Heroes: Into a New World

Chapter 2

Two weeks. Two weeks after the fiasco with the thicklipped boy. Out of all these two weeks, the Heroes only went back to school once. Once. Elwin was quite irritated, but Lily was infuriated. She was, after all, the one in charge of making sure they do not get expelled. And them being missing for a week is not an easy job to remove. She had to manipulate the attendance to at least include them in, though, she couldn't manipulate the entire school to remember seeing them. It wasn't that easy.

The Heroes were a little ashamed, apologizing profusely. They had gone to help Cartalion to clear a little of Hilla's undead army, while preventing Magnus from meeting her. It would have been disastrous. They had been at it for a week before Cartlion said that the army would take some time to recover, sending the Heroes back to recuperate. Once they got their break, all the Heroes rushed back to Henesys, only to find two very annoyed mages.

Elwin forgave them after their explanations, but Lily was still irritated. There had been a test that week, and she had to manipulate their scores to ensure they stayed in school and did not need to see any teachers. She gave them a harsh scolding, before sending them along the way.

The Heroes parted at the staircase again. Phantom, Luminous and Shade just entered the classroom, rubbing their sore bodies from fighting the two commanders when they heard a scream. Jumping into action, they rushed into the classroom to see Orchid looking devastated. Everyone else just stared in shock. No enemies were around. The guys looked around, confused. Cautiously, in order not to provoke the person behind him, Shade walked up to Orchid. "Is everything okay?"

Orchid shook her head vigorously, her face white. Her hand shook ad she gave Shade the letter. He took one look at it, and his expression fell. Woah. Phantom and Luminous peeked over his shoulder, and both gasped.

A threatening letter. They could not make sense of the smudged ink, but the words visible formed a message that not even the Heroes would be able to forget. A stalker was on the loose. But before they could speak, the teacher came in. Calling everyone to their seats, he frowned when he saw Orchid trembling. The teacher had to take her aside and ask what was going on. As they spoke in low tones, no one could hear their conversation. But it was clear what Orchid said when the teacher's face turned to a shocked expression, then one of anger. He marched down to the office after telling Orchid to calm down. The guys shivered in their seat. Who would write such a thing?

During break, Evan was called into the office for some reason. Peeking in, he saw Aran and Mercedes along with the Cygnus Knight's counterparts, excluding Eckhart and Mihile, along with Nineheart and Cygnus. Mercedes spotted him and beckoned him over.

Nineheart coughed to get the attention of the group before him. "Now that everyone is here, I will explain the situation." He opened his notebook he was holding, flipping through it. "Someone has received a threatening letter this morning. It was a second-year named Orchid. I'm sure you know of her?" Aran opened her mouth to answer, but Mercedes slapped a hand over it.

"No, we don't, Nineheart. Please elaborate." Mercedes replied smoothly, muffling a struggling Aran. When she released the warrior, Aran gave a glare at the elf, who frowned. Evan sighed. They were helping Orchid of all people. They had to go by it carefully, or they might mess up.

Hawkeye stared at them in surprise. Nineheart shook his head. "Hmm, that's a wonder. Orchid is a famous idol. Although I don't watch television much, even I know of her name."

Evan quickly put in, "We don't really get around much. So we don't know her as well as you do!"

Hawkeye shook his head. "Guys, Orchid is the idol. Her popularity exceeds this place!"

Oz piped up. "She's not that nice as a person, though. She's cold as ice!"

Hawkeye huffed, folding his arms. "Yeah. There was this time when I saw her eating alone. I asked her if I could join her, and she gave me the stink eye." He looked irritated, to which Irena laughed.

She sighed, "Anyone would have gotten the same treatment, but if it's you, Hawkeye, I say, no wonder." Hawkeye seemed to register her words, and glared at Irena. "Hey!"

Oz giggled. Nineheart frowned, before speaking in a loud voice. "I asked you three to come here to help me, not to bicker. Aran and Mercedes, I asked you because I do believe Orchid would open up to you. Evan, you were here because out of all of us, you are the least likely to have given Orchid that letter," he reasoned. Gesturing to the empty space, Nineheart continued, "Mihile and Eckhart are currently busy with their own club activities, and therefore are unable to make it. Eunwol and Phantom are working to keep the rumors down. Luminous is running late, though."

Speak of the devil. The doors opened and Luminous ran in, a little out of breath. He looked extremely irritated. Glaring at Nineheart, he took a while to calm down, before speaking. "Sorry. Aka... Mr. Akarium would not let me go until I finished the extra homework he gave me." He quickly changed his words when Nineheart gave him a calm and even stare, making him shiver in his uniform.

Nineheart sighed. "Evan, would you do us a favor and get that letter from Orchid? The rest of us would stay here and prepare to find the culprit." Evan nodded, rushing off to find Orchid.

He came up to the second-years' classroom, slipping in easily. He saw Orchid standing, and quickly made his way over. "Uhm, Orchid?"

Orchid gave him a cold stare, before waving him over. “The student Council President asked you to find me. You finally came." She seemed to be rather irritated than scared. Evan cleared his throat nervously. Orchid continued to complain. “I didn’t come to school to get threatened! What have I done to deserve this? I can’t understand who would want to threaten such a cute, pretty and charming girl like me,” she ranted, while Evan stood there, fearful of her wrath. If she was anything like the Orchid they knew...

Evan cleared his throat, asking quietly, “What did it say?”

Orchid turned and snorted. “What it said? You can take it for yourself to read! Catch that stalker, if it’s the last thing you do!” With that, she stormed out of the classroom. Evan hurriedly took the letter and rushed down to the office.

He came down to see Phantom and Shade already there. Handing the letter to Nineheart, the Heroes waited for a complete misunderstanding. Nineheart smiled kindly at Evan. "Thank you, Evan."

Oz took the letter, examining it. “It’s a little damp. Other than that, looks like a simple love letter to me.”

Irena frowned at it, folding her arms. “It is possible she over exaggerated, given her temper and need for attention.”

Nineheart shook his head. “Let’s see the contents, shall we?” He took the letter from Oz with a handkerchief and gingerly opened it. Taking out the letter, he flipped it open. Everyone crammed behind him, trying to see what was written.

The only visible words were: Dearest Orchid, must, you, be, couple, will, and yours truly.

Nineheart paled, and the people behind him gasped. There was one thing that everyone knew.

A dangerous stalker was on the loose.

Oz cried out first, “Oh god! This is wrong!”

“She may not have been a nice person, but even I would not wish this on her.” Irena looked worried.

Nineheart closed the letter. Shaking his head, he spoke, “This is really a threatening letter. She wasn’t overreacting at all.” The Heroes remained silent, processing the information. To be honest, the letter did not make any sense, and there was something that didn’t fit. Evan found himself wondering what the smudged letters were. What if they formed a more coherent sentence. Aran looked confused, while Mercedes was thoughtful. The guys just looked puzzled.

“I swear on my grandfather’s name that I will find that stalker! This is unforgivable!” Oz looked fired up. Mercedes suddenly nodded. “Yes. This is not right. Whoever it is must be stopped at once, for the safety of everyone else!” She declared. The Heroes exchanged glances. Seems like even Mercedes was taking the ‘stalker’ business a little more seriously than the rest of them. Then again, stalking was a very difficult thing to do back in the Maple World, but not impossible. It might be that Mercedes had experienced such a thing before.

Or it could just be her race’s history with humans. It was probably the latter.

Irena sighed. “You two… I don’t think you have to swear on your grandfather’s name, though, Oz.” Oz shook her head, her eyes glittering. She had taken out a magnifying glass and started to examine the paper. She called out to Mercedes.

Pointing her magnifying glass at Mercedes and waving it at the other Heroes, she yelled, “Some serious psychopath must have done this! They smudged the ink on purpose to stir up even more terror in the reader!” Oz turned to the Heroes, who seemed a little taken aback by her attitude on this. Evan in particular, who believed the smudged ink was by accident, taking into account the damp paper.

But now that he thought about it, was he being tricked?

Oz continued confidently, “Fortunately, I can see some fingerprints left on the sticker here used to close the letter. Mercedes, could you and your group over there get me some powder and brushes from the science lab?” The Heroes blinked slowly. Mercedes nodded, while Aran, after thinking about it for a long while, nodded.

