"If Satan wasn't around, churches would go out of business."
- Marilyn Manson
"Let me get this straight," Marller crossed her arms. "You-" she pointed at feline Shampoo, "-decided to come along with him at the last second... As backup. So in the time it took for him to pass out, you splashed yourself with cold water to activate that-"
"-Curse; slipped under his arm, without him noticing I might add; and pretended to be a pillow?"
"Shampoo like to think it more clever than that," the pink kitten responded with the best 'scrunchy' look she could muster with her normal voice coming out of a feline mouth. " But yes, he not notice."
I was feeling a bit enlightened as the two chattered. As it would turn out, I HAD actually been drugged to put me to sleep. By Luna of all people. Though, it was just a strong dose of diphenhydramine HCl (those sleeping pills) dropped into my soup when I wasn't looking. I thought it tasted funny...
"I figured it would work better if you didn't realize it, she'd said. "You were already cranky from everything else going on. So I decided to worry about that part for you."
"And you," Marller continued, interrupting my thoughts as she pointed at a human Luna. "You went along with it?"
"I was thinking we could use a little backup myself," she postured around a mouth full of omelet. Then she swallowed. "She's amazingly strong, and fast too."
"So I noticed," Marller subconsciously rubbed at one of her ribs with a scowl. "She launched into attacking me without so much as a 'Hi! How are you?'. Just went STRAIGHT to smashing."
"We're working on that," I cut in before Shampoo could voice a retort. "If it makes you feel any better, we got the same response the first time we showed up in her bed."
"Kill first and ask questions later?" Marller asked me with a raised eyebrow.
"Brutally," I replied. "Luckily, I knew about her curse and countered."
"Pft..." Shampoo scoffed. "Cheater."
Marller smirked in response, a quiet chuckle escaping her in the process.
"At least Shampoo's plan going smooth," the amazonian kitten responded with a huff. "Shampoo here, can help train Lunakitty be better fighter, help new village survive."
Marller openly scoffed at this point.
"Is being problem?" Shampoo turned to the First Class Demon.
"No!" Marller waved her hands. "No, no... no..."
Then she rolled her eyes.
"It's just that your plan seems less like a plan, and more like you jumped in head first and slapped a sticker labeled 'plan' on it after the fact. And to be as brutally honest with you as you were just plain brutal earlier: It's kind of a dumb plan."
Is there an expression name for 'indignant fluff'? Because in kitten form, Shampoo pulls off an amazingly adorable version of that. Also, pot-kettle-
"Black." I spoke the last part of my thought aloud.
"I beg your pardon?" Marller turned to me.
"Nothing," I waved my partially internal comment aside. "Just remembering that time you found that tea kettle that would suck anyone who put their lips to the spout into it... And had no idea how to get said lips onto said spout until Hild taught you an illusion."
Marller blinked in silence.
"Huh..." She spouted after a moment. "The alternate reality fiction thing wasn't just a joke... Also, screw you. I doubt you could do any better at the time."
"I could come up with something," I retorted. "Polymorph spell maybe? Make it a soda bottle?"
"Oh give it a rest," Luna interrupted. "Your best plan to date was running people in circles. And that suffered from a major setback. I would know, I was there."
Ow! Low blow from the flanks! That, kinda' hurt coming from Luna.
"Well, sorry for trying," I crossed my arms. "I suppose your plan was better?"
"Hmph!" Luna smirked around another bite of omelet. "Of course it was. Mine was successful."
"You didn't know how to extract the crystal," I shot back.
"I knew Kunzite did," Luna frowned. "I was banking on that."
Okay, wait, what?
"You were expecting Kunzite to show up?" I asked.
"You weren't?" Luna blinked back. "From the way you were talking, I thought it was pretty obvious he'd pop right up when things got going."
"It kinda' caught up with me late," I hesitantly responded. "When were you planning on letting me know about that part of the plan?"
Luna put her fork (don't ask, not getting into it) down and gave me a serious look for a moment.
"Never," she said. "I took my cue from you after that fiasco with Miss Narusegawa. If even explaining one's plan causes it to backfire, I wasn't about to give anyone more details than they needed to know. I figured you had a handle on how to best deal with Kunzite. You certainly looked like you knew what was going on too. So I didn't question it."
Huh... I think my mind just got blown.
"Huh..." I vocalized in sync with my mind.
