BEAUTY AND THE RED-HAIRED BEAST
CHAPTER 04

// outside the hall //

"To tell you the truth," Kyon said as he, his classmate Koizumi Itsuki, Ibis Douglas and Viletta Vadim were seated at the food stall to enjoy the roadside meal. (Haruhi was nowhere to be seen as she was dragging Mikuru around the bazaar, looking for suitable costumes to be fitted on her) "Imotou has been begging me to take her to see the stage play again. I can't help it, since she's a big fan of the people here."

"As expected from our Kyon," Koizumi commented with a chuckle. "Always with his dry, witty comment."

"Thank you, Koizumi," wryly Kyon answered.

"What about Irui-chan?" Koizumi asked the Super Robot Wars visitors.

"Oh, Irui?" Ibis giggled as she finished her second glass of orange juice. "For one thing, I didn't know she can make friends with people from other universes. Well, at least from my point of view."

"That little girl… she's been begging Ibis to take her to this festival since last week," Viletta said and drank a sip of the red wine. "Not even the Sword that Cleaves Evil can resist her attraction, you see."

(Onboard the Kurogane, Sanger Zonvolt observed as Touma Kano and Brooklyn Luckfield were exchanging blows when he suddenly sneezed. "Bless you, my friend," his 'old friend' Rätsel Feinschmecker said.

"Thanks," he replied.)

Koizumi chuckled again. "Ah, you know cute girls. Who can resist their charms?"

"What I don't get is," Kyon said later on, "is why do I get this bad feeling that we're going to face bad things again?"

"What do you mean?" Ibis asked.

A massive explosion rumbled the complex. Kyon, Itsuki, Ibis and Viletta turned around and saw a mecha crashed into a nearby lake. Kyon could only palm his face in his usual grumbling manner. "Here we go again."

Ibis gasped. "That's… that's an Astelion!"

-x-x-x-x-x-

It's Day Two.

And already people from all kind of backgrounds were cramming the hall. Agitated by the absence of their 'beloved' Ginga in the stage play, all they could do was waiting for the narrator to come out. And they had the time to discuss on the princess who would tame the Beast's wild heart.

"If Caro is the witch, then who's the Beauty?" said one audience.

"I heard it's one of the Numbers," his friend answered. "But it can't be Wendi-chan or Otto-chan. Nove-chan already got her role, too."

"So who's going to be the heroine, then?" the audience asked.

With the cue of 'Ashita he no Hikari', the awaited heroine came out of the left wing. Everybody was in for a big surprise, because she was none other than…

"Cinque-nee!" fan boys cheered.

Cinque had to hide her embarrassment, and for a good reason: the maid uniform did not suit her at all. "I… you see…" she started speaking. "I was asked by Dr. Shamal to wear this because-"

"Enough saying, Cinque-nee," the audience said and cried crocodile's tears. "We understand how you feel. We know how it feels to be someone's dressing model."

(Backstage, Shamal could not help rolling on the floor, punching the wooden panels as she laughed out loud. "I was just choosing the dress! It was Nove-chan who insisted her to wear it," she said between her laughs.

Subaru looked down at the medical officer. "I don't get her," Subaru said.

Standing beside the Revolving Bunker Buster, Nove was shyly fiddling with her fingers. "But Cinque-nee would look sweet in the maid uniform, and… and…"

Subaru shook her head in amazement. "And I don't get the Numbers, too.")

"Really? If everyone said so, then…" Clasping both hands, she closed her eyes and began murmuring something in low voice. "Thank you for understanding my feeling."

"Hurray for Cinque-nee!" fan boys applauded.

"This is Cinque," Lutecia began the narration. "She lived in the outskirt of the Old Iron Town. An orphan, she supported her life and her two sisters by selling handicrafts at the market."

The audience nodded. "Yes, yes. Numbers Sisters, we can see that," they said.

"Today, I'm going to buy my little sisters dinner," Cinque began her monologue. "I know it won't be as extravagant as I have always dreamed of, but as long as they smile, I will be happy."

"Aw, that's so sweet…" everyone sighed.

"Oneechan, mitte! Mitte!"

The audience was caught in horror. The cry was frighteningly familiar, and they suddenly had the worse premonition of a walking disaster. "That voice! Don't tell me…"

At the cue music of "Hare-Hare Yukai" Imotou and Irui jumped out of the right wing and hurled at Cinque. "Oneechan, you're going to buy us dinner? Can we go with you?" Imotou asked and tightened the embrace.

