a moment, before he says, “That’s not. Soulmates don’t have that.”
You scoff, incredulous. Of all the lame excuses…! “Yes. They do.”
“No, they don’t.” He insists, glaring. “Not in this world.”
“Then why,” You are half a second from either tearing your hair out or punching him in the face and only the gods and the Seven know which. “Does everyone here wear long sleeves or gloves?!”
That actually stops him up short for a second, before he pinches the bridge of his nose.
“They are part of the uniform.” He stresses, speaking slowly and loudly like he thinks you’re stupid. “But let me guess, in your world, everyone wears them to cover up that.”
“What other reason is there?!” You fling your arms out to the side. “And don’t you dare try to tell me that soulmates don’t exist in this world or whatever, I’ve been hanging around Ace and Riddle for long enough, I know this world has them!”
“Yeah,” He’s scowling at you, and the fact that he still looks hot like this is pissing you off even more. “But here, soulmates find each other by sharing dreams. Like the ones I’ve had to put up with ever since the start of the school year.”
You freeze mid-retort.
So many things start clicking into place. How Ace wasn’t sure Riddle was his soulmate until the morning after their confrontation over the tart. Why Deuce has so many questions about the meaning of gold in dreams when you’re all meant to be studying in private. The dumb jokes Ace makes about Riddle “keeping him up at night” that have the dorm head turning red and beheading him.
“But why didn’t anyone tell me?” Escapes you in a plaintive murmur.
“I dunno. Why didn’t you tell me that you knew what we were from the moment we met?” Kingscholar-san snipes back.
You scoff, “Oh right, when was I meant to tell you again? When you had your hand in my mouth? Oh! Or maybe it was while telling me that I had arrogance that surpassed even a lion’s when I was worrying about you?”
He face twists into a snarl. “After the overblot then! We were in the infirmary for three days together!”
“And I thought I’d just discovered that my soul bond was unrequited!” You insist, feeling your teeth grit. “I couldn’t put that on you! Not then and certainly not now!”
“And why not?!”
“Because, of all the people in this stupid, insane, dysfunctional, twisted world, you’re the one who shouldn’t have to settle for second-best!” You only realize you’re yelling after the words leave your mouth.
Kingscholar-senpai is staring at you, ears almost flat against his head.
Grim is also staring at you, from where he’s hiding under the covers.
“It’s just…You deserve first prize when it comes to stuff like this.” You finish lamely. “You shouldn’t have to settle for me if you don’t need to.”
Your cheeks are burning, your head is spinning. Why, oh why did you say something so, so melodramatic and stupid?!
“Uh…” There’s a haphazard knock on the doorframe. Buchie-senpai looks incredibly awkward as he continues. “Sorry to interrupt, but, uh. Morning practice?”
“Morning practice! Right!” You have never been happier for an escape. “I-uh-Grim and I need to get ready!”
You scoop Grim up, ignoring his cry of, “But I’m cozy!”
You aren’t afraid to say you run as fast as your legs can physically take you.
“Please tell me you and Riddle have each others’ Words.” You beg Ace when you meet up with him, Deuce and Jack.
Ace has the audacity to blink at you, bewildered. “Wh-words? Prefect, what the hell are you talking about?”
You take a moment to hide your face in your hands and scream.
That day’s attempts to discover a way to destroy the contract are almost a complete failure.
It’s only thanks to running into Tsunotaro the gargoyle enthusiast outside of Ramshackle that you can add the “almost”.
His words about statuary and forms not matching up to function are bouncing around your head even as you make your slow way back to Savannaclaw. It feels like it should be significant in some way, but how—
“Where the hell have you been?”
You’d forgot that coming back here means dealing with him.
“I went to Ramshackle out of habit.” You say breezily, proud of yourself for how you can project nonchalance into your tone. “Ended up talking to a friend who gave me some advice about the situation.”
Kingscholar-san stares at you for a moment, before turning over with a scoff. Dismissing your existence.
Maybe it’s like Vanrouge-senpai said. Leona Kingscholar isn’t the type to expend the energy fighting for what he sees as lost causes.
You huff at the painful twinge in your chest from that thought. You’re over him, you’re over him, you didn’t pour all the blood and sweat into repairing Ramshackle to not be over him by now.
Instead you begin to clean under Buchie-senpai’s instructions, picking up the mess strewing the room—and keeping Grim from pocketing your apparently-not-so-unrequited-soulmate’s valuables along the way.
