"Dammit I'm LATE! BAKA!!"
Yep, that's me, Mike Maloney. Late as always... such an idiot. And it's my first day at my new high school! Why can't I get it together? I guess 'cause I'm dumb. A big dumb loser.
A big meaty hand stopped me in my tracks, almost splintering my sternum. It pushes me back sending my ass crashing to the ground.
"Hey PUNK, what's the hurry? You a speedrunner or something?"
I slowly raised my chin to glare up defiantly at my adversary. He looked to be about his mid-30s, and he was big and strong in a way that my skeletal structure would never allow. I could tell from the way he said "speedrunner"--the disgusted tone--that it was meant to be an insult. I knew I'd encounter prejudice here. What I wasn't expecting though, was to encounter it from... A TEACHER?!
"No, I'm not a speedrunner. Not that there's anything wrong with that," I said calmly. "And I think the government would be very interested in learning that a public school teacher was being racist against speedrunners."
"It's great that you think that. Unfortunately for you..." he flexed, and his biceps busted through his sleeves with such force that the fabric flew through the air and smacked me in the face. "I'm not a teacher. I'm a student like you. The name's Conor. Conor Leviathan. I'm the #2 of Class A-3.
I knew that there was no such official position as "#2" of a class. There was only the class representative. That meant he must have been a delinquent in a gang... I couldn't afford to get into a fight on my first day of school!
"Look, I don't want any trouble," I muttered, wiping his sleeve from my face.
"Give me that," he said, taking it from me. He placed it back on his bicep... and to my amazement, it actually repaired itself! It was as if it were being sewn by an invisible seamstress!
I gasped. He laughed at me cruelly and pushed me back down.
"Yeah that's right. You mess with Class A-3, and you're gonna have problems. Take it from me, Conor Leviathan. Take it to the bank."
He leaned down over me and lit a cigarette right in my face with a genuine Zippo lighter. "Being late brings dishonor to our school. You think Romero High is a joke? Well I've got a joke for you. A joke that I think you'll like. Meet me right here after school. And we'll see who's laughing."
He scooped a double-handeful of dirt and gravel from the ground and poured it onto my crotch. "Clean yourself up before you report to class, speedrunner. Or you'll get a demerit. Three demerits... and you won't like what's gonna happen to you. Spoiler alert: you're already getting ONE for being late. Are you any good at math? That means you've got just two more--"
"That's enough, Conor," said a voice from the front doors.
Conor turned and gasped. "N-Nicole..." He bowed.
A girl with dark hair down to her skirt stood there, holding a wooden sword. "We have no tolerance for tardiness, it's true," she said, walking over casually.
"But should we not be more welcoming to our new comrade?" she asked Conor. "After all, John Romero founded this school to help underprivileged kids learn the skills they need to succeed as adults."
"But he's a speedrunner!" grumbled Conor.
"Is he? Did he tell you that?" Nicole asked seriously. She looked at me.
"I... I..." The truth was I DID speedrun... sometimes... casually... but I didn't want to turn this girl against me. I had a feeling she was the only thing standing between me and a fiery demise. And I felt that way because I saw that Conor's fist started flaming as he awaited my answer.
"I... I WON'T LIE TO YOU!" I said, trying to be brave. "Sometimes I speedrun DOOM, but I... I promise I'm not that much into it!"
Nicole looked through me and I knew at that moment that this was literally exactly how Frodo felt when Galadriel was testing him. She was seeing whether or not I was sincere. But I had spoken the truth, and she saw that.
"Conor, put down your fist," she said. "He speedruns... but he's no speedrunner."
I sighed and collapsed onto my knees. I accidentally started stress crying.
"Get to homeroom," Nicole said. "You can make up your demerit for me later... I think I've got the perfect job for you..."
Homeroom wasn't any more pleasant than my experience w/ Conor Leviathan earlier. And that's because Conor Leviathan actually followed me the whole way, and he sat behind me, even though i had purposefully chosen a seat in the back so that he couldn't do that. But he just pushed my desk forward and took another desk and put it behind me.
"You're not getting away from me that easily," he growled like a wolf.
