“Aya!” Kaname called up the stairs to his sister. He would have to wait until later to punish her for not coming home early enough yesterday but that was something he’d have to save for later. For now he was to go back to school for the day, forced to deal with the walking bags of meat he so despised. “Mom made us breakfast!”
He started to climb the stairs, holding onto the railing. Splinters of wood pressed into his skin but he couldn’t help his anger. Anger was almost too light of a word to describe the hatred he felt towards his little sister. Her life was so carefree since she was one of the most pathetic girls you could ever ask for a daughter. Their father hardly ever turned his head from Kaname whenever she was in the room. He was too engulfed by his over-the-top dream of his only son getting into Tokyo University. All of the pressure that weighed down on him daily. All of the joy that had been sucked out of his life. All of it was because of him and him alone. He even went so far as to punch him whenever his grades were any less than perfect.
But Aya never had to deal with being disowned by him.
“Aya?” Kaname’s voice was quieter now that he was just outside her door. He could hear something fall off of her bed. He let out a deep breath. Why did he have to get stuck with such a clutz for a sister? “You’re going to be late if you don’t hurry up!”
Aya opened her door just a little bit. Enough so that he could see the dark circles that eternally shadowed her pinkish-purple eyes. She was visibly shaking, as she did every time she saw him. It ticked Kaname off. It always ticked him off. But on this particular morning, it was powerful enough to send his fist colliding with her stomach before she could even try to hide behind the door. He had pulled it away from her so that she couldn’t save herself. She knelt down on the floor, catching her breath as she tried to feel her ribs. How many had he broken that she hadn’t been able to get treatment for? They were never fractures that were fatal. Just enough to remind her of her constant misfortune, of the reasons that she never wanted to get out of bed in the morning.
Of the brother who wanted nothing more than to use her so that he could survive in this godforsaken world.
“That’s better.” The smirk on Kaname’s face was vile. A sin worse than murder itself. “Now off you go to school.”
Aya nodded before he could do anything else. She had dropped her bag but she wasn’t about to go back for it now. Not while he was still up there, lurking around like a shark just under the surface of the ocean. She didn’t even say goodbye to her mother when she called after her. The sun was out that day. It had been raining for the past week so it was a welcome sight to many of the faces that Aya passed by. She kept her head low and refused to look up. The rustling of leaves in the trees was calming, as was the breeze on through her hair. Sometimes she wondered if the world wanted to take care of her. To free her from everything she’d gone through. It always drove her back to thinking about her own death, a thought that ran rampant through her mind when she had nothing else to think about.
She waited in front of the train as it passed, wishing that she’d gotten there just a few seconds sooner so that she could have stood in front of it, ending her hopeless life once and for all.
Aya couldn’t stop hearing that voice in her head. She was certain that that whatever it had been wasn’t real. That the figure on her computer screen had been a figment of her imagination, onset by fatigue, aching from all the newly formed bruises that tainted her pale skin, and her stomach that growled from being emptied unexpectedly. Her mind kept lingering on the figure’s words, holding onto them like they were more precious than gold. It had promised her something to turn her life around. To make it better, turn it into the life that she wanted to lead. She raised her head up once she noticed she was at the school building, looking at all of the students around her. One's talking about what they’d done last night. Others holding hands with their partners.
Aya sighed to herself as she walked to her locker, standing in front of it to brace herself for whatever might be inside. That was the one thing that the site couldn’t grant her. A new personality. She wasn’t like all of the easy going girls around her who could talk to their friends without a second thought. Aya could barely talk to her own family without leaving as soon as she could to hide in her room (when her brother wasn’t home, but he almost always was). Would it make it any better if she could talk to them? She was the one who dragged everyone down in her class. She kept them outside during gym and held them up when she couldn’t properly answer a question during a lesson. A stick wouldn’t turn her into the person that they wanted her to be.
The person that she wanted to be.
