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That Faraway Dream

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Chapter 1: The Entrance Exam, Part I

Mallory inhaled, and held her breath for a long moment as she regarded U.A. High School. Several other potential students joined her in gawking, while others brushed past her with nervous or confident strides. The academy was much larger and more intimidating than she realized, and certainly she had never seen anything like it at home; not when high school was less significant in her own culture. She clutched the pocket-sized book in her hands tighter, and finally exhaled through her nose. She paused to collect her thoughts, to reassure herself that everything would work out.

There was no point in getting scared now that she was here. She had prepared for this tirelessly, combing over the details of her Quirk’s nature and staying in shape through dedicated exercise and dieting. The deep, yearning ache to become a hero that she had been afflicted with for the past several years could finally feel relief. She could do this. She owed it to herself to pass.

After taking another breath, she set her backpack down and rummaged through it, confirming that she had brought everything: a track suit, writing utensils (with extra pencils and erasers, should she or someone else need them), bus fare, and a box of matches, just in case the mock battle would require it. She wasn’t able to find much information about it online, so she wasn’t sure what it would entail, but she figured it was better to be overprepared.

She carefully put her book away, and her gaze moved down from the large glass panes of the building to face ahead of her, at the students steadily pouring inside. She straightened and followed them, passing under the gate of U.A. High School.

Just inside, rows of tables were set up in front of and behind the shoe lockers, each occupied by two or three people, a computer, and rows of exam tickets. Unfortunately, Mallory was immediately lost. They had signs set on top of the tables to organize people by name, but the syllables were in kanji.

Uh oh. She turned a little red, realizing that she would have to interrupt someone to explain her name. She hesitated for a moment, but realized that standing in the middle of the crowd as people went around her was worse than approaching someone. Mallory stepped into the shortest line and waited for her turn.

“Excuse me.” She offered a slight, apologetic bow. “I’m sorry for the trouble, but my name is English, so it’s written in katakana. I don’t know where to go.”

The middle-aged woman at the table looked up at her and smiled. “Oh, a potential exchange student? Not a problem. Do you know how to write your name?”

She wasn’t an exchange student, exactly, but there was no point in correcting her. “Yes, of course.” The lady passed her a notepad and pen, and she jotted down her name. “My first name is Mallory, and my family name is Tinker.”

“‘Tinker?’” the woman repeated thoughtfully, entering something into her computer. “Ah, your examinee ID is 1589.” She stood up. “I’ve just checked you in, so now we’ll have to go to the other tables and look for your card.”

“O-Oh, no, I can go myself,” Mallory offered quickly. “I don’t mean to take you away from your work.”

She smiled kindly. “Alright then. In that case, don’t worry about the lines and just go through the cards, okay?”

“Right, I will. Thank you!” Mallory bowed once again and moved to the table to her right.

It took some time to finally find it, and she was embarrassed by the many stares she caught as she approached the tables from the back and awkwardly shuffled through the stacks of tickets, explaining her situation to each person sitting there. No one gave her any fuss, fortunately, and after going through four tables she finally found her ID, the picture she took of herself that she had submitted with her application stamped on the upper right. She quickly moved out of the way for incoming students and followed more signs into a massive assembly room, taking an uneasy seat near the end of a row that was almost full.

After many minutes everyone had filed inside, and a man with a gray, rectangular head stepped up to a podium set in the middle of a stage. “We will now commence the written exam,” he said, his voice deep and rumbling. Mallory’s heart jumped. Already? So quickly, without an introduction? She figured this man was a pro hero, but she had no idea who he was. But given that he was almost certainly a teacher, she probably should have brushed up on Japanese heroes that weren’t in the top ten.

Just then, a frightening looking man with a black and green face and trenchcoat walked onto the stage and grabbed a handful of papers, many tall rows of them sitting atop a table behind the teacher that had spoken before. He breathed out some kind of blue and white gas, making Mallory jump. The gas fell to the floor in chunks, rose up, and suddenly there were more of him, each retrieving more papers and beginning to distribute them down the rows.

“Ectoplasm’s so cool,” the boy next to her whispered in awe.

Ectoplasm? That’s a really cool name. He’d be pretty popular back home, she thought. His villainous appearance and name would definitely make him a public favorite.

“Students with the registration numbers 1451, 1589, 2925, and 4851, please come to the stage to retrieve your tests.”

Mallory’s heart almost stopped. For a second she panicked, unsure why she was being signaled out, but then she realized that she was probably being accommodated for her limited knowledge of Japanese. When applying for U.A. she did state that she was a foreigner, and included her mother’s work visa information to prove her eligibility, but she hadn’t been aware of any exceptions the school would make for her. She had added in a note that she had a good grasp on the speaking portion of the language, but her handwriting was sloppy, and written Japanese was incredibly complicated, so she was far behind the native speakers around her when it came to understanding the different writing systems and how to use them together.

“Excuse me, excuse me,” she whispered as she slid behind other attendants, and she quickly bounded down the stairs.

“No uniform?” she heard someone murmur, and she flushed with embarrassment. It seemed that everyone was in the uniform of their current schools, but she didn’t have one. She did try to look presentable, at least, wearing a red blouse with a black skirt of modest length and matching tights with flats.

She stepped up to the platform along with three others, exchanging nervous glances with two and a smile with another as they were given their tests. To her relief, it was in English, and she returned to her seat with a little more confidence than before.

