"You're very special, Minami-kun," she murmured into his ear.
"I am?" He asked, trying to squirm out of her lap to no avail.
"Of course, dear." She hugged him tightly, stopping his struggling. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
He sat in her lap, contemplating her words. She sounded proud yet sad at the same time. "Mommy?"
"My boy, my precious boy… my little genius… you're going to go so far," she cooed, snuggling against his hair. "And probably break so many hearts in the process."
He blushed upon hearing her compliment, not even minding the way she was babying him at the moment. Today was a rare day when she finally had free time, and both of them could spend their time together. Usually, either his mother or father was preoccupied with something. And not to mention his 'unusual circumstances'.
"But don't forget, Minami-kun."
He looked up curiously at his mother.
"About those around you…"
Chapter 01: Pandora Academy
The boy opened his eyes, finding himself sitting in the front seat of a car. A scruffy, long-haired middle-aged man was driving the car, an unlit cigarette between his lips. The boy blinked several times before he let out a sigh.
"Havin' a dream, eh?" The middle-aged man asked without looking over at him. He seemed to be focusing on his driving, but because he was wearing a pair of wraparound shades, the boy was unable to see his eyes. "That's okay. It's normal for you to dream around this time," he shrugged. "As expected from the Vessel, right?" The middle-aged man grinned slightly.
"How long did I sleep?" The boy asked.
"You've been sleeping for seven hours straight, kid," the middle-aged man answered. "You were sleeping like a rock until now. Well thank goodness we didn't have a bumpy ride," he said before he turned on the radio. Apparently, he didn't switch on the radio while the boy was sleeping. "You don't mind the radio, right?"
"I don't mind." The boy consented with a wave of his hand before he looked outside at the window. It seemed that they had already passed the desert and now going through a forest. "Where are we now?"
"We're now at the border between Human's realm and Pandora's realm," the middle-aged man answered, bobbing his head while listening to the music from the radio. "Just passed through the gate a while ago when you were sleeping," he added. "Well, at least they didn't stop us because you were sleeping."
The boy frowned. "Why's that? Why would they stop us if I was awake?" He asked.
The middle-aged man smirked. "Well, your true nature is a confidential one, kid. In Pandora, getting your true nature exposed may cause a war between the Human's realm and Pandora's realm. Right now, you'll come to Pandora Academy as Minami Suzuhara, an ordinary Vessel of an ordinary monster instead of the Vessel of the mythical and horrible Echidna."
The boy, Minami gulped when the middle-aged man mentioned the name 'Echidna'. He was born as a Vessel, a reincarnation of a human with a monster sealed within the body. In Minami's case, he had a monster named Echidna sealed within him. When he was born, drastic measures were taken by some people who had been monitoring the reincarnations of all Vessels, making sure that Echidna would never break the seal and start a destructive rampage in its wake.
Echidna was a legendary monster that was said to be the blueprint for all monsters in the world, or in other words, the mother of all monsters. Long ago, the dreaded Echidna was sealed within a mortal host in order to stop its murderous rampage, and in order to prevent the monster from breaking free, each time a mortal host died, the monster would be transferred into a new host, and the process was called 'reincarnation'. It happened that the latest mortal host of Echidna was Minami Suzuhara, a Japanese boy.
"Geoffrey-san, is this really necessary?" Minami asked the middle-aged man driving the car. "I mean, Echidna is safely sealed inside my body. Is it really necessary for me to come to Pandora Academy?"
Geoffrey let out a lighthearted laugh. "Well, since you're asking me, I'll explain it to you, kid," he said, still looking forward while driving. "We, The Watchers, have been monitoring you since you were a baby," he started. "It is our job to make sure that Echidna will never break free from its prison, and in this case, the prison is your body," he said, glancing at the Japanese boy. "Sealing a murderous monster into a mortal host is one of the most effective ways of stopping it from rampaging, but there's one problem. As the mortal host grows older, the seal gradually weakens, and Echidna may find a way to break free. It happened once in the past, and we would like to avoid it from happening again. So, in order to prevent such thing, you're going to attend Pandora Academy, a school that is exclusively made for people like you, kid. You're going to be trained to control that beast that is residing inside your body, strengthening the seal in the process. If done right, maybe you will get to live to an old age, you know."
