“Oh, her? Yeah, I know her. It’s going to take a while – it happened years ago.”
…you blink. “Really? That long ago?” (Wait, doesn’t this sound kind of familiar?)
“Nah, not that long ago. While back, at least, though! Heh.” The guy you’re talking to in the Debate Club’s lecture hall – Milia’s not in yet – casually waves his hands around as he laughs at his own lame joke. “But you know, I don’t know a lot about Ms. Yi, or what went on between her and Milia. No one does, really. You’re lucky you asked me and not one of Milia’s friends, though!”
“Huh? Why’s that?” you ask, poking at your phone in the meantime.
“Milia’s got a big chip on her shoulder about it. Apparently, she was in a couple of classes with Ms. Yi and they got along real well. Kind of a ‘teacher’s pet’ deal…hey, who are you texting, anyway?”
“N-no one important!” Actually, you’re texting Irma – nothing spicy, unfortunately, mostly just advice about getting around town and good spots to eat – but if you tell Nazakawa-kun about it, the whole school will know within a week!
That’s…really the only notable quality he has. ‘Nazakawa-kun’ – a name that also sounds mildly familiar, but never mind that – is the number-one source of rumors and gossip here at the Verwest Adventist Academy, so it’s good to be cautious what you say around him. Other than that, he’s really just a background character in the story of life. He may as well have a mosaic over him, y’know? At least, he’s a useful source of intel at times like these, and you’ve relied on him a few times before.
Well, maybe that’s a bit mean. But you never really got along well with guys, Marq and family excepted – mostly because they used to creep on Korri all the time – but that said, since Seul-ki’s class started, you’ve kind of just been trying to ignore them. It’s really not worth it –
…actually, come to think of it, wasn’t Nazakawa-kun there at your programming class? He was the one who asked the stupid question that got Rita to do her hot ‘sigh, no‘ thing, right? You really need to pay more attention!
“They definitely spent a lot of time together around the school,” says Nazakawa-kun. “Study sessions, tutoring, student council type things back when Milia was in the running…Ms. Yi has a lot of power around here, you know?”
“That’s pretty obvious, but I didn’t think it went this far!” It’s unusual for anyone to get this level of personal attention from a teacher, especially once they reach sixth form, so this just makes you all the more curious – but it also explains what’s got Milia so jealous in the first place. “How do you know all this, anyway?”
“Oh, you know, I have this thing with Ms. Saotome, and she has this thing with my parents…er, wait.” Nazakawa-kun nervously rubs the back of his head. “Sorry, I think I said too much. Anyway, here’s what I know about what went down: one day, Milia and Ms. Yi had a really big argument in front of everyone in class. I wasn’t there, that’s just what I heard – but no one seems to know what the argument was about, so that’s the most I can tell you. Sorry, Cibele.”
“Huh.” You can’t help but wonder, if there’s still security footage of that argument out there. It’s well beyond your ability to reach if it is, but it’d be interesting if nothing else.
(Also, since when is Nazakawa-kun so nice to you? Must be the Charisma.)
“Better hush up, though,” Nazakawa-kun says, pointing a thumb to the door. “The Empress is here.”
“The Empress of Verwest…” If it’s like this, if she’s jealous that Seul-ki likes you more than her – or at least thinks that – then would that make Milia your rival? (What is this, an anime or something?)
Today, Milia’s dressed up in a low-cut, bare-shouldered sweater over what looks like a strappy dress with a plaid skirt…and it definitely shows her, uh, assets off to their fullest. Some of her hair is tied back today, and she casually tosses her head back to pull off her sunglasses before her gaze aims right. At. You.
You don’t need to read her mind to know the red-headed Empress is interested in your presence here in her court. And after her defeat last week, you’re sure she’s taking no prisoners!
(…okay, maybe that’s a little overdramatic. But still, you’re rivals now! Apparently! So it’s time to take things seriously – and take advantage of your newfound power.)
“Cibele,” Milia says as she draws close, the name rolling off her tongue in that sarcastic way she prefers. “Back for more? I’m surprised to see you taking such an interest.”
Again, you don’t need to read her mind, even if you do to be sure – Milia de L’Impératrice thinks you’re here to challenge her because of Seul-ki. That, and last week’s victory, might have her a little obsessed with you.
(You think so, anyway. Behind her bravado, there’s a tiny twinge of fear, and yet – respect? You really can’t tell exactly what’s going on inside her head.)
