Hi everyone,

At least, here is the long-awaited sequel to Summer Holiday. I know I really, really should finish up some other stories first before beginning a new one, but this has been floating around my harddrive for the better part of 6 months and it was itching to be released. I also realize that it's never really a good idea to start a new story out with a crossover, but I felt it was correct. In my very first Stopani story, which all my other stories are based on, I had already established that Shizuma had an 'interesting' family, and in a way this is coming full circle. And what can I say, I'm just a sucker for happy endings, especially if the characters in question have had a really tragic life.

So without further ado, I hope you'll enjoy the silly adventures of Shizuma and Nagisa.

Hello Work!

Chapter 1 : Family visit

Shizuma quite often found herself drawn to what she and Nagisa called their memory wall. Thousands of pictures taken were pasted or pinned on the wall in an ever growing collage documenting their happiness. Pictures of them together, one of them, with their friends, on holidays, in their home, wether snapped with camera or phone. Already the pictures covered most of the wall, and they had started on a second layer already.

When asked why they simply didn't put their photos in an album, Shizuma always responded that few people actually opened those albums away and by putting on the wall, she ensured that all of the pictures were in plain sight.

In the middle of the wall was a shelf reserved for framed pictures, containing memories meant to symbolize the most important parts of their lives. The first picture was one of Shizuma as a baby being held by her mother, Hanazono Hoshi. It was often that she was drawn to this picture: her mother hadn't been much older than Shizuma when she had her and they looked so much alike. Shizuma often wondered what her life would be like if her mother would still be alive. Maybe she'd have been a little less wild, or maybe even more. Whichever would have been the case, she'd like to think her mother would have approved of the choices she had made in life.

The second framed picture was one of her at age six and her father. It had been taken on a rare true holiday, when her workaholic father had managed to drag himself away from the office and had taken her to Paris. It was the last true holiday they had, as her father discovered the satellite phone soon afterwards.

The third framed picture had been taken when she had been in her second year. Miyuki had wanted to take a few pictures to send home to her parents, but after they stood posing in front of the camera, Shizuma had shifted and grabbed Miyuki. And that was the captured moment on the picture here: Shizuma grinning like a cheshire cat while having her hands cupping Miyuki's breasts from behind. At the same time, Miyuki was silently wailing in surprise. The camera had also snapped a picture of the moment right after this: Shizuma nursing a red welt on her cheek, while Miyuki was angrily stomping off. Needless to say, Miyuki's parents had never seen either picture.

And the fourth... her and Kaori, smiling happily. Shizuma remembered exactly when this was taken: it was an usually warm and sunny october day and she and Kaori had decided to celebrate this fact with a picnic. Kaori was wearing a bright summer dress and hat, and leaned into Shizuma while holding up two fingers behind her head. Shizuma smiled to herself and let a finger slide across the picture, where Kaori's face was. Though she and Nagisa were very happy together, she would never forget Kaori.

The fifth picture was of her and Nagisa on their wedding day. Nagisa looked cute as a button in her dress, and Shizuma as nervous as a high-strung whippet in hers. Shizuma shook her head and relived the memory.

The sixth and final one had been taken right after they had moved into their new apartment. Though the expensive apartment was delivered finished, they decided to scrap the standard furniture and bring in their own, as well as adding finishing touches. The picture showed both Nagisa and Shizuma kissing while dressed in baggy coveralls and having their exposed hair and skin was mottled with white-wash.

So many happy memories. And the shelf was far from full: there was plenty of room still, and Shizuma and Nagisa had plenty of plans for their future. They had been talking about adoption a lot recently, though of course, graduation was their first priority.

"Shizuma!" Nagisa called from the kitchen. "I'm done setting up, could you help out?"

Deciding to leave her memories for what they where for now, Shizuma made her way to the kitchen where Nagisa had already been cooking while Shizuma had been tidying up. Nagisa focused on creating the main course while Shizuma was assigned for the appetizers and deserts.

Shizuma was, in fact, an excellent cook and she could follow proper instructions to the letter. Unfortunately, when there were no proper instructions for Shizuma to follow, she'd lose her confidence and always messed things up.

"This rice is already cooked," Nagisa said, while the two brushed lips for a moment. "Will you start by rolling the maki? I already chilled another batch of rice for it."

Shizuma turned to the part of the kitchen and to her delight found the entire kitchen outfitted with yellow post-its with numbered instructions and arrows. Filled with confidence, Shizuma strolled over and looked for the first instruction.

