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An Axe to Grind

By Hunting4Harts

Romance / Action

Chapter 1

A/N: Okay, I re-watched the series and decided that I needed to redo this (because my characterization had some major flaws). While I fixed it, I chose to try something new: first person POV in the present tense. Help me out here people- I really need feedback on this...


The boat skips over a rough patch of water, and I nearly lose my grip on the railing. In my desperation to hold on, I take a wave to the face. I spit the salty water out, murmuring, "Bleaagh. Sea salt." How in the world can people like ice cream that tastes like this?

Immediately, the last time my older brother and I ate together comes to mind.

An ice cream parlor, near the family house in Neo-Venice. Cayenne near the window, teasing me about how I only ever eat strawberry, and single scoops at that. I can remember laughing a lot that day- having fun. Especially when he declared he loved ice cream. My brother, Mr. Tall, Dark and Serious. Who'd've thought that someone like him loves sweet stuff?

I giggle a little at the recollection. It's one of my favorites, which is hard for me to understand. That day just happens to also be-

The mirth flows away as another wave crashes into the boat and rips my hood from my face. Frantic hands grab at it, yank it back over the (now wet) strands of my short, choppy hair. I clutch the railing like a lifeline again, risking a quick glance around. That was close, Mikono. You have to be more careful. None of the other passengers- crew members and their families- (the boat is having some sort of family day or something) catch my worried eyes, except for a little kid. Small, almost grape-sized, and bright- white with some pink at the edges. Really rare, the purity of her light. Happy, but embarrassed- no, timid.

The girl smiles shyly at me, waving with one hand. I smile back, and she grins, brushing a curl of hair from her face. The pink recedes a little. Obviously, she thinks I'm the daughter of another crewman, here for the event like she is. Because a black hoodie, knee-length pink skirt and matching boots are definitely the appropriate attire for a scorcher like today. And let's not forget that nasty-tasting water, which I'm currently drenched with. Perfectly normal. I turn around again and watch the horizon. Wonder how they'd react if they knew that I-

Holy Newton! An island- the island comes into view, cutting the thought off before it reaches its depressing end. It's huge!

Cayenne's school rests on Neo-Deava Island. He's described it to me before, several times- most recently the call he always makes before Christmas. But his words are obviously not accurate.

"'Kinda big,' he said. 'With a really weird wall.'" The words slip out before I even think. Ahead of me the campus sprawls out, at least a mile across. And though I can see the three buildings- see the separated fields ("Only a few of the classes are co-ed," Cayenne has told me, "and P.E. isn't one of them.") and make out the students going about their days- distantly, it's the divider that has me captivated. The "weird wall" splits the grounds in half. And from where I stand, I'm sure it reaches the cloud line.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. But still.

There's a movement to my left. Tiny and dim center, large wispy exterior; yellow-green, and brown streaks with blackened spots. Unpleasant.

My head snaps around to see a crewman in uniform- one of the few who's on duty and actually aware of why I'm here. "Yes?" I ask, pleasant smile in place. My skin crawls and I pray he doesn't notice. He doesn't.

He smiles back at me. Everyone does. A flash of memory crosses my mind. Almost everyone, I correct forcing the thoughts away.

"…soon. Alright?" The man looks at me, clearly expecting an answer.

My smile turns sheepish. "Sorry, I just totally spazzed out. Could you repeat that?"

He chuckles. It does something to his face, and to the colors. His smile looks dangerous. The black specks grow larger, darker, and the center dims, too. It's almost gone now. "Captain was right- you're a weird one. But you're cute." Though he winks at me, the dots grow some more. My smile becomes uncertain. Again, he doesn't seem to notice. "We'll be docking soon, on the left side. I know you asked if we could drop you at the center wharf, but we need permission for that. But you're lucky either way, huh?" He leans closer to me.

Yeah, not happening. Forced giggle. "You're right! Thanks so much for telling me!" Obnoxiously cheerful voice, thousand mega-watt smile. "Oh! I should go thank the captain, too, since he is the reason why I'm arriving today. Thanks again!"

And then I'm gone, leaving the bewildered man behind me.

The crowd swallows me up before he has a chance to refocus.

This is the first time I've ever been grateful to be around so many people. Don't think on it, I tell myself. The boat slows to a stop. My trusty backpack and I hurry away, off of the aquatic vehicle. Once on the dock I turn around and catch sight of the captain in the bridge. I wave enthusiastically.