“And you’ve taken an interest in me, Milia, haven’t you?” You smile, buoying yourself with Seul-ki’s praise and encouragement through the natural nervousness, pressing your hand to your chest.
“Sure it’s not the other way around?” Milia slips her sunglasses back on, and steps even closer – ah, isn’t this a bit too close? – and runs some of your hair through her fingers, appraising your pigtail’s texture and sheen. H-how brazen! “New lip gloss, new conditioner…why, if I didn’t know any better, I’d think something good happened, didn’t it, Cibele?”
You want to stammer, and turn away, but that newfound sense of pride – and Seul-ki’s words, that you’re not a child anymore – makes you challenge her: “Maybe it’s for you?”
“…my, my. How flattering.” Milia pulls her hand away, and giggles to herself behind it. “Keep this up, and you might just become part of my court, you know?”
…she’s still so smug.
(Maybe she has to be.)
But you know she’s starting to see you a bit differently, and so you just smile.~
“Hello, everyone, and welcome back to our esteemed Debate Club.” Slipping her sunglasses off again, here the Empress stands – radiant upon the podium, all eyes upon her. You don’t doubt that she’s got 2 Charisma…
(Actually, you know a couple of people now who might be said to have ‘peak human’ aptitudes. Kinda weird when you think about it, isn’t it?)
“Since everyone is back this week, we will resume the normal debate schedule…ah. But we have a new member here, don’t we?”
Obvious as Milia might be, all eyes in the room are back on you – and for once, you feel kind of good about that, getting to properly enjoy the full benefits of 2 Charisma. Even if you’re a rival to their Empress, maybe you can at least be one they respect?
“Very well…Cibele Epeli Imanis will debate yours truly once again.” Milia just tosses it off casually, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and not an obvious move against you.
“Hey, that isn’t procedure, is it?” Nazakawa-kun asks through the desk microphone. “Aren’t you picking on the newbie?”
“It’s fine! I’d be happy to share the stage with Milia de L’Impératrice, you know?” And you would – there is definitely something alluring about her, just as much as there are so many infuriating things about her. Getting in the spotlight for reasons other than chasing down guys stalking Korri or accidentally using up the academy’s entire supply of phyllo pastry might be nice for a change!
Of course, that’s not how Milia is thinking of it. Even as she starts to go through the motions of the meeting, putting her mind out of reach to you, you know that she’s hoping for a humiliation. Something to enforce her station as the Empress of this court. But you don’t plan to give her that chance! She’s going to have to learn not everyone’s going to bow down and raise a white flag for her!
(…this all sounds really chunni, thinking about it. Then again, isn’t a Gamer power pretty chunni too?)
“As it happens, I’ve already got an appropriate topic for you and I, Cibele! In the spirit of last week’s topic, why don’t we…” Milia snickers, and the rest of the club follows with her. “Why don’t we talk about whether we should have seasonal coffee drinks?“ The snickers persist, as if to try and undo last week’s performance. Milia’s playing dirty, with the homeroom advantage and the full weight of her court – most of whom didn’t show up last week, of course.
“It’s a very important topic!” you say, focusing on your confidence (and Seul-ki’s faith in you). “I’ll be happy to challenge you, Empress.”
“I’m sure, Cibele.” Milia suppresses another snicker. “Your favorite things are…what is it? ‘Food’ and ‘food’? Oh, and don’t forget ‘food’!”
“Hey, it’s not my fault the autotranslate for my SNS can’t figure out I’m saying it in three different languages.” You shrug, playing it off and deflecting Milia’s attack. “Nice to see you’re following me, though!”
“So confident. Last week was beginner’s luck, Cibele.” Milia leans forward, pressing her hand back onto her chest, as if trying to distract you. (It’s a bit late, you’ve already been looking there a bunch today! Er, wait.) “I won’t lose to you this time.”
You grin, and flash a peace-sign toward the podium. “Bring it on!”
(Aah…you’re filled with a kind of adrenaline rush! Challenging someone like this, someone so popular, right within the seat of her power – as much power as you can have in a sixth form class, anyway. Seul-ki’s right, you’re not a child anymore. She wants you to see her as an equal, so Milia should be at least your equal too, right?)
(Or, perhaps, less than your equal…)
All that said, after Milia’s opening remarks were done and the debates began – it seems the topics are assigned ahead of time, usually, so Milia not doing so for you is a pretty blatant attempt at making sure you can’t prepare – you realized that there was one other big problem with the Debate Club you hadn’t anticipated.
…this is just. So. Boring!
