The Sixth Spell
As we moved through the forest, I couldn't help but feel a little bit upset.
I mean, c'mon. Every time I went through the Nevernever, even with my mother's pendant I had to take my time and be careful. Since everything and its mother-type wanted to eat me, one wrong step and it was bye-bye Dresden. Yeah, even the trees. Hell's bells, especially the trees, on some paths.
And now, this place. It looked amazing, and there was an aura of peacefulness about the Forest that the Nevernever, in all its unearthly beauty, just didn't have. Plus, this Forest got bonus points for not actively trying to kill me. I'd love to just take my time, maybe have a picnic out here, and I was running through this place like Speedy Gonzales.
Life had a sick sense of humor, sometimes.
I really did wish I could take my time going through the Forest. To the normal, non-wizardly eye, it was just a regular old rainforest, smack dab in the middle of town. Which, granted, was bizarre enough on its own. But I doubted anybody going through here could feel the sheer life force flowing through the foliage. It had grown in a night, and I could still feel the energy that had been used. The last time I was going through a jungle, I was on my way to rescue my daughter from the Red Court. This time, I was on my way to rescue a young Sekirei from whoever was after her.
I couldn't help but draw the parallels.
This time, though, was going to be different. I was going to make it different.
As I wandered through the forest, there really wasn't all that much to guide me in any particular direction. When I'd started, it had been easy to just head straight forward, away from the wreckage of the gate and MBI trucks. After they disappeared, and all I could see when I looked back was trees, the only thing I had to guide me was the orange light of the setting sun and my own intuition.
Some animals have innate senses of direction. Homing pigeons were probably the most famous example, but you hear stories about cats and dogs getting lost, and then showing up on the doorstep two months later or so, having wandered around and somehow finding their way back. Migratory birds had to know how to go north and south, somehow.
Humans, however, weren't exactly known for our stellar species-wide navigating skills. I mean, I was born in raised in the concrete jungle. This real jungle wasn't my home turf. I wasn't a Boy Scout or anything, so I shouldn't have been able to know which way was north, let alone pick my way through the Jungle.
That was the weird part, though. It was like I just knew which way to go to get to where Kuu was hiding. My best guess was that Kuu was feeding me information and somehow telling me which way to go through the connection we have. If I could look without being blinded, I'd use the connection itself to find her, but that wasn't possible with the way the Jungle glowed with energy. I just had to rely on the inner GPS and hope it was leading me to Kuu.
I picked my way through the brush, Musubi and Akitsu following behind me. The flora looked like it wouldn't be out of place in the Yucatan jungle I'd run through as a dog. At least this time my group and I were on two legs and not four, which was a definite improvement. The trees and bushes around me were thrumming with energy, to the point that I could almost see one of the trees in front of me glowing.
Wait. The tree actually was glowing.
I stopped, but didn't draw on my will. "Master Harry?" Akitsu said. "What is wrong?"
"Nothing," I said absently. "Just... hang on a second."
The glow resolved into the form of a young girl with long blonde hair wearing a white sundress. She had both hands raised, covering her lower face shyly. "Hey there, Kuu," I said gently. "Are you doing okay?"
Kuu smiled a little bit, looking adorable. Silently, she pointed to right, in the direction we were heading. The trees seemed to shift around a little bit, and I saw a glimmer of glowing light peeking through the cracks. We had to be close.
"Just hang on tight," I promised the young girl's apparition. I knew it wasn't the real Kuu, but if she could guide me to where she was hidden, she might be able to hear my words. Any small amount of reassurance I could give the tiny girl was worth it. "I'll be there soon."
"Um, Harry?" I looked over at Musubi, but she was just frowning in confusion. "Who are you talking to?"
I looked back to Kuu, but the little girl had vanished. "Our tour guide," I said. "If you look on the left, you'll see trees. And if you look on the right, you'll see more trees. Thrilling, I know."
Musubi squirmed a little bit, and I waited for her to get around to her question. "When are we going to fight?" she blurted out. "There're supposed to be enemies here, right?"
"Honestly," I said, stepping over a tree root and heading around a tree, "I'd prefer if we didn't run into anyone. A fight in this place could get messy."
"My thoughts exactly."
I narrowed my eyes as the three of us entered a small almost-clearing. "Yo," a man said casually, raising a hand in greeting from where he stood leaning against a tree. "You're an Ashikabi, right? Or are those Sekirei behind you for some other reason?"
"I didn't think there was going to be a welcoming party," I said casually, clenching my fist. "I'm guessing you're an Ashikabi too?" There was a weird sense of pressure coming from that guy, but not in the magical sense. Kinda like the sort of pressure you get when there's one too many people in a room; a little weird, but not uncomfortable, strictly speaking.
The scruffy-looking man's craggy face split into a grin and he nodded his head. Two women stepped out from a few trees, moving and standing next to him, one on each side. "The name's Kaoru Seo," he said, grinning like a loon as he slung his arms around the very familiar Sekirei. "And these are my girls, Hikari and Hibiki."
"We've met a few times," I said. Looked like Hikari was the one in purple, and Hibiki the one in pink. The only other way to determine which twin was which, as far as I could tell, was that Hikari had bigger breasts.
"Yeah, sorry about that," he said. Then he started casually groping Hikari, squeezing her breast with one hand.
"Seo!" she squawked, face red. "Where are you touching?!"
"They didn't know you'd winged number Eighty-eight the second time they ran into each other," Seo continued, heedless of the way Hikari was shaking with anger. "Looks like you've got two now, though you haven't winged the other one yet, am I right?"
I was about to answer when Hikari finally had enough of Seo's manhandling. "Argh!" she shouted before letting loose with a blast of electricity. Seo toppled over as the current coursed through him, letting out a weak cough before picking himself up and brushing off the thin layer of dark soot.
"Never mind," he said. "So, tell me... You're an Ashikabi, aren't'cha? Are you here for the Green Girl?" His tone was casual, but the set of his shoulders told me he was anything but. He was spoiling for a fight.
"The Green Girl?" My tone was just as casual as his was. "If you're talking about Kuu, then yeah." I lowered my chin and clenched a fist. "I'm not going to let anyone take her. Not you, not anyone, got it?"
And here we see your charming personality at work once again, my host.
'Making friends isn't on my to-do list right now,' I reminded her. 'Besides, I have a sneaking suspicion I know who was responsible for the wreckage outside.' If Seo really did give the Thundercat twins the order to blow up the gates, putting all those MBI troopers in danger, then I didn't really care if he got mad.