"Cinque-oneechan, please buy me candy!" Irui begged.

Cinque smiled and patted the little girl's head. "Yosh, yosh. I'll buy you not candy but delicious roasted chicken for every one of us," she said.

"We're going to eat chicken for dinner? Hurray!" Imotou cheered and took the equally excited Irui for a dance. All in a sudden, the hymn "Ave Maria" started playing in the air, adding the already sisterly atmosphere with the affection and responsibility of a woman.

"Although the inclusion of Imotou and Irui," one audience said.

"Is out of the blue," his friend continued.

"The sight of Cinque as a caring sister," the audience added.

"Is the best damn thing in the universe!" his friend finished.

They later cried out in approval and tossed two thumbs up at Cinque. "THIS IS CINQUE! SHE IS MADE OF LOVE, CARING AND WIN!" they announced. Fan boys whistled in agreement and tossed confetti to the eye-patched girl.

They later turned to the sight of Imotou and Irui. They blushed. "Somoe…"

"You know, this reminds me of this impossible scenario," another audience said and pointed skywards. "Do you know Ouka Nagisa?"

"Of course I do! Whoever here can forget the loveliness of Ouka-nee?" his friend replied. Everybody nodded to agree with the statement.

"She's Latooni's big sister, isn't she? Well, imagine if Ouka-nee did the same Cinque-nee is doing now," the audience suggested.

// WILD FANTASY GOES HERE //

Ouka and Latooni were holding hands in suggestive way, their night gowns barely covering their figures, beautifully created by the Hands of the Creator. Sparkles and bubbles could also be seen filling the room, as the two women continued holding onto each other, oblivious of what happened around them.

Latooni blushed. "I'm scared…" she murmured and clung onto Ouka. "What should I do? This is my first experience, so…"

Ouka giggled at the girl's timidity. "Don't be afraid, Latooni," she spoke and carefully held Latooni between her arms. "This is just between the two of us. No one will know. Right?"

"Ouka-neesan…" Latooni murmured and gasped when Ouka brought her onto the bed, covering them with the white blanket as they lay down together. "Ouka-neesan, what are you doing?"

"I told you I'd show you my secret world, didn't I?" Ouka spoke and traced a finger down her nose. "Then I'm going to fulfil your request tonight. Just. For. You."

"You're embarrassing me…" Latooni mumbled and shivered when Ouka ran her fingers down her spine. "Ah! Ouka-neesan, dame…"

"Don't worry, I'll be gentle…" Ouka whispered and brushed a strand of bluish hair that was running down Latooni's face. "Latooni… you look beautiful…"

Latooni turned away from the woman in embarrassment. "Ouka-neesan, mou…"

Ouka giggled. She turned so she was looking down at Latooni, reaching for her hands so they were holding each other in intimate proximity. "Let me admire the beauty just a bit closer…" she said and bent down.

"Ouka-neesan…" Latooni closed her eyes, her lips automatically parted as to accept the special gift.

// WILD FANTASY ENDS HERE //

Everybody bled their nose. "Well, that's one wrong imagination we have there," the audience said and plugged his nostrils.

"Too bad Ouka had to die for her beloved sister…" one person said.

Everybody sighed. "Life sucks…"

Imotou and Irui approached Cinque again. "Oneechan! We have a new trick to show! Would you like to see?" Imotou asked.

"That's very good," Cinque said with a smile. "What do you want to show me?"

Imotou giggled. So did Irui, as both of them took their magic wands and pointed to the ceiling. For a while, everybody sighed in relief to know it was just a magic wand.

Until Imotou commanded: "Raising Heart! SET UP!"

--"Set up."--

The magic wands transformed into the Shooting Staff of Doom and began charging up in not only Core Linker, but also the power of a Psychodriver. "Holy shit! She's at it again!" an audience screamed. "RUN FOR COVER!"

It was already too late.

"Oneechan! Mitte yo! Starlight…" Imotou began.

"Breaker…" Irui added.

"PSYCHODRIVE SHIFT!!!!"

Imotou and Irui killed everyone with Starlight Breaker: Psychodrive Shift EX PLUS.

"So moe…" a crippled audience commented with the look of bliss on his face. "So moe I'm going to die…"

Lutecia ignored the fantasy-ridden people. "So as promised, Cinque departed to Old Iron Town and visited the grocery market to buy everything she needed for the dinner."

