- II -
Telos Academy was built upon Telos Island, aptly named after the Telos Conglomerate or Corporation that leased it from the city-state governing authority some three decades ago. The island was one of three plateaued rocks rising from the waters of the horseshoe shaped harbor that was several kilometers wide.
A broad bridge connected the island to Ar Telica city’s Ring Zero. It was long enough to span the kilometer distance from the island to the harbor shore, and wide enough to support four lanes of vehicular traffic. Sidewalks ran on either side of the bridge, used by thousands of students in the mornings and afternoons. Those students that didn’t care for walking over the bridge could travel aboard the overhead maglev service that looped over to the island and back to the city. The entrance to Telos Academy was scarcely two hundred meters away from the foot of the bridge, and only a hundred meters from the maglev station.
As I exited the academy grounds, surrounded by Angela and Felicia, with Class Rep trailing behind us, I inwardly debated suggesting we take the bridge. I didn’t exercise much outside of physical education class, and the walk would do me some good. After all, it was rare for Tobias and I to head off in separate ways, and whenever we left together he made it a habit for us to catch the maglev back to the city. Thus I considered a change of pace might be good for me, but the girls had other ideas, and guided me toward the steps leading up to the elevated mag-lev station.
After climbing the steps, I joined the throng of students pushing their way to the entrance. When it was my turn, I swiped my student ID over the turnstile scanner, and once past the butterfly gates, I headed for the platform. For a few seconds, I lost sight of the girls and breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that if I couldn’t see them, then they couldn’t see me. But my freedom was short lived. A hand snaked out between the waiting students and grabbed me by the arm, pulling me to where the trio were grouped together.
“No running away,” Felicia quipped, then glanced up the line. “Oh, it’s here.”
The mag-lev swooshed down the line and pulled up to the platform with a loud hiss. As soon as the doors opened with a hiss of their own, the stampede to get aboard began in earnest. I was pushed and shoved and generally carried along by the wave of students eager to board the mag-lev. Somehow I ended up squished between a handful of senior students, all of them towering around me. For several seconds I believed I was still stuck in middle-school. Nothing had changed, and clearly not my lack of height, so I proverbially battened down the hatches, and tucked in my arms over my carry-bag.
Though the mag-lev pulled away smoothly, I struggled to maintain my balance, and so too did a number of the students around me. Bodies shifted about as they sought better footing. Bumped from behind, I was pitched face first into someone’s chest, realizing only moments later that the softness cushioning the impact was a pair of voluptuous breasts wrapped in a bra and white school blouse. With my nose filled with the scent of a girl’s perfume, I hastily pulled back ready to apologize, but the words died on my lips at sight of the girl’s angry face.
Despite our cramped surroundings, Anri Shirohime succeeded in raising a hand and delivering a slap that sounded as loud as it was hard, and for a few seconds I saw stars circling around me head. Unfortunately, as the mag-lev swayed someone again pushed me from behind, and once more I was pitched into her glorious bust.
“I said I was sorry,” I repeated for the umpteenth time as I walked with Felicia, Angela, and a furiously red Class Rep out of the mag-lev station situated a few hundred feet from the entertainment complex located in Ring Zero. All four of us were walking toward it since the crêpe shop was situated within the complex that was also home to the multi-level gaming arcade I frequented often enough to consider it a home away from home.
“So how were they?” Felicia asked.
“Huh?” I gave her a perplexed look.
“Her bust. How was it?”
I gaped like a fish out of water, and blushed hotly as the memory of being nestled between Class Rep’s immense bosom pushed all other thoughts aside.
Felicia’s laugh sounded distant. “Hey, Anri. Do you see that? Your breasts left him speechless. You took his breath away.”
Shirohime’s eyebrows twitched. “Don’t call me, Anri.”
“Oh come on now, we’re all friends. You can me Feli. And you can call her Ange. And you can call her Cass—I mean you can call him, Cass.”
“No, I’ll just stick to calling him a pervert.” The glare Shirohime directed at me blew away the memory I had of her breasts cushioning my face. “He may not look manly but he’s just as perverted.”
I blinked sharply and glowered at her. “Hey, that’s not fair. I wasn’t trying to bury my face in your chest. I was pushed. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“Pushed? Five times?” Shirohime looked ready to slap me again. “And the last time you didn’t even bother moving away.”
“Ah—” My voice caught and I floundered for a several seconds. “Well. I didn’t see the point.”
Felicia chuckled, but Shirohime looked moments away from going ballistic. “What was that?”
“Well, if I was going to get pushed again, what was the point of trying to avoid it?”