It had taken her almost the full three hours to complete it, but at least she had been able to double check some of her work. The test itself wasn’t so bad, but as the forms were passed down the rows and replaced with printouts for the next part of the day, Mallory guessed that she had only attained an average score. It covered a lot of Japanese history on heroes and Quirk legislation, which she had poured over only recently in preparation for the exam. She felt a lot more comfortable with the questions regarding international law, but it was the rules of her home that she was most familiar with. Thankfully her tutor had correctly guessed what the written exam would be about, and had been committed to making the topics take up a large portion of Mallory’s curriculum for a month. Mallory had given it everything she had, so all she could do now was focus on what was coming.

Chatter now filled the air as people discussed how it went, exchanging their answers and lamenting their mistakes. Mallory found it difficult to launch into any conversations, so she opted to stay quiet, drumming her fingers on the table and taking deep breaths with her eyes closed.

Suddenly, she felt a poke on her shoulder. She opened her eyes and looked to see the girl seated to her left staring at her. “Your test was English,” she said with a friendly smile, speaking Mallory’s mother tongue in a thick accent. “Where are you from?”

“Oh, I’m from America. I can speak Japanese decently, it’s just the writing that throws me off,” she explained, offering a grin in return and relaxing slightly.

The girl was beaming now, and returned to talking in Japanese. “No way! That’s so cool. Who taught you Japanese?”

“My tutor. I’ve been here for three years, actually, but I didn’t know anything when I first got here, so I’ve been homeschooled the whole time. This’ll be my first time at a real Japanese school.”

Suddenly, the girl’s expression and voice dropped, and she seemed offended by Mallory’s offhand comment about attending U.A. “Assuming you get in.” Mallory was taken aback. Well, it was incredibly hard to get in, so maybe this girl was really competitive? Or maybe she was really confident in herself, sure that she had a Quirk good enough to beat everyone else in attendance. Mallory didn’t feel that good about her own abilities, and shrunk back a little.

“Uh...right.” Mallory didn’t know how to respond, startled by her mood swings. It was true that her chances were low, but she would definitely fail if she let the numbers get to her. A low acceptance rate was all the more reason to put in her best effort.

Just then, a screen came down from the ceiling, and most of the lights went out. A spotlight shone on the stage, and a man with long blond hair and sunglasses bounded up to the podium. “Hey, hey!” he shouted, grinning broadly. She noticed that he wasn’t using the microphone, yet his voice carried through the room loud and clear. Upon closer inspection, he seemed to be wearing speakers around his neck. It appeared he was another professional hero with a voice Quirk.

He’d be big in America, too, Mallory thought as he continued to speak, amused by his energetic, commentator-like tone. After an awkward moment where nobody responded to him, he launched into explaining the practical exam.

The hero had held her absolute attention, of course, but she felt her anxiety returning after a loud student’s question had been answered. Robots...how was she supposed to fight robots? Her Quirk was unsuited for that kind of combat! It was hardly suited for combat at all, frankly. Handling rescue missions or hostage situations seemed like things she could be good at. The less human her enemies were, or the more open space there was, the less she could do. She wanted to take a hero course in order to learn how to apply her Quirk in disadvantageous situations! Was this really fair?

Well, it wasn’t like the world of being a pro hero was fair, but she didn’t have anyone to rely on with this individual point system. Taking the route of sabotaging the other examinees - a tactic she knew she could capitalize on - was out of the question as well. It became more difficult to focus as she scrambled for an idea. She would have to get close to a robot in order to deal any damage, but what exactly could she accomplish? She had the forethought to bring matches in case she needed to cause an explosion, but could she cause one large enough to destroy the robots? She wasn’t sure. Mallory hadn’t exactly been able to test out the potential of fire related attacks. Then, maybe a pyrophoric attack would be strong enough? But she would have to maintain a close distance for that, and she could end up getting hurt. If only it had been possible for her to practice the range of her Quirk!

She was in a daze as she followed the other students out of the assembly room, fishing her book out of her backpack and flipping through it sporadically. However it was in vain, for reviewing the possibilities of her Quirk offered no better plans than what she thought of earlier. Utilizing fire was her best bet, but it still wasn’t guaranteed. Really, wasn’t this unfair regardless of the profession she wanted to be a part of? There was no way her Quirk could be appropriately assessed like this. Despite its versatility, she wouldn’t be able to use it to the best of her ability here. Was she going to fail because of that? It was so frustrating!

Mallory trailed after other girls, waiting in line to get into the locker room to change. She was quick to put on a pink tracksuit and sneakers, but her stomach wouldn’t stop twisting. From there, the students were led onto buses to take them to the field, and when everyone in her group boarded they were taken a short distance to the designated area, Battle Center D. When they arrived she stuffed her book away, grabbed her matches, and left her other belongings at her seat.

Seeing the fake city briefly took her breath away. The application said it was an urban battle, but...this was a real city! People could live here! Just how rich was U.A.? The skyscrapers made her feel small, and the situation made her feel even smaller. She wasn’t sure how many points she could get, but even so - she had to do her best, no matter what.

She took several deep breaths to settle her nerves, tied her strawberry blonde hair in a ponytail, and sat down in the dirt to stretch. Some students gave her funny looks, but others seemed to take it as a sign and joined her. As she reached for her toes she considered that maybe she was worrying too much, that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, and she ignored the people surrounding her. Odds were that she’d never see any of them again, and this was an individual test, anyway. Getting to know them wouldn’t give her an advantage.

She was standing now, pulling her left arm across her chest when a booming voice cascaded from a tower just behind her, making her jump. She turned to see the man that had explained the test earlier, putting a hand over her eyes to block the afternoon sun. “Alright, everyone, let’s jam! Villains don’t wait for the heroes to arrive. You have ten minutes. Now go, go, go!”