Disclaimer: We've already taken a big risk by adding a new series into this mess alone, and we don't want to risk further injury by claiming them illegally. GracefulShippy from Pokemon Special is great, but Aerial Aces and Water Pulses are not.

ChibiSecchan: ((Happily feeds her philosophy notes to a Mareep)) You know, the series that we've endured the largest amount of attacks for is debuting in this chapter!

Okashira: ((Wrings out his jacket, still soaked after a Water Pulse.)) The characters introduced here are gonna be pretty important in the time to come, so take a good look at 'em.

ChibiSecchan: Important not only in the aspect of the damage they caused... ((Sighs in relief that her Konoka poster is still in one piece after those Aerial Aces))

Okashira: But important for the effect they'll have on our Kono-chan and Secchan. Though Secchan may surprise you all a bit in this chapter...

ChibiSecchan: Poor girl, she's still being haunted by the ghost of her past...

Okashira: ((Laughs.)) She has better places to put her money anyway.

ChibiSecchan: Like we should have known better to "challenge" the gym leaders?

Okashira: Ah, but the wounds will be well worth it! Besides, we'll be fine until they start to gang up on us...((Gulps.))

Gradual Changes Book 01 – Newer Bits of Life

Chapter 05 Friendly Confrontation

By OkashiraShinomori and ChibiSecchan

"But you can use the money, right? Konoemon-san forwarded a letter to me from a Tatsumiya Mana-san. Something about a rather substantial debt..."– Saehara Noriko

Setsuna rapped lightly on the wooden door to Konoka's dorm room, her eyes darting suspiciously up and down the hallway to be sure that she wasn't disturbing anyone else. At 0930, it was still rather early for a school that wasn't in session. She heard a muffled response from inside, and within a few seconds, the door opened, revealing her girlfriend, only half-dressed, hurriedly motioning her inside.

Turning a brilliant shade of pink, the swordswoman stepped inside, the brown and white bundle of fur that had become attached to her steadfastly on her heels, trying her hardest to keep her eyes on something other than Konoe Konoka.

"Good morning, Secchan," the chocolate-haired girl greeted cheerily as she closed the door, taking no notice of her current attire.

She turned back around to face the hanyou, smiling with her usual brightness as she began buttoning her shirt. Setsuna gulped and forced her eyes to roam about the wall to her left while simultaneously trying to ignore the insistent pawing on her ankle. "Good morning, Kono-chan."

The healer slipped a loose white jacket over her shoulders and buttoned it halfway up with ease, peering around the room for forgotten articles. "Did you sleep okay?"

The raven-haired girl chuckled, managing to raise a curious eyebrow from the other girl. "I slept okay once my roommate finished her argument with 'Ayeka.'" She placed a strange stress on the name, and Konoka cocked her head.

"I thought after curfew, no-one was allowed to leave or enter rooms." She was clearly puzzled.

Setsuna chuckled a little bit again and nodded. "Precisely. Whoever this 'Ayeka' is, Ryoko dreamt about arguing with her." Her visage darkened. "For several hours. About some guy named 'Tenchi,' too, if that rings any bells."

Konoka's brow furrowed, but she decided quickly it wasn't important and merely laughed. "Sounds like you're gonna have a very interesting first year, Secchan," she teased as she rummaged through her yet unpacked thing of miscellaneous clothes, one lip caught between her teeth as she searched.

An eyebrow raised in curiosity, Setsuna stepped closer and peered over her shoulder. She opened her mouth to ask what she was looking for when her girlfriend stood up abruptly, a small mutter of "aha" giving evidence to having found what she sought. Laughing, the swordswoman stumbled back to avoid being hit by the mass of silky brown hair as the Konoe heir stood.

The healer held a royal blue ribbon, matching the color and texture of their uniforms, out to the Setsuna. "Do you think this'd look okay in my hair today, Secchan?"

After a very brief moment's silent consideration, the swordswoman nodded. "I suppose." She personally preferred the other girl's hair to be free, but it certainly looked nice any way she decided to wear it.

Her smile at Setsuna's 'permission' to put her hair up reinforced the taller girl's assuredness that it was a good decision, and she dropped the strip of cloth into the other girl's hands. "Would you please put it up? I know you like it better down, so I'll let you pick the style."

She knows me too well, Setsuna thought as she waited for Konoka to turn around before gently gathering the waterfall of soft strands into one hand. With a thoughtful hum, she decided she would try something a little different, although she wasn't confident in her fashion sense, and carefully tied the richly colored ribbon at the nape of her girlfriends neck, rather lower than normal.

"How's that, Kono-chan?"

She craned her neck around to try to see it, ignoring Setsuna's laughter at the comedic motion, and nodded when she caught sight of her loosely bound hair.

"Thanks, Secchan!" Not waiting for a reply, she once again all but dove into her duffel bag, this time pulling the thick sheaf of papers that they'd received more than a week ago with their acceptance papers. She flipped through them quickly, setting aside the folded map of the campus, a map of the quality that very few universities would offer, and the list of classes that included their respective room numbers.

She stopped and looked back apologetically at Setsuna. She'd planned on exploring the campus, but she'd not thought to ask the other girl. "Um, can we explore the school today, Secchan?"

Smiling slightly, the swordswoman held up her own copy of the class list. "I thought you might want to, so I came prepared."

Konoka smiled broadly, once more awed by how well Setsuna seemed to be able to predict and cater to her whims on a regular basis. Stuffing her smaller packet of papers into an inside pocket of her jacket, Konoka picked Ryo-ohki up and held her out to Setsuna. "Is she allowed to come with us, Secchan?"

The swordswoman looked ruefully at the little animal, receiving only a cocked head and a soft "mew" in return. She opened her mouth to reluctantly refuse when, seemingly randomly, Konoka did the same, copying even the little animal's pitch perfectly. Wow...that's REALLY cute, Setsuna noticed with an unconscious smile. Konoka noticed her change of mood immediately and bounced on her heels, grinning triumphantly.

"Yay! Thank you, Secchan!" Without asking permission, she plopped the little bundle of fur on top of Setsuna's head, giggling as she struggled for footing, finally finding some against her girlfriend's ponytail.

Setsuna merely blinked in surprise, trying to move her head in order to help Ryo-ohki keep her balance out of instinct. "That," she mocked a glare at Konoka and reached up to take gentle hold of the cabbit, "was not what I had in mind." Still smiling a half-smile, she sat her roommate's familiar on her shoulder where she immediately curled up, her tail wrapping around Setsuna's neck and tickling her other ear. She shivered at the odd feeling, ignoring Konoka's giggles.

A small growl of annoyance caused both Setsuna and Konoka to pause on their way to the door and peer curiously at Ryo-ohki. She had wrapped her small mouth around the side of Yuunagi's hilt, growling and biting as best she could on it.