1. Take a sheet of sea-weed.

2. Lay it out on the cutting board.

3. Spread the rice evenly along the center of the sheet.

4. Open the cabinet door.

5. Be careful not to hit your head while you open the door.

"Funny," Shizuma said while Nagisa giggled briefly.

Preparations for dinner went swimmingly from there. Of course, there was a reason Nagisa and Shizuma went all out to clean up and prepare dinner, rather than just leaving all their mess on the floor, curl up on the couch with a pizza and watch crappy dubbed American sitcoms while holding each other tightly, as college students tended to do: Shizuma's cousin Kouta and his girlfriend were coming over.

As the time passed, Nagisa grew more and more nervous as Shizuma grew more and more excited. For Shizuma, it would be the first time that she'd see her cousin Kouta ever since her wedding. Kouta's weird girlfriend was the bone of contention between the two of them, however. Shizuma merely found her strange, while Nagisa was actually quite afraid of her.

The two of them were on a cross-country tour through Japan and were in the neighborhood for a couple of days. Kouta had announced his visit and had planned to stay at a hotel, but Shizuma would hear nothing of it: family was family, so he and Lucy were staying at the apartment for the duration of their stay.

Shizuma agreed that Lucy was a little strange, but it was obvious that Kouta loved her very much, so Shizuma wasn't worried.

Just as they added the finishing touches to the meal, the doorbell signified the arrival of their guests. Shizuma rushed to the front door, while Nagisa came out of the kitchen and quickly removed her apron.

"Shizuma-chan," Kouta greeted and the two cousins shared a brief hug.

"Kouta-kun," Shizuma replied. "You look well."

And he did. Kouta was as much the spirited and kind-hearted boy she had known and played with when they were still kids, always with a ready smile and a kind word. Behind him, looking rather uneasy, was his girlfriend.

"I feel well," Kouta said. "Lucy?"

With careful strides, Lucy stepped into the living room and gently removed her shoes by stepping on her heels. She slid into the slippers at the side of the mat. Nagisa and Shizuma bowed gently in greeting, which Lucy answered with a brief nod.

Lucy stepped into the room and followed the others to the couch. Shizuma noticed Lucy was carefully looking around the room as if to study the layout for possible escape routes.

"The food is about done, we only need to set it on the table," Nagisa said, and Shizuma could hear the tremble in Nagisa's voice.

"Ah, that means we'll have some time to chat about your cross-country tour over dinner," Shizuma said.

Lucy in the meantime, had sat down close to Kouta. Shizuma could clearly see that Lucy was slightly taller than Kouta. The girl had long dark pink hair, bordering on blood red, and the unkempt hair hung over the side of her face, almost completely covering one of her eyes when she sat a certain way. She wore a stylish dress and an oversized red baret on her head.

Just then, Lucy noticed Shizuma was looking at her. One piercing eye shot in Shizuma's direction, making the silver-maned girl feel as if Lucy was looking right through her. The tension in the air was mounting quickly.

"Lucy-chan," Kouta said, apparently feeling the hostility. "You can take off the baret if you like. They already know, remember?"

Lucy seemed wary, but removed the baret, revealing the tip of two short horns on the side of her head. Lucy oddly resembled a catgirl... but Shizuma wisely decided not to say that out loud. Kouta had told her that these horns were the result of a birth defect which had plagued Lucy all her life. Of course, Shizuma had known Kouta long enough to know when he wasn't telling the whole story. Lucy, in the meantime, looked at both Shizuma and Nagisa in such a way as if to say that terrible things would happen if they'd dare to say something about her horns.

After dinner had been set up, the foursome sat down at the table. Dinner started out in awkward silence. Kouta however, did his best to create a pleasant atmosphere and partially succeeded. Shizuma smiled when Kouta told them about the places they had visited. Nagisa was particularly animated when Kouta told them about their trip to Kyoto, where he and Lucy stayed at a traditional Ryokan and explored the rustic countryside.

Though Kouta did his best to include her in the conversation, Lucy said scant but a few words before withdrawing in herself again. As a result Kouta was doing all the talking, while Lucy was constantly withdrawn.

'That's an understatement,' Shizuma thought to herself. 'If she'd be any more withdrawn, she'd be comatose.'

But Shizuma decided she couldn't blame Lucy. Even though the two made eye-contact only briefly, it was enough for her to see someone whom had lost her innocence far earlier than any person should have. Yet whenever Lucy looked at Kouta, Shizuma could see the light in her eyes changing ever so slightly. Buried beneath the many years of pain, anger and loneliness in her young life, lay an ever so slight glimmer of hope that was ignited by Kouta's presence. Though it was certain that there was a long road ahead of him, if anyone would be able to heal this girl's heart it would be Kouta.

