The Loner and the Promise
Nikki stretched her arms over her head as she made her way back to the dorms. Maglev cabs whirred past as other students were leaving Legaros Tower, more than likely finishing their studies in the library.
She felt a smirk tug at the corner of her lips as she realized now was the best time to study, and she had no intention of doing so. After all, she’d gained two levels fighting against Tyson today. Not to mention the levels she’d managed to gain yesterday.
One more fight, and she’d be at level 10. She’d need to get far stronger than that to stand a chance against top-ranking officers of Legaros, but it was a start. Even Chetachi seemed to hold his own today.
Nikki came to a stop as she recalled what happened in Sparring class. She was certain Chetachi was going to end up in the infirmary again. He had an awful habit of putting himself in bad situations and refusing to fight his way out of them. Kim could have easily drained all the energy out of him, but somehow, someway, he was able to talk her into conceding the match. She’d never seen anything like it before.
No matter how hard Nikki tried, she could never seem to understand Chetachi’s unwillingness to fight. Yet, no matter what, he always seemed to get back up, no matter how hard he was knocked down.
She didn’t know what he’d said to Kim, but she imagined it must have been similar to what he said to Bella. Maybe that was his Mark, being able to talk people into doing whatever he wanted. That was normally something a Mental type could do, but Nikki didn’t know every move Chetachi could use.
Nikki smiled and shook her head. She was sure there were plenty of mysteries surrounding Chetachi, but that she wasn’t going to figure them all out today. For now, it was time for her to get some rest.
She finally reached the girls’ dormitory, its doors wide open and inviting. Soon, she’d be in her room alone with no one to bother her. When she’d learned that Chetachi and Tyson were roommates, she realized she’d completely lucked out. She couldn’t imagine having to put up with someone else on a regular basis.
Still, she didn’t always like to be the only one in the room.
Nikki shook her head again before noticing two figures standing beside the entrance. Bella was clutching her arm nervously while Kim looked on, her expression unreadable. Nikki straightened her posture, unsure if they were waiting for her.
“What’s with the lurking?” Nikki observed.
“Do you know where Rowan is from?” Bella blurted out suddenly.
Nikki blinked in surprise. “Rowan? What do you mean? We just met the guy a few days ago.”
“And yet…” Bella trailed off before turning to Kim.
Kim sighed before answering, “It’s hard to explain. I wanted to be mad at him earlier, but he…he didn’t fight me. He just wanted to talk. I’ve never known anyone like that.”
“Except for…” Bella began.
“Professor Eminal,” Nikki finished.
The girls exchanged glances before nodding.
“I guess…” Bella whispered before clearing her throat. “I guess I just don’t know what his deal is, why he’s so nice to everyone. It’s weird.”
Nikki smiled. “He’s definitely weird, alright. I don’t really understand him either, but I don’t think he’s a bad person.”
“I think he’s hiding something,” Bella said plainly.
Nikki felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. “What do you mean?”
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Bella continued. “It’s like he knows something that we don’t, and he doesn’t want us to find out.”
Nikki was silent for a few moments as she pondered over Bella’s words. It wasn’t as if Chetachi was any good at keeping a low profile, but this was bad. If anyone found out he wasn’t actually a student at the academy, she had no idea the kind of trouble he could get himself into.
“Don’t you agree, Kim?” Bella turned to her friend.
Kim froze, lowering her gaze to the ground and chuckling softly. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Bella asked.
Kim shrugged but didn’t answer. Bella shot her a look of confusion, but Nikki felt the tension in her shoulders evaporate. Maybe Kim wouldn’t press the issue.
“What does it ultimately matter?” Nikki shrugged. “I came here to get stronger. That’s all I care about.”
Bella huffed. “Is that why you’re here? You think you can make up for how you failed before? No wonder you’re friends with someone like him.”
Nikki glowered. “That’s not fair, Bella.”
Bella, rarely one to get deterred, took a step forward. “Oh, I think it is. Don’t forget the promise you couldn’t keep, or have you already forgotten?”
Nikki’s eyes widened as the memories she’d been trying to repress flooded back. She tried to look away, but Bella’s gaze remained locked on her.
“You couldn’t protect anyone back then, and you can’t protect anyone now,” Bella’s voice was cold yet sad. “Why are you even here, anyway? Are you even going to compete?”
“I told you why I’m here,” Nikki’s gaze bore into Bella, willing her to understand what her true mission was.
“So, what are you gonna do, then?” Bella folded her arms. “Take everyone on by yourself? Because, as far as I can see, your only allies are Rowan and that dimwit, Tyson.”
Nikki shook her head. Why did Bella always have to be this way? Sure, she didn’t have a lot of friends since she’d arrived, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t make any. It didn’t mean she couldn’t accomplish anything on her own. Even Chetachi had managed to befriend a few people at the academy.
And besides, none of them would be here had it not been for Chetachi in the first place.
“Look, Bella, you can hate me all you want,” Nikki replied, “but you should know, when you two were knocked out by Reagan and Vista the other day, Rowan fought alongside me.”
Bella and Kim shared a look of surprise.
“What are you talking about?” Bella scoffed.
“You two were knocked out,” Nikki continued. “You thought they just ran off, but they didn’t. They were going to finish us off, but Rowan came up with a plan. I went up against Vista, and he took on Reagan. And won.”
Bella and Kim looked on in shock.
“He’s weird and hopeless at times,” Nikki said with a smile, “but he’s not as cowardly as you both think he is.”
Bella opened her mouth to say something, but Nikki held up her hand to stop her. “Look, I don’t care why he’s here or what he’s hiding, but I can tell you this; he could have left us behind, but he didn’t. He stayed and fought.”
Bella looked as though she wanted to say something but closed her mouth before turning to stomp her way into the dormitory. Kim stayed behind for a moment, watching Bella take off before turning to Nikki.
They stood in silence for a few moments before Kim held out her arm, flashing the silver charm bracelet Nikki had been certain she’d thrown away. Kim regarded her for a few more seconds before turning to walk into the dormitory, leaving Nikki with her thoughts.
Years ago, she’d been so certain she could protect everyone on her own. Yet now, standing in the very place she wanted to destroy, Nikki knew now more than ever that she could never do it alone.
She’d need help, and if her only ally ended up being an impersonator then so be it.