A/N: Hello, fellows! I've seen what you all have to say regarding the first chapter, and I'm glad to get such positive reception for this rather spontaneous idea! I can only hope that this is a somewhat reasonable explanation of what really happened to the two girls. Certainly leaves me a bit of room to expand on how this changes things and for more shenanigans involving Acchan and Chichan, at least.
Still, I can't believe I glossed over the part where Katarina herself realizes her world is the same as Fortune Lover's, rather than that her past life finds herself stuck in the game. Pretty big difference there. Guess that's what happens when you skim the beginning of a story since 'you've already read it before' and just want to get to the good stuff. Or maybe it's one of the later manga chapters that made me think that way… Anyway, enough monologuing, on with the show!
Summary: Over the next twenty four hours, Sophia and Katarina come to terms with the lives they left behind, the lives they've been living, and the lives they plan to live. Truths come to light, only for an unexpected factor to invade.
Sophia couldn't sleep a wink that night. How could she, when she had eighteen years of memories to catch up on?! Though she laid in bed, the hours ticked on as she tossed and turned, memories of a fictitious reality calling into question everything she thought she knew about her world and herself. When she finally did give in to her weariness, she began to dream.
At a tea table set for two in the Ascart garden, she sat across from a person with the most bizarre clothing. No, she shouldn't say that. She knew that uniform well; Atsuko Sasaki wore it frequently when she was alive, after all.
Speaking of, Atsuko greeted her with a wave. "So nice to finally meet you face-to-face, Sophia! You're even cuter in person than I could've imagined!" She giggled watching the girl's cheeks flush.
As Atsuko blew on her piping hot tea, Sophia inquired, "H-how are we both here?! Didn't my brother say that-" Atsuko stopped her as she started to sip her tea, taking a moment to let the flavor sink in before responding.
"To be honest, I never really understood what happened to me once I came to this world. There were times I was awake and times I was in a deep dark sleep, if that makes any sense. It seemed to happen regularly too, as if it kept repeating over and over out of my control, but I could never figure out what caused it. When I was awake, I could make you out faintly in the distance, but no matter how fast I ran towards you, I never seemed to get closer. Even when I tired myself shouting at the top of my lungs, you never noticed I was there.
"Once Nicol mentioned souls merging, I thought 'That doesn't seem right at all,' and then I came up with a theory. When your body's up and active, I've been dead asleep and locked away in some closed-off corner of your mind. The only thing that proves I'm still there is my memories, which I'm guessing you've seen once or twice before. But when you're asleep, I wake up. Maybe we're finally talking to each other because you know that I'm here now, so your mind doesn't filter me out. Does that sound right? I'm new to all this spiritual nonsense as well, so I can't say for certain."
Sophia stared into her tea, watching her reflection shimmer as she stated, "I… guess that makes sense. A bit. But there was a point where I felt like I lost control of my body and I could only watch on. Do you know what happened there?" She watched the older girl nearly gag on her tea before clearing her throat and rubbing her head sheepishly.
"W-well, about that. I may have accidentally taken over your body shortly after you hit your head. Sorry about that!"
She pouted. "Did you really have to do that? …Can you at least warn me the next time you plan to do that?"
Atsuko paled and bowed repeatedly. "I'm so sorry! It's just, it's the first time I woke up while you were conscious, and the first thing I see is a little girl that reminded me all too much of Chichan. You get what I mean, right? Especially since you have my memories and all. Besides, once Katarina disappeared beyond the horizon, I'm pretty sure I passed out again!"
That much was true. She knew exactly how much the Monkey Girl meant to Atsuko, and once the carriage vanished, Sophia felt herself jolt back into the pilot's seat. Of course, it had to happen while Atsuko was busy explaining what a movie was to Nicol. Thankfully, he seemed to be satisfied with the description, and he left to inform their parents about their upcoming visit to the Claes manor. Still, something nagged at her.
"Will I remember this when I wake up?"
Atsuko shrugged nonchalantly and sipped her tea again. "Dunno. If it's anything like most dreams, then probably not. Say, do you think we should try keeping a journal so we can write down our talks first thing in the morning?"
"Do people do that in your world?" Truth be told, while Sophia had glimpsed into the world Atsuko lived in, she had no idea how any of it worked, or how people got to that point. She already accepted that it just worked, since she had the memories to prove that it did, but this was too much for a mere eight-year-old to comprehend all at once.
Again, the teen shrugged. "Eh, A few. Some do it for fun, while others try to figure out what's upsetting them. Oh! Do you think Katarina and Chichan are talking to each other now?"
Sophia smiled as she thought back to the energetic girl that had given her confidence in herself. "I think so. They've probably been talking like we have. I wonder what they're discussing now."
The thunk of a wooden gavel echoed throughout the depths of Katarina's mindscape, seizing the attention of its occupants.
