Disclaimer: I don't own Mai-HiME or its characters.
The Way We Are
Chapter XXI: An Angel's Chaos
"They've got the whole school surrounded! The guys in 3-C say that the Executive Director is trying to fight them off by herself, and they've got guns and tanks!"
"Mr. Kinjo, get back to your classroom this instant!"
The boy swiftly disappeared after the warning, but that didn't stop the entire class from bursting into hushed conversation as our teacher desperately tried to calm everyone down. I spared a glance over at Reito a few rows over, and he returned the look, both of us equally concerned, but not showing it in the least.
I wonder if this has something to do with what happened last night?
Everyone knew about the destruction of the bridge connecting Fuuka to the mainland—it was the only discussion that had taken place this morning around campus. I had seen the brilliant burst of light that disrupted the darkened sky on my way home from the festival, but at the time I wasn't aware that it had been the bridge that had been hit.
Why would the army come here, though? Was it some kind of precautionary measure?
Before I could ponder any further, heavy footsteps were heard marching down the hall, and moments later, a small group of soldiers, decked in full uniform and artillery, entered the room. Needless to say, that shut everyone up very quickly. What I found odd, however, was that they silently approached our teacher, simply flashing something at him to look over.
Oonishi-sensei appeared to be horribly nervous, and proved it as he shook his head, "I-I'm s-sorry. T-They're n-not in this c-class."
Again without a word, the soldiers left, and everyone seemed to sigh in relief, or at least they did until one of the men stopped, slammed the door shut and remained outside of the room, obviously stationed to keep us inside.
An hour passed like this. Silently, we waited, simply staying in our seats as the minutes ticked by. It became quickly obvious that all forms of communication had been jammed, undoubtedly by this mysterious army, so any attempted calls in or out of the school, and probably Fuuka as a whole, were futile. Eventually, our silence was shattered when muffled voices were heard outside the door, a short discussion taking place, before it slid open and another pair of soldiers entered. This time one was obviously a woman, considering the fact that she was a lot shorter than her blonde counterpart who held his helmet in his hand. Rather than addressing our teacher, the two turned to the rest of us.
"We're looking for the Student Council President and Vice President. We were told that they were in this classroom. Don't worry, we only wish to speak with you."
What exactly are they expecting from us? They'll find us out eventually. Best to just cooperate now and get on their good side.
Calmly, I stood from my seat, all eyes instantly locking onto me, "If you are looking for the Seitokaichou, that would be me."
"And I the Vice President," Reito followed, standing as well.
"Please, come with us."
Complying, I stepped out around my desk, leaving my belongings behind, as I walked to the front of the room. The concerned whispers of my classmates reached my ears, and I made sure to give them a reassuring smile before being ushered out the door along with Reito.
I don't know what it was exactly that made me feel so compelled to stay, but I did. I was currently in one of the rooms Dr. Watanabe used for his private practice, lying on a low-sitting bed, staring up at the ceiling as the events of the previous night, and the questions formed from them, continued to occupy my thoughts. The doctor hadn't arrived until early this morning, thankfully not questioning just how I had managed to make it into his office, and I had taken the opportunity of his examining the ever-sleeping girl in the other room as my chance to try to rest my weary body. I had barely slept at all, though, only managing a few hours where I lightly dozed off.
All through the night I had silently sat by Akane's bed, watching as the girl continued to struggle through her endless nightmare. It was hard just sitting there feeling absolutely helpless, but other than watching over her, I didn't know what else I could do. Yamada had called at one point to inform me that the doctor would be here as soon as he could. Apparently, he had been out of town visiting with relatives when Yamada had informed him of our emergency, but with some convincing, or bribery as my bank account and I would soon find out, the kind doctor had agreed to cut his little vacation short.
Frustrated and restless, I shot up in the bed, and swinging my legs over the side, I made my way to the room a few doors down the hall. I knocked lightly on the plastic surface before hearing a faint approval to enter, and did so immediately. I noticed that Akane seemed to be resting more peacefully then when I had last seen her, so as I walked in, I made sure to be as quiet as possible, keeping my distance from the bed as I stared down at her sleeping form.
"Will she be able to talk?" I softly asked.
"Not for a while," the doctor informed me, "Well, I'll give it a try."
"Ka-Kazu-kun…Kazu-kun," Akane murmured, body straining, and my eyes dimmed at the sight.
I don't know what to do—!
Suddenly, the door swung open again, and I was shocked to see that it was Yamada, who had only left a couple of hours ago.
"It has begun."
"You know how I told you about that call I received from one of my cohorts about that giant naval fleet that appeared to the east of the island?"
"Well, it really was some unknown, foreign army. They have Fuuka Academy surrounded."
My eyes widened, "What?! Is it…Do you think it could be Searrs?"
"That would be my first guess," Yamada calmly stated.
My jaw clenched, fists balling, as my brow furrowed.
They're looking for the other HiMEs, no doubt. Mai, Mikoto…No, everyone at the school is in danger. I can't just sit back and let Searrs get what they want.
"Doctor," I said, snapping my head in Mr. Watanabe's direction, "will you please watch over Higurashi-san?"
"Of course," came the deep reply, and once I had that confirmation, I stormed out of the room passed Yamada who quickly followed.
"What are the details?"
"From what we can tell, they have the entire school circumference guarded, and the security only gets tighter the closer you get. Any kind of ground entry is going to be virtually impossible, and even if you did manage to get passed the first wave, it would just get more difficult from there," the man rambled off as we walked through the building.
A devious smirk pulled at my lips despite the surmounting obstacles threatening to hinder my path.
"Fine then, we take to the skies."
"Although there's a media restriction in place, you know about the destruction of the bridge. There's a possibility that the group who destroyed it is hiding on this campus."