Romantic, really.

"Shizuma?" Kouta smiled, apparently having caught Shizuma┬┤s stare. "If I wouldn't know any better, I'd say you were hitting on my Lucy."

"Hm?" Shizuma replied.

"Eeeeehhhh?" was Nagisa's reaction.

The only thing Lucy did was to flash Shizuma a rather disapproving rise of the eyebrow.

'Well,' Shizuma grinned inwardly. 'At least we've established that Lucy-san isn't gay.'

Lucy deliberately sat at the end of the table and tended to avoid eyecontact. The one eye that could be seen through the curtain of dark pink hair darted back and forth between Kouta, the balcony and the door, as if she was constantly checking an escape route for herself and Kouta.

Another concern was Nagisa, who was getting more and more nervous because of Lucy's suspicious behavior. Eventually, Shizuma saw both girls staring at each other when they thought the other girl wasn't looking.

Finally, it was Lucy who slammed down her chopsticks and spoke in a low, confrontational voice: "Are you staring at my horns, Nagisa-san?"

Nagisa gasped and Shizuma swore she could hear Nagisa's teeth clattering. "Uh, n-no, no, not at all!" she stumbled.

"You were," Lucy said coldly and narrowed her eyes. "You were staring at my horns..."

"N-no, I just..."

"I'm not some freak for you to stare at for your amusement!" Lucy snarled.

"I... I didn't... I mean, I... I wouldn't..." Nagisa literally shook in her chair.

It was at this point that Shizuma had to act, if only to prevent Nagisa from running to her and hiding behind her back. "Come on, I'm sure she didn't mean anything bad, Lucy-san. I know my Nagisa and she is one of the kindest persons."

"They're good people, Lucy," Kouta said, as if used to this. "You can trust them."

At that point, Nagisa stood up and rushed into the kitchen. For a moment, Shizuma thought Nagisa's bravery had run it's course, but soon enough Nagisa returned from the kitchen.

"Here," Nagisa said and presented Lucy with a small chocolate cake. "I was saving this, but I wanted to give this to you now as an apology. I didn't mean to stare, it just happened. I'm sorry."

A look of genuine surprise crossed Lucy's features for a moment. "Thank you," she finally said and took the cake.

"Good guess," Kouta whispered to Shizuma. "Lucy really likes chocolate."

Thankfully, Nagisa's action had lightened the mood considerably. The rest of dinner went on without incident, and Kouta told them quite animatedly about their adventures on Hokkaido. That is, until the moment came to clean off the table.

"Kouta?" Shizuma asked her cousin. "Will you help me clean up? I'm sure Nagisa could keep Lucy busy for a while.

'Nooooo! Don't leave me alone with her!' Nagisa's eyes pleaded while Shizuma and Kouta stepped into the kitchen.

Kouta gave some of the plates a bit of a rinse at the sink before handing them to Shizuma. Shizuma, in turn, placed them in the dishwasher.

"Thanks for having us over, Shizuma," Kouta said sincerely.

"Hey, what's family for? We're cousins after all," Shizuma told him.

"Thrice removed..." Kouta chuckled.

"Removed or not, a cousin is still a cousin," Shizuma said resolutely. "I have precious little family as it is, so I'm happy to have you around."

"Still, you didn't really need to put us up for the weekend. I'm grateful. And so is Lucy, even if she doesn't show it."

"I'll see if I can get us some tickets to the theatre tomorrow," Shizuma said. "There's some good Kabuki this month."

"That sounds nice," Kouta smiled then seemed thoughtful for a moment. "I thought this cross-country tour through Japan might be good for her, you know? Lucy's got such deeply rooted trust-issues... I thought that it'd be nice to be among other people, perhaps when she's in places when nobody knows her, she'd open up a little more."

"Did it help?"

"Yes and no," Kouta smiled. "She never lets her guard down unless we're alone somewhere, but she's a little looser than she usually is. But at least she's happy to see a little more of the world, I suppose."

"Lucy seems... tense all the time," Shizuma said. "There's a lot of anger in her, probably because of those insecurities you mentioned. Has this got something to do with her birth-defect?"

"Birth-defect?" Kouta frowned, but then quickly recovered. "Oh, yes, THAT birth-defect! Of course, how silly of me. Well, maybe..."

