4: The Fourth Trial: Dinner

In a dream, Miki Sayaka saw a version of herself at about age thirteen, dressed in a strange blue-and-white outfit trimmed with lace and complimented by white gloves and a white cloak. In her hands was a beautiful, slightly curved saber with a gold-colored cross-section and hand-guard. Weirdly, the sword wasn't heavy at all, even though it was sturdy-looking and made of real steel. For reasons she did not understand, Sayaka found herself filled with loathing, along with a sense of fear and excitement that told her she was in the middle of a battle.

Soon her opponent appeared, charging into the alley from around the corner of a building. It was Sakura Kyoko, except she was also only about thirteen or fourteen, and dressed strangely. Her outfit was complex, consisting of a sleeveless, deep-red dress that parted at the hips to reveal a short pink skirt, and below that, black stockings with the same blood-red-colored boots. There was a diamond-shaped jewel of what looked like ruby embedded in the fabric of the area just above her small, budding breasts. As she approached, Kyoko brandished a long and deadly spear with an immense and cruelly pointed head.

The alarming spear should have been much too heavy for a girl her size to handle, but Kyoko wielded it with skill. Sayaka realized that the red-head was the source of her feelings of intense hatred. One with her spear, and the other with her saber, the two girls fought savagely. Steel rang against steel. Every blow was meant to be lethal. This was a battle where they seriously wanted to kill each other. Sayaka was losing. For some reason, she just couldn't match the strength and speed of her opponent. Any moment now, she might be skewered or have her body slashed open.

It was a terrible feeling. Sayaka was frightened and confused. Why did she want to kill Kyoko? Why was Kyoko trying to kill her? Why did she feel so much hatred and despair? And why did this scene seem more like a memory than a dream? It was more vivid than any dream she had experienced before. Sayaka recognized the feeling of the sword in her hands, and she knew the cool weight of the sapphire-colored gem she wore at her naval. Surely this had happened before. The blue-haired miss grew increasingly terrified at the dream version of Kyoko fought harder and harder, beating her opponent back farther and farther.

Sayaka woke herself up yelling, "Kyoko, stop it!" There were tears in her eyes and she felt dizzy. But now she had returned to reality. She saw the beams of the rising sun paint colors on comforting ceiling of the apartment. She heard the soft sound of the fan, and she felt the real and grown-up version of Kyoko snuggled against her. The red-head hadn't moved despite Sayaka's shout. She was snoring softly.

For a moment, Sayaka was so relieved she thought about kissing her roommate. Yet something held her back. She still felt acutely uncomfortable. The dream had been so realistic and so familiar. Had Kyoko really tried to kill her, six years ago? Doubt and fear gnawed at Sayaka's stomach. On top of that, she felt angry at herself for letting a mere dream bother her.

Kyoko started to wake up. After stretching, she rolled over on top of her roommate. She enjoyed the feeling of their bodies touching. "Good morning, Sayachi!"

"Don't call me that!" Sayaka ordered. She was blushing again. "Also, you're crushing me."

"Heh," said Kyoko with a giggle, "but you like that, right?"

Well, that was true. Sayaka kissed her roommate in answer. She also ran her slender hands under Kyoko's shirt, sighing when she felt the red-head's large, soft breasts. She withdrew quickly, though.

"I'm sorry to be the spoilsport again," Sayaka said ruefully, "but we had both better get ready for work."

Kyoko made a noise similar to that of an annoyed cat. "I guess it can't be helped," she grumbled, sitting up and beginning to dress herself.

Sayaka worked at a small shop that sold vitamins, minerals, protein, and herbal supplements. For her career, the blue-haired girl wished to study psychology and become a counselor that could help people with behavior problems or addiction. In the meantime, health and nutrition were her favorite hobbies. Sayaka did an excellent job learning about all the store's products, researching what they were good for, and recommending certain supplements to customers. Sayaka was uncommonly fortunate in that she loved her part-time job.

However, that day it was difficult to enjoy work. Images from her dreams kept coming up in Miss Miki's mind. By the time she got done with work at three o'clock, she was exhausted from fighting back the feelings of fear and discomfort that arose whenever she thought of her adopted sister. She also felt furious at herself for doubting Kyoko over some stupid dream.

After work, Sayaka took a bus out into the country and got off at the stop closest to the park where she was supposed to be meet Kyoko. They had decided to use the rest of the day for a date, planning to hike in the woods among the beautiful trees that whose leaves were changing color with the season.

At a bench near a vending machine, Sayaka reunited with her companion and they shared a tight embrace. Even though it had only been a few hours since they last saw one another, Sayaka felt like she could never get too many hugs from her red-haired roommate. Stopping by the vending machine, Kyoko bought a can of apple juice for herself and a raspberry juice for her companion. Then they set off walking, holding hands.