Evan raised a hand. “Uhm, what’s fingerprints?”

Oz looked somewhat surprised. “It’s the prints left by your hands, silly! You know, look at your hands! Can’t you see little swirls around them? Those are your fingerprints. Wherever you touch, fingerprints are left behind.” Evan looked surprised.

He turned to Phantom behind him. “Is that why you wear gloves all the time?”

Phantom chose to hurry after the girls instead.

In the science lab, the Heroes quickly walked through the desks, only to find a dog sitting at the back. Elwin?

Shade walked over and patted him, asking, “What brings you here?”

The dog sat down, tilting his head. “That’s the question I should be asking you. The monsters in here aren’t cleared yet. They are all in the Dust Zone.” Shade explained everything to him again, and Elwin frowned. “A threatening letter? Sounds bad.” He got up and walked over to the portal, pointing a paw at it.

“I saw some Dusties grab some powder and brushes before I finished. Maybe they are all in there.” The Heroes nodded, though Luminous grumbled, “Why are the Dusties always taking what we need at the most crucial times?”

They rushed in, with Aran yelling, “COMBAT TRAINING!”, and proceeded to mop the floor with Dusties. Not that it was that clean, but it would do. Sitting at the science lab, they exchanged potions. Their clothes were torn and tattered again, and Aran’s clothes were slightly green from the poison.

Aran sighed. “So why are we their errand dogs again?” Everyone simply shrugged.

“Probably because we are the most gullible of them all. However, the experience points gained from training on those Dusties are quite worth the trouble.” Shade pointed out. Everyone agreed. The only complain Phantom had was that the clothes were too flimsy.

“They tear easily! Totally not made for combat!”

“But they aren’t, Phantom,” replied Mercedes, picking at her own uniform. “The students here study all day, not fight.”

Once fully rested, they picked up ten containers full of powder known as Aluminium powder, as well as three brushes. They hurried down in their bloody and tattered clothes once again and presented it to Oz, who blinked. Hawkeye snickered. “Did you guys get into a fight again?” They shook their heads no, while Nineheart glared at them.

“We, uh, had a nail stuck on these clothes. So we accidentally hurt ourselves!” Aran threw in an excuse. Shade planted a hand on his face. Nineheart’ expression said it all. He didn’t believe them one bit. Oz yelled out then.

“I don’t need three brushes, guys! I only have two hands! And I’m pretty sure one container of powder is enough.” Oz looked shocked at the amount. Evan piped up, “But excess is better!” The Heroes nodded.

Shade put in, “You might destroy the brush. And use more aluminium powder than you think you would.”

“But that’s still too much! Ten containers for one small sticker?!”

Irena shook her head. “Come on, Oz. Let’s get to work.”

Oz sighed, and grinned. “I’ll show you what the Captain of the Mystery Book Club is capable of!” She started to put the powder on the sticker, dusting it. The bell rang, and the Heroes returned to class.

When Evan entered the class, Francis called out to him. “Evan? Why did the President call you to the office just now?”

Evan shrugged. “I don’t know. Apparently, Orchid is being targeted by a stalker.” He bent down to pick Mir up, who ‘barked’ and wiggled. Evan walked up to his seat and place Mir beneath the table.

Francis seemed infuriated. “Who dares stalk my beloved Orchid?” Evan staggered back. Was it just him, or…

Nah. It couldn’t be. Not Francis and Orchid, right? Right? Evan was starting to feel nervous. He explained everything to Francis, on how Oz would find the culprit through a fingerprint on the letter Orchid found.

Francis seemed uneasy after that. “S-So the ink on the letter smudged.” Evan nodded.

“Oz thinks whoever wrote it is a psychopath.” He added in helpfully, wondering why Francis seemed so scared. Mir seemed to be chortling with laughter next to his feet. Evan wondered why.

Francis’ face turned red, and he was trembling a little. “Hahaha, of course. But what if the letter wasn’t meant to be a threatening letter? What if it’s just a love letter?”

Evan frowned. “Well, I don’t know. The message seemed rather clear to me, but the sentence itself seemed a little incoherent.”

Francis laughed nervously. “O-Of course. Hahahaha…”

“Oz said she was going to find fingerprints and catch the culprit! It sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it?” Evan smiled brightly. It seemed so magical, to pick up traces of people everywhere they touch. But it appeared Francis thought otherwise.

“H-How does she do it?! She isn’t even CSI!” Francis cried out. Evan shook his head.

“Remember the science lab thing where we had to put our fingers on ink and then on paper? Oz has a compilation of that thing! She said she could find the culprit through that!” Evan looked pleased with himself, while Mir rubbed against him. Telepathically, he spoke to his master.

Master.. is it just me or is Francis quaking in his shoes? I can smell his fear from here. But then again, I think I would know why.

Evan looked down in surprise to see the dog grinning at him. Francis didn’t seem to see Evan move, replying, “O-Of course… I remember doing that in science class.. Mwahahaha!” Evan looked at him strangely, wondering why his laughter seemed a little strained.

“Are you alright, Francis? You are sweating quite a bit. Is it that hot?” asked Evan, looking worried. Francis did not look well at all.

Francis coughed and laughed. “Hmm? What? Oh, I just sweat a lot. You know?” He smiled shakily at Evan. “Sometimes the black dragon in my arm squirms so much. Hahaha…” It was then Stan came in, calling everyone to their seats to give an announcement.

He started. “Now, I know there has been some rumors going around school,” he shot a glare at the class. Evan sighed. Seems like Phantom and Shade didn’t do a good job at suppressing those rumors. Stan continued, “Just so you know, crimes are crimes. And you will not go unpunished. Writing a threatening letter is one of them. It is not just some prank.” He paused, eyeing the entire class. “Whoever is found responsible should be prepared to have their parents visit school and prepare for possible suspension.”

A squeak could be heard from Francis behind him. Evan wondered why he sounded so scared.

A classmate called out. “But writing such letters is wrong!” Another chimed in, “Who would do such a horrible thing?” The previous one shook his head, before calling out, “We should release their names on the internet!” The other one yelled out, “Upload their images online!”

A gasp could be heard, and a loud thud. Everyone turned to see Francis fainted on the floor. “Teacher, Francis fainted!” someone called out. Evan hurried over and picked him up.

“ I’ll bring him to the infirmary, Mr. Stan. Don’t worry!” He quickly dragged Francis up the stairs with the help of Mir, dumping him in the infirmary.

After class, Evan received a call from Nineheart. “Evan, it was quite surprising. The culprit turned himself in. Your oppressive interrogation tactic actually worked. I’m impressed.” Evan frowned. What tactic? He didn’t do anything. Nineheart continued, “Please come to the office right away. You’ll see who it is.” Evan shut his phone, and hurried there.

When he entered, Nineheart nodded. “You are here, Evan. Good of you to turn up as soon as I called you.” In the middle of the crowd, stood Francis. Evan looked surprised.

The Heroes glanced at him, and nodded, that yes, he was not dreaming. They seemed mildly surprised as well, though Phantom whispered-swore that he saw an Orchid doll back then when he was fighting (caning) Francis the Puppet Master in his hideout.

Cygnus smiled kindly at Francis. “Francis, was it you who wrote that threatening letter to Orchid?”

Francis waved his hands in the air frantically. “It wasn’t even a threatening letter! My hands got sweaty when I was nervous! The ink must have smudged then! Y-You’ll keep this a secret from the teachers, right?” He looked scared, trembling in the middle from the stares of everyone around him. Evan felt pity for him. He moved to stand next to Francis. He wasn’t like the Puppet Master from before.

Evan’s voice shook as he spoke. “Please keep it a secret! I’m sure it wasn’t his fault!” Francis gave him a grateful look. Oz seemed rather irritated.

“No way! Everyone agreed that the letter was written by a psychopath!” she cried out, her face turning a little red in anger. Francis shook his head. “N-no! I wrote the letter twice last night, one for practice! See, I brought it with me! This should prove my innocence!” He took a crumpled letter from his pocket and gave it to Oz, who began to read it out loud.

