Episode 10: "Welcome to My Dance of Sadness..." by Lirael

Here, in the center of this gray memory, Lirael rested.

With only the darkness she hailed from and a sobbing, pathetic rabbit in her grasp as company, she recalled her work so far: corrupting people to fight Negi, her own battle... but what was this darkness working towards? True, it mentioned several times "suffering" and "loneliness", but then she found she never really cared.

She finally had purpose now.

A sudden spark of energy, and she felt Negi's presence within this illusion. The darkness she whispered to would finally let itself be known.

She smiled and hugged that poor rabbit tightly, not really even caring how she managed to find him in the first place.

"Lay the body there," Cygnus instructed.

Sonic gently placed Akira's corpse down upon the table within the main control room, much to the surprise of the aliens already there. He then stepped back.

"That girl...?" The Captain alien stepped forward to examine her. "She has no life signs... what is the meaning of this? We can't revive the dead. Didn't you learn your Aesops?" His mechanical body seemed to convey worry and slight irritation.

Cygnus chuckled. "Correct those Aesops: we cannot revive the dead exactly as they were in life. And with this one, we have no intention of trying to do so."

"So why is she here?"

"That's what I wanna know!" Sonic said. Windia, almost shyly, nodded in agreement.

Cygnus shed his grin and stood tall. "A question for anyone smart enough to answer: how does one become a ghost?"

Most blinked from the question, but Windia was the one who answered. "When humans die with a heavy attachment to the world or a lot of regret, they become spirits."

"That's right," Cygnus said. "...and guess what. Youkai and some demons aren't that different."

"Huh?" Sonic thought back to when Cygnus declared that he felt 'unfinished business' from Akira. "So you think she's gonna become a ghost or youkai or whatever?"

"It's very likely," Cygnus answered.

"But if she's going to turn into a ghost," one of the numerous aliens spoke up. "Then why haven't we seen her spirit yet?"

"Good question," Cygnus's grin returned. He crouched and leered at his audience. "Now I mentioned how ghosts and youkai can be born from similar ways, but what's the key difference?"

"The youkai eats your organs?" The Captain tried.

"Wrong answer."

"Ghosts are ectoplasm littering heat suckers," Windia piped up.


"Ghosts are more moe than youkai!" Another alien interjected.

"No!" Cygnus smacked him for good measure. The alien held his head and whimpered like a disciplined puppy, much to the amusement of his coworkers.

"Magical power," Sonic said, drawing everyone else to silence. "Someone with a lot of power dying becomes a youkai instead of a ghost... You hinted at it earlier, didn't you?"

"So the hedgehog actually WAS paying attention!" Cygnus marveled. "And he's right, folks. Ghosts don't take any phenomenal energy to exist, only feelings. Youkai, on the other hand, are born when the humans that die leave behind a lot of certain kinds of energy. One Akira Ookouchi falls into the latter camp."

Windia's eyes widened as she realized something, then her features became somber.

"How do you know all these things?" The Captain alien asked. "I looked through hundreds of books and manga and I've only seen this happen a couple of times."

"Big brother speaks from personal experience..." Windia murmured. As the aliens and Sonic looked her way, she said, "...that's how I was born the way you see me now."

The aliens exchanged glances and hushed conversations.

Sonic turned back to Cygnus. "So you've done this before."

"Uh-huh," Cygnus answered. "Speeding up the reviving process allows her to sort her feelings out and not get consumed by them. That's how I rescued Windia, you know. Messing with super demons isn't a lucrative business." He leaned in close to Sonic and whispered as he kept his eyes on everyone else. "Not to mention demons made out of bones taste real. Damn. Bad."

Sonic twisted his face in disgust.

Cygnus swirled away from Sonic and walked to what appeared to be a... window? "So in order to pull this off, I'll need someone to help me get the magical energy within this girl moving again. Hedgehog!" He pulled down the shades.

And there was glorious sunlight! IN SPACE!

But Sonic, currently being a night creature, didn't quite like this. And I say 'quite' because transforming between his normal self and his night self is a painful process, filled to the brim with painful darkness evaporating from his body and soul, manly hedgehog screaming, and spinning camera angles. But after his painful reduction in size, at least he was finally back to his normal hedgehog self. "Ugh... still getting used to that," Sonic groaned.

"Start speeding around that girl..." Cygnus instructed.

"You know, I might cause a tornado if I do that..." Sonic said. "But tornadoes in a spaceship sounds like loads of fun," And he began running around the table at high speeds, the tight wind almost forming a barrier.

It was then Cygnus began his dark magic. Black smoke wafted from his shadow, circling into Sonic's created wind and Akira herself. It increased in thickness and violent movement as Sonic ran faster and Cygnus continued to pour in more energy. The aliens and Windia stared in amazement.