“You mean you deliberately stuck your face in my chest?”
I shook my head weakly. “I didn’t do it deliberately. I just gave up trying not to.”
Shirohime circled around Felicia and approached me. “You little pervert.”
I stared up at her. “You’re not going to hit me again, are you?”
“I have every intention of pummeling you into the ground.”
Angela snuck into the argument. “Class Rep, you’re setting a bad example. You’re supposed to look out for your classmates, not beat them up.”
Shirohime shot the blonde girl a heated look. “For him, I’m willing to break the rules.”
Felicia stepped in between Shirohime and I. “Now, now. No harm done. Anri, you’ve just made all of her—I mean his—Christmases come together.”
“Anjeur!” Shirohime scowled at her.
Felicia wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Girl. You are way to tense.” Then she leaned closer to Shirohime and whispered softly into her. The effect was immediate as Shirohime paled then became despondent.
I strained to listen but all I could catch was, “…besides…want to…closer…him…?”
Shirohime exhaled quietly, then folded her arms under her bust as looked away with an embarrassed look on her face. “Fine. You have a point….”
Felicia gave her a friendly shake. “You’ll see. It’ll all work out in the end.”
Shirohime pouted. “It better work out….” She flicked an annoyed glance at me.
I put the words together in my head.
You want to get closer to him.
Puzzled as I thought it through, I experienced a weird sensation run through me, and soon felt invisible fingers squeeze my heart as I watched the goddess Anri Shirohime sulk while standing before me. My thoughts jumped over several possibilities before landing on one that felt like falling on a bed of nails.
Could it be that she likes someone…and that someone isn’t me…but that someone has something to do with me?
I couldn’t endure standing on that possibility, so with my heart beating painfully in my chest, I turned away and walked with stiff steps toward the entertainment complex, arriving a minute later at the crêpe shop with its colorful pink entrance and light pastel colored walls.
But the only someone that I know is…Mat.
I stared up at the shop’s entrance.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
I sucked in a lungful of air until my chest hurt, briefly overwhelming the pain in my heart, and strode up to the shop’s entrance. However, I soon realized what I was doing and came to an abrupt stop.
With its colorful façade, I judged this shop was built to cater for girls. It wasn’t the kind of place you expected to find a boy from our Academy unless he was in the company of a girlfriend, or someone he was courting. In fact, as I looked through its front windows, I could see girls from Telos Academy occupied all the chairs at the tables. This was not an appropriate place for someone aspiring to one day be a manly young man. At that realization, a strong wave of uncertainty washed through me, and I began backing away from the entrance, coming to a stop when I felt hands on my shoulders.
“Seriously,” Felicia said, “you can be a handful. Why’d you run off?”
“I didn’t run off. I walked off,” I replied gloomily.
“Well, whatever. But what are you doing now?”
“Because I don’t think this is a good idea,” I retorted as she pushed me firmly toward the shop doors. “Wait—you’re going the wrong way.”
“No, I’m not.”
“No, seriously. I can’t do this.”
“Yes, you can. I invited you and we’re here now. And I happen to be quite hungry. So enough procrastinating. It’s not like you’re getting married, so why are you suddenly getting cold feet?”
This was almost as bad as when the girls of the Cosplay Club walked into my classroom a year ago and surrounded my desk while I was eating alone during lunchtime, Tobias having run off on some errand the details of which I can’t recall. I had honestly feared for my life back then.
No, this isn’t nearly as bad as that occasion.
However, I didn’t realize how wrong I was until the group of us walked into the shop, its interior proving to be far larger than I imagined, and decked out like a family restaurant with tables, chairs, and booths. Within moments of entering the establishment, a young waitress guided the four of us to a booth with a window view. With Felicia pushing me gently from behind, I trailed after the waitress, thus I was the first to walk by another booth with two people in it – a guy and a girl.
I hadn’t even intended to look at them, but an involuntary glance turned into a surprised stare as my eyes met those of Tobias, and both of us jerked sharply at sight of each other.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was invited. What about you?”
Tobias looked distinctly uncomfortable as his gaze flickered over to the girl sitting directly opposite him. My heart groaned in agony and my stomach sank when I recognized the attractive brunette sitting there.
Monique Valjean looked up at me while licking the long spoon she was using to eat her parfait. “You must be Cassidy,” she said, a smirk curling her lips as she eyed me.
“My name is Ronin,” I corrected her.
She tapped her lips with the spoon. “You really do look like a girl.”
“Huh?” I glared down at her.