Chairman Katarina announced, "I declare tonight's discussion of the Doom Flag Prevention Council open!" As the other Katarinas clapped, a series of loud exaggerated coughs was heard, almost as if someone was trying to draw attention.
"Is something wrong with your throat, special guest Chichan?" Chieko, sitting directly away from Chairman Katarina, paused and looked away, cheeks flushed.
"N-nothing. Just really needed to clear my throat, that's all." The seventeen-year-old thought, Really, how dense can a girl get? Can't you see the obvious hints being dropped right in front of you? Still, the fact she was able to attend that meeting was incredible, since she was always either asleep or outside the room where it happened, waving through a window in a vain attempt to draw attention.
The answer was clearly no, as Spineless Katarina asked, "C-can souls even get sick? W-w-what happens if one of us dies but the others are still around?! Would Katarina lose what we represent?!"
Studious Katarina was quick to debunk her worries. "We can't possibly get sick by ourselves, Spineless Katarina. We're not physical. Only Katarina herself can get sick."
Even faster, Fearless Katarina butted in, "Even if one of us did get sick, we'd work together to make them feel better! We won't let some lousy soul sickness get the best of us! Isn't that right, Happy Katarina?" The corresponding Katarina nodded vigorously.
Chieko raised her hand and asked, "Hey, wait, can't you just address each other by what you represent? Otherwise, 'Katarina' is gonna stop sounding real really fast." Everyone looked at one another and nodded. Having to say '- Katarina' got old far too quickly, even for them.
Happy turned back to the teenager and claimed, "Don't worry, Chichan. We'll make sure you'll get better soon!"
Spineless shrieked out, "H-huh?! She's really sick?!" Just as the room was about to break into chaos, Chairman slammed her gavel. The girls focused their attention to her, who redirected it to Studious.
She pushed her glasses up to make them shine. "Ahem... now, if you're all done dragging this nonsense on, onto the main reason we're here. As you know, we have now two unexpected factors joining the game. The first, sitting before us, is Chieko Kanda, or as you know her, Chichan. Chieko, since you know your own memories better than any of us, you'll certainly be a great help to us in preventing our death." The council and Chieko cheered as one before she continued. "The other factor: Atsuko Sasaki. We have no idea if she could help or hurt our chances at avoiding the bad ends." Chieko stood up from her chair, though it was a bit too small for the seventeen-year-old, and pointed at her accusationally.
"OBJECTION! How dare you call Acchan a mere 'unexpected factor'? She's my best friend!"
Chairman contemplated for a while before inquiring. "Is that all you have to say?"
She put her hands to her hips, smirking as she tilted her head down and puffed her chest. "Absolutely. In fact, I'd say the prosecution deserves a penalty for that accusation."
"Then all I have to say is this: Objection overruled." Somewhere, Chieko flinched as she felt a portion of a life bar explode away. Or was it an exclamation mark? A defense attorney's badge?
"Wha-!" Just as she tried to emulate a certain ace attorney, Chieko began profusely sweating like one. If only she didn't get bored so easily that she usually ended up playing through trial-and-error. Crap, guess that didn't mean as much to them as I thought. C'mon, Monkey Girl, what else can be said? Thankfully, salvation came in the form of an eternally-smiling eight-year old.
"Didn't Acchan complete all the routes? If so, doesn't that mean she knows the bad ends of the paths you never got to beat?" The other Katarinas realized the implications and seemed to agree, and Chieko knew she could grasp victory from the hands of defeat.
The teen claimed, "Yeah, she did! She can give us tips on how to avoid the secret doom endings! Oh, um, no spoilers, though!" As the council exchanged glances, she shivered anxiously. "W-well?"
Chairman raised her gavel once more and stated, "All in favor of letting Acchan know of our progress in protecting ourselves from the doom flags, say aye."
A resounding 'aye' was followed quickly by cheers from the entire group. Chieko ran up to Happy and pulled her in for a bear hug. I always knew you'd be my favorite! You always got my back!
Chieko was Happy's favorite too, though for a different reason. She reflected, Ever since you've shown us a much funner way to live, life's been much better for Katarina! No need to worry about boring things like etiquette if you just don't care about them! If there's any consolation, Fearless was a close second, at least.
The next day, Sophia and Nicol were greeted by Mili Claes, Katarina's mother, at the entrance hall. She had a kind smile, but the slanted eyes seemed to hold different intentions. Surprisingly, Sophia remembered her conversation with Atsuko as clear as day, with the last thing the teen said before she woke up was to watch out for Mili and her terrifying gaze.