"I see…" Minami mused. When he was first informed that there was a monster residing inside his body, he noticed many strange things happened. Whenever he was injured, the wound would quickly heal. It seemed that the presence of Echidna within his body had granted him an accelerated healing factor. Besides that, he also had a tendency to attract many strange monster-like creatures to him. Because of that, both he and his family had quite a lot of misadventures all these years. Still he and his family managed to lead a quiet, peaceful life. Despite knowing their child had a monster imprisoned inside his body, his parents didn't seem to mind it at all. They considered him to be very unique for having such thing sealed inside him.
And when Minami was ordered to come to Pandora Academy, his parents were quite saddened, but in order to keep Echidna imprisoned, they had to let him go.
"Be warned, kid. Unlike the schools in the Human's realm, most of the students of Pandora Academy are monsters, and some of them are even natural man-eaters. Vessels like you should watch your back, or else you may end up becoming a werewolf's dinner," Geoffrey said jokingly.
"T-that's not funny, Geoffrey-san!" Minami protested, and Geoffrey laughed.
"But I'm not worried, kid…" Geoffrey said after he was done laughing. "I'm sure you can make it. Monsters or not, all of them have something that we call 'heart', and you're the kind of person who will make sure that even a monster's heart will never be hurt," he said, smiling. From his face, one could see the confidence that he had in Minami. It seemed that he believed that Minami would be able to make it at Pandora Academy.
"Geoffrey-san…" Minami just looked at the middle-aged man.
Then, the car finally made its way out of the forest and they could clearly see a massive castle-like structure in the distance. "Alright, we're here!" Geoffrey said, grinning. "Welcome to Pandora Academy, Suzuhara Minami."
After unloading his belongings, Geoffrey told Minami that he would be leaving. "So… good luck, kid…" He said, placing his hand on the boy's shoulder. Both of them were in front of the front gate of Pandora Academy. "I know it's going to be hard, but please hang in there. And we also have our agents in this academy. Find them and go ask them if you need help," the middle-aged man told the boy. "See you later, kid. Stay safe, okay?"
"Yeah, see you later too, Geoffrey-san," Minami said before Geoffrey left. He lifted his bag before he looked at the front gate. He couldn't help but feel slightly nervous, but it had to be done so he could live a healthier life in the future.
After contemplating for a moment, Minami decided to enter the school ground so he could meet the director. He was told that he needed to speak with the director, who was also one of the people who had arranged to get Minami attending the school, and the director was also one of the people who knew Minami's secret as the Vessel of Echidna. As he walked, suddenly he heard a voice coming from behind.
"Coming through!" The voice, a girly one said before Minami felt an impact from behind. Apparently, someone crashed into him from behind, and both of them fell down. As they fell, Minami could see something rolling on the ground.
"A-are you alright?" Minami spoke to that someone who crashed into him. He saw the body of the person, dressed in white uniform and black skirt of the academy. From what he could see, the person was a girl, based on the shape of the body. Then, much to his horror, he figured out that the body seemed to be lacking a head. He could barely keep himself from screaming in fear before he saw the head not too far from the body. After seeing the head, Minami could no longer keep his voice as he screamed in terror.
Unexpectedly, a voice came from the head before the headless body rose from the ground. Shivering in fear, Minami just watched as the headless body walked towards the head, picking it up before placing it back into its place. After placing the head back, the boy could finally take a good look on the person who crashed into him. It was a girl with bluish white hair and golden eyes. The girl seemed to be maintaining a poker and calm face even while her headless body was picking her head up.
"C-calm down, Minami, she's probably one of the students here! She's obviously a monster! How can a perfectly normal human being get her head detached from her shoulders in the first place? She has to be a monster, I know it!" Minami thought to himself as he continued to look at the girl who was adjusting her head. She adjusted her separable head like adjusting a hat.
"Are you alright?" The girl suddenly asked. Minami could see concern in her face as she asked him that. Her voice sounded pleasant and sweet, Minami thought to himself.
"Uh… I'm alright…" Minami answered before he got up. Apparently, the girl had a purple long scarf wrapped around her neck. It seemed to be hiding the fact that her head could be separated from the body without difficulty.
"I'm sorry for bumping into you," the girl said, apologizing to Minami before she bowed. As she bowed, her head fell off again, she picked up her head but before she put it back into its place. "Did I surprise you?" She asked in calm and polite tone, looking at the boy with curious eyes.