Finally, Cygnus suddenly snapped his fingers, and the dark energy and the wind burst from the table, stopping Sonic and knocking everyone else down.

The energy cleared itself. The body on the table was no longer a corpse.

As everyone continued to stare in amazement, Cygnus talked once more. "What you see here is no longer human, but still very much the girl before her death. However you return to the real world, whether or not you are sane, or evil, or good, the price for cheating death is your humanity—even if you didn't want to cheat death."

Sonic snarled. He felt like Cygnus had basically used her for... something, but he couldn't tell what.

Windia quietly spoke up, "...why'd you make her choice for her?" And even more quietly, "...for me?"

"I'd rather her—and you—make your own choices, you know, while you're sane," Cygnus turned his back on her and sneered at Sonic. He then drew himself up, almost quietly. "After all, I never had that choice."

Windia nodded.

Sonic didn't get this anymore, so he shrugged. He was about to speed off when Cygnus spoke again. "Oh, and one last thing. Want to know what else was so funny about her dying?" When Sonic whirled back to him in a near fury, Cygnus gave one more feral grin. "...I knew when she'd return, she'd be the exact same thing I am now."

The aliens scratched their heads. Sonic reeled back. Could it be—

"When she wakes up, you'll see one more swan demon." And with that, Cygnus laughed once more.

Sonic blanched to a 1950's palette.

The aliens' jaws hit the floor.

Windia sighed, his strange humor finally making sense to her.

The Captain alien simply produced a tape and yelled, "Can we get on with it already?! I finally found the third part!"

"These are the streets of London..." Negi whispered. Not wasting a moment, he set his sights on the fairy and quickly tore after it.

"Wait, Negi-kun!" Konoka cried, as she and the others chased after him.

"Negi! HOLD IT!" Becky bellowed, running as fast as she could behind him. "What the hell is with this place?! And why is it important to you if it isn't part of your memories?!"

Chamo, having hidden himself up until this time, made himself known once more. "That's right! Even I haven't been here! What's with this?!"

Negi grit his teeth. "I see it now, but I don't want to believe it... this really does link me to someone I know... But for now, we stop that fairy!" And with that he continued his mad pursuit. Becky snarled, Konoka sighed, Setsuna gripped her sword tightly and Nodoka shivered, but all four continued after Negi.

The chase eventually led them to a building, an apartment complex built much like a manor.

"The fairy went inside," Negi murmured.

The girls nodded, and with that, Negi opened the front gate. All five walked through the front area and entered the front door and into the manor.

The foyer area was a grand, open area with just a staircase leading to adjacent halls and a massive chandelier dangling from the ceiling being the only things in the room. Alas, the lack of lighting painted the place gloomy shades of gray and dark blue.

"...why is this place so empty?" Nodoka asked.

"These memories..." Negi tried to answer, but words failed him—he actually wasn't too sure himself.

"Whose are they?"

"I prominently knew only two people during my days in school..." Negi whispered. "These are from one of them..."

"...Negi," Becky tapped his shoulder. "We've got something else." She noted the shadows of people. Mocking shadows, with disdainful stares and secret laughter.

"What is this?" Konoka frowned. "These memories look horrible..."

Setsuna jabbed at one of them with the hilt, but it went right through—they were only shadows after all. "We have no choice but to ignore them for now."

"Oh we have some actual company!" Becky bellowed. She pointed at the top of the staircase, where it met the window.

Illuminated by the gray sky, there stood the Black Rose Baron.

"Baron..." Negi murmured.

"That masked man again," Nodoka also murmured.

"I got news for you, that's not a man at all!" Becky shouted. She pointed a dramatic finger in the Baron's direction. "It's a reverse trap!"

"A reverse trap?" The Baron quirked an eyebrow. "I have no idea what you mean by that, but I assure you I am not a trap!"

"Ugh, you're a GIRL disguised as a MAN, so you ARE a reverse trap!" Becky complained.

The Baron flinched. "...guilty as charged."

"Where's Asuna-san?" Setsuna asked. "About now, she would be raging at the Baron..."

"I like the part where we only notice people are missing when they don't jump in conversations," Chamo remarked.

"Baron knocked her out cold cuz she was being possessed and dumb," Becky answered in a dull voice. "I think she'll find her way over here when she wakes up."

"Baron!" Negi complained sharply at this.

"And suddenly, things make a lot of sense," Konoka remarked. "But... are these your memories?"

"No..." The Baron answered, complete with dramatic cape flap. A single black rose petal drifted from her position to Negi's.

Negi grabbed it. "But still... these memories are of someone I know, right? These are the memories of the person who stole the Star Crystal!"

"You serious, big bro?!" Chamo exclaimed.

The Baron suddenly became very wary. "...what do you mean by that?"