She took a breath and held it as she opened her locker door. Her eyes widened slightly at the sight of the gun tucked into her shoe. It just sat there like a plaything, like it was nothing of value. The barrel was shaped like a heart and there were angel wings on the end of it. She tried to keep herself calm. Yatsumura eyed her up for a few seconds, though she shrugged and walked away when Aya didn’t move. This couldn’t possibly have been what the Mahou Shoujo Site had told her about. It could’ve been another one of Sarina’s jokes, telling her to kill herself since she was such a useless girl. That was when Aya noticed the piece of paper tucked in neatly next to it. Unfolding it, she saw the figure from the site looking up at her, eyes black and empty.
How use the stick: Just pull the trigger. That’s all.
Then, written in a box pointing at the figure like it was speaking right to her.
Starting today, you’re also a mahou shoujo!
It was signed off by the Mahou Shoujo Site. Aya had no choice but to keep it in her locker for the day, changing quickly into her shoes. She did take the piece of paper and tuck it down her shirt for safekeeping. It was one thing to have something that looked like a toy in your locker, it was another to have a note with it that said it could turn them into a magical girl. She took her time walking to class. Today was one of the ones where she’d come earlier than usual, meaning she ran the risk of running into Sarina and her posse who would undoubtedly drag her off somewhere so that they could torture her.
It was a miracle that Aya’s body hadn’t given out from all of the abuse it was put through everyday. Sometimes she couldn’t help but feel sorry for it. That it was cursed with having her inside of it, dragging it around only so that it could be beaten day in and day out. It could’ve had a girl who would stick up for herself inside of it but it had Aya. And she was in no position to challenge anyone who hurt her. A part of her felt that she deserved to endure the pain, that she wouldn’t be herself without it. A bigger part of her thought that it was pointless to fight when there was a chance that they could kill her and put her out of her misery right there and then.
“Well if it isn’t everyone’s favorite student,” Sarina’s lips twisted into a thin smile. One of her teeth stuck out over her bottom lip, making her look like she could tear anyone’s neck open with just her mouth alone. “Aya Asagiri.”
“W-What do you want?” Aya asked. Her voice was only audible to herself, which only ticked Sarina off more. “We have to get to class.”
Sarina stepped closer to her, taking Aya by the collar of her uniform. “What did you just say to me bitch?” She pulled out a sewing needle of her pocket. One that she’d used to stick Aya with more times than she could count. Aya was trembling in her grasp, staring at how sharp the tip of it looked under the light. “Or do I need to use this to get you to talk?”
“No!” Aya shouted. Fear and pain were the two things that could bring her true voice out. Her vocal chords reserved themselves for danger it seemed. “I was just saying that we need to get to class, don’t we?”
“Like you’re anything more than the extra student who causes nothing but trouble.” Over Sarina’s shoulder, Aya could see Erika and Kawano. Erika had brought herself to tears with laughter while Kawano had her phone out so that she could capture everything that Sarina was doing to Aya. “Come on, girls.”
Sarina held Aya’s eyes for a moment with her own. She felt like she was having the soul sucked out of her. “Let’s have some fun.”
Aya never made it to class that day.
Sarina had dragged her off to the bathroom, friends in tow, without time for Aya to process what had happened. Her face was forced into toilets, them timing how long she could hold her breath without trying to breathe underneath of the water. She pressed her lips together as tightly as she could but Aya always managed to get some water in her mouth. Sarina pulled her out and stepped on her neck like always, disapproving of the lack of time Aya racked up on the clock. It never amounted to more than twenty seconds. It was a reasonable amount of time in Aya’s eyes but to Sarina, it was pathetic. For what more could the girl who couldn’t stop shaking when anyone spoke to her be than pathetic?
Their hijinx hadn’t stopped there. Sarina decided to grab Aya roughly by her hair, dragging her over to the sink. It was there that she scalded her face with the hot water, leaving patches of red across Aya’s face that would be there for at least the rest of the day. She had even had to drink it down, feeling everything that it touched blister from the heat of it. Her tongue had swelled up now, after she’d been laying on the bathroom floor for a while. They’d abandoned her in a stall after they’d had their turns kicking her for what seemed like hours. It hadn’t been that long, much to Aya’s surprise. The bell for lunch sounded and she could hear footsteps out in the hall. If anyone saw her like this, it would be a disaster.