Minami realized that he was being rude earlier. He shouldn't be freaked out by that in the first place because Pandora Academy was a place for the monsters and those who were associated with them to study in order to blend into human's society. Seeing someone who had a detachable head should be something normal in this place, he decided that apologizing would be a proper thing to do. "W-well…" The boy awkwardly scratched on his cheek before he continued, "Yeah, you surprised me. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have freaked out in the first place," he apologized to the girl. "And… my name is Minami Suzuhara. Who are you?" The boy asked in friendly tone.
"…" The girl blinked several times before she replied to his question. "Fiona…" She finally introduced herself. "I'm Fiona Connaughton…" She bowed. This time, she managed to keep her head from falling down. "I'm an Irish Dullahan, pleased to meet you," she added.
"Dullahan?" Minami blinked in confusion before he realized what the girl was saying. From what he had learned before, a Dullahan is a dark fairy from Irish folklore, a psychopomp that is often described as a headless rider, usually seen on a pitch-black horse while carrying his head under one arm. From what Minami had heard before, Dullahan has a rather hideous, horrifying appearance. But, when Minami looked at Fiona, she looked quite beautiful, separable head notwithstanding, and her appearance didn't match with the description of the Dullahan that Minami had learned before.
"Are you surprised?" Fiona asked. "Dullahans are often described as the creatures of darkness, with hideous appearance," she smiled a little. "I do not mind if you are surprised by that, Minami," she said to the boy.
"Y-you're… pretty…" Minami stuttered.
"Huh?" Minami's words managed to catch the Dullahan off-guard. She jerked her body slightly, but the movement caused her head to fall again.
"W-watch out!" Quickly, Minami moved forward, catching Fiona's head from hitting the ground. Holding the Dullahan's separated head with both hands, Minami looked into her eyes. "Wow, so this is a Dullahan, huh?" He said, smiling. It seemed that he's no longer afraid of her. "Here, be careful next time," Minami handed the head back to Fiona's headless body. Fiona hesitantly accepted her head before she placed her head back into its place. Somehow, one could see her cheeks tinged with red, but Minami didn't notice it, apparently. "I don't think you're scary, Fiona-san. If anything, you're awesome," Minami told the Dullahan girl, causing the girl to gasp in surprise. "Not all people can separate their heads from their bodies, you know?"
"Y-you're… you're not afraid?" Fiona asked in disbelief.
"W-well… to be honest, I was a little surprised, but after speaking with you, there's no reason for me to be afraid of you, right?" Minami admitted to the Dullahan. "And you're beautiful, so why should I be afraid of you?" He said, displaying a refreshing grin.
"I-I'm… beautiful?" Fiona gasped before she brought her hands to her cheeks. "A-am I beautiful?"
"I should go now," Minami said, looking at Fiona. "Be careful next time, Fiona-san. Let's meet again sometimes, okay?" he said, giving her a smile before he entered the school ground, leaving Fiona alone.
"…" The Dullahan just watched the boy as he walked away from her. The boy said that she was beautiful. The boy said that he was not afraid of her. After the boy was gone, Fiona held her hand to her chest, feeling her heartbeats as she closed her eyes. After a while, she reopened her eyes and looked in the direction that Minami had gone. "Suzuhara… Minami…" She murmured softly.
After asking for directions, finally Minami found himself in front of the door of the director's office. He had seen a lot of strange people, like a woman with the lower body of a snake, a man with a pair of wings, a middle-aged guy with three eyes, a girl who spewed out fire as she spoke and many others. He was finally convinced that Pandora Academy was a place made for monsters and those who are associated with them. He knew that he's one of the latter, not the former. Besides being the mortal Vessel of the dreaded Echidna, he's nothing but a normal teenager; so in order to have a good life in the future, he needed to learn on how to control the beast residing inside his body. If not, he might not be able to even reach adulthood.
"Alright, here I go…" Minami spoke to himself before he knocked on the door several times. After a moment, he heard a voice from inside, telling him to enter. He twisted the knob of the door and stepping into the office he found himself in a white room, devoid of any decorations except a couch, a table and several seats. There's only one window in the room. As he stepped into the office, he finally saw the director.