"I do actually Learn," Luna returned to her omelet, taking a single bite. "I didn't decide to follow along with you on this interdimensional ride a second time only to wear blinders. If my world is fiction to you, who's to say everything we're doing right now isn't fiction to someone else? And if you ask me, trying to be the lone hero of a story is a fast track to insanity. You've already pushed yourself past your limits and are in no state to keep it up without SOMEONE to watch your back. And it doesn't do us any good if that someone doesn't try to think around you-"
She turned and all but jabbed her fork in my face.
"-And your random bouts of impulsiveness."
That being said, Luna nommed on another bite, silence dominating the spot we were in. After a minute or so, Marller decided to voice her own thought.
"Well... She wins."
All present except Luna shot the demon a look.
"What?" she asked. "She beat my ideas easily enough, and Death Claws here certainly isn't a box of brilliance if you consider her current packaging."
Shampoo shot Marller an extra evil-eye for that comment, but said nothing.
"I'm just saying," Marller continued, her hands raised defensively.
"Shampoo remember later," the kitten warned.
"I'll keep my schedule open," Marller rolled her eyes.
Thus far, breakfast could be going better. But it was going. It was still early, only the faintest glow visible on the eastern horizon. And we were in some twenty-four hour diner in which the only thing I could read were red letters in English labeled DEESAY. Whatever 'DEESAY' was. Luna said there was some smaller katakana below it that said/translated to 'Damn Delicious Dining'.
Why am I reminded of Torchy's Tacos?
Still, I appreciated the seemingly free meal (nothing is ever free around Hild, ever). Luna was wolfing down her second omelet with gusto, while I ate at a more sedate pace. It was the first solid meal I'd had, ramen not withstanding, in over a day, and I found my eyes glancing to the door between Shampoo's extended explanation, and the most recent mini-argument.
Marller seemed- I dunno, tense? -About the place. Especially when she first eyed the waitstaff behind the counter. Alfred Pennyworth meets Arnold Schwarzenegger with a touch of a random 'Bob' of a 'Bob's Grease Pit' type of place. I don't entirely blame her. He seemed a little out of place for a diner on the corner of a Japanese college campus...
Not that I know what's IN place on a Japanese college campus. He looked more like a tank than a dish washer. Even had a jawline that could probably be used as a sledgehammer in an emergency.
Key point to take out of all of this. This diner was odd, and it unsettled a demon first class.
And that made me a little more aware too. Not that it was seedy-looking or anything. But...
"Hey," Luna nudged me. "No zoning out. Eat... Before something else gets thrown at us and interrupts things."
"Lunakitty right," Shampoo commented from her spot on the stool next to me. "You is needing food. Ramen no replace egg and meat."
Not wanting to argue, I turned back to my own meal. It was a simple steak and eggs breakfast. Priced like you would expect for Japan, but not like the steaks in Nerima. Not that I was paying, as I mentioned previously.
Still don't trust Hild entirely.
"So yeah," Marller spoke up after a few minutes of brooding silence on her part, getting the attention of the waitstaff. "You seem strangely at ease with an animal at your counter," she indicated Shampoo currently locked in her kitten form. "Not the usual behavior for a mortal..."
Mordecai (Name Tag in English: 'Hello. My name is: Mordecai') chuckled as he worked on cleaning a mug from what was likely the last late night patron before we got here.
"The owner's motto is simple," he stated calmly in a voice that had more mass to it than even his build suggested. "If it speaks, it eats."
"Really?" Marller narrowed her eyes just slightly. "Interesting motto..."
"Hild probably owns the place," Luna quipped. "I wouldn't put it past her."
"Don't say such base things!" Marller snapped around in a flustered bout of panic. "Hild-Sama would never lower herself to such vulgar enterprises as running a front business in the mortal realm!"
"Oh?" Mordecai piped up, joining the conversation after putting the mug he'd washed away. "Why not?"
Marller turned to the man behind the count- Actually, I don't think that's a man. And I don't mean of the 'not man' of the Ranma curse variety.
"It's beneath her!" Marller snapped at him, then paused. "Wait, what's this matter to you? Go back to your dishes or something!"
"Beneath the Daimakaicho you say?" Mordecai grinned with teeth that were unnaturally large and pointy for a human. Yep, not a human. Marller saw this and grew several shades more pale in the process.
"Wai-wha-you!" she snapped. "What's your class and license?!"
"Third class," Mordecai stated calmly. "Restricted license. I run this shop as instructed. No more, no less."
