Kamen Rider Calliope
Myth 1, Part 5
Classes had all ended by the time Kaname left the study club room without success. She stalked down the hall, watching other students marching merrily homeward, and felt the stinging annoyance that she still had to be here when she hadn’t even ended up attending any of her own classes that day. But this wasn’t about her right now. It seemed that Hikaru hadn’t spent much time at study club; his classmates had mentioned him looking sickly and distracted, but he had rebuffed suggestions to go home early, instead announcing his intention to continue studying in the library.
Kaname never had a particularly high opinion of libraries; she figured anything that was worth taking the time to print into a book was probably already somewhere on the internet for free if she ever wanted it. Also apparently you had to be real quiet in the library, a requirement that had not gelled well with elementary-school age Kaname and her over-excitable attitude of needing to ANNOUNCE her OPINIONS and FEELINGS at ANY POINT THEY CROSSED HER MIND. She had grown out of that habit, but the many injustices of being harshly silenced still haunted her. (Thus, being the reasonable and level-headed person she was, she had not stepped foot into any library for more than ten years).
Kaname passed swiftly through the detector gates (in case someone tried to steal a book? Come on now. Remember that thing about the internet?) and preemptively glared down the student librarian in case the oppressor of voices tried to hinder Kaname in her mission. Well good, the mousy bespectacled girl seemed ready to melt behind the reception desk from the unaccountable hostility. Come on now, way to stick to stereotypes in hiring personnel.
Hikaru had a whole section of tables to himself on the second floor balcony area, books and papers radiating outward from where he was hunched over in his chair. He took no notice of Kaname as she drew close, so she had a good chance to visually hunt for the pen she had given him. Unfortunately it was nowhere in plain sight, so she made herself known.
He gave no indication that he heard her, even from a couple feet away. Kaname caught herself before upping the volume on her greeting, and instead imposed herself into his personal space by knocking on the page he was supposedly reading.
“Hey, egghead. If you stare that hard you’ll peel the ink off the pages.”
Hikaru looked up at her without any kind of surprised response, and Kaname was the one who got the small shock. He looked even worse now than he did earlier that same day; it looked like he had missed three days of sleep within the space of a few hours.
“Jeezus, Yasuda. What’s going on with you?”
Hikaru dropped his heavy gaze back onto his book. “Nothing. Just studying. Trying to. I need to pass this exam. Like I said earlier.”
“Sure, I get it, but is an exam really worth wrecking your health over? It seems like you’re getting our soul sucked out by this study bender you’re doing.” Or maybe by certain tools you’re using to study with, Kaname thought, conducting another visual search for the pen while casually lifting up covers and flipping papers under the guise of being passingly interested in the subjects Hikaru was pouring himself into.
Hikaru’s hands followed hers around the table, correcting the tiny adjustments she made to his study area. “I’ll be fine. It’s just a cold or something, I can sleep it off as soon as this exam is done. Health gets better, bad test marks don’t.”
“Pshaw. There’ll always be other tests, Yasuda. They gave ‘em out like candy back in high-school, and believe me when I say I crapped out on most of ‘em. This is college now, you should be having more fun, rather than wasting your sanity on getting top marks.”
Hikaru got ahead of Kaname’s meddling and snapped a book closed before she had the chance to ruffle its pages.
“If that’s all you’re here for, that’s just fine for you. But don’t get the idea that everyone is like that. Despite its smaller size, Yuon University is still considered one of the most prestigious institutions in the prefecture. And no one could say it’s easy to get into.”
Kaname backed off a bit, seeing Hikaru’s open resistance to her search would hinder anything more. “I’m not really here to have fun either. Or for studying, really. Honestly the main reason I’m here is for… someone else.”
Expecting spite or disappointment, Hikaru’s response caught her off-guard. His weary expression softened just a bit and he leaned back in his chair, his gaze weaving between the bright lights hanging above them.