"Is everyone here today?" asked the teacher, whose name I had missed when he was introducing himself. i felt so stupid and my body temperature was going through the roof when i realized that i was at some point going to have to admit that i hadnt caught his name.
"You," said teach, pointing at me.
"S-sir?" I stammered.
"What's my name?" he asked.
"I- I-" i couldn't breathe.
"That's what I thought," he said. "That's a demerit for missing my introduction. For your benefit, since you're new around here, I'll tell you again. My name is Mr. Steambarrel, and I'm here to teach you how to reach your fullest potential at Math."
"Y-yes sir," I sad sadly.
He nodded, and then ran down the aisle of desks and grabbed me by the throat.
"S-sir..." I choked.
He punched me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. Conor Leviathan howled with laughter, but THEN? He grabbed Conor TOO and bonked both of us together.
"Heather, clean these clowns up," said Mr. Steambarrel, dropping us like sacks of potatoes.
The girl next to us leapt from her seat and saluted. "S-sir!" she immediately knelt down and began treating my cracked ribs and bruised ego. Conor Leviathan was out cold but didn't seem to be injured at all.
"Just relax Mikey, I'll use my chakra to heal you real quick," she said.
"How do you know my name?" I muttered dreamily. I wanted to literally just die with her over me like that fr.
"It's on your childish nametag attached to your bookbag," she answered.
"C-childish?" I asked, but she had already left, finished with her work. Apparently Mr. Steambarrel had gone easy on me and not damaged me too badly. He just wanted to teach me a lesson. And boy did he.
"Heh, I can see it in your eyes newbie. You like Heather, don't cha? Well cant say I blame you," said some lanky weirdo who was sitting on the other side of me. "Well what if I told you that she could be YOURS?"
"Are you offering to help me get Heater to be my girlfriend?!" I asked in astonishment.
"First of all, her name is 'Heather' not 'Heater', you little twerp. Second of all? The answer's no. I was just TESTING YOU. If anyone's going to have Heather, it's going to be me. So I've been dedicating my school career to keeping all the other guys away from her, and I guess that means you're on my hit list now too."
Before i could think of a retort, Nicole came out of the shadows and beat the lanky weirdo down with her wooden practice sword. "You're lucky I'm only carrying my wooden practice sword, Sardeen," she said. "Because I'd do the same thing to you even if I was carrying my actual steel sword. In other words it's complete dumb luck that I didn't just kill you. I want you to stay away from Heather, or Heater as the New Guy calls her."
Sardeen answered with silence, because he was KO'd on the floor next to Conor Leviathan.
"I actually didnt mean to call her Heater--" I started.
"It's OK, New Guy, there's nothing wrong with trying to give a nickname to your classmates. It's that you're a little too new for that. You got a little too big for yourt britches. There's no way "Heater" is going to stick to Heather, however much you might want that--"
"I don't want--"
"On top of that, Heather's the Secretary of the Treasury for the class. She supplies our gang with funds to procure our armaments. Such as THIS!"
Niocole drew a kantana from a sheathe which I could not see on her person, and held it into the air.
"This blade was the entire budget for the yearly field trip to the Washington Monument. Thankfully, Heather understood that it was more important for me to be well-equipped for the difficulties that our class would face in the future."
"What kind of difficulties?"
"Rival gangs. Do you remember when Conor Leviathan accused you of being a speedrunner?"
"How could I forget?" I muttered angrily to myself, clenching my fists. The memory of Conor Leviathan humilating me and dropping a clump of dirt and gravel onto my pants would haunt me forever... unless I got my revenge.
Nicole looked at me sternly. She was so beautiful I wanted to throw myself on her sword because I knew I'd never have her. She spoke just as sternly. "I know that you have a bone to pick with Conor Leviathan, but you can't pick it. We need him. His strength is what's carried us for so many semesters against Da Speedrunaz..."
"Da Speedrunaz?" I asked.
"That's right. They're the second most powerful gang at Romero High right now... they'd be the first if it wasn't for Conor Leviathan's strength, and my skill with the blade..." She quickly grabbed and apple off the teacher's desk and tossed it in the air. She sliced it, and when it landed, it was split in half with "I Hate Speedrunning" perfectly drawn into one half of the apple!