Well, questions answered quick enough. And I'm totally not surprised at this point? Ugh, if this is becoming 'Tuesday' to me...
"And why wasn't I informed of this?!" Marller snapped in outrage. "How long have you been here?"
"You never asked," Mordecai responded cheekily. Shampoo snickered from her spot but said nothing as Marller shot her a brief sidelong sneer.
"And before you even got released," Mordecai continued. "I honestly expected you to notice the Devil's Advocate a lot sooner. Instead, you set up shop in a warehouse and completely forgo back-end support."
Then he shrugged.
"Not my fault you have the attention span of a human with ADHD. And I'm not licensed to make a ruckus to get your attention, so… Whatever."
Marller raised a hand as if to gesture and opened her mouth, but no sound came and after a moment she visibly deflated and flopped down in the chair on my right.
Luna paused from her food, giving both Marller, and then Mordecai a brief glance before crinkling her nose and diving back into her, now nearly wiped out omelet.
"Why me?" Marller mumbled dejectedly.
Feeling a pang of sympathy for her mood, I reached up and gently pat her on the shoulder.
"Eh," I began. "Just let it go."
Marller's head snapped over without coming off the counter, shooting me a half-hearted glare.
"I don't need sympathy from a mortal," she grumbled.
"You apparently do," I shot back with a smirk. Marller just blinked in confusion at the response, but said nothing before-
"And you need to eat," Luna's voice chided.
"Wha-" I turned around, only to have something shoved in my mouth, cutting any further reply off at the source. Not expecting the invasion, I ended up nearly choking on what, after a moment, was determined to be scrambled eggs and cheese.
"If you won't feed yourself, then I'll just have to do it for you," Luna stated in an admonishing tone as I shoved her hand away, knocking a fork out of her grip and over the counter. "You're a lot of things, but good at following the doctor's orders seems not to be one of them."
There was the sound of brief, but controlled snickering from behind me that quickly silenced itself. And in front of me on the other side of Luna, Shampoo rolled her feline eyes with a smirk of her own.
"Shampoo glad she not have to pretend to be wife anymore," she stated quietly. "Lunakitty doing good job without help."
Mordecai, who'd gone and fetched the fork when it went overboard, stepped over with a fresh one, setting it purposefully down with a click.
"Perhaps you should listen to the ladies," he stated dutifully. "I cannot claim to know what is going on, but if the Daimakaicho has you in the center of it, you'll need all the strength a mortal can get."
Silence reigned. And I don't mean the usual pause in the conversation, but the true silence of a man, surrounded by females, getting told by another man, to listen to said females. And knowing he was right. Granted, Luna has had a track record of being right at just about all times outside of combat...
Frankly, I wasn't in the position, or mood, to really put up an argument. I mean, I WAS eating, I'm just distracted easily at time-
My hand shot out and procured the new fork as my brain realized that if I sat there much longer, I'd likely end up with Luna stuffing another bite in my mouth. If it's one thing she'd picked up in the last week being hauled around the multiverse with me, it was the willingness to press the issue directly.
Not that she had too much trouble before, but a human body opened up entirely new opt-
Arm obeyed, egg shoveled from plate to mouth, teeth chewed.
I shouldn't let my mind wander so much. It might get caught in a dark alley and mugged. My lack of focus might be blood chemistry, tiredness, or both, but it goes right back to my rising concern about my not-so-subtle failures in impulse control. Even as I continued to eat, letting the flavor of the food bring my motivation to eat up to my normal speed, I found myself pondering on my actions of the last few days. My temper snapping at record speed, following through with a stupid action, and now I'm starting to notice my focus lacking...
I know I'm prone to a shorter attention span, but how hard did Bakane really hit me? I can only assume that concussion did more damage than I thought. This goes beyond mere poor decisions.
The ringing of the bell on the front door brought me out of my fugue with a start, revealing that in my own musings I'd almost wiped out my eggs.
"Ah, good morning Mishima-san," Mordecai stated.
Why does that name sound familiar? Aside from the fact that in half the Anime and video game content I've consumed over the years there was always a Mishima somewhere. Heihachi Mishima... Half a dozen Mishima Heavy Industries. Just off the top of my head.
Twisting the best I could, I cast a glance at the entrance to the shop to spot a brown-haired woman with straight locks.
Dammit, why are women in this setting disproportionately stunning?
The getup she wore looked to be on the fancier side of business casual, though the cravat-looking bit definitely took it up a notch. Heck, her red overcoat even looked like it was immaculately pressed.