Konoka giggled again, "I think your sword's making her uncomfortable, Secchan," she stated, laughing when her girlfriend flashed her a sarcastic "Oh you think so?" look before carefully removing her beloved blade from her shoulder and affixing it to her belt.

She preferred to keep it over her shoulder as its length caused the very end to drag the ground at times if she had it at her waist, but it appeared there would be no compromising with their sharp, though tiny, toothed companion. The change seemed to appease the cute creature and she settled back down, burying her nose in her paws. Still giggling to herself, Konoka followed Setsuna back into the hall, slipping their shoes on with practiced ease.

Setsuna stood patiently off to the side, gazing around the hallway, as she waited for Konoka to turn off the lights and lock the door of her dorm room before starting down the wide stairway. The Konoe heir took them two-at-a-time excitedly, prompting a small grin from her girlfriend who descended them at a more normal pace. The woman who had been in the lobby the day before was, surprisingly, already at her post once more, quietly reading a book, her feet propped upon the table-top comfortably.

Konoka suppressed a giggle at her lax attitude and with a startled blink the woman put her feet back on the floor and cleared her throat in an authoritative manner.

"Good morning, ladies." She sat her book on the table and gazed at them. "Anything I can help you with this morning?"

"I don't think so, no," Setsuna answered with a polite nod at her, taking gentle hold of her girlfriend's elbow and steering her towards the already wide-open doors, knowing she'd involve herself in some sort of trivial conversation and they'd be in the lobby until lunch time.

Konoka waved goodbye as she was lightly steered outside onto the wide porch. It overlooked the grounds to the west, including the mountain at the other side of the island. The sun was still low in the sky and cast the shadow of the building far into the courtyard, plunging the couple into relative darkness. "I think we should take a look at the map first so we know where we're going," Setsuna ventured logically, stepping down the steps, then seating herself on the edge of the porch,

Her girlfriend nodded and plopped down beside her, eagerly looking at the map the swordswoman held in her hands. The campus itself was of medium size, though judging by the dorms it was larger than average. The map showed a heavy concentration of buildings, both academic and residential, in the area they currently sat.

Across the river in the direction they'd come from the night before were three buildings that served as the main school buildings. Their classes were, for the most part, in one of those three buildings, going by the room numbers and their corresponding places on the map. In the middle of the three buildings lay a smaller, slightly more elongated building labeled as the Sports Center. A track-like area lay between it and the river, green grass surrounding it.

The food court, Setsuna noted hungrily, was arrayed before them on their side of the river. It appeared as if it contained several outdoor cafes as well as a couple larger, more refined looking, places to dine. The little schedule off to the side of the map noted that the food court opened at 0800 with three separate places serving breakfast.

Deciding that would be their first destination, Setsuna folded her map and schedule, hoping Konoka hadn't been involved too much in comparing the two, and slid them into one of the many pockets in her skirt, one that her love had picked out on their first 'real' date. "Are you hungry, Kono-chan?"

She stood and blushed as her girlfriend slid her arms around her left and stepped closer. "What do you think?" Konoka giggled when Setsuna blinked at her response, then nodded.

"Yeah, stupid question, huh?" The young healer nodded, still smiling, and allowed Setsuna to lead her down the steps onto the grassy lawn. The turf was springy beneath their shoes, and obviously well cared for. Flowers lined the foundation of their dorm as well as the one that stood opposite it, presumably the boys'.

Trees littered the courtyard except where the fountain stood, surrounded by cobblestone for several meters in a perfect circle around it. As they strode across the grassy lawn, Konoka sighed, not out of sadness or despair, but in contentment. She stood in the middle of the most wondrous place she'd yet imagined on the planet, a place where she could learn to use what was her birthright and to understand a thus far mysterious part of herself. Literally in her arms was the warm presence of the girl she loved, far less reserved than she had been even a year ago when she would have been literally shadowing her at a distance. She still had a flight instinct when she was surprised with her, and being too affectionate clearly made her nervous, but she was beginning to break through that shield.

Atop that, they were guaranteed a continued existence together, seeing each other often and on a daily basis as they were before, her fears of being split up dispelled entirely. An added bonus revealed itself in the presence of her once-friend Kumiko, whom she had almost totally forgotten from her past.

Smiling softly to herself, Konoka nuzzled the arm of her love, bringing a cherry blush to her cheeks and an annoyed mew from the slightly disturbed animal on her shoulder. "I love you, Secchan..."

The swordswoman blinked and gulped down most of her initial panicky response at such a public declaration, though she couldn't help that her blush deepened yet more. No-one else was in sight but at the food courts, and she bowed her head to the side, whispering "I love you too, Kono-chan." Her love's smile widened, and the raven-haired girl felt a little pride well within her at pleasing the smaller girl so.

In what was, for her, an audacious move, she pulled Konoka slightly closer as they stepped onto the outermost edge of the food court's paved territory, their shoes clicking meticulously in the otherwise silent atmosphere.

Konoka lifted her head and looked around curiously, sniffing. "Something really smells good..." The other girl gazed about as well, finding the scent of pancakes to be as alluring as did Konoka, and tried to pinpoint the source.

With a grunt of success, she motioned at a small stand along the outside edge of the court. A single elderly man attended it, messing with a fryer of some sort while a small group of four or five crowded around it impatiently. "I guess he's the one making pancakes, if that's what you're referring to."

"Pancakes! That's what that smell is!" Her girlfriend shaking her head in amusement, Konoka pulled her along excitedly towards the relatively busy food stand. As they neared it and its gathered customers, Setsuna felt herself become apprehensive, seemingly without a cause.

Her eyes searched the small crowd for something out of the ordinary that might cause it, but found nothing. I've only felt...something this strong among members of the Shinmeiryuu, or Kono-chan's father, or the Headmaster... It was definitely the Ki of one who was assured of their strength, and likely as powerful as they believed themselves to be. Unconsciously, she raised her right hand to rest on Konoka's intertwined arms.

Using one of her relatively newer skills, she tried to narrow her examination of the group's Ki to individuals, and quickly dismissed the vast majority of them. After careful consideration of another, she decided he was not the source either. Just as they stepped into the line, she decided that the producer of the powerful aura had to be the only armed girl among the group besides herself.

She stood slightly taller than Setsuna, though she had the same raven-hued hair, pulled back into a single long braid. A pair of cobalt-rimmed glasses served only to enhance her natural, somehow mysterious, air of beauty and self-assured power. A sword not unlike Yuunagi aside from its shorter length hung at her side, and by the ease with which she moved, it was obvious she was used to its presence and weight.

The girl looked over at her as if sensing her scrutiny and blinked, recognizing Setsuna's own, equal, Ki. Setsuna came to a stop at the back of the line although Konoka, having not noticed what her companion had, tried to keep going and was pulled up short.