Most of the people here have no talent for rhetoric, or public speaking, or anything like that! Milia talked a big game in her poster about the benefits of joining, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s gotten anything out of it but her! So now you’re stuck listening to a bunch of utter simps unconvincingly argue meaningless things while Milia gets to look all smug in the corner!
(…mostly. Actually, you caught her putting contacts in when she thought no one was looking – funny, that. Those sunglasses must have a prescription on ‘em!)
You really should’ve expected as much, though, in hindsight. This club exists more for Milia’s vanity than anything resembling proper teaching or debate, and the kind of people who would be drawn in by her gravity often lack their own strength of will.
(It does seem like they like her a lot, though…and for what it’s worth, Milia seems to know everyone’s name, and genuinely seems interested in their lives. Maybe she’s not completely awful?)
Maybe it’s hard for people to muster up their best, though. You can’t imagine anyone cares much about these topics, thanks to Rule Eight. (Not that you think you should constantly spend every session talking about politics nonstop, but doesn’t the complete inability to talk about it at all compromise the club’s integrity and its members’ growth?) Won’t be an issue for your debate, at least; Milia’s got the talent and will to turn herself on for just about anything, and you? You care about some very silly things.
(…well, except the way eggs are cooked. What the heck is Nazakawa-kun even on about?)
Still, tuning out the debates gives you a bit more time to prepare, and consider your attack. And before you know it, you’re on the stage, at the opposite podium to Milia – hoping that even if you can’t win, you can at least put in a good effort.
Milia smirks at you from the other podium, so full of self-superiority. Eugh, how unpleasant…it made Stella’s (former) attitude toward you look positively restrained and professional. (Maybe she’s just trying to hide her growing obsession.)
Win or lose, you’re going to get those answers about Yi Seul-ki, but you really, really, really wanna wipe that smirk off Milia’s face!
And you will not accept defeat. Even if you lose this battle, you will win the war. You will have Milia de L’Impératrice. You will collect her, and capture – w-wait, bad thoughts, fantasize later, the debate is starting!
“Faithful citizens of Southern Sun, members of the Debate Club. I, Milia de L’Impératrice, of the honorable de L’Impératrice family…I beseech you. Do you enjoy the rhythm of the seasons? The movement from our current fall, to winter, and into spring and summer? Do you enjoy those familiar, nostalgic feelings of days gone by?
“We all look forward to holidays, to seasons. Golden Week was one such seasonal delight, marking the midpoint of fall to winter. The Lunar New Year is a precious part of our summers. Pride Month fills our winters with rainbow colors, and celebrates the Sunset Corporation’s contributions to a better and more diverse world. Christmas marks our finest time as a society, when we indulge our inner nature – our true will – as ravenous, insatiable consumers, dining eagerly on fried chicken in the middle of summer. And, of course, Halloween, when tue beauty can be seen as we all cast off our ordinary clothes and dress in whatever meets our fancy.”
(…Milia has some weirdly specific fetishes, huh? Didn’t mark her for a cosplay lover!)
“Part of the joy of the seasons is these very seasonal drinks. Are peppermint and pumpkin spice as special if they’re available all year? Do we not long for those foods and drinks that only happen every so often? Does it not stimulate our economy, drive the very lifeblood of Southern Sun? The events we create to give meaning to our existence, so we know the movements of the sun and moon, are flavored with such tastes. Do not give in to such…nihilistic thoughts as desiring such things all year. Thank you.”
…okay, what the heck is this lemon sorbet?! Milia acts like she doesn’t care, but it sure sounds like she cares a heckin’ great deal!
Maybe that was the plan? Though, she may just be very good at faking it…maybe.
An almost thunderous applause, echoing through the lecture hall, you’re reminded that this is, in fact, the Empress’ home ground. Her court. The very idea of winning suddenly seems quite distant, compared to before.
You breathe, and try to concentrate, try to centre yourself. Okay, you’re not as pretty as Milia, or as convincing, or as smart, or really much of anything compared to her. In fact, you’re honestly kinda dumb! But…but if love is enough, then maybe…
Maybe you can at least be heartfelt. That’s your only chance here.
(It helps that, starting tomorrow, you’re going to be dodging three whole days of meat-eating with your family…so it’s kind of on your mind already, in a way, huh?)
“Hello, everyone!” You smile up at the crowd, doing your best to concentrate and not falter. “Um, as always, I’m Cibele. Cibele Epeli Imanis. I live here in Southern Sun, like you. We all live in this joyous, impossible city! A marvel of modernity, where we live prosperous lives in the late Reiwa era…and where the heat always grows from the light of the sun, only relieved by the shade of night and clouds, and the rain that falls from the sky.