Dearest Orchid,

You must know what’s in my heart so I am writing you a letter. I’ll make sure you’ll be my girlfriend. We will be a great couple, won’t we? Don’t worry. I know we will.

Yours Truly

Silence ensued.

Irena’s sigh broke it. “Did you really think she would accept such a love letter?”

Hawkeye frowned, shaking his head. “You know, the threatening letter seemed a lot better compared to this.”

Oz just studied it, before calling out, “Even your grammar and spelling is horrible!”

Phantom took one look at it and promptly burst out laughing, before getting jabbed in the rib by Luminous. “How rude can you get, petty thief?” He hissed at the him, who was chortling with laughter. It may be short, but even Phantom knew no girl would even accept that weird love letter.

Francis looked shocked. “I-I thought it was a perfect love letter!” He did seem to believe that, and Evan sent him a sympathetic look. Mir just rolled over lazily, speaking telepathically again.

Thought so. The letter had his smell all over it. I just wanted to confirm my suspicions. Although, Evan, what is love anyway?

Evan crouched down and whispered, “I don’t know.”

Francis fell to his knees, his hands clutching at his hood. “Then please, tell me how to write the perfect love letter!”

Irena smiled, seemingly pitying the poor junior. “I think you should get rid of the male bravado.”

Oz nodded, bouncing in excitement. “I agree! Love letters are meant to be pure and romantic.” She swayed a little there, her eyes closed.

Cygnus even put in her two cents. “And the last statement should be impressive enough to move a girl to tears!” The Heroes looked surprised, even Cygnus was helping Francis.

Francis’s eyes were spinning. “Ugh, listening to you all makes my head spin. Can I get a sample?”

Luminous nudged Phantom in the ribs.

“Aren’t you the master of love? Go on, take him under your wing, Phantom.” Luminous was smirking at him.

Phantom glared at the Light Mage, before walking up to Francis and bending down. “So, Francis. If you see Orchid getting attacked, what do you do?”

Francis automatically answered, “Take the hits for her to give her enough time to run away.”

Phantom turned around and walked back, shaking his head. “Hopeless.” He walked past Luminous, using his cane to land a light blow on the back of his head for making him do that. Aran shrugged. It was clear Phantom did not want to help Francis at all. Evan smiled sheepishly as he patted a clearly depressed Francis. Phantom studied him for a moment, before groaning.

He bent down and patted Francis on the head. “Look. I’ll find some books for you to look through. Pay attention to how the main guy flirts with the heroine. And the answer to the previous question is to steal her for yourself,” he told Francis, winking. Getting up, he grabbed Luminous. “Come along now, stuffy pants. We need to get some books for a lovesick novice.” Luminous sputtered as he was dragged along, finally yelling something along the lines of “PUT ME DOWN YOU STUPID THIEF STOP MANHANDLING ME!” and so on. Shade sighed.

He turned to the rest, gesturing to outside the office. “I’ll follow those two, the books would be destroyed if there’s no one taking care of them. I guess Aran and Mercedes can stay behind to help with the writing?” Aran gripped his shoulder, shaking her head. “No can do, S-Eunwol. Let’s go!” She picked him up and ran up the staircase, resulting in a yelling from Nineheart. “Don’t run in the school corridors!”

In the library, Aran caught up to Phantom and Luminous bickering. Elwin sat at the side, looking quite amused.

“And for the last time, thief, I said no!”

“Come on! It’s just a few books, I don’t want to teach him! He’s hopeless!”

“Then get it yourself, you moron!”

“M-moron?! Says the guy who can’t flirt to save his life!”

“There was no need to learn how to flirt! I am perfectly happy with my current life!”

“What life do you even refer to? I’m pretty sure you know zero about romance.”

“I know just as well as you do! And I do have a life!”

“Prove it!”

“Fine! At least I know to never make a girl cry!”

“...Luminous.” All Phantom could do not to immediately slap his palm against his own face at his utter denseness. “You. Suck. That’s the bare minimum, and is applied to all girls. Lania included.”

Shade sighed. This was why he didn’t want to let them go alone. This happened. All the damn time. He walked up to the two and used his bare hands to ram their heads together. They sat on the floor, dizzy, but finally quiet. Turning to Elwin, who looked a little miffed his entertainment was gone, he bent down. “I trust the other two have already given you the basic background of this mess?”

Elwin nodded. “Here. I got a list of the most popular romance novels. Seems like the Dusties are a sucker for romance. Happy hunting!” Shade grimaced and looked at the list. Five books in total.

He turned to see Aran already at the portal, holding the two idiots apart. “Hmm, I get a feeling of deja vu when I see these two fighting. It’s quite amusing!”

Shade laughed. “I know. Those two are like a stand-up comedy act. They are perfect for each other.”

Aran shrugged, grinning away. “Hmm, I somehow heard it before, but don’t say it in front of them! They will kill you!” Shade shook his head. It still stung, after all this time.

Entering the Dust Zone, they got to work, after Aran slapped the two idiots awake.

Surprisingly, it was quick work. Phantom had gotten two books, while the rest had gotten one each. Phantom kept boasting about it all the way back, until Aran told him to ‘stuff it or I’ll make you a squishier mage than Luminous!’ which promptly shut him up. They quickly changed (Their clothes had a weird smell on them, and each time they sniffed it, a Poisoned icon appeared. Nope.) and hurried down to the office.

“We are baaaack!” Phantom threw open the doors, smiling cheerily. Luminous gave him a dark look, while Shade walked up to Francis and placed the books down. “Here. Romance books.” Francis smiled gratefully.

He seemed almost in tears. “Thank you so much! I’ll try my best to write the best love letter!” With that, he started to write furiously.

Aran glanced at the time, and shrieked. “Guys! We are late! Oh my god, the meeting is starting in less than a minute! We are going to get killed!” Everyone looked up at the clock, and started to panic. There was a Maple Alliance meeting held today. They immediately bid everyone good bye, and hurried back to Ereve using the Lumiere. They made it five minutes late.

Their version of Nineheart stared at them disapprovingly. “The Heroes are late. I would have expected that from Phantom, but I know the rest of you are better than that. What a disappointment.” He turned and walked off, and the others groaned. Death glares from the Cygnus Knights were one thing, but Nineheart?

It was going to be a long day. Francis had it easy.

The next day, the Heroes trudged to school, battered and sore. They were forced to sit through a lecture by Nineheart. They had not slept at all since Nineheart and Claudine, both equally angry and irritated, had asked them for items. They had confirmed the supplies required for preparation against Hilla in the absence of the Heroes during those five minutes, thus deciding to give the latecomers to fetch quests. The Heroes were forced to split into two groups, three helping Claudine fetch more rue from the Verne Mines and three helping Nineheart to fetch information from Azwan and the queen in Ariant for the mysterious gypsy. Mercedes, Evan and Aran had gone ahead to help Claudine, while Phantom, Luminous and Shade helped Nineheart. The first group had taken the entire night hunting for just the right amount of rue before Claudine allowed them to leave. They had been beaten up pretty badly, and Aran had accidentally aggravated one of the guards, resulting in them being booted out. When they finally made it back to Elwin’s house, they had collapsed on the floor. Meanwhile, the others had gone to Azwan. They got the information nicely enough, and rushed to Ariant, much to the displeasure of Phantom. There, they requested humbly (no not really, Phantom did try to mock her but Luminous and Shade decided to make him bow on his knees,) for information. She sent them on a wild goose chase, making them hunt rare items for so many times, Phantom was almost tempted to steal away them all. And even then, in the end, just when they had finally obtained her items, the group only returned to find out that the queen had gone to bed. Luminous immediately walked to an area full of monsters and unleashed his pent-up anger. They were forced to wait for the queen to wake up. Shade had suggested they would go to sleep first, but just as he said that, the servant approached them and informed the Heroes that the queen had risen.

Needless to say, they were slightly late as Luminous had to release his anger once more. Even then, the queen was a little irritated at the Heroes, delayed them even more by complaining, her ‘woe is me’ speech being repeated for almost half an hour. The three Heroes struggled to contain their rage, though Phantom let slipped a single line, “Your Majesty, we cannot keep Nineheart waiting,” before she finally stopped after another five minutes and gave them the information. Even then, it was vague, seeing that she only mentioned that a gypsy had told her about the Immortality Elixir and left it at that. The Heroes returned to tell Nineheart, who chided them for taking too long, before finally releasing them.

