Chapter 5 - i'll fall
Quick rundown. Breakfast, shower, get dressed. She had timed the train ride a few days before, and the latest she could afford to leave for a 9:00 start was at 8:10, 8:12 if she ran. Look down. 6:28. That’s plenty of time.
As the dye soaked into her hair, Izuku sunk into her favorite habit. What is the exam going to be like? She knew there was some kind of practical component, so it probably had something to do with talent towards being a hero, but beyond that she was totally lost. Fighting villains was the most obvious choice, but villains didn't exactly operate on a schedule, and that would also technically be illegal since neither she nor any of her compatriots would be licensed heroes. Maybe some kind of quirk test? She sincerely hoped not, but she trusted All Might not to deliberately mislead her into false hopes. Unless he had as much of an idea as she did? She didn't want to think about that possibility.
7:31; hopefully that wouldn't hurt too much. Izuku closed her eyes as she rinsed out her hair in the sink, then opened them to look into the mirror. It wasn't perfect, to be sure; there were some waves of hue, and a couple of places where the roots still shone the same light brown as before, but she figured that would come with practice.
She stared into the bright green eyes of her reflection, and then smiled. She looked just like her mother.
Now, get everything else ready to leave. A jacket would probably be a good idea; Izuku grabbed one out of her closet and slid it on over her tank top. Shoes? A pair of white sneakers lay in a rack by the front door before she grabbed them and jumped into them. ID, railcard, and applicant forms were all set; she was practically bouncing at this point, desperate to hop on the train and not spend a single second more waiting.
So, not seeing any reason to stay, she called out a quick goodbye and dashed out the front door.
The train ride was a blur of expectation. The moment Izuku got on, she rushed straight to the back of the car and sat down in the corner, struggling to stay calm as the suburban scenery faded into cityscape. Unable to keep her mind wholly distracted, she took to scanning the car’s passengers, looking for other kids about her age who might be joining her for the entrance exam. A young girl with long, pointed ears poking out of her blue hair, sitting on the other side of the car; Izuku almost moved to say hi, but before she got the chance, the girl picked up her bag and got off a couple stops into the journey. Probably not, then.
A boy with golden blond hair, sitting by himself, but in a tuxedo and holding a briefcase? Doubtful.
Izuku was both relieved and disappointed to not see Katsuki anywhere on the train. There was something a little nerve-wracking about having to navigate such an important day on her own, but she had heard quite enough of his opinions regarding UA High, and she preferred her current uncertainty and nervousness to the contempt which that familiarity had bred.
That being said, she hoped to have a chance to talk to him after the exam; maybe once the pressure of school had been alleviated, he’d be in less of a sour mood.
When her stop was finally called, Izuku was the first one out of the door. School’s right around the corner. No sense in waiting after coming this far.
The sight that she beheld upon rounding the block and turning to her left was so much glorious than pictures could ever have done justice. Towers of glass rising high above the earth, the morning sun reflecting off the building bright enough she had to shade her eyes. A sparkling concrete wall encircling the premises, trees bursting up from behind its border whose leaves were just beginning to bud. And in the midst of it all, hanging gently over what Izuku could only assume was the front gate, was a plain white banner which read simply, “Exam day!”
A few minutes later, she managed to collect herself and walk through the entrance.
Cars are expensive, sure, and a big responsibility, but was being dropped off by Mom and Dad really necessary? It didn't seem dignified.
He was made for greatness, after all.
The school was bigger than his last, but that didn't hugely concern him. He knew there would be more students than in a local junior high, and besides, the school looked rich enough that some amount of this was just extravagance for the sake of it.
Take a look around, survey the competition. Almost everyone already went to the lobby already, he should probably join them, but who was this girl with green hair, wearing shorts in winter and just staring at everything? She seemed a little familiar …
Probably not important; he probably wouldn't see her again. Time to head inside.
Izuku was thrown from her taking in the scenery by the passing of a face she couldn't help but recognize. Katsuki.
She was glad he was okay, at least, but he didn't even say hi? Was the exam stress getting to him that much? She definitely still had a few more minutes before she had to go inside, so he couldn't have been in a rush…
Wait. The hair, the outfit - maybe he just didn't recognize her. She beamed thinking about that possibility.