"So you're the Ascarts' children. Both of you look lovely! So nice to have you over." She looked back over the shoulder and shouted, "Katarina! Come on down and greet your guests!" She turned towards the siblings and smirked. "I'm sure you already know how much of a… handful my daughter can be. I hope you'll give her a good example of proper etiquette." She seemed nice enough, a far cry from how Fortune Lover portrayed her. A minute of silently standing around later, and she turned back again, her smirk nearly breaking from the twitching.
"Katarina! Don't keep them waiting!" And there was the sinister look Katarina loved to wear back in Fortune Lover. Seeing it in real life, Sophia felt herself shiver more than ever. Nicol remained as still and visibly emotional as a statue, though.
A second later, the girl in question ran down the stairs. Upon seeing her guests, she began to skip steps at a time, all while her brother followed carefully. She rushed past her mother and leapt at Sophia, causing her to stumble back a few steps as she stopped her. Nicol stood back, observing how differently the two girls seemed to hold themselves once they saw each other again. Their eyes suddenly seemed to shine differently, as well. They lacked the overjoyed shine a kid might have when seeing their friend after a long weekend. Rather, it felt more weary and relieved, as though it had been months since they've last heard from each other.
The young brunette shouted, "Acchan! Welcome back!"
Her mother looked at her quizzically over her shoulder. "A-chan? Is she alright with that?"
Sophia, or rather, Atsuko, answered, "Y-yeah. Since my name ends with 'a' and all. I liked the way it sounded." She moved Katarina, or rather it was Chieko in control now, back to arms length and claimed "I think it's about time we stopped crowding the entrance hall and spent some time alone, right, Katarina?" She turned to Keith, who had just gotten his breath back. "You and my brother ought to get to know each other better."
Before he could even get the chance to argue, she dragged Katarina, leaving the boys and Miri Claes in the entrance hall.
Duchess Miri tapped her fan. "Well, it seems she's able to keep up, at least. I suppose I could finally enjoy my morning tea in peace. Be sure to make our guest feel welcome, Keith." As they watched her and the accompanying maid leave, the boys remained glued to their spots, Keith trying awkwardly not to make eye contact.
Finally, after several more minutes of nervous waiting, he mustered up the courage to ask, "S-so, what else has your tutor said about reincarnation?" The black-haired child closed his eyes, shutting out any chance for his eyes to betray him.
"Truth be told, he did not tell me much. He only mentioned what I know in passing, and when I tried to press him, he noted that since such events are rare, it's hard to tell whether it has occurred or that person had gone insane, let alone be able to study it and fully understand what has truly happened."
"So all we have to go off of is conjecture and speculation?"
"Without the archives in the Ministry of Magic, yes, unfortunately. What's more, attempting to study it is explicitly banned by the kingdom for ethical reasons. That is, unless one of you're one of the kingdom's brightest and obtained the clearance to do so from the King himself. My instructor claimed that they're waiting for just one genuine and authentic case before they can dive headlong into learning about it."
"To think it's happened twice right in front of us… How'd you learn about all this from your teacher, anyway?"
"My magic tutor used to work at the Ministry of Magic. Apparently, reincarnation is considered so unlikely and unknown that teaching it would be a waste of time, though many in the Ministry seem to gossip about when and where it could happen next." His mentor also boasted that he had bet a sizable sum of money against his ex-coworkers claiming the next case wouldn't show up until after the next seven years had passed. When he tried asking his student as to why he was curious, the boy was already out the door. Nicol knew better than to give him any clue of the true nature of his questioning.
"I'd hope they don't find any ways to exploit it. The souls are other people after all, and they'd be experimenting on our sisters!" Nicol stared him straight in the eyes, and once again, Keith trembled.
"Yes, which is exactly why we need to keep this private. Inhabited by otherworldly spirits or not, they're still our sisters, and I will do everything it takes to not hand them over to be studied like some beast." Nicol allowed his voice to take on a determined air, and though he challenged the world, Keith never felt more comfortable listening to him.
"Yes, I agree. For Katarina and Sophia." With that, he extended a hand out to Nicol, who seized it and shook vigorously. A fire burned in their eyes as they came to a mutual understanding.
"For Kataria and Sophia..."
There was a knock coming from the front door.
There they were, now in one of the empty rooms alone. Sophia and Katarina... and Anne, waiting in the corner ready to fulfill any request Katarina might have. Whether or not she was mentally readyfor whatever Katarina had in mind, that was anyone's guess.
Meanwhile, Sophia wondered why Anne was there, especially since this was something to be kept between the two girls.
She leaned closer to Katarina and whispered, "D-does she really need to be here right now?"
"Ah, you're right! Anne! Please get us some snacks! I'm starving!"
"As you wish." She curtsied before leaving the room and locking it behind her.
"I guess that buys us some time," she snarked before continuing, "Anyway, Chichan, you there?" The brunette flashed a grin and pumped her arm. Sophia felt weird calling out nicknames, but Atsuko insisted that they were just more used to those nicknames.
