Haruto stepped up to approach the two, "You two know each other?" He pointed to Aimi, then Daigo.
"Daigo Amagi is a fellow student!" She presented, grabbing his hand happily. His white Driver On ring became visible to them at that moment. "I'm so glad to see more students survived! Are there more?"
Daigo took his hand away from her gently, and looked at his ring. "I'm alone. I came here to retire."
"Retire?" Aimi questioned.
"After what happened at the school, I just..." He looked down, "I just want to be alone with my thoughts, if that's alright. I have a life I want to get back to."
Aimi's brows lowered and she became concerned, seeing the way he was acting now.
"You might not be able to with those Ghouls chasing after you." Haruto spoke up, "They must be after you since they think you're just another Gate."
"I'll be fine." Daigo started to walk away.
"Kosuke, keep an eye on him." Haruto looked over Kosuke.
"Wha??" Kosuke exclaimed, "I need to feed on some mana, dude!"
Daigo stopped and looked back at the two, a glare from his eyes. Such a rude invasion of privacy, it seemed.
"Chow down on anything that approaches Daigo, then. He's a target." Haruto waved him off, walking away. "C'mon, Aimi. I need the full scoop."
. . .
Back at Vestige Hall, Shunpei, a regular visitor and friend to Haruto who has aided him in his fight against the Phantoms, had just arrived looking for Haruto. With quick introductions out of the way, he along with Haruto would be hearing the full story from Aimi about this school she held so dear. The two boys sat on one couch facing Aimi who was on another couch, with Koyomi joining her side. Between them was a small table where Aimi placed her back of rings and her tome she'd been carrying.
Kibohoshi, or Hopeful Star, was a school founded by an elder who studied for years the strange mythological stories of mages and Phantoms. He used to consider them nothing but fascinating fiction, but when he practiced magic out of jest, he came to realize what he'd been reading was an obscure truth lost to ancient times. He realized then that if the magic was real, then the threat would be as well.
Using all of the things he'd researched, he founded a school carried out in secret, welcoming Gates to study this magic with the intent of using it for good. Some found out about this so-called secret school, but it was mainly believed to be a silly club or harmless cult. Its students, mainly being teens who've graduated high school, stayed here and treated it like a new home, abandoning all necessities such as bills and electronics. The experience was enough to make this an acceptable trade.
To avoid the darker side of magic, Gates would never become mages through means of suppressing Phantoms, but rather through training their mana would be brought to the surface, allowing them to painlessly gain the ability to use their rings. While they carried the burden of using their powers to fend off Phantoms, were they ever to return to the world, the students enjoyed their time here with the kind old master, learning and experiencing the joy of magic together.
That is, until recently.
No one knows how it all went down. But, somehow, a Phantom broke through their security and burned the school down, killing off numerous students. Aimi was one of the only known survivors, along with Daigo.
Aimi sighed, having finished telling the story, "After that, I came here hoping to find a place to settle until I knew what to do. Now that Phantom is causing even more death and destruction here."
"I'm sorry this had to happen. We'll defeat that Phantom together." Haruto nodded to her. Aimi nodded back, trying to crack a smile.
"So..." Shunpei picked up Aimi's tome, placed on the table between them. "This is what you use to cast spells? Just like a fairy tale mage?"
"Yeah - That belonged to the headmaster."
She picked up the tome from Shunpei's hands and opened its blank pages, taking a ring from her bag to scan on it. A flower would appear and fall into Aimi's hand to everyone's amazement - Unlike Haruto, she didn't use rings on a belt. Aimi smiled a little more genuinely, as she saw the flower.
"Just before this all went down, he gave it to me saying he thought I had potential... He said that tomes like this were used by a lot of mages from ancient times so they could cast spells more discreetly."
"Do you know where the headmaster is?" Haruto asked.
Aimi shook her head, her smile lowering at the realization, "He hasn't been seen since the school was destroyed. He was very old, so... It's possible he didn't survive."
There was a moment of silence in honor of the man's work. Haruto pondered quietly.
"Aimi..." Haruto started, "Is there any way for us to see this school now? If we had some sort of clue, maybe we could identify who this Phantom is."
Aimi paused, feeling a bit nervous, but nodded lightly, "If you wish, I can take you there."
"I get to see a magic school??" Shunpei exclaimed at the idea.
Haruto slapped Shunpei on the head, "Come on, man! Not the time."
"Actually, unless you have mana, I don't think you'll be allowed entry." Aimi corrected him.
"Guess that settles it." Haruto pointed to Shunpei with a commanding tone, "You're not going."
"Why not?" Shunpei pleaded.
"It could be dangerous." Haruto answered.
Haruto's phone started to ring. Putting a hand in front of Shunpei's face to interrupt him, he answered it.
"Haruto, what the hell is going on over there??" Rinko asked on the other end.
Haruto raised his eyebrows, "Oh, Rinko--"
"Don't 'Oh Rinko' me. There's a Phantom killing off innocent civilians and you haven't stopped it yet? You know that I can't do anything while I'm out of town!"
"I got it, I got it!" Haruto spoke up, "I'm in the middle of figuring out who the Phantom is. Focus on your out-of-town trip and let me do the hero work."
"You'd better deal with this soon." Rinko grumbled.
"When have I ever failed?" He regained his composure.
After hanging up, Haruto leaned back on the couch to think, "Okay, so I think some arrangements need to be made to get Rinko off my ass." He said bluntly. "Think Kosuke can tag along instead?"
"The Archetype?" Aimi questioned, "I'm not sure if he has the right kind of mana, but... We can try."
"Good enough," Haruto sat back up. "I'll arrange something. By the way..." He looked over to her bag of rings and picked one out. "Think I can borrow one of these? Might come in handy."
"Absolutely!" Aimi smiled, "I have plenty, after all."
"I'm off to find Kosuke, then." Haruto got up from his seat and walked out the door.
The Phantoms were feeling less organized than the mages. As Sora returned to his fellow Phantoms, Medusa began lashing out at him for coming back emptyhanded.
"You had one job!" Medusa exclaimed, "Keep Wendigo from going after more Gates! And you show up to tell us you let him escape??"
Sora smiled, putting his hands up in defense, "Misa, Misa! Trust me. I have a plan."
"I believe I understand Gremlin's line of thinking," Wiseman started, "And while I am not fond of the idea... Medusa, allow him to explain."
Medusa gave Sora a scowling look and begrudgingly backed off. "Whatever it is, you'd better not screw things up as a result."
"Oh, I think I know exactly what I'm doing." Sora tilted his head as he grinned to her. "Allow me to explain..."
[To be continued]