Becky sniffed. Suddenly, something hit her. "Negi, smell that rose petal again."

Negi, confused, took the petal from his hand and sniffed it. "It smells familiar..."

"I smelled the same thing when you were doing that bleeding heart thing in your sleep and talking about some big sister of yours!" Becky declared. She whirled around to the Baron. "That's you, isn't it?! You've been stalking him all this time because you've been concerned as his primary guardian, right?!" That one got serious gasps from the other girls and Negi.

The Baron became quiet.

"Why else would you be here? You must know something about this... that look on your face says so!" Becky continued.

"...big sis... Nekane..." Negi spoke up. "You know who stole the Star Crystal, don't you?"

The Baron—no, Nekane Springfield sighed, removing the mask and the hat. What used to be pink hair and face paint was now blond hair and a gentle, sad face. "Yes... It was—"

"It isn't her, I can tell you that straight away," Becky suddenly said. "She's been following us for some time—and yet not a trace of darkness."

"If it's not you... then it can only be one person," Negi concluded darkly. "These memories are from places we all played—the woods, the old castle, the snow fields, even the astronomy club where Miyako-san and Rokugou-san fought Konoka-san, and all the small areas where we fought the Peach Moon students—all except for this one. These are her memories alone..."

Negi swallowed hard. "...Anya's. Anya stole the Star Crystal."

Nekane said nothing.

Konoka, Nodoka, and Setsuna gasped.

Becky scratched her head. "Uhh... who's Anya?"

"Big bro's childhood friend..." Chamo answered. "She was a stubborn and wily one, but for her to steal the Star Crystal... that's still unbelievable!"

Becky remembered Negi mentioned her at least once while she was over at Mahora. "Ah... I remember now," She turned to the sullen Nekane. "Still, you could have, you know, told somebody more powerful than we are, and nobody would be in this mess!"

"...and then Anya would be punished for losing control..." Nekane answered.

"But she's after Negi-sensei now," Nodoka said. "What can we do?"

"...this was my fault," Nekane lamented, falling to her knees. "Even though she was facing frustration at her fortune telling job, I told her of your success and friends. If it weren't for that, this wouldn't have happened..."

"That seems kinda suspicious," Chamo remarked. "This just might be speaking from what I know of Anya, but she wouldn't lose hope against Negi that quick!"

"That's true," Nekane said, drawing herself up again. "That's why I felt that if we gathered the four Soul Shrieks, the Anya trapped within could awaken... I could reason with her, at least."

"We could, big sis," Negi spoke, eyes full of seriousness. "It seems unlike Anya to do such a thing, and yet... there's no other explanation before us."

"But even so," Konoka said. "Isn't the Star Crystal supposed to be really powerful? Whatever convinced Anya-han to do what she's doing now could be beyond any of us..."

"But we can't know unless we try!" Negi pleaded.

"That's right. There is still one way to reach her before it's too late," Nekane said.

"How is that?" Becky asked.

Nekane gave but one name: "Lirael."

Negi and the girls exchanged glances. "I don't have a clue where you're going with this, big sis," Negi admitted.

"Look at it this way," Nekane gently explained. "True, the Star Crystal has extreme power, but ever since Lirael began to attack you, she has been horribly focused on you—she doesn't wield the power of darkness the same way the fairies do. She, as a 'puppet' and a focusing point, can still be reasoned with, unlike the unrestrained and possessive magic used by those fairies, and likely the complete Star Crystal."

"Hang on, lemme get this straight..." Becky suddenly exclaimed. "You're saying that the laser beam of instant death Lirael represents is easier to manage than the explosion of almost-instant death the fairies do?!"

"Exactly it!"

"...crazy enough to work," Becky groaned. "Alright, you bleeding hearts win!" She wound up her arms. "Let's do this."

Negi smiled. "Thank you... big sis."

Nekane returned that smile.

"Okay, we need to find Lirael!" Konoka cheered.

"Negi-sensei, please let me assist!" Nodoka added.

"Let's go, Negi-sensei, ojou-sama," That was Setsuna.

And they walked further into Anya's memory.

Instead of them finding Lirael, however, Lirael found them.

"Walking on this path of sorrowful memories, it would seem that you aim to find the Master of the Darkness," Her voice caught their attention as they wandered through a hall.

Negi turned to his right to see her appear through a wall as if it were made of water. "Lirael-san..."

"I do believe that you are looking for me, yes?" The girl grinned.

"Let us speak to Anya," Negi requested.

Lirael's features did not change. "She will not speak to you, she sleeps in the darkness."

"She moves funny..." Setsuna murmured. "Stay on guard!"

Lirael began to glide towards the group, almost as if she was skimming water instead of the floor.

"She's just like those mermaids!" Konoka exclaimed.