It was only her expression that didn't match her outfit. She was only just in the door, and staring at me with a look that screamed of the brain under the hood demanding a morning sacrifice of the black necter of the go-
Here I am hosted by demons, about to make THAT pun.
I snorted at my own internal humor, earning a scowl from the woman before she determinedly looked away. Her glance only took a second to trail to the others in the room before she blinked in confusion.
After that initial blink and a flurry of indecipherable half-expressions, she settled on letting out a sigh and pinching the bridge of her nose.
"It's too early for this," she muttered, before slowly advancing towards the counter, passing me by and sitting at a stool two past Shampoo. It should be noted that she made an active effort not to glance at the purple kitten.
"Mordy-kun," she all but drawled in a half-whine. "Do you have my usual ready?"
"As always," Mordecai was already half way to her with a steaming cup of what could only be assumed to be coffee. "Triple-shot espresso with hazelnut and a shot of vodka for that kick you like so much. Prepared exactly five minutes before you got here so it should have cooled just enough to drink."
'Mishima', the only name I could dredge up from her somewhat familiar face at the moment, smiled tiredly, still ignoring my group as she accepted the steaming (still steaming yet cool enough to drink?) cup and took to inhaling the scent with her eyes closed.
"Your timing is perfect as always," Mishima sighed. "And I still haven't found anyone who can get this just right like you can."
"The devil's in the details," Mordecai chuckled. Whether at the compliment, or the pun he just sent sailing over Mishima's head, I'm not certain. "Though I think the problem might be that most coffee shops don't have liqueur, and most bars don't do espresso."
Mishima smirked, her features already starting to liven up enough for her to steal a glance towards the rest of us. However, she quickly returned to her drink, not quite ready to acknowledge the direction her reality had taken this morning.
"Hey," Luna poked me quietly. "You've fixated on her, which means you know her and owe me an explanation."
"Eh?" I glanced at the Felis Sapien.
"Who is she?" Luna all but stage whispered.
"Er..." I began, glancing as Mishima made yet another valiant attempt to ignore us. "I know her, but my brain's being uncooperative at the moment. Sai- Sak- Sam- No. Dammit. I should know-"
I twisted to face Marller, who was leaning her head into her hand with a look on her face that was somewhere between bored and cross.
"Mishima Sayoko," she continued. "I've worked with her."
OH! YES! There's that memory.
"Campus Queen," I snapped my fingers as I verbalized her 'title'. "Hates Belldandy."
"That's her," Marller nodded. "Easy contract, though she botched her end at the last moment. Not my problem though, I got what I wanted, mostly. She wasn't really determined about it so that one kind of fell apart before we could really draw Belldandy into pain and despair."
"Oh..." Luna voiced, casting her own glance at Sayoko with her next question aimed more at me. "So... Soft antagonist?"
Luna glanced again, giving the brown-haired woman an up and down.
"Spoiled rich girl?"
THAT made Sayoko turn with a glare.
"Hey!" she snapped. "I'm right here, and I'm not spoiled!"
"Totally spoiled," Marller stage-whispered to the counter with an antagonistic grin. If it weren't for the fact that I couldn't turn fast enough to see it, I might have seen Sayoko's scowl in response.
"And what have you been up to?" the 'spoiled rich girl' asked in a practiced snooty tone. "More parlor tricks I presume? Weren't you working at that convenience store in town? How IS that going?"
Marller's grin melted into a murderous glare.
"Chupacabra," she muttered darkly.
"I beg your pardon?" Sayoko asked.
"Chupacabra," Marller continued louder. "Because I've already used the teddy bear option."
"No polymorphing mortals in the shop," Mordecai announced from the kitchen. Marller 'clicked' for lack of a better term, crossed her arms, and sat on her stool like a child that had just been reprimanded.
Sayoko took one look at the reaction and covered a mocking laugh with her hand.
Thinking about it, the teddy bear probably referred to the time she turned that earth spirit into...
"Did you ever undo that one?" I asked. Marller blinked, not quite sure what I was talking about. Realizing my mistake, I elaborated.
"That Earth Spirit... From a while back? When you were using Morisato Megumi as a pawn?"
I could almost hear Sayoko behind me frown around another sip of her over-complicated coffee. Even as Marller caught on and scoffed in dismissal.
"Pfft! No!" She denied. "Why would I do that?"
"Oh come on," I frowned. "He was just doing his job."