Now sitting in the privacy of the Student Council room, locked away from the other students and the school staff, the two commanding officers openly disclosed the current situation to us. But that didn't necessarily mean that I believed their story.
"Are you sure about this?"
It seemed Reito felt the same.
"In addition to the bomb used to destroy the bridge, they could possess new viruses," the dark skinned woman continued, not even bothering with answering the boy's question, "I'd like you people to help as well."
So that was it. They wanted us to help them, but I knew they weren't telling us the whole truth. They were only giving us the bits and pieces of what they wanted us to know, not allowing us to see the full picture. Whatever they had shown Oonishi-sensei, they had failed to show us, which only caused my suspicion to rise. It was quite clear what they were doing—it was a fear tactic. Scare us into believing that there are horrible, dangerous people on our campus, and inevitably we'll lead them right to the culprits. But no, I wasn't about to jump into their little game headfirst, be it the military or anyone else.
Opening my eyes from my contemplation, I stared up into the viridian orbs of the female officer with unwavering calmness.
"What'll happen if we refuse?"
Immediately, she, and her blonde partner, scowled. Defiance from a teenage girl…Obviously, they weren't too keen on the idea.
"You are not permitted to refuse," the woman immediately informed me.
"I would assume so," I coolly responded, which only caused the crease in the commander's brow to deepen.
"The more you cooperate with us, the faster we can get our job done. The longer these terrorists are here only causes the danger for your school to continue to rise. I'm sure that you Student Council members, being in control of the school discipline, would have far more knowledge of your fellow students than anyone else, which is why we sought out your assistance," the blonde man explained, speaking for the first time since we had seen him.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Haruka shift her weight, arms uncrossing as if she was about to speak, but thankfully Yukino was there to calm her before anything could be said. The last thing I wanted was for the zealous blonde to go off on these military personnel again. I wanted to stay in control of the situation as much as possible. Getting too emotional would only give these people another edge on us.
"I understand," I finally remarked, and both officers seemed to relax slightly, "However, I do not know how much assistance we can offer without knowing any further information."
"There is only so much that we have been permitted to tell you," the older woman answered, but before she could continue, both she and the blonde man placed their hands up to their ears, obviously receiving a message over their communicators.
Glancing at each other, the tall male nodded at his counterpart and headed for the door, quickly slipping outside without a word.
"It seems like the sectioning is complete," the female officer announced as she turned back to us.
"Sectioning?" Reito questioned for the rest of us.
"Yes. We've split the school into separate rooms by gender so that we may begin screening the girl's without any trouble."
"Examining only the girls?" I inquired, my emotions managing to slip through my nearly flawless façade. I was quick to put them back in check, but that still didn't erase the frown on my face.
What is the meaning of this?
Slamming her fist down on the desk in protest, Haruka lashed out for the first time since we had entered the room. "Give us a better explanation! We can't be convinced by what you said!"
Not giving the rambunctious blonde even the slightest bit of attention, the woman swiftly turned and proceeded to leave the room, shutting the door behind her as she left the Executive Director fuming where she stood.
"They aren't looking for…"
The soft murmur from my left barely reached my ears, and looking over I saw a very forlorn looking Kikukawa-san. The quiet girl was gripping her arm, eyes fixed on the spot she was covering. It was then that it hit me.
Sectioning the students by gender…only examining the girls...are they…searching for HiME? They would be looking for a specific mark, wouldn't they? And it would only be on a female…But does this mean that Yukino-san is one as well—?
"Kaichou! Fujino-kaichou! This is no time to space out!" Haruka's voice rang through my ears, effectively disrupting my thoughts.
"What is it, Suzushiro-san?"
"We must do something about this situation! Just because they're military doesn't mean they can just do what they please!"
"Right now we do not have much of a choice, Haruka-san," Reito piped in, walking over to one of the tables to take a seat.
"Are you saying that we should just give up?!" Haruka countered, hands in the air.
"Haruka-san…" Yukino whispered, trying to calm her overly emotional friend.
"I think we should remained composed," I finally spoke, sending Haruka a glance that she immediately huffed at. "They've kept us here, which means that they still intend to use us in some form or fashion," I continued, "We should wait and see if they choose to disclose any more information to us. As Reito said, I doubt there is very much we could do to abolish the situation, anyway."
Snarling, Haruka stomped over to one of the empty chairs and forcefully sat herself down, arms folded across her chest.
We had rode in Yamada's van for less than ten minutes, making our way outside of the industrialized city, before the man pulled over on the side of the road and shifted the gear to park. I eyed him curiously before he opened the door and stepped outside, and I was quick to do the same. Once I had walked around the front of the vehicle, I opened my mouth to speak, but I was quickly given a signal by the older man to remain quiet, followed by a wave of the hand towards the top of the hill we were currently at the bottom of.
What's this about?
Silently, we trekked for several minutes, the grassy hill eventually fading into a rocky cliff, and once at its edge, I saw what Yamada had brought us here for. A small group of military soldiers, not only armed with artillery, but also accompanied by a set of tanks, had set up a roadblock stopping any traffic from entering any further into Fuuka. My eyes narrowed at the sight.
"That's no ordinary army," Yamada finally spoke, "I've heard the Searrs Foundation has its own private army that mobilizes only for its benefit."
"That's them?" I questioned.
"Probably," came the simple response as the two of us continued to look on.
After a few minutes of watching, I sighed, ready to get on with what I knew had to be done. "So, about getting into the school…" I began, turning as I started walking back to the van.
My informant soon followed, lagging a few steps behind me, "A helicopter is on the way. I figured it was the easiest way to get close to the school by air."
"We'd better hurry. My guy's supposed to pick us up in half an hour."