“We still have ‘seasons’, in that the length of days and nights vary over the course of the year – not by much, mind you. But the days here, no matter what time of year, are always the same – hot, and wet. The idea of a ‘winter’ filled with snow…honorable members of the voting panel, I don’t even know what snow looks like! I mean, really. Can any of you remember a time when Southern Sun was covered in snow? Or in fallen leaves?”
The voters mutter to themselves as before. You’ve adopted Seul-ki’s tone, the way she speaks, the way moves, the way she reveals things as self-evident through her layered statements and ideas. Milia may have thought she could outmaneuver you after your ‘beginner’s luck’, but your Charisma has gone up since then. And so has your confidence.
Someone like that…someone like Milia…
(part of you wants to put her in her place, just as she longs to do to others. Stamp your foot upon her and let her know that there is someone superior to her.)
(…woah, where did that come from?! Bad thoughts, fantasise later later!)
“The only differences the cycle of Earth’s axis bring to us are the lengths of days and nights, the shape of the moon. Time itself is merely a construct by humans to track the harvest, but we need no harvest here in Southern Sun – not the way our ancestors did. This city was designed, from its very foundation, to fulfill all of our desires! So why should we restrict them based on the vagaries of time?
“Pumpkin spice is a simple drink!” …actually, you bet Stella could make you one. Best remember that. “The spices in question are available all year round! There’s no reason to not have it whenever you like! Heck, have fried seitan whenever you like!” (Not gonna even try to say ‘chicken’, blech.) “Just say ‘no’ to forced corporate hegemony, telling us when we can and can’t have foods like these – and especially when it’s foods no one likes, because who ever even likes fruitcakes?
“Members of the voting panel, search your feelings, you know it to be true! Say ‘no’ to the nonexistent seasons, and say ‘yes’ to delicious pumpkin spice lattes all year round!“
You point up at the crowd to punctuate your point, and they all seem…surprised? You really thought all this was obvious, but maybe not! (Or maybe you’re just that convincing…nah, couldn’t be.)
Milia clears her throat, seeming…rattled. You’re not too sure why, but…maybe she didn’t expect it of you. (You don’t feel like you’ve done anything too different from how you would before Charisma 2, but…maybe it’s time to trust future-past-you, for once?) “Very well. Since everyone’s here, pull your smartphones out, please, and vote – Cibele’s nihilistic refusal of tradition and economics, or my appeal to the very underpinnings of society?”
…dirty fudging pool, Milia! (But, hm. Maybe that’s a good sign, in a way? That she’s so rattled by you?)
The projection screen comes on both behind you, and in front on your podiums. As the votes come in, they’re utterly neck and neck…and who installed that drum roll sound –
No. No way! You won, again! By a single vote! Wait, a single vote, could it be –
Yes! It is! It is Nazakawa-kun, giving you a thumbs-up! Well, heck, maybe you won’t mentally cover him in a mosaic after all.
Milia…Milia breathes out, and trembles. Only you can tell, from here, but – but after this second victory, she’s well and truly rattled. Even you can tell, limited as your awareness might be, quietly wishing you didn’t need her to look you in the eye to read her mind.
…what is Milia afraid of?
And just what is – what was – Yi Seul-ki to her?
Collecting herself, as if that fear was only visible for the briefest of moments, Milia turns to you and extends her hand. “Congratulations, Cibele. You…you win again. Perhaps, debating about food suits you? Such a glutton you must be…”
…she’s not doing that sarcastic thing she does with her voice. Fudge, she’s really rattled now – but you get a chance to peek into her mind, at least, like this.
…Seul-ki must be grooming Cibele into her latest ‘favorite’ – the rumors were true. No, Seul-ki must have sent her here, to interfere with me, deliberately ruin all that I’ve built…but it’s of no consequence. One way or another, I’ll prove to her that an ‘Empress’ ill needs her false ‘wisdom’…and prove that someone as pathetic and shallow as Cibele is a poor replacement for yours truly.
(…that ‘wisdom’ line again? Did Seul-ki introduce herself to Milia in the same way?)