Aya forced herself up off the floor until she was certain that most of the crowd had passed. Her heart was racing as bile rose up into her throat. She found herself on her knees within a few seconds. She heaved and heaved but nothing came up. It was rare that something did come up. Aya hardly ever ate in the first place and when she did, her brother was the one to clear out her stomach before anyone else got the chance to. She let her face fall to the floor again, her black hair spreading out like spilled ink around her. How it hadn’t fallen out completely was a mystery she couldn’t solve.
Aya thought that she heard someone walking in but it was too quiet to alarm her into standing up, so when the door swung open, she tried to cover herself up with her hands.
“I’m fine, I swear!” She squeaked out to whoever it was that’d come to check on her. “Just feeling sick, that’s all!”
“You don’t have to play dumb with me, Asagiri.” Aya’s eyes perked up at the sound of the voice. She hadn’t heard it much, but she knew it well. Tsuyuno Yatsumura. “I’m not going to tell anyone what they did to you, since we both know what they’d do to you if that happened.” She held out her hand and all Aya could do was stare at it, stunned. “But I am here to help you.”
She could feel her fingers itching to grab it but she held them back. Her eyes focused on the tiles, crestfallen. “You don’t need to help me.”
“I don’t need to, that’s true.” Tsuyuno found Aya’s hands herself, letting her lean into her for support. “But I want to.”
Aya shook her head. She tried to break free of Tsuyuno’s aid, only to find herself stumbling even more. Tsuyuno grabbed onto both of her shoulders with her arms. It was both to steady her and to see her face closer. Looks from a distance didn’t do enough justice to Aya’s beauty. The way that her black hair fell around her shoulder, even slightly wet and plastered to her face, made her chin look that much sharper. Her skin, though burned, looked like it’d be soft if Tsuyuno chose to raise her hand and run her fingers across it. Her best feature, without question, was her eyes. The way that they looked up at Tsuyuno now, a confused mixture of fear and appreciation, made her want to hold Aya close and never let her go. Aya beat her to the punch, clutching onto Tsuyuno and burying her head in her shoulder so that she could cry. The blonde rubbed Aya’s back and sat them down on the floor, cradling her with her body.
“You’ve fought a long fight, Aya.” Tsuyuno whispered gently. “But another one will begin soon enough.” She found herself stroking Aya’s hair without thinking. It felt like silk between her fingertips. “And when it does, I’ll come and find you.”
Aya wiped her tears away and tilted her head, “What do you mean?”
“I can’t explain it now but I promise I will soon enough.” Tsuyuno smiled as gently as she could at Aya. The teary eyed girl wished that she could smile back and show her appreciation but when she tried to move her lips, all they could do was tremble. “Just hold on a bit longer.”
Aya was too weary to question her further, so she managed a nod. Her head was resting on Tsuyuno’s chest now. With her ear pressed against it, she could hear her heartbeat, sounding just as she’d imagined it to. Loud and strong, just like her. Aya thought that hearts were funny like that. They linked up to your emotions despite just being an organ. It almost felt like they could tell more about a person than the words that spilled out from their own mouth could. She hadn’t expected Tsuyuno to be this warm though. Maybe everyone was warm, and Aya had never been close enough to anyone to ever notice it before. It was comforting. It felt like a part of her that she’d been missing her entire life, being this close to somebody. She was about to fall asleep when her mind snapped her to her senses.
“I’m sorry!” Aya was blushing now. It blended into her burns so Tsuyuno didn’t even notice. “I-I didn’t mean to get so close!”
“You don’t have to be sorry.” Tsuyuno laughed. Aya noticed that while she laughed from her chest, it was light and airy. “You don’t have to get up until you’re ready.”
“Alright.” Aya found herself curling back into Tsuyuno without a second thought. “If you don’t mind, I don’t think a nap would hurt…”
“Sleep well, Asagiri.” Tsuyuno said just before Aya shut her eyes. “The fight can wait until tomorrow.”
“You piece of shit!” Kaname spat at Aya, grabbing her by her neck. She clawed at his arm with both of her hands, trying to throw him off. It only made him tighten his grip around it. “You came home late again!”