I gasped. "That's incredible! I've never seen swordsmanship like that... not... not even my own master could have done that!"
"Doesn't surprise me one bit," Nicole said, half-smirking, half-frowning. "There's a lot of fake swordmasters running around lately, duping idiots such as yourself."
"Are you calling me an idiot?!" I demanded. I ran to my desk and pulled out my OWN katana which I had concealed!
"I am," she said. She sliced the air, and a wind-blade sent me flying me straight into the wall! I coughed up blood.
"H-how did you do that?!" I demanded. "No humans can use air magic unless they're part demon!"
She looked away and out the window solemnly. A tear dripped down her sweet rosy cheek. "I am part demon..."
"And that's not all," announced Conor Leviathan, handing me my demerit slip which he'd hand-written personally. He wasn't talking to me, but to Nicole. "You're also GRADUATING THIS YEAR. So if we cant find a replacement for you... the entire school will be conquered by Da Speedrunaz!"
I hadn't realized that Conor had reawakened. Mysteriously, Sardeen was gone.
Nicole nodded grimly. She faced me. "It's true... we need demonic power to aid us... we can't rely just on Conor's greath strength!"
Conor flexed mightily. His sleeves once again exploded onto my face. I coughed as one got into my mouth. With a snap of his fingers, Conor retracted the sleeves back onto his arms.
"No Speedruna is a match for me," he said. "But there's so many of them that it doesn't even matter. I can't be everywhere in the school at once. That's why we need someone faster than me... someone like... Nicole." He turned to her and a tear ran down his cheek as well.
"Well I'll help in any way I can," I said, "But I'm not going to let it interfere with my school work, do you understand me? I don't care about your petty school gang wars, I am an academic. My loves are mathematics and science, and I won't let anyone get in my way..." I growled to let them know i was serious. Conor Leviathan looked so disgusted that he could kill me. I've never seen such genuine hatred on another human being's face. My body actually instinctually flinched in fear because anyone looking at this man would be AMAZED that he wasn't about to start slamming my head into the wall.
"Dont you understand by now?" asked Nicole. "If we dont stop Da Speedrunaz, no-one's going to be learning anythi--"
Just then, there was an explosion from the hallway!
Nicole was out the door in a second, with Conor Leviathan right on her fine tail. I was left alone, wondering what I should do...
I didn't have to wonder for long... Because Sardeen melted upward out of the floor in front of me. Reverse-melted, if you know what I mean.
"Milk..." he hissed.
"My name is Mike, Mike Maloney," I said.
"Oh sorry, Mike..." he hissed.
"What is it?" I demanded. "Answer quickly, I want to go follow Nicole and Conor Leviathan."
"Don't follow them, Milk..." hissssssed Sardeen, and he peeled off his face, revealing himself as an even uglier weirdo than he already was. "My name is Falcojump12, I'm a Speedrunna Jumper Class."
"Okay, I don't know what that means." I said, and I started to just walk away.
"Wait!" he said, with a desperate hiss. "Join us, Milk, and you can be granted power like mine. Power to transcend The Game. Power to transcend Humanity."
I stopped to be polite. "I still don't know what any of that means, but Nicole is cute and you're a freak. Sorry. Maybe later."
"What if I told you it could make you finanically independent in a matter of weeeeeeks?" he pleaded.
I left without turning around, but I could feel through the back of my head that Falcojump12 had somehow become even UGLIER in a fit of rage. I could feel the vibrations of his small creepy muscles tensing up. I knew that my life would be in danger normally, but all around the hallways were some kind of sports team guys and I felt like they were all watching my back. One of them said "We're watching you're back," as I passed him, so I was even more assured and reassured.
Falcojump12 had creeped me out. What did he mean by transcending Humanity? What was "the game?" Da hell was he talking about? I tried to push him out of my mind, and i did so almost effortlessly as I caught up with Nicole and Conor and I got to see Nicole's backside.
The explosion turned out to be an EPIC battle between a student and a teacher. There was still a lot of dust and stuff in the air, but i could make out the teach's uniform... Or so I thought.