The stage was set to display a makeshift market, where the extra casts were actually paid to play their roles. Cinque was also present, buying groceries and foods for the special night with her sisters. Unknown to her (and probably the rest of the production crews and the audience) was that Ginga was also among the extra casts, disguising as a Gypsy fortune teller.

"Little girl," Gypsy Ginga called as Cinque was walking past her booth.

Cinque turned to her. "Uh… yes?"

"I see in your eyes that you're going to buy dinner for your sisters," Gypsy Ginga said and rubbed the crystal ball. "Am I right?"

"How did you know?" Cinque gasped.

"Your mouth says no, but your hands obviously say yes," Gypsy Ginga answered and gestured to the basketful of groceries Cinque was carrying.

"Oh, this?" Cinque later giggled in childish manner (and made people blush at the sight). "You saw it. How silly of me."

"Little girl, would you like to hear my premonition?" Gypsy Ginga said. "I'm a fortune teller, so I can tell you everything about your future."

"I'd like to, but I have to hurry or I'll be late for dinner," Cinque replied.

"Oh, I can see now," Gypsy Ginga murmured. "Your future looks promising. You will be united with your Prince Charming, and you and your sisters will lead a happy life."

Cinque blinked. "I don't understand what you're talking of, ma'am."

Gypsy Ginga grinned and gestured Cinque to look into the crystal ball. "Look closer, my dear," she said. "Your future has already been decided."

Cinque peered into the crystal ball. It took her a couple of minutes before she screamed in shock and almost dropped the basket. "WHY AM I PAIRED UP WITH THAT RED-HAIRED BOY???"

Fan boys suddenly turned into Hulk. "MASTER MONDIAL!" they roared and began powering up. "TOUCH OUR GODDESS AND DIE!!!"

(Behind the stage, Erio shivered in fear as Wendi and Teana were patting his body. "Just forget it, Erio," Teana said.

"Forget what? I didn't even do anything!" Erio wailed.

"Cinque already has someone to take care of," Wendi sighed. "Boys… why do they always ask for more?"

Caro was seen preparing the G-Impact Stake. "Erio Mondial," she murmured. "Tonight, you'll die a painful way.")

Gypsy Ginga chuckled. "Just as I thought. The prophecy is indeed true," she said and pointed to Cinque's face, angling her position so her face was still covered by the robe. "Cinque! Your destiny has been preset! You cannot escape it! You have the power to break the curse of the masked man!!!"

Dramatic music ensued. Everyone inside the hall shouted "USO DA!!" at the prophecy and made various facial expressions to show their disbelief.

"But… but…" Cinque gulped when Gypsy Ginga suddenly pulled her towards her. "Why is… Gin-nee???"

"Hush," Gypsy Ginga whispered. "This is just between the two of us. Remember?"

Cinque had to nod. "O… okay."

Gypsy Ginga giggled and gave the eye-patched girl a soft kiss on her cheek. "Do not worry, my dear, you will never be alone because you will always have people supporting you." So saying she turned to the stunned audience and grinned. "Isn't that right, everyone?"

"Objection!" one of the crowds replied and pointed to the fortune teller's face. "Who do you think you are, kissing Cinque-nee in front of us without shame? This is madness!"

"Madness? This! Is! STAGE PLAY!!!!!!!!!!!!" along came Yuunodas as he suddenly Spartan Kicked the person out of the hall. Everybody was horrified by the sudden appearance of King Yuunodas and his 300 Mid-Childans, and was even more terrified as they took seat at the front row. "Do not mind us. We are here to enjoy the show," he told the people.

"Oh… alright…" the audience timidly replied.

"And one more thing!" Yuunodas added and stood on the chair. "If anyone of you dares disrupting this stage play with phone calls, I shall kick you into curbs! Mid-Childans!"

"HOWL!" the 300 Mid-Childans howled.

"Give them nothing!" Yuunodas shouted. "But take from them…"

"THEIR HAND PHONES!!!!" the soldiers replied.

Then silence. Yuunodas took back his seat and focused on the stage play.

"It's because I can," Gypsy Ginga answered with a sly grin. "Besides, it's a secret I would not like to share with you boys."

"But… but…" the audience tried to protest when Yuunodas glared at him. "What?"

"I said keep quiet!" Yuunodas screamed and kicked the audience into a well. Fan boys howled in approval at the act and cried manly tears.

"Leaving the market with a thousand and one questions, Cinque decided to test whether the fortune teller's premonition was true or she was just making up things to scare. So…"

Cinque made a detour from her path and headed to the Black Forest, where she was informed of the existence of the mysterious mansion deep inside the no-man's land. She was worried, not because of Erio's role as the Masked Man, but because of the production crews' decision to have her paired up with the red-haired boy.