Lirael crouched down before suddenly lunging at Nodoka. The girl shrieked as the mermaid-like creature pinned her to the ground...

...for all of two seconds, because Nodoka kicked her backwards in a counter-throw.

Surprised at her own finesse, she stood at attention as the others (save Nekane) gave her equally surprised looks. "Umm I'm sorry?" She tried.

"That was good, teach me that sometime," Konoka said seriously.

Lirael stood again, but this time with a less human screech.

Nekane tensed. "...that's not Lirael!" The creature lunged once more, but Nekane tapped her earring, and a burst of light rocked the creature, and it crashed into the ground. Moments later, it sunk into the ground like dead weight in a pool. "It seems she's hiding from us..."

"This... Lirael... she seems so unusual," Setsuna murmured. "Who is she really, and why is she involved in this?"

Becky quietly added, "And what does this have to do with Anya? Why is somebody like Lirael taking orders from her?"

"I don't know..." Negi answered somberly. "I don't get it. If Anya really took the Star Crystal, why...?"

"Loneliness," A familiar voice answered.

The small group turned around to see a mermaid... or Lirael. She gave them one of those soft, almost-not-even-sinister smiles. "Anya had loneliness."

"What does that mean?! What did you do to her?!" Negi shouted.

"She could not do her job," This Lirael-like creature responded.

"She could not fight her fate." The good guys reeled back when a second mermaid-Lirael spoke, sounding exactly like the first.

"It is something you, who has friends surrounding him, cannot understand," the first continued. She outstretched a hand, and lunged towards Negi.

Becky was faster on the uptake. With her alchemy, she simply clapped her hands, pressed the ground, and watched as earthen spikes skewered the advancing mermaids. "There's an easy counter for that. It's called 'meeting new people'. YOU SHOULD TRY IT SOMETIME!"

"Believe me... I tried," There was Lirael again, not even caring about the bleeding mermaids. "But lacking purpose gets in the way."

"What are you talking about?" Nekane asked.

Negi's staff shined. He followed it down the hall, with the rest of the group close behind.

"I'll tell you a little story..." A Lirael murmured at the end of the hall.

Unfortunately, Negi could not hear it, as this one lunged for Konoka, and her faithful guard always decreed that anyone trying to attack Konoka would be sliced in two, regardless of intent (Setsuna would like to take this moment to remind you that she is still sane and not a psychopathic murderer for her ojou-sama's sake).

Stopping at the end of the hall, there was once again a creepy blue door. At their approach, it opened, beckoning them. "Auuughhh, not again!" Becky complained.

"I've seen these before somewhere," Nekane added, "But I can't quite remember." Nevertheless, the group entered the door.

Fortunately, there was another Lirael waiting for them in the grand room. "There was once a young lass from Peach Moon, not knowing of her origins."

A second one entered from an opposite door, and made her way to the center of the room. "Because of her unusual appearance and personality, she had no true friends."

A third, joining the second in an embrace. "But one day, she was snatched up by the darkness when venturing through the school at night."

"In that darkness was a young girl, who also suffered from that same loneliness. She sought help. Seeing this, I answered." A fourth was suddenly beside Negi, whispering in his ear, before she too left to the center of the room.

"With our loneliness, we sought to work together. She would give me memories and purpose, and I would do her bidding as her physical form. As I fought you, the sleeping girl inside began to resurface the memories I lacked." A fifth, landing from the ceiling.

"You see, I was never kidnapped at all—I was returned to my original path, as one with the Star Crystal, as a means of controlling it without it falling into chaos. I had been alone in there for many years—I think I lost count. Why I was there, I still do not know..." A sixth.

"It didn't change the fact that I still remained alone. It's horrible being lonely."

"So I made even more of me. But the process eroded my memories..."

"Even so, I could not defeat the loneliness. Even with so many of me, I want to drown with someone in this world."

Before Negi and Becky knew it, there were several Lirael, perhaps in the hundreds. Or rather, there was this great, floating mass of Lirael, hundreds of them hugging each other in one huge sphere in the center of the room.

It was such a massive sight the five of them had to step back, their eyes widened in horror.

"It's... it's..." Konoka's face nearly contorted as if she were about to wretch.

"A huddling mass of granfaloon," Nekane observed, the raw horror still in her face.

"There wasn't just one Lirael... there was a whole freaking LEGION!" Chamo exclaimed.

"...of mermaids, I should add!" Becky backpedaled almost on instinct.

The numerous Liraels giggled and shrieked and then moaned in unison, much like possessed valley girl zombies.

"We're stopping this nightmare, girls!" Negi bellowed, twirling his staff. "Partners: Rebecca Miyamoto, Nodoka Miyazaki, Konoka Konoe! Show me the power within you! Contract, activate!"