She looked up at Setsuna and followed her gaze to the other dark-haired girl. "Is that someone you know, Secchan?"

It took her a moment to recognize that the smaller girl had spoken, and when she moved her gaze to look down at her, the other swordswoman stepped out of line, off into the forest of seats and tables. Setsuna allowed her eyes to follow her for a moment before her gaze switched to a brown-haired young man not far behind her, holding two plates of pancakes upon a tray, apparently following her. The young man stepped up as they reached the table that was apparently their destination and pulled a chair from beneath the table with his free hand in a gentlemanly manner.

The dark haired young woman seemed not to notice, seating herself in a chair beside that one, glancing once more back at Setsuna. As the young man sat one of the plates before the sword-bearing girl, the student of Shinmeiryuu looked back down at Konoka and smiled a small apologetic smile. "Ah, no, I've never seen her before. She just...drew my attention."

Konoka cocked her to the side, puzzled by the odd tone to her voice, and quashed the illogical feeling of jealousy that threatened to rear up within her. "Oh, I see..." She was quiet as they waited for the line to shorten, as was Setsuna beside her, overwhelmed with curiosity about the other swordswoman.

If she were of Shinmeiryuu, her sword would bear an inscription like Yuunagi's, but if she's not of Shinmeiryuu, there are few other sword schools that would allow her, only slightly older than me, to register such individual power... An odd sense of curiosity smoldered within her as she wondered how her own skills would compare to those of the seemingly older girl. She was not one to enjoy fighting, but to protect what she wanted to always be able to protect, it was necessary that she keep her sword and skills sharp. Tsukuyomi had been a good practice partner, and Asuna had just begun to get the skills necessary for Setsuna to actually gain from their practices, but for the most part the swordswoman was without truly constructive mock combat to hone her skills with. And being rejected by the Shinmeiryuu didn't afford her a great many contacts from whom to draw from.

While her love pondered to herself, Konoka ordered them each an order of pancakes, hers with blueberry in the batter, knowing Setsuna would prefer plain, and decided to take the opportunity to pay for her girlfriend's meal for once.

After her money had been accepted heartily by the man, Setsuna realized her lack of attention and blinked down at her. "You didn't have to pay, Kono-chan. I should ha-"

She blushed when Konoka giggled and placed a finger to her lips and shook her head. "Let me pay today, okay?" She smiled up at her and stuck her bottom lip out just slightly.

Rolling her eyes skyward, Setsuna nodded consent. "You're lucky you caught me off guard..." She eyed the smaller girl with a faux stern air and suppressed a chuckle when she stuck her tongue out playfully at her.

"Here you are, ladies," the man stated, smiling kindly at them as he pushed two plates of steaming pancakes across the counter towards them. Konoka chirped a 'Thank you' as Setsuna plucked both plates from the surface, starting into the seating area, knowing Konoka would be close behind her.

"Do you mind if I ask if we may sit with them?" Setsuna nodded toward the two people she had been eying previously, her voice somewhat apologetic as she sensed it wouldn't have been Konoka's first choice.

Secchan never wants to be social like this... Puzzled, Konoka nodded her silent consent, allowing Setsuna to lead the way as it was she who was interested in sitting there.

As they neared the two, Setsuna caught the eye of the young woman, now thoroughly absorbed in a pad of paper.

"Can I help you?" Her voice held the slightest hint of an accent, serving to enhance the air of mysterious beauty that seemed to pervade her. The young man looked up curiously, wondering whom she was talking to, and fixed a curious gaze on the approaching couple.

"Er, yes. Would it be alright if we were to sit with you, Senpai?" Her question was directed at the swordswoman, though her eyes flicked politely to her companion as well, acknowledging him.

The girl blinked in surprise, looking between the swordswoman and the chocolate-haired girl beside her. "I guess so, yeah." She motioned at the seats across the table, and with a gracious nod, Setsuna sat both plates down, pulling a chair out for Konoka to seat herself.

Once the two were arranged, before even bothering her pancakes, Setsuna fixed an interested gaze on the young woman who'd gone back to her pad, her pen moving furiously across its surface. She was silent for a moment, mulling her words over in her mind and surprising herself with her own willingness to be so direct.

"Excuse me, Senpai." She looked up from her pad once more, something akin to slight annoyance playing across her features. She didn't speak, and Setsuna took that as permission to continue. "It may seem odd of me to ask, but what sword style do you use?"

The girl put down her pen and looked intently at Setsuna for a moment. "It is odd, actually. First, what's your name, and why the interest?"

A logical question. Setsuna mentally berated herself for skipping such formalities, showing herself to be quite rude. "I'm sorry, Senpai." She stood, noticing Konoka from the corner of her eye prepare to introduce herself as well. "My name is Sakurazaki Setsuna. I am a first year student here, and member of a little-known sword school from Kyoto."

Konoka spoke up immediately after her, her soft voice coming from her shoulder. "My name is Konoe Konoka, and I'm also a first year student here." The older girl didn't bat an eye at either of their introductions, but at Konoka's name, the young man stopped eating and raised an eyebrow, though he remained quiet.

In return, the other raven-haired woman stood. "It's nice to meet you." She bowed, as low as either of them had, her braid slipping down over one of her shoulders. "My name is Lok Ching Fung, and both myself and this idiot at my side are third year students." She motioned at her brown-headed companion who chuckled slightly at the title as he stood.

"My name is Alexiel Shinteiv, but feel free to call me Alex." His bow was as deep and practiced as anyone's who had done so all their lives, despite his obviously non-Asian descent. His voice held no trace of an accent, even so far as to sound as if he was used to a more archaic form of Japanese somehow, likely his pronunciation, whether accident or intended. His hair nearly reached his shoulders and while not immaculate was not messy either. He too wore glasses, these similar to Negi Springfield's, but not quite as small. He seated himself once the three girls had, starting again on his pancakes with obvious, though controlled, hunger.

Lok seemed to think her answer to Setsuna's question over before stating, not as confident as she would have liked in her response. "I can't claim that I am student of a particular style, Sakurazaki-san. I'm...self-taught." She paused thoughtfully, then nodded. "Yes, that's the appropriate word."

With a surprised blink, Setsuna sat back in her chair, processing that. For her to be self-taught and yet so powerful, she must either have a great deal of magic, or an immense skill with the creativity necessary for creating a sword style... She shook her head and smiled. "How long have you been self-training?"

The bespectacled swordswoman cast a wistful look at her plate still half full of pancakes, realizing the conversation was likely to continue. "Since I was around 7, maybe 8."

She shrugged. "Probably not even as long as you have been practicing," she looked more intently at her, obviously fishing for information, "what did you say the name of your sword school was?"

Heh, she's shrewd, that's for sure. Setsuna felt her respect for her fellow swordswoman grow as their conversation continued. "It's something I'm not supposed to divulge, Senpai." The Shinmeiryuu were secretive to the point that even history had nearly forgotten them, save those that they interacted with openly.

