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    Chapter 1: ACCEPTED

    April 1, 2003

    Mr. and Mrs. Kurosawa,

    Greetings. My name is Dr. Jun Miyazaki. Fifty years ago, I founded the Miyazaki Institute of Practical and Familiar Magic, a school dedicated to teaching the mystic arts to young people across the globe. I write to you today to humbly invite your son Yoshi to apply for the upcoming Fall term. Yoshi’s excellent scores on the Test of Arcane Awareness were brought to our attention by your city’s Commissioner of Education, who believes that the boy will excel here. We could not have been happier to receive the recommendation. Your family’s reputation as protectors of the Bonsai Dragon species is very highly regarded by those of us here on the Institute staff, and we would love to have your son join us.

    Please allow me to explain our mission and philosophy. The Institute is dedicated to the teaching of all the mystic disciplines side-by-side, rather than focusing students on one specific type of magical instruction as most high schools do. The greatest breakthroughs in the mystic arts have come from those who viewed magic as one great tapestry rather than a series of completely separate fields. We at the Institute hope to produce magicians capable of seeing that tapestry while still excelling in their chosen fields.

    Such a broad field of study naturally requires the most gifted and dedicated students, and so our admissions process is by invitation only. To match the quality of our student body, we employ the finest teaching staff available. This combination has served us well over the years. Miyazaki Institute graduates have gone on to become leading figures in their fields, from the practical arts of alchemy and prognostication to more esoteric disciplines such as quantum magics and immortality mechanics. And we have the lowest mortality rate of any school of the mystic arts in the world.

    Of particular interest to your family, I imagine, would be our School of Familiar Magic, which is considered one of the best in the world. Our head Familiars instructor, Professor Keiji Tanaka, was Olympic Battle Familiars champion in 1984, and his advancements in the Familiar Empathy technique have revolutionized the field. He redesigned our Familiar Magic curriculum ten years ago, and his techniques are taught to our students from the beginning of their academic careers. Professor Tanaka is a challenging instructor, and dragons are a particular specialty.

    Please look over the enclosed application forms, and if you think our school worthy of your interest, have Yoshi fill them out. Feel free to call the admissions office if you have any questions. Thank you for your time, and for the honor of communicating with you.

    Sincerely,

    Jun Miyazaki

    Headmaster
    Miyazaki Institute of Practical and Familiar Magic


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    June 23, 2003

    Yoshi,

    It was a pleasure speaking to you at your orientation session earlier this month. I hope that you have recovered well from the incident that occurred during the placement testing. Such mental shocks are not uncommon when a student first attempts mental contact with his Familiar. Dragons are particularly strong-willed creatures, and your dragon Ryuki seems more mentally active than most. So you should not feel shame over what happened. Professor Tanaka tells me that he was quite impressed with the way you calmed Ryuki before you succumbed to catatonia, especially considering that the beast had set your shoes on fire.

    In fact, it is your placement tests that I am writing to you about today. Professor Tanaka feels, and I am inclined to agree with him, that the first-year exercises would be a waste of your time. So, based on your TAA scores, the high marks you received on your general placement tests, and Professor Tanaka’s impressive evaluation of your skills at Familiar Empathy, we have decided to advance you to sophomore status. Congratulations.

    Such quick advancement can be a bit intimidating to a new student, I realize, but we feel that you have the skill and aptitude to handle the work. To help you along that path, you will be required to report to the Institute campus one week early, so that you can receive whatever first-year orientation and instruction is necessary for you to function as a successful second-year student. Once the semester proper begins, Professor Tanaka will introduce you to your fellow students in the sophomore Familiars class. Since junior instructors handle the first-year classes, the rest of your class will be working with Tanaka for the first time as well. Hopefully, this will put you all on an even footing. Tanaka believes so, and I trust his judgment implicitly.

    Until the term begins, then, remember the school motto: Knowledge, Righteousness, Order, Magic, Might. Or, as the students say when they think I cannot hear...

    KROMM!

    Sincerely,

    Jun Miyazaki

    Headmaster
    Miyazaki Institute of Practical and Familiar Magic


    ********************


    August 9, 2003

    Tomorrow, life as I know it ends forever. Because tomorrow, my parents ship me off to boarding school. To commemorate the event, I’ve started this, my Gloom Journal. In it, I will record the sad events that lead me abroad, and into the clutches of the people who put me in a coma for two weeks this summer. Writing this may not make me feel any better at the end of the day, but at least the cops will be able to tell who to point their fingers at when I’m killed trying to master my stupid dragon.