Which leads to an argument where Buchie-senpai nags Kingscholar-san to hide his valuable before they get stolen, only for your soulmate to retort that he’d like to meet the person who had the guts to steal from him, which makes sense because if he’s truly that confident in his ability to stop a thief, why would—!
It finally clicks.
“…vore? Herbivore. Yuu.”
“Hm?” You shake a little, coming back to yourself from where your mind is racing. “Sorry, what is it?”
“You just shouted really loudly, fgnah!” Grim protests. “Made all my fur stand up…”
“Grim.” You kneel down, putting your hands on his little shoulders. “If the contracts really are invincible and untouchable, why does Azul need a safe?”
Grim stares at you, little eyebrows furrowed. “…Because he needs them protected?”
Behind you, Kingscholar-senpai begins to laugh. “Now I see. You’ve thought of something pretty interesting, haven’t you?”
“Eh, so that’s how it is…” Buchie-senpai rubs his chin. “But still, you’re forgetting a pretty big obstacle if you wanna exploit this.”
“Those eel bastards!” Grim spits, hackles raising again. “They chased us around so much today, and made me work so hard in the Lounge…if I had my fire magic, I’d make sushi outta them, y’know!”
“No, sushi isn’t cooked.” Buchie-senpai interjects.
“If only the Leech twins weren’t there…” The gears in your head are turning, a plan forming before your very eyes.
“I’m going to stop you right there.”
You look up to see Kingscholar-senpai frowning. “I’ve got a general idea of what you’re thinking, but let me say right now that I absolutely will not help. I’m not getting involved with troublesome things, and the only thing more troublesome that you is that octopunk. Count me out.”
You can’t deny the hurt that twinges in your chest as he lies back down and turns away from you, even as Grim puffs up at your feet, looking a second away from hissing.
You catch Buchie-senpai facepalming out of the corner of your eye.
That, of all things, is what inspires you to stand and march around the bed until you’re in front of Kingscholar’s face.
“We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.” You declare, folding your arms across your chest.
“Hah?” At least that gets him sitting up.
You tick it off on your fingers. “The easy way is you decide to be nice to your poor, unfortunate soulmate and agree to help us out with my plan. I might even give you a reward for it.”
He shoots you a disinterested look. “And the hard way?”
You smirk at him.
You wish what few hours of sleep you do get aren’t plagued by the dreams.
But no. Instead you’re treated to a montage of the Witch of the Seas actively sabotaging the mermaid until she has the girl’s kingly father in a position to trade everything for his daughter.
“So she was after everything from the start…” You mutter as you feel yourself wake up more.
“Hn.” Comes the grunt from the bed above you. “…How can you look so well-rested after what you did last night. ‘S insulting.”
You smile innocently. “You were the one who wanted it the hard way, senpai.”
There’s a series of noises above you that have you sitting up, frowning in concern. You can’t have him choke to death yet, you’ve got a plan to implement!
Although that reminds you, as you take a seat on the edge of the bed and he watches you warily, that there’s something you need to get through to him before you part ways.
“Whatever you do today,” You warn. “Do not agitate Ashengrotto-senpai. No boasting, no bragging, no giving false hope, nothing that could drag his mental state down. Just destroy the contracts quietly and leave. We do not need another overblot on our hands.”
Kingscholar-senpai groans. “Quit nagging herbivore. I know what I’m doing.”
Which is funny really, because this?
This situation right here, where Ashengrotto-senpai is in the middle of overblotting, screaming about how he’s not going back to being a “lame ink-squirting crybaby”?
This does not look like Leona knows what he’s doing.
You attempt to communicate this to him through gaze alone before beginning to rally everyone plus Jade and Floyd to take Azul down.
At least this overblot is a bit better than Kingscholar-senpai’s in that it seems to be fuel more by lashing out at the nearest targets rather than coldly calculating which targets are the best to attack in its quest to murder everyone.
Unfortunately, as you dart forward to drag Floyd-senpai back when he won’t get out of the line of fire himself, that includes you as well.
In a heartbeat, one of the phantom’s tentacles curls around your arm and shoulder.
You don’t have the breath in your lungs to scream.
It begins dragging you towards where Ashengrotto-senpai is waiting, trident at the ready—!