For the most part, the two girls enjoyed their time at the park. However, at one point near the end, as they were hiking back toward the bus stop, something happened that made Sayaka angry and uncomfortable again. She was the one who started it by picking up a straight, sturdy oak stick about the length of a saber.

Reminiscing about the days of playing pretend with sticks for swords, Sayaka used the stick and started a mock-battle with her companion. Kyoko wasn't good at play-fighting with a saber-length stick, but when she picked up a straight branch the length of a spear, it was a whole other story. She wielded it excellently, just as she had with the real spear in Sayaka's dream.

The mock-battle ended with Kyoko striking the stick out of her opponent's hands, and carefully poking her in the ribs with her pretend spear. She won so easily, and while she had fought, she had moved with the skill of someone who knew how to handle real weapons. Sayaka became grumpy and discomfited not only because she had lost so terribly, but also because it bothered her to no end that Kyoko seemed to know exactly what she was doing.

The dream this morning... could it have been a real memory? Why had Kyoko tried to kill her? Could she really trust her companion when both of them were missing memories about their pasts? What if they were actually enemies? These thoughts plagued Sayaka's mind as she rode back to Mitikihari City.

"So," began Kyoko, talking over the growling of her stomach, "where do you want to go eat, my little Saya-chan?"

"Ahem." Sayaka cleared her voice and frowned to remind Kyoko not to call her by cutesy pet names in public. Then she considered, "Hmm...How about stopping by that place for udon?"

"I went there yesterday." Kyoko dismissed the idea with a flippant wave of her hand. "Let's go someplace that serves drinks. I bet they'll believe I'm twenty and let me have a little bowl of sake. How about Sugita's Nipon Shokudo?"

"That diner near campus?" Sayaka asked. "If I remember right, they have great Sukiyaki. But... that place is a little pricey. Let's go somewhere cheap."

"McRonald's!" exclaimed Kyoko. "I love me some delicious, greasy American junk food!"

"You eat there too much, Kyoko. If you don't stop, you're going to gain more weight." Sayaka knew she had no business telling her companion what or where to eat, but she was so concerned with nutrition she couldn't help it. "How about we split a small pizza from the Pizza Hat takeout?" she suggested. "They also have side salads these days so it wouldn't be as unhealthy."

"I don't really like Pizza Hat," Kyoko complained. "It's not even good pizza."

The pair kept shooting down each other's ideas, and in the end, they couldn't agree on where to go to eat. Thus, they decided to return to the apartment and cook something for their dinner date instead of eating out.

Once they arrived home, though, the adopted sisters could not agree on what to cook. Sayaka said they should go with something simple like rice, pork katsu, and a makeshift miso soup. Kyoko wanted to make Sukiyaki. That would take too long and they didn't have nearly enough ingredients, Sayaka objected. As a compromise, she proposed making ramen with vegetables and a beef bouillon cube, but Miss Sakura insisted that much wouldn't fill her up and she needed real meat.

The girls argued until they were both aggravated, and then Kyoko gave in and agreed to the original suggestion of fried pork katsudon. However, the two soon started fighting again, this time over who would make the food. Sayaka said she should do it because she was the better cook and the more feminine one. This wasn't quite fair. Kyoko had extension knowledge of numerous types of food, and she was as good a cook as the next girl. As the resident authority on all things tasty, Kyoko insisted on doing the job herself. Finally, Sayaka gave in and let her roommate start on the katsudon. While preparing the miso soup, Miss Miki watched Miss Sakura skeptically.

"Hey, you don't need the use the whole thing," said the blue-haired girl, when her companion cracked open an egg and poured into a small dish. "That's overdoing it. Just use a half or quarter and add a little water to it when you whisk it."

"Bullshit," replied Kyoko, whisking the egg into a yellow mixture. "I've done this way more times than you, so get lost. More egg means more flower and bread crumbs will stick to the meat."

"Wait, don't put it there yet!" cried Sayaka when Kyoko was just about to put the two portions of pork into the sticky egg mixture. "God, don't you know anything? You have to prepare the meat too. Look, you do this." She took a knife and demonstrated. "Make cuts along all the stringy parts to make it softer. And then you use a dough roller like this—" she slapped the meat as hard as she could—"and beat the cutlets a few times. It makes them tender."

The red-haired girl couldn't suppress a smirk and a rude laugh. "You sound like a freaking sadist, Saya-chan. I guess for your sake I'll pass on all the dirty jokes about beating one's meat. But seriously, you're in the way. You want me to take that roller to your head? I swear I will."

"Watch it," Sayaka warned; "I'm the one with the knife."

Dropping the argument for the time being, Sayaka kept watching Kyoko's progress. After adding seasoning, soaking the pork in the egg mixture, and then using flour and bread crumbs to cover it on both sides, it was time to cook the meat. Kyoko set up a pan and put it on high. She poured in at least one full measuring cup of oil.

