The world fell on silence in the cold airs of the wintery months. When it came to finding refuge from the cold, there was no place better than home. Yet for Percival, that sort of option was not available at the moment. For the weeks since Duncan's training, the boy had never actually gotten the chance to speak to the American. Though, Percy never truly relished the chance to speak to Duncan, as the boy was more often than not a pain, as all Americans typically were. School never gave them the chance to speak openly, but that was soon too change.
Right now, the winds were silent on a mild day as most of the children walked home from school. Duncan's own path home had a few other students going down to it, but they quickly branched off their own ways, only a few following him into the metro. The trip home was much the same for that day, as it was every day. Only now the occasional rises above the ground were treated with the white blanket of winter that had covered most of the island country.
The usual hustle and bustle aboard the train between the students and whatever other passengers was the same old, same old as well. And as usual, a certain 'grade schooler' sat down beside him as well. She happily sat there beside Duncan, kicking her feet as they were just ever so slightly out of reach of the floor. Even for someone of her age, she was a little on the short side. "So, how was today?" the little girl asked cheerfully
"Same old, same old. Something's brewing, but it's not wanting to break yet," he shrugged.
"They're getting better, sorta, since you took over teaching." That much was true - though Duncan simply was not in a mood or manner to do such anymore, Coco proved to be simply too adorable to take offense at.
"Well, maybe if you tried being nicer to them?" she asked curiously. "It can't be that hard, can it?"
"Yeah, it is," he blankly replied. Coco turned away, disapointed with her brother's reply.
She saw something, something dark and willowing over Duncan's shoulder. A tiny little person, had mounted itself onto Duncan's back, tendrils of shadow smoke carrying down the train as it went. The tiny person was hooded, about as tall as one of Percy's gods, a straight-lined mouth that hinted little expression, until the figure turned its head in Coco's direction. A small smile spread on its face. Strangely enough, despite the obvious infant-size, Duncan was hard-pressed to feel any weight and shift, as if it were a ghost.
So far, it seemed that only Coco herself noticed it. "Hey Duncan, can you send away all the people?" She asked him. He nodded and did just that.
"So, what'd you see?"
The figure raised a small knife to Duncan's neck, and held a finger over its mouth. The blade itself was small and stubby, appearing to share the same size a miniature letter opener. In that moment, though, he struck, hitting Duncan in the neck in rapid fashion. Coco could only watch as the boy was caught in the jugular.
To Duncan, it felt as if a bug just bit his neck, seemingly biting in the same spot it had all day. The figure seemed to withdraw its blade from its bloodless assualt, precariously holding itself in its stealthy manner.
The American boy winced as he felt the sting, but otherwise fought the urge to reach up and swat at it like a bug - he glanced at Coco, who looked back with an expression of shock and horror. Duncan merely huffed and looked away again, grumbling. The little schoolgirl, imitated the little shadow figure and brought a finger to her mouth, just as it did as Duncan continued to sit. He knew something was going on, but, well, he also knew they were at a disadvantage.
The figure reached down, its arm extending into a slender, shadowy appendage, and holding up Coco's hand with a firm grip. The movement was rapid, and the young girl would soon see why it was doing it. With its other hand, the shady being quickly plucked out one of Duncan's hairs, leaving Coco's hand outstretched, and retreating once again.
"Gah! Coco, what's going on?!" he asked, suspiciously eyeballing the hair in her hand.
"I don't know!" Coco cried. "I'm not experienced enough to deal with this one!" At that, their stop arrived, the train's doors opening and then closing. The two merely sat, ramrod straight as their route home came and went. Whatever it was, they werne't stupid enough to bring it home.
The little black figure shifted to Duncan's left, in a spot where the boy should've been able to see it. Yet, it simply tugged it's hood back to reveal something absolutely horrifying. The being, small, cute, and mysterious, had Coco's face and hair, down to the ribbons. It tilted its head side to side, mouthing 'I don't know! I'm not experienced enough to deal with this one!'. One thing was clear, it was keenly torturing Duncan, but was having a little fun at Coco's expense too.
"It's a big meanie," Coco whined, obviously upset at what was happening.
"I see." Duncan's expression darkened as he sat there in his seat.