Aya had taken a longer nap than she’d anticipated in Tsuyuno’s arms. It was a miracle that it didn’t upset her, that she didn’t mind having to skip the rest of her classes if it meant that Aya could get some rest. Being greeted by her brother like this felt like it was her punishment for letting her enjoy herself to even the slightest degree. That was how everything seemed to be in Aya’s life. Whenever there was a ray of sunshine that shined down upon her, a storm followed it close behind. Aya had first thought that when Kaname beat her up like this that he intended to kill her. She had been smaller back then, in her first year of middle school, but his rage had managed to stay the same. He would snap whenever she crossed his path within a few feet, tying her up and throwing her onto her bed so that he could relieve his stress. There was one question that had been on Aya’s mind since he’d first started beating her up.
If she died, would he find some girl on the street to prey on, or was she his one and only punching bag?
“I didn’t mean to!” She forced out. Every word felt like it was collapsing her lungs further. “I had to stay after class and help clean up!”
“Nobody would ever ask for your help cleaning up!” Kaname drove his fist into her chest this time. Right where her heart was. Paper crinkled against his knuckles. “Did you seriously decide to start stuffing your bra?”
“No!” Aya covered her chest with her arms but Kaname pried them back, reaching down her shirt to grab the piece of paper in question. “Please don’t read that! It’s important!”
“You don’t own anything important.” Kaname sneered. He opened up the folded paper and skimmed over it. His mouth turned down into an even deeper frown with every second he stared at it. He pushed Aya up against the wall with his arm on her neck. “What the hell is this?”
“I said that it was nothing!” Aya felt her hand going towards the stick the site had given her. She’d tucked it into the waistband of her skirt at the end of the day. When she felt her fingers fit in the trigger, she held onto it. “You shouldn’t just put your hand down girls shirts like that!”
“With your boobs as small as yours, I think you can hardly be considered a girl.” Aya could almost feel her spine cracking against the wall. She raised up the gun in front of her, pressing it into his stomach. He looked down at it, moving his free hand to grab it. Aya had to make a decision and fast. “What is tha-”
She pulled the trigger before Kaname could finish his question.
What Aya hadn’t anticipated was that it would actually work. There was a puff of pink smoke shaped like a heart and he was gone. Where he went, she had no clue. Something warm and wet started dripping down her face and at first, Aya thought she was crying. She raised her arm up to her face to wipe it, only to bring it down and notice the blood that stained it as well as an emblem of a heart on her wrist. Her legs ran faster than he mind could catch up into the bathroom, where she took a good look at herself in the mirror. The eyes that stared back at her had hearts inside of them, matching her wrist. The blood coming out of them wasn’t as much as she thought it would be but the ends of her hair had been turned the same sickening shade, as well as growing a few inches.
This had to be a nightmare.
There was no way that she had just transported her brother to some unknown place with some magical stick that some shady website had sent her. How had they even gotten it to her school? Aya couldn’t look at herself in the mirror any longer. At this ‘mahou shoujo’ she’d become. She ran into her bedroom and shut the door, sinking down against it so that she could bury her head in her knees. They would find out that she had done it. That was the one thing she was certain of. He was with her at the time and their parents knew that the both of them were home. Their father hardly ever let Kaname out of his sight, peeking into his room every once in a while to make sure that he was studying. What would they do to Aya if they found out that she had vanished their only son into thin air?
One way or another they would make sure she would be thrown in jail. And if they couldn’t do that, they would surely disown her. Aya would have to spend the rest of her miserable days living with cats in alleyways, competing for space to sleep and scraps to eat. Knowing her she wouldn’t have the strength to keep up with them and would die before she had even begun to live. The upsides would be no more daily beatings by Kaname or Sarina or any of the other bullies at school. It might be a good thing if they could connect her to his disappearance. Could that have been the reason that the site had sent her the stick? So that she could cure her misfortune by being sent away?
Aya couldn’t take all of her thoughts right now. She crawled up and into her bed, tucking the gun under her pillow for safekeeping. She had to admit, magical stick or not, it was cute. Someday if she could, she might sell it to a cosplayer online so that they could use it for their costume. They would have more fun with it. They would be able to do something good with it, not send their brother away to an unknown location that nobody knew. She clutched onto her covers, pulling them just above her eyes. She didn’t want to see the world around her right now. All that she wanted to do was sleep and hope that wherever Kaname was, that he could find his way back by the morning.