"He kicked me in the face!" Marller snapped. "He should consider himself lucky that's all I left him as. I could have turned him into a mouse. Then he could be eaten by a cat..."
Marller paused, looking past me to Luna.
"None taken," Luna shrugged. "But that does bring up one question..."
"Oh?" Marller raised an eyebrow in response.
"Is he at least a CUTE teddy bear?" the felis sapien asked with a smirk. Marller's grin turned fiendish in response.
"Adorable," she all but cackled. "Blue and soft, and puny. I bet Morisato Megumi's still got him on a shelf."
Then the demon smacked a fist into her palm.
"Or next to her pillow! Oh, that would be just perfect. If I undid that transformation at just the right, see: wrong, moment, I could pull a fast one on Morisato's sister. Heheheheh... It would be hilarious."
"Indeed," Luna nodded, then turned away again, seeming to stare at what was left of her plate in contemplation. "A most cruel and vicious prank. Just, wait until you have a camera."
"Good idea," Marller smirked. "I still owe her some hell anyway."
Sayoko, who'd been watching the exchange in silence, was busy studying us from behind her espresso. I was willing to bet she couldn't decide on who was crazier in this conversation.
"So," Luna addressed me once more. "I'm sensing opportunity here. She's the rich girl-"
Luna motioned to Sayoko.
"-in this setting. Right?"
Sayoko's espresso came down and she fixed Luna with a scowl. Glancing between her rapidly curdling features and Luna's- I'm starting to recognize Luna's 'Diplomatic Face'. Though if she's about to diplomance, I don't know what manner of diplomacy involves pretty much describing the to-be-diplomanced party in an insulting fashion right in front of them.
"Yeeeeah..." I continued, sensing that rapid drop in good will in the room. "Daughter of the owners of a massive industrial conglomerate."
"Then she's perfect for you," Luna smirked.
Sayoko choked and we were only saved from a spit take by the fact that she'd already lowered her beverage a moment ago.
"I- Excuse ME?!" She all but shouted. "Are you trying to hook him up with me?"
What? How does-
"Oh please," Luna interjected, rolling her eyes.
"Yeah," Shampoo spoke up. "Bakusai do much better than frilly money girl anyway."
Sayoko froze, a retort dying on her tongue as her eyes drifted down to the pink kitten sitting on the stool.
"You not look strong at all," the currently feline Joketsuzoku continued. "Probably break like toothpick in bed."
Sayoko, eyes still locked on Shampoo, slowly reached out, placing her drink firmly on the counter.
"Mordy-kun," she all but whined. "I promise I won't be mad. Just tell me what you put in my drink..."
"Same as always," Mordecai responded from the kitchen. "The strongest thing in it is the Vodka."
"Are you sure?" she asked. "Because I'm hallucinating a talking pink kitten that sounds like a bad dub of a Hong Kong action movie... And I didn't even watch any Bruce Lee films last night."
"Oh," Mordecai's voice returned. "No, nothing in your drink. The talking cat's real. Came in with the Demon First Class."
"Oh. Hah hah," Sayoko laughed unevenly. "Very funny Mordecai. Nice prank. You got me. Seriously..."
She leaned towards Shampoo, said kitten giving the young woman a wry look.
"If you wanted to tell me you were practicing ventriloquism you didn't need to go over the top."
"You thinking Shampoo is doll?" Shampoo asked with a non-plussed look. "Is thinking this is joke?"
"And it's named after hair care products, hahahahaha..." Sayoko let out an uneasy laugh. "Is there another one around here named Conditioner?"
"You mocking Shampoo's name now?" said feline retorted, her tone dropping more towards a growl. "Is going to have to teach lesson?"
"Shampoo?" I found myself interjecting. "No smashing."
"But is being disrespectful-"
"NO. SMASHING." I raised my tone a little, cutting the transformed warrior off. "She's just a little off put from seeing a talking cat."
"You mean a clever ventriloquism act," Sayoko looked up to me with a slightly forceful yet manic look. "And I'm not 'off put'."
"You will be if you grip that any harder," I pointed out. Sayoko's head snapped around to find she was once more clutching her drink with a shaking hand, creases forming around her fingers in the styrofoam. With a quick, nervous 'heh', she released it before distracting herself with a glare back at me.
"And just what are you trying to pull?" she asked. "If this is some lame act to trick me into going on a date with you, you had best think twice if you think I'd fall for something like that."
"I beg your pardon?!" Luna rounded on the woman with a sneer. "A DATE? Is that what you think-"
"Luna?" I interrupted.
