As Satsuki found out thirty minutes later, she was not capable of doing either of those things.
Touma sprawled out on the ground, one arm thrown over his eyes and the other pressed against his side. Satsuki doubled over, hands on her knees, braid falling over her shoulder. Both of them heaved for breath.
All the while Keisuke stood before them, arms tucked behind his head, barely a hair out of place.
“I hate you,” Satsuki said.
Touma tossed the hand that had been at his side in the air. “I’m with Satsuki on that.”
Keisuke grinned. “Hate me? You should be thanking me. You lasted a good five minutes longer than before.”
“Yes.” Satsuki glowered. “I am so very grateful.”
The grin on Keisuke’s face softened. “You guys did good. Touma, you’re doing better at not freezing up during a fight. Satsuki, you yelled at Touma less.”
“Hey—” she began to protest, but the older teen didn’t let her finish.
“And,” he went on, “your Aura Radiance and general lux creation techniques are improving. I also felt your sensing magic. That’s no small feat.”
A light blush warmed Satsuki’s cheeks, but it did nothing to melt the cold lump that settled in her gut. Her shoulders slumped. “I should have already mastered that skill. I’d been on my way before...” She bit her lip to stop it from quivering.
Keisuke’s expression softened. He ruffled her hair, earning a yell of annoyance and a swipe at his arm. Of course, he moved out of the way before she could hit him.
Glowering, she said, “You know I don’t like it when you do that.”
He ignored her. “You’ve reached an impressive skill level. You’re only fourteen and already entering the Astral Academy.”
“You went into it when you were twelve,” she grumbled, crossing her arms. It had been suspected she would have also began at twelve had certain circumstances not interfered.
“And you’re entering it not much later despite setbacks. Stop being so hard on yourself, kid.”
Touma, finally regaining the energy to stand up, huffed before sticking his lip out in a pout. “I would appreciate it if you'd wait a couple more years like the rest of us.”
The praise—direct from Keisuke and indirect from Touma—melted the icy unease, and Satsuki managed to stick her tongue out at her friend. “Not my fault, Baby Touma. They only pick the best of the best to enter the Academy early.”
“Three months younger does not make me a baby,” Touma said.
Satsuki, standing a whole ten centimeters taller than Touma, tilted her head back and peered down at him with a smug grin. “No, but me going into the Astral Academy when you’re not does make you a baby.”
“I’ll show you a baby!”
Before he could lunge forward, Keisuke grabbed hold of his collar. “If you two fight, you’ll be rolling around in the dust for ages. And, if I’m not mistaken, Satsuki has a place to be soon.”
She flinched before raising her gaze to the sky. The sun was quickly approaching its highest point. She shot Keisuke a writhing glower. “You’re just pointing this out now?”
He shrugged. “You seemed preoccupied fighting with Touma.”
After a moment of weighing her options, Satsuki settled on sticking her tongue out at Keisuke before spinning on her heel. “I’ll see you guys later!” she called, waving over her shoulder. “And next time, Keisuke, I’m gonna win!”
“Good luck, Sastuki!” Touma yelled back.
Keisuke said nothing, but he did wave her goodbye, a confident expression on his face.
Satsuki held their confidence and well-wishes close to her heart as she sprinted back toward the city. Rather than take the main path, she cut through the trees. She directed lux to her legs the entire time, increasing her speed and letting her jump over the few obstacles like large roots, rivers, and even a ten-meter thick, twenty-meter deep cut through the earth. Nobody quite knew what formed it, but it was believed a battle with a large void went wrong centuries before.
Thanks to the shortcut, Satsuki arrived home in only eight minutes. Her family—along with many other high-ranked Astrals and high-class officials—resided in the prosperous western district closest to Hoshizora’s outer wall. A large gate, left open during the morning hours, separated the city from the forest. She went through the gate, traveled along the wall, and came to her backyard in only a handful of seconds.
A maid startled, dropping laundry she’d been doing in the process, when Satsuki leapt over the backyard’s wooden fence. Satsuki grinned apologetically, but she didn’t slow down. “Sorry, Michi! In a hurry.”
“Careful, young miss!”
Satsuki was not, however, any more cautious than before. She tossed open the screen door, then slid and skid across the wooden floor until she arrived at her room.
“Where did I put it?” Darting around the room, she threw open chests and yanked open her closet. “Ugh, where?” The memory hit her, and she stood absolutely still. With a sigh, she closed her eyes. “No. Nope. You have got to be kidding me.”
But when she turned to face her mirrored desk, she saw it: her starworm silk clothing. She spared her now messy room a quick glance, slammed her palm to her forehead, then hurried to change her clothing and fix her hair.
Despite her rush, she stopped in front of the mirror after she’d finished. A smile broke across her face. An Astral-to-be stared back at her. Raised-collared dark blue vest with white lines along the edges, light blue short-sleeve shirt with the Astral star imprinted on the left sleeve, armor-plated elbow-length black gloves, a dagger strapped around her waist, black pants tucked into her dark thigh-high grey combat boots, an appearance all tied together by the loose braid she’d tied her black hair into.
Something about seeing herself in her Astral gear made all of this feel truly real. This was it. She was following in her parents’ footsteps.
And maybe, just maybe, she was getting a step closer to unraveling what had happened three years ago.
Somewhere in the distance, a loud bell tolled the noon hour, pulling her from her thoughts before memories could rise. She had thirty more minutes then. Satsuki adjusted her vest and then nodded at her reflection.
She had an orientation to get to.