The other girl nodded, storing away the assumption that this Setsuna was of one of the few ancient sword schools remaining into her mind for later consideration. "I see." She took a slow bite off one of her remaining pancakes, chewing thoughtfully before continuing. "I assume you're going to be taking Kendo while you're here?"

Setsuna nodded and picked up Konoka's now empty plate to set it on the tray so its disposal later would be easier. "Yes. I was intending to take the Combat course as well, but there were such limitations..." Lok nodded in understanding and finished the last of her pancakes, setting her plate on the tray before Alex who had finished several minutes ago. "Are you taking the class, Senpai?"

Lok nodded coolly, setting back in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest. "Of course. Mimura-sensei all but forced me to continue." She chuckled softly to herself, recalling the teacher whom she was nearly a match for circle it himself on her class selection forms.

"Do you have the class as your second?" The Shinmeiryuu swordswoman frowned, trying to remember and failing, before resorting to the folded papers in her shirt pocket. She pulled it out and scanned it quickly, then nodded.

"Yes, I have it as my second class with Mimura-sensei. It says it starts at 1330." She looked back up at her senior, waiting for a reaction.

"We have class together then; good." She cocked a small grin at the younger girl. "If you don't mind, perhaps you'll let me give you a pop quiz on day one."

Setsuna blinked in surprise at the request. She wants to fight me already? She allowed a small smile to cross her face. "I would be honored, Senpai." She was not merely being polite, but rather was truly honored at being asked by one of the apparently senior-most students and possessor of some of the most blatant Ki she had encountered to engage in a combatative test.

"You have three days then, Sakurazaki-san." She grinned in a manner that was more self-assured than cocky. "I look forward to it." The second sword-wielder smiled and opened her mouth to respond in kind, but stopped when she noticed Lok's expression and mannerisms change entirely.

She sat up quickly in her chair, her arms falling back to her sides and her countenance growing serious. "Good morning, Zephira-sensei." At the mention of the name, Alex looked up from Lok's pad that he'd been reading, his eyes roving to stop on some point behind Setsuna, and he blinked and sat up in his chair much like Lok had.

An avian cry, along with the odd reactions of her seniors, caused Setsuna to turn around curiously in her seat, almost making her regret she had. Seemingly from nowhere, a blur of blue and white whipped around from atop the café's roof, landing lightly on the ground beside Konoka. Ryo-ohki, who had been totally quiet on Setsuna's shoulder, immediately looked up, her ears swiveling around as her eyes locked on the other animal.

The creature was a sky blue in body, and what could only be its wings seemed to be nothing more than thick white clouds surrounding its body and extending as any bird's would. It folded its long azure tail over its body, the ends of it brushing against its elegant head. The bird-creature cocked its head at Setsuna, crying out again, though in a seemingly more friendly manner.

"Er...Zephira-sensei?" Setsuna flicked her confused gaze from Konoka who shrugged in equal confusion, and the other two students across the table.

A musical laugh from behind her drew Setsuna's and her girlfriend's attention, and she turned all the way around in her seat to find its origin. A violet haired woman was strolling easily up to their table, a small smile playing across her features. I didn't sense her at all... The longer she stayed on this island, the more wary she became of they who inhabited it, despite her enjoyment. Within their first morning, she had found an equal in swordsmanship and a person, teacher apparently, who was able to approach her unnoticed.

"She's not a teacher, per se, but she might have orders to relay to you on occasion on my behalf." Regardless of the earlier laugh, her voice was serious for what would have normally been an amusing comment. "I am who your compatriot was referring to."

Somehow sensing, as did Lok and Alex, that it was the appropriate time to stand out of respect, both Konoka and Setsuna did so. "Good morning, sensei," the couple stated in unison. Konoka opened her mouth to introduce herself, but the strikingly blue and white clothed woman held up a hand to stop her.

"There's no need to introduce yourselves, Konoe-san, Sakurazaki-san." At their confused looks, the woman motioned for them to sit. After they had done so, she stepped closer, absently running her hand over the bird-dragon's head, her hands trailing over the two streamer-like feathers that fell back over its body. "I should, although I'm sure those two," she flicked her gaze to the still silent students behind Konoka and Setsuna, "have mentioned me already."

She nodded at the group as any teacher normally would to a student when introducing themselves, her hair flipping over her shifting along her back. "My name is Winona Zephira. Neither of you have me for classes, but I will be seeing you quite often regardless as I am in charge of the girl's dorms and," her voice quieted slightly, "the organizer of campus security."

As her teacher waited for a response from either of the two newer students, the Chinese girl's eyes fell on Sakurazaki Setsuna curiously. It must be for her that Zephira-sensei came. She could contact me at any time, so it's not that. She must be more skilled than I'd thought if Zephira-sensei wishes her to join the security division.

As at Mahora Academy, a team of powerful students and teachers were employed to patrol the grounds on set rounds, searching out and destroying demonic activity of any power level, sometimes needing them to request reinforcements if the situation were especially unfair. Demonic attacks were not common at many other institutions, but outposts of magic were an exception. Due to the heavy concentration and use of magic and similar skills, demons and sorcerous creatures were drawn to the power, seeking it as a source through which to empower themselves to greater levels. As such, it was necessary to have a defense system that was capable of repelling these continuous, though random, attacks.

In most cases, the incidents were taken care of with little difficulty, merely a quick extermination by one or more members of the security team. It was very rare for students to learn even of the team's existence, let alone one of their skirmishes.

Konoka frowned worriedly and looked over at her girlfriend. I hope they don't ask Secchan to do anything dangerous... It wasn't until after their field trip with Negi Springfield that she had found out Setsuna had been the senior fighter of Mahora's security team, and she had worried continuously over her safety. She knew the swordswoman could take care of herself, but she was unable to completely forget the situation.

Setsuna's mouth formed an "o" of realization. Konoe Konoemon, Headmaster of Mahora Academy, had told her before they'd departed the mainland that she would likely be enlisted, although it was still her choice for her to accept.

Winona looked up at Lok and nodded her head towards wherever she had come from, and the younger girl returned the nod, standing up.

"I'll see you later, Alex." Disappointment quickly flashed across the young man's features, but he smiled and nodded, passing her notebook back over to her.

"Alright." He tapped the book, still smiling. "You'd better keep writing; it's really gettin' good."

She nodded and picked the book up, tucking it under an arm. "Have a good day." The phrase actually held a genuine quality, unlike when it was said by a store-clerk, or a businessman.

"Sakurazaki-san, would you please come with me? What I need shouldn't take long," Winona asked, her tone suggesting that it was less of a question and more of a statement. Setsuna looked at Konoka, one corner of her mouth twitching in silent indecision.