Colors on the ship shift- specifically the nice, pale blue that I know to be the captain. It seems to glow brighter, get paler. Pastels- pink, and a hint of yellow- swirl around the edge. Pleased to have helped. Happy, even. He tips his hat at me. I curtsy back at the older man, feeling beyond silly.

But happy, for the first time in a while.

I notice that the white light I saw earlier- barely visible from here- brightens in surprise. The little girl stands by the railing. I wave at her, and she waves back, still a bit shocked.

The boat chooses that moment to leave the dock, resume its course. A small smile forms on my face as I turn away. And then I start walking.

My eyes widen, the smile falls. From this spot I can see the students like had earlier- bright, shifting orbs of color. But they're bigger now- clearer. Blinding.

I wince. Then, squinting to block out at least some the light- and failing miserably, I forge ahead.

You're here, Mikono, I remind myself. You can do this. Referring to the lights. Just one thing to do and then you'll be done. It's a clean break.

I hope.

One foot in front of the other. Hood up, uneven fringe in my eyes, which are trained on the ground a few feet ahead. That's how I walk to the ever-distant buildings.

I don't notice the change in the ground as I walk; the lights from the students are too bright. Still, the roughly paved path turns to grass, despite my obliviousness.

I hear the warning, "Look out!"

And I turn towards the voice, hearing the genuine panic. But it's not one student yelling to another. The warning is for me, but that registers too late. The ball connects.

To my head.

I see people- other girls begin to crowd around me. Too much- too bright…! Pain blooms, both where the ball hit me, and behind my eyes. The world starts to grow dark, concerned voices fade away. As unconsciousness nears, I somehow manage to think, Well, it could be worse…

And then I'm gone.

I sit bolt upright. The room is unfamiliar. The lights that represent other people come from all around me, though none are in the room with me. Suddenly, I realize I'm in a bed. Let's repeat that, shall we? I'm in an unfamiliar bed with no memory of why I'm here- or even any idea where. Here. Is.

I jump up.

Or try to at least.

The blankets follow me, tangling up my legs, and I topple to the ground with a loud thud.

Ouch.

Universe: 286. Mikono: - 34.3.

Turns out my brilliant escape attempt would have been useless. An orb of shockingly bright pink rushes towards me, pulsing rapidly with what seems like worry, and when it nears I can just barely make out a person. Long blonde hair that's left loose, a pink lab coat-looking jacket, bright blue eyes. Pretty. The pulsing slows, and then stops. "Well," the woman smiles, "any reason why you decided to get to know my floor better? I promise you, the bed's more comfortable in the long run."

"Uhh…" Intelligent answer on my part. "I- I just…The blankets. And then physics- gravity…The-" Stop talking, nerd. Posthaste.

She walks over to the windows as I wriggle around on the floor, trying to get free. Now that she mentions it (and the adrenaline starts to fade) the tiles really aren't comfortable. But the blankets have decided to keep me hostage, and won't let me get up. The blonde turns and opens her mouth, presumably to ask me something. And then she giggles a bit, laughing at my expense.

Oh, yeah, ha-ha-ha. This is hilarious.

Please, take no note of the sarcasm.

"You need some help over there?" she manages between chuckles.

After an eternity, the blankets come loose, and one leg shoots out. "…N-No, no. I'm good." I just have a new collection of bruises. Perfectly fine.

When I stand, finally, I realize I really am fine. No, not as in good-looking; I'm not pretty like this lady is- hair cut raggedly, too skinny, too tall, eyes too strange. I'm fine, as in I'm still dressed from my jacket down to my boots, and nothing feels hurt (other than the bruises from the floor and the blankets. The evil, escape-attempt-thwarting pals). Even the… I distract myself.

The breeze from outside is pleasant. It blows my hair away from-

My hands go straight to my hood, and pull it up- arrange it to cover almost half of my face. Do not panic, don't panic, don'tpanic, don'tpanicdon'tpanicdon'tpanic. I'm perfectly calm. Like the Sea of Serenity before it was blasted apart. Which basically means I'm panicking, just a little. What had she seen? How much of it?

"Who are you?" To my credit, I don't sound panicked- nor do I sound angry or resigned. I sound curious. Which is a good thing. Probably. I think. Maybe?

"I should be asking you. It's not everyday someone comes here unannounced. We're a bit out of the way." Her smile is still in place, but the pink dims a little, doing some sort of reverse hiccup. Long slow dimming, quick pulse of brightness, repeat. Suspicion, maybe? It would match the way her eyes are looking at me. Almost.

