Diana looked pointedly at her opponent from across the table. Akko stared at her end of the field, with all of her Sorcerer's stones tapped and in range of dueling from every single one of Diana's unicorn creatures. Looking at her single health point written down, she knew this was the end.
Akko was suddenly regretting the bet she made with Sucy. When was she going to learn that making deals with her mad-scientist friend was a bad idea? But here she was, about to lose her final preliminary match in her first ever Chariot: The Believing tournament. Against Diana Cavendish of all people.
How did I get here?
Akko Kagari had been paralyzed from the waist down at age 14. It had almost destroyed her life, ruining any opportunity she had for soccer, which was her passion at the time. A sport that distinctively used legs.
The paralysis wasn't genetic. It was just dumb luck. A stupid spinal cord infection. One day she was chasing the soccer ball down the field at her school, and the next day she was in the hospital. She had cried and cried for days, burrowing herself into a hole that nobody could get her out of. Not her parents, not her grandmother. Her soccer "friends" quickly forgot about her, so they weren't there for her either.
But then a shining—no, shiny—light gleamed through the dark clouds in her life. Her grandmother was always great at finding new things for Akko, little trinkets that she would see in random store windows as she was walking in town like she would always do. And one day, the elder woman waddled into Akko's room, smiling with wrinkles and stars, and introduced her to Chariot: The Believing.
Initially, Akko was skeptical. A trading card game? She was a sport-oriented girl—until a year ago—and there was no way some nerdy pieces of cardboard were meant for her. So she rejected the game for that, and because she was having another one of her bad days. Those started happening after the incident, and they happened a lot.
But when she peered into her grandmother's starry eyes, her bitter mood retreated just a tad. Just enough to let her try this exotic game.
And when the two learned how to play it, they laughed at its complexity, which somehow contributed to its charm. They rolled the dice that came with the game, running the pads of their fingers over each of the 20 sides. They turned their cards sideways, 'tapping' into their power, and they shuffled their 'magic repositories' which was a very fancy name for deck.
Those moments of trying out Chariot: The Believing would be one of Akko's favourite memories with her grandmother.
Akko was quick to take the game in with a new obsession. She learned about everything within the game. She was observant of the meta, keeping up with each set release. She watched a lot of online witch-tubers, a name given to those who analyzed the game, introducing new tactics and combos and strategies.
But it was all done alone, or with Grandmother. Never with new friends. Despite being a particularly loud, extroverted girl, she was very shy with interacting with the otaku kids at school. Her parents and therapist were worried about her.
And then grandmother died.
Any spark of joy that Akko had was gone. Life became a monotonous loop, repeating over and over again like her wheelchair's motion. Many consecutive bad days followed. Another hole was dug, and Akko made no plans of ever getting out.
But this time her parents forced her back into the blinding new world. Her mother was there for her to lean on, and her father—
Well, he got a new job. In Great Britain, actually. So together the three of them learned English with decent prowess, and took off to London when Akko turned 16.
Akko brought her Chariot cards and her soccer ball. That was about it.
It was sunny when they arrived at their new apartment, which was a big surprise for Akko. She was always under the impression that it was always raining or storming or cloudy. It didn't make a difference, because Akko wasn't meant to spend time outside much anyways.
Still, her parents forced her out onto the streets of London—not alone, of course. But Akko's mom insisted that "we found you a coffee shop that has the game you and your obassan used to play all the time," and Akko was suddenly right in front of Luna Nova Coffee and Games.
"Uh, mom, I don't—" Akko protested, but her mother was already diving into a clothing store down the road.
Akko sighed. "I guess I've got no choice, now do I." And without waiting any longer, she rolled through the door of Luna Nova.
The amount of life that assaulted her was instantaneous. Teenagers were scrambling all around the shop, either playing video games, drinking sugary sodas, or—
Playing Chariot. Despite everything, Akko smiled. The game still managed to bring fond memories of grandmother, no matter when she saw it. Breathing deeply, she moved her clunky wheelchair to watch two kids who were playing in a corner booth.
"And that's game two, Lotte." A purple haired teen grinned toothily at a sweet-looking Finnish girl. The other girl, Lotte, pouted semi-angrily. "Sucy! You cheated, I just know it!"