    I mean, why do I even have to go to this stupid place? What’s wrong with the school I’m in now? Is public education not good enough for the Kurosawa family? Okay, so our alchemy lab was shut down after those ghetto kids blew up half the school with it. And our prognostication teacher hasn’t made a correct prediction since the bomb hit Hiroshima. So what? I like it there. All my friends are there, and I don’t want to go, and—

    GAAAHHH!

    Okay, so dad says that the mortality rate at the Miyazaki School is lower than at my school, and that’s a good thing I guess. And this Miyazaki guy seems like a pretty nice headmaster. He did take the time to write to me, personally, and it wasn’t even a form letter. I’d never get a letter like that from anyone at my school. And one of the other kids at orientation told me that the kids at Miyazaki’s call the place Halloween High, cause there’s lots of goths there or something. And considering my wardrobe, that’s a good thing. My mp3 collection should grow, at least.

    On the other hand, the Miyazaki people did put me into a coma this summer. But I could also blame that on Ryuki. Stupid dragon. All I was trying to do was talk to him with my mind. Why’d he freak out like that? And why’s he been breathing fire all over my stuff since I told him I wasn’t gonna do it again? I thought he didn’t like it. I know I didn’t. It felt weird, touching his mind. Alien. Normally, I like stuff like that, but then I got that urge to swallow a mouse. And when I felt my pupils elongating, I had to get out of there. It was like—it was like he was trying to control me or something. I don’t think I like Ryuki very much anymore. And I guess I’m a little afraid of him, too.

    Okay, maybe I’m a lot afraid. But I went into a coma! I know that magic’s dangerous stuff to study. Alchemy students get blown up, or turned to gold. Prognosticators sometimes get sucked into the time stream, and are never seen again. And necromancers wind up in their experiments’ stomachs. But I thought Familiar magic was the safe branch. Dad certainly never seems to have any problems. So how do I wind up in a coma?

    I’ll go to Halloween High tomorrow. I don’t have any choice. But I’m not trying to touch minds with Ryuki again. I don’t care what they do to me...
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    Chapter 2: HEAD OF THE CLASS

    August 17, 2003

    Dear Gloom Journal,

    Okay, so Miyazaki’s doesn’t seem quite so bad now that the other students are here. I thought I was gonna die of boredom last week, but now there’s stuff happening all over the place. First day of class, and already a kid managed to summon a squid demon into Lake Diablo. That was some funny stuff, seeing that kid flailing around in that giant tentacle like that. She’s just lucky the Summoning instructor was so fast on the spell, or we might have seen “The Sushi’s Revenge” out there today. I didn’t catch Squid Girl’s name, but she was cute, in a covered-in-squid-juice kinda way.

    Also met the other kids in the Familiars class today, and I’m less impressed with them. If these are the people I’m gonna be spending the next three years with, I might have to buck family tradition and rethink my major. Note to any cops trying to find a clue to my murder: here are your prime suspects.

    The least offensive of them is this Chinese punk rocker girl from San Francisco called Kiki Hark. I thought she was kinda cute at first, but then she kept punching me in the arm for some reason. Anyway, Kiki’s got this giant spider named Boris as a Familiar. I told her I thought Boris was cool, and that’s when she started punching me in the arm. It hurt. A lot. On second thought, maybe Kiki’s not that inoffensive after all.

    The only other girl in the class is Lorelai Lovecraft, from this place called New England. She’s got some kind of land octopus as a Familiar. I’m not sure what it does, exactly, but it looks kinda cool. Cooler than Lorelai, anyway. She just stood around staring at everyone with those gigantic fish eyes of hers. I’m a creepy kid, and she was creeping me out. I’m voting her Most Likely to Hide the Bodies in the yearbook.

    But Lorelai doesn’t begin to match Trevor Hitchcock. I only spent two hours with this guy, and I already hate him. He’s a snooty British kid, with some kind of other-dimensional thing in a box as his Familiar. He calls it “That Which Shall Not Be Named.” Whatever. He kept trying to put the moves on the girls, and just came off slimy. Bleah.

    Trevor’s sidekick, Vito del Toro, wasn’t much better. He kept cracking his knuckles and talking about how his dad’s a “legitimate businessman,” whatever that means. Seems kinda dumb, too. I wonder how he even got into Miyazaki’s. Snappy dresser, though, and his Familiar’s this cool-looking black dog named Butch. It’s a Mastiff, I think. Whatever it is, it’s freaking enormous. It looks like it could swallow Ryuki in two bites. Not looking forward to fighting that thing.