"Oneechan!"

She turned around. She was surprised. "Imotou? Irui?"

The young girls approached Cinque. "Where are you going?" Irui asked.

Cinque panicked. "Irui, I… I'm wondering whether I could pay the mansion owner a quick visit," she said.

Irui, instead, giggled. "Oh, really?" she asked Cinque via telepathy. "I can already tell you're going to meet the Masked Man. Right, Cinque-oneechan?"

Cinque became more restless. "Irui? How did you…" The Psychodriver simply smiled as an answer.

"Besides," Imotou said and gave the eye-patched Number Shamisen. "If you need to go, then take Shamisen with you."

"Shamisen?" The cat merely meowed and jumped onto Cinque's shoulder. "Imotou… Irui-chan… the dinner…"

"Don't worry about us," Irui assured. "We already have someone taking us to the dinner."

"Really? How lucky of you," Cinque replied and patted Irui's head. "But… I was wondering if both of you could come along…"

"Cool! Then I want to see the Masked Man!" Imotou cheered and withdrew Raising Heart from her backpack. "I'll shoot him into the stars if he ever touches Oneechan!" (All but the Mid-Childans backed away from Imotou in fear.) Imotou looked at the crowd in confusion. "What? I just want to become a magician, right?"

"HAXX Imotou is HAXX," one of the people murmured.

Imotou turned to Cinque. "Oneechan, do you know what they're talking of?" she asked. "Do you?"

Cinque turned to the horrified audience. She, then, giggled and turned back to Imotou. "I guess they aren't ready to accept your cuteness," she said and gave Imotou a playful pat on her head.

"But what about me?" Irui pouted. "I'm cute, am I not?"

Cinque giggled as well. "And you, too, my cute little sister," she said and ruffled Irui's hair. "Come on. Let's begin our trip."

"Haii!" the young girls replied.

Shamisen lazily meowed.

-x-x-

"Why she decided to bring her little sisters along when she knew the path ahead of them would be treacherous? Why is everyone very afraid of Imotou when they know she will do them no harm? And why was the mysterious Gypsy fortune teller giving Cinque a kiss? This is not the end, everyone, because we have more tricks to show."

Otto looked at Lutecia, who was jeering at her in return. "Tricks? What are those?" she asked.

Lutecia sighed. "Don't ever ask. And do not ever leave this place, because all the questions will be answered when we return with:"

BEAUTY AND THE (RED-HAIRED) BEAST

A special presentation by Ginga Nakajima and her little sisters, which are meant to be a parody of sort. Don't blame us; blame the scriptwriter, instead.

// backstage //

"One question," Cinque asked as she approached Gypsy Ginga who was undoing her dresses. "Why are you disguising as a fortune teller? You could've joined us, you know."

Ginga giggled. "I can't help it," she replied and donned her uniform back. "Besides, I like people who disguise. Like the Mysterious Gourmet."

Cinque blinked. "The Mysterious who?"

(It was Rätsel's turn to sneeze. "Bless you," Sanger spoke.

"Danke," Rätsel replied and rubbed his itchy nose. "Must be the pepper I accidentally inhaled at the kitchen.)

Shamisen meowed and jumped off Cinque's shoulder to perch upon Ginga's chest. "Iyah! What are you doing?" she moaned and picked the cat up. "Bad kitty! You shall have no lunch after this!" she scolded the cat and slapped its head.

"Do you know Shamisen, Gin-nee?" Cinque asked.

"Too well," Ginga replied and gave Shamisen back to Cinque. "Why don't you ask Shamal for more?"

Shamisen inexplicably jumped off Cinque's arms and chased after Shamal, trying to catch her legs, making the medical officer wail in fear and distress. "I no longer have my tail! Stop chasing me, Shamisen!" Shamal moaned.

Cinque blinked. "I guess I have a lot to learn about you people…" she wondered.

Cue music of "Romantic Summer" took over.

-x-x-x-x-x-

// outside the hall //

"Van! What's with that attitude?"

"Huh? Not really." They continued walking, aimlessly following wherever their footsteps were headed to. They had been walking for days non-stop, and were wondering where they really were at the moment. The pony-tailed girl grew restless after she had continually pulled her baggage without a single break.

"Uhh… I thought we're supposed to be at the river by now," Van said and checked the map he was holding. "But why are we heading to that building?"

Wendy growled. "Don't tell me… you picked up the wrong map?"