With no sense of personal space, Akko reached over to pick up Lotte's repository of cards and compared it with the cards on the table. "Well, there's your issue. Your source-stone and creature ratio is really lopsided. I think it has to do with your deck count just in general. If you just cut a few things—"
"I know! That's what Sucy keeps telling me, but I just love the spirit-type creature so much that I can't get rid of any of them!" She huffed. A few seconds later, her eyes widened. "Wait, who are you?!"
"Oh. Uh, hi. I'm Kagari Atsuko. Wait—Atsuko Kagari. But you can call me Akko!" Akko smiled. It was her first genuine, Akko-certified grin in a while.
Sucy cackled. "Akko, huh. So you also recognize that Lotte's repository is stupidly amateurish?"
Akko shook her head vehemently. "No, not at all! It might not be the best, competitively speaking, but all the cards have deliberately matching flavours! I think it's very charming."
Lotte smiled at her gratefully.
For her part, Sucy was very amused. "Flavor doesn't count for much when you can't win a single game with it, though."
Akko crossed her arms. "Well, that's if winning counts in the first place. It's my belief that Chariot is a game to be had fun with before you win in it."
Lotte suddenly looked a little bit sad. "Yeah, well, it wouldn't hurt to win sometimes, I guess…"
Akko reached for Lotte's hand. "Ok! Then let's try fixing up your repository! I can help you combine flavours with strategy, if you're ok with shaving your deck down just a little bit."
Akko's ability to erase bad moods from people around her was coming back, it seemed, because Lotte smiled again. "Alright then, lead the way, Akko!" and the girls high-fived while Sucy sat there, cackling.
Sucy beat Lotte again 2-0. The first game was a steamroll, but the second one Lotte almost got close.
The three became fast friends after that.
Akko was not about to be friends with Diana Cavendish at all. The girl was apparently rich, athletic, and smart. Which would in no way be any kind of wall to prevent Akko from being friends with the other girl, but their first interaction was in no way a good first impression.
Diana had been walking down the halls of the fancy school that Akko's father had the fortune of helping her attend. While his job must have helped him scrape by with just paying for it, Diana looked like she could have afforded the tuition three times over. And it looked like she had, because she had two other girls floating around her like gaseous moons. Hannah and Barbara, Akko had loosely tied their names to their faces from a class introduction a couple weeks ago.
Diana and Akko had made eye-contact for a brief second, before both broke it in an almost identical huff. Akko intended to keep rolling with dignity past the Cavendish...heir? when the rubber on her left wheel decided to dislocate itself just enough for her to come to a complete stop.
Akko lurched forward unexpectedly and her eyes widened. Before she could react, her bag fell to the ground, contents spilling everywhere. "Oh, Akko, I'll get that. Hold on." Lotte, who had been silent beside Akko, moved to get her bag back in order. (It was honestly lucky that her and Sucy somehow both attended Blytonbury like her.)
"Oh would you look at that," Hannah—or maybe Barbara—jeered. "The cripple got into a little traffic jam."
Akko glared at the girl who spoke.
"Why, you—oof!" Of course today of all days her wheelchair decided to be a piece of shit, and it broke down, throwing her onto the cold, hard ground. She felt her lucky Chariot card, The Shiny Rod, flutter from her pocket.
"Oh, Akko, let me help you up!" Lotte eep'd.
Then the other one of Diana's cronies decided to speak. Stuck on the ground, Akko couldn't hear who it was. "Oh, she plays Chariot? Pathetic. What do you think of that, Diana?" Hannah-Barbara giggled.
Akko was having none of it. Despite being on the ground, she tried to muster the voice of a towering giant. "Hey, you listen—! Chariot is very special to me, and it's a lot more interesting than either of your personalities, which isn't saying much, but—"
"I would advise that you give up such a frivolous waste of time, Ms. Kagari." Diana spoke coldly.
Lotte had finally scrambled over to Akko to pick her off from the ground. As she helped, Akko glared deeply into Diana's sapphire eyes.
Diana continued. "Not only is it a distraction from your studies, but it is a distraction from adulthood. A distraction from life. Now, I'd suggest you get to class."
Akko held out her hand. "May I please have my card back, Ms. Cavendish?" She spat, mocking Diana's earlier tone.
The other girl wordlessly handed it back. Akko ripped it from her hands. "Listen closely, Diana Cavendish. You have no right to comment about my life like that. We are not friends now, and you've just made it so we will never be. Get the hell out of my face."
The other three girls were shocked. Lotte looked like she was about to drop Akko. Turning their noses, Diana and her two demonic servants walked to their class.
When they were out of earshot, Lotte spoke. "Akko, I've never heard you act like that! What made you—oh?!"