"That was quick," I commented, sparing a glance over my shoulder.
Yamada smirked, "That's what you're paying me for, right?"
"Speaking of payment, just how much is this helicopter going to cost me?"
"You don't want to know."
When Suzushiro-san stood from her seat, I immediately knew she had to be plotting something.
"Yukino and I are going to the bathroom," the blonde announced to the nearly empty room as she grabbed the now brightly flushed girl beside her by the wrist.
Yukino was slow to her feet, and once she was standing, Haruka wasted no time in dragging her to the door. The Executive director pounded on the thing, but received no response from either of the soldiers stationed outside of our room.
I wonder how this is going to turn out…
"Excuse me!" Haruka bellowed, her rare use of manners being easily overshadowed by her loud tone, "The secretary and I need to use the restroom."
"Just hold it in," came the muffled response from behind the door.
Haruka's muscles coiled immediately. "Leave it to a man to not understand a woman's needs when she's on her cycle!"
A few nearly inaudible words were exchanged between the men outside, and moments later, the door slid open. The face of the man who appeared was appalled, to say the least.
"F-Fine. We'll escort you."
"Thank you," came the forced words from the blonde's mouth, and no sooner had they been said, the girl and her friend disappeared from my sight.
"She's up to something," Reito commented from his spot by the window once they were gone, his back still turned to the room's interior.
"Is it not obvious?" I answered.
"And you didn't want to do anything about it?"
"We both know how Suzushiro-san is. Was there anything I could do?"
A pause, "I have to feel some sympathy for Kikukawa-san, though."
A deathly silence took over the room, and I took the opportunity of that peaceful quiet to leave my desk and join Reito by the window. Even as I approached him, the Vice President still didn't turn his gaze from the outside, continuing to watch the many soldiers positioned around the school.
"I can honestly say that I never expected to find myself in a situation such as this," I remarked, looking out the window as well.
"An invading army is not something that most schools tend to deal with, I assume," came the boys sarcastic response, but the smirk that usually accompanied it was nowhere to be seen.
"You're still worried about your friend."
"Should I just drop the ignorant act? This friend is Tokiha Mai-san, correct?"
"Word spreads quickly around this school, you know. Especially when Kanzaki Reito formally asks a girl to the festival. Did something happen last night?"
"I think that should be the least of our concerns at the moment, Fujino-san," Reito answered, his formality evidence of his unwillingness to speak about the subject.
Despite the signs, I persisted, "But I need my cool-headed Vice President in chaotic moments like these. Even I am at a loss as to how to handle this situation properly—"
"Is Kuga-san's absence the cause of your uneasiness?" he questioned, finally turning his gaze upon me.
This time, it was I who turned silent.
Reito continued, "You are worried about her, are you not?"
Stalemate. We had reached a spot we both didn't want to talk about, and thankfully, before I was forced to try to explain myself, heavy footsteps echoed down the hall, and when the door slid back open, the two soldiers guarding our room entered, dragging an unconscious Haruka by the arms with them.
Both Reito and I went from glancing over our shoulders to fully turning around.
"What happened?" the dark haired boy spoke first.
Choosing not to answer, the two military men proceeded to slump Haruka's limp body into the nearest chair.
"Where is Kikukawa-san?" I pressed, but, like Reito, received no response.
Once the two men were done with their disposing, they quickly exited, making sure to lock the door to the room behind them. Walking over, I leaned Haruka back in her chair, examining her forehead that was already beginning to swell and bruise.
"Reito, please get the medical kit from the closet."
"Of course," came his hasty reply as he moved to get the item.
"Must you always be so reckless?" I whispered to the blonde girl beside me with a sigh, and for once, Haruka remained quiet.
"There's the school," I heard Yamada's low voice sound from the front of the helicopter, and instinctively, I looked out the window.
"This is as far as we go, kid. As soon as they see us coming, there's only going to be a small window of opportunity for you to get in, and for us to get out safely," the pilot, an acquaintance of Yamada's, followed.
Duran, whom I had summoned before we got into the chopper, emitted a low guttural growl at the man's words to me, and I gave him a pat on the nose to calm him down.
"Yeah, I know you can't go all the way to the school. Just get me as close as you can."
No sooner had the words left my mouth, several Orphans appeared before us, a pair of flyers and a few more on the ground. Instead of attacking us, though, their attention seemed to be elsewhere, and cramming my face up against the glass pane, I could see Mai's fiery-orange hair amongst the green of the forest below.
Yanking the door open, I could hear the two males up front yell at me before I jumped, Duran right behind me. The plummet wasn't necessarily a very long one, but I did have enough time to better take in my surroundings, this time noticing the few armed soldiers that had also been thrown into the mix. Summoning my pistols, however, I quickly disarmed them.
"Natsuki!" I heard Mai call out right before I hit the ground.
"Keep your eyes closed," I ordered, and rising from my crouched position, I called upon my Child. "Duran! Load flash cartridge…Fire!"
The deafening boom radiated from the lithe wolf, the powerful fire of the shot sending a blinding bluish-white light into the surrounding area for quite a distance. Both men and beast cringed from the sudden blinding illumination, quickly sheltering their eyes from the harmful rays. I took that distraction to straddle my Child, who immediately switched to flight mode, and turning him around, I flew in the opposite direction of our oppressors, making sure to pick up a stunned Mai along the way.
"Grab the runt," I instructed, and speeding right past her, I could hear Mikoto's startled wailing as Mai grabbed the girl and dragged her along behind us, Mikoto's giant claymore kicking up dirt as we escaped.
"C-Can't we stop now?" the redhead pleaded after a few minutes of zipping through the woods, "I don't know how much longer I can hold on to her."