“I could say the same thing, in a way. I had this friend back in high-school, we were both really interested in engineering. We weren’t the most popular kids, but together we were able to delve into our hobby so that not much else bothered us. We both had our sights set on Yuon pretty early on. This place has the best engineering program in Hokkaido, and probably top ten in Japan. We started studying for the exam months before most other kids would be going to cram schools. My friend had a thing for integrating measurements and dimensions in his head that always amazed me… I was envious, but it never got in the way of our friendship, and while I think we both knew he was the smarter of us, we kept on encouraging each other right up to the day of the entrance exam.”
Kaname had quietly perched on a seat across from Hikaru, who was now lost in his own memories.
“The test was even harder than I was expecting. I was sweating bullets through the whole thing… I thought I was gonna have an ulcer. We both put up confident faces when we met up after the exam, and I tried to not let on how unsure I was of passing. I had no real doubt about him though. And in a way, I was fine with that; with him going to Yuon and me finding another college that suited my abilities better. It only made sense, in a way. But…”
“He’s not here, is he.” Kaname finished his story, sensing Hikaru was nearing the end of his emotional fortitude.
Hikaru shook his head slowly. “But I am, somehow. It makes no sense. He said it was due to stupid calculation errors. I’ve never seen him make those before. But I know he wouldn’t throw the test for any reason; he must have wanted this more than me. I know I got a lot of questions wrong. But still… It doesn’t make sense.”
Kaname felt a lot of things rise up in her chest, surprising her at how many emotions she was feeling for another person she still barely knew, but now suddenly knew too much to not care. She held herself back, however, sensing that Hikaru wasn’t finished.
“My friend’s a ronin now, studying so he can take the exam for next spring. If it was just a stupid fluke that he didn’t pass last time, I can’t imagine him not being here next year. So until then… I need to do my best, for the both of us. If he got here, or if… something else happened, and I wasn’t performing at my highest potential, I wouldn’t be able to face him again. It would just be cruel.”
Hikaru suddenly stood up and began shoving books into his bag. “There will always be other tests. And I’m not going to shirk off a single one of them. And tomorrow, I know I’ll be getting the top score in our class.”
Hikaru darted away from the table towards the library exit. Kaname recalled she had a mission and quickly caught up with him. “Well, good luck with that. Sorry, I forgot to tell you I actually came by to get back the pen I lent you the other day.”
Hikaru barely slowed his pace. “Sorry, I don’t have it on me right now. I’ll find it for you after the test tomorrow.”
“Wh- I mean… okay, whatever.” Kaname stopped hounding him and let Hikaru slip through the electronic sensors and out the door. She hadn’t really meant to let him go so easily, but from her earlier years of dealing with confrontational people (and having been an excellent example herself), she had a sense that Hikaru wasn’t going to give up the stupid tool without a fight. A fight she would invariably win, but grappling a scrawny twink into submission in the middle of the library might not have great consequences later on. (The high-school therapist had considered this late-developed judgement skill to be the crowning achievement of Kaname’s many hours of working with her).
And so, tomorrow. The pain from Kaname’s wound was still unignorable, but the throbbing was becoming duller and less concentrated, as if whoever was punching her repeatedly in the ribs was finally getting bored and/or tired of the act. She attended her two classes that day and actually took a stab at some of the homework that had piled up for her. It wasn’t an easy process, but she answered all of the questions. Correct answers, who could say, but answers nonetheless. The music theory professor’s tutoring style was still as obnoxiously cramped as ever, as he had to move her hand out of the way several times before he could jab at whatever was underneath it on the paper. Once again, she felt that he had the potential to be a good teacher if he ever bothered to unhitch the massive trailer of his ego that he towed around everywhere, imposing and unavoidable and probably full of something you didn’t really care about.
More importantly, she didn’t run into the Ancient Cultures Research Club members today. She didn’t mind interacting with Kokonoka out of the usual context, but she didn’t feel like she had left the clubhouse yesterday on a good note. There was the unspoken challenge Kaname had put forth that she would retrieve the Wonderpen without using Kamen Rider Calliope’s powers, and prove that part-time poltergeist wrong about how much she needed the damn thing glued to her. Hikaru’s exam was over now, so theoretically she’d be able to convince him to return it today. After her final class let out, Kaname rushed to the classroom she knew he had taken the test in (after a bit of snooping about). His class had been earlier in the day, but the teacher had already managed to grade the tests and post the scores on a sheet outside the doorway.