"Oh?" Seo smirked, rubbing at his stubble with one hand thoughtfully. "You're making a cool-looking face for some reason, young man," he said. "I kinda like it. But..." He sighed. "I can't just go lettin' ya grab the Green Girl, so looks like this is far as you go! Hikari, Hibiki!"
The two lightning Sekirei clasped hands and pointed at me and the girls. "About time! Now we can fight for real and take out that busty Sekirei!" Hikari grinned.
I raised a hand as electricity crackled around their bodies. "Defendarius fulmen!" I snapped, channeling my will. The bolt of lightning struck my shield and split apart, scattering harmlessly among the trees behind me. "Musubi, Akitsu, you think you can handle these two?" I asked them. "I need to find Kuu."
"Yes!" Musubi cheered, clenching her fists. "Leave it to us! Let's go, Akitsu!"
I grinned and turned, running deeper through the Jungle, following the tugging that seemed to be leading me towards the center of the forest. The last thing I saw, before trees filled my vision, was Musubi jumping forward as Akitsu raised a hand. Hikari and Hibiki were facing down both of the Sekirei, hands clasped. Even after I couldn't see the fight, I could still hear the fighting and occasional cracks of lightning echo through the forest.
My host, why did you ask both Sekirei to fight? Lash asked me. You know as well as I that Akitsu could have fought both Hikari and Hibiki by herself. Musubi was not, strictly speaking, necessary.
I nodded. "I know," I answered out loud. Alone, Akitsu could have probably matched the twins blow for blow. She was incredibly powerful, if the Winter I'd felt in her was any indication. I was certain that it was at least as powerful as the Winter given to me by the Winter's Mantle. However, I'd asked both Sekirei to fight for a reason.
Lightning was one of the powers in the world, a truly destructive force of nature. It could be used to supercharge spells, and I'd seen thunderstorms used to power some nasty spells. It was something us humans had subconsciously learned to fear, like snakes and the dark, which was why we always flinched a little bit when lightning cracked and thunder boomed across the sky.
It was incredibly hard to harness the element in spells, and I'd never really figured out the trick. It seemed the twins had it down pat, though, and while both Sekirei were powerful on their own they seemed to get even more powerful when fighting together. That lightning bolt I'd deflected earlier had been even stronger than the one I'd blocked the first time they showed up.
There was no way Musubi could fight them on her own. It wasn't anything against the Sekirei, but it would be a two-on-one fight where the two had access to a tank and Musubi was still back in the Stone Ages. There was just no way her fists could compete with the raw elemental forces of destruction they could call down what looked like at will. And while Akitsu could have taken them on by herself, I wanted to make sure Seo and the twins wouldn't be trying to attack me from behind.
Plus, there was less chance of either Musubi or Akitsu getting hurt this way.
I stumbled my way through the forest, following a path I could barely see. Despite the denseness of the foliage, though, I never felt like I was heading towards a dead end, or anything like that. It probably had something to do with the way the forest seemed to open up in front of me as I took a step, even as it closed up behind me after I stepped through the new opening.
Even if I wasn't entirely sure where to go, I wasn't lost. If I stopped and looked around for a few seconds, motion would catch my eye, and when I looked over I'd see the hem of a white sundress disappear behind a tree, or see a few locks of blonde hair vanish in the distance.
None of this was entirely new to me, of course. The Nevernever was as vast as it was dangerous; even with my mom's pendant, I had to keep on my guard when traversing it. Something like this, where I could just barely catch a glimpse of a fleeing figure, or follow a path that seemed to be appearing in front of me? Kiddy games for the Nevernever forests.
But this jungle didn't feel like the Nevernever forests. In those, there was always a feeling of being watched, like someone was just waiting for me to screw up and break the rules so that they could justify eating me or worse.
This one? It felt warm and welcoming, like I was supposed to be here. Like every tree branch was waving hello.
The glow from the heart of the jungle that I was chasing got brighter with every step, until it was practically blinding. Then, as I stepped around a bush, I knew I was at the center of the forest. A blue glow coming from pretty much everywhere illuminated the area, and I approached the small hollow formed by the tangled roots of a bunch of trees.
I stood there for a second, looking around. This was it, the heart of the jungle. I remembered this place from my dream of Kuu.
"Who's there?" a soft voice called out.
I took a few steps forward, twigs cracking under my feet, and kneeled down. A small figure poked around the corner warily, peeking out from a bend in the grove. "Hey, Kuu," I said gently, smiling at the little blonde girl. "I've been looking for you."
The Sekirei girl gasped, staring at me. "...Big brother?" she asked hesitantly.
"That's me, kid. Ready to get on out of here?" I didn't want to scare Kuu by mentioning it, but I had the strangest feeling we were on a pretty strict time limit here.
Kuu stepped out of her hiding spot entirely, still staring at me. "You don't... look like Kuu's big brother," she said, fists held up protectively near her chin. "But you feel familiar..."
What...? Oh, right, we'd met in the dream, which meant I looked like the real me then. "I'm in disguise," I told her, grinning. Softly, I muttered the spell to trigger my illusion; the veil settled over me, and I finally looked like my old self again. "Us wizards have to keep things on the down-low," I said, winking before letting the veil drop.
Shame on you, telling such a bald lie to a little girl like that.
'Yeah, yeah, whatever, Lash. It worked, didn't it?'
And it had. Kuu's face lit up as she ran towards me, her smile eye-wateringly bright. "Big brother!" she cheered, throwing her arms out and leaping towards me.
"Oof!" I caught the kid-shaped missile and chuckled. "My name's Harry Dresden," I told her. "It's nice to finally meet you, Kusano."
"So this is where you were hiding!"
I stiffened, and carefully let Kuu down onto the ground. Then I turned to look for the source of the sweetly arrogant voice. I saw the figure standing at the edge of the clearing and immediately realized that she was another Sekirei.
There were a few ways I could tell. First, she was stupidly pretty, and I hadn't seen a Sekirei yet that couldn't put most supermodels to shame. Second, I could feel the pressure of her inhuman power from here. It was about on par with Musubi, but still paled in the face of Karasuba and Akitsu.
And, oh yeah, the huge scythe she was holding. That was a good clue, too.
The weird thing was, of all the Sekirei I'd seen so far, besides the scythe she was dressed normally enough. If I passed her on the street, I probably wouldn't think twice about the black gown and thigh-high stockings she was wearing.