She waved the spoon at me. “A change of uniform and no one would ever think you were a boy.” She glanced at Tobias. “What do you think Mat? Should we get him a girl’s uniform?”
Standing rigidly, I restrained the sudden urge to punch her, going only so far as to clench my hands into fists.
Tobias’s voice sounded somewhat strangled. “Ah, I don’t know….”
Valjean arched her eyebrows at him, while I scowled at his non-committal reply.
“Really?” she asked. “I think she’d look rather cute.”
Tobias grew even more uncomfortable, but when he looked at me I wondered if he was giving her proposal some degree of consideration. However, seeing the glare on my face, he shook his head faintly and muttered, “No, that wouldn’t be a good idea.” He swallowed hard and shook his head a little more strongly, affirming his opinion. “No, that would be a really bad idea.”
“Well I beg to differ,” she replied, and looked meaningfully at Tobias. “What do you think, Mat? Shall we get him a dress?”
Tobias regarded her reproachfully, sounding distinctly irritated. “Enough with the dress. Okay? Just drop it.”
Valjean’s eyes narrowed. “Mat, I don’t like your tone.”
“And I don’t appreciate you making fun of Cass.”
Her eyes narrowed further. “Are you forgetting who you’re talking to?”
“I are you forgetting what I told you?”
He regarded her stonily for a moment. “No, I haven’t. And that’s precisely why I’m telling you to drop it.”
Valjean rose smoothly from the booth seat. “Mat, you and I need to have a little talk.”
“Clari—I mean Monique. Sit down.”
She raised her eyebrows at him before breaking into a wicked smile. “That little slip will cost you, Matrim.”
The waitress attending to us chose to intervene by addressing me. “Ah, Miss—I mean, Sir? This way please.”
Valjean whipped her attention back onto me. “Hey Cassidy. I heard a rumor. I want you to tell me if it’s true or not?”
There are times I’ve wondered if I should have just walked away. Would it have made a difference in even the slightest way? Perhaps not. But back then, I did wonder if I’d made the wrong move.
“What rumor?” I asked her coldly, aware that Tobias was suddenly looking worried as well as confused.
Valjean slipped out between the bench seat and the table, and then stepped up to me. “I heard that you cross-played as the Silver Blue Princess.”
I felt a cold wind blow through me, sweeping away my thoughts, leaving me empty. My legs buckled and I stumbled back a step, feeling my heart pound loudly within my chest, frantically beating against my ribs as despair burst through me, filling the emptiness the wind had left behind.
Valjean was taller than I, so she looked down at me as she calmly folded her arms.
“Tell me, Princess. Is it true?”
I struggled to swallow, my mouth and throat both dry. Finding my voice was a monumental feat. “What do you want?”
“I just want to know if it’s true. Are you the Silver Blue Princess?”
My voice failed me so I remained silent.
After studying me for a long, oppressive moment, Valjean nodded to herself before snorting softly. “I heard you looked so pretty you had boys chasing you across the school. The posters the Cosplay Club made of you were sold out in a day.” She snorted again. “They were right to choose you as their poster girl. They picked up quite a lot of members after that.”
I thought my frenzied beating heart would burst. It was like a runner sprinting for the finishing line, moments away from victory or a fatal cardiac arrest. As I clutched my chest, my vision grew dark around the borders. However, I could see well enough to catch the look of confusion on Tobias’s face – confusion that quickly turned to realization and suddenly he was looking at me with a mixture of disbelief and disgust that made my stomach sink as it curled up into a fetal little ball.
I had no idea if the Cosplay Club had ratted me out, or if this bitch had discovered that embarrassing episode of my life by other means, but it was clear that from this deck of cards she held the better hand.
She laughed low and mockingly. “And you left such an impression on the boys. I wonder what they would think if they discovered the object of their desire was you. How disappointed do you think they would be? Or how angry. I bet you’d have to attend the Academy dressed as a girl, or they might beat you up. You might have to transfer to another school, but you know how rumors tend to travel. Those rumors may follow you wherever you go.”
She stopped as though waiting for me to respond, and after a while I managed to whisper, “What do you want from me?”
She smiled mercilessly. “Time to take center stage once more, Princess Silver Blue.”
I lost my voice and my legs were turning rubbery again.
Incredibly, Valjean’s smile became even crueler. “And it’s time to find a new friend, Cassidy. Stay away from Mat. As long as he’s with me, I don’t want a girly boy like you anywhere near him. Are we clear?”
In the corner of my eye, I saw Tobias rise to his feet. “Monique, that’s enough.”