"What?" she snapped back. After a few seconds and my best attempt to shake my head 'no', she took a deep breath and motioned for me to continue. Sayoko watched the exchange with growing irritation, before sneering at me herself.
"And if you're suggesting what I THINK you are," she continued...
"Okay," I cut in. "NO."
Sayoko stopped as I let my tone act as a built in period.
"First," I continued. "I'm in a neck brace, wearing bandages. I look like a mess, probably smell worse-"
"Smelling like needing bath," Shampoo started to say.
"-Shampoo, not now," I interrupted her, earning a glare but ignoring it as I continued to keep my eyes locked on Sayoko. "In what universe do you think I would EVEN consider myself to be in any kind of condition to make a pass at a girl?"
Sayoko said nothing, my logic making a rather solid point.
"Second," I took advantage of that silence. "The pink kitten is sitting on a bar stool, moving on her own power and there's not a remote control or wire to be seen. And she also has her own plate of food..."
I motioned to said plate that Shampoo had been nibbling off.
"So is ventriloquism REALLY your final answer?"
Then I thumbed over my shoulder at Marller.
"Consider your company at the moment."
Sayoko's eyes glanced back and forth between us as all present held their proverbial breath. After a few seconds she smirked.
"Okay, so it's a really well trained-"
"Wrong," I interrupted. Sayoko lost her smirk, her glare hardening.
"Still wrong," I cut her off. "Eats food."
To facilitate my point, Shampoo smirked and snapped down some egg.
"A bio-engineered super-feline," Sayoko snapped. I almost cut her off, but the absurdity of it was just...
Sayoko's glare switched quickly towards smug when I failed to fire back. Meanwhile, the look on my face was no doubt heading towards disgusted and shocked.
"A bio-engineered super-feline?!" I finally snapped.
"Well, how else do you explain the purple fur, human-like intelligence, and the ability to speak?" Sayoko asked.
I opened my mouth to speak, but thought better of saying 'I dunno, magic?' considering how I would have responded to that question a week ago.
"Huh..." was all I responded with before continuing. "Well played."
I cast my eyes at Shampoo, who probably didn't know what the heck we just said, all things considered.
"Wrong, but well played."
"Yeah," Marller cut in from behind me. "Amusing as this is, she's got a REALLY stubborn tendency to deny I'm a demon and Belldandy's a goddess. Calls her a witch..."
Then Marller made a gagging sound before snapping.
"It's insulting! A mere WITCH?!"
"Why does that bother you?" Luna asked. "I thought you wanted revenge or something?"
"It's insulting because as a First Class Demon, I'm on the same level as Belldandy!" Marller replied heatedly. "Calling her a witch is the same as calling ME a witch! A ninth rate, mortal, unlicensed magic user with zero training!"
"Are you still convinced that woman is some kind of divine being?" Sayoko asked with just a hint of superiority in her tone. "The woman rides a broomstick. How is she NOT a witch? I don't know why you keep insisting on perpetuating that absurd lie about her being a goddess when the evidence is right there in front of-"
There was a shuffle as Marller bolted to her feet, the sound of a cassette player in hyper-reverse, and a snap.
Well, she exploded into a dense cloud of that foul smoke that comes with Marller doing magic on someone. Everyone in the room immediately took to coughing and gagging at the smell, Luna waving it away from her face while Shampoo bolted from her spot to the counter next to me.
"UGH!" Sayoko's voice choked out in a tone that now sounded like she was casting herself as one of the Chipettes from Alvin and the Chipmunks. "And these parlor tricks! What is it with you and smoke bursts? How many ninja movies do you WATCH?"
The smoke cleared a little, revealing that Sayoko was no longer where, or rather, what we expected. Instead, the kitten with a fur coat that matched Sayoko's previous outfit was busy wafting the smoke away from her face too.
"And now I sound like I swallowed helium!" Sayo-kitty snapped. "Is this your idea of a joke? To make-"
Sayoko stopped, one ear flopping sideways as she looked up at us.
"What in the?" she began. "Did you lower my seat or-"
And finally, Sayoko noticed the elephant in the room. Or rather, the kitten in the room that wasn't Shampoo. In total silence, she just stretched out a foreleg, inspecting it and wiggling it in a manner not unlike a person who wasn't sure they were the ones controlling the limb. After a few moments of quite observation, she spoke.
"Mirror," was the demand.