"You there," she said to me, and I pointed a finger at myself questioningly. "Yeah, you! Get away from the Sekirei girl, loser, or I'll cut you to pieces! She belongs to my master, not you."
Kuu huddled behind me, clutching at my pant leg. I rested a hand on her head, and grinned when she looked up. "Don't worry," I told her. "I won't go anywhere."
"So hey," I called out towards the scythe Sekirei, cutting into her next shout. "What should I call you? I mean, Little Red Reaper Hood doesn't work all that well, since you're not wearing red. Or a hood."
She glowered at me, a muscle in her forehead twitching. "My name is Yomi! I'll make you remember that!"
"Hmm," I hummed thoughtfully, "maybe Barbie Reaper? Good brand potential, although it doesn't really flow off the tongue."
Yomi was shaking with what I was pretty sure was anger, her fists clenched tightly around her scythe's pole. Seriously, she was really easy to wind up. If the rest of the Sekirei were like this, my finely-tuned wit might get rusty from not ever meeting a challenge. "You... you..."
"Yeah, me," I said bluntly. "Listen, I don't care who the heck your master thinks he is, but Kusano chose me to be her Ashikabi. So back off before we have to throw down."
"You? You're 108's Ashikabi?" she scoffed. "You're just some scruffy, stupid-looking loser. Someone like you can't possibly measure up to Master Mikogami!"
I rolled my eyes. That Mikogami guy again? He sure is sticking his nose in things he should leave alone. "Even if Kuu hadn't chosen me, I wouldn't let her go off with someone like you. Tell your master to keep his grubby paws away from Sekirei that aren't reacting to him."
"How dare you insult my master!" Yomi shouted at me, cheeks red. "If you won't get out of my way, I'll make you move!"
She lunged forward, scythe raised, and the time for prefight banter was over.
Yomi struck, her scythe blade aimed for my chest, and I slammed will into my shield spell. The blade bounced off of the wall of force, almost rebounding straight into Yomi's face. I turned to Kuu, ignoring Yomi for now, and knelt down. "Go on and hide," I told her, feeling Yomi pound away at my shield. "I just need to take care of her real quick, and then we can leave, okay?"
Kuu nodded, eyes wide, and scurried off to find a place to hide. Sighing and stretching, I pushed myself to my feet. "What the hell?!" Yomi shrieked. "What's going on? Why can't I hit you?"
"Magic," I said, rolling my shoulders and cracking my neck. My shield wasn't perfect, but it was powerful. "Puny attacks from a glorified farming implement, well, that just ain't gonna cut it."
"Don't insult my Death Scythe!" she yelled at me.
"Wait, you named it 'Death Scythe'?" I mocked. "Were you in your edgy teenager phase or something?"
"Raaaagh!" she screeched, rearing back to swing at me.
I had a few options, but they were limited. My most powerful spells were fire-based, and that wasn't going to fly in a jungle. I needed to get Kuu out, not burn the forest down. "Ventus!" I called, dropping my shield as I thrust my hand towards Yomi.
The wind answered my call and howled towards her, the column of air slamming into Yomi and knocking her back. She coughed, sliding to a halt, and glared at me. "What was that?! Are you a Sekirei?"
"Nope," I said, wiggling my fingers in the air at her. "Hundred percent human, right here. But I am a wizard."
"Rrr... Screw this!" Yomi growled.
She swung her scythe, but it was miles away from me, so I grinned and prepared to send a blast of force at her-
-and then I just barely saw the ripple of air before the vacuum wave slammed into me, slicing at my clothes. I managed to get my arms up in time, covering my chest, but my pant legs were a lost cause.
Harry, you idiot. Serves you right for underestimating your opponent in a fight. Yomi might be easy to rile up, but she was still a Sekirei, with all the benefits that implied. I should have expected some weird trick, but the Death Scythe thing had captured my attention.
I lowered my arms and saw Yomi right in front of me, already swinging her scythe at my ribs. "Defen-" I tried to get out, but she was too fast.
The scythe slammed into my ribs, knocking me to the side, and I grunted with pain. Fortunately, the enchantments on my coat counted her attack as a cut, so I wasn't turned into the newest example of that old magician's trick where they put the assistant in the box and then cut her in half. Of course, that did mean the blow was spread out across my entire body.
"Why didn't my Death Scythe cut you?" she demanded petulantly. I was stubbornly staying in one piece, and it looked like she was taking that kinda personally.
"I have a really good tailor," I coughed. "Forzare!"
The column of force slammed into the unprepared Sekirei's stomach, actually lifting her off the ground. I'd put more oomph into the spell this time, so it knocked her clear across to the other side of the tunnel, slamming her against the root wall.
"Last chance," I told her as she staggered to her feet. Man, if looks could kill... "Back off now. Kuu's not hurt. I'll let you walk away."
"You're going to let me, Ashikabi?" she scoffed, hands gripping her scythe. I swallowed, drawing on my will in case I needed to block another attack. "Don't make me laugh! You can't stop me! If you're my master's enemy, I'll do whatever I have to do to protect him!"
I didn't have time to ponder the implications of her last sentence because she was already swinging her scythe-
-but I was ready for the vacuum wave this time. I dove to the left and rolled, popping up into a crouch. "Infriga!" I shouted, splaying a hand towards Yomi as I carefully dipped into Winter. A thick wall of ice formed in front of me, rising from the ground.
The vacuum wave slammed into the wall and splintered, small shards of ice spraying out. With Winter's power as a source, the ice was thick enough that it didn't even crack the wall, let alone break through.
"Hey, tell me," I called out, "do you practice poses and one-liners in the mirror? 'This blade is filled with the power of darkness!' and dorky stuff like that?" I'd noticed Yomi was easily riled up, and she didn't seem to really plan out her attacks beyond 'attack attack attack!'. In that case, I'd give her a target to attack to her heart's content.
The Sekirei let out a cry of frustration and attacked again. She might not have cracked the ice with her attack, but that didn't stop her from trying again and again, the ice creaking and groaning with every impact.
With a triumphant shout, Yomi swung her scythe down and my ice wall finally shattered.
Too bad for her, I wasn't behind it anymore.
I lunged forward, dropping the veil I'd used to sneak to the side, and pulled on my magic. With a quiet snarl, I threw all of my weight into a right hook and connected solidly on her cheek, pushing force with the blow. My arm felt numb for a second from the impact. Yomi's head snapped to the side. I caught her by surprise and she must have been flat-footed, because she stumbled, falling to the ground and losing a grip on her Death Scythe.