"I'll be okay, Secchan." Konoka smiled and looked at Alex across the table. "Is it alright if I stay with you, Senpai?" Blinking in some surprise, the boy in question smiled and nodded as if to say "of course." "Go on and go with Zephira-sensei. I'll see you at lunch."

With a smile at her girlfriend and a nod of thanks to the only male within the gathered company, Setsuna stood and pushed her chair back under the table. "Certainly, Zephira-sensei."

The violet-haired instructor gave the bird-like creature a final stroke upon its softly feathered head, something about the movement telling it that it was free to leave as it wished. "Want me to return to the dorm, Wi?"

Winona nodded as she stepped back to give her familiar room. "Yes, please do, Altaria." With a happy cry, her expansive white wings snapped down, pushing her from the ground easily.

Setsuna marveled at the soft white wings of Winona's familiar, so different from, and yet so similar, to her own, though they were not of feather but rather cloud. As she began to disappear into the sky, blending with the clear blue atmosphere and the scattered white clouds, the swordswoman smiled at her teacher. "She's beautiful, Sensei."

A proud smile played across the taller woman's face at the compliment. Altaria was as much a part of her as she was of her familiar, and she was immensely fond of her. "Thank you, she would appreciate being told that." She allowed herself a chuckle. "She's a little vain at times, and would love to have something like that to feed her ego."

As she began to follow her senior and her teacher, Setsuna frowned slightly in surprise. I wonder just how sentient she is... There were few magical creatures that lived among those of the Outer World, Albert Chamomile being the only one she had had much interaction with personally.

Konoka watched the three figures walk into the distance, keeping her soft eyes on them until they were basically out of sight. She turned back to her new-found companion and couldn't help but smile in amusement. His emerald eyes were focused in the same direction hers had been, though they were essentially unseeing; his hand absently traced random trails through his remaining syrup with his fork. As he finally noticed her stare, Alex blinked and fixed his gaze on her, a slight red color overcoming his face. "S-sorry about that, Konoe-san, I blanked out a bit."

He laughed to dispel his own embarrassment and leaned back, rubbing the back of his neck with a free hand. "I kinda have a tendency to do that."

Feeling sly, the chocolate-haired healer leaned onto the table and grinned. She wouldn't normally be quite so abrupt, but she felt comfortable in his presence already, and knew he wouldn't react badly. And aside from that, his reactions were amusing. "I bet you don't do it as much when a particular swordswoman isn't here."

His eyes grew wide and his face grew red at the proclamation. "E-excuse me?" He raised his hands in an almost defensive manner, his face growing redder as her grin grew more Cheshire. "You've got the wrong idea, I assure you, Konoe-san." He attempted a smile to show his sincerity, failing somewhat as it wavered nervously.

The weak denials gave Konoka cause to giggle again, making Alexiel yet more uncomfortable. "I've seen that exact same expression before, Senpai, and I know exactly what it means. And that constant little blush when she's around is kinda obvious too." She was normally a very emphatic person in general, but seeing the expression that often adorned Setsuna's features when Konoka caught her watching her was like a beacon to her near-sixth-sense.

Alexiel Shinteiv coughed into his hand and sat back, crossing his arms. "I-it's not like that, Konoe-san." As much as that would be nice. He fell silent, looking at the ceiling, trying his hardest to avoid the young woman's gaze.

She giggled again, taking his words as a confirmation of her suspicions. It was pathetically obvious, but she decided not to press it. Instead she crossed her arms as well, almost in a playful mocking manner, and sat back. "When you're ready to tell me about it, I'll be right here." She laughed once more when his blush renewed itself.

They were silent until well out of ear-shot when Lok adjusted her sword to a more comfortable position and fell back slightly to walk beside her fellow swordswoman rather than her instructor and commander. "Were you told before you got here that you'd be on the security team?"

Setsuna nodded, absently reaching one hand up to pat Ryo-ohki who had, upon Lok's nearing, awoken and stood in an unbalanced fashion. "I was the leader of the security team at Mahora Academy, actually."

Eyeing the sharp-toothed little animal with an amused expression, Lok nodded her approval. "That's good. You'll probably do fine here. It's probably easier." She cast a questioning glance at the shorter girl. "Mahora Academy is on the Japanese mainland, right?" Setsuna nodded affirmation, receiving the same in return. "Then it will be easier here. It's more difficult for demons and the like to reach us on Syran Island."

That makes sense. Although that means the ones that do make it can either fly or swim, and those are usually more powerful... She didn't bother voice her concerns, having already arrived at a decision that rendered the question moot. Instead she remained contemplatively silent, looking across the campus and taking in what she could, loving more and more the peaceful atmosphere it provided.

She winced when Ryo-ohki dug her claws into her shoulder and launched herself forward, latching onto the back of Winona's blue tunic with her forepaws. Uh-oh...

The instructor didn't seem perturbed, and merely reached back and picked up the cabbit by her ears, setting her on her shoulder as she had been on Setsuna's.

"So, you've decided to pester Sakurazaki-san, have you?" Her voice held a note of amusement, surprising both Setsuna and Lok to some extent. "You usually don't leave Ryoko's side, yet you've struck out with a stranger?"

She turned back to flash a small grin at Setsuna, reassuring her that she didn't mean things as harshly as she said. "She must really be fond of you, Sakurazaki-san. She's rarely spent time with anyone other than Ryoko, Hurley-sensei, myself, or a couple of the other more social familiars and their Bonds."

Setsuna shrugged. "I'm as puzzled as you, Zephira-sensei." Lok chuckled at that and decided that she would get along with her new compatriot without trouble; they seemed enough alike. "Most animals have a tendency to avoid me for...various reasons."

The Chinese swordswoman cocked her head slightly in curiosity. It's surely not just because of her swordsmanship... She frowned and, without doing so intentionally, probed the other girl with her Ki. Having little actual training, her attempted intrusion was blocked unconsciously by Setsuna, who for the longest time, had erected barriers around her mind. Very few she had met stood even a chance of penetrating, even less for Lok who had little idea of how to effectively attempt such a thing. She decided it best to ask the mysterious younger girl herself, or question Winona later.

The instructor was also somewhat confused by the statement, mainly because it only alluded to something that had had her curious since she had encountered the Sakurazaki girl. Even Altaria had attested that there was an odd aura about her, but was unable to place it. It's almost as if she's a demon, but the influence clearly isn't that strong or I would have been notified when she made landfall, and again when she entered the school and the dorms... She bit her lower lip thoughtfully, looking off absently into the horizon as they rounded the corner of the boys' dorm. In the distance, the Academy Registry, a short though elegant building matching the Victorian style of the dorms stood.