Marller, saying nothing, conjured up a small hand mirror and floated it down to Sayoko. Sayoko ignored this, but looked over her reflection, running a paw over her ears and flicking her new whiskers a few times.
"Huh," she began in a slight introspective haze. "I'm actually kind of adorable like this..."
Then her eye twitched.
"This all makes sense now," she spoke to nobody in particular. "I'm still asleep."
Her eye twitched again, twice.
"I'm asleep, and this is a dream," she continued. "Because there's NO WAY IN HELL this can be happening!"
And the dam burst.
"Not only is this impossible! But there's no way my brain would be big enough in this form! And speaking of big, doing this violates the conservation of mass since I can only be one to two kilos like this. I mean, I'm not heavy, but I'm not THAT light! And I'm pretty sure Mordy didn't drug me. Not with anything that would have me hallucinating being turned into a cat! So my conclusion, a dream! I'm still dreaming, and none of you are real! You're just leftover memory fragments from whatever movie I was watching last night, though I'm not sure what makes me dream about slobs in neckbraces-"
Shampoo prowled across the counter before hopping down next to Sayoko. Then, with an audible 'thwap', cuffed the girl-turned-kitten upside the head.
"OW!" Sayoko snapped. "That hurt you little-"
She suddenly stopped mid-sentence, her eyes proverbially growing to the size of saucers.
"Is not dream," Shampoo spat in an annoyed tone. "Is demon magic to prove point. You is making too many excuse for own eyes. Make self blind and weak."
Shampoo then hopped back up to her stool, but not before casting one more look Sayoko's way.
"So get over self before Shampoo have to beat sense into you."
At that, Sayoko blinked twice, then glanced at the floating mirror one more time before she broke out into a fit of insanity giggles. After a few seconds of that, they became a full on mad laugh inter-spaced with delirious hyperventilating. Luna sighed.
"Great," she muttered. "You went and broke her."
"She'll live," Marller rolled her eyes. "With that attitude of hers, I'm surprised I didn't do this sooner..."
"I think it's less the surviving and more the catastrophic damage you just did to her psyche," I added, lamenting over the rapidly more rampant psychotic laughter. "Plus you just broke the rules..."
Marller made an audible choke sound.
"You may want to undo that before someone does unto you," I added.
Marller grumbled, but said nothing before she repeated her cassette tape speak and snapped her fingers. Another foul fog later, and Sayoko was back to her normal self. Albeit sitting awkwardly on her stool still laughing like a mad woman.
"Still broken..." Luna frowned. "The idea I had doesn't work if she's a gibbering mess."
"Look," Marller sighed. "I can fix her body, but I try not to mess with people's minds. Hearts, sure, minds, no way. I've already seen enough of what that does to prefer staying well away if can. Call it first class experience."
"Yeah..." I chimed in reluctantly. "She has a point. Plus this is just her sanity slipping, not magic."
"Oh, you mean like yours?" Luna cast a smirk back at me.
"For me it's less crippling laughter and more kill everything in sight," I replied bluntly. "You should know, Shampoo and Ranma had to pin me in place."
"Point taken," she responded. "But we still need to calm her down."
"You can try slap again," Shampoo advised. "Make big enough pain more concern than crazy world."
"Or you could try a bigger jolt," Mordecai commented as he came around the counter. I almost jumped out of my chair myself, as he no longer looked like the very intimidating not-quite-human he was using as a cover. Instead, he looked very much like an orc or ogre. Large square jaw, protruding fangs sticking out of his under bite. Green-hued skin. How do you even GET green skin anyway?
"Ah..." Marller interjected into my thoughts. "Support services demon. Now it makes sense."
Predictably, Sayoko's psycho-patented laughter came to an abrupt halt.
Also predictably, she let out an ear piercing shriek that sent Shampoo and Luna fleeing across the room. Marller simply grumbled, sticking a finger in one ear in annoyance.
Her initial outburst complete, Sayoko tried to backpedal away from the 'horror' before her, only remembering too late she was awkwardly perched in her feline posture, and toppled off the stool. Of course, in a full panic as she was, this didn't even register as she gasped for air and shuffled away from the demon.
"Really?" Mordecai responded in a deadpan as he leaned down next to her. "I serve you the perfect espresso every morning, and this is the thanks I get?"
"I doubt that's a concern," Luna chimed in, covering her own ears in pain. "But no, go ahead and break her some more. I didn't have a plan at all."