I didn't lose the chance I'd managed to earn and snapped, "Infriga!" My magic ripped heat from the air around her, forming heavy chunks of ice that nicely acted as manacles for her wrists and ankles, keeping her pinned to the ground on her stomach.
"H-hey! Let me go!" she shouted, writhing. Her hands grabbed at her scythe, and I hurriedly kicked the weapon away from her. "Hey!"
"Just chill out here for a bit," I said as stood over her, staring down.
Harry, that was terrible.
'I regret nothing.'
Yomi scowled, not that she could do anything about it. "Wh-where are you looking at? Pervert!"
"Yeesh," I sighed. "You're gonna hurt my feelings if you say things like that." I was actually looking at the nape of her neck; her dress had gotten a little torn during our scuffle and revealed a crimson mark, identical to the one on the same spot on Musubi.
I groaned, palming my face. "Seriously, can you keep it down? There are children present. Also, not a pervert."
"Harry?" Musubi called out, and I looked up, startled out of my woolgathering. "Harry?"
"In here, Musubi," I called back without getting up from where I was sitting against the wall.
There were two main reasons for that. First off, I currently had Kuu resting on my lap, her head against my chest as she breathed in and out regularly. After I finished dealing with Yomi, she'd come out from hiding and simply collapsed into my arms. I'd been worried for a second, but turns out she was just exhausted from the stress of everything that'd happened and was just asleep. It wasn't like someone curled up on my lap, fast asleep, was anything new to me, after all, so I just went with the flow.
The second reason I didn't get up was because I was pretty sure I had several cracked ribs from that blow I took from Yomi earlier. I might not be feeling the pain thanks to the Winter's Mantle, but Butters had yelled at me more than once for making the injuries worse than they had to be.
See? I can learn. I just usually don't bother.
"We're coming!" Musubi called back, and I sighed in relief. Sounds like the two of them were doing okay.
When Musubi and Akitsu finally rounded the corner, I sighed and shook my head. "Musubi... What happened?"
Akitsu seemed fine from the fight, even if her clothes were a little singed here and there. But, then again, that was to be expected when fighting someone that flung lightning bolts around like they were Zeus's granddaughters or something. Musubi, on the other hand, hadn't fared nearly as well. Her top was shredded, the remaining strips of fabric trying gamely to keep their stitching together as the Sekirei waved exuberantly and ran towards me, one hand across her chest to cover her breasts. Her skirt seemed to have gotten off even worse than her robe, and only a few well-placed tatters kept the poor thing together.
How... How did she even manage that? The twins were using lightning, not gigantic scissors or something.
I think I'll just chalk this one up under an act of God and try not to think about it too hard. While unraveling the mysteries of the universe was part of my job description, there were some things man was just not meant to know.
"Oh, those other two Sekirei used their Norito, and they were really strong!" Musubi gushed, face lighting up with joy. "It's okay, though, because Akitsu's really strong too! And look, Harry!" she added happily, "I preserved my modesty!"
"That's very good, Musubi." There was just one problem with it. "But modesty includes your panties, too."
She blinked at me. "But that's silly! I can't cover up my breasts and my panties with one hand, and then if I use both hands I won't be able to fight!" Hah... And we were doing so well up to this point, too. "Harry? Is something wrong?"
"Just put my coat on for now. I'll explain later, once we have a place to stay for the night," I sighed. I might still technically have my apartment for two weeks, but I doubt the landlord would be too thrilled by me coming home covered in blood and with a young girl. Besides, I want to keep as much of my damage deposit intact as possible. "Speaking of Seo and the twins, Akitsu, what are you doing."
The second part of that sentence came out in a dull, flat tone, but can you really blame me? I'd looked over to the ostensibly more normal of my two Sekirei to find Akitsu lifting the hem of her robe.
"Musubi is... showing her panties," she told me after a second.
"That doesn't mean you should too," I sighed. "We've been over this."
"Ah..." Akitsu said, looking at me before thankfully putting her robe down. "...Yes, Master Harry."
She's treating it like... No, I'm just going to let that go. Frankly, that one isn't actually all that bad in the grand scheme of things.
"Back to what I was going to say," I said instead, getting back on track, "what happened to Seo, Hikari, and Hibiki?"
A low whistle answered me, and I glanced off to the side. "Your girls pack a punch," Seo said, hands in his pockets. Hikari and Hibiki were flanking him, and they both looked a little under the weather; Hibiki was shivering constantly, and Hikari let out a sneeze before sniffling and rubbing at her nose. "And looks like you can handle yourself too," he added, looking down at Yomi.
I shrugged. "She just kept shouting at me and calling me a pervert and a destitute loser. If I didn't do something, she would have woken up Kuu."
Yomi hadn't gotten close to breaking out of the shackles I'd placed on her, though they'd melt away soon enough if I wasn't there to keep an eye on them. No, what I'd done was add another chunk of ice around her mouth, keeping it shut. She could still breathe through her nose and roll her eyes at me aggressively, but that was pretty much it.
"Well, whatever works, I guess," Seo shrugged. "Least you found the Green Girl before anything else happened, huh?"
"I did," I said carefully. If he still wanted to fight, I'd oblige, but I'd much prefer ending things peacefully. "She collapsed as soon as I found her, but she confirmed she wants me to be her Ashikabi."
Seo scratched the back of his head, looking off to the side. "Guess fate took its course after all, huh? You winged her yet?" It was almost casual, the way he asked that last question without directly looking at me.
'Lash,' I requested. Depending on my answer, I might need to react quickly, and Lash's help would go a long way towards making that happen.
To Seo, I said, "Not yet. If she still wants me as an Ashikabi after she's out of danger, then sure. I'm not going to force her if she doesn't want to."
"Mhm," Seo said, the tension in his shoulders draining just a bit. I took a deep breath of my own, feeling the tight pit in my stomach loosen a bit. "Well, looks like you've got everythin' under control here," he said, "so me and the girls are gonna get outta here. Catch you later, kid."
I kept an eye out until they'd disappeared into the bushes, and only then let myself fully relax. "Alright," I said to Musubi and Akitsu, "I'm pretty tired myself, so let's get out of here. Musubi, would you mind... Uh, actually, Akitsu, could you carry Kuu on your back? I don't want to make my ribs worse."