    And speaking of fighting, I won my first fight, like, ever today. Professor Tanaka asked for me and Trevor to have our Familiars spar, and Ryuki handed that Thing its ass. I was so proud, I gave Ryuki an extra helping of Virgin Bits for dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with my little dragon. Now, if only he’d stop setting my underwear on fire...
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    Chapter 3: AMBUSHED!

    November 14, 2003

    Dear Gloom Journal,

    Well, they finally found me out. Professor Miyazaki called me into his office today, to talk about why I’ve been faking my empathic bond with Ryuki. It turns out that Professor Tanaka knew all along, and was waiting for the hand signals and spell-based commands to fail me. They haven’t, but Miyazaki still thought we needed to talk. The Familiar Empathy spell is an academic requirement, he said, and I’ve got til the end of the school year to master it. It would have been end of term, but he and Tanaka were so impressed with the spell commands I created that they’re giving me extra time.

    The worst part was when I got to class today, though. Trevor had found out about the meeting, and he wouldn’t let up. Kept calling me a retard. He was trying to get me to take a swing at him. Yeah, right! Like I’m gonna get myself suspended now! It’s hard enough dodging Trevor and his cult on the safest campus in the world. I’d be toast on the streets. Oh yeah! Note to my friends on the police force: Groundskeeper Otomo had nothing to do with the kidnapping of Representative Sasuke’s daughter. And if you’re looking for my body, try the secret basement beneath the Summoning building.

    Anyway, Trevor changed his tune fast when Kiki pointed out that he’d lost every duel this term with “the retard”. I’ve never seen the little bastard so angry. And speaking of Kiki, I gotta go. We’re going to a show tonight, and Kiki strangles people who show up late...


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    November 14, 2003; 1:00 AM

    Dear Gloom Journal,

    It looks like Trevor was angrier than I thought. He sent Vito out to ambush me on the way back from the Guitar Wolf show. On the minus side, I got a nasty bump on the head. But on the plus side, I finally got to see Vito’s new Familiar in action. After Ryuki killed Butch a few weeks ago, I didn’t think Vito would be much of a threat. But Precious is amazing. He’s a full-sized bull but I never even heard him coming! Vito’s been holding out on us.

    Back to the minus side, though. I was out cold on the sidewalk in the middle of Haunted Park. I’m really, really lucky Kiki and Boris were there. While Ryuki protected my body, they ran Vito and Precious off. Kiki got me on my feet and took me back to her room to patch me up. She said this wasn’t exactly the way she’d planned on getting me there, but it would do. And then she kissed me. Right on the lips! And just in case the cops really will be reading this one day, that’s all I’m gonna say about that. Let’s just say it was better than when she used to punch me on the arm.

    One ironic note: Ryuki heard Precious coming, but I couldn’t understand the warning he was trying to give me. Maybe Professor Miyazaki’s right about this Familiar Empathy spell after all...
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    Chapter 4: BATTLE FAMILIAR TRECHERY

    May 1, 2004

    Dear Gloom Journal,

    I’m writing now just to clear my head before I do what I’m about to do. Things are bad, and I need to lay out the events of the day to make sense of them. The War of the Battle Familiars tournament started off like I said it would. Trevor drew a bye in Round One, but I beat Vito and Kiki did the same with Lorelai. Then Lorelai and Vito were set to fight in an Elimination Match. But Vito forfeited, claiming that Precious had been too badly burned by Ryuki to continue. This set me against Lorelai, and I beat her when Squidious mind-blasted me instead of going after Ryuki.

    Then Kiki fought Trevor. It wasn’t much of a fight. That Which Shall Not Be Named shut down parts of Boris’ brain pretty quickly, forcing him into a coma. Professor Tanaka called Trevor as the winner. But then Trevor’s creature went berserk. These obscene tentacles shot out of its box, going straight for Kiki. They caressed her face at first, stimulating the pleasure centers of her brain. Her eyelids fluttered as if she were actually enjoying it. Then she dropped to her knees. It all happened so quickly. The thing latched its suckers onto her temples. Her eyes bulged and went blank. And that’s when the screaming started.

    It was just Kiki at first, this high-pitched wail that turned into a throat-ripping howl, but then people in the crowd started in, screaming and flailing, blood gushing from their noses. It was chaos. But all I could see was Kiki, still on her knees, twitching now and starting to foam at the mouth. I wanted to help her, but I was rooted to the spot. I’m told that Trevor looked panicked, and tried to pull the thing off her. I’m also told that he failed, and that Professor Miyazaki himself cast the Binding spell that finally stopped the attack. But all I could see was Kiki. My cute, violent Kiki, collapsed in a heap on the field, tiny circular scars on her forehead, and blood trickling from her ears. I ran to her finally, and cradled her limp form until the school paramedics pulled her away from me. As I stood there, watching her being rushed to the hospital, a voice sounded in my ear. “You’re next,” it said. Though he was nowhere nearby, it was Trevor’s voice.