His intervention gave me the opportunity to regain a little of my composure, but rather than hold my ground, I chose to flee. But when I turned to run away, I ran into Felicia. Bouncing back, I looked up to see her, Angela, and Shirohime watching me with disparate expressions.
I had no doubt that Felicia and Angela had heard about the mysterious Silver Blue Princess, so it was understandable to see surprise and disbelief on their faces. However, Shirohime was a recent arrival so the puzzled look she wore was also fitting.
Felicia cocked her head at me. “So you’re the Silver Blue Princess?”
At a loss for words, I simply stared back at her.
Felicia sounded ambivalent, but clearly took my silence for an affirmative. “I don’t know why but I guess I’m not surprised.”
Behind her, Angela regarded me with a critical eye. “Silver Blue was under our noses all the time….”
Standing behind them both, Shirohime frowned, and I heard her mutter softly, “Who the Hell is Silver Blue?”
I swallowed hard, then whirled the other way.
The waitress had retreated a little, looking even more puzzled than Shirohime, so I had room to flee past her, but Tobias was on his feet, hands clenched, and a conflict of emotions playing out on his face as his gaze met mine.
At that moment, I felt something break inside of me.
Back then I had no words for it, but I can describe it now as the impression of binding chains breaking and falling away. I had lived for a year in fear of being discovered as the Silver Blue Princess. Now that my identity had been revealed, the chains of fear shackling me had snapped, and an enormous weight fell away from my body. It was all metaphorical, but truthfully I did feel lighter. At the same time, I realized that my high school life had become that much harder and more complicated. Alternatively, perhaps I was simply overthinking the situation, and the worst case scenarios I had imagined over the past year were nothing more than unfounded figments of my imagination. True, I had been chased through the school by a horde of admirers, but would it be so bad if the student body learnt the truth that I had cross-played as the Silver Blue Princess?
I swallowed again, and then decided not to run away just yet.
Nodding faintly more to myself than anyone else, I faced Valjean, meeting her eyes with as steady a gaze as I could sustain.
“Do you know why a cornered animal is so dangerous?” I asked her. Watching her smile waver, I was thus encouraged and pressed on. “Because it has nothing to lose. That means it can go all out without worrying about the consequences.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Are you threatening me?” I asked in reply. “Because if you choose to bully me, I’ll just have to give my family a call, pull some strings, and see what I can do to sue you for harassment. They are Alphas after all, and quite well regarded. They wouldn’t appreciate you sullying their good name.” I cocked my head. “On the other hand, go ahead. Tell the whole school that I cosplayed or cross-played. At least I make a better Princess than a conniving slut like you ever would.”
With that, I hefted the straps of my carry-bag higher on my shoulder, then pushed my way past Tobias and the waitress, taking the long way out of the shop as I traversed a circular path through the interior, being careful not to bump into anyone along the way. Once outside, I took deep breaths to calm myself, but my body began trembling out of my control as my adrenal cortex opened the floodgates, releasing a deluge of adrenaline that now coursed through my body in raging rivers.
Shaking badly, I walked slowly deeper into the entertainment complex, soon realizing that my feet were carrying me to my preferred port of call – the Gaming Arcade.
Yes, I would seek solace in the Arcade, my home away from home, and even the sound of running footsteps behind me or my name being called out failed to slow down my meagre pace. However, a hand on my shoulder jerked me to a stop. A combination of fear and anger fueled my response which was to swing my bag at whomever had grabbed me.
Tobias ducked with surprising speed as my bag cut the air millimeters above his head.
“Shit—Cass! Hold up!”
I grabbed my bag as it completed its swing, and stumbled back a step or two as I was carried along by the momentum.
Tobias slowly straightened and raised his hands in surrender. “Cass, calm down.”
“What do you want?” I wanted to yell at him but my voice had other ideas, so the best I could muster was a harsh whisper.
Tobias lowered his hands slowly. “Is it true?”
“Is what true?”
“Are you the Silver Blue Princess?”
I swallowed, trying to regain some of the strength in my voice. “I’m not Silver Blue. I just dressed up as her—just once.”
Again, a war of emotions broke out on his face. “Why? Why would you do that?”
“I had my reasons.”
He slowly shook his head, still deeply troubled. “What reasons? After everything you’ve said to me—after hearing you complain for so long—why would you dress up as a girl? You’ve told me so many times how much you hate the way you look, so why do it? I just don’t get it.”
“I told you, I had my reasons.”
“But you hate your appearance.”
My hands clenched tightly on the carry-bag’s straps. “I didn’t hate myself as much as I do now.”
“What does that mean?”