Shizuma raised an eyebrow, but let it pass. "Kids can be cruel. I've no doubt Lucy got teased terribly at school because of her horns."

"If only you knew..." Kouta muttered under his breath.

Shizuma put down the plate and turned to Kouta. "So," she asked. "When are you going to tell me just what exactly happened to Lucy and what your role in it is, hm?"

Kouta smiled briefly. "I could never fool you, Shizuma. But, please... don't pry. The less you know, the better. For me, for Lucy and for yourself. It's a closed chapter anyway as far as we're concerned. I'm sorry, but I won't say anything more."

"Very well," Shizuma smirked. "Keep your secrets for now. I'll pry them out of you one day, I swear."

"You always could when we were still kids," Kouta sighed. "Sure, people say Lucy is weird or withdrawn or dangerous, but... I love her and I'll fight to be with her."

"Trust me," Shizuma smiled. "I know what that's like. Come, let's serve the icecream. And let's see if your Lucy hasn't horribly murdered my Nagisa yet."

Unfortunately, Shizuma's innocent little joke didn't have the desired effect. Instead, Kouta looked at her with utter seriousness in his piercing eyes. His hands shot out and laid on Shizuma's shoulders. "Shizuma," he spoke harshly. "Don't even joke about that. Not ever!"

Shizuma was a bit taken aback by Kouta's reaction. "Alright," she said, still partially stunned by the intensity of her normally so gentle cousin Kouta's words. "I won't."

"Gomen, I know you meant well, it's just that..." he offered and looked away briefly. "Never mind. Shall we go back inside?"

Shizuma and Kouta returned to the living room to find a scene that neither of them expected. Lucy was sitting at the table, calmer than she had been all evening. She was holding and petting the pet cat Maneki while listening intently at a story that a rather animated Nagisa was regaling her with.

"... so the three of us just ran as fast as our legs could carry us and then we ended up ducking into the forest and ran all the way to the lake, panting. And then Tamao-chan said 'Well, let's not do that again'. And then Chiyo-chan said 'I didn't want to do that in the first place' and I just laughed. Needless to say, all three of us avoided Kaname-san like the plague for the next month or so."

A hint of a smile tugged at Lucy's lips, while the sole eye that was visible through the thick coverage of pink hair hanging over her face shone with humor.

"Oh, hi, you're back," Nagisa smiled. "I was just telling Lucy-san some stories of Astraea Hill. I was about to tell the story about the time I baked cookies for Shizuma and I ended up crushing them not once but twice."

"Nice to see you two getting along," Kouta smiled and took a moment to kiss Lucy on the top of her head.

"Why would we not get along?" Lucy asked.

No one was more surprised than Kouta when Nagisa unexpectedly wrapped her arms around Lucy for a quick hug.

Well, maybe Lucy was. And Kouta knew how much Lucy hated surprises... Kouta closed his eyes and when he opened them again, he half expected to see Lucy acting on instinct and lashing out with her vectors, spreading Nagisa's blood, limbs and internal organs in a neat even pattern all across the back wall.

The nightmare scenario didn't happen, fortunately. Lucy merely stood there, stunned and stiff as a board and let it happen to her.

"Why did you just do that?" Kouta asked Nagisa, perhaps a little too harshly.

"You just looked like you needed a hug," Nagisa told Lucy. Lucy frowned, but said nothing.

"Nagisa?" Shizuma said while holding up a piece of paper. "I finally found the drawing little Futaba sent me in the mail. I was looking for it all day and it somehow ended up in the trash."

Nagisa grumbled somewhat while Shizuma pinned it back up on the board. "And it's trash-day tomorrow, imagine that. If I hadn't found it today, it'd been gone forever!"

"Yes," Nagisa said in a low voice. "Such a shame."

The two lovers stepped into the living room sat down on the couch. They looked at the balcony for a while, where Kouta and Lucy stood overlooking the city while holding each other while Lucy had her head lain on his shoulder. Shizuma and Nagisa's apartment was on the second floor and overlooked the park on one side and part of the ocean on the other side. The view was one of the reasons Shizuma had opted to purchase it.

"Oh, just a moment," Shizuma took out her cellphone. "Hello? Fu Manchu Theatre? Yes, I am looking for four tickets for tomorrow night's Kabuki show. Hm? Sold out? No problem. Check your listings for a Hanazono Shizuma. Sure, I'll wait. Hm... Hm-hmm... Ah, yes, it's not problem to pay extra at such a short notice. Will do. Ah, so it's all in order? Thank you."