"Yes, Master Harry," Akitsu murmured before crouching down next to me and relieving me of my lap warmer.
"Great, thanks," I grinned at her before pushing myself to my feet. I swore under my breath and paced around while the blood rushed back to my leg, giving me that really obnoxious pins and needles feeling. I hate that.
"Um, Harry?" Musubi began. "That Sekirei is trying to say something, I think. Shouldn't you free her?"
"The ice will melt eventually," I said with a shrug. "She can just stay put until then."
Yomi shouted something as we left, but the ice muffled it pretty well.
We exited the forest from the same place we went in, and Homura looked over from his position near the entrance of the gate. "Dresden," he said, immediately zeroing in on the asleep form of Kusano on Akitsu's back. "Number 108, is she..."
"She's fine," I reassured him. "Just exhausted. The events of the past few days were a little much for her, I think."
I rolled my eyes. "What's with everyone thinking I'd do something like that? No, I haven't winged her. She confirmed she wants me as her Ashikabi, but I'd rather wait until she's had a good night's sleep before making any big decisions. It's not the greatest idea to make life-changing decisions when you're not at your best."
"I guess," Homura nodded thoughtfully.
I raised an eyebrow as I took in the motionless body off to the side, face down on the pavement. There were scorchmarks on the blacktop. "What happened there?"
"She was working with another pest of a Sekirei, Yomi," Homura said, his brow furrowing. "Yomi went ahead while Mitsuki kept me busy. I'm just glad you didn't run into that one. She's... Her personality isn't the greatest."
I decided to keep quiet about my little encounter. Something told me that Homura wouldn't take it well.
"Oh!" Musubi said, looking at me. "Harry, you fought Yomi, didn't you?"
Homura's gaze snapped to me like a rubber band, and I winced. "What?" he asked, staring daggers at me. "You fought a Sekirei?"
"He won, too!" Musubi added, totally oblivious to the pleading look I was giving her. She'd clenched her free fist, and I could swear she had stars in her eyes.
Homura gave me a second, closer look, and I didn't miss the way his eyes lingered on the tattered remnants of what were now my shorts. "How badly are you hurt?" he asked, a strange note to his voice.
I shrugged. "Nothing I won't heal from."
"That's..." Homura gave up and sighed, shaking his head. "That's not an answer," he told me.
I was about to reply when Kusano stirred on Akitsu's back. "I'm hungry..." she mumbled quietly, still mostly asleep.
Chuckling, I turned to Homura and said, "Well, you heard the little lady." My rough plan, such as it was, was to grab some food, eat, then sleep off my busted ribs. "Guess that's our cue to leave."
"Dresden, wait-" Homura began, then hesitated. "Wait," he said finally. "It's my responsibility to protect the unwinged birds, so it's my fault Yomi got through and you got hurt."
"I keep telling you, it's not as bad as -"
"You're covered in scratches and blood," Homura said bluntly. "It might not seem like much now, but it'd still be best if you went to the hospital and had a doctor take a look at it."
I shook my head and said, "Hospitals are a definite no. My magic doesn't play well with electronics."
He frowned slightly. "The karaoke machines?"
"Hm." He sighed. "Well, then, the next best thing would be to let me take a look back at the place I'm staying. And," he added, "I think my landlady will be making dinner, so you and your Sekirei can eat."
I shrugged. "Well, when you put it that way. Lay on, Macduff."
Homura led us to a large house in the northern part of town. It was pretty large, with a high wooden fence surrounding the yard. The house itself was two stories tall, with wooden walls and green shingles on the roof. It had an air of solidity about it, like it'd been here before I was born and it'd still be here after I eventually kicked the bucket. This was someone's home, not just a random house, and it showed. Someone had made sure to oil the gate hinges, and fix any cracks in the cobblestone path leading to the front door. All in all, a pretty nice place to live.
The threshold that met me at the front door, surprisingly, wasn't as strong as I'd expected it to be. It was powerful, yeah, but it felt more like it was powerful because the person living there was powerful, not because they'd been there for a long time. If the Carpenter's threshold could be seen from space, this one was maybe a few city blocks away.
As soon as Homura opened the door, a wave of nostalgia hit me like a flying brick to the face. Yeah, this was someone's home, all right. It just had that feeling. "Miya, I'm home!" he called out as he entered.
"Ah, Homura! Welcome back!" A soft feminine voice answered him as -
-Power. Raw, overwhelming power flooded my senses and I froze, staring at the lovely lavender-haired woman that had emerged from one of the rooms. This was like Karasuba but ten times worse, and with the state I was in right now there was no way I'd be able to stop her from killing me if she wanted to. Standing next to Musubi and Akitsu was like standing next to a campfire; warm, but not unpleasantly so. Standing in front of the woman, though, was like standing in a furnace. Waves of tightly-controlled power crashed against me, and I shivered.
"Oh, my," the woman said, raising a hand to her mouth. "I didn't expect you to be bringing guests."
I immediately latched on to that last word like a drowning sailor to some flotsam. See, the rules of hospitality and etiquette? They were Big Deals to the Sidhe, rules and customs that dictated how host and guest had to act. I had no reason to believe that it held true for these aliens, but I would take any possible shelter that I could. "Thank you," I said, sketching a respectful bow as well as I could with my ribs protesting. "It would be an honor to be invited into your home, my host."
"There's no need for that," the woman said gently. "Now, please, come in and rest. You all look like you've had a long day."
I let out a sigh of relief. Even if she wasn't bound by the same rules as the Sidhe, her invitation let me cross the threshold without leaving most of my power behind. I would be able to defend myself if this was, in fact, an elaborate trap, but it didn't feel like one. Being a person with a not-insubstantial of enemies, I'd been through my fair share in my time, and I'd gotten pretty good at sniffing them out before they could be sprung.
"I hope you don't mind my forwardness," the woman said, "but I have some clothes you and your friend can borrow, if you'd like."
I glanced down at the shreds of my pants, and then over at Musubi, who was only avoiding flashing everyone by holding my coat closed with her hand. Poor thing... The coat wasn't designed for that kind of burden. "That'd be fantastic, thanks," I said.
After cleaning off the dried blood on my face, I patiently waited in the side room for Homura to return with the clothes he was going to borrow from our host. It was a nice room - different from what I was used to, but Lash assured me that the sliding door and sparse furniture was a very classical Japanese style. On the other hand, I was currently sitting on a cushion on the floor instead of a comfy couch, so the mileage varied.