"That's no teacher..." said Conor Leviathan, conveniently correcting me. "It's the PRINCIPLE."
"Don't you mean Principal?" I asked.
"Yes, but no," said another bystander, who was adjusting his glasses and looked really smart. "Principal Rob is simply called The Principle because of his incredible power and overwhelming force of will."
"Oh, that's cool."
"Yeah. Let's wait for the dust to clear and see what the hullabaloo is... by the way, my name is Jasper, Jasper Cohen."
"Hi Jasper," I said, shaking his hand. "It's nice to meet you. What class are yo--"
"Quiet!" growled Conor, pointing at the settling dust.
Principal Rob AKA The Principle must have been at least 6 foot 7 inches, but it was impossible to tell. His height, while consistently tremendous, seemed to constantly be in flux somehow. He was standing in front of --wait a minute! SARDEEN?!
"Sardeen," growled Principal Rob. "Why did you think you could stab me in the back like this?"
INDEED there was a knife in Principal Rob's back, but it seemed to trouble him less than a mosquito might.
Sardeen just moaned and made stupid zombie noises. He obviously wasn't all there. "Ouooooooooooo blaahhh gghaaarrhhh fluuuuuuahhhh."
"I see," said Principal Rob grimly. He took Sardeen's head in one hand and crushed his skull.
He turned back around at us all. "BREAK IT UP, THE SCHOOLDAY'S OVER!"
We all ran away. I turned around for just a sec to see Principal Rob shrink down into a pathetic, kinda fat guy.
I'd met Conor Leviathan out front for the joke/beating he promised me, but he pulled me into the bushes and told me to hush. He pointed at the front doors. There I saw two men shaking hands.
"Principal Rob, thank you for coming..." said a big blonde boi, shaking Principal Rob's sweaty hand, so sweaty that I could see it from bluetooth range without my glasses. It seemed like he was some kind of wax man melting under the Sun of his Responsibilites. The pair glanced over toward the bushes and then stepped closer to the doors and beyond our range of hearing since the bushes didn't really cover us entirely and it was obvious that we were there listening to them.
"That's Vancte Reinholdt, leader of the School Safety Lancer Corps. ...the big man on campus... heh, even Principal Rob is afraid of him..." Conor Leviathan whispered to me as we stared at the chad talking to Principal Rob in a hushed tone. He really was the big man on campus, bigger even than Conor Leviathan.
I flinched as Nicole appeared at my side. Apparently she'd been reading my mind, because she whispered to me. "Unlike Conor though, Vancte isn't 36 years old, he's 17, so his potential still hasn't been reached. Who knows how big he'll get? According to Leviathan Family tradition, Vancte already meets the standards required to be a Leviathan-rank bio-battleship, like Conor is..."
"Nicole what are they saying? Use your demon-ears to eavesdrop on them," whispered Conor.
"I'll do no such thing!" Nicole hissed, her cute demon elf ears folding over. "But I will tell you what Vancte told us at The Big Man On Campus Urgency Level Class Representative Meeting he called earlier today..."
"What's that?" asked Conor.
"Vancte is worried about the number of 30-year-old students the school is taking on. There's a new kid-- excuse me, adult man coming in to take the Anime course... William Joestar..."
"It might be BoJo, we're not sure yet. But he's a speedrunner..."
"Da Speedrunaz are going to pick him up then," growled Conor.
"They're gonna pick him up QUICK," nodded Nicole.
"I get it," I smiled. Nicole looked at me like she wanted to kill me. I got a little horny.
"With the physical destructive capabilities of their own mid-30s man, Da Speedrunaz are going to conquer the school, even before I graduate," Nicole said. "There's no getting around it. And because they limit their activities to inside the school, The Military refuses to take action against them. And since they don't destroy any school PROPERTY, Vancte and his Lancers are forbidden to act either..."
"But they're destroying KIDS!" growled Conor, his flames bursting into fists.
I felt like I was getting sick in my stomach. Like a fire was burning in my belly, a fire of anger. How dare these... these... SPEEDRUNNERS... make Nicole cry... "What can we do? How can we stop Da Speedrunaz?" I asked. I could feel my eyes welling up, and I was unashamed. I wanted Nicole to see me. To see my sincerity.