Aya fell asleep so that she wouldn’t think about all of the possibilities of where Kaname had ended up.
The phone wouldn’t stop ringing.
It clicked off after the sixth ring that Aya had been awake for. How many there had been before that, she couldn’t tell. The silence that filled their household felt suffocating. Whoever was on the phone didn’t seem to be delivering any good news. Her mother was crying out for her father before Aya could even pick up the phone in her room and listen to see who she was talking to and what they were talking about. Then it was only her father’s voice she could her, calling out to Aya. Her mother was sobbing. Those loud, ugly sobs that Aya had only seen in shows on television. The ones where they zoomed in on the character at their most hopeless, most broken moment, to show how vulnerable and shattered their heart truly was by what had just occurred.
Aya’s stomach dropped.
Her feet hit the ground running, thumping against the stairs as she rushed to the kitchen. Her mother was just as she’d imagined her. Clutching onto her dad’s body like he was the only thing that could save her from whatever despair had no doubt been delivered to her by the person on the phone. She tried to look at Aya when she came in. She rubbed her eyes with her sleeve and even tried to smile. Though her lips merely trembled and before Aya knew it, she was pressed between her and her father, the two of them hugging her like they never had before. Like they loved Aya. It wasn’t that they didn’t love her. Her mother made her dinners and her father would occasionally talk to her about school. It was that they never seemed to do any more than that. She was their daughter but she wasn’t family. Not family that they needed.
That had always been Kaname.
“Aya…” Her father’s voice was solemn. Like there was nothing left for him to say that would make him happy anymore. “That was the hospital on the phone.”
“Kaname is…” Her mother tried to continue. She started sobbing midway through, having to collect herself enough to finish off the sentence. Aya knew what she was going to say. It was written all over their faces and the way that their arms dug into her figure, holding onto the piece of the puzzle from their family that wasn’t missing. “Kaname is dead.”
Aya looked up at her mom now with tears in her eyes. They started off as trickles but quickly turned to waves when her mom started to cry again. She pulled her closer to her, holding onto her like she was five years old and afraid of the dark. Aya thought at first that she was crying because of his death. That a part of her still loved Kaname, even after all that he had done to her. There were scars on her that hadn’t healed, ones that he had inflicted with a pocket knife on the days before final exams at school, that would always remind her of him. But they would remind her of the mistake she had made, not the loss of the brother who had done nothing but cause her harm. Every injury would scream his name at her, taunt her with it, until she was finally buried in the ground like he would be.
“That stupid boy.” Her father grumbled, throwing the receiver of the phone onto the ground. Aya could hear it beep as he stomped on it, pulverizing it until it was nothing more than wires and plastic on the floor. “What reason does he have to go and stand in front of a train?”
Aya’s heart stopped. “K-Kaname k-k-killed himself?”
Her mother covered Aya’s ears, yelling something at her father that she could almost make out, though it was muffled by her hands. Her father tried to snap back and at one point, her head was jostled around from all of the commotion. Aya wondered if her mother had been close to slapping him. At pulling her own trigger in a way, to put him in his place that he should’ve been put into ages ago. But when she pulled her hands away, they both seemed to be exactly the same as before. There wasn’t a spark of malice between them. Aya looked up at her mother expectantly, both hoping and fearing the answer to her question. Her mother sighed, taking both of Aya’s hands in her own as she kneeled down in front of her.
“Sometimes when people have stressful lives or unfortunate lives or when their minds happen to be telling them things that aren’t true…” Her mother was trembling just like Aya. She reached her hand out and ran her fingers through her hair, noticing how much like silk it felt. The woman smiled at her daughter’s gesture. “They think that nothing’s going to get better for them in their lives. And because of it, as tragic as it might be for those around them, they decide that the only option is for them to not exist anymore.”
“It’s the cowards way out if you ask me.” Her father pulled out a lighter and a cigarette. Aya hadn't know that he smoked until right then. “Life’s full of misfortune. If everything was perfect all of the time, there wouldn’t be a reason to live.”
