“Ha! That’s what you get!”
It was a bright and sunny day, with only about five days until the end of Summer vacation. Hotaru had arrived at a nearby children's playground when she noticed three kids standing over a girl.
“Careful!” pleaded the only girl in the group. “I heard witches curse people! She might curse you!”
“Ah, shove it!” the boy in the middle responded. “If she could curse people, she would’ve done it already!”
“P-Please…my hat...give it back!”
The leading bully held aloft a wide-brimmed steeple hat. He spat at the weeping witch girl and glared down at her.
“You freaks got some nerve showing up here! My dad’s dead cuz ‘o you!” He held his index finger to the girl’s hat and the tip produced a small ember, similar to how one would light a candle. He brought it closer and closer to the hat.
Suddenly, a tiny hand grabbed his arm. “That’s enough!”
“What the…?” The boy turned to see a pair of blue eyes boring into him. “What the heck do you want? Mind yours, pipsqueak!”
He tried to push her off, but the little girl didn’t budge an inch.
“Huh?! W-Why can’t I…?”
“Give back her hat,” Hotaru demanded coldly, “or else!”
“You cocky little…” The bully’s hand became a fist and in seconds, it was completely engulfed in flames. “I’ll show you!!”
Conveniently for Hotaru, they were standing over a sandbox. She took his arm and rammed it deep into the sand beneath their feet, quickly extinguishing the flames.
The boy next to him approached Hotaru. He extended his arm and cast an aqua spell, sending a stream of water in her direction. Hotaru, however, was faster than the average human even at the age of seven. She easily avoided the spell and thrust her palm forward, slamming it into the boy's plexus and sending him flying into the tall shrubbery surrounding the playground.
Hotaru turned to face the third bully who stood beside them. She appeared terrified at the sight of a little girl making such quick work of her friends.
Knowing she didn't stand a chance against Hotaru, the girl made the executive decision to retreat. She dashed over to her disoriented friends, helped them back to their feet, and hurriedly left the premises, leaving the witch girl’s hat behind.
“You okay?” asked Hotaru, picking up the witch’s hat and dusting it off. She approached the young witch, who stood up and wiped away her tears, revealing herself to be much taller than Hotaru. This was something Hotaru had become accustomed to. At age seven she stood at around three feet seven inches so other kids were bound to tower over her. That much was guaranteed thanks to her mother's genes.
Hotaru was nearly about to hand over the hat when she caught sight of something that made her freeze in place.
She found herself taken aback by the girl’s features. Just like her, the witch girl was of Ajian descent, possibly Hōjinese. The young witch’s skin was as bright as a peach, her ashen hair was long and flowed down her to shoulders, and her eyes were a bright hazel color. The girl’s visage caused Hotaru’s mind to go blank. After much mental struggle, she’d finally managed to recover her thoughts.
Hotaru’s vocabulary in the Common Tongue wasn’t as vast back then, but one word immediately came to mind.
It was her mother’s favorite word. She’d always used it to describe Hotaru. However, she believed that word was much more fitting for the young girl who stood before her.
“Um…Excuse me. Are you okay?”
“Gah! Er, yeah!” The girl’s concerned gaze brought a red blush to Hotaru’s cheeks. She snapped out of her stupor and handed the witch girl her hat.
“Thanks.” The young witch looked down and gasped. “Oh, no! You’re knee, it’s bleeding!”
“Hm?” Hotaru peered down at her legs and noticed a large piece of glass sticking out of her right knee. Her adrenaline had kicked in when she fought off those bullies, so she hadn’t felt anything.
The witch girl took a knee, her palms facing Hotaru. “Hold still. This will only be a moment.”
In mere seconds, they were illuminated by a golden light. Hotaru gasped at the sight of miniature clocks materializing around her leg, completely awe-struck as they began to rapidly dial their hands backward.
Wow, she remembered thinking at that moment.
With her knee healed, Hotaru and the witch girl were sitting at a swinging set and gave their introductions.
“I'm Hotaru. Hotaru Hyakuya!” the smaller girl said. ”What's your name?”
The taller girl smiled brightly and said, “I'm Chiaki Sakaki. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Hotaru.”