Before I could lose feeling in my legs properly, the door to the room slid open. "Here, Dresden," Homura said, stepping into the room and offering me a folded bundle of green clothes. I took them, and then he walked over to the closet and pulled out a white first aid kit, not unlike the one I'd seen Butters lugging around every time he needed to patch me up. "I'll take a look at those scratches after you get changed."
"You really don't have to," I said as I shrugged off my shirt. "They'll heal on their own soon enough. Perk of being a wizard." Hm... A green jumpsuit? Wasn't exactly my style, but whatever.
"Dresden." I glanced over at Homura, who was sitting stock-still and staring at me. Or, more accurately, my torso; I looked down and let out a low whistle. A motley collection of rapidly purpling bruises covered my chest, and I winced. "What are those," he said flatly, the words not sounding like a question.
Right. Those. Forgot about those, to be honest. I don't feel pain, thanks to the Winter Mantle, so something like those bruises didn't even register.
"Dresden," Homura repeated urgently.
I shrugged. "I took a hit from Yomi's scythe. My magic worked, so she didn't cut me. Probably just a few cracked ribs that'll heal up in a few days."
Homura muttered something under his breath. It sounded like a curse. Then, face resigned, he opened up the first aid kit and started rummaging in it.
After he finished bandaging up my ribs, despite my repeated assurances that I'd heal, and I finished getting changed, he sat back. "Why were you fighting a Sekirei by yourself?" he asked me.
"Because she was attacking Kuu," I said.
"Not that," he said. "Why weren't Musubi or that Scra... or Akitsu with you?"
"Because they were busy fighting off some other Sekirei. Those lightning users, Hikari and Hibiki?"
"God," Homura muttered, shaking his head. "And you fought her. What were you thinking?"
I don't really get why he's so worked up about this. "She reminded me of someone else I knew," I said, staring out into the hallway. Musubi was with our host, and Akitsu was... somewhere, I wasn't entirely sure. "She had a lot of raw talent, but that was it, really. She just wasn't a match for a pro."
"And you're a pro?" Homura asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Sure am," I grinned. "Even got a business card and everything."
Homura stood up and gathered up the first aid kit, putting it back in the closet where it belonged. "Look, Dresden-" he began to say before he was interrupted.
"Harry! I borrowed a kimono!"
Both Homura and I looked over to the source of the voice to see Musubi and the woman standing there. Musubi had changed into a very fancy kimono with an ornately colorful flower pattern decorating the fabric. My libido approved, vigorously enough for me to ignore the feeling of pressure that woman was giving off. "You look beautiful, Musubi," I said, and the girl colored as she smiled.
"Like two flowers, blooming side by side," Homura said smoothly. I can see why he's the most popular host at that club.
"It would have been nice if I had some normal clothes," the woman said, "but all I have are formal clothes, so..."
"It's no problem," I said. "Thank you for letting us borrow these in the first place. You didn't have to do that."
She smiled and raised a hand to her mouth. "I enjoy meddling," she said. "My husband did as well. Those are his clothes you're wearing."
I'd had plenty of experience casually chatting with beings that could swat me like a bug, so this was a lot less jarring than it really should have been. "Husband?" I asked, looking at Homura suspiciously.
He waved a hand. "It's not me, so don't look at me like that."
"He died several years ago," the woman said.
Instantly, I felt like a heel. The loss of all my loves - Elaine, Susan, Stacy - through the years still stung, and some of those emotional scars were over fifteen years old. "I'm sorry."
"It's fine," she assured me. "It's been a long time, and I've come to terms with my loss."
"So," she said, clapping her hands together lightly. "I'm afraid I haven't asked your names yet."
"I'm Harry Dresden," I said. "This is Musubi, and Akitsu and Kusano are in the living room."
She smiled. "It's very nice to meet you. My name is Miya Asama, but please, call me Miya."
I was going to say something, but a rumble filled the air, and I looked over at Musubi, who smiled easily despite the loud noises her stomach just made. I was going to make a joke about it when my own stomach decided it wanted in on the fun too, and made some noisy complaints of its own. Miya just raised her hand to her mouth and giggled. "Food will be ready soon, so why don't you go ahead and join your friend in the dining room?"
"Alright," I said. As Miya turned and walked down the hall, turning in to one of the rooms, I felt my body unclench a little bit. As nice as she seemed to be, the power she kept giving off was like having an angry howler monkey scream in my face.
When we all walked into the dining room, Akitsu was sitting down patiently, staring into nothing with Kuu asleep on her lap. Once I sat down, Akitsu's eyes snapped to me and she resumed her staring with me as her subject again. "I am glad you are not hurt, Master Harry," she said softly.
I rubbed the back of my head. "Sorry to worry you," I said. I didn't say much more than that, because that was when the food arrived courtesy of Miya.
The food looked and smelled delicious, just as good as anything Charity had ever made. Kuu stirred from her exhausted sleep once the food was on the table - more proof that your stomach is the best alarm clock - and we all tried not to make noises that were too obscene while filling our stomachs. Musubi and Akitsu ate like they normally did, but Miya didn't even bat an eye at the huge helpings; for my part, I was able to put my nervousness about Miya aside and just focus on the delicious food in front of me.
Kusano fell right back to sleep once she was finished eating - she still had her fork clutched in her hands, it was totally adorable - and the rest of us sat back, finally full. "That was really good," Musubi said.
"Why, thank you very much," Miya said, smiling. "Ah, Homura, are you leaving?"
The Sekirei in question hadn't eaten with the rest of us and was instead standing by the door, adjusting a black tie around his neck. "Yes, I'm heading out," he said. "You don't need to worry about making something for me."
"A tie?" Miya asked, studying him curiously. "Is it a special occasion?"
"I'm meeting an important client, so I thought I'd put more appeal into my outfit," he said, before glancing at me. "Dresden."
"We need to... No, never mind," he said.
"Uh...okay?" Without explaining, Homura just turned and walked out of the room. Weird. Shaking my head, I turned to Miya. "So, Miya," I said, folding my hands in my lap. I didn't want her to see them shake. "The rules of hospitality hold, right?"
She smiled slightly. "Everyone is welcome in Izumo Inn."
"Great, cool," I said, then swallowed. "Please forgive my rudeness, then. But what are you?"
"Oh?" Her eyes opened just a little bit, studying me.
'I know what I'm doing, Lash,' I told her.