Sand, floating away in the water around you, as the phantom thrashes in agony, the disintegrating tentacle threatening the rest of the body before Ashengrotto-senpai lops it off.
An arm snags you about the waist, pulling you tight to Kingscholar-senpai’s side even as it’s careful not to jostle where your shoulder’s been dislocated.
He doesn’t let you go until the fight’s over.
You go to bed in your Ramshackle Dorm that night, uneasy.
Sure, you resolved the issue with Ashengrotto-senpai and now know the truth about this world’s soulmates, much to Ace and Floyd-senpai’s teasing, but Kingscholar-senpai sloped off without a word once he’d taken you to the infirmary again. You still don’t know where you stand with him, if there’s anything you could still make of this or if that ship has sailed, if he has any idea why these dreams are coming to you or even what they are. You just! You don’t know. You don’t know if he knows either.
The dreams are waiting for you the moment you close your eyes.
The first one isn’t so bad, if a little unsettling. Your mirror glowing and an odd voice resounding from its depths doesn’t even ping your weirdness sensor too much anymore, sadly.
But then you shift, dropping deeper into sleep.
And come face to face with the monster again.
It’s head is maned with large, grasping tentacles, and Floyd-senpai lies several paces behind it, already torn in two, mismatched eyes staring at you accusingly.
Jack and Leona are the only two between you and it, and you try to remember how it’s gone other nights, how you can possibly beat it or hold it off long enough to make an opening for all of you to escape.
A sweep of a tentacle and Jack meets the same fate as Floyd-senpai. Torn to bits as if he’s a discarded toy.
Leona shoves you behind him, away from him his mouth forming the word “RUN!”
You scream as the teeth close around his chest, shaking him like a rag doll before tossing him away.
You stumble to his corpse, begging him to get up, look at you, anything, Leona, don’t leave you, not like this, please—!
You can’t even bring yourself to run even as the grasping hands close around you.
You’re coated in sweat. Your dislocated shoulder aches.
You ignore it all as you lurch from the bed, non dominant hand grabbing the charcoal as you tug out the paper from under the bed with a foot.
You have to—you can’t let—if you can just—!
A sob is trapped in your throat.
You sit up the rest of the night, staring at the monstrosity forming before your eyes.
Even when the light under the curtains turns from black to dark blue, you do not. Take your gaze. Off of it.
It doesn’t really surprise you when you hear a thunderous pounding on the door downstairs.
Startle you? Yes.
But you can guess who it is with almost comical ease.
You shoot a wary glance at the drawing, but. You already took your eyes off it. If it was going to do anything, it would’ve done so by now.
The pounding starts up again.
You groan as you get to your feet, wanting to itch at your shoulder under the sling as you troop down the cold stairs. “M coming, ‘m coming.”
You yank open the door to see Kingscholar-senpai standing there.
He doesn’t look like he’s slept either.
“It is,” You inform him gravely. “Not even five in the morning. Why are you here.”
He snorts as he steps past you into the building. “Don’t ask questions we both know the answer to.”
You sigh as you shut and lock the door behind him.
“Huh.” He says as he heads up the stairs. “It’s less…run-down than I was expecting.”
“Thanks.” You retort, your verbal filter not quite as awake as you are. “Fixing it up was my project to get over an unrequited soulmate.”
He gives you an unamused stare.
“…Sorry.” You rub the back of your head. “I promise I’m not actually trying to start a fight every time we talk. It’s just…”
“Hn.” He grins at you for some reason. “Ruggie says I have that effect on people. That it’s my ‘winning personality.’”
After a moment, you smile back. “Well, I suppose that’s one way to put it.”
He looks around your room with interest.
Right up until he notices your wall by the door. “King’s balls!”
“Shh!” You hush. “Grim’s still sleeping!”
You both pause for a moment, listening hard. Grim smacks his lips in his sleep and rolls over onto his tummy, his paws coming up to cover his ears.
“Honestly,” Kingscholar-senpai huffs. “Warn me before you show me all. All this.”
You look at your wall, the names of your friends and their connections to recent overblots, the dreams, and any literature which could contribute to your understanding of these events all neatly connected with pushpins and red thread.
“It’s not that bad.” You say, limply.
He raises an eyebrow in your direction. “Sure. Why’d you have all this anyway? Seems…excessive.”