The figure hopped off of Duncan's back, still carrying Coco's head on its shoulder and jumped up onto one of the holding bars, shimmying its way over to the emergency stop. It seemed to be reaching its hand up at it, rather threatenly. Sway, sway, sway, the little Coco swung with its hands dangerously close to the hook to stop the train completely.
"Uh, it's going for the the red switch thingy that makes the train stop!" the Mahou Shojou worried, pointing a finger at the switch accusingly. Duncan looked at where she pointed, following her finger, but of course, saw nothing.
"Just the emergency stop?" the American boy shrugged. "No big deal, tell it to go ahead and pull the switch if it wants to," he replied. His little sister nodded enthusiasticly, looking down at the smartphone Duncan held in his hand. 'Let me borrow your right eye.' She kept right on nodding enthusiastically.
"Ok!" She turned her gaze onto the little annoying thing that was bothering them. "Ok, go ahead and pull the switch!"
The little acrobat made a flip into the air as it yanked down the emergency stop, and just as quick the train began grind to an slowing halt. People on the metro began to panic with mild yelps and screams of shock as their boring rides suddenly turned into something else. Snow that had settled in on the fronts and sides sudden shattered off, and the little construct landed on the floor just as the whole line ground to a complete halt.
Then, just as suddenly the the creature, as humanoid as it was, dissappeared behind space itself, as if behind an invisible curtain.
The loudspeaker came on.
"Augh--! Ah, what the--, Augh!"
A little struggle sounded over the speaker, before a seperate person came over the system.
"Attention, the driver of this line is currently suffering a stroke, this line will now change tracks and return to the previous station for immediate medical attention. All passengers are to vacate the train upon arrival to make way for EMTs."
Ping! The unsettling panic, heard in other cars began to sub-side, and the train began to go in the other direction, back to the previous stop.
The little Coco returned at that, slipping out of it's invisible curtain to stand in front of not just Coco, but Duncan as well.
The American boy had gotten his first glimpse of the thing as it had pulled the lever through Coco's right eye, closing his own in the process. It was an absurd little thing, it's mischevious demeanor reminding him of the Witches and their Familiars in a Mahou Shojou anime he had recently watched. Unlike his little sister, this thing was simply too cute - sickeningly so. Both Duncan and Coco sat in their seats, staring at the little apparition.
"Well? Spill it - what do you, or your master, want?" the older brother asked, annoyance in his voice.
"Why do I have to explain myself to you? You're stupid." answered the shady person with it's small arms crossed, not only wearing Coco's face, but speaking in her voice as well. "I've been riding your shoulders all day at school, poking your neck, pulling your hair, and you didn't even bother to look in a mirror."
"What do you take me for, a narcissist?" Duncan asked back. "If it took this long for you to get our attention, or even manifest into something stable enough to do anything, I'm starting to wonder if you're just wasting our time," the American boy added. Standing up and grabbing his backpack, he started to begin leaving. Coco quickly took up his cue and followed suit, grabbing up her own Breakfast Bears Breakfast Bars backpack. "Time's wasting doll," he sneered at the Coco carcature.
Chomp. Went the sound of open mouth chewing as the destination began to approach. In the small Coco's arms were several Breakfast Bears Breakfast Bars. The smaller Coco was eating one already, gluttonousy opening up another bar to shove in it's mouth.
"Behy," the little Coco wagged an open bar in it's hand at Coco. "Wahnt one?"
Duncan merely rolled his eyes as Coco stared back at it for a moment before settling into one of tantrum like outrage. "Duncaaaaan! It thinks I'm a dummy!" she pouted.
"Ignore it - if it took all day to finally get our attention, I'm guessing that's how long it took to build up just this level of strength." He grinned at it maliciously. "For all we know, it could be one of those things that gain power over time - I never really liked using such. They take too long," Duncan verbally stabbed at it. By now, the train came to a stop, as all the other passengers stormed out of the dysfunctional train.
Duncan made to leave, but looked over his shoulder. "Last chance. What do you want?" he asked, playing hardball with the thing.
Duncan was treated with the sight of the impish creature stuff its face with all the Breakfast Bears Breakfast Bars in complete abandon, certainly mocking Coco.