"You're not human, I know that much," I said. "But you're not a Sekirei, not quite. The aura isn't quite right. So what are you?" I know I was pushing it, but hey, might as well go all in when pissing off people that could swat me like a fly.
Miya watched me a little bit longer, then smiled. "Don't you know it's improper to ask a poor widow something like that? I might fear for my virtue," she needled me.
"Very funny," I grumbled. It was a long shot anyway. I never get straight answers when I want them.
Soft snores started coming from Kuu, and I looked down at the little girl, snoozing away on the table. "She's asleep," Miya said gently. "It must be because her stomach is full."
I nodded. "Probably. We should really get going - not that I'm trying to get out of here, but we need to find a place to crash for the night." Miya looked at me curiously, and I said, "I have an apartment, but there's no way it's going to fit four people."
"In that case," she said, "why don't you spend the night here? I have several open rooms that you are more than welcome to borrow."
"I wouldn't want to impose..." Translation: I'm not going to push my luck, here.
"Oh, it's no bother at all," Miya said. "She can sleep in my room for the night."
I sighed. In for a penny... "Well, then, thank you," I said. "Does that sound good for you two, Musubi, Akitsu?"
"Sure!" Musubi mumbled through another mouthful of food. She was still going, working her way through what had to be her second helping.
"Yes, Master Harry," Akitsu said softly.
"Alright," I said. "We'll gratefully accept your offer, Miya."
Kuu didn't even stir as I picked her up and carried her to the room Miya pointed out. The little girl was fast asleep and dead to the world, much like how I yearned to be right about now.
But it wasn't to be, because Miya was waiting for me when I exited the room. "I've set up a room for you on the second floor," she said. "Musubi and Akitsu have already gone upstairs - they refused to be separated from you."
Miya looked like she was expecting me to say something, so I obliged. "Are we safe here?" I asked her bluntly.
She smiled. "There is no violence in Izumo Inn," she said, and I believed her. That threatening aura was enough proof that her word was law. "If I may pry..."
"Is there another reason you needed to borrow a room?" she asked me gently.
I sighed and rubbed the back of my head. "Well," I admitted, "my apartment is singles only. Since Musubi and Akitsu moved in, we're getting kicked out. I'm looking for apartments, but so far nothing's worked out."
She smiled, raising a hand to her mouth. "Oh, is that so? It seems that the gods have guided you here, then."
Really? I've met a few gods, and most of the time they seemed content to just let us mortals run around like chickens with their heads cut off. And that's not just an idle phrase, either. I spent a couple years on a farm, I've actually seen that. "And why's that?"
"Because like I said, I have several open rooms here at Izumo Inn," Miya said. "And I think you and your friends would fit right in with the rest of my boarders."
I snorted. Of course. "Can I sleep on it? I have to consult a few people, and I don't want to make a decision right away."
"Of course, take as long as you need. Oh, and Harry," she said as I turned to go. "There are no lewd acts permitted in Izumo Inn," she said with a peaceful smile. Despite that, a shiver ran down my spine at the aura she was giving off. "I trust I can leave you in a room with those two young ladies?"
"You don't have to worry about that," I assured her. I might be in my twenties physically, but mentally I was still at least thirty years older than Musubi and Akitsu. Doing something like that would just be weird.
I didn't go upstairs right away - I'd relied on Winter a little bit during the fight with Yomi, and no sense in frustrating myself. Instead, I took a seat in the doorway to the house's yard, looking out at the night sky. I liked quiet moments like these, when it was just me and the world, without any pressing need to save said world.
I looked over at the quiet voice to see Akitsu standing in the hallway. The feeling of Winter approaching had tipped me off, so it wasn't a surprise. "Oh, hey, Akitsu," I said. "What's up?"
She was silent for a bit. "...I was not there. I failed."
"Huh? Oh, you mean when I was fighting Yomi?" She nodded silently. "You're just as bad as Homura... I can handle myself," I told her, "so there's no reason to beat yourself up about it."
"I won't fail again," she said quietly. "Please... don't get rid of me..."
Now, I wasn't really sure why these two Sekirei insisted on sticking with me. If I had to guess, it had something to do with the bond between a Sekirei and the Ashikabi; Homura's explanation about needing an Ashikabi to get winged seemed a little, I dunno, incomplete. Like there was something he wasn't telling me.
But all that was irrelevant, because Akitsu was waiting for an answer. "You don't need to worry about that," I said. "I'm not some jerk that just throws people away." I wasn't Nicodemus, or Mab, or any of the baddies I'd faced down over the years. I didn't get rid of people just because they'd stopped being useful.
"Understood..." she said. "...Thank you."
I looked up at the shining stars for a few more seconds, then pushed myself to my feet. I'd zoned out long enough that Winter had subsided, especially with Lash's silent help. "Well, it's late. We should get to bed."
Akitsu nodded once and fell in behind me as we both went upstairs.
I'll worry about Miya, and finding a place to live, in the morning.
The next morning, I woke up and heaved a sigh of relief when the only thing I could feel was two bodies, one on either side of me. 'No Sekirei dreams, Lash?'
None, Harry, she told me. It seems that Kusano was the only Sekirei you have been reacting to recently.
'Yeah, and we have to do something about that today,' I said. 'I'm pretty sure I promised her yesterday.'
I didn't even bother trying to sit up, since I could feel Musubi clinging to my side without having to look. I was getting pretty good at slipping out of her grasp, now that I'd had to do it a few mornings in a row.
'So, what do you think about the place?' I asked Lash as I wandered downstairs and back out to where I was sitting last night, Akitsu following me like always. I heard Miya humming in the kitchen, the smell of something delicious and homemade wafting out towards me, and sniffed the air appreciatively.
Lash pretended to think for a second. It fits all of the criteria you wanted, she said.
'Low tech, the room's pretty big, and hopefully the rent isn't too high,' I said. 'I'll have to talk to Miya about price, but it's not bad.'
In the kitchen, Miya started chopping something.
'And once you get used to it, Miya's aura isn't that bad,' I continued. Sure, she was powerful, but it didn't feel like she was... using any of that power, if that made any sense. Like she was trying to just live her life without letting it interfere.
Lash gave the mental equivalent of a smile. Why, Harry, she said smoothly, perhaps she was right to fear for her virtue after all.
'Yuk it up, Lash,' I sighed.
Or maybe you'd prefer Akitsu? Like calls to like, after all, and the Sekirei has plenty of Winter within her.
I just ignored her. If I let her get to me, she'd never stop.