Still, the inside of the campus was just as phenomenal as it looked from the outside. Despite the building’s apparently bureaucratic appearance, it was actually put together rather artistically; the glass blocks, when viewed separately, seemed almost as towers of a radiant castle. And the height! She could count up almost a dozen floors standing far away, but from this close all that Izuku could sense was just the sheer scale of the place, dominating everything else around it. Hopefully, at some point, she'd get used to this. If she got in. When she got in.
The pathways, too, seemed remarkably well-kept; Izuku knew this school had been around for half a century, but every single brick looked positively brand-new. Maybe there was someone on staff whose quirk related to repairs? That'd definitely make for a pretty useful hero in an emergency situation although the applicability of that sort of power would probably vary wildly so maybe that's why they would move towards an educational career so that they can more effectively benefit wait that pathway is getting closer really fast uh oh close your eyes--
But despite her panic, Izuku never hit the ground.
After a moment of stunned realization, she opened her eyes, and found her face inches away from the pavement - and staying there. She was flying, or, at least, she was floating. But why?
“Oh gosh, I’m sorry!” came a voice from behind her. “I didn't mean to scare you like that, I just saw you about to trip, and it felt like bad luck incoming! I had to do something. Here, spin around and grab my hand.”
Izuku reached out her left arm and gently pushed against the ground in an attempt to get herself at least a little bit further up. Face no longer pressed towards the path, she found herself being stood over by a girl with warm brown hair, holding out her arm and looking at her expectantly. Reaching out her own hand and grabbing on, Izuku felt herself being pulled weightlessly into a more or less upright position, before suddenly feeling the pull of gravity again as she fell the last couple of inches.
“My quirk is making things weightless,” the girl said, pulling a pink scarf down from her face and tucking it into the collar of her coat. “I know you’re not supposed to use them on people, but I hope you don’t mind too much.”
“O-oh, not at all!” Izuku stuttered in reply, not entirely sure how to react. “Thanks for the help.”
“Of course!” responded the brunette with a smile. “It’s like I said, I’d hate it if someone lost out ‘cause of feeling unlucky. I know it’s a bit silly,” she continued, stretching an arm behind her head, “but it can’t hurt. I’m Ochako, by the way.”
“Izuku.” There was something reassuring about Ochako’s presence, even if she couldn’t figure out what exactly.
“Should we get going? As beautiful as it is outside, it can probably wait until after the exam, don’t you think?” Ochako walked a couple of steps towards the door as she spoke, and then turned back to Izuku, motioning to follow.
She was still unsure of herself, but she didn’t have any doubts about this. Smiling back as best she could, Izuku followed her new friend through the school’s front doors.
“No, it’s actually rarer than you’d think,” Ochako said as the two of them found their way into the auditorium at the end of the hallways and arrow-labeled signs. “I was the only one from my school who applied. It’s like, self-selecting? Most of the people who wouldn’t get in don’t even bother going through the exam. Middle section alright?”
“Sure thing,” responded Izuku, as the two of them moved into the rows and set their sights on a pair of still-empty seats. They weren’t scheduled to start for a few minutes, but the seats were already filling close to the brim. “There seem to be a lot more people here than that, though,” she said gesturing to the room around her.
“Hm? There are a lot of junior high schools in Japan, you know.”
“Oh. Right.” For some reason, the idea that there were kids like her who had traveled across the country to chase the same dream had never occurred to her, but now that it had, her nervousness suddenly escalated far above what it had been all day. She had probably had more training, sure, but she wasn’t even the best in her class, let alone the entire country.
“Are you feeling okay?” Ochako said, and then her voice became static and swirled around her.
There wasn’t a single thing she had done to prepare herself for several hundred students who were all the best in their school, and now she was stuck and there was no way out and the walls and the students pushed closer and closer and a hand gently fell into her lap and she grabbed it as tight as she could and held on until the panic faded and the lights and sounds outside her returned to their sources and she followed the hand she held tight to its origin and looked up at her and smiled and said, simply, “Thank you.”
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright in the exam?” Gone was her previously cheery demeanor, replaced by an expression of worry.