The woman glared at her husband for a moment before turning back to her daughter. “Kaname did that to himself because he didn’t want to tell anyone how he felt. He was under pressure from school and his classmates and your father that he thought that it would be easier to leave this life than learn than drag other people into his troubles. But the thing is, Aya, life isn’t about suffering to get through to a better point. It’s about finding things that can aid that suffering so that you can live your life with as much happiness as possible. Whether it be us that you lean on, friends that you meet at school, or a hobby or passion that you channel yourself into, always make sure that you have something that makes you feel okay.”
“Okay.” Aya nodded, not having the heart to tell her that it was all her fault. That she’d done nothing wrong in parenting him. “I’m sure Kaname wouldn’t want us to be crying right now so let’s try to smile for him. So that he can be okay.”
“That sounds lovely, Aya.” Her mother smiled one of the biggest smiles she ever had at Aya and for some reason, she found herself smiling back. “Kaname was lucky to have you as his sister.”
The rest of the night went on for what seemed like hours. Aya’s parents left her at home as they went to the hospital to confirm Kaname’s identity. His school I.D. had been on him when he’d been hit but they had to have the parents there just to be certain. Aya could’ve told them that it was him by just the broken shards of his glasses that she knew had been crushed on impact. If they hadn’t, it would’ve been easier for her to confirm it for them. Her mother and father also had to decide while they were there the day that they wanted to bury him. Aya had asked before they left if she had to attend the funeral. Her father had tried to butt in when her mom had said that that wouldn’t be a problem. They said that they were contacting the school and that she would be excused for the next week.
Aya shoved her computer under her bed before she went to sleep, putting the gun there with it.
She hoped that she would never even have to think about whatever the hell that Mahou Shoujo Site was ever again. That creature, the haunting voice…
It carried over into her thoughts the next time she woke up.
She thought that she had gotten up early. Sunlight was pouring in through her window, showcasing the bright blue that surrounded it. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky that Aya could see but it wasn’t morning. From the amount of cars she saw on the road and pedestrians she saw walking on the street, it had to be morning. She decided to change into something comfortable. Something that wasn’t her day old, toilet water, sweat smelling school uniform. She slipped her shirt over her head, turning to put it down on the bed so that she could put it into the hamper in the bathroom later. She would have to force herself to shower today, too. It might be one of the last ones she ever got that was private and warm. Tsuyuno was sitting on the edge of her bed, watching Aya’s every move.
Aya didn’t think anything of it until she had finished changing, realizing how stupid she was a few minutes too late.
“Y-Yatsumura?!” She nearly hit her head on her closet door, wishing that she could crawl inside of it and be transported off to an alternate reality. Maybe one where her brother was alive. “How long have you been here?”
“A while.” Tsuyuno shrugged it off. Nothing seemed to phase her, Aya noticed. She pushed some of her blonde hair out of her face, pulling some papers out of her bag and holding them out to her. “I brought all of your assignments for the next week.”
“Thank you…” Aya took them without haste, setting them on her desk. Tsuyuno looked at it and her eyebrows furrowed. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t you have a computer, Asagiri?” She asked, glancing around the room a second time. “How could the site have contacted you otherwise?”
“T-The site?” Aya froze. She refused to let her eyes wander to underneath of her bed for even a second. Otherwise, Tsuyuno would follow them and find out where her deepest fears were hidden. “What are you talking about?”
“Surely you know by now,” Tsuyuno pressed a button on her phone, and before Aya knew it, she was twirling her gun around her finger. Horrified, she turned around. Sure enough, her laptop was sitting right on her desk. “What your next fight is.”
Tsuyuno’s eyes had moons in them. A trail of blood made its way out of her mouth, trickling out of it like it had for Aya out of her eyes. There was some sort of emblem on her wrist but it was hard to make out, since a decent part of it looked to be missing. Aya felt her breath hitch in her throat. Tsuyuno had used her power to find out where everything was hidden. This wasn't happening. There weren’t such things as magical girls other than in animes and mangas. They were figments of the imagination, fictional figures that they had all looked up to at some point and dreamt to be like. Aya wasn’t one of them. Not now. Not in any reality that she was in.
“Are you…” Aya’s voice was nearly silent. “A mahou shoujo, too?”
“Welcome, Asagiri.” Tsuyuno smirked, tossing Aya her gun. “To the race to beat Tempest.”