By then, they were almost an hour late for school.

When they finally entered school, Nineheart had caught them and scolded them for coming so late. By then, Phantom, Aran and Mercedes were almost at the end of their patience. Aran was almost pulling her hair out of her head, while Mercedes looked exhausted, but her fists balled up so tightly, they were white. Phantom’s usual grin had been removed, a scowl taking its place. Shade look mildly irritated, while Evan was falling asleep on his feet.

They entered their classes, Aran proceeding to fall straight asleep.

Evan slept in between lessons, before hearing a loud commotion. Looking up with bleary eyes, he saw Stan. He yawned and rubbed his eyes, turning around. “Francis. How did-yawn- I’m sorry, how did the letter go? Did you put it safely?”

Francis nodded, replying, “S-say, Evan, are you okay? You look really tired.. did the evil spirits haunt your dreams? I wish it did for mine, maybe it could have told me how to power up the black dragon in my right arm.” Evan shook his head, yawning again, before a loud yell came from Stan. Evan was instantly shocked awake, and he turned back.

“..Absolutely intolerable! The stalker has striked again! Perhaps my first warning did not reach to all of you, including the stalker, but the school will find out who is the culprit behind this! Rest assured, they will be dealt with severely. Suspension is the least of their problems!” Stan was yelling. Evan blinked, before turning back to Francis, who was sweating.

“You didn’t sweat and smudged the ink again, did you?” Evan asked. Francis sweated even more.

Stan continued his rant, his face going red. “The teachers are not stupid, you know! I assure you, we will find and crack down on this stalker. They will be expelled once the teachers find out who it is!”

Francis paled. “E-expulsion?”

One student raised his hand. “I don’t think it’s enough, Mr. Stan. The police should apprehend whoever it is!”

Francis flinched. “P-police?”

Another student nodded. “This is harassment. Let the police deal with this.”

Francis let out a sound of pain, squeaking, “H-harassment?! Eek!” He promptly flopped onto the floor, moaning in pain. The students glanced at him. Evan sighed.

“Teacher, Francis fainted again.” Stan shook his head, picking up the Doll Maniac. “I’ll bring him to the infirmary, the rest of you open your books and study!”

Evan hoped he was alright. He would be, right? It was Francis, after all.

After class, Evan earned a call from an unknown number. Picking it up, he got the biggest shock of his life. Hilla’s voice came through. “Hello? You are Evan, right? Francis’ friend? I’m the school nurse in this school. Anyway, come up and get your friend. I have an appointment.” The phone clicked shut, and Evan sighed. It wasn’t like Hilla was going to appear with her zombie skeletons and attack the school. Evan was really tired. He just wanted to sleep right now.

Moving up the staircase, he entered the infirmary. Evan looked around to see Francis sitting on the bed with an ice pack on his head. Evan walked up to him, smiling. “Feeling better, Francis?”

Francis looked up, tears still running from his hidden eyes. “Ah, Evan, my good friend. I’m afraid my time in this world is coming to an end.” Evan looked at him with a confused look. He continued. “For you see, I have nothing left to live for. I suffer from an incurable disease, known as lovesickness. It can only be cured with Orchid’s recognition of me.” He sighed deeply, as if he was on the verge of death. Evan panicked. Grabbing his phone, he sent a message to the Heroes to rush here and please, please please save Francis from dying.

He returned his attention to Francis, who continued his little death speech. “B-but I am not ready to die yet, to return my soul to the evil spirits that have given me this body. I have a mission I have yet to fulfil. I feel like I’m burning up.” Evan frowned, grabbing a thermometer and taking Francis’ temperature.

He stared at the recorded temperature. “It’s only 36.7 degree Celsius, Francis. You don’t have a fever.” Francis coughed even louder, flopping onto the bed. “I’m going to die… I feel so sick…”

The Heroes came, wondering why Evan looked confused. Once they got a lowdown, they all shook their head. Francis was acting his part really well. They hunted around the infirmary for the medicine, before coming across a certain dog under the bed.

“Psst! Over here!” The Heroes gathered under the next bed to speak to Elwin. “I heard what’s up. Francis is fine, at most a bruised finger and ego.” Evan scratched his head, still confused, until Elwin told him that no, Francis did not have a hidden fever. Evan looked rather crossed after that.

“But anyway! Just give him some fake medicine. You know, placebo effect! Ah, how do I… the effect of feeling sick even though you are not sick due to your own thoughts. So if you bring him any medicine, he’ll feel better right away!” Elwin explained, the others just giving him weird looks. Evan looked rather relieved. “So any medicine would do! Alright!”

Elwin nodded, his tail wagging. “The Dusties I just sealed before the nurse saw took some laxatives with them. Maybe you could give them to Francis?” The Heroes nodded, and rushed into the Dust Zone, though, they had to wonder, why laxatives? Did the Dusties love upset stomachs?

They returned with twenty laxatives, passing it to Evan. He hurried over to Francis’ bedside, holding the pills. “Here you go, Francis! These would make you feel better!” Francis smiled and sat up. “You are a good friend, Evan.” With that, he took all twenty pills and swallowed them. Evan looked rather shocked. Francis smiled and rubbed his stomach. “I already feel better! Thank you!” The Heroes tried not to gape at the fact Francis took twenty of those medicine, but decided not to question him. Maybe he had a strong stomach.

Francis looked out the window wistfully, as if remembering a long lost love. “Evan, you probably want to know why I fell for Orchid, right? Very well, I shall grace you with my story!” Evan shook his head, wanting to tell Francis that no, he didn’t need a story, but Francis ignored him and continued anyway.

It was spring, that day.

Ever heard of Pygmalion from Greek Mythology?

He didn’t care for any real women. His only love was a sculpture. I am similar to him. I only love dolls.

I was a modern day Pygmalion. Figurines were my only love, and I never cared for girls. But it changed on the day I saw her. It was the first spring rain then. I saw her there, in the rain.

She was standing there, in the rain, crying.

My heart was beating so fast, I didn’t understand. But then it clicked into place. I had fallen in love. I thought it was punishment from the gods, to fall in love with a real girl, but I took it into my stride. I will reveal my true self! For this day, I shall declare, with the evil spirits around me to be my witnesses, that Orchid is my one true love!

Evan had fallen asleep during the story, and was woken up by Francis yelling. Looking around, he saw Irena and Oz. Getting up, he nodded to Francis, who seemed entranced by his own memories. Evan walked up to them, just in time to hear Irena say, “Can I punch him now?”

Oz shook her head. “It was kinda intense, and a little gross. I dunno, it sounds like you are pretty sincere, though.” Francis seemed to snap out of his trance, refocusing on the group. Evan looked behind Irena to see the rest of them, sitting on the floor, sleeping. Even they fell asleep. Francis coughed, smiling shakily. “I didn’t see you there. Ho…?”

Irena glanced at him. “The whole entire time.”

Oz sighed. “Francis, no. You should stop! I really don’t think you will stand a chance, even after these two days.”

“N-no way! Orchid and I are soulmates! Right, Evan?” Francis looked imploringly at Evan, who was away in dreamland. He was shaken out of his dream, and blinked at Francis. “Uh. I think you should continue. I read those books that you used as a reference, and being persistent seems to help?” Francis smiled gratefully.

“It doesn’t matter! I shall continue on my quest to win Orchid’s heart! This terminal illness of lovesickness, I shall accept it with my entire being!” He announced. Turning to Evan, he spoke. “Evan, my friend. Can you do one final request for this dying student? Can you bring me a picture of my one true love, Orchid?” Evan yawned and nodded, remembering in the dorm room, there was one poster of Orchid. He slowly trudged back to the room, with Mir bumping him back to it.

“M-master! You must wake up! Ah! That was close, there was a pillar there!” Mir directed Evan into the room. Evan looked on top of the closet, staring at the poster. Mir was transformed back, with Evan climbing onto him and flying up to nab it. Getting down, he sat down on the floor and dozed off, while Mir waited for the potion to work again. Once he was back to being a dog, he nudged Evan awake and the two journeyed back into school.