Akko was crying.
Sucy raised an eyebrow. "Wow, you said all that to Diana Cavendish?" She cackled. "I didn't think you had it in you… although, it makes perfect sense when I think about it now." The girl fired off another cackle.
Sucy, Lotte and Akko were all sitting in their same corner booth, talking about the week's events while casually playing Chariot. Akko slammed her fist down. "Diana is just so...ugh. I thought we could be friends at the start and she was kinda pretty and stuff but then she insults Chariot. God damn."
Sucy raised an eyebrow at that, but didn't comment.
Lotte untapped her Sorcerer's stones and casted a Nekomata onto the field. "Akko, you never told us about how you got into Chariot. Oh, and Sucy, discard two."
The purple-haired girl threw up her hands at that. But nevertheless, she also prompted, "Yeah, Akko. When exactly did you get into this whole thing?"
Akko drew a card. "Uh, my obassan. Grandmother. Hmm...I'm gonna tap Alcor and swing at you, Lotte, for three."
Lotte flinched. She was almost out of the game, again. "Your grandmother? Is she good at Chariot?"
Akko went still. "Yeah. she was the best."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize—"
"It's fine. It's been two years, don't worry."
"Is that why—when Diana—"
"Yeah. I've been doing better for a while, but we were close. You two help a lot, actually."
Lotte went silent. Sucy was sipping her soda quietly, oddly introspective. But then she broke the silence with an oddly sincere sentence. "Well, Akko, I'm glad you chose us for friends. Neither one of us really had any others until you came along."
Akko's eye's glistened. "Aww, Sucy—!"
Her sincerity was over as quick as it had begun. Giving a twisted grin, she said, "Plus, it's nice to have another Chariot punching bag that isn't Lotte. Check the field, losers."
Akko and Lotte looked down in shock. Both of their life totals had a big fat zero where a 25 used to be— neatly crossed out in Sucy's handwriting. It wasn't just for show, either. Both of their fields had been placed into a complete checkmate thanks to Sucy's potion-based repository.
It's the next day when Luna Nova had a promotional Chariot poster proudly taped to its glass window. 'With the introduction of The Words of Arcturus Reborn, Luna Nova is hosting a two-day tournament here next week! Join us here to try to unlock the Seven Words once again! We believe in your believing hearts, players!' the poster read. Beside it there was a simple signup sheet.
Akko grinned. "Guys, we need to enter. This could be our debut as legends into the competitive scene!"
Lotte was not as ready to jump into such an event. "I dunno, guys. I'm still not the best at actually playing the game."
Akko waved her arms wildly. "You have good decks, Lotte! The only thing you need is confidence! Just view this tournament as a chance to improve! Besides, the tourney is at a coffee shop! It's gonna be like, super lowkey and casual. You'll do great!"
Lotte seemed unconvinced, but still walked up to write her and Akko's names onto the sign-up sheet. "Sucy? You going?"
The lilac-haired girl looked unsure, completely contradicting her regular demeanor. "I actually, uh, might have a mini-science fair that day. It could be a tight squeeze."
Akko wheeled around to look at her. "Noooo! Sucy, you got to go! What time is your science thing?"
"It's like, 9 to 12:30."
Eyeing the poster, Akko grimaced at the start time. 13:00.
Not giving up, the Japanese girl activated her signature weapon: an Akko meltdown. "Suuuuuucy! You gotta come! Just….please?" She begged.
Sucy flinched when she looked into those bright, oddly crimson eyes of Akko's. Damn it. "Ok. but I have two conditions, Kagari Atsuko." The formal pronunciation made Akko blink. "Uh, yeah?"
"The first is that you trade your cards in or buy new ones. Constantly translating what each card says can only work in our kitchen-table-esque games."
Akko scratched the back of her head. When she first started playing Chariot with Sucy and Lotte, she viewed it as too much of a hassle to switch her Japanese cards in for an English-translated version. She had only ever played with those two, so she was okay with translating each card's meaning for them. And then after a while, they had just known what each card did based on the art, so Akko had even less incentive to localize her stock.
But in a competitive format, she had to concede that that was a necessity. "Oh… okay. What's the other thing?"
Sucy grinned wildly. "I want to enter a little wager with you. How does this sound: If you break from prelims, I'll buy you five packs of Seven Words. If you don't, you have to be my chemistry assistant for a week. Deal?" Like a little devil, she held out her hand maliciously.