The girls talked for a while. Chiaki explained that her school—Green Man’s Academy of Witchcraft—often sent their primary branch on two-month excursions to acquaint themselves with life outside of the Witch Isles of Wiccastrea and she would be attending Hullington Primary Academy the following week. Excited, Hotaru pointed out that they would most likely be classmates, much to Chiaki’s surprise, who believed the smaller girl to be much younger.
They shared details about their pasts, their families, and what they aspired to be in the future. In a very short amount of time, the girls learned that despite their different walks of life, they shared a lot in common.
“Thank you, so much for helping me out,” Chiaki smiled warmly. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without my hat.”
Hotaru felt her face grow hot once again. Was she coming down with something? “N-No problem. What those jerks did was uncalled for! I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
“Mm-mm.” The witch girl shook her head. “I’m from the Flaystein Coven and there were people from that coven who’ve done…horrible things in the past.” She squeezed her wrist. “That boy… He said his father was harmed by a witch. My presence frightened his friends and triggered an unpleasant memory. They were just scared. I can hardly blame them.”
“But that’s not fair! They don’t even know you…”
“If you saw a spider on your wall, one that you knew to be poisonous… Chiaki glanced over to her. “...wouldn’t you be afraid, too?”
“I…” The weight of the young witch’s words made Hotaru’s heart sink.
“I appreciate your help, Hotaru and I’ll never forget it,” she said glumly. “But it’d be best if you kept your distance from me. Otherwise…they’ll target you next.”
“Forget that!” Hotaru stood from her swing and faced Chiaki. She knew what it was like to be feared and she wasn’t about to let this girl accept this abuse so readily.
“Fear doesn’t make it okay to treat others like garbage!” yelled Hotaru, crossing her arms. “Anyone who hurts others for petty reasons is worse than garbage if you ask me!” She grabbed her by the shoulders.“Chiaki. If those dipwads ever come near you again…I swear I’ll kick all of their asses! Again!”
Chiaki looked at her for a while. Hotaru had meant every word she said. She wasn't sure why, but she wanted to protect this girl. She wanted to know more about her and see more of her.
“From now on, you and I are friends, okay?! Ah!” Realizing her hands were still on the other girl’s shoulders, she backed away, her confidence wavering slightly. “U-Unless you don’t want me as one…”
Chiaki blinked a few times before breaking into a giggling fit. And it was the cutest thing Hotaru had ever heard.
“Alright, then.” The witch girl stood up and reached out her hand. “Friends?”
Hotaru smiled back as she took her hand.
“Oh, look! That one looks like a dragon.”
“Next to the one that looks like a dog.”
“Ah-ha! Why, yes, it does! Nice eye, Ms. Chiaki!”
Through tired eyes, Hotaru watched Chiaki as she pointed out a few clouds while conversing with the others. Her left hand was still gently stroking Hotaru’s hair and an overwhelming warmth coursed throughout her tiny body.
That day was the first time she had ever felt such intense feelings for another person. From the witch girl's beauty to her sweet and caring nature, there was seldom doubt as to how this affection arose. Hotaru knew these feelings were hopeless, but they were hers and hers alone. The one she adored clearly had eyes for another and there was absolutely nothing she could do to sway them. So thus, she dreamed. There was no harm in dreaming and no one could take that away from her…her dream of love.
“Say, you’re quite good at spottin’, Chiaki,” Daytona said, using her right hand to block the sun. “Wait, where’s the doggie?”
“Merged with the dragon,” Will stated dryly.
“Wait, what?!” Goldie frantically looked over to where the dog-shaped cloud once was and clutched his chest. “No! I never even got the chance to name him…”
Petty though it was, Hotaru considered this a small victory. Though she did feel a tinge of jealousy that a mere cloud formation had brought her greatest rival to its mercy before she did.
“Heh, more like it was eaten by the dragon!”
“Urk!” Goldfinch jolted as if he’d been struck by an arrow.
“Look what you did, Daytona. Now you’ve upset John…”
Chiaki laughed. Even on Hotaru’s worst days, the sight of her experiencing such joy always served to fill her with rapture.
Still nestled in Chiaki’s lap, she turned her head and joined her friends in cloud-watching. Their new adventure had just begun, but she was already wishing that it would never end.
It's still as bright as the day we met.
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