She doesn't seem quite like a half-demon either, but there's definitely demonic influence... The small mammal on her shoulder didn't seem to particularly react to the energy, and Winona had to admit it seemed likely that that very fact was what had the young swordswoman of Shinmeiryuu perplexed. Perhaps it's because of that aura that Ryo-ohki takes to her though... Once more, she regretted that Ryo-ohki was, as of yet, incapable of communicating with anyone aside from her Bond, Ryoko, who had a bad habit of not paying attention to her. Perhaps Mikuri can sense something I can't... She resolved to ask her fellow teacher at the next opportunity and effectively pushed the thought from her mind, instead deciding to enjoy the excellent breeze that made the grass beneath them ripple like the subtle waves of the ocean.

The distance between them and the administrative building seemed to pass by slowly in the contemplative silence undertaken by all three with the exception of the once more sleeping Cabbit. Lok and Setsuna waited as Winona pulled the door open, motioning them inside the smaller building. Lok before Setsuna, they entered, their eyes adjusting slowly to the suddenly darker environment. "This way, please," Winona stated as she moved past them, not bothering to orient herself to the light levels as she knew the area quite well.

Setsuna noticed the interior of the building matched the exterior rather well, paintings and statues of the Victorian era decorating the walls and tables in the hallway. It seemed to consist mainly of offices, most of which were locked. Winona hesitated at the door labeled "Head of Campus Defense," but shook her head and moved on. The newest of the three's eyes lingered on the door, and Setsuna realized instantly that it was Winona's office, at least the one pertaining to her position within the higher administration, though it was logical that she used it for her teaching position as well.

At the end of the hallway, the violet-haired woman stopped before a desk set off to the side. "I've come as the Headmistress requested," she explained in something of a hushed tone. It didn't seem fitting for the austere atmosphere to use much above a whisper.

The secretary cast a wary glance at the door, then nodded. Considering who else was in there with the Headmistress, she figured it wouldn't be a problem to allow them in.

"I think it would be okay if you went on in, Zephira-sensei."

She smiled a thank you at her and turned to motion for Lok and Setsuna to follow her as she pulled open one of the rather large, heavy looking, doors that apparently led to the Headmistress' office. As she stepped through the doors behind her senior, Setsuna briefly entertained the thought that all school leaders kept offices of generally the same type, requiring big doors, a massive desk, and tall windows, but dismissed the idea when she saw the vast number of tapestries that adorned the walls rather than the books she was used to.

Setsuna's gaze immediately refocused on her teacher when she gave a small startled gasp after getting nearly half-way through the cavernous room. She followed the somewhat surprised gaze of the taller woman to the set of chairs arranged before the large oak desk. Seated in the chair furthest from them white-capped man, his legs crossed before him, and a wide smile on his face. "Good morning, Winona."

Winona recovered quickly, her eyes immediately flicking to another random point in the room, and nodded.

"Good morning, Wallace. I was not expecting to find you so soon; I've got a few questions for you later."

He nodded. "That's fine, of course." Wallace motioned invitingly at the chairs, still smiling. "Come in, ladies. I'm afraid the Headmistress stepped out for a, ah," he chuckled a little at the circumstances, "step into the powder room."

As Winona settled herself into the chair beside the azure-haired man, she chuckled as well. It was a running joke among the staff that the Headmistress had terribly bad timing, particularly when she was scheduled to be somewhere. The more disapproving staff made half-serious jokes that it was to maintain her appearance, but the rest didn't especially mind. "I assume you have something to talk to her about too?"

He nodded as he smiled a greeting to both of the swordswomen as they sat, a notion returned by Lok, and hesitantly so by Setsuna. Turning back to his fellow instructor, he nodded, his face becoming serious once more.

"Yes, I certainly do. Several of the possible familiars this year are particularly," he paused, carefully choosing the right word, "easily agitated."

She nodded in understanding, biting her lower lip thoughtfully. "And all your usual tricks haven't worked yet?" A frown marred her face, much to Wallace's chagrin. "And no-one else can do anything with them?"

He shook his head with a resigned sigh. "I'm afraid not. The normal sedatives are only about half as effective as they should be, atop that." His gaze flicked to the younger members in their company and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Two of my assistants have already been injured by the Ponyta alone."

Her eyes widened, immediately recognizing the animal he spoke of, having watched over their arrival at Syran. "She hasn't calmed down yet?"

He uncrossed his legs and shook his head, a somewhat remorseful expression crossing his face. "I don't like it, but after these kinds of incidents I'm required to talk to the Headmistress about what to do."

Winona nodded her understanding and pushed herself to her feet when the heavy doors opened once more, surprisingly silent on their old hinges, to admit a rather fair-skinned Japanese woman. Her ebony hair was cut at her shoulders, curling up very slightly at the ends to frame her face, making her seem yet younger than she was. She smiled cordially at the four of them, a real smile, not the ones she wore for school board meetings and official functions.

"Winona, Wallace, it's good to see you." She laughed lightly as she spun her chair around to seat herself, turning to rest her elbows on the desk with a smile. "You're both usually so busy earning your pay it's tough to find you doing nothing like this."

Once she had seated herself, the four of them sat back down as well, falling silent. Setsuna looked between the two teachers and the new woman, assuming her to be the Headmistress they had spoke of. She was tempted to lean over the arm of her chair to question the other member of the security team, but didn't wish to get reprimanded. Again. After a few moments of indecision and exchanged glances, the booted man nodded and cleared his throat."

"Headmistress, I'm afraid I have regrettable news concerning a few of this year's newest addition to the pool of available familiars." His voice truly contained a note of sadness, and Setsuna felt her respect for the man rising.

The woman behind the desk furrowed her brow, picking up a stray pencil and spinning it between her fingers, likely as a force of habit. "How so?"

He brushed a lock of azure hair from before his eyes of the same color and sat forward in his chair, clasping his hands before him. "They're more wild than most that we've dealt with. The slightest thing spooks them, and they're terribly difficult to calm down once they've panicked. The sedatives we're allowed to use by school policy are strong enough to relax them after a bit, but they're not nearly effective enough for us to consider releasing them among the students when they're allowed to choose one."

Saehara Noriko sighed and sat the pencil back on the desktop, rubbing her mocha-brown eyes with her hands. "How many of them are like that?"

Wallace paused, counting mentally to be sure he remembered them all. "There are four that are severe to the point of having injured two of my assistants," he winced when her eyes snapped open in surprise at the mention of injuries, "and two more that aren't as violent, but very difficult to control. Collateral damage more than anything."

"Your assistants are not seriously injured, yes?"

He nodded quickly. "No, Headmistress. Just a little pain here and there, perhaps a little bruising." He trailed off, not wanting to go into details as they tended to make a situation seem worse.

She sighed and rubbed her hands across her eyes tiredly. "And why wasn't this noticed before the last several days before classes start?" Her voice was suddenly heavier, weighted with worry and annoyance.

The azure-haired man shook his head, shrugging slightly. "They were late-comers to begin with, and have only recently began to act as outwardly energetic as this. We didn't realize there was a problem until now."