Akko gulped. On the one hand, she was deathly scared of being in anything chemistry-related within a mile of Sucy. The girl was her generation's mad scientist, with the power to create chemical weapons from nothing but school-issued chemistry labs. Well, that was the impression Akko got, at least.
On the other hand, five packs of Seven Words if she only broke prelims? And Sucy would be coming? With a clear conviction, she shook her friend's hand. "Deal."
And with that, the pact was made, forever sealed and sacred, unbreakable and undoable.
Akko loosened her hand from Sucy's grip. "Okay! Who wants lunch?"
One week later and the fateful day had come. Sucy had been just a little late, making it to the door at 12:50, when they said they were meeting at :45. Akko and Lotte were already standing in front of Luna Nova's door like they always did, only with a tad more anticipation. They'd trained for this the whole week, playing Chariot after school, even during school. (Akko was careful to remain unseen from Diana during that time) They debated strategies over text and stayed up late coming up with synergy ideas and different card combinations.
Luna Nova had made this tournament split into two days for a reason. The first day was only prelims, and the next day was octofinals all the way up to finals. So all Akko had to do was win enough games to make it to make it to the next day, and then it didn't matter from there on out.
Well, obviously, she would win the championships, but that went unsaid.
But damn if this wasn't the fullest Luna Nova had ever been. Akko was realizing that she may have been wrong about it being lowkey. It was loud and bustling with life like usual, only this time it was crowded. Puffing her chest out, she rolled up to the registration, stating rather loudly, "Hi, we are here to register for the tournament!" She gestured to Lotte and Sucy behind her.
The woman working at the register, a kind (although surprisingly strict) old lady named Holbrooke, smiled. "Hello, Akko. I've got you three signed up already. I'm going to have to ask for your entry fee, if that's alright with you."
The woman's words managed to calm down Akko's fervor. "Oh yeah, just let me get it out of my wallet," she said, reaching for a side compartment on her wheelchair.
It didn't take long for table assignments to appear on Luna Nova's central TV. With three reassuring grins, Akko, Sucy, and Lotte both went their separate ways. Well, Sucy and Lotte went to different tables, while Akko had stayed at an out-of-the-way corner that Holbrooke was generous enough to give to Akko to play on for the tournament, so as to cause as little inconvenience as possible to her or other players.
The first opponent to approach Akko was a blond boy who introduced himself as Frank. He was actually quite friendly, saying that this was his first tournament—"No way, me too!" Akko interjected—and he hoped they both would have fun.
Akko certainly had fun. While Sucy and Lotte specialized in Potions and Spirits respectively, Akko's talent was in the Transformation mechanic of the game. With that mechanic, you had the power to either make your opponent's creatures weaker by transforming them into something harmless like a frog or a rock, or augment your own creature cards with powerful abilities. It was one of the more complicated mechanics of Chariot: The Believing, but Akko loved it.
It was through this method that Akko won by a landslide. Transforming her weak creatures into mice-tokens allowed them to gain the ability agile, which meant she could get free damage off on Frank with no drawback. He had no counter to this, so she ended up doing it twice, winning her 2-0. At the end, he smiled in disbelief. "Wow...that was amazing! You're pretty talented, Akko." And he went off to report their scores.
After round one, there was a snack break. Sucy and Lotte had both won their games, with Sucy at a clan 2-0 like Akko and Lotte at a near miss of 2-1. She was overly enthusiastic, however, something that Akko got the memo of when her friends walked over to her table.
"Anyways, Sucy, how was your science fair thing anyways?" Akko said politely, trying to get used to shuffling her stiff, english-translated Chariot cards.
Sucy laughed. "Oh, it was great! I think I poisoned one of the judges…"
The next three games went almost the same as the first. Akko won the second and fourth game pretty swifty against a girl who said her name was Chloe—she was kind of mean about losing—and then a sweet, plump girl named Jasmiska, who used way too many food-tokens in her repository. The third game was a little shaky against a silent girl named Constanze, who beat Akko in game two with her usage of robot creatures. But Akko managed to pull through in game three with a lucky draw.
Akko was excited to learn that both Lotte and Sucy managed to make a clean 2-0 for their three next games as well.
And then game five happened. The final game of preliminaries.
Diana Cavendish walked up to Akko's table. Diana Cavendish walked up to Akko's table. Diana Cavendish sat down, and pulled out a Chariot: The Believing deck of cards.