He passed the poster to Francis, who immediately yelled. “No, not a poster! I already have this one! No, no, no, Evan! I wanted a real picture of her! Taken with your camera! Not a poster!”

Irena folded her arms, irritated. “You are getting a little demanding, Francis.”

Oz seemed to be as pissed, requesting permission to hit him. Francis trembled in his bed, but remained stubborn. “It is the only thing that can save me now, Evan!”

Evan groaned softly. Walking to the pile of Heroes, he shook them awake. Evan really doubted he would be able to do this on his own, especially with his lack of energy.

The Heroes got up, shaking Mercedes and Aran awake. Once told of their mission, each Hero trooped down to the cafeteria, grabbing a cup of coffee. Once they were wide awake, they went to Orchid’s classroom. Cassandra told them that Orchid had just left. Annoyed, they ran down to the front porch to see Orchid talking to her manager.

Everyone whipped out their phone. They raised it up, focusing on Orchid. Only Aran was fumbling with the device, until Mercedes helped pressed the button. They each took one picture. When they looked at their masterpiece, everyone was not happy.

Aran’s was a complete blur.

Mercedes had only captured the lower half of her body.

Shade’s only had the top of her head at her manager.

Luminous’ hands kept shaking, so he couldn’t get a clear picture.

Evan’s was too blur.

Phantom’s was out of focus and Orchid wasn’t even in the picture.

They glared at him. He shrugged.

Orchid started to move, and the Heroes chased after, grumbling a little. Luminous complained, “Why do we have to do his chasing now?” Evan turned back, pouting. “We have to save him, somehow, from his lovesickness!” The Heroes immediately shut up.

There! She was standing near the bus stop! Everyone raised their phones again, taking another shot.

Once again, Aran’s was completely blur. Mercedes took many photos, but they were all bits and pieces of Orchid. Shade’s was blocked by a passerby. Evan could not focus. Luminous had given up. Phantom tried, he really did, or so he said, but he could not seem to focus on Orchid’s face. Instead, it took her hair.

They cursed underneath their breaths. Orchid started to move again, getting onto the bus. As the bus started, each Hero grabbed the back of the bus, hauling themselves up onto the bus. As it rode, they were careful of signs and bridges, though Aran was almost flung off the moving vehicle once.

When they saw Orchid get off, they quickly got off and hid. They followed her, but Orchid disappeared. Looking around, they heard faint meowing. Oh, Lily.

Bending down, they poked the cat. Shade quickly pushed their hands away, instead stroking Lily. “Have you seen Orchid?”

Lily nodded, though she looked worried. “Her emotions are going out of control. Monsters are coming in from all over the place! She went over there. Maybe you should clear those up first.” Everyone nodded, and entered the Dust Zone.

They punched and fought against the Dusties, resulting in their clothes being more tattered. Holes were torn, Aran managed to have her sock soaked with blood. As they fought, they started to move slower. This was tiring. They wanted to sleep. So sleepy…

They suddenly sat up, when Phantom gave everyone a Heal. He looked as tired as they were, but he was still moving forward. Shade frowned. “Phantom. Is everything alright?” Phantom shook his head. “No. Why would it be. I’m helping a goddamn Black Wings Commander. How can it be alright? But we can’t possibly stop now, can we?” He continued to move, while Shade gave a sigh. No one wanted to help Francis of all people, other than Evan, but even then, for him to have unrequited love, it was a tragedy indeed. All the Heroes were big saps, seeing that even a brief romance was enough to escape from the terrors of the Black Mage. Not to mention Phantom had lost his only love.

Saps, all of them.

They pushed on, finally making it to the end. Bloody, worn out and almost collapsing, they passed around potions. At the end, they found Orchid sitting on the bench. Good.

They took out their phones, and snapped one final picture each. Everyone’s came out in pretty good quality, and they turned to escape. An exclamation mark appeared on Phantom’s head, and he immediately jumped onto everyone, pushing them into the bush. Unfortunately, he missed one person.

Shade dodged out of the way just in time as Phantom collided with everyone head on, all tumbling into the bushes except for him. Shade looked confused, turning around. “Uh, Phantom? What’s going o-”

“Hold it right there, stalker. Where do you think you are going?”

Shade froze. Turning around slowly, he saw Orchid approaching him. Wait, was that why Phantom pushed everyone into the bushes?! Shade wanted to curl up and hide. He dodged out of the only escape he had. Orchid came right up to him, smirking. “I’ve been wondering who would be the person stalking me. Looks like it was you after all, Eunwol. And here I thought you were just someone really quiet in class.” She laughed, waving it off.

Shade raised his hands up, slowly backing away. “N-no. I-It isn’t me, Orchid. You have the wron-”

She ignored Shade, continuing to speak. “Don’t pretend it wasn’t you, Eunwol. I know it’s been you all along. You also left me flowers in my lockers, placed food and drinks in my dressing rooms, and cleaned my chair and desk in school, right?”

Shade frowned, tilting his head. He could a audible clap, and wanted to do the same. Each of the Heroes hidden in the bushes groaned softly, so as to not get the attention of Orchid. Evan shook his head. “Francis..You really had it bad for her, didn’t you?”

Orchid tossed her hair behind her head, smiling smugly. “I know what you actually wrote in the letters. I’m not stupid, after all, Eunwol. I could see your message, underneath all the smudges.” She smirked, before her face changed.

She looked down, her smile disappearing. Fidgeting a little, she made a request to Shade in a low voice, “Could you… just listen to me for a bit?” Shade’s eyes widened, before nodding. The Heroes in the bushes shooed him to follow Orchid, while they themselves tagged along in the shadows, with the help of Phantom’s guidance.

They soon found themselves in Sunset Yard once again. Orchid stopped at the playground, sighing, “I like it here. It’s peaceful and quiet. Noisy places take a lot out of me, I usually get so tired. Everywhere I go, people are screaming or crying my name.” Orchid walked forward, settling on the swing. Waving her hand at Shade, she gestured towards the swing next to her. Shade hesitated, before Lily nudged him. Shade turned, whispering to the cat, “Why am I in this awkward situation?”

Lily shrugged. “I think she wants to tell you something. So you better listen well, Shade.” Shade looked somewhat shocked, but quickly walked up to Orchid and sat down next to her. Her face took on a depressed expression, her eyes staring at the floor as she swung.

“This was where my brother got into an accident.” She began, before her voice caught in her throat. She paused for a moment, before continuing. “I usually come here when I feel like crying.” Orchid stopped, with Shade immediately focusing on her. If she cried, he wouldn’t know what to do. Orchid shook her head, before raising her head.

“He collapsed here, three years ago. It was so sudden.” Orchid continued. Lily leaned onto Shade and whispered, “I didn’t expect her to confide in you!” Shade shook his head, mouthing, “Neither did I.”

The Heroes in the bushes strained their ears to hear the conversation, eavesdropping on the conversation. Aran almost ran out just to get the mushy atmosphere, but the Heroes barely stopped her. Shade shot them a glare, before continuing to listen to Orchid. She looked at him, her eyes downcast.

“My brother Lotus was always popular with the girls, and they treated me nicely. They wanted to use me to to get near him. Or his attention, at least. After his accident, they showed their true colors. They excluded me, talked about me behind my back and even harassed me! They...They said they didn’t like me at all.” she exclaimed. Shade pressed his lips together, remaining silent as Orchid continued to rant about her life. Orchid must have been lonely, Shade knew how it was like. To be excluded, that is. It wasn’t a new feeling to him, but surely it was better than being forgotten. Not that Shade would want to wish either fate on anyone.

Orchid smiled sadly. “I put on a brave face, but I was really scared and lonely. I didn’t know what to do.” A fake hollow laugh came, and she chuckled. “After I appeared on television, those girls wanted to be friends with me again. I realized that no one truly cared about anyone else. They only act friendly when they want something. The same can be said for the rest of the school. Everyone acts friendly, but behind my back, they talk. A lot.” Orchid started to swing a little harder, her legs now no longer dragging on the sand. She stopped, before staring at Shade in the eye.

“I’m sure you are one of them.”