“Yeah, I-I’m sorry.” Stay calm, don’t fret, just focus on what’s best possible. “I don’t really do well with uncertainty, and I was kind of thrown…”
Ochako nodded, a faint smile returning to her face. “Well, if it helps at all, orientation’s just about to start; should be any minute now.” Sure enough, Izuku looked down at her watch and saw the faint glow of an 8:59 screen, which she stared at expectantly waiting for the next change in time.
Just before it had the chance, though, it was interrupted by a hum of speaker static coming from the front of the auditorium, followed by an almost ear-splitting amplified voice echoing through the room which said only the words “EVERYBODY READY?” And with that, the lights dimmed, a projector shone onto the back wall, and a young man dressed in all black leather sauntered on stage, blond hair gelled back to a point.
UA graduate of ‘38, top 10 in popularity polls for the first five years of his career, billions of yen earned lifetime, and now, it seemed, high school teacher. Honestly, as far as career paths went, Izuku didn’t think that one was so bad. She wasn’t sure how much he really needed a microphone given his quirk, though.
Still, as much time as she had spent with All Might, there was still something amazing about seeing a professional hero standing right in front of her and talking directly to her, especially one whose radio show she still listened to on a nightly basis.
“Welcome, everyone, to the first day of what will hopefully be a long and happy three years of study at UA High School! That is, of course, if you can pass the entrance exam! LET’S GET THINGS STARTED!” The projector, which previously displayed a blank white screen, now had additional lettering: plain black type which read ‘Entrance Exam Details’, and below that, in a smaller font, the words ‘By Hizashi Yamada’.
“So!” Present Mic continued, still excitedly shouting every word. “There is a written exam too, and that’ll be in a few days or so, but there’s nothing EXCITING about that! You kids signed up here ‘cause you wanted to be heroes! So let’s see if you can!”
He threw his arms out and yelled, “CURTAINS PLEASE!” At that, the title card behind him faded, replacing itself with what looked like a… video game screen? Complete with tinny music playing through the speakers.
Well, he seemed excited, even if the rest of the room was silent.
“Your test is gonna be fighting villains! Robot villains! Lots of them!” Pixelated figures materialized on the board, and were those Mario enemies? On second thought, this was clearly going to be weird; Izuku figured it would be better to just accept it. Each of the figures was labeled with a different number, and a similarly-styled Present Mic appeared and started wandering around the virtual city.
“Three types of robots! Each one’s worth a different number of points - try to get as many as you can in ten minutes! Don’t get killed!” Wait, how dangerous was this going to be? No, that was probably just a joke. Maybe. His shouting every word didn’t exactly make the tone of his words clear, as much as it was still a delight to listen to.
“Excuse me, sir!” Another voice rang out from the audience; Izuku was amazed that anyone managed to find room to get a word in edgewise. She looked to find the source of the interruption, and traced it to a boy sitting near the front, standing perfectly straight in his school uniform and raising his hand high in the air. Astonishingly, Present Mic noticed him too, and stopped his speech to respond, “Yes? What’s the matter?”
“You mentioned there being only three types of opponent,” the boy said bluntly, pushing his glasses to his face, “and yet the diagram you provided shows four plus yourself. Is this a problem with your speech, or with the presentation?”
“Worry not!” Present Mic responded before spinning back behind the podium and dramatically stretching out his arms again. “That’s just what I was about to mention! The mid-round game changer! Zero point robot! Just don’t get in its way!”
All in all, this ‘test’ seemed bizarre at best. They were just going to be set loose on a bunch of fake villains? But presumably still dangerous villains, otherwise the test wouldn’t be very useful, but also not too dangerous villains, since she hadn’t heard about any previous children killed by an entrance exam. She turned to Ochako making a confused face, and received only a shrug in response.
“Check your forms for your exam center! Buses leave outside in 20 minutes, so get ready! Break a leg! PLUS ULTRA!” Shouting his final words loud enough to put Izuku’s hair on end, he stood back and bowed as the screen faded to black. Izuku, for her own part, managed a couple enthusiastic claps before realizing that the rest of the room failed to share her sentiment.
The two of them both perused their sheets before finding a small, capital letter ‘B’ in the bottom right corner.
“Well… good luck, I guess,” Izuku said hesitantly. She wasn’t sure how she felt about having people she knew watching her during the exam, even if only indirectly, but she gave a thumbs up regardless.