Without a reply, I slowed down to a stop near one of the rocky cliffs, the thud I heard from behind me a sign that Mai had finally released the middle-schooler.
We both dismounted, and Mai immediately began rubbing her sore wrists, "You sure did show up out of nowhere."
"It looked like you could need some help."
"I didn't say I was complaining."
"What now?" Mikoto interrupted our little exchange, swaying slightly from her unexpected upside-down ride. The cat-like girl was quick to shake off the queasiness, though.
"The school's surrounded by soldiers, right? We can't just leave things like they are," I remarked.
"They're here because of us, though," Mai countered, "If we go back, we'll surely be captured."
"You don't think we can take them?" I quipped, a single eyebrow raised.
"Alyssa-chan and Miyu are behind all of this. They threatened to blow up the school if we try anything…or if we don't assist them in locating the other HiMEs," the other girl informed me, and I frowned at the news.
Those two again…
"Damn! Then what are we supposed to do?"
"…The shrine…" Mai mumbled, appearing to be pondering out loud.
"Shrine…?" I echoed, sparing a glance over to Mikoto who looked just as puzzled as I was.
"It's underneath the school. I've been there once before on accident…Nagi said it was safe there."
Needless to say, I was skeptical. "Are you sure we can trust that creepy kid?"
"Do we have a choice?" Mai shot back.
With a roll of my eyes, I sighed.
"Fine, lead the way."
It was only after about two hours of walking that we finally found an entry point into the underground caverns that formed a maze under Fuuka Academy. Unconfidently leading the way, Mai slowly trekked on, one hand against the stone wall as guidance in the poor lighting. As we walked through the caverns, which had to have been another hour, the girl informed me of all that had happened at the school; how she was taken to the Directors house where she was interrogated by Alyssa and Miyu, her run-in with Yuuichi and a girl named Shiho, and finally her meeting with me. I let all the information sink in for a minute before processing a response.
"I see…Then how about Midori and the others?"
"I don't know. Maybe they're caught, maybe they got away," came the vague response.
"But I never knew something like this existed below the Academy," I muttered in both awe and honesty.
The mystery that surrounded Fuuka just seemed to grow more and more every day. I guess I didn't really have a reason to be shocked anymore, considering that unexpected things seemed to arise on a daily basis as of late. I knew this land was strange from the beginning. Apparently, I wasn't aware of just how strange it was, and I wondered if I ever really would know all there was to know about Fuuka.
We had only moved a couple of yards forward when the cave suddenly opened up to a large space, a single odd column rising from the ground near it's center. There was a slight glow to the room, but what caught my attention the most was a symbol hauntingly familiar to my HiME mark painted on the wall before us. It seemed that even this place had some relation to the HiME…Despite having been to this place before, Mai gasped when she saw it. I was baffled by her reaction. Was something different from what she had seen before? I watched as the girl's violet eyes scanned the tall pillar, but before I could question her on the subject, a man's voice echoed from a short distance away, taking us all by surprise.
"We've been expecting you," the suited male informed us, flashlight in hand. He turned the thing to motion us onward, "Please, this way."
The three of us exchanged silent glances, and my curiosity getting the best of me, I shrugged and moved forward, Mai and Mikoto following my lead.
After walking only a short way, we reached a steep drop that led down to dark waters. Oddly enough, there also seemed to be a small boat awaiting us. I paused at the top, waiting for our mysterious guide to make the crossing first, and once he was inside the vessel, I cautiously maneuvered my way down as well. Once we were all situated inside, Mr. Sunglasses at the controls, Mai and Mikoto on the middle seat, and me sitting on the edge of the boat with my feet on the cushioned padding of the back seat, we took off even deeper into the dark abyss.
"Hey," Mai eventually whispered to me, "you think we can trust him?"
You're asking that now?
Disregarding the thought, I smirked as I summoned my element, "If we have to…"
It didn't take us very long before an opening in the cave wall presented itself, the light coming from the space brightening our path as we cruised forward. We entered an even larger open area than before, and it was a shock to see the giant rock erupting skyward from the water, a collection of brightly lit screens clustered around an odd form that hung from the cave's ceiling. Spotlights positioned in the water near the rock's base illuminated the island even further. It seemed far too Hollywood to be anything but manmade.
"W-What's this?" Mai muttered as we floated closer to the thing.
"Sister! Nao!" Mikoto suddenly exclaimed, and as she did so, I too saw a similar boat carrying the two women.
"Hey! Everyone's safe?" Midori's voice emerged from the darkness as a third boat entered the area.
So they're all HiMEs…
I pondered this new information as I continued to watch the situation before me unfold, jaw slacked and mouth hanging slightly agape all the while. It was far too much for my brain to process at the time, so I dumbly remained silent as I persistently tried to keep up.
"HiMEs," a voice from above suddenly announced, and every one of us instantaneously craned our necks to seek the source of the oddly familiar tone.
Atop the rocky structure, Kazahana Mashiro, along with her maid, Himeno Fumi, appeared. Despite the situation, I couldn't help but scream in my mind that I was absolutely right about my feelings of the young director. Shushing my inner voice, I listened further with a creased brow.
"I'm glad you have all made it here. This is Kokuyouguu. The center of Fuuka, and the last defense of the Academy."
Just what is going on here?!
We all remained silent as the boats floated closer together, congregating at the base of the rock structure so that we could ascend the steps that led up to its flat top. Being the last of the group to step onto dry land, Mai, Mikoto and myself trailed behind the rest, the redhead nudging me with her elbow as we continued up the steep set of stairs before she leaned in to whisper in my ear.
"Do you think this has something to do with the school?"
"Most likely," I simply replied, and the girl became silent afterward.