"Don't you want to know why Nicole's crying?" asked Conor Leviathan. "Or are you so taken by her beauty that you'll dedicate yourself to her, even without knowing her story? I wouldn't blame you." Tears were already pouring from his eyes as well.
"If you want to tell me then of course I want to know," I replied.
Nicole nodded. "Well, my brother..."
"Hey guys," interrupted Vancte Reinholdt. "I don't meant to interrupt you three having a good cry in the bushes, but Nicole, I wanted to tell you something..."
Nicole wiped her face. "Yes, Vancte? What can I do for you?" She was able to meet his mighty gaze without flinching. Even though Vancte was a Club Captain, Nicole was still a Class Representative after all. Needless to say, Conor and I had to bow our heads.
"As you know, I just had a talk with Principal Rob. He wants to help, but he can't stop the Joestar from coming to our school..."
"DAMN IT!" growled COnor Leviathan, slamming his fists down on the dirt. Some of it flew onto my pants, and I was reminded of his earlier insult. How strange that I no-longer cared... he was my comrade now...
"Easy Conor, easy..." said Vancte. "The Joestar's late for his first day. As you know, Da Speedrunaz hate tardiness. That will give us an advantage. Instead of immediately accepting him, they'll now put him through a battery of tests and lectures, and demanding that he Do Better for The Speedrunning Community before they'll start sending him out on runs..."
"How long does that give us?" I dared to ask. I couldn't help myself. I was paying such close attention, taking detailed mental notes, as was my way.
"It depends entirely on his skill level," Vancte answered without stopping to wonder where I got the nerve to speak out of turn. I could feel an impressed smile beaming through the back of my skull. "If they really want him in their ranks, they'll speedrun him right through the red tape. If he's a fuckup, it'll take months."
"Do we know how good he is?" Nicole asked.
Vancte shook his head. "We know he's got a channel on Twatch. But none of my bois could bear watching a speedrun. Not even I could stomach it. It's just so visually hideous..."
I lifted my head. "I..."
Nicole smiled. "We've got our own speedrunner now," she said.
Vancte nodded. "I had a feeling. We could've used him for recon--Speedrunners have a supernatural ability to tolerate watching speedruns. But of course it's too late now. And I'm sure the Speedrunaz spies have seen him with you now. We can't send him in as a double-agent."
I hanged my head. I felt worthless at that moment, but Conor Leviathan and Nicole both put their hands on my shoulders. "Don't get the wrong idea, Mike," said Nicole. "We're still going to need you. There's dark days ahead for all of us, and not one able body is useless."
"Indeed," Vancte said. "Speaking of just that, Conor Leviathan, I was hoping you could speak to your Boss for me..."
Conor blushed beet red. "Of course, sir, I uh... well, what would you want me to tell him?"
"I wrote him an appeal, it's back in my locker. Take a walk with me, and we'll discuss strategy. My Lancers might not be able to fight Da Speedrunaz openly, but the delinquent gangs have certainly have never been bound by rules. I estimate it's long past due to unite the gangs. Have you ever seen The Warriors?"
The two walked away, and Nicole and I stood up. "Nicole... about your brother..." I started.
"No Mikey, now's not the time," she whispered. She sniffed the air with her cute little nose. "Don't you smell it? The rank B.O. of Speedrunaz. We have 5 minutes, maybe... come, walk me to the bus stop..."
"What about Conor?" I asked.
"He couldn't be safer. Vancte's locker is on the second floor, in the Doujin Wing. All of his Lancers are there. Da Speedrunaz won't dare to bother them."
I nodded and hurried after her. "What are they after?" I asked. "Da Speedrunaz, I mean..."
"I'm sure by now one of those freaks has told you about their plan of Transcendance," Nicole said.
"Don't say it!" hissed Nicole. "But yes... Da Speedrunaz are obsessed with breaking boundaries. They want to destroy *something*... and they've been recruiting every able-mind in school to help them."
We sat down at the bus stop. "What happens if they succeed?" I asked.