“Thanks! You too.” Ochako blinked a couple of times before nodding and offering a faint smile alongside her words.
As the two of them filed out of the auditorium along with the rest of the students, neither said another word.
The bus ride was surprisingly short, and Katsuki was nowhere to be seen. Cherish blessings as they come.
This current situation, though, was nothing short of confounding. Izuku really wasn’t expecting to be blown away by architecture twice in one day, but it seemed like the school really had built enclosed cityscapes out in the middle of the countryside, and she could see the peak of a skyscraper rising out above the sheer metal wall in front of her. Seven buses outside before she left probably meant that there were seven of these, and if there was any damage to the interiors, they would have to be rebuilt every single year. Everything she had learned that day shocked her.
Looking around, she saw Ochako again - no longer dressed in winter gear, but instead sporting a light blue jacket and tracksuit. She must have gotten changed before getting on the buses, then - that would explain why she had left and Izuku hadn’t spotted her again until now. It felt wrong to leave the situation between the two of them unresolved, though, and she wanted to make sure her words had been taken sincerely. She only managed a single step in her direction, though, before her path was blocked by the straightened arm of another student.
“And what do you think you’re doing?” the boy stopping her said sternly. Izuku was surprised to see the same boy who had interrupted Present Mic’s speech standing in front of her. At this rate, it was more surprising that Katsuki wasn’t there with her.
“That girl over there is clearly trying to concentrate. It would be extremely inappropriate for you to interfere with your competitors in such a manner, and I ask that you please refrain.”
“I-- uh… okay.” No point in arguing; even in what was presumably a school P.E. uniform, he was still somewhat of a presence. Izuku gently backed up and walked off in a different direction as quickly as she could.
Wanting to avoid thinking about that awkwardness, Izuku decided to take a moment to strategize. While she hadn’t technically done it before, there was nothing about fighting robotic opponents that seemed noticeably different from human opponents with quirks, and she had been taught by the best how to do that. It was just a matter of being resourceful and thinking quickly, and with only three types of robots to contend with, it shouldn’t be tricky to get a feeling of how to defeat them all.
How would points be assigned for collaborative efforts, though? She didn’t really want to take any risks, so she should probably head out on her own and hope not to run into anyone. That being said, she wasn’t on the best of terms with the two students she had actually spoken to already, and not really being sure how much time there was before the exam actually started, trying to collaborate at this point seemed like a fool’s errand. Seeing the other students all standing apart silently in front of the open gate, she doubted anyone would even wait the gate was open.
Did that mean the test had started? No one else seemed to have noticed, and the worst that could happen is that she would be pulled out and have to start with everyone else. Besides, a head start was a tempting offer.
Just as she was about to cross the threshold into the artificial city, she heard the crackle of a loudspeaker, and nearly panicked before she heard its message: the voice of Present Mic angrily shouting, “Well, what are you waiting for? No countdowns in battle!” At that, the people behind her perked up and started running, so Izuku took that as a sign to do the same. Pulling off at the first corner and making sure no one had followed her, she wandered into the city looking for enemies, and it wasn’t long until she found one.
Never had Izuku been more glad to have accidentally left a screwdriver in her pocket. With as many electrical appliances as she had dismantled over the course of her beach training, there was often a temptation to hate its presence, but right now she couldn’t be more grateful.
The android standing in front of her had large shields over its arms, each emblazoned with the numeral “1”. Mutator-type quirk, she thought. Tackle the weak points, manipulate the mutation. Seeing the arms about to come down at her, she dodged out of the way, and then ran behind her opponent and held on tight to its back. A loose plate became looser, and a couple of wires were knocked from their slots, and the robot she was grabbing lost power and fell to the floor.
Izuku sat down for a moment to catch her breath. The moment she had stepped through the gate to the city, she had felt slightly uneasy, and that encounter had amplified that feeling to distress. Not panic, fortunately, but enough to start making her feel sick.
As soon as she could, though, she picked herself back up and kept moving. She wasn’t sure what a winning score was, but something told her that a single point would not suffice.