Silence fell and Wallace sank back slightly into his chair as he waited for a decision on her part. His eyes were clouded with worry at the worst of the possible endings for the situation; the ending in which the dangerous familiars-to-be were permanently removed from the campus, or rid from the world entirely. They don't deserve that; they're not bad creatures, merely scared, or worried... He was fairly certain that Saehara Noriko wouldn't put them to death, or even insurrection, but it was still a possibility, and he allowed it to pull at him more than logic would dictate.

"Keep them in a detention area until we can make a decision about how safe they are." Her voice was quiet and held a quality that seemed to age her. She had been especially close to her own familiar, and after its death she found the subject difficult to deal with, even more so discussing the confinement of the animals. "If you have any particularly promising potential Bonds, let them see these. Maybe they'll be able to calm one or two of them."

Setsuna surprised herself by sighing in relief, though it wasn't out of place in the room in which the other two occupants did the same. She had never been particularly fond of animals, likely because the feeling was mutual, and she could only assume she had been caught up in the moment. She frowned in a bemused manner. I seem to do that a lot... Her gaze strayed to her shoulder where Ryo-ohki still slept. Or the fur ball's getting to me.

"Thank you, Headmistress." As expected, Wallace's voice was laden with relief, already planning the appropriate amount of food, bedding, water, and space to allot to each of the hopeful familiars. The Ponyta in particular would require a generous amount of space, likely an acre or so merely so it wouldn't feel unduly confined. "I'll try to get them quarantined by this evening."

He fell silent, and the Japanese woman offered no further response. After several moments' silence, the violet-haired American cleared her throat, smiling slightly when her senior administrator looked at her, hoping for better news than what her coworker had delivered. "Yes, Winona?"

"As you've requested, I've brought Sakurazaki-san," she motioned at Setsuna, and with a blink, the swordswoman stood, nodding a greeting at the woman behind the desk.

"I've not really discussed things with her though. Since it's Administration's decision before mine, I though I'd leave it to you to pound out the details."

Chuckling, Noriko winked at the slightly older woman. "Is that so? And here I thought it was just because you were lazy..." Winona rolled her eyes playfully as the Headmistress' manner switched to a more suitably official one and she trained her gaze on Setsuna.

The swordswoman gulped down a surge of nervousness under the look, sensing finally, after much confusion, why the Mage was the Headmistress of the school and not someone older, wiser, and likely more skilled. "Sakurazaki Setsuna-san, you know why I asked Zephira-sensei to bring you for a meeting with me, yes?"

Assuming I'm right..."Yes." Her nod was confident, though not strong enough to dislodge the long-eared animal riding on her shoulder.

"Ah, that's good. Less explaining for me." Lok chuckled quietly at this, though Setsuna ignored her entirely, concentrating on her intention for the resolution of the conversation. "Now, Konoemon-san told me that you were the head of the combat unit at Mahora, and that we'd probably want to hire you on here as well." She nodded at Lok, "Our unit is a lot bigger than Mahora's, and we already have a sword-wielder, but I'm sure that won't be a problem."

Both girls nodded in affirmation, and Noriko returned the motion. "We'll pay you better than Mahora did. Of course, that means the work is a little more intensive." She smiled coyly. "But you can use the money, right? Konoemon-san forwarded a letter to me from a Tatsumiya Mana-san." She slid the apparent letter in question across her desktop towards the edge. "Something about a rather substantial debt..."

Setsuna's eyes went wide and, sweating profusely, she picked up the letter, noting that it was indeed addressed to her in the miko's distinctive writing style. "Er...thanks." It was becoming slightly more difficult to ignore the quiet laughter of her senior and the sudden, quickly stopped, chuckle from the woman to Wallace's left.

The Headmistress folded her hands before her, her smile fading away once more to be replaced by a business-like expression. "If you'll accept the position as Academy Guardian, despite this being your first year, we offer it and its benefits to you, Sakurazaki-san. If you do so, obviously, you'll start out at the bottom of the ranks. Promotions will be awarded as Zephira-sensei sees fit."

With a gulp, Setsuna lowered her hand holding the letter and nodded. "I'm afraid I'll have to decline the offer, Headmistress." As she expected, the woman looked surprised. Great, I've got to explain...

"I really would appreciate the income, of course, but I'm afraid I have...stronger interests." The rest of the room's occupants displayed various expressions of interest, and with a slight blush, she continued. "It may sound contradictory, but I can't take the position of Guardian because I...have something I need to protect."

Behind her, Wallace spoke up, his voice a little confused. "You're quite correct, Sakurazaki-san; that is rather contradictory." The Headmistress and members of the school's combat unit nodded their agreement.

Turning a darker shade of red, Setsuna fidgeted slightly, awakening Ryo-ohki on her shoulder. "If I'm out on patrols, or on a mission, I'll be unable to be with, and be protecting, what I truly want to keep safe." Lok's raised eyebrow was the final key in turning her face to its often seen crimson. Much to her chagrin, Ryo-ohki licked her ear lightly, her sand-paper like tongue sending shivers down the swordswoman's spine.

She looked between the other three people, her gaze landing at last on the man to Winona's right. His smile was disarmingly genuine. "I understand your meaning, Sakurazaki-san. I'm sorry to have pried."

Winona, a little slower on the uptake, but understanding nonetheless, nodded and smiled as well. "I see." The headmistress remained silent and Lok merely sat back, a suddenly bored expression on her face.

Noriko cleared her throat, once more drawing attention to her, and in turn to Setsuna. "So your final decision is to decline the position?" Setsuna nodded, trying to ignore Ryo-ohki's insistent pawing at her ponytail as best she could. The fair-skinned administrator smiled in understanding and nodded.

"I understand, Sakurazaki-san." Her eyes trailed to the letter in Setsuna's hand a mischievous smile crossed her face. "I hope Tatsumiya-san does."

Feeling herself relax from relief, Setsuna grinned uncertainly and nodded. "Yeah, she probably didn't expect me to decline..." Alternately cursing her once-partner and digging through what she knew of the school for other jobs, Setsuna took the ensuing silence as her cue to be seated. Automatically smoothing her skirt out, Setsuna sat back down in her chair, glad to no longer be under scrutiny, particularly any that involved Kono-chan, even as remotely as that had.

Tugging absently on the sleeve of her pressed white shirt, Noriko turned back to Winona. "Is there anything else of import that's happened since the last debriefing?"

"No ma'am, the grounds have remained thankfully quiet. Also, all returning Guardians have so far decided to keep their positions." With a satisfied nod, Noriko's eyes drifted to the clock suspended above the entrance to her office.