When we finally reached the top, we joined the other girls already grouped in front of the Rijichou, walking around them so we could get closer to the wheelchair-bound girl. Once we had settled into our positions, Mai was the first to speak.
"Um…Director, why did you call all of us here?"
"No reason other than to have all of you save the Academy," the violet-haired girl began, "The ones occupying the place are from the Searrs Foundation. They are after all of you in order to monopolize the HiME Star. The HiME of the foundation, Alyssa Sears. Her guard, Miyu Greer. If they are unable to accomplish their mission, they will destroy the whole Academy along with all the students…Just like they demolished the bridge yesterday."
"That was…Alyssa's power?" I questioned, my apprehension evident in my tone.
"The satellite, Eclipse One. This seems to be her Child when she ignites her power," Kazahana explained.
"Alyssa-chan…?" I heard Yukariko Sanada murmur from the back of the group, obviously in disbelief that the small child could be capable of such a thing.
I knew otherwise though. After having tangoed with the Searrs girl and her guardian robot on two separate occasions, I knew not to let my defenses down for a second around either one. But still, how was Alyssa able to control a satellite that was in orbit?
How is any of this possible?
"She was searching for HiMEs," Mai stated in an effort to erase the nun's doubt, "So if we leave, she may free everyone."
"Heh, what are you talking about?" Nao spoke up for the first time since we had been gathered, officially catching everyone's attention, "That's so unlikely."
As pessimistic as it sounded, I knew she was right. "Do you think they would even consider ordinary negotiation?" I added in all seriousness.
"But…" Mai tried to counter.
Turning my gaze from the busty girl, I focused on the Rijichou, "Clarify something for me. Is Higurashi Akane a HiME?"
Surprisingly, Kazahana straightened in her chair, a look of surprise in her light blue eyes, before a grave expression racked her features, "Akane-san was defeated…by Miyu Greer. Rather than a threat to the Academy, she's a threat to HiMEs. Therefore…"
Seems we're stuck between a rock and a hard place.
"Fine with me," I began, "I don't like cooperating with you First District people, but I guess it's not the time to be saying that."
Behind me, I heard Mikoto make a noise of acknowledgement.
Well, that makes two of us.
"To protect everyone, we have to fight and win," Midori piped in, "It's a HiME of Justice's job."
"Midori-chan…" Mai whispered.
Nao was the next to comment in her usual self-centered manner, "Give me a break. Thanks for letting me off the hook."
I smirked at her words, "Do as you like, if you're confident that you can escape on your own." The middle schooler scoffed at me, but I paid her no heed. "Mai," I continued, awaiting the girl's decision.
"Will you make one promise? To prioritize the safety of everyone in the Academy over everything else."
The request sounded more like an order, but Kazahana nodded her consent, "I promise."
"Okay," the redhead agreed.
"Oh, right, it's decided then," Sugiura-sensei stated the obvious.
"Oh, Lord…" Sanada-san muttered.
"Give me a break, seriously…" Nao mumbled to herself.
Mentally, I sighed.
It'll be a miracle if I survive working with all of these people…
The sun had set hours ago, and still there had been no change. There were still guards stationed outside of our door, although they had been taking shifts every couple of hours. Haruka still remained unconscious at one the tables, and Reito was still positioned by the window. After our little standoff had been interrupted, and after I had attended to Suzushiro-san, I had returned to my desk, and remained there for most of the evening. By now my rear end was beyond numb, but my endless stream of thoughts kept me still.
Was this army really after the HiME? If that were true, I was certainly in danger, but by some chance or another, the military personnel had never asked to examine me, at least not yet, anyway. What bothered me the most, however, was my uncertainty when it came to Natsuki. Instinct told me that she was a HiME like myself, and it also led me to believe that she was safe, but there was no way to be sure. If only I could call her, I kept yearning in my mind, to just make sure that she was far away from this place, but I knew I would never be able to receive that answer with things the way they were.
Kiyohime. I'm not sure how many times the thought floated to the top of my mind, but I knew I couldn't call upon my Child. It would be too dangerous, too risky. Only under the most extreme of circumstances would I call out to the mighty hydra, but how was I to know if Natsuki was in a situation like that?
Just believe in her, and her strength. She'll be all right.
Fishing my cell phone out of my bag, I flipped the near-useless device open, taking note that it was already well past twelve o'clock.
I wonder how much longer we're going to be stuck here?
Exhaustion had set upon me not too long ago, but I made sure to keep awake at all cost, and that seemed to be a good thing as moments later I heard Reito call my name quietly.
"Shizuru," the young man stated, making sure to keep his voice down so we wouldn't draw the attention of the guards outside.
Quietly I stood from my desk and walked forward, Reito turning to meet me with a piece of paper in his hands.
"What is this?" I questioned.
"It just flew in through the window," the boy informed me, seeming quite as astonished as I was, before studying the thing carefully, "It appears to be a plan of escape."
Offering the sheet over, I immediately took the thing from him to look at it myself.
"…It says they're going to draw out the army in the morning…and that we should take that chance to escape to the mountains with the students…"
"But I wonder just who they are," Reito remarked.
"I, too, would like to know who is trying to help us. However, it is not as though we have many options. I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
"Agreed," the Vice President replied before turning back to the window, "I wonder how our classmates are holding up?"
"I'm sure they're fine. I doubt this army would have the nerve to harm them in any way."
"I hope you're right, Kaichou-san," Reito stated before becoming silent once again.
And at that, I sighed and returned to my desk, setting the mysterious message down on its top, before situating myself back into my chair for the rest of the evening.
"So this masks the Academy's view of the outside world?"
"This is useful."