The director was a woman with white hair, clad in formal attire, but wearing a rather short skirt, exposing her shapely legs. She had a serious expression on her face, and seemed to radiate an aura of authority. As Minami entered her office, the director studied him with her sharp eyes and he couldn't help but feel the oppressive gaze of the director.
"So… you're the latest one, huh?" The director spoke before she took out a cigarette, placing it between her lips. "Minami Suzuhara, if I'm not wrong," she said, lighting up her cigarette. After taking a long drag of her cigarette, she let out a cloud of smoke before she addressed Minami. "Please take a seat, boy," she ordered Minami, gesturing at one of the seats in front of the table.
"Y-yes," Minami nervously replied before he went towards the seat, sitting on it. "E-excuse me, ma'am…" He said as he sat down.
Taking another drag of her cigarette, the director introduced herself. "My name is Milfred Nightgaunt, the director of Pandora Academy," she said, putting the ash of her cigarette into the ashtray. "I was informed by The Watchers about you, the current Vessel of Echidna; The Mother of Monsters…" She said, looking at the boy who was sitting in front of her. "From now on, you'll be studying here, in Pandora Academy as a student from Japan. You'll be training yourself to control the monster inside your body while at the same time, making sure that the seal that imprisons Echidna isn't weakened. Furthermore, you'll also study the subjects that are necessary for you to easily integrate into society after graduation…" She said, puffing out another cloud of smoke.
"I-I'll try my best," Minami said, nodding.
"Yes, I'll make sure you will Suzuhara," Milfred said, pressing the butt of her cigarette into the ashtray. "And just for your information, unlike the schools in the Human's realm, you'll be studying at Pandora Academy for six years. You can also apply for three additional years if you're having problem with your grades," she informed him. "Make sure to do your best, okay?" She said, finally smiling.
"U-understood, ma'am," Minami responded.
"I'm glad to hear that," Milfred said before she took out a piece of paper from her drawer. "And now, for your dorm's assignment," she said, looking into the paper. "Somehow, there was a problem with your room assignment, but don't worry," she said to the boy reassuringly as she sensed his worry in his face. "We already have back-up plans for that," she told the boy. "We're going to change the room assignment for you…" Then, she pushed a button on a device which was an intercom. "Please let her come in…" She spoke, using the intercom.
Both of them waited in silence a few minutes before someone knocked on the door. After Milfred told them to enter, the door opened, and a girl with bluish white hair stepped into the office.
"This is Fiona Connaughton," Milfred introduced the girl to Minami. As both Minami and Fiona looked at each other, both of them gasped. "From now on, she'll be your roommate. While we're usually against cohabitation between girl and boy, in your case, we're going to make an exception," the director said. "Since Connaughton currently doesn't have a roommate, you're going to be her temporary roommate for the time being."
"W-what… uh?" Minami was too stunned to even formulate a simple sentence while Fiona face reddened due to sheer embarrassment.
"So, you already know each other?" Milfred asked before she smiled understandingly. "I see. Well, it'll make it easier on both of you, then…" She said to both Minami and Fiona. "So… you two are dismissed. Please have a pleasant day, Suzuhara."
So, while both of them were still deeply embarrassed and totally confused, Minami and Fiona left the office, walking side-by-side. From now on, they're going to be roommates, and despite Fiona being a Dullahan, it didn't change the fact that she is a girl. And they're going to have a cohabitation, which might lead to more complicated situations.
"But I'm glad," suddenly, Minami spoke, catching Fiona off-guard. "I'm glad that it's you," he said, looking at the Dullahan while smiling.
"M-Minami?" Fiona squeaked.
"It's going to be embarrassing, but I'm sure we'll be able to get through it, Fiona-san," Minami said to Fiona, giving her a refreshing smile. "From now on, let's do our best."
"Uuu… uuah…" Losing her ability to talk coherently, Fiona immediately seized Minami's bag and rushed forward. She ran headlong in the direction of their dormitory.
Minami was surprised by that, but then, he smiled before he followed after the fleeing Dullahan. "Fiona Connaughton, huh?" he smiled as he watched Fiona from a distance. "What an interesting girl she is…" he mused as he followed her to the dormitory.
END OF CHAPTER 01
Special thanks for Kilian Grey for beta-ing the story.
Louis-sama - Prince Arjuna: latest edit (2015)