Shade’s gaze soften. She was just lonely, wasn’t she? It didn’t help that she had the Black Wings’ Commander’s face, but she was just an ordinary girl with problems in school. And… Shade could not help but feel pity for her.

“That’s not true, Orchid. Some of us like you for who you are, not because of what you are.” Shade spoke gently. He smiled slightly, reaching out to grasp her hand.

A soft sound of retching could be heard, though it was quickly hushed up. Shade could imagine Phantom grimacing at the scene before him. He was, after all, the one in the Heroes that hated Orchid and Lotus the most. Well, he had better learn that Orchid and Lotus are different here. Just because they have the same face doesn’t mean they have the same attitude and behavior.

Orchid stared at him, her eyes brightening a little. “Really? So if I’m famous, you wouldn’t care?”

“Really. I wouldn’t care if you are famous or not. And I really doubt those who like you for who you are don’t either. After all, we all cry, have these emotions, don’t we?” Shade smiled, his eyes crinkling. Though, Francis was a little off in the head. Well, if they get together, it would be really sweet.

Orchid seemed to keep staring at him, and Shade was just about to release her hand and escaped when she removed it herself, getting up from the swing. Snorting, she turned to face him. “You are lying, aren’t you?” Shade seemed a little shocked, dumbfounded. She walked off, before stopping. “Aren’t you coming? We have to go back, don’t we?” Shade immediately got up and rushed after her. The Heroes, finally out from their cramped spot, tumbled after.

On the bus, Shade could vaguely hear the loud thumping on the top of the bus. He hoped they were all alright. He wondered what was going on.

Meanwhile, the rest of them on the bus were having an impromptu combat training of dodging. Phantom had it easy, barely missing the top of the bridge and traffic lights. The rest, not so much. Aran and Luminous almost fell of the bus, while Evan took to crouching and clinging onto the bus. Mercedes kept the bus as a moving platform, jumping and rushing over the overhead bridges. It was not a good day for combat training.

Shade found himself imagining the amusing scene of everyone dancing above the bus in order to prevent themselves from being hit, before his daydream was broken apart by Orchid speaking. “You listened to me today, so I feel rather gra- never mind.” Shade turned and frowned at her, confused. What was she trying to say again? She turned away, before pointing to her phone. “Gimme your number.” Shade stared at her, a wordless ‘why’ floating in the air.

She huffed, her face glowing red. Shade wondered what was it and people when asking him about something personal. Lang’s face turned red too. Orchid stuttered a little, before folding her arms and pouting. “So that I can contact you when I am in the mood to stalk, Stalker!” Shade sputtered, before sighing deeply. Was this how she saw him as now? He hoped that Nineheart doesn’t catch wind of this, or he would die.

Though, Shade was a little confused. He accidentally made friends with Orchid, of all people. Well, not that more friends are bad, but he hoped she didn’t forget him, like the Heroes and the Pointy-Ear Village. Now that the curse was gradually going away, everyone was starting to remember him again.

He started to hear whispering, and he turned to see some boys from hi- Shinsoo International. When was he starting to see Shinsoo International School as his school? Oh dear.

Orchid grumbled, glaring at them. “This is why I don’t take public transport. I’m getting off. And don’t follow me, stalker.” She turned and walked towards the front of the bus. She stopped, a little dazed. Shade reached out to tell her where to go, when Orchid rushed past him to the door. Confused, Shade stood there, until he got to the bus stop outside of school.

There, he found the rest of the Heroes. Evan looked especially happy. “You are a really good listener, Shade! Lily said that since you talked to her, she had calmed down, so the negative energy was removed.” Shade smiled and ruffled Evan’s hair. “Good to know, Evan.”

He looked up to the other Heroes, who grinned. Aran hooked her arm around him and ruffled his head, laughing. “So someone got it bad for our Shade here, huh?” Shade coughed, looking up puzzled. The rest of the Heroes seemed to have cheeky smiles on their faces. Mercedes coughed, smiling. “N-no, nothing, Shade. Just, ah, you two go well together, you know?” Shade shook his head, untangling himself from Aran’s chokehold.

“I don’t see how we go well together.” Shade folded his arms. Evan just giggled while Luminous gave a huff, though he looked amused. Phantom just shrugged, before patting Shade on the shoulder. “Don’t you worry, Shade. If you ever need any advice relating to the ladies, you can ask me or Mercedes. We’ll help you out any time you want.” He winked at Shade, who looked even more confused. The Heroes nodded, before they rushed back into the wardrobe to continue their beauty rest.

The next day, everyone gathered at the wardrobe in the morning, avoiding Nineheart’s request for them to appear. Evan laughed out loud, finally, before pointing to the school. “Francis is waiting for us. Let’s go!” The Heroes, hyper after that sweet scene, rushed to the school.

In the infirmary, Francis was given six photos of Orchid. He seemed so happy. “This is, Orchid in the rain! It’s priceless! Incredible!” The Heroes just exchanged glances, before laughing. They gave to everyone fist bumps, though it turned out to be more of a punching match between Luminous and Phantom, to which Shade separated them. Oz crept up to Shade and asked, “So, uh, Eunwol. I heard you were talking to Orchid on the bus yesterday? How did you get so close to her?” Shade just smiled tiredly. The Heroes just kept asking him about the same thing. “Well, you know…” He told Oz everything, and the Heroes just stood there with cheeky smiles on their face.

Irena nodded. “That was a really serious topic. So you accidentally became friends with her?”

Shade nodded, while Oz put in her opinion. “I thought she was temperamental, but now I know that she has a reason. She’s actually a lonely person.”

Irena nodded. “I still don’t really like her, but at least I understand her a little better.” Shade shrugged. He didn’t really understand, but at least, with the others being a little more understanding towards her, perhaps Orchid would open up. Just like he did with Freud. He could only hope so.

Some mumbling could be heard from Francis, but with Evan’s face going pale, no one wanted to know what he said. Nope. As creepy Francis is in their world, they did not want to know the inner workings for the Puppet Master, not even from his doppelganger.

Irena and Oz seemed to have heard it, with Irena sighing, “At least, you know you are helpless.” Oz giggled. “Too slow!”

Francis seemed a little more determined, with him suddenly yelling out, “I have decided! I will do anything to comfort her lonely heart. I will confess!”

Everyone seemed taken aback. Confess his love already? That was quick! A rare grin flicked across Shade’s face, and he nodded. “I’m sure she’s going to be happy. Perhaps someone by her side would be nice.” Francis seemed to be even more happy, when Shade spoke. Evan smiled and patted Francis on his hand. “Good luck, Francis! I’ll be cheering for you!”

Francis nodded, before handing a letter to Evan. “Evan, I have already written this letter before you came. Could you do me a favor and give it to Orchid?” Evan shook his head.

“Why don’t you give it to her yourself?” Evan asked, curious. Francis froze, before his face turned slightly red. “I don’t want my sweaty palms to ruin this letter. Could you send her my love? I will waiting on the rooftop, with my fingers crossed.” Evan folded his arms, thinking, before smiling.

“S- Eunwol? Do you mind? I… You are the one closest to her, perhaps she wouldn’t even notice me.” Evan smiled pleadingly at Shade, who seemed shocked. Frozen solid, Shade could only stare at the cute, pleading face of the Dragon Master. He played his weapons well. None of the Heroes could not resist his face, and Evan knew it. Shade finally gave in.

“Alright.” He took the letter from Evan, and moved downstairs, while the other Heroes rushed Francis up to the roof and took their hiding spots.

Shade went into the classroom, looking around. Orchid was nowhere to be seen. He walked up to Cassandra. “Cassandra, have you seen Orchid?” Cassandra gave him a strange look, before shaking her head.

“No. I think she went up to the music room. Why? She doesn’t really like people following during break, though. She looked tired.” Cassandra replied. Eyeing Shade suspiciously, she asked, “Why, though?”

“I have something to pass to her. Thank you for the information, though.” Bowing a little, Shade turned and left the classroom, heading to the music room. Knocking on the door, he entered in to see Orchid. She turned to see who had came in, a panicked expression on her face, before it softened. Immediately, she seemed to stood straight up, the usual smug expression on her face. “I wondered who came in. So it was you, Stalker.”