Konoka, even with her watery cosplay active, followed suit. "Partner: Setsuna Sakurazaki! Show me the power within you! Contract activate!"

With the activations finished, Becky was once again in catsuit, and Setsuna was in... Japanese maid attire? "Ojou-sama! W-w-what's the meaning of this?!"

"I thought we agreed to this?" Konoka said atop her handy platform, holding a most unfortunate Nodoka. Stuck as a tiny seal, she only sobbed in addition. "The Kashiwagi twins thought it'd suit you better!"

"B-b-but...?!" Setsuna tried again.

"Watch out!" Chamo cried, as the bulbous mass of Lirael shed bodies. And to make matters worse, as soon as they hit the floor, they started swimming in it, heading towards the group like demented piranhas.

Setsuna had little choice but to deal with it—she snarled and swept her blade in a wide arc, slicing down the multiple Lirael clones. Becky too, scampered down and began slicing down the clones, although she looked more visibly disgusted.

Nekane was no slouch to battle. Tapping her earring once more, a light shined and she tugged it, producing a rapier. With finesse and speed, Nekane tore through many mermaid bodies.

This left Negi and the others to deal with the source itself. "So many of them..." He remarked.

"Break 'em apart and cut them down to size!" Chamo suggested, banging a tiny fist into his palm.

"Alright..." Negi reared back, gathering energy. "Konoka-san, help me out!"

"Okay!" She held the strange platform of hers steady as Negi began to chant.

"Ras Tel Ma Scir Magister..." Negi murmured. "Jovis Tempestas..." He aimed his staff. "FULGURIENS!" A torrent of wind and lightning tore through the mass of bodies; the spell ended with a sickening squelch as broken bodies hit the floor.

"Aiyah..." Nekane simpered, activating a barrier to protect against the falling nastiness. Setsuna and Becky scrambled under it.

"Hey!" Becky complained at Negi from her vantage point under Nekane. "Watch how you kill things!"

Nowhere near finished, however, a few Liraels in the front actually began to scramble on top of each other, extending out to grab for Negi and Konoka, complete with cacophonous shrieks. Negi and Konoka both squealed and scrambled back (okay, it was more like Negi fell on his butt as Konoka moved her platform back).

"Why don't you... join us?" The mass of Lirael locked their eyes on Konoka. "Toss away... that useless child."

Konoka frowned. "No way..."

The Liraels answered by aiming their shed numbers towards her this time. Those scrambled towards her, arms outstretched, yearning to claim the girl as one of the many.

"Ojou-sama!" Setsuna cried.

"Miss Setsuna!" Nekane called to the distraught guardian. Both of them aimed their swords before spinning in a graceful nightmare flurry, slicing multiple mermaid bodies with precision, allowing Konoka and Negi to get away.

The boy mage grit his teeth in determination and aimed his staff again. "Tel ma... AMORISTA!" A flurry of arrows sailed towards the mass of bodies in the air, once more. This particular hit was strong enough to cause a huge mass to fall down at once.

With that, Becky looked up and noticed something. "I see it! I see a core!" She scampered to where the bodies made a more obvious "hole". "Hmmm... it looks like..." She saw something snake out of it.

She recognized a familiar blue tentacle.

"The real Lirael's in there!" Becky exclaimed. "She's hiding in the middle of—" The ends of the blue tentacle opened, and Becky saw light gather on the inside.

Her eyes shrank. "Oh crap."

-BLAM- An intense burst of light crashed into the ground, knocking Becky astray. "Waaaahhhh!" She sailed into a wall.

"Becky!" Negi shouted in concern.

"She can fire lasers?!" Chamo gaped.

"Let's end this quick before she can show us anything else..." Negi snarled. He hopped on his staff and zoomed right towards the massive bulbous mess of Lirael. Once he was close enough, he swung down and around his staff and balanced himself on top of it. He aimed two fingers like a blade. "Calling unto the blade of wind, grant me strength to sever the enemy..." He twisted his hand back... "Tel ma... AMORISTA!" And he slung it through. The entire bottom half fell out this time.

Now everyone could see what appeared to be the real Lirael, though the top half of her still had those numerous clone bodies. She was curled in a fetal position in the center, hugging... something. Two of her tentacles snaked about, as if looking for some opponent to attack.

One spotted Negi, and with lightning speed opened fire. Negi ducked, narrowly evading a vicious laser beam that would have surely fried his neck if it didn't remove it completely.

Unfortunately, said firing laser came close near Konoka as well. "Eep!" She had to duck to avoid laser-induced death as well. Nodoka didn't like this either and whined as Konoka pretty much squashed her to protect her.

"Ojou-sama!" Setsuna once again cried. This time, she sprinted atop the heads of the Lirael clones and hopped atop the platform. "We need to end this chaotic madness now!"