You scrub a fist over your eyes, exhaustion setting in. “I just…these dreams. They feel way too real to be just dreams, right? And you said that they’re of twisted versions of the myths of the Great Seven, which somehow connect to the dorm that has something going on. Usually by reflecting the actions of the one about to overblot. So if I can understand them, maybe, maybe get ahead of them somehow…”
You scratch at your sling. Kingscholar-senpai catches your hand, and you smile weakly at him. “These kinds of dreams didn’t start until after the first overblot. The monster in the Dwarf Mines that was so far gone that it didn’t even have a person attached anymore. And then there’s…you know.”
You gesture to where the drawing sits on the floor.
Kingscholar-senpai actually lets out a small snarl at the sight of it.
“If it were just a stress dream, something my subconscious is coming up with to process all this, this stuff I’m going through, that’d be ine.” You ramble, feeling slightly feverish. “But that dream only ever comes the night after an overblot, not, not more frequently like a normal stress dream. I’m scared that it’s somehow trying to tell me that this…thing is coming. And, and I’m getting more and more injured with every overblot, so unless I can find a way to counteract them, stop them, I’m not sure I can save—I’ll—!”
To your horror, there are hot tears sliding down your cheeks. You try to mop them up on your hoodie, sniffing hard. “…Sorry.”
You look up to see him standing there, with his arms crossed over his chest. “Where do we start?”
Leona-senpai gives you an unimpressed look. “Don’t be stupid. Admittedly, if you tried to tell me about this without the dreams, I’d’ve told the crow to get you a therapist. Maybe stop pushing all his duties onto a first year, let alone the one who doesn’t have magic, before you have a mental breakdown.”
“Gee, thanks.” You say, voice flat, but a smile is trying to quirk the corners of your mouth.
“But we do share the dreams.” He scruffs a hand through his bangs, gaze flickering over your wall before landing on you. “And as much as I’d love to wash my hands of this and say it’s someone else’s problem, this stuff is targeting my soulmate. And how could I say I’m the dorm head of Savannaclaw if I just stood aside and let my soulmate get preyed on without helping you fight back?”
Leona-senpai almost seems shy as he suddenly avoids your gaze. “The King of the Beasts wouldn’t. He defended his lioness and cubs to the last. It’s only natural I’d do the same for you.”
You can’t quite help the watery laugh that escapes you at that.
At the sight of his ears going flat, you raise your hands. “Sorry! Sorry, I’m not, not mocking you or anything, it’s just. I don’t think I knew how much I needed to hear someone say that. To hear you say that.”
Pride is still an annoyingly good look on him. You find you like it more when it’s paired with the soft smile he’s favoring you with now.
“As for where to start…” You gnaw at your thumbnail. “Ah, right. We’ve talked about the dreams about the Great Seven, and of the, that, but what about the mirror dreams? What did you make of them?”
“Mirror dreams?” Ah, his expression of confusion. An old friend which is wearing out its welcome.
“Yeah, you know? The dreams where that mirror is glowing? And there’s knocking from behind it, and tonight there was a weird voice saying something that I couldn’t make out.” He still is staring at you, blank-faced. “It happened before the monster dream…?”
“Yuu,” You can’t even enjoy the shiver that goes through you from hearing him say your name with how serious he sounds. “I haven’t had any dreams like that.”
But then…that means….
You both glance over at the mirror.
The laugh you let out is more than a bit hysterical. You fold forward until you hit his chest.
“Fi-figures.” You hiccup, trying to keep what little composure you can. “Even on top of all of this, there’s always something, right? No rest for the wicked.”
His heartbeat is reassuring at least, as is the low growl that’s rumbling through him and into you.
You yelp as an arm sweeps under your legs. You find yourself grabbing at his sleep shirt as he marches over to the bed and clambers onto it, arranging himself and you so that he forms a wall between you and the mirror.
“Le-Leona-senpai! Wh-what are?” It’s hard to remember to keep your volume down. Grim snuffles behind him and lets out another snore.
“We haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a day.” He says as he arranges you to his liking, his tail coiling around your leg. “And we’re both too tired to deal with this bullshit. Whatever it is, it can wait until morning. Maybe even later.”
“B-but-?!” You protest, even as your eyes feel heavy.
“Sleep.” His voice rumbles beneath your ear, and his arm is warm around you, coaxing your muscles to relax of their own accord.
Well, with an order like that, you can hardly disobey, can you?