Shizuma clicked off the phone. "There we go," she smiled. "They always keep extra tickets handy for VIP's. I only had to pay ten times the original price, but that's not a problem."

Nagisa looked at her with somewhat faraway look.

"Hey, cheer up," Shizuma said. "Kabuki tomorrow night!"

"You did it again, Shizuma," Nagisa sighed.

"Did what?"

"You know. Using your money and your influence to get what you want."

"You say that like it's a bad thing," Shizuma raised an eyebrow.

"Yes... I mean, no, I..." Nagisa shook her head. "It's just... it makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm just girl from a middle class family and you're a billionaire heiress, it's just that... You take me to the most expensive restaurants, the most expensive hotels all over the world and... I'm grateful, don't get me wrong. I get more opportunities than most people my age. But... it makes me feel like a gold-digger, Shizuma."

Shizuma took her hand and squeezed gently. She looked at her wife's wedding-ring and it was indicative if her feelings: when they were first engaged, Shizuma had bought her an extremely expensive engagement ring studded with all manner of precious stones. Shizuma had intended to buy an even more expensive wedding ring. Nagisa, however, had been too afraid to actually wear the engagement ring anywhere for fear of losing it. So instead of it being worn with love and pride, Nagisa had opted to keep it in a safe-deposit box in the bank where it was to this very day. So, Shizuma had settled to getting her a much simpler wedding ring, which Nagisa would and could actually wear.

"We've talked about this before, Nagisa," Shizuma spoke in a reassuring tone of voice. "It's okay. All that is mine is yours."

"I know," Nagisa said. "But I think that's why it's so important for me to find a job. I've been looking at some applications in the paper. I think it'll good for me to have that little bit of independence."

"I remember you telling me back at the Ryokan, that I don't know what it's like to have to earn money," Shizuma said. "How about I get a job too? The same one as yours, so we can still spend our time together?"

"Really?" Nagisa asked.


"Why don't we make it more interesting?" Nagisa smiled. "How about we only live off the money we make from our jobs for a whole month? I think it'd be a good experience of both of us. But only if you're sure, Shizuma. It might be a bit difficult for you."

"Sure, pffft," Shizuma mock-scoffed. "I'm Hanazono Shizuma. Difficult isn't in my dictionary."

"You're really, really sure?"

Shizuma grinned and held out her pinky. Nagisa smiled and clasped her own pinky around Shizuma's to settle the pact. "Done," Shizuma said. "For one month, we only live off the money we make from our jobs."

"Shizuma, look!" Nagisa smiled and pointed over to the balcony, where Kouta and Lucy were in the middle of a loving kiss. Shizuma nodded and treated her wife to a loving kiss of their own.

The next morning with the sun just up, Nagisa was the first to have risen. They had had great fun with their guests the previous evening: just hanging loose, chatting and playing games on Nagisa's wii. So, Nagisa decided to get up early. After disentangling herself from a very possessive sleeping Shizuma, she had fixed a quick breakfast for Lucy and Kouta which she carried on a tray.

She knocked on the door, bumped it open with her hip and walked right in. "Rise and shine," she said. "A lovely surprise breakf... OH MY GOD!" she shouted, dropped the tray and ran out the door. "Sorry, sorry! So sorry! I didn't see anything, I swear! Oh, god..."

About half an hour later, a second breakfast had been prepared and the four of them were gathered around the table. Both Kouta and Nagisa were blushing brightly and were avoiding each other's gaze, while Lucy was doing her utmost to look dignified in silence. Shizuma, in the meantime, was grinning wickedly.

"It's okay," Shizuma said. "Nagisa and I had sex tonight too."

Kouta and Nagisa were suddenly locked in a silent scream, while Lucy shook her head. "You're not helping," she said.

"I wasn't even trying," Shizuma chuckled. "But I got a fun idea for us to do while we wait for Kabuki. Once you come out of your embarrassed state, that is."

And so the foursome ended up at Takashi's apartment, along with all their other friends for their weekly Dungeons and Dragons game. After having had so much fun with it at the Ryokan that summer, they had decided to continue the tradition, and all of those involved were more than happy to do so.

Since the game was with so many people, they had opted for a sit-down on the tatami-mats or on the futons conveniently placed around the game-board. Kaname and Momomi were sitting close to each other and often whispered tactics. Kaname had kept word about wanting to let her hair grow out, as her raven mane was now of shoulder-length and from the way Momomi was continuously stroking it, it was obvious she approved.