Konoka nodded. "Negi-kun! I'm going to help Secchan go all out to finish this... whatever happens after that, we'll have to leave to you!" Once she saw Negi nod, she closed her eyes and focused with her powers. "Animadverto lucis..." She shined, giving off a holy aura. "O spirits that answer me... guide my partner through the power of light, and give her a moment of unyielding might...!"

Setsuna bared down, preparing a strike.

Konoka's eyes opened. "Sataaaa ANDAGI!"

Setsuna timed her own strike with the massive power. "ZANTETSUKEN!"

A truly massive blade of light sliced through what remained of the mass of Lirael, wiping it out in an truly fearsome display of power. The power of the attack exhausted both of them, enough that Konoka fell out of cosplay form, and with it, the platform. Negi kicked off on his staff, and Setsuna cradled her charge and gently guided her to the ground.

"Well done, Konoka-san," Negi smiled before taking the staff to where he knew Lirael still floated.

Indeed, Negi saw that despite the powerful attack she suffered, the supposed will of the Star Crystal was still in one piece, albeit weak. The something she was hugging slipped out of her grasp and fell to the ground—or well actually, it fell on top of Becky before landing on her lap in a pathetic heap.

The annoyed Becky picked up the sad thing— "Mesousa?"

The poor rabbit lamented. "You didn't even notice I was missing?"

"Nope. Never cared," Becky shrugged. "Glad to see you're back though." She put him in the same vicegrip hug Lirael had him in over the past twenty-four hours. Mesousa just sobbed, whether it was from happiness of being back with Becky or sadness that nobody really cared about his disappearance, the world may never know.

Negi continued sailing towards Lirael. "You know what happened to Anya, right?"

"Negi..." Nekane whispered.

"Negi-sensei..." A now normal Nodoka murmured in worry.

The girl's expression couldn't be read. She only answered with a slithering tentacle that tried to knock Negi out of the sky, and when that failed, a laser burst.

"Please, let her go!" Negi shouted, easily weaving past the laser beam. "Or at least, let me talk to her!"

"You..." Her voice was faint, but it stopped Negi in his tracks.

"..." Negi kept alert, not sure what she was about to do.

"You deny me my purpose... why? Why do you care? Why can't you just lay down and die and heed my master's wish?" The girl was actually shedding tears. "Why am I..."

"If that IS Anya, that's not her wish!" Negi bellowed. "I know her, she wouldn't really want to do this!"

Lirael shivered. "But why... this was my purpose... right? I can't..."

Negi felt it. That fairy's power.

No wonder he couldn't find it when he came inside—it was hiding in Lirael all along. As a matter of fact, that fairy was probably the source of all the darkness Lirael controlled. If he could seal it...

Lirael, however, had reached the brink of madness and melancholy. "I refuse to fail in my purpose...! If I can't do it, she can use me as a vessel to carry her will!" From inside her, that bird-like fairy emerged.

Negi prepared his sealing spell...

Lirael beat him to the punch. She grabbed it, and with dark energy, sealed it away, making a yellow, crystalline shard. "Master of the Darkness..." Dark holes opened up, drawing in the other three shards Negi had made from the fairies. All four shards locked together, as if they were pieces in a magnetic puzzle.

They fused together in a burst of magic light. From it, a pulsating, frog-hand-like, blue gem the size of a large marble was born.

"The Star Crystal!" Nekane exclaimed.

"That's the Star Crystal?!" Negi, Chamo, and Becky exclaimed at the same time from their separate places.

Now shaking with both power and emotions out of control, Lirael screamed to the sky. "LEND ME YOUR POWER!"

The twisted gem dropped into Lirael's forehead, and with it, the massive dark energy that composed of its power. That included the illusion. Darkness distorted the area around them, the Star Crystal slowly sucking up all the darkness into the vortex.

Negi and the other girls found themselves back in the real world—only they weren't in Becky's lab, they were now on the rooftops of Peach Moon. "We're back...?" Negi asked. "But Lirael... Anya...!" He turned to see Lirael hovering in the sky, now wearing some sort of dark blue suit, stylized with blood red lines running about from the Star Crystal.

Hello, Negi... Lirael announced in a new voice.

It was one Negi recognized. "Anya..."

I will not lose to you... not now, not ever. And with that, Anya, in Lirael's body, held a twisted grin, and moved in for the attack.

The sunset filled world was looking grimmer by the moment.




And so, Howell and Ichijou often went out on sunny days to do work for the Student Mage Council. Most of the time, Howell would introduce himself (referring to Ichijou as his obligatory cute assistant), crow about how wonderful the day was, followed by Ichijou pointing out actual problems before Howell noticed them. One particular day, they managed to stop a jaywalker from inducing a fifty-car pileup, save Shichimi from a tree, and reunite a lost girl with... her balloon. Oh well, at least they tried, right?