"Yep! Though the one you're talking to's all Katarina, she's finally awake as well!" Sophia breathed a sigh of relief at hearing that. It seemed that they would be the ones in control most of the time, and the two teenagers appeared to only be active around each other as well.
"Good, Acchan is here as well. Do you remember what you two talked about last night?"
"Surprisingly, yeah! It's been the first time I've been able to, though, and the first time Chichan herself was able to talk to me." Of course, she'd rather not have woken up that morning to the sound of Chieko's snoring reverberating throughout her head.
"That's good. Also, how's your brother? Nicol's asked me a lot of questions ever since you left."
In the depths of her mind, Atsuko commented, "Likely because he wants to know how much you've changed."
She responded, "You mean he's still suspicious of us?" while a very confused eight-year-old and seventeen-year-old watched on.
Katarina tilted her head and remarked, "You alright there, Sophia? It's just the two of us here." In her head, she heard a resounding sigh followed by some nonsensical mumbling about chopped liver.
"O-oh, my apologies. Atsuko just spoke to me. I suppose that means you couldn't hear it."
"Nope. Not a word. Keith's fine, by the way, if a bit more clingy. Personally, I think it's cute how concerned he is over his big sister!"
As Sophia questioned the legitimacy of Katarina's role in the family, Atsuko pointed out, "In the original game, Keith became a playboy because he was neglected by Katarina and their mom. Here, it seems he's being smothered with attention. Honestly, I can't see him becoming a womanizer now."
She inquired, "So you've made sure Keith got love and attention, Katarina. What about the other capture flags? You're still engaged to Prince Geordo. Haven't you tried calling it off?" Katarina brushed off her fiance's name the same way Chieko used to brush off exams from 'easy teachers', exams that she'd end up with half the answers wrong at best. Naturally, Atsuko began to worry.
"I never got him to call it off, but don't worry about it." Too late for that, Katarina. "I've got a special trick for Geordo right up my sleeve!" Stepping back and reaching into her dress sleeve, what appeared to be a crumpled up ball of paper was flung out, traveling a meager foot before landing delicately on the floor. Upon closer examination, it seemed to be a toy.
"A sock puppet?" Sophia guessed, causing Katarina to recoil before grabbing the toy and holding it close to her.
"N-NO! It's a fake snake…" The albino girl watched her with pity as she pet the toy and tried to cheer it up. "It's okay, Snek III, she didn't mean it like that."
"Katarina, how is a fake snake going to save you in any situation?"
"W-well, one time in the garden, Geordo and I came across a real snake. When I moved in for a closer look, he was absolutely frozen in place. Then, I thought if a snake scares him so much, I could use a fake one to distract him and escape my death in the bad end of his route!"
They could see where she was going with this, though they doubted Katarina would ever have a reason or the will to attack the protagonist of the game, Maria Campbell, to begin with.
"And what if your family disowns you?" Also very unlikely, given that Keith would probably fight tooth-and-nail to stay with her now.
"I've already asked the gardener to give me a tutorial on how to farm, plus I have my own vegetable patch right here. Not only will I be able to grow food myself, but I'll also level up my Earth Bump!" Sophia blanched at her statement, much to Atsuko's confusion.
She reflected, Since a person's elemental magic is often limited to using the element in a specific and restricted manner, it's up to them to learn more about their element and ways to work around those limitations. This 'science' of yours seems like a good way to approach it, though since your world apparently has no magic whatsoever, I can't make any sense of it nor do I know if it applies in this one. Nobody's heard of a breakthrough made through starting fires by hand or by rowing a boat. Do they even know what they're doing?
Atsuko retorted, "Well, you don't know Chichan as well as me. Sometimes the only way she can learn is by doing it over and over again. Maybe she'll stumble on something everyone else missed!" Secretly, she prayed for the countless pages that would be lost in Katarina's future battles for good grades at the Academy, each leaf of paper scribbled all over with the same sentences crammed into every corner.
So lost in thought they were, Anne had already returned with tea and a three-tiered dessert stand now about half empty, though one need not guess the guilty party. As Katarina stuffed her cheeks well enough to make a chipmunk family feel inadequate, she mumbled, "Sho? Whad yu thinf?"
Sophia quickly grabbed a pastry, dreading the possibility that she might not have the chance to grab another, and responded, "L-let's see if that'll work. But about Prince Alan-"
"Why'd you want to know about him?" That didn't sound like the maid, Sophia realized, nearly crushing the poor baked good as her eyes turned towards the door. Glancing in through the crack of the opened door was a young brown-haired girl about their age. Atsuko thought she looked familiar. Why, with her shoulder-length locks and orange dress, she looked just like a younger version of-
"Mary Hunt!" Sophia exclaimed, much to the surprise of the small girl. It seemed that this little get-together was about to turn into a full-blown party.