I've never seen this before.

The look on my face- I could feel that there was a look, even though I couldn't see it- must have convinced her to go first. She found a glass of water and handed it to me, gesturing for me to drink. I didn't. Good thing too.

"I'm Sylvia, the school nurse."

"S-Sylvia?" I question. The part about her being a nurse flies right over my head. "As in the Sylvia?" It's a really good thing I decided not to sip the water.

Neo-Venice, Neo-Kowloon- heck, the whole world- has heard of Sylvia. She's practically an idol, despite the one interview she agreed to that says she hates the publicity. There's even a movie about her. And a clothing line inspired by her. And a statue back home. Among other forms of tribute. And why wouldn't there be? She is Sylvia, the woman- the Element that saved the world. Alongside with Apollo- her Vector and husband- and her brother Sirius' team. May they rest in peace. Only two people from that team survived- Sylvia, and Sirius' wife, Reika. Reika isn't as famous though.

"Yes. I wish people would stop spreading those rumors." A thought seems to occur to her, because she frowns. "Shouldn't you tell me yours?"

"M-Mine?" My what?

What does she know?

The pink orb flashes with what I recognize as irritation.

"Your name, kid?"

Right. "O-oh! Sorry. I'm Mikono."

And que the awkward silence. I look around desperate for something to break said silence. I spot my bag slumped at the foot of the bed and bend to pick it up. No use leaving it there.

At that precise moment Sylvia nods decisively, and shuts the window. "Alright. If you're feeling up to it, can I take you to the Headmistress' office now? She did say she wanted to see you."

I freeze.

This is not good. All caps, full stop. NOT GOOD.

"A-actually, I-I was j-just-" My grip tightens on the strap of my bag.

"Let's go." And then she takes me by the hand and pulls me out the door. I stumble behind her through the strangely empty halls, my bag still in my grasp.

Where did everyone go? There were so many lights a second ago. And then poof…

I don't get time to think on it for long though. Way before I'm ready, Sylvia announces, "Here we are!" And deposits me in front of two large, painted wooden doors. She knocks twice before my protests can reach my lips.

"S-" I begin. But that's as far as I get.

"Headmistress?"

Oh. Crap. This was not in the plan, Mikono! I need to get away somehow. But Sylvia can probably read my thoughts on my face, or maybe she actually does read minds like half the rumors say. She grabs my hand again. No way out.

"Yes, Sylvia?" A voice: young, composed, female. Well, duh. Headmistress, Mikono.

"I brought her with me, Crea."

"Ah, yes. Come in."

The blonde holding me with her vice-like hands opens the door, shoves me inside. But she doesn't enter. "There's going to be a storm today, have to go make sure all the windows are closed. Sorry!"

What?

The pink glow has dark splotches on the surface, and the light is dim, now. It pulses rapidly. Worry and …shame? Or guilt, perhaps? She was fine a second ago, so…

"What did she do to you?" Again, don't mean to say that out loud. I really need to get my filter fixed.

I'm not even looking at the Headmistress, but her tone tells me she's glaring. "What?"

I turn slowly, only to see the fear come true. A giant purple light- lavender at the bright center, faintly blue-violet around the edge. Sad, but angry, if the brightness, flares and pulse aren't her usual state. I'm gonna guess that they're not; nobody I've met has ever had that as a baseline. Glaring eyes- From a surprisingly young woman…whose hair is white?

"I- T-That is, I m-meant..." Wow, tongue tied twice in one day, and there's not even any family around.

Besides Cayenne, but he's not in the roo- Focus!

"S-Sorry?"

And just like that, the glare is gone. She hums. And with the hum, the bright lavender dims slightly, the arching flares recede. "What did you mean by that question, young lady?"

Is there irony in being called "young lady" by someone who looks years younger than me? Yes, I do believe so. But that tone of hers, and that look in her eye…

"I-I-"

"Most people, if they notice how awkward the two of us are in the same room, assume I did something to Sylvia. Please, take a seat." It sounds casual, truly, it does. But again, that look in her eye…I sit down on one of the room's two cream-colored settees. She continues. "I am Headmistress Crea Drosera. Level Seven Element, and Level Three Vector."

Crap. She's powerful.

Vectors. Elements. Levels.