Akko's eyes bulged, and she almost fell out of her chair. "Diana?!" she asked incredulously. When Diana said nothing, Akko remembered that she had declared them enemies only a week and a half ago.
Akko sniffed. "Fine. Don't talk. But get ready for me to kick your ass."
They shuffled their repositories and the game began.
Diana's play style wasn't anything special. The only thing that Akko could glean about Diana from the cards on the table was the fact that she liked the Unicorn-type creature. That proved a difficult obstacle for Akko to deal with, and she had only so many copies of turn to rock in her repository. Soon enough, she was overwhelmed with the mythical horses.
Game one was a loss for Akko.
While she watched her life total dwindle down to zero, all Akko could think about was what Diana had said that day.
A distraction from life.
What the hell is she doing, then? Akko screamed internally.
"Cut?" Diana prompted. It was the first word that the girl had said to Akko at all when they started playing. Cut referred to letting the other player split the deck in two at the beginning of the game, putting the top half on the bottom. It was a security against cheating. They had done this wordlessly at game one. Diana was probably only speaking to get Akko's attention.
Yeah, she doesn't want to talk or anything. Of course not. I don't want to talk to her either. Akko moved her hand to "cut" Diana's repository. Diana did the same to Akko.
And thus began game two.
Akko actually had a head-start in the game, revealing Shooting Star, which was an artifact card that gave all of her creatures speed, an ability that allowed her to quickly dispose of Diana's unicorns before they could get rid of hers.
She managed to build up an army of goblins and fairies, which were small creatures that created copies of themselves when they entered the battlefield. Victory was in her grasp. Suck on it, Diana!
But out of nowhere, Diana pulled out Ancestor's Power. That was a mythical card that allowed all of her creatures to be copied over and over again, at the price of a lot of the user's life total, bringing Diana down to one. Not only that, but the creatures themselves would be sacrificed at the beginning of the next turn.
Akko had already been struggling at the tail end of that game, and she too was at a single health point. To make sure Akko couldn't do anything, Diana played Dream Fuel Spirit, which tapped as many of Akko's Sorcerer's stones equal to the number of tapped Sorcerer's stones on Diana's side of the field. And then it untapped that many of Diana's.
Case and point, Akko was rendered powerless.
Oh. That's how I ended up here, Akko thought.
It was a swift end for Akko, and she lost her final round 0-2.
As Diana got up from her seat to report the score, Akko never felt more disabled.
Akko stared at the tournament's paper like it was a dear friend who had betrayed her. She couldn't find her name in the elimination bracket.
"Ohh! Looks like I won our little wager, Akko!" Sucy jeered at a glum Akko.
"Sucy, Leave her alone." Lotte said, despite her grin. She had somehow broke to octofinals. Sucy had too, and Akko was only feeling worse by the minute.
Sucy shrugged. "I guess it is a little unfair. You lose one game and you don't break? This tournament is a little cutthroat. I like it."
Akko sighed. "Yeah...have fun tomorrow, guys…"
"You're not coming?" Lotte spoke incredulously.
Akko looked at her lap. "No, I don't feel like it…" she had a feeling that another one of her bad days was coming up.
Out of the blue, the door the Luna Nova opened up. "Oy! Cav! We've got soccer practice in a hot 30 minutes! Get yer ass out here!"
Akko's head shot up. She knew that voice. Shoving her wheelchair around, she ignored a grunting Sucy and an "ouch!" from Lotte. Diana, who had been congregating near the door, joined the owner of the voice as they walked out. Rolling through the crowd of people, Akko burst through the door, panting from the arm exercise.
The firelike redhead American was standing in a soccer uniform, impatiently tapping her foot. Amanda.
Akko stared, open mouthed. Amanda had been one of her closest friends before the accident, and it was her absence that hurt the most. She had been a transfer student from the states who took over the soccer field and rivaled Akko.
And Diana Cavendish joined Amanda swiftly. "Are you ever going to learn to call it football, Amanda?"
Amanda laughed. "Hell no. I hate football."
And then the two of them walked over to a car, driving away into the city.
Akko felt something twist in her gut.
On the car ride home, when asked about the tournament, Akko said it was 'fine' and she felt 'okay' and that her mom 'shouldn't worry'.
When she went to bed that night, she hated not being able to move her legs more than ever.
So that was chapter one. This marks my official, serious debut into LWA fanfiction, and I hope you stick with me. Kudos make my day, critiques make me happy. Leave a comment on what you thought!