"If that's all the news from both of you, I'm afraid I have yet another meeting to prepare for." From her tone of voice it was obvious that the meeting was not one she thought she'd enjoy. They were generally the complete opposite of the atmosphere in which they currently sat, being a room filled with investors, lawyers, and government officials. Least of her skills was the one that kept her awake and focused while various people around the room made reports on new policies, financing, parental reports, and seemingly thousands of other inconsequential matters.

Wallace and Winona looked at each other, and then back at their boss, nodding. "That's all I have that needs to be discussed with you, Headmistress," the azure-haired man stated as he stood easily from the chair, flexing his shoulders to work out the kinks. "Winona, I do need to speak to you about the arrangements for the familiars, however."

She nodded and stood as well, one hand brushing several strands of stray hair from before her eyes. "That's fine. I need to talk to you about some things as well." With a respectful nod at the Headmistress, both of the teachers rounded their respective chairs and started towards the door. "Shall we meet in my office, Mikuri? It's just here down the hall."

"That sounds fine, Nagi," he agreed pleasantly, holding the heavy door open for her easily, then smiling at the remaining two students and single administrator. "Good day, ladies."

"Lok-san, Sakurazaki-san, before you go, are there any questions?" She didn't bother to linger on the Chinese girl for too long; she'd been a student for three years already, and she found it doubtful she'd suddenly have a new curiosity on school policy.

Both answered a polite "No ma'am," as they stood, each gathering their swords immediately. Setsuna paused, though Lok took no notice and continued for the door. "Wait, there is one thing, Headmistress."

"What is that, Sakurazaki-san?" Her tone was genuinely curious, and Setsuna could only smile at the concept that the school was actually trying to actively accommodate its students, rather than forcing them to conform to a multitude of pointless rules.

A blush colored her face slightly and she averted her gaze to the desktop. "Is there anyway I can have my room changed?"

The Headmistress' laugh was a sure sign of disappointment, and Setsuna knew before Noriko said "I'm afraid not," that the answer was indeed 'no.' With a defeated smile, the swordswoman nodded a farewell and stepped back into the hallway, carefully closing the tall door behind her.

"Over there is where you can find most of the things you'd need to take care of a familiar, if you choose to get one," Alexiel Shinteiv directed, nodding at a rather squat building across the street.

Konoka nodded, mentally jotting a note about the place, placing a little mark next to it to denote importance. After seeing Ryo-ohki, she had spontaneously developed an interest in getting one, though it was too late to sign up for the proper course. "And what's that over there?"

Alex followed her finger and motioned for her to follow him to the indicated area. "This is the main clothing outlet, as you can probably tell as we get closer." He tugged on his own jacket, rather proudly, and smiled. "It may surprise you that most of the clothes here are really very high quality, and from some of the better known manufacturers."

He winced immediately upon reaching the outskirts of the building as the new student's eyes lit up and a broad smile crossed her face.

"This is great!" She ran up to a rack of shirts displayed a few feet outside the actual store, immediately moving things around, peering at what caught her eye in a critical manner.

"How do I get myself into these things..." Alex questioned himself as he followed her, albeit slowly, deeper into the store. She stopped suddenly at an aisle of loose, nearly silken shirts. And how is it that girls can shop at almost any time, for any duration? He himself was a rather avid consumer of manga, the occasional anime, and accompanying video games, but even that was something he could only browse for so long.

A wolfish grin crossed the healer's face, and with as innocent a smile as she could, she pulled one of the silky shirts, a white one that reflected the overhead lights as if it were polished silver, and held it up for her older companion to see. "Wouldn't this look great on Lok-senpai, Shinteiv-senpai?" She fell into a fit of giggling as his cheeks took on the color of a ripe apple as he struggled to find an answer that was a definite 'yes,' but not so direct as to be interpreted the correct, though undesired, way.

"O-of course it would, Konoka-san, but I would never presume to choose her clothes for her..." He stood alternately cursing the chocolate-haired girl mentally, and trying not to think of the retribution he'd receive upon saying such a thing to the swordswoman. "I think it's just as suitable for Sakurazaki-san, don't you?" he returned.

To his disappointment, she genuinely looked the shirt over again, turning it around to inspect it from a different angle. "Hmm...not this color, but yeah, I think it'd look nice on her." She replaced it on its hanger and scanned the shelves again. "Not more blue...maybe this red..." She tugged a red shirt matching the white one she'd just been holding and glanced at the price tag, nodding appreciatively. "Yup, this'll work."

She glanced down at the digital readout on the screen of her cell phone. Judging from when Secchan called, if she gets here as fast as she can, I should have plenty of time to pay for this... She looked suspiciously out into the street, relieved when she didn't spot her love, then took off past Alex deeper into the store.

Shaking his head with a small chuckle, the young man followed her more slowly, eyeing the various departments. Konoka popped into nearly every aisle, sometimes reappearing just as quickly, other times lingering for extended periods of time. Alex stuck by her until she reached the aisles populated by undergarments, at which time the brown-haired young man decided it would be highly improper to continue with her and instead high-tailed it to the men's department.

Nearly half an hour later, Konoka finally stuck her head into the aisle he was in, finding him examining the cloaks provided by the school. "Oooh, these are cool..."

Alex's head snapped up at hearing her voice, and he nodded. "I think so, anyway. Most people prefer a more modern coat these days, but I'm rather fond of the symbolism represented by these cloaks."

Konoka reached out to feel the material on the closest cloak, slightly surprised at how soft yet durable it was. "What symbolism is that, Senpai?"

He smiled and pulled one of them, a long black one with silver clasps in the shape of wings, from the hanger, swinging it around his shoulders. It settled around him, and Konoka had to admit it suited him. "The mystique of the Mages, an era ruled by chivalry and honor, and the height of magical discovery." He fastened the clasp and flipped the hood up, the cowl casting a total shadow over his face. Allowing his hands to slip within the folds of the cloak, it covered him entirely.

"You look really good in a cloak, Senpai!" Immediately, the healer began to picture Setsuna as she would appear in such attire, finding it to be a pleasant image.

Smiling to himself, Alex unclasped the material and allowed it to slide from his shoulders, hanging it over his arm. He flipped through the remaining cloaks, looking for one identical to the one he had, but a size smaller. The brown-haired boy pulled one from the group with a satisfied nod and laid it atop the one he already had. "Are you finished browsing, Konoka-san?"

She looked at the set of cloaks in his arms pointedly and raised an eyebrow, snickering, but said nothing, although she wanted very much to increase his new blush. "Yeah, I've got everything for now." She grinned. "There're some really good deals here!"

Alex nodded and started towards the end of the aisle. "Yes, they have excellent deals for students here, of course." He chuckled to himself as Konoka walked a bit quicker to catch up with him as they neared the check-out counter. "Except the cloaks, as is my luck." His companion giggled her affirmation to the logic of the statement and began reviewing the clothes she had picked out for Setsuna, hoping she'd try them on for her later that day.