Vectors are people with the ability to move their particles around and transform into some sort of weapon- a gun, a sword, you name it. If it's a weapon, it's possible, though there's only one transformation per person. Scientists have no idea how, or why. (People have taken to blaming myths.) As part of my family- I hide a flinch, knowing it'll make me seem guilty- I'm very familiar with the branch of gun-type Vectors. After all, in my clan, practically everyone is a gun-type Vector. As such, I also know that most Vectors go into the practical side of the government- police, military, sometimes intelligence or secret service- or do other types of security work. They don't really have too many options other than those. Besides crime, but that is a bit- Ahem.

Elements are people who can safely wield a Vector. Sounds really weird, I know. But it's dangerous for a Vector to work alone- they get stuck in their weapon form sometimes, and need a partner to make sure they don't get stolen or broken or anything like that. And if anyone who's not an Element tries to use a Vector, both people get hurt. Heck, stings and burns are even common between Elements and Vectors, if they aren't suited to each other.

My mother's grandmother is an Element, so if I want to know more about them, I'd have to ask her. Only we've never met, and she's been dead for two decades, so I have absolutely no idea how compatibility works. (If the scientists have figured this out, they won't share it either. The general public believes that it has something to do with how the spirit and body combine- something about "sharing your souls" or some such nonsense. Again, based on myths.) No one else is willing to tell me, and I know I'll never find out otherwise. Anyway.

Elements and Vectors are divided into groups known as Levels based on their power and skill. Level One is the weakest, Level Eight the highest. Although someone's Level can change, being strong enough to be higher than Level Four is extremely rare.

Almost as rare as being both Element and Vector. They're able to wield themselves, if their Level is high enough. Sort of like the "haunted weapons" in all those stories the general populace is fond of. You know, the ones that fly around randomly attacking people?

Gulp.

Ms. Drosera looks me in the eyes, as if seeing into me- through me. But she's smiling now, and her light seems calmer. Her mouth opens and she says, "Please, help yourself to a donut." She gestures at the coffee table between the two sofas and, for the first time, I notice the rack filled with the snack. Ha, a rhyme.

I firmly shake my head, declining the offer. My eye does linger on the one with strawberry frosting, though, for a moment. Then I turn back to her.

She purses her lips, but the lavender light just flickers in what I think is- probably?- surprise.

"I received a report from several concerned students that a girl had gotten hit earlier, during P.E., but that she was not a student. I assume that you are the girl in question?" It's a rhetorical question, but I nod anyway. "Instructor Dantes believes you're here as a spy. Calm down, I don't agree with him, and neither do most of the others. You're not the sort who would do that, are you…? I don't believe I caught your name."

Ugh. This is why I was trying to avoid her. "I'm Mikono."

The light flares in irritation. "First and last name, please, young lady."

I almost giggle; she looks younger than I do, if you ignore the hair. So that statement is odd- or maybe not, I think. She is Level Seven as an Element, and anyone Level Six or higher ages weirdly. But I don't laugh.

For one, she might actually be older than me, so it would be rude of me.

For another, she just asked for my full name. I hate giving my full name. It always leads to something embarrassing. Without fail.

But still, I answer in a small voice. I'm in her turf. "M-My name…is Mikono…Mikono Suzushiro." The words are awkward coming out, as always. I feel a flush rising on the back of my neck- and not from wearing a hood indoors. Here it comes.

The sharp inhale, the quick bright flare of surprise that turns into…Where's the greedy dimming of the lavender light- the spots that sometimes form? I can't see them on her, only the flare of surprise, and it's not because my hoodie and my uneven bangs are blocking part of the view. They're not there.

The expected questions do come, though. "Suzushiro? Did you come to enroll? What type of Vector are you? Long-range, mid-range? One handed, or two?" Clearly, she thinks I'm a gun-type Vector like the rest of the family. So, yeah, of course, she wants something from me.

Yep, there's that familiar sensation- embarrassment. Everyone always assumes-

"A-Actually I-I'm not…" I fix my eyes on the floor.

It's the reason I'm here; I'm not a Vector: not really a Suzushiro.

Worthless.

The headmistress' eyes widen, her orb brightens some more, and I hear that she sits back down. "I apologize. I just assumed-" She cuts herself off, probably able to see the red hue that my face is taking on, regardless of the hoodie. She clears her throat. "Might I ask why you are here, then?"

I close my eyes, holding back a sudden strong wave of feeling. "I-I," I stop and clear my throat. "I have a message for my brother, Cayenne."

The lavender orb dims.

I hazard a glimpse up, and then immediately return my gaze to the floor. Her face, and that light of hers… Does she suspect…?