Nicole did an anime girl shrug. "Who knows? The old rumor is that whatever is behind... this *something*... if it spills out... it'll create such a mess... that even the Jannies won't be able to clean it up... or if they do, it'll involve destroying EVERYTHING to do so..."
"Who are the jannies?" I asked.
"G-men. Government spooks. Dozens, or even hundreds of them dwell beneath the school. Every one of them is as powerful as Principal Rob in his Hero Mode... They mostly leave us alone, but... if there's a "mess" with the school, they won't hesitate to kill us all to clean it up."
"And Da Speedrunaz WANT to cause this?!" I demanded.
"No-one ever ever said they were smart. Only obsessed. They'll stop at nothing to break boundaries. And since they'd be no match for the Jannies, or even for Vancte's Lancers, they do all of their work without breaking any rules. So no official action can be taken against them..."
I was starting to see the pig bicture. "And that's where Conor Leviathan comes in."
"Conor, yes, and boys like him who aren't afraid to get suspended... or worse... expelled... they've been beating the tar out of the Da Speedrunaz, harassing them, smashing their computers, bullying them into suicide, whatever it takes to protect the integrity of *What Lies Beneath the School*.
I nodded. "I wish I could help... but I'm not really cut out for fighting... my whole life, I've just been a nerd."
Nicole smiled. "Yeah I can tell lol. But don't feel bad, we'll find something for you to do."
The bus arrived, and Nicole signaled for me to get on.
"Aren't you coming?" I asked her, stepping on.
"Not this time..." she turned.
Down the street, a group of Speedrunaz were rushing toward the bus, screaming and waving at it to hold up.
"grrrr GO!" cried Nicole coolly, drawing her wooden sword, and she spoke with such authority that the bus driver had no choice but to close the door and start to take off.
A girl yelled from the bus. "Don't do it, Nicole! You'll get a suspension!"
"We've got to slow them down in every way that we can! I'm tired of relying on everyone else, while I maintain my perfect record! NOT ANYMORE, TONIGHT I JOIN THE FIGHT!"
Nicole charged at the group. "Watch me, Mike..." she whispered. She beaned a Speedruna in the cheek with her sword. Teeth and spit flew through the sky as the beast stumbled to the ground. Nicole barely was able to dodge, yet still gracefully kicked another Speedruna into oncoming traffic, and lunged onto the back of another, pulling it down as a lion pulls a gazelle. She tripped one more with her sword, before she disappeared in a sea of writhing limbs and soy-fed skinnyfat torsos.
Mike saw this from the back of the bus, and collapsed onto floor, tears FLOWING from his wide eyes. He looked up and saw through the roof of the bus as if it weren't there. It was as if his entire world had just fallen into the sky, leaving naught but a black sea of nothing, yet from which *something* erupted with a force he'd never dreamed possible.
Mike grabbed his head and sperged out right there. His smol bean muscles trembled with unrecognized demand and he shook as if he were having a seizure. "rrrrrrrrrrr.......rrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa--RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHH!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!" he could actually feel his hair straightening out and becoming lighter, this was it!
But before his transformation could be completed, he felt a prick in the side of his neck, and everything went blurry.
When Mike awoke, he was sitting down like everyone else.
"W-what... happened..." Mike asked rubbing his head. To his surprise and delight, HEATHER was there in the next seat over the aisle looking at him.
I had to stop you, Mike," said Heather, showing him her Medic Gun which looked like something from Killing Floor 2 but it only fired syringes, it wasn't also an actual gun... "Nicole wouldn't want you to steal her glory... she did this not just for you, but for herself... and her brother..."
Oh yeah, that reminded him! "So what happened to her broth--?"
"Yare yare, can you shut up already?" growled a guy sitting next to him. Mike gasped.
This freaking guy was like 6'5 and built like a truck. Mike was horrified to see that despite the cramped space they were in, the man was still somehow posing in a very awkward fashion. Speaking of fashion, he was dressed head to toe in expensive clothing... Was it Gucci... Versace? Mike wasn't a fashion guy, but he knew style when he saw it. All together, it was a very menacing man...