Shade sighed. “I’m not your stalker, Orchid. Oh, yes. I have something to tell you.” Orchid looked surprised, before shrugging. “Is it your turn to spill something?”

Shade looked up, confused. What was did she think he was going to say? “No. Here. This is the final letter from your actual stalker, Orchid. He is waiting on the rooftop for you.”

Orchid’s face flushed. “What? Wait, did you decide not to pretend any more? We only talked yesterday, and suddenly you are so confident. I know I’m pretty, cute and charming, but…” Shade pressed the letter into her hands, before taking a step back.

He wanted to leave, but Orchid seemed to babble on. “We have just met and this is kinda too sudden! I need to think about this… Not that I have any feelings for you or anything! Just saying…” Shade frowned and tilted his head.

“What are you talking about? This is from a first grader, Francis.” explained Shade. Orchid fell silent, and her face turned dark. Shade felt a sense of danger. He shivered, rushing to the door. “Good bye.”

Once outside the door, he rushed to the side and grabbed his ringing phone. It was Oz. Picking it up, he pressed it to his ear. “Yes? Eunwol speaking.”

Oz piped up from the other end. “Eunwol? Did you give the letter to Orchid?”

“Yes. Is Francis ready?”

“Sure is! Quickly, come up here! He’s gonna get rejected, but who knows? Maybe Orchid might accept him. Aren’t you curious? The rest of your friends are here too.” Oz piped up. A giggle escaped her lips. “We can’t miss this! Come on up!”

Shade put away the phone when Oz cut off, before rushing up to the rooftop.

Soon, Orchid arrived as well. The Heroes, Irena and Oz were hidden, their eyes focused on the spectacle before them.

She noticed Francis, who was fidgeting away. “Are you Francis?”

Francis nodded frantically. “Yes, I am.”

Behind the Heroes, Irena sighed. “That fool. I can hear his voice trembling.” Oz shook her head. “He already forgot what we taught him. I do hope he’s gonna be alright.” Aran yawned and frowned. “If he’s gonna be nervous, how is he gonna live up to Orchid? I mean, doesn’t she have fans all around her? If they don’t like Francis, he’s gonna be crushed or something!”

Mercedes whacked Aran lightly on the head. “Hush! Do not jinx him, Aran! Unless you want to be the crusher?” Aran waved her hands no, but still grinning away. “Just saying, Mercedes. And why would I want to crush Francis again?”

Oz and Irena stared at Aran, who didn’t seem to notice. Mercedes, however, did. “Aran! Crushing him in games doesn’t count, not one bit!” Aran looked dumbfounded, before shaking her head. “What are you talk- Mmph!” Mercedes had slapped her hand on Aran’s mouth. “Look! Francis is going to confess!” Successful diversion!

Orchid was the first to break the awkward silence. “What do you want?” Her tone was icy cold, just like how she spoke to the others. But something else was off. No one knew why, but Orchid… sounded irritated. Angry.

Francis gulped, before beginning. “Did you read my letter?”

Orchid shrugged, as if she didn’t care about anything Francis said. “No. I threw it away.” Francis seemed stunned. He didn’t seem nervous, but instead, hurt and shocked. “What?! W-Why?”

Orchid sighed, an irritated expression revealing itself on her face. “Why? Let me make this clear, alright? I am not interested in dating anyone. So give up.”

Francis, stunned, seemed to be unable to form words. “W- B-but…”

Orchid turned away, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “That’s my answer. Bye.”

Francis called out at the last moment, stopping Orchid in her tracks. Turning around, she cocked her head at him. Francis took a deep breath. “W-Why aren’t you interested in dating anyone?”

Orchid let out a snort, shaking her head. “Is it not obvious?” She sighed, continuing. “You just think you like me because I’m a star, just like the others.”

Francis suddenly burst out, just as she said that. “No! I don’t like you because you are a star or anything!” He took a deep breath, calming himself. “When I first saw you, I didn’t know who you were. You were crying in the rain. You looked lonely.” Francis seemed to be standing straighter, seeming more sincere. “To me, you aren’t a TV star or the most popular girl in school. You are just a girl who feels terribly lonely inside.” He shifted around a little, still nervous. The Heroes were almost falling out of their hiding places. Evan was trembling himself. “Go, Francis! You can do it!” He whispered. Shade pressed his lips together to keep himself from rushing out there and telling Orchid to just get together with him. He didn’t like Orchid for her fame. Wasn’t that a good thing? Francis loved her too. This was a golden opportunity for her to get someone that didn’t care about her fame.

Orchid fell silent, staring at Francis. “I don’t look like much, but my feelings are sincere. I care about you more than anyone else in the world.” Francis continued, his hands curled into fists.

She finally spoke, though, it was as if she hadn’t believed Francis. “You care about me.” It sounded more like a statement than a question.

Francis smiled, though it was shaky. “So why not give it a try? I would really love to go out with you. If you give me a place in your heart, I’ll keep the rest of it warm. I swear it on everything I have. I’ll save you, from your loneliness.”

Orchid stared straight at Francis, so hard that he started to fidget again. Irena and Phantom twitched. “Ugh, I can’t help but cringe.” Oz patted Irena, a sympathic look on her face. “It’s corny, but I have to give it to him. He tried.”

Phantom rolled his eyes. “It’s cheesy, and rather ineffective on most girls who aren’t charmed. I feel the shiver.” Luminous glares at Irena before landing a swift punch to Phantom. “He’s trying his best, so shut up, you sleazebag.” Phantom forced a smile on his face, rubbing his cheek. “Says the person who doesn’t have a life even if it meant something.” Shade groans softly, before sneaking up on the two quietly and slammed their heads against each other. Both passed out, again. Peace and quiet, finally.

Irena looked somewhat unnerved. “Y-yes, he is trying. It sounds sincere.” Oz nodded rapidly by her side. “Yeah! Maybe he stands a chance! Eheheh…” She edged away from Shade, who shot her a quizzical look.

Francis smiled shakily. “You don’t have to answer me now. Whenever you make up your mind…”


Orchid’s answer slapped everyone in the face. What? She rejected Francis even after that?! Shade moved back a little. Why would she pass up such a chance? The two who passed out sat up, rubbing their foreheads. “What happened?” Luminous looked to Mercedes, who was stunned as well. Aran answered him. “Orchid rejected Francis.”

“Oh. I suppose that was to be expected.” Luminous got up, dusting his robes. “We can go now?” Phantom glared at him, before shaking his head. “Seems like Lumibutt doesn’t have a warm, beating heart. And here I thought he wasn’t frozen at all.” Luminous glared at Phantom, and was just about to slap the Master Thief when Mercedes hushed the two. “Orchid is speaking!”

Orchid twirled her hair in her hand, as if disinterested. “You are too ugly.” Francis was shocked to the ground, his mouth opened and closed like a goldfish. Orchid continued, “You are too short, too.” She frowned at him, shaking her head. Francis opened his mouth to defend himself, but Orchid ignored him. “You also have short legs.” Francis faltered, before finally speaking in a low voice. “I thought you hated people who liked you because of how you look.” Orchid shook her head at Francis.

“Not just that, Francis. I don’t need to be saved. What I need is someone who listens. Why do you think I am lonely? Because everyone throws themselves at me. What I need is a friend. Not someone who thinks they can save me. Not to mention, I care about looks as well. I like tall, handsome, sensitive men.”

Francis fell silent, and Orchid sighed. “If you had just talked to me, maybe I would have considered you, as a friend. But this isn’t what I need. Good bye.” She turned and walked away. Francis stood there for a moment, before flopping onto the ground.

Irena flinched. “That? That was brutal. Ouch.” Oz nodded. “She has a point though. I don’t want to make Francis more miserable, so Evan, can you help him out?”

Evan sighed, nodding. Him and Mir ran out of their hiding spot and rushed to Francis’ side. Meanwhile, Shade felt a faint vibrating on his phone. Taking it out, he frowned. A message from Orchid.

[I hate you and don’t talk to me again!]

Shade blinked at it and placed it away. Orchid… she shouldn’t push people away like that. Oh well. Perhaps in the future, she would open up. For now, though, Shade would honor her wishes. Not that it was going to be difficult, he was perfectly fine with it.