It really was quite impressive. The mousey girl, whom all I really knew about was her position on the Student Council and her friendship with the Executive Director, had just returned from her objective of creating a mirror-like barrier around the entire circumference of the school with the help of her Child, Diana. Now that our camouflage was in place, we could use our Childs in the fight without the risk of being seen and our identities exposed to the world. With this done, the real battle with the Sears Organization's army was about to begin.
"Everyone, the preparations are complete," Mashiro announced, "There are six hours left until the satellite has the Academy within its range. If we can rescue the students and get Alyssa Searrs within that time, we will be victorious. Good luck."
The Director gave us a nod, and at that signal, Mai, Mikoto, Midori and I took off to our planned positions. The underground defense system had secret exits to various places around the Fuuka Academy campus, which is exactly what we needed to get a jump on the soldiers surrounding the school. Earlier, we had split in to two groups—a ground team and an air team. Mai and Midori would take to the skies and distract the battleships that were harbored in the nearby bay, and, in the meantime, Mikoto, Nao, and I were to take out the troops near the school, allowing safe passage for the students to escape.
As I stepped onto the giant elevator lift, the heels of my boots clanking against the metal, the wire-frame doors closed behind me, sirens blaring in my ears as their red lights danced across my face. There was a jolt, and the mechanism began its slow climb to the surface. I wasn't entirely sure where I would surface, but it didn't matter. I would be close enough to the school to find my way.
"Duran!" I called to my Child, and in a flash he appeared before me, greeting me with a might howl.
I dropped to one knee as I petted his silver muzzle, "You ready to do this?"
The wolf's red eyes flashed in a confident confirmation.
I smirked, "Me too."
Standing once again, I took in a deep breath, the murky underground air seeming to clog my lungs like smoke. I turned my gaze skyward, and eventually a single ray of the early morning's sunlight emerged from above, causing me to squint. Finally we reached the top, the elevator shaking me once again as it locked into place. With a final flick of my hair, I mounted my Child, and once I heard an inhuman cry in the distance, recognizable as Mai's Kagutsuchi, I ordered him forward.
The wolf howled again as he started his sprint, moving at an uncanny speed. The wind whistled passed my ears, cooling my features as we made our way closer to the school. It didn't take long before a clearing came into view, and immediately Duran leapt into the air, using the burners of his flight mode to keep us airborne and positioning us right above a group of soldiers. The unsuspecting men didn't even see us coming. Shoving myself off of the silver wolf's back, and materializing my pistols in the process, I allowed Duran to move in mere second before myself to draw the attention of the soldiers, and as soon as he jumped away, I dropped right into the middle of the group.
An elbow to the chest.
A spinning handstand kick.
A hip-check, followed by another elbow-to-chest connection.
Whipping my pistols around, I began hailing upon the other soldiers I had just caught the attention of. I needed them gone so that Mikoto could do her job, and that's exactly what I did. No sooner had I finished, I heard the young girl's screaming followed by the large explosion of the tank she had just single-handedly sliced in half. I took a moment to gawk at the sight before resuming my assault upon the remaining soldiers in the area.
Once we had finished there, Mikoto and I met up and began our patrol around the school, and it didn't take us long before we laid eyes upon Nao's work. There were several soldiers bound in sticky web, many hanging from the trees.
So she did come along…I guess she can do some good after all.
"Everyone's still alive," I heard Mikoto murmur, looking back over the battlefield, "We don't have to finish them off?"
"Let them be," I replied. Killing these men weren't part of the plan. And besides, it wasn't like we had the time to deal with them, anyway.
"Yukino, what's the status?" I called out to the air, and moments later, one of the panel-bearing spores drifted in front of me, a visual of the girl showing on the screen.
"Y-Yes. Um…" she paused, looking over the various plates in front of her, before she gasped surprisingly, "Tate-kun!?"
"What? He's not in the school?" I questioned.
"N-No. He's headed your way right now, close to the track."
"Thanks," I said before doubling back to our previous war zone, Mikoto right behind me.
As we approached, I could see the blonde male standing amongst the chaos that had just ensued. His stationary form was evidence of his shock as he gazed around, but when I sensed movement out of the corner of my eye, I was quick to raise my pistol, firing a single ice blast at the soldier who had begun to raise his gun at the boy. Duran was quick to hold him down.
"Why are you roaming around here?!" I yelled.
"Kuga?" Tate stated in a dumbfounded manner, "I want to help out—"
"Get out!" I interrupted, "Leave this place! There's nothing you can do here."
Turning, I ran back towards the school. Sure, my words might have sounded harsh, but having him, or anyone else for that matter, roaming around would only cause us more trouble. They would only get in the way, and that was the last thing we needed at the moment.
"Yukino," I called out once again, "is the school secure now?"
Another spore appeared before us, hovering along as we ran, "Yes, it seems so. Meet by the front of the school. That's where Nao is currently waiting."
"Right. We're on our way."
It didn't take long for us to maneuver around the side of the building, and when we did, the red-haired girl almost immediately came into view. From a distance, I watched as she kicked one of the squirming males at her feet, beaming at the apparent pleasure it brought her. I snarled, but otherwise chose to overlook it.
"Nao!" Mikoto shouted, effectively getting the other middle schooler's attention.
"Well, it's about time you two got here. I was getting bored."
"I guess that means things are clear here?" I asked, my tone a bit harsh.
"Of course," the girl shrugged, "I can take care of myself, Kuga."
"Right," I commented, squinting at her momentarily before I turned back towards the spore that was still present, "Yukino, what about Alysssa? Is she still hiding?"
There was a pause as the girl looked over her panels. "I found her! She's by the shore," another pause, "Mai and Midori are on their way. Please hurry."
"We're coming," I assured, and the spore vanished before my eyes.
I looked down at Mikoto, both of us exchanging a nod before the girl took off to our next destination. I remained stationary for a moment, gazing back over my shoulder at Nao.