Chikaru and Shion were giggling about something. The two of them were in the middle of wedding preparations and unfortunately for them, both their families were getting way too involved. The planning of their wedding was costing them both a lot of energy and they were grateful for a fun distraction.

Nagisa was still levelling her character on the sheet with the help of Takashi, while Shizuma was observing Lucy and Kouta still trying to make sense of what was on their character sheet. Lucy, however, seemed slightly less withdrawn today. She had however, opted to wear her baret just in case.

Kouta's character was that of a true neutral gnome swashbuckler, while Lucy had picked a chaotic evil Warforged necromancer as her character. Already, she had an in-game rapport with Chikaru's chaotic evil blackguard character. It wasn't strange, as Chikaru was the person who made the most effort to make Lucy feel comfortable and welcome in the group.

"I think you're nuts," said Kaname to Shizuma as she was getting herself a fizzy drink from the kitchen where Shizuma was putting some crisps in a bowl. "You're richer than Tony Stark and you're going to work eight hours a day for scraps."

Shizuma shrugged. "Maybe it'll be fun."

"Back-breaking labor fun?" Kaname scoffed. "Now stealing, that's a different story."

"It's just for a month," Shizuma said. "What harm could it do?"

"Nagisa-san really has you by your proverbial non-existent balls, Shizuma-sama," Kaname chuckled. "So, when are we going to do some fencing? You promised me a rematch."

"Next saturday?" Shizuma said, remembering their previous fencing match. Kaname was a driven and passionate opponent and had really given her a run for her money. Even being as good a fencer as she was, Shizuma had just barely managed to defeat her. Kaname had been asking for a rematch ever since.

"It's a deal," she told her. It was then that Momomi entered the kitchen and shot a look at Lucy while leaning over the counter.

"Is she... Is she a Diclonius?" Momomi whispered softly.

"A what?" Shizuma blinked.

"Oh," Momomi muttered to herself. "Just something I read in a classified government file. It's not worth a wooden yen to go into right now. But we're still alive, so I guess we're safe. Forget I said anything."

Shizuma shook her head while stepping back into the living room with a bowl of crisps. "You get weirder by the day, Momomi-chan."

With the drinks and snacks replenished, the gathered friends and their two guests returned to the game. "Alright," Takashi said. "Recap. You have entered the Tomb of Extreme and Deadly Horrific Evil in pursuit of your arch-enemy, the vile and evil Shadow."

"The Shadow?" Chikaru asked.

"The Shadow!" Nagisa confirmed.

"Alright, you have defeated his vampire lackeys and continued your way to the second level of the dungeon. You find yourself standing in a badly lit room. You see several platforms jutting out of the darkness below, connected by a few rickety bridges. What do you do?" Takashi said.

"Do we hear anything?" Nagisa asked.

"Listen check, please."

The dice rolled and Nagisa let out a disappointed groan. "Three."

"Nope, you don't hear a thing."

"Uhm," Lucy said rather timidly while sorting through her sheets. "Uhm, can I do something?"

Takashi nodded. "Of course. What would you like to do, Lucy?"

Lucy bit her lip and looked through her list of spells. "I, uh, I cast Magic Torch."

"Okay," Takashi said. "A magic torch appears in your hand. The room appears a bit more lit now, but you don't see much more."

"Okay, uhm, I toss the torch into the darkness next to the platform I'm on," Lucy said.

Momomi blinked. "Why'd you do that?"

"I, uh, want to see how deep it is."

Takashi sighed heavily. "As you throw down the torch, you notice that the torch hits ground about three meters below you, rather than the expected bottomless drop. And, spot check please..."

Lucy rolled. "Ah, twenty. Is that good?"

Takashi groaned a bit. "And you clearly see the ghouls hiding in the darkness, thereby ruining the trap and the epic surprise fight painstakingly planned out by your friendly dungeon-master."

"I check the bridges for traps!" Shizuma called out.

"Well done, Lucy," Kaname grinned.

"Yeah, great strategy!" Shion nodded.

"Good guess," Chikaru smiled.

And for a moment, it seemed like Lucy actually beamed with pride.

Shizuma watched it all and approved. Tomorrow, Lucy and Kouta would move on and visit one more town before heading back home and restarting their lives. She wouldn't be surprised if a wedding wasn't far off. So many good times. And tomorrow, she and Nagisa would also hit the job-market. She had no idea what to expect, but she was determined to excel and give it her utmost.

Next time: on the vagaries of job-hunting and the pains of actually keeping a job.