My voice fell, barely stronger than a whisper. “I didn’t hate myself, or the way I looked, until after I cross-played….”
Tobias’s eyes searched my face, then swept their gaze over my body for a quick moment.
I cleared my throat. “Go back, Mat. Go back to that bitch. You’re missing out on your date.”
He turned away for a second. “It’s not a date. It’s not what you think.” He took what appeared to be a anxious breath. “I can’t explain it. Not yet. Maybe never. I’m sorry. But it’s not what you think.”
I started backing away from him. “I don’t care. I really, really don’t care. Keep your explanations because I just don’t give a shit anymore.”
“Cass, please don’t be this way—”
“Don’t follow me. Go back. Don’t follow me. Right now, I don’t want to see you until Monday morning. Or maybe until next month.”
We were drawing attention to ourselves on the plaza running down the middle of the entertainment arcade. Students from Telos Academy were slowing down to watch Tobias and I. As embarrassing as that was, I was humiliated further by the way I sounded – like a girl arguing with her boyfriend – because my voice had yet to break.
Tobias glanced at the people and students watching us, some furtively, others with interest, then looked down at me. “Cass, come with me.”
When he reached out for me, I darted back, surprised by how quickly I moved. “No. Go back to that slut. And don’t you dare follow me. Don’t even freaking think about it.”
I turned away and this time my legs were sufficiently strong and steady to carry me at a run all the way to the Gaming Arcade only a few hundred feet away from the crêpe shop. I ran into the center, squeezing through as soon as the glass doors opened sufficiently wide, then sped through the crowd moving about the interior.
When I felt I was far enough from the door, I slowed down to a walk, and wandered aimlessly through the ground floor of the establishment.
I started to regret standing up for myself.
I’d dared that evil teenage witch to do her worst, and in the vernacular I was stuffed because I knew that she would. I was aware of guys continuing to inquire throughout the Academy for the identity of the girl who cosplayed as the Princess, so I continued to live in fear of being discovered. However, come Monday morning, everybody at Telos Academy would know her identity, and my hopes of a normal high school life would be over. I considered transferring to another academy, however it was more than likely my sordid past would haunt me wherever I went courtesy of that scheming bitch. Even if Felicia, Angela, and Class Rep chose to keep it a secret, Valjean would rise to the challenge and spread the word to the four corners of the city.
Yep, my life is about to turn a new page, so I might as well enjoy the old one while it lasts.
My shoulders sagged as I pondered whether it was safer to attend class incognito as a female student. After all, real men don’t hit women, do they?
Repressing a shiver of revulsion at what my future might harbor for me, I came to a stop and looked about me.
In this day and age of such realistic simulation technology, it was surprising to many market observers that arcades like these still flourished.
Maybe it was because some kids simply chose to play away from home in the company of friends, rather than firing up a home entertainment rig to enjoy gaming in solitude. Home game systems were on par with much of what was offered here at the Arcade, yet the place was replete with high school students crowded around holo booths and other contraptions.
Because I was vertically challenged for a boy my age – or any age – I had trouble getting a bearing on my location so I meandered through the crowd, eventually arriving at an area that I rarely frequented.
I faced a wall of people perhaps meters thick, all with their backs turned toward me. There were very few guys in the crowd, the vast majority being girls dressed in the uniforms of Telos Academy and the nearby prestigious Vardant Academy for Girls. They may have attended different schools, but they all shared one thing in common – they were enraptured with the battle playing out on two huge holovid screens that floated overhead. Standing behind the crowd, I listened to the sounds of gunfire emanating from an expensive surround sound system, and observed the game cinematics on the immense holovids.
One screen immediately caught my eye and roped in my attention. It displayed a long-legged girl dressed in a fantastical white dress that exposed copious amounts of skin and bust, running full pelt along a rooftop with a large wicked rifle cannon in hand. She looked incongruous amidst a modern night setting, her outfit more at home in a medieval fairytale environment. However, that was part of her charm and I quickly recognized the game playing out on the screens. It wasn’t even necessary for me to look at the banners hanging from the ceiling exhibiting other girls wearing clothes that mixed the modern with the ancient, blending them into eye candy outfits that were entirely unsuitable for the battlefield.
Long legged, busty, and very beautiful, these girls were idealized versions of women.
Goddesses of battle dressed in revealing attire, wielding incredibly powerful ballistic weapons.
These girls were the Princesses of the Gun Princess Royale.
This is the last part to Chapter 1.
Because the book is on Amazon KDP, I'm limited by how much I can post.
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Book Two is in development and God willing, I should have it out by July on KDP Select.
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