Both of the siblings made their way out, the little girl making sure not to turn her back on it as they left the train. The moment they stepped out however, she stuck her tongue out at her disgusting little imposter with a loud "Bleeeehhh!" It was right then, that Duncan's grenade clacked onto the floor as its eyes were on the little girl. The train doors sealed, the last thing visible before the spell-grenade detonating being the older brother's haughty look of curiosity.
Ding! went the magic-sapper.
The train sealed itself at that, with the last of the people folding their way out the doors. The EMTs made their way down the escalators and into the train to attend to the driver. At that, the Leetenbaum siblings were allowed to continue on with their day, allowed to make their way home after that little fiasco. Yet, even fate itself was cruel enough to prevent them from rising up into the swept streets and experience the snow-washed part of their town. Before they could even reach up into sun.
They felt something grab at their clothes, something small, as if it were swinging between them. It had Coco's shirt sleeve, and Duncan's coat hem.
WOAMP. The sound warped as they world around them changed, suddenly devoid of people. Duncan was a studied enough mage to know that they had just switched across a plane. It was the same as their world, yet off-color, and somber. The little Coco Imp hopped off their sleeve and hem and ran towards a person waiting for them at the base of the escalator.
It was Percival, and the being next to him, pulled over a dark hood, morphing away Coco's face into its natural form.
"Good afternoon, Duncan." greeted Percival, showing that he had been waiting for them, or just Duncan at least. He gave a small wave, and a smile at Coco, "And hello Coco."
"Heh, I knew nobody around this neighborhood had a knack for midgets like yourself," the American replied. "Finally have your incontinence und - " A sharp slap of hand meeting pants stung Duncan's leg. "Ow!"
"Duncan, stop being a meanie! It's like you're doing it on purpose these days!" Coco half pleaded, half accused.
"Pfft, as if..." he muttered. Turning back to Percy, he addressed the boy, "Well, what was it you couldn't ask at school?"
"Hah, you're always the sharp one, Duncan." laughed the young Welshman, clapping his hands together, "First of all, I want to apologize for Decanus. He doesn't know how to contain himself when it comes to this kind of thing."
Decanus simply yawned, putting his hands on his hips. Percival pulled out Unity, and struck the small deity on the head with the staff. The miniature grabbed his head, running off in circles, his hood falling back with Coco's face, crying in the run. This only brought forth a sigh within the summoner as he watched the stealthy mini's antics.
"But in all seriousness, there have been things I have been wondering, just in particular. For example..." the boy pointed at the American, a certain seriousness taking his gaze, "Just who are you?"
Duncan. Was not amused.
"What, it took one of you this long to ask?" he spoke with a frown. "I mean, not just ask, but I mean, really ask, knowing that the cover story I gave was bull." He shrugged it off. "Oh well. Going back to it, yeah, I'll answer your question so long as you answer the very same for yourself - who are you?" Duncan asked.
Coco bounced on the balls of her feet, eagerly rubbing her hands together. "Oh, this is just like a showdown in one of the shows they have here!" she bubbled. "This is so exciting!" the little girl added before grabbing Duncan and shaking him a little. "And stop doing that!"
"Do what?" he shot back, the seriousness of the situation broken yet again. "Ok, you know what? We can talk about it straight up, but later, ok? How's that?"
"Fine!" she sharply replied, crossing her arms and turning her back on him. Duncan looked back at Percival. He was not amused.
"Answer me, and I'll answer you. Dishonesty is, at best, what your good at in this sort of thing, isn't it?" mentioned Percival, leaning onto his staff, as Decanus continued to fool around. Both boys appeared to be lacking in any sort of toleration to one another. "The rest of my friends might be willing to take your lies at face-value, but I don't share their complacency. You'll tell me who you are, and then I'll give you my story; if you aren't posturing for time, that is."
The young Caxton gripped his staff, and orange glow emitting light every so gently in the jewels, as if it threatened to burst forth.
The American boy simply snorted. "If you think I'm being dishonest, then you really don't know me - I'm just an amateur at it," he spoke, palms out in admission with a grin. "But to answer your question, I'm from the I.O.N. Probably the best place for magic in the United States. And I was one of the teachers," Duncan faintly smiled. "So, what's your story? I knew you didn't have what I needed, so didn't give a care. Until now that is. Call it 'equivalent exchange' if you want."