"Are you coming, or not?"
Releasing a raspy sigh with a shake of my head, I ignored the vague response and began my sprint towards the bay.
"The troops," Reito elaborated, "Looks like we can trust that message's escape plan."
What could have caused this sudden movement? Nothing had happened from what we could tell. We had heard gunfire and a few explosions, but we had yet to see any of the apparent action that was taking place elsewhere. Although my suspicion and curiosity were rapidly rising, I pushed down the urge to panic, kept myself calm, and prepared myself to take charge of the situation.
"Then let us get going, too," I remarked, standing from my desk.
It was then that Haruka suddenly jolted from her slumber, her startled noises evidence of the aftershock of whatever she had gone through.
"Suzushiro-san, we're glad to have you back," Reito stated, a slight twinkle of mirth in his eyes.
"Now's not the time," I commented, getting both of their attention, "We need to find the students and lead them to the mountains."
"The mountains?" Haruka questioned, "Why are we—"
"I'll tell you later, just come with me for now," I insisted, as I slid the door open and proceeded to walk out of the room, Reito and Haruka filing out behind me.
"The soldiers said the students were sectioned, correct? I'll go check the gymnasium," the Vice President stated before walking down the hall, leaving Suzushiro-san and me in the otherwise lifeless hallway.
As soon as Reito had disappeared around the corner, I turned and headed in the opposite direction.
"Eh? H-Hey, Fujino-kaichou!"
"We do not have time to waste, Suzushiro-san."
It only took the Executive Director a few seconds to catch up to me, her heavy steps drowning out my own lighter ones as we walked.
"What about the soldiers—"
"While you were sleeping," I cut her off, "They started to disperse. This is the ample time to free the students and retreat from the school."
"Do you even know where they're being held?"
"It would have to be a large area…If Reito is checking the gym, the only other places I could imagine would be the cafeteria or the observatory. I want you to check the lunch room, okay?"
"Right," the girl affirmed, for once not second-guessing my judgment.
Once we had split, I walked to the front of the school, and once I got there, well, the world seemed to stop moving for one eternal, yet fleeing, moment.
It was really her, adorned in her usual biking leathers. The rest of my surroundings faded away as I watched her running, running away from me and into the unknown danger that must have been lying beyond the school grounds. It was almost like it was all happening in slow motion. I was frozen in place, and it took me a minute to realize my arm was stretched out toward her.
Natsuki really is...a HiME...
That image of her retreating back, her dark locks weightlessly flowing behind her, a silvery-metallic wolf at her side, was instantly engraved in my mind.
Almost as soon as I saw her, my friend disappeared around the school, and it was then that I finally snapped out of my daze, regaining my senses in the process. The venomous stench of smoke hit me first, and as a result I scanned my surroundings. Destroyed tanks, unconscious soldiers, guns…It was utter destruction and madness in a place that had once been peaceful. I swallowed hard, my mouth becoming dry at the sight. My mind screamed out for my Child, for the comfort and protection that I knew she could bring, but I stifled those feelings and continued on towards the observatory as fast as my legs could carry me.
I'm the President of the student council. I have a job to do. I can't let my own personal feelings endanger the entire student body.
Why do you continue to suppress it? She could be in danger. You don't really care about those other people…
The voice from the depths of my mind flirted with me, causing me to freeze mid-step before I took a deep breath and pushed it back with all the willpower I could muster.
Hastily, I approached the glass building that was the school observatory, and once I had opened the door, a multitude of scared and concerned faces turned towards me.
"Kaichou-san…" the low murmur sounded from the crowd.
I took a half step back, pressing my back against the opened door, "I know that things are confusing right now, but we're evacuating the school. Please, remain calm and exit the building. Everyone, to the mountain."
It took a few minutes, but after everyone was gathered outside, I took my lead in front of the group. Before I could speak, however, Haruka-san approached me.
"Suzushiro-san, did you find any more students?"
"No," came the simple response before the girl pointed to the group, "Is this everyone? All of the girls?"
"There's no way to be sure, but I would assume so. The boys must be with Reito."
"Assume so?! Kaichou-san—!"
"You didn't run into any other students, did you?"
"Then yes, this is everyone," I concluded before turning back to the group, "This way. I ask that everyone please look out for one another. We will leave no one behind." With that order taken care of, I turned back to my Executive Director, "Haruka-san, could you please watch over the rear?"
The blonde eyed me momentarily before consenting with a silent nod, and with that, we began our trek into the wilderness.
There she was, that little blonde bitch, singing like everything was just fine and dandy. It seemed her robot guardian was still functioning as well.
"You guys!" I yelled out as Mikoto, Duran, and I left the cover of the trees, Nao a few paces behind.
Miyu glanced over her shoulder, and I instinctively poised myself for an oncoming strike. None came, though, as it appeared we were being ignored, and as the silver-haired machine turned her gaze back around, Mai and her Child appeared from the cliff's edge. Midori appeared with hers moments later.
"Alyssa-chan," Mai said, her tone pleading, and the girl actually stopped her singing to look up at the redhead, "Let's stop this. Yes?"
"It's impossible," came the cold, emotionless response.
"We have reasons and the desire to exercise our power," Miyu spoke out this time, "That's why we are fighting."
"But you have neither. That's why you want to ask about the reasons" the young blonde added, "You don't have anyone to trust, or true determination. You don't know what you truly want to do, nor do you have desires. We can't afford to leave the power of the Star to people such as yourselves."
What kind of bullshit is this kid saying?
Unexpectedly, the girl turned her face towards the sky as she continued, "Just because it's a satellite, that doesn't mean it travels at a constant speed. Looks like the match is settled."