"What the hell are you doing?" Sayaka demanded. "That's way too much oil! We're not deep-frying it! You don't need to submerge the whole freaking cutlet!"

"This is how I do it," Kyoko snapped, "so piss off already! I'll fry these babies and you can make the soup."

"I already made the soup! See, I'm much faster at both prep and cooking than you!"

"You're really trying to pick a fight, aren't you? Try being useful instead." Kyoko put the cutlets into the pan of hot oil and then licked the flour off her fingertips. "I know. You can go turn on the rice cooker."

Sayaka was exasperated. "You were supposed to turn that at the start of the prep!"

"I forgot," Kyoko shrugged. "Can't be helped. We'll eat the rice a little later than the rest."

A few minutes later, the red-haired girl became distracted sampling the rice and miso soup. She forgot to watch the meat, but luckily, Sayaka was still hovering around and examining everything critically. The top sides of the kastudon were already brownish.

"Kyoko, it's burning!" Sayaka snapped, starting to lose her temper for real. "You have to flip them over once they turn a gold color! It might be too late. Move! I'll do it myself."

When she said this, Sayaka was standing to the right of Kyoko, who was standing in front of the stove-top where the meat was frying. Impatiently, Sayaka tried to shove Kyoko out of the way and move to her left. Kyoko, however, was still holding the handle on the pain of hot oil. When she was pushed aside, the red-head took the pan with her by accident, and burning hot oil sloshed out everywhere. Some of it landed right on Kyoko's bare arm just above the wrist. She screamed and actually sounded like a girl for once. The oil had seared her skin and it was already burned dark red. Leaving the pan on the counter, Sayaka immediately guided her screaming roommate across the way to the kitchen sink and turned on the cold water, letting it run over the agonizing burns. Kyoko stopped shouting but was still obviously in pain.

"Kyoko, Kyoko, I'm sorry!" exclaimed Sayaka, tears welling up in her blue eyes and spilling down her soft face. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to! Oh my god…"

Kyoko ruffled Sayaka's hair with her uninjured hand and forced herself to smile. "Don't cry, you big baby. If anyone gets to cry, it's me. But damn," she swore, wincing, "this freaking hurts… dammit! We're gonna need to get some pain relief cream ASAP…"

"Drugstore creams will hardly make a difference." Sayaka shook her head sadly. "This is at least a second degree burn. It looks bad enough to scar. Come on, I'll take you to the medical center on campus and we can get you some painkillers."

"Screw that." Miss Sakura kept her arm under the running cold water, and the discomfort she felt made it difficult to speak. Still, she persevered and didn't shed a tear. "I mean, yeah," she admitted, "some Perc or Oxy would make me so happy right now that I'd seriously propose to you. But think of what we'd have to go through to get that stuff! The med center is a giant hassle, a headache for everyone. Even the emergency room can have a long wait. And I don't even know if I have the money for my insurance copayment."

"Well… I've got to do something!" Miss Miki felt desperate. "Please, let me do something!"

At that moment, in her head, Sayaka was praying and wishing with all her might that she could do something, anything to right this wrong and relieve her companion. Much to the surprise of both girls, a glowing circle made out of blue runes and musical notes appeared out of thin air and hovered for an instant over Kyoko's burn. When the circle vanished, Kyoko found herself feeling better right away. But she was disturbed by the strange sight she had seen.

"Whoa, Sayaka…" she whispered. "What… what the fuck just happened?"

"I—I don't know," stammered Sayaka. In reality, she thought she already knew the answer. She had wished to heal Kyoko, and a magic circle had appeared and done the job. "Y-your arm. Does it still hurt?"

"Holy horseshit." The red-haired girl turned off the cold water and moved her hand and arm around. There was no sign of a burn anymore. "It doesn't hurt a bit. What the hell?"

"There's not even any inflammation." The roommate took a deep breath and said, "I… Kyoko… I think I just healed you."

"Oh, so I'm supposed to believe this is magic or something?" Kyoko sounded alarmed.

"…I…don't know what else to call it," Sayaka told her companion. "It feels familiar. I feel like I must have healed myself like this hundreds of times." She had dreamed about this too, and agonized over whether it was real. "But when I try to remember clearly, my mind goes blank."

"Hmm." It wasn't like Kyoko didn't understand. She sometimes felt like she knew how to use magic, too. And just earlier today, at the park, she noticed that her body knew exactly how to handle a spear. She had dreams of using magic to give her destructive power in fights, as well as dreams about using a huge spear. "I think I kind of know what you mean," Kyoko confessed. Still… you really used magic. I mean, wow. What does that mean for us? What are we supposed to do?"

"I hate to say this," replied Sayaka, going on nothing but a gut feeling, "but I think I know who we should talk to."

"Eh? And who's that?"

"Your friend, Akemi Homura."