"The I.O.N.? Then you wouldn't feel too uncomfortable showing your insignia, or some sign of your office," answered Percival, ignoring Duncan's request, probably towards his rudeness. The Welsh boy's expression got no easier on the American. "Forgive me if I don't take your word on it."
Duncan reached into his pocket and pulled out a nametag with a clip to hold it onto clothing - the I.O.N. ID Card was like any other governmental card. The surface glittered with numerous watermarks and shining facades that would turn outright black should someone try to photocopy it. Of course, that shouldn't have been what drew Percival's attention. Rather, it was the magic that was bound to the card that was worth noting.
It was an impressive series of interlinked spells and enchantments, ranging from the mundane to the utterly complex. A false holder most certainly wouldn't be able to use it, and it would never get lost either!
"Well? What about you Percy?" he asked with a smile.
Percival pointed up at his beret cap, "If you've done your home-work, you should know plenty of the Bangor Academy in Wales. The Academy is the second largest institution for magic in Great Britain besides the sanctum in the Templar Cathedral in London." The boy pointed further towards his rank insignia as a Class-B Alchemist. "I am a professional Alchemist, capable of brewing as a propriator with the proper licenses, and am capable to access the research archives for greater knowledges as a result. When I turn eighteen, I will qualify for the Class-A license which entitles me as an authority in all things Alchemical."
Decanus had stopped running around by then, prefering to skulk around Percival's legs, occupying boredom as best he could. "My subjects include all non-magical aspects, because until a few months ago, I was completely inable to use magic, as it was sealed away due to my nature as a font. When I found the Unity staff, my potential was unlocked, and I was relocated to Japan's underground network for proper monitoring. Right now, I am exploring the aspects of the Elementalia Magicus at the behest of an organization you don't need to know about, and the Gods that occupy it."
"Bullshit," Duncan spat. "I know of Bangor Academy and Templar Cathedral - the other idiots back home wouldn't stop talking about it after they read Harry Potter. I despise the idea of holding an international Quidditch tournament," the boy remarked with disdain. "Better off with the thing that inspired it...but back to the topic." His eyeroll of disapproval went back to Percy. "I call bullshit, because there's no way they'd be so half ass'd and sloppy enough to send you, a brand new magic user AND a powerful, unknown magical item without testing. And don't you call this a field test either!" Duncan nearly yelled, jabbing a finger at the other boy.
Coco looked afraid, her thousand yard stare darting back and forward in between the two fighting boys. "There's no way they'd..." He chuckled to himself. Laughed a little. "I'm lying to myself, aren't I?" he asked his little sister. She slowly, slowly nodded. "Yeah, did that before. Look where it got the two of us..." he trailed off. Silence hung in the air as Duncan looked off to the side, eyes trailing across several volumes of manga on shelves, ready to be sold. He turned to Percy again, a sad, knowing grin on his face.
"Yeah. Guess people are really as stupid as the stories I read. So, what now, hm?"
"You tell me what you're doing here, in Osaka, in Japan. You tell me why you're even bothering to pretend to have this normal high-school life, and why you try to use my friends as your cover in all of this." answered Percival in a firm tone, still keeping his staff close at hand. Their ramblings didn't make the most sense to him, as it was perhaps something he had no reference to, but he chose not get side-tracked with those questioned. "You put us through a lot of dangerous 'training' a few weeks ago, and ever since you've just been quietly subverting yourself amongst us. You don't act like a normal high-schooler, and you sure as hell don't act like one of our friends, so either you tell me,"
The summoner slammed Unity onto the ground floor, sending out the orange energies, and forming Aurus to the left, while Decanus remained on his right, "or I'm going to send your yank-ass right back to U.S."
"Why, so, serious?" Duncan asked with a joyful menace and smile. At Percy's threat, Coco's clothing had automatically transformed into yet another costume, this one thickly padded and stormtrooper white, yet with faint accents of pink and frills. It fit straight into the snowy cold setting around them, yet stood out distinctly. The facewrap that covered her mouth however, didn't steam as she breathed.