“Ehe. I’m just glad to be here!” you say, as you shake Milia’s hand, and yet…you can feel her mind, this close. You can feel that silk and softness that feels so incongruous compared to how she acts…at least, how she acts around you. You can feel that mix of hatred, jealousy, attraction…
“Maybe you should get some food before you come next time, mm?” says Milia, as she manages to regain her composure. “I’ll accept that you’re such a glutton that you’ll win on such topics…”
and you can feel that part of you. That part that can reach out and touch Milia’s mind and thoughts – your Telepathy, your thought Skimmer – now capable of grasping and shaping that mind, with your Suggestion. You can feel, in some sense, how your pressure can shape her, in small ways –
(and, part of you notices, that you could make her feel turned on, aroused, but her loss to you, just a little –)
and you know that you need to get closer to Milia de L’Impératrice.
Part of it is her family name – her connection to the Sunset Corporation. If you did get close to her, you could use that access to try and discover the Queen, or fight her. You don’t have much to go on, but it’s one of the few things you think you can concretely do right now to figure out what it is future-past-you wants to prevent.
But, even more than that, you think…you feel, somewhere deep inside you, that you need to know more about Yi Seul-ki, and Milia’s connection to her.
(…it’s not simply that you’re attracted to Milia, clearly. Surely not!)
So, all that in mind – all that, in a single moment, your hand squeezing Milia’s own – you make your choice.
“If you think I should eat before I come here…” You grin brightly, and connect. “Maybe you and I can get a bite to eat together before Debate Club next week?”
…there’s more resistance this time.
As if your mental fingers could slip from the silk, before it takes the shape you desire of it. As if her pride, her disdain of you, the image of you she had before meeting you and before your increased Charisma, as if all of those things would make her reject the very notion of ever meeting alone with you, even without the implication of it being a date.
But you know, perfectly well, that as much as you want to know about her connection to Yi Seul-ki…she wants to know yours. She falls prey to her obsession.
(…it’s not simply that Milia’s attracted to you, clearly. Surely not!)
And so as Milia’s pupils dilate, for those briefest of moments, before she responds…a-ah, you feel really excited! I-in places! M-maybe don’t get excited or turned on about doing this so readily, Cibby! Seul-ki told you not to worry about such things, but there are limits! She wouldn’t tell you to be so cavalier with your powers! (R-right?)
“That…” Milia trips over her words, as if trying to justify it to herself. “That would be…acceptable.”
…and just like that, the room falls dead fudging silent.
For the briefest of moments, you’re confused, before you realize – far later than you probably should have! – that nearly every single person in this room has tried, and failed, to ask their beloved Empress out.
And you just did it on your second try, after making her lose and humiliating her twice!
You’re not sure if you should be worried, or if you think this is kind of awesome.
…actually, can it be both?
(Yes. Yes, it can totally be both.)
“Great! I’ll see you then!” You shake Milia’s hand again, in both your own, grinning eagerly as she tries to play it off. (Heck, she still can’t entirely deny that you’re a bit cute, huh?) “I’m holding you to it! Campus cafeteria, right after school!”
“…very well, Cibele Epeli Imanis.” Milia says, trying to smirk at you as she pulls her hand away – but it really comes off as being kind of shy. (This is what they call ‘gap moe’, right?) “Don’t be late.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it, my Empress.” You give Milia a bow, and then…in that precise moment, you can feel the great and powerful malevolence of the entire Debate Club bearing down upon you, all at once, for daring to touch or claim their Empress as your own, threatening to consume you in a tide of great vengeance and furious anger!
…okay, fine, maybe you’re exaggerating, but you don’t think they’re happy. Either way, time to make an extremely hasty exit before your obituary ends up reading ‘death by simp’!
Enchantment Branches: Charm, Geas, Disruption
Charm allows you to supernally persuade others and convince them of your best interests.
Charm Person…such a simple spell, such endless potential. Who needs fireballs and lightning when you have power over the human will? I know you’ll never admit it, but all that time poring over the Enchantment spell list…and now you can do the very same. It’s every bit as good as you imagine, and more…
Geas allows you to forcibly compel actions from both allies and enemies, or warp their perceptions.
They say you catch more flies with honey than vinegar…but sometimes you have this one fly you really, really need to catch. Or…um, the metaphor’s a bit strained, I guess! But with this branch, you have the harsher, more powerful companion to Charm. Use it when subtlety isn’t needed…or, you know, just for fun. I won’t judge~
Disruption causes emotional disruptions and confusion in the minds of your enemies.
You know how arguments work in the late Reiwa era, right? The winner isn’t the one with the best ideas, it’s the one who looks the best. Use this, and you can embarrass and humiliate your enemies! Excellent to have for superheroics, too.