No, she can't. No one would ever…Since I'm-

"I'm afraid that Cayenne isn't here. His class is on a field trip with the school advisor right now, and they're not due to return for at least another week. If you like, you can write it down and leave it in his dorm."

An out. An easy way out of this. I can just- No. I shake my head. That would defeat the purpose of coming here, and it wouldn't be the clean break that I- that we need. "I…I have to- It w-would be b-better if he heard it from me…In person."

The swirls of blue-violet bleed in from the outer edges, darkening the beautiful, pale purple. "In that case-"

Heavy rain suddenly pelts the windows behind the desk. A loud rumble of thunder shakes the rack of donuts, and the strawberry-frosted one falls onto the table. If I'd known that would happen, I'd've eaten it. But regretting it won't help anything, and food's not high on my priority list anyway. I hear the aftermath of another strike of lightning, and I remember the boat that gave me a ride here. I hope they're safe…

Crea Drosera speaks again. "I guess it would be best if you stay in the Girls' Dormitory until your brother gets back…"

"I- I couldn't impo…" Thunder, again. In this weather, where else would you stay, idiot? You're being ridiculous. "O-Okay, I guess."

The headmistress pushes a button on her desk- some sort of intercom. "Please report to my office." She lets go without receiving a reply, and turns back to me. "While you remain on campus, I will expect you to attend the classes for core subjects, at the very least, effective starting tomorrow."

There's no way around that, especially since I'd feel guilty staying here without doing something. "Al-Alright."

How, exactly, does this work? I've only ever been homeschooled. I don't get a chance to ask.

A dark-haired woman comes in. Centered on her belly button, like all other people, is an orb of light. It's beautiful, but sad: dim, and deep, deep magenta with artistic swirls of blues in so many different shades. She has a seemingly permanent speck of black, a tiny one, near the top. My jaw drops, ever so slight, and I frown. She's really sad.

I wonder, is this what I look like…?

Thunder, once more. This time the bolt of light is closer.

"You called, Crea?"

"Yes, Reika." I close my mouth. Reika?

That explains a lot.

"This young lady came to deliver a message to her brother, but he's on that field trip. Until the group returns, she'll be staying here, as a student. Could you show her to a dorm, please? And help her get settled."

Oh. She's avoiding my name, probably to prevent another misunderstanding.

That's nice of her.

"Of course." Reika has me draw some playing cards- Ace of Hearts, Queen of Cloves, Black Joker- and then guides me through the still-empty halls. She doesn't explain why she needed me to draw the cards.

As we walk, I remember how full the hall was, until I woke up. I ask, "Ms. Reika, where is everyone? The halls were full a while ago, but now…"

"There was a fight in the cafeteria, so everyone's been confined to their classrooms until the final bell- except the culprits, they're in detention."

Makes sense, I guess.

She opens a door for me, and I step inside the pastel pink and orange space. "I'll see you tomorrow for Lit., okay?" she asks, though it's more of a statement than a question.

I nod. And then she leaves, closing the door behind herself.

The room is frugal- a bed, with a pillow on top of the folded blanket; a desk and chair, with a lamp on the desk's top; a window; a closet. The only thing that stands out is the floor-length mirror next to the desk.

Don't do it, Mikono.

But my feet deposit me in front of the looking glass anyway.

I pull off the white-sleeved black hoodie, revealing the pink camisole underneath. And then I look up. And for the first time all day, I don't see anything but a person staring back at me.

Eyes that are neither blue nor green, but some bizarre, almost luminescent mixture of the two. Messily cut, uneven black hair- I'd snipped it myself, the remnant of a fit of anger. Skin too pale. Legs too long. Ugly. Just like they've always said. White bandage, only just visible, climbing up from the back of my left shoulder. Bruise on my jaw, close to my left ear. A bracelet of black, blue and purple around my right wrist. My eyes move from each of these, quickly sliding away, down to my tummy.

I stare hard at my bellybutton.

But there's nothing there.

No light, not even a dim one the size of a raisin. Nothing.

Ugly.

Everyone else, absolutely everyone I've ever seen- in person, on TV- everyone else has a light.

Except me.

Freak.

I turn away and flop face-down onto the bed.

This wasn't the plan. At all.

It'll take too long for this to end.


A/N: She said she was a nerd. Now I'm going to have her randomly spout facts about stuff...And there will be nervous babbling, mwhahaha!

Ahem.

Word Count: 4340, Approx.

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1. Chapter 1
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