"Well, Ichijou-chan!" Howell proclaimed. "Good has been done this day!"

The girl merely cursed under her breath—she was still no closer in learning how to hex people.

"What does that mean?"

It was then Ichijou heard a splash. She had no idea how much she would grow to hate that sound.

At first, she simply pointed out what she normally did: "Howell, a child fell into the lake."

The child's cries for help were ignored. Howell had frozen still.

"You should help her. Howell," Ichijou gently prodded.

It was as if Howell couldn't hear her. All he could hear were all those dreaded words from his mother years ago, ignoring his pleas for help.

"Hush baby, don't be scared..."

"...why do you have to exist out here... without me..."

"Why don't you and mama both die together?"

Ichijou prodded once more. "Howell, hurry—"

"Help me..." Howell held his face, his eyes shrunken in complete horror. "Somebody help me!"

Ichijou reeled back in confusion, with horror following and growing with Howell's.

"Don't...DON'T HURT ME! I'msorryIdidn'tdoanythingpleasestopstopstopdon'tkillme DON'T KILL ME, MAMA!"

Howell began to hyperventilate, and there was nothing Ichijou could do.

Soon, others arrived. A big, muscular teenager pulled the drowning girl out of the water—whether she lived or died Ichijou didn't know—and probably didn't care. And a young teenager with an unusual ponytail led Howell away, with a simple "He gets like this, sometimes." and a brief apology. And they were all gone.

There was nothing Ichijou could do, except stew in the feelings she forgot she had—like sadness.

And determination. Who knew nobodies had those?

"YO COLONEL SANDERS! There's this hot chick who wants to kick your ass!" Ichijou stared mutely at the muscle-bound teen before her. It was tough to believe that the same Jack Rakan she saw yesterday was the same buffoon before her.

"That's NOT what she said!" The bandanna-bearing Connor objected.

"Heheheh, see what she says, at least," came the voice of one 'Colonel Sanders', also known as Albiero Imma.

Ichijou stepped into the inner sanctum of the Student Mage Council—a cozy place occupying several of the club rooms back in Mahora. As well as Jack and Connor, Ichijou was also surprised to see a few familiar faces—namely the happily pink magical girl Behoimi and the familiar boxy robot disguise Akane Serizawa liked to employ.

And so she got down to business. "Where's Howell?"

"That's it?" Jack Rakan raised an eyebrow. "Laaaame."

"Why do you care?" Connor asked. "Are you his girlfriend?"

"Are you?" Ichijou coolly countered.

There was a moment of silence as Connor quietly sank into despair, having been owned so hard.

While Rakan mercilessly laughed at Connor, Behoimi happily sailed over to Ichijou and greeted her. "Howell was feeling sick yesterday, but he's A-OK today! So no worries!"

Even with that news, Ichijou still felt... something akin to sadness.

"What's the matter? You look sad..." Behoimi asked in concern.

"HOW CAN YOU TELL?!" Both Jack and Connor roared in shock.

Ichijou was sure of it now. Even if they weren't "real" feelings, they were still very much hers. "I couldn't..."

"You're sad you couldn't protect Howell, hmm?" That was Serizawa. "You shouldn't worry. He's pretty quick back on his feet."

His friends were kind, but they didn't understand...

...mostly. "But if you still want to see him, he's in the back."

And so Ichijou did.

As she left, though, the enigmatic Albiero showed up in a flash of magic, shocking Connor and Jack. "Who knew... a nobody drawn to another nobody by feeling. Perhaps the Keybearer was wrong, and nobodies CAN feel..."

"You talk like that makes actual sense to us," Connor grumbled.

"Put it simply: if anyone can connect with Howell, it would be her," Al explained. "They're the same in a way, after all."

When Ichijou walked in the almost hollow room, Howell greeted her as if nothing happened. "Morning, Ichijou-chan."

She whispered something.

"What did you say?"

"I want to be... your partner."

"So... you're truly interested in magic, then?"

"Yes." She meant it. But it was also to reach him, too.

"Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt if you referred to me as 'Master'..." Howell slyly suggested.

She'd do anything. "Okay... Master."

"Ichijou... you don't have a moe bone in your body," Howell wasn't convinced by that at all, but still, they embraced with a mighty kiss, and such powerful feelings...


The alarms blared, suddenly cutting off the video just before it could reach the unnecessary tacked-on lovemaking scene at the end.

"W-what?!" The Captain stumbled. "...j-j-just as well, I don't think I could take anymore!"

Warning! Intruder detected. You may now commence panicking, The alarm blared in full force. Warning! Intruder detected. You may now commence panicking.

"What kind of security alarm is this?" Cygnus raised an eyebrow.