Evan bent down to Francis, patting his head. “You okay, Francis? You did your best.”

Francis moaned a little. “No, I will… never be okay… This wound… I will not heal…” He started to giggle, with Evan backing away. Evan appeared scared, and prepared to undo the spell on Mir. This energy… Francis seemed to speak, under a trance. “The darkness is engulfing me…” Evan laughed nervously, his smile twitching. “Y-You are talking nonsense again, Francis..eheheh…”

He heard a sound, and Evan flinched. It was Elwin, thank Transcendents. “Look out, Evan! A big one is coming!”

Evan gulped, and lo and behold, the Heartbroken Troublemaker appeared. “Urgh, here it comes! You think you can take care of it, Evan?” Evan nodded. Elwin smiled. “Counting on you then, Dragon Master! The rest are getting Oz and Irena away.” Evan nodded and removed the transformation spell on Mir. The large dragon stretched his wings and flew up, glad to be away from the ground.

True enough, Phantom and Luminous had been the first to distract the girls. Phantom attracted Oz by performing a magic trick, to which she seemed curious about the secret. Luminous just turned Irena around. A shout of protest from Irena, before Shade slammed the girls’ heads together, knocking them both out. Phantom picked up Oz and Mercedes took Irena. Both hopped over the fence back down to safety. Luminous teleported down to make sure Lily got the message to wipe their memories of being knocked out. Shade turned to call Aran to go, but he wasn’t expecting something.

Evan had been using Dragon Thrust against the Troublemaker. It wasn’t effective, with the Troublemaker having an immunity against knockback. Evan had switched the using Ice Breath then, though it wasn’t effective. Evan was just about to switch to another skill, when he heard a war cry. Uh oh.

Aran appeared from behind the Troublemaker, her body and Maha covering the sun. Slamming the weapon into the Troublemaker’s head, Aran grinned. The Troublemaker made to attack her, but Aran defended with Maha.

“I did call dibs on this one! Let’s go, Evan!” Waving to Evan cheerfully, she ran for the Troublemaker again, swinging Maha and striking the monster. Evan nodded, pulling up his Dragon Tome.

“We can do this, Mir!” Waving his wand, he called out, “Phantom Imprint! “ The Troublemaker got cursed, and with Aran’s each attack, got more damage. Evan smiled, before waving his wand once more. With Aran’s ice attacks, this should do more damage. The Troublemaker was frozen.

Blaze! ” Evan called out, and Mir struck the Troublemaker. It was stunned, and Evan kept attacking it. Aran yelled out her own war cry and swung Maha. Once. Twice. The Troublemaker was unfrozen and was no longer stunned. It turned to attack Evan, but it didn’t get the chance to. Just as it reached the little Dragon Master, who was busy drinking potions, a large weapon landed on its head, and cleaved it in half. It froze, before swirling around and around, disappearing for good. Evan looked up to see Aran. She seemed very pleased with herself. Walking over to Evan, she ruffled his hair. “Good job, kiddo. We got some nice experience points, that’s for sure.”

Evan smiled brightly at Aran, before rushing to Francis. Poking the green-haired boy, he heard a snore. “That’s a loud pig if I ever heard one! No one in Rien snores that loudly.” Aran laughed. Evan just laughed. Didn’t Mercedes say once that Aran snored louder than a grumpy boar? Evan decided not to mention it.

Shade was gaping as Aran walked back up to him. “Alley-oop! Time to go back to class!” She ran down the staircase, leaving Evan alone on the rooftop.

He sighed. Lilin patted his leg. “He’s asleep. Don’t worry. Just bring him to the infirmary.” Evan smiled and nodded. “I’m just sad that Francis didn’t get a good ending, after all his effort.” Elwin shook his head. “Unrequited love is a painful thing, both in this world and ours.” With that, Evan transformed Mir back and picked up Francis, depositing him in the infirmary. He returned to class, a little sad that it didn’t turn out as Francis expected.

After school, he received a call from Oz. “Evan? We are in the infirmary. Francis passed out from being rejected, but he’s fine now. Do you think you could come?” Evan breathed a sigh of relief, smiling down at Mir. Mir licked his ankle, and Evan replied Oz, “Yeah. I’m coming.” He could hear Oz chattering excitedly. “He could really use a friend right now, so hurry!” Evan cut off the call, before rushing into the infirmary.

Entering the room, he pushed the door shut and rushed up to Francis. Hawkeye, Cygnus, Irena and Oz were there too. Evan looked at Francis. He seemed dejected. When he finally noticed Evan, he managed a weak smile. “Hey, Evan. I guess… I guess I failed at love.”

Oz patted Francis on the back. “She just wasn’t meant to be. That’s all, right?” Irena smiled kindly at the boy. “Cheer up. You were at least sincere.” Hawkeye have a sympathetic look. “Buck up! There’s plenty of fish in the sea, you just have to find the right one! You can trust me, I’ve been through this many times!” Cygnus nodded. “It was short, but it was intense love nonetheless. Don’t worry about it, Francis. You did your best.”

Irena sighed. “The faster you forget, the better. Especially when you have been rejected multiple times. Don’t follow her anymore, not like your friend there.” She gestured to the door, where a familiar pompadour could be seen. But Francis shook his head. “No. I’m not giving up.”

Everyone stared at him. Did he mature?! Francis continued, “What matters is my will. My will to be with her whatever it takes. I can’t let go of my dream. If I do, what does that make me?”

Everyone was shocked at his words. Evan smiled widely. He learnt something. Francis learnt and grew from his mistake. He had never felt so proud to be Francis’ best friend.

Irena smiled and nodded. “You sound like a man.” Hawkeye laughed and grinned. “What doesn’t kill makes you stronger, am I right? Of course I’m right! Yes, you shouldn’t give up!”

Cygnus smiled, relieved. “I’m glad you came up with a healthy solution, Francis.”

Francis chuckled, though, Evan noted it wasn’t because of the praise. Francis was hiding something behind his back. “Of course… That’s why I have… THIS!” He pulled out a doll behind his back. It had twin ponytails, looking just like a rabbit… WAIT!

Evan felt a shiver run up his spine.

Francis was holding onto the Orchid doll, the one often seen in the Puppet Master’s hideout.

Oh Transcendents. Please help him.

The rest seemed to react accordingly. Oz spoke up first. “Is that… a Orchid doll?”

Francis chuckled. “Dolls never betray me. I should have done this from the start. Real women are hypocrites. Dolls aren’t like them. Real women don’t like short men. Dolls don’t care. Dolls… Dolls are for me.” He chuckled darkly, and everyone shivered.

“Is that your solution?! To be with an Orchid doll?!” Oz cried out.

Francis nodded. “Of course. I’m going to bring her out to theme parks, dates, movies and other stuff. I’m damaged now, kuhuhuhuhu…”

Evan felt a sense of failure, as he watched the scene. Francis… Oz seemed to feel the same, when she turned to face the others.

“Is this how it is suppose to end? Something doesn’t feel right.” She stared at the others for some confirmation. Irena sighed and shrugged. “Leave him be. He’s happy.”

Cygnus shook her head, tears forming on her eyes. “What a sad ending…” Hawkeye looked depressed as well, his head hanging. “Unrequited love… It is a sad thing.” Evan felt himself sweating at this scene.

“You guys… are giving up on Francis, aren’t you?”

Evan wished himself to fall into a hole. He fell to his knees, as Francis’ laughter pierced the air.

Back in the reading room, the witness to this entire thing stifled a laugh. Closing his book, he got up. Perhaps he was abusing his power in the school, but this was important as well. A couple more videos saved into his phone, but removed from the cameras of the school. He sent them to his computer, back to where he resided.

This incident… was a tad funny. But that wasn’t the point. He could see all their patterns when fighting. He could see the girls getting their memories wiped by the cat. He made special note about the cat. Whoever it was underneath that disguise, they were dangerous.

He opened and exited the reading room. Leaving the school, he turned and looked up to the infirmary once more. He didn’t want to see Evan’s disappointed face, but he had to do this. From what he gathered, Evan was barely twelve. At most fourteen. He shouldn’t be exposed to this. The witness murmured an apology to the child, before leaving the school.

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