Van stooped his head. "I'm sorry."

They continued their journey before they came to a stop. There was a commotion up ahead, and Wendy suggested them to check it. Van shrugged and approached the crowd, where he saw a girl being attended by medical officers. "Hmm… someone got hurt, I guess."

"What happened, Van?" Wendy asked as she caught up with him.

"I don't know," Van replied and pointed to the girl. "Why don't we ask her?"

The girl noticed the newcomers, and was fixated on the slender tuxedo man. "Who are you?"

Van looked down at the girl. "I… I'm Van."

The girl giggled and pointed to Van's face. "I like that name. And because of that boring-looking face, I shall call you Van the Slacker!" she said.

"Van… the Slacker?" Van murmured.

"Hey! Just who are you calling Van with that name?" Wendy demanded.

"I think I should introduce myself." The seemingly cheerful girl stood up, spun on her feet and threw a wink to Wendy. "I'm Ibis Douglas, but you can call me Ibis the Shooting Star."

"Ibis? IBIS???" the bystanders shouted. "As in… IBIS IS LOVE?????"

Ibis turned to the people (that included the real, if not surprised, Ibis and Viletta). "Yes, that would be me!" she answered and threw another wink at them.

"IBIS IS FINALLY HERE!!" fan boys shouted and tossed their fists into the air. "HURRAY FOR IBIS!!!"

"Thank you, everyone! Thank you!" Ibis the Shooting Star replied and waved to the people.

The real Ibis gaped. "I can't believe I'd actually meet the other me here…"

Wendy frowned. "And she forgot to ask my name…" she murmured.

"Lady Ibis! You cannot run away from us!"

The real Ibis and Viletta looked up at the sky and saw a horde of Gespenst Mark II-Ms flying towards the lake. "Flying Gespensts… only Shadow-Mirror people would use them," Viletta said. "So does this mean…"

"The Shooting Star Ibis is a Shadow-Mirror Ibis?" Ibis asked.

"Kyah! Van, protect me!" Ibis cried and jumped onto his body. (The real Ibis was aghast by the shameless act). "You must protect me from the grunts!"

Wendy shivered in jealousy at the deliberately intimate act (although she did not realize that Shadow-Mirror Ibis was easily frightened by strangers.)

"Wait a minute," Wendy retorted. "If she's afraid of strangers, then how come she doesn't treat Van like one?"

"Well, I don't know," the narrator replied.

"What… am I supposed to do?" Van asked and scratched the back of his head.

"What else? Kick and send the grunts to pieces!" Ibis replied and clenched her hands on Van's flamboyant coat. "Please! The grunts want to kidnap me for money! They know I'm a superstar!"

"Just… what does she think she's doing?" Wendy asked in anger.

"Uhh… I don't get you," Van murmured and looked up at the Gespensts. "Though… they're quite different from Armours I usually encounter."

"I've got an idea!" The Shadow-Mirror version of Ibis parted away from Van, coughed a couple of times and pointed to Van's slack face. "Until I can get my Astelion repaired and get home, I shall appoint you as my personal bodyguard, and I shall pay you as much as you ask! Do we have a deal, Van the Slacker?"

Everybody went "EH!!!!!!" at the request. Wendy snapped in both fury and jealousy at the blatant announcement. The real Ibis Douglas blinked. Viletta batted an eyebrow. Kyon palmed his face. Itsuki grinned. Haruhi applauded.

"Well?"

Van sighed. "Oh, well." He turned to the arriving Gespensts. "But you must buy me food after this. I haven't eaten since… two days."

"Okay!" Ibis replied with a thumb's up. "And that means I shall buy you lunch as well," she said and glanced to Wendy. "Is that alright, Miss…"

"Wendy," Wendy replied.

"Let's see…" Van turned his cowboy cap 180-degree and made a V sign before him with his liquid memory metal sword. A dramatic-sounding music suddenly took place, and everybody looked up to see a gigantic sword descending from the sky to transform into an extremely human-looking mecha. Van jumped into the mecha, entered the cockpit and plunged the sword into the floor.

"Go for it, Van the Slacker!" Shooting Star Ibis cheered.

Wendy sighed. "Here we go again…"

"What do you think?" Ibis asked.

"This piece of technology is unknown to me," Viletta answered. "If Gilliam is here, he'll be very interested in it."

The mecha turned around to face the oncoming Gespensts. Slowly it withdrew its double sword and opened a battle stance.

Van grinned. "Wake up, Dann."