"Intruders?! More intruders?! OH NOOO!" The aliens wailed. And true to their alarm's instructions, they panicked like caffeinated lemmings tied to a lethal processing plant.

Cygnus sighed and smacked his palm on his forehead.

Windia gripped her sword. "What should we do?"

"Let's set up the welcome mat..." Sonic said, suddenly standing up. "...and throw a party!" And with that, he burst out of the control room and down the hall.

"Wait!" Windia cried, but her shout fell on deaf ears.

"Hedgehog's got a point," Cygnus grinned, standing up himself and letting darkness seep out of his shadow. "Let's greet our guest. I get the feeling we might know who this is."

At maximum speed, Sonic navigated the hallways, amused by the flashing lights and ineffective security that mistook him for the intruder. "Crappy laser guns," Sonic noted as he spun into a ball and shredded one in half. "Poor security robots," The cobalt speedster saw the clunky mechanical robots step in his way, and just like many of his attacks on Eggman's brands, easily slid under one, followed by a smooth and deadly uppercut to a second. "I've seen all this before! Too easy!"

Sonic darted down a hallway, still seeing no signs of any unusual intruder. "I could be going in circles all day, though..."

A screen flashed on, revealing the alien captain. "Hedgehog! The intruder's been pinpointed! Head to the boiler room!"

"Where's that?" Sonic asked. "I don't know my way around this ship!"

"Make three rights, drop down and take a left!" The Captain bellowed.

"Aren't I just going in a circle downstairs!?" Sonic exclaimed as he followed the directions regardless, smashing through more fodder robots in the process.

"You found the stairs, didn't you?"

Sonic grimaced and gave a thumbs-down despite the accuracy of those words. Heading forward, he saw a massive blast door slowly open, so he blasted forward at full speed.

And then the door shut, and Sonic realized all too quickly that was a boss door. However, the blue hedgehog took this in stride and faced what appeared to be the source of the problem.

A gate of black energy swirled at the center of the room. Sonic watched as a hand shot up, followed by the owner of that hand—a seemingly tall girl with a bow. And a massive wingspan.

The girl opposite of him licked her lips. What that mean, the hedgehog couldn't figure out, as her eyes were shaded by her hair.

But that portal of darkness... "Who are you?" Sonic asked. "That's a swan boy trick, too. How the hell did you pull it off?"

"He's here?" An airy voice responded. "That's good. But enough about that, I want an appetizer..." The girl shot forward, and Sonic flipped backwards to evade her hand.

"Whoa!" Sonic exclaimed, skidding to a stop. "Bad news, bad news!" He shot forward with a burst of blue energy, smashing into the girl like a football player. Much to his shock, however, the girl actually grabbed him, ignoring the searing friction and heat, picked him up and slammed him down.

Straining from the pain, Sonic looked up to see that girl was licking her lips again. It was still weirding him out. "Hello?!" Sonic once again flipped away from the girl, this time zigzagging backwards when the girl began to flap her mighty wings and give chase.

Sonic suddenly shot forward again. "Let's..." He stopped right in front of her face, fist wound behind him. "GO!" And he let loose a powerful punch to the girl's chest.

The girl stumbled back, only to right herself suddenly, catching Sonic as his momentum sent him dashing by. She easily slung him over into a wall. Sonic crashed, but righted himself. In retaliation, he arched his quills... "Haven't tried this porcupine trick since I'm a hedgehog, but..." ...and let loose a flurry of them in the girl's direction.

The girl folded her wings, and the spikes lodged themselves inside. "Your danmaku is weak..." The girl with dark wings said as said wings flapped, discarding those quills with ease.

With distance attacking not an option, Sonic landed down. He charged forward and aimed a punch one last time. "Hrrraauughh!"

No dice—she caught the punch in one hand.

"What?!" Sonic stopped, completely shocked.

It got better—her now visible dark reddish-brown eyes glistened in delight. "Ooh, I recognize you now! You're the blue hedgehog Cygnus talked about!" She then happily squashed him in a hug. "You're so cuuute! If I eat you, will I get super speed?"

"Don't eat me!" Sonic objected, his quills sharpening for effect.

"Utsuho, being an idiot as always," Cygnus snaked into the room, ignoring the massive door that would've blocked most normal people. Windia stepped out of Cygnus's shadow and stood by him. "What do you want? And how the hell DID you get here?"

"Well, long story short I figured out how you hop dimensions," The girl known as Utsuho answered, only loosening her grip on Sonic enough to let him breathe. "So I tried it out, and here I am! And I've got some news for you, too."

"News?" Cygnus raised an eyebrow.


Next time: "...Now Endure My Banquet of Madness!" by...?!

(Yeah guys, sup from Greensboro! My muses from this story are going full tilt despite the lack of audience. Enjoy the ride, because there's only 4 eps left.)