Walking through the cityscape was an oddly surreal experience. So many of the side alleys and narrow roads reminded her of her own home city - was that deliberate? - but for every familiar doorstep and street corner, there was a pristine concrete wall or row of darkened windows that reminded her that her surroundings were artificial. Given more time to ponder, Izuku would have wandered for days; as it was, though, her observations were minor distractions as she ran by on a quest to defeat more enemies.
When the loudspeaker rang out with a five-minute warning before she had increased her score any further, though, she realized that she was going to have to adopt a different strategy.
Concentrate. The simulation is likely to be accurate. Real villains don’t attack randomly, they attack population centers. Going right to the most open areas would probably mean competition from other students, but the access routes would probably be effective targets, as well as blocking off the other students. Plus, this was just a simulation, but there was something that seemed wrong about attacking villains in places where others could be endangered.
She listened out for the sound of commotion and followed it as best she could, but when another one-point robot crossed her path, panic suffused through her body and overrode her previous ability to fight back. When the metallic arm swung down towards her, she tried desperately to run away, but her legs were frozen in place, and she could only squeeze her eyelids shut and fret.
She wasn't entirely happy with how this whole situation played out, but at the halfway things seemed to be looking up. Her quirk was starting to wear her out, though; thankfully, this wasn’t an extended fight, so she could go home and rest afterward. For now, though? All out; there was something so oddly satisfying about the process of tagging the robots, pushing them into the air, and letting them fall to the ground, and she couldn’t help but smile every time she heard a crash behind her. The latest set had brought her up to a clean thirty.
While she had seen other students around, none of them ever tried to mess with her, though she couldn ’t count on that staying true as the number of robots dwindled. She was going to have to act.
A loud whirring noise sounded a couple of streets down; with any luck, she ’d be the first one to it.
Izuku opened her eyes to see the robot still in front of her, swinging wild strokes with its shield arms, not a single one in danger of hitting her. Curious, she stepped forward into their path, and the robot in its turn rolled back so that its attacks were still out of range.
The robots were never going to hurt them. This test was completely safe.
That realization now under her belt, she took to disabling the second robot in the same manner as the first, and it quickly fell down to the ground with a clatter. Not having to worry about staying safe, this test would become a cinch. Izuku rushed off towards the city center, the few remaining enemies in her path tumbling harmlessly as she passed them and deactivated them.
People talk all the time about missing the forest for the trees, but no one ever mentions missing the collapsing building for the giant robot knocking it down. Funny, that.
While she had managed to avoid most of the debris, the impact from what remained was enough to knock the wind out of her, and she doubted she ’d be able to clear all of it with her quirk right away. Still, she felt like she had a decent lead, and once the exam was over they’d come and rescue her.
As much as she wanted to focus on silver linings, she was still drowning in steel.
Izuku’s forward progress was halted by a sudden, loud whirring off in the distance. She hadn’t actually seen any three-point robots still intact, and the idea of a burst of extra points was too appealing to pass up on, even if it was some distance away. She made a dash for the sound’s origin, then stopped cold when a couple of blocks later, she found it.
Stay calm. Focus. Don’t worry. This was probably the zero point robot. If it was anything like the other robots, it wasn’t allowed to actually hurt any of the students.
Mixed in with the sea of debris in front of her was a familiar light blue.
It wouldn’t hurt them unless it didn’t know that they were there.
Her view to the outside was limited, but there was nothing comforting about seeing a sea of people running from the place where she was fixed. Baffling, though, was seeing this and noticing a single person heading towards her.
Only one thing to do. Dig as fast as you can. Her life depends on it.
The roaring motors grew louder by the second, but it felt as though the weight on her shoulders was lifting.
Reaching out a hand to Ochako’s now excavated body, she saw the hand in front of her and grabbed on, but no matter how hard she pulled, the rest of the debris still weighed down on her body, and she felt her body lighten as her control over her power began to waver and Izuku was floating.
“I’ll save you,” she whispered, and then pressed off the ground and flew into the air.
A rising, followed by a crashing.
The joint at the robot’s neck was crucially weak. A single, impulsive punch sent it flying backwards, as she did the same from the now lifeless robot.
She smiled, and then closed her eyes.
In the rush of the moment, she failed to notice that the pull of gravity had returned to her body.
A falling, followed by a landing.
Izuku and Ochako were both barely, luckily, alive.