    Six hours and about a dozen Mentalist examinations later, they told me that Kiki had stabilized. She was suffering from a little brain swelling, they said, but they stopped the needles before they made it into the brain tissue. That’s right. Trevor’s beast was actually boring holes into Kiki’s head in an attempt to physically suck out her brains through tiny, needle-sharp straws that extended from the suckers on its tentacles. This thing was going to eat my girlfriend’s brain, and they haven’t expelled Trevor for bringing it to the fight!

    Okay. Calm down. I need to be calm to do what I’m going to do next. Back to the story.

    It was only after the doctors made me go home that I realized Ryuki was missing. I hadn’t seen him since I left him with the Familiar vets to go watch Kiki’s fight. I looked everywhere, but I couldn’t find him. I used the pitiful skills I’ve developed at Familiar Empathy, but I’ve only been able to determine that he’s scared and in pain. I’m not that good at Prognostication, but I have a feeling that I might be getting a visit from Trevor’s friends in the Cult of the Olde Ones before the night’s over. So now I’m going to do what needs to be done. I’m going to close this Gloom Journal, and I’m going to meditate. I’m going to perfect Professor Tanaka’s Dragon Mind technique. I’m going to use it to find Ryuki, and rescue him from whatever trap they’ve got him in. And then...

    One last note to my friends on the police force: If you find Trevor Hitchcock’s body somewhere, I’m probably going to be your man.
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    Chapter 5: THE BATTLE HAS JUST BEGUN

    May 2, 2004

    Dear Gloom Journal,

    Okay, so I didn’t kill Trevor Hitchcock. But not for lack of trying.

    After I finished writing last night, I started the breathing exercises Professor Tanaka taught me. I reached out with my mind, to contact Ryuki. I got his emotional state immediately, but that wasn’t enough. Not anymore. So I kept pushing, and finally we touched minds. Ryuki’s alien mind reached out and grabbed mine in a predatory embrace. I felt my pupils starting to stretch again, but this time I didn’t run. Instead, I willed them to stretch more. I pushed harder, returning the embrace of Ryuki’s mind and doubling it, tripling it. I was so aggressive that Ryuki himself almost recoiled. But then, everything just snapped into place.

    I had attained Dragon Mind, and was able to communicate with Ryuki. He told me that Vito had snuck up and drugged him. He was able to remember just enough of the kidnapping to direct me to where they had taken him: a small, hidden cave just off the main grounds of the Institute. When I got there, most of the cultists had left to take care of me. I took out the one kid they left on guard duty with some fighting moves Kiki taught me, and had Ryuki free in the blink of an eye.

    I found the rest of the kidnappers outside my dorm. They were all first-years, the same age as me, but without the advanced training I’d received. So when I came rushing down at them, eyes glowing yellow, with a fire-breathing dragon on my shoulder, half of them ran. We were in the middle of fighting the other half when the grounds crew came along and broke up the fight. In all the confusion, I hadn’t even realized that the sun had come up.

    I was taken immediately to Professor Miyazaki’s house, and that’s where I stayed for most of the day. I told the Professor everything, including all the stuff I hadn’t told him before about Trevor and the Cult of the Olde Ones. He listened to the whole story, nodding in all the right places. Then he asked me a question that changed my whole life: “How much of it can you prove?”

    And that’s why I didn’t kill Trevor Hitchcock. Trevor, Professor Miyazaki told me, had sent flowers and a heart-rending letter of apology to Kiki’s hospital room. In spite of everything, he managed to come off looking like a very brave young man wrestling with a demon. While I, on the other hand, have been cast in the role of the out-of-control boyfriend, found beating up on a group of first-years while his girl languishes in a coma.

    If I’m gonna fight Trevor and his cult, I’m gonna have to learn to fight smarter. It’s not enough that I know what Trevor’s real plans are. I’ll have to prove it to everybody else.

    So Trevor was declared winner of this year’s War of the Battle Familiars tournament, by forfeit. I’ll be attending summer school at the Miyazaki Institute, supposedly to catch up on my studies, but really for extra combat training with Professor Tanaka. Miyazaki thinks I’ll need it. They won’t let Kiki out of the hospital here for two months anyway. So I guess Halloween High’s where I’m gonna stay. And, hard as it is to believe, that’s just fine with me.