Besides, it seemed like the sound chopping had woken up someone else, judging by the sound of small footsteps in the hallway. The feeling of growth and new life accompanied them, and I looked over to see Kuu hiding by the corner of the hallway, one hand clutching at her white sundress nervously.
For a moment I saw a different little girl, accompanied by an enormous dog. I blinked and the ghosts were gone.
"Hey there," I said with a grin. "Good morning."
"...Good morning," Kuu said. Skittish little thing, isn't she?
"Feeling better?" She nodded seriously. "That's good."
I wasn't really sure what to say after that. "You want to sit down?"
"'Kay," she said. Hesitantly, she sat down next to me, scooching closer bit by bit. The morning was a little chilly, and Kuu sneezed.
Working with Molly, back when she had been my apprentice and still human, had forced me to refine some of my spells since she couldn't draw as much energy as I could. One of the spells I'd developed in the process was a passable version of a hair dryer, but that wasn't the spell I wanted to use. Instead, I murmured a few words and a little swirl of warm air settled around the two of us, settling on our shoulders like a blanket. Kuu looked up at me, a little wide-eyed, and I grinned. "Better?"
"Mhm." She looked up at me. "Thank you for rescuing me."
"Of course. Couldn't leave you in trouble, could I?"
"Please, big brother," she said, reaching up towards my face with her hands. "Will you do me a favor? Be my Ashikabi..."
I rested a hand on her arm. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," she said, before drawing herself close and giving me a small peck on the lips.
Ten pale green wings bloomed behind Kusano, centered on the nape of her neck. They stretched away, wrapping around both of us, closer to a glow given life rather than anything solid. When I winged Musubi, it had just been a rush of power and energy; this time, though, a flood of power surged out all around. In the garden, flowers started to bloom in an instant as the life energy surged, flower petals fluttering through the air.
Raw life energy, Lash mused. Channeled into nature, it grows flowers. But channeled into spells...
'...and who knows what'll happen,' I finished, staring at the happily smiling girl sitting in front of me. 'Wow.'
Breakfast that morning was a lively affair, with Musubi somehow managing to carry on a conversation with Miya even while stuffing her face. Our host made a few oblique references to the sudden addition of wildflowers to her well-tended garden, but she didn't press for actual confirmation on whether I'd actually winged Kuu or not. As for Kuu herself, she'd decided to claim my lap as her seat for breakfast, happily munching away at the food Miya had served us. It made eating a little annoying, but I really couldn't say no to her when she looked up at me with weapons-grade puppy eyes.
"So, Harry," Miya said once I'd finished eating, "have you given thought to my offer?"
I nodded. "We'll have to talk price," I warned her, "but I think it'll work out."
She smiled. "In that case... Welcome to Izumo Inn."
Hey folks, a couple reviews keep bringing this up, so let me address the subject once and for all.
I AM NOT COPYING GABRIEL BLESSING. I AM NOT COPYING IN FLIGHT. HARRY IS NOT SHIROU.
Fuck's sake, people. I haven't read the fucking story for two and a half years at this point, SOLELY because I wanted to keep my story separate from that one. I'm using the manga as my base, not a fanfic. Are there going to be similar features? Sure, possibly. This is fucking chapter SIX, we haven't had a chance for much divergence from Sekirei canon yet. Are there similar lines in both stories? Maybe. I'm writing without going around and checking that every line I write hasn't been written before in a different story. I read the story before, it's possible some lines are stuck in my subconscious and come through without my being aware of them. Even if you whine about it being similar to In Flight, FUCK YOU I'm not changing my plans for the story. So shut up and deal.
Will Harry stop being so skittish about sex/the Sekirei girls? He doesn't KNOW about the bond yet. All he knows is that there's a connection between winged Sekirei and their Ashikabi, and what Homura's told him. He doesn't know that Sekirei winging is marriage, he doesn't know that they fall in love with their Ashikabis, he doesn't know that if the Ashikabi dies the Sekirei deactivate. He DOES know that Musubi can snap him like a twig, and that Akitsu is incredibly powerful, and he's chivalrous, so he wants to give them space to get changed and stuff like that. He's easily in his fifties, if not older, he has a teenaged daughter! He's not skittish about sex. He's just being (from his point of view) considerate. Did I maybe go a bit overboard last chapter? Yeah. This is really the first interactions between Harry and his first two Sekirei. I'm working on getting his character down. Hopefully it's better this chapter.
RANT OVER. Ugh.
Now, as for the actual update author notes, UGH this chapter. The first half of it came out pretty smoothly, but the second I got past the fight and into the character interactions… Other writers on this site might know how it is: sometimes the words flow onto the page like water, and sometimes the words flow onto the page like water that is frozen solid.
(In case you can't tell, the second half of this update was the latter part.)
Hopefully Harry's reactions to Miya – roughly on par with Karasuba, though not as bad mainly because 1) it's been a while since Miya killed anyone, and 2) Karasuba actively enjoys killing humans, while Miya only did it to protect her flock – are believable. I figure that if he could comport himself in the Erlking's hall, he could sleep in Izumo Inn, so whatever.
I'm not 100% satisfied with the second half of the chapter, but I think the fight scene against Yomi came out pretty okay. Thoughts? Suggestions? Constructive criticism?
Oh, and if Harry can have a flickum bicus spell to light candles, he can totally have a keepus warmum spell. This isn't pig Latin or dog Latin, this is barely doggerel Latin.
Many thanks to everyone that favorited, followed, or reviewed. I'm writing this mainly for me, but I'm glad you are all enjoying this too.
Important Announcement Regarding This Story
This story, as of mid-December, 2017, has been on indefinite hiatus for a while; mainly because while I enjoy the setting and characters, I wasn't having fun writing the chapters. They fought me tooth and nail, making every word come inch by excruciating inch, and why write something I don't have fun with, right?
My intent in putting this story on hiatus was, essentially, to give it time to settle in my mind and let the characters calm down before coming back to it. I had always intended to return - I hadn't ever given up on a story before, and I didn't want this to be the first.
However. Several idiots have taken it on themselves to bite the hand that feeds them, and while I will gratefully accept constructive criticism and ignore flames, I will not tolerate insults. As such, the following change to this story's status has been made:
Soul's Wings is now permanently canceled.
Yes, forever. Yes, it sucks. No, I will not change my mind.
The story is up for adoption, if anyone wants to try their hand at it. Maybe one of the anonymous cowards?