"It's kinda funny, how you're already getting ready to bring out the big guns," Duncan remarked. "You haven't lost anyone, so you're more gung-ho than I am, aren't you?" he asked with a smile. "Don't get cocky Percy!" he snapped viciously. He leaned back and took a deep breath. Running a hand through his brown hair to calm himself down, Duncan continued, voice calm again. "Well, have you ever considered it was just by chance that I ran across them all?" He asked. "That I'd feel bad if I just ditched them all to die, you included? I'm not the one that stirred up the local flora and fauna, oh no! So it's not really my problem."
"Hell, what I'm looking for doesn't even seem to be here, so by all accounts, I should have left, just like after I pulled off that Gundam Prank at the last place I was at."
"Look at this from my perspective. Our school is a hot-bed for mages, particularly ones who don't seem to have a greater understanding of how this world is governed. There are so many unknowns there that it's enough to make a lexographer's head spin." The young boy leaned back on his staff, but both Aurus and Decanus stood with their blades ready. Decanus, with his sharp daggers, Aurus, with his massive swords. "We've all made an effort to know eachother, Duncan. You're the only one who hasn't, and that's dangerous. A mage circle can't operate with someone who isn't willing to share themselves to that circle. You can play aloof, and isolated all you want, but some of those people genuinely want to know you. I want to make sure you're not a threat."
"Heh. Didn't you listen Percy? I might as well have straight up said that I'm not even part of your little club." The words were cold and uncaring as they hung in the fridgid air. "But I did definitely say that I should have already left." He then looked at Coco before tousling her hair. "But you're definitely with them right?" the older brother asked his little sister fondly.
"Uh, I uh..." she worried, tugging at her face wrap and pulling it aside. "Well, I do like them!" Coco admitted. "But what about you? Are you leaving me behind again?!" she asked, voice rising in a fearful pitch.
"Don't know. Want to stay with them?" He asked, smiling gently at her. She looked uncertain, looking in between her older brother and Percy.
"Ooooh, Percy," hummed Decanus, who had taken Duncan's face and voice. The little Duncan was rubbing his face up against the summoner's leg. "I guess if my sister likes you guys, I'll just have to stick around!" Percival, completely dead-pan, could only stare at Decanus as he made a fool of the entire situation. "Oh, sigh."
"Pfffft! Only half right. Still, that's more than your master, that's for sure," Duncan sneered. "No, if Coco likes you guys, she might stay. But I'm definitely going. You look so sure of yourself right now too, like you can take me on even!" he grinned. "Maybe I'll just let you guys struggle on your own - I don't need to worry about Coco though. Inexperienced or not, she can take care of herself, and you." The little girl in question simply stared at her brother, her expression questioning.
"I - I can stay with them?" she asked dubiously.
"Yeah - not like I have to worry about you at all. You'll always come back to me," he shrugged.
"Well, if that's the case. If that's how you feel..." Percy droned, kicking Decanus across the street at that, bouncing off a car, as Aurus laughed small plumes of fire at the abuse. "Then how about we get something to eat?"
"I dunno - one of the Yeti mentioned that your redheaded soulless midget right there has a death threat on me. Hasn't made a move on it yet though," Duncan shrugged, verbally abusing Aurus. "Impotency maybe? Go figure."
"Oh, no, I didn't mean you. I meant Coco," clarified Percival, pointing at the younger girl, "You don't like hanging out with the kiddies, remember?" The Welsh-boy gave the American a sheepish grin.
"Heh, and here I thought it was us 'Yanks' that were supposed to be the jerk asses!" Duncan laughed. "Later then!" The American boy turned to go, briefly stopping as though in thought. He placed both his hands on his little sister's shoulders, and urged her on. "Well, get going - your date is waiting!" he smiled.
"Huh-buh-wa!" Coco replied, her hands confusedly flailing about.
"Duncan!" said Percy sharply, with a marked dissatisfaction. "Aren't you forgetting the traditions of courtship? A couple can't just go on a date unchaperoned, that's unseemly even in Japanese society!"
The American boy simply stood there, peering at Percival with suspicious eyes as he tried to understand what the other boy was talking about. It seemed that for once, the Welsh boy knew something better than he did, and it soon clicked together in Duncan's mind. What he mentioned was oldschool dating, where a family member supervised the whole ordeal. Standing back. Watching. Bored.
"You clever bastard," he replied to Percy.
It looked like he wasn't going to up and leave so soon.