The words sent chills down my spine, but contrarily, my body temperature rose from the anger building up inside of me. I grimaced at my own powerlessness, but it seemed like the worst was still to come.
"No matter where the students may run, they're unable to get out of Artemis' range," Alyssa concluded, removing her ribbon and setting her golden locks free as they glowed a luminescent light.
Perfectly on cue, the sky began to darken, and a mysterious ring of light emerged before us, similar to an aurora. The ground beneath Alyssa began to glow, forming a circle at her feet, as a similar spot began to form in the sky directly above her.
"Please, stop," Mai tried once again.
"There's one condition" the girl replied, "Surrender to the Searrs."
"Then I have no choice…Artemis, the Golden Lightning."
"Kagutsuchi!" Mai cried out, and the mighty dragon instantaneously began his ascent.
"Mai-chan!" Midori called out to no avail.
"What is she thinking?!" I questioned out loud.
Helplessly, we watched as Mai rocketed into the sky towards the growing light above. My teeth gritted as my fingers curled into fists, and then, suddenly, the sky parted and a powerful beam of energy tore through the clouds. I watched through wide eyes as Kagutsuchi took the blow directly with his body, preventing the destructive blast from incinerating us all.
A mighty explosion deafened my ears as all that was around me faded to white, and when my vision returned, all that was left in the sky was a falling ball of fire, it's wispy smoke tail growing by the second.
A great pulse. A second. And then what only could be defined as a giant portal of fire formed above us, blocking out the clouded sky. The center of the portal bulged for only a moment before a shadow creature emerged from the flame. I watched in dumbfounded awe as the dragon Child was born once again, shedding it's ash-like shell for it's former skin, although this time Kagutsuchi took on the form of something more like a space craft from a sci-fi film than his more organic self.
A flash, and Mai reappeared upon her Child.
"Mai!" Mikoto called out, happy to see her friend was all right, as I blankly stared on.
The busty girl was only seen for a second, as moments later the mighty dragon once again soared off into the sky, only this time he, along with Mai, disappeared from our sights completely. Silently, we watched the heavens waiting for a sign, a return, but after only a few short minutes had passed, that silence was shattered by a pain-wracked scream from the Searrs girl.
"Ojou-sama!" Miyu cried, catching the young girl before she could fall to the ground.
Jumping down from Gakutenou, Midori joined us on the cliff as I took a step forward, raising one of my pistols at the two huddled before me.
"It's over," I informed them, my tone flat, "Surrender."
"Ojou-sama…" the android whispered again, paying me no heed.
The thought entered my mind, clearly sent from my Child. I peered down at Duran, and when I followed his gaze, I saw exactly what he meant. In the sky, slowly flying towards us, were five small dots of lights.
"Missiles! Run for it!" I yelled out to the others, all four of us, along with our Childs, immediately bolting inland.
As we ran, I couldn't help but look back over my shoulder. Alyssa and Miyu. They hadn't moved at all. They just…sat there in each other's arms, despite the doom that was quickly approaching. Didn't they care that they were about to die?
My thoughts were abruptly cut short when the missiles struck.
The earth shook. My footing faltered. A splash, and suddenly I was submerged in chilly water. Panic struck, the memories of the crash from my childhood taking over, as I hurriedly swam towards the light above. I surfaced, taking the precious air into my lungs, as I surveyed the now-destroyed cliff we had just been standing on.
Alyssa…Miyu…What happened to them?
As I watched the pillar of black smoke emitting from the water a few yards away, Mikoto popped her head up from the watery depths with a gasp. It was then that a cool piece of ice landed on my noses, and instinctively, I looked up.
"Is it from the explosion?" I heard Midori question.
"Who knows?" came Nao's usual dull response.
"Either way, we should head towards the shore," I commented before beginning the swim back to land.
It didn't take us long before we reached a low enough path to dry land. My wet hair clung to my back as I walked out of the water, and despite my leathers that had kept me fairly dry, I shivered. Whether it was from the cold, or as a result of everything that had just taken place, I wasn't sure.
We were all ashore, silently standing in a line as we watched the waters before us ebb and flow as the sky continued to cry its cold, soft tears. They littered the ground and trees, covering everything with their white substance.
Suddenly, my body jerked, the front of my jacket being pulled urging me forward, but I resisted the movement with the weight of my body as I looked down into the tear-filled golden eyes of the dark haired girl before me.
"Mai! Isn't Mai coming back?!" Mikoto desperately questioned me.
My entire visage drooped at her words, and not finding her much-needed encouragement, the girl moved on.
"Midori! What happened to Mai?!"
Not even the generally happy Sensei could muster up a response as her own features saddened to mirror my own.
"Mai…Mai!" Mikoto wailed, dropping to her knees as she openly sobbed.
Luckily, Midori moved to try and comfort the girl, kneeling down beside her as she drew her into an awkward embrace.
Mai…Why did you…Are you…?
I closed my eyes as my bottom lip began to tremble, but I quickly collected myself.
"What now?" Nao asked, arms still crossed over her chest.
I glanced over at the girl whom, for once, actually seemed to be slightly saddened. "I…I don't know," I muttered.
"Well, I'm not staying around here," the girl stated before she turned, and with a small wave of her clawed hand, headed back towards the school.
"Hey, Kuga-san," I heard Midori start, and turning my eyes back towards the woman, I watched as she stood and walked closer to where I stood.
"Do you think you could, you know…" the teacher began, nodding her head in Mikoto's direction.
"Would you mind staying with her?"
"Thanks," the woman replied, giving me a pat on the shoulder, before she returned to the young girl and helped her off the ground.
Once Mikoto was up, all three of us began the long walk back towards the Academy dorms, and, hopefully, a peaceful evening.