Yasuda Hikaru – perfect score. Number one on the list. Second place hadn’t even come close; the teacher would likely have to curve the grades pretty hard to avoid other kids like Hikaru getting aneurysms after seeing their scores. She was genuinely amazed that the kid had managed that even in his zombie-like state, which she expected had only worsened in the hours before the exam.
Kaname was ready to think no more of it and run off to search for Hikaru, but a couple of engineering students who had been staying late in the classroom suddenly made their exit and stopped to look at the result sheet.
“Shit. There’s Yasuda with a perfect score, again. How the hell does he even do it.”
“I dunno, he’s been on fire the last few days in study club. I think he aced all the practice tests as well. With the way he looks there was a rumor he was on some weird drugs or something. Honestly, if it makes you into a genius overnight, hook me up.”
“Shut up. If you ask me, the only thing he’s been taking is a few good doses of “teacher’s answer sheets”. No one gets that smart that fast and he’s more desperate than most folks in there to act like he’s something more than average.”
“You really think that’s it?”
Kaname didn’t bother to hear the rest of their conversation; the matter had already been settled for her. She was angry, both at Hikaru, and at herself for not putting the pieces together earlier. That anger carried her out onto the quad, where for the first time she actually found who she was looking for.
“Yasuda! Oy, Yasuda!”
Hikaru turned around to face her, and his gaunt complexion didn’t surprise her in the least this time.
“What the hell, man. I gave you the benefit of the doubt yesterday, but now I see that was a mistake.”
Hikaru narrowed his bloodshot eyes at her. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I need to go and study now.”
“Like hell you do. You don’t need to study at all. Hand over the pen, like you said you would. Or, maybe you won’t, since it’s helping you cheat?”
Hikaru froze in his tracks, and Kaname saw the grip he had on his bag tighten instinctively.
“There I was, buying up your story about your friend like a sucker. Performing at your highest potential and all that shit… Yasuda, if everything else is true, why are you doing this? How can you possibly believe your friend would be okay with this?”
“Leave me alone!” Hikaru responded with the loudest voice Kaname had ever heard him speak in, which was still only enough to make a couple people walking by do a double-take. “This isn’t your business. I’ve come too far to stop now, mid-terms are coming up. I would absolutely fail them since… if I didn’t have the pen. And as long as I’m getting good results, who cares how it’s happening. I wouldn’t be able to do this on my own. I’m just not smart enough. This is so much harder than it was in high-school… There’s no way I would be able to keep up the pace.”
“Hikaru… Look dude, I feel you on that. But like, I think that’s sorta what classes and studying are for, right?”
“What’s it to you? You barely go to class, right? You said yourself you don’t have a good reason to be here. And yet here you are. Why is someone like you here when my friend isn’t? Why are you taking up a space that he could have? Tell me that.”
Kaname couldn’t. She was furious, and upset, and confused as to how to deal with Hikaru’s aggression, when punching his lights out wouldn’t make the problem go away. What’s more, it already felt like he had punched her in the gut, and unlike most physical blows, this one was threatening to make her tear up.
“Damn it Yasuda, I don’t know. I can’t fix that. But I can fix you, and I’m going to because you’re an asshole and my friend, I think. So I’m taking that goddamn pen offa you.”
She stepped forward to do just that, but she didn’t move forward. She stepped again, and no progress was made. Her vision began to play tricks on her, as she saw the ground beginning to shudder and squirm about, like the grass had come alive and was very unhappy with that prospect. Her stomach turned upside down, upsetting all her other organs in the process, as Kaname recognized the feeling that came with this sudden fever-dream experience. She turned around, too slowly for how much she was trying, and saw the monster again.
~~ Next Time, in Part 6~~
It’s time for Round Two with the malicious Ektroma, but apparently a lot of pride can fit between her and the Calliope Belt on Kaname’s waist. Will that pride manage to protect her from a potentially-lethal beatdown, and perhaps more importantly, will it protect anyone else in similar danger?
Tune in next Sunday, February 18th, 9:00a.m. EST!