"Sarcasm is unbecoming of your my dear," Mordecai responded without glancing back. "But seriously, I don't expect you to understand the nuances of expectation, fear, and dissonance. Or how they play together in a symphony of emotion."
Sayoko just continued to hyperventilate in the corner she'd managed to shuffle too, eyes wide as saucers at the revealed demon.
"Seriously though," Mordecai continued. "Miss Mishima, your behavior is atrocious. Or do you expect me to believe you always lose your composure over the slightest little thing?"
A few more terrified huffs burst from Sayoko's lungs, but the prod got a response.
"S-Slightest little thing?!" she asked, still horrified. "You... YOU'RE-"
"I'm what?" Mordecai put on a look of hurt. "Ugly? Terrifying? Inhuman?"
He tilted his head, smirking.
"Right on all three counts."
Then he shifted back to a hurt look.
"But do you think screaming in horror is really appropriate? I serve you coffee every morning. And the first time I take my makeup off, you lose any and all dignity? What would others say if they saw you like this?"
Sayoko continued to stare, but already her panicked breathing was slowing down. So far, she had yet to be eaten by the monster. That probably helped, and I think I saw what Mordecai was doing.
"What?" Sayoko gasped.
"You didn't even pause to think about it," Mordecai stood up to his now admittedly impressive full height with the hurt look on his face continuing. "Nor did you even consider MY feelings in the matter."
With a casual turn, the orc/ogre/demon stepped towards the counter, reaching for Sayoko's drink.
"What?" came Sayoko's now firmly confused response.
"Say what again-" popped out of my mouth before I registered I was doing so. "-And I start quoting Pulp Fiction."
Sayoko's gaze traveled away from Mordecai to me, predictably eliciting the same response.
Mordecai stuck one finger against Sayoko's foam cup, muttering something that sounded like typical demon spellcasting before turning back to the now reasonably calm young woman. Sayoko cringed at bit, but didn't immediately return to a panic when the demon reached a hand out to help her up.
"Come on," he said. "Get up, and put all that nonsense behind you. I don't bite. Not my job."
Sayoko blinked at the outstretched hand. I almost expected another 'what' out of her before she timidly reached out to accept the assist. Mordecai deftly pulled her to her feet and guided the young woman back to her stool, where she shakily recovered her drink and began nursing at it to remain calm.
"There, you see?" Mordecai continued as he stepped back around the counter. "We're all friends here."
Then he paused, giving Marller an extended glance.
Sayoko, to her credit, cast her gaze at the rest of us now less with a look of disgust, and more a look somewhere between awe and terror. After a few seconds, she looked back at the ogre as he worked on removing Luna's plate (now all but licked clean) to the dirty dish bin.
"So..." she began, eyes flitting back and forth. "You're a-"
"Demon," Mordecai interrupted. "Yes. Support services. Third class restricted license." Then her pointed. "Marller is a first class, unlimited license for the field service division."
"And they are..." her eyes wandered to me.
"Human," Mordecai stated, then paused. "Well, he's human. Not sure about the kitten or the girl."
"Shampoo human," said kitten spoke up. "Just stuck in curse."
"And they're transients," Marller filled in. Sayoko nodded dumbly and nursed more coffee to stay calm. After a moment of gazing at us, she spoke up again.
"What's a transient?"
"From other worlds," Mordecai answered, receiving an almost offended look from Sayoko. "What? I'm a demon, Marller's a demon, and you can't accept multi-verse theory?"
Sayoko's look softened back to contemplation while she used her drink as an excuse to remain silent. Very quickly this was setting up to be a pattern of hers.
After another minute, and no further questions, I turned to Luna with one of my own.
"So..." I began. "Exactly what was your plan again? Aside from turning Sayoko into Motoko Mark Two."
"I was trying to ease her into it," Luna pointed out. "It was Marller who went and shoved it down her throat."
"Only after whack-a-demon here made a mess of things," Marller interjected, indicating a scowling Shampoo. "I just sped the process up to save time."
"It's called TACT," Luna snapped before Shampoo could make this blame game go full circle. Marller smirked slightly in response. "Something the LOT OF YOU could use a lesson or two in." Said smirk avalanched into a scowl. "I swear, I feel like I'm the only one who gets the concept."
"Oi," I spoke up. "You're not the only one-"
"You're in no condition to speak," Luna chided. "Not only have you recently decided to throw your only lifeline to the most powerful person we've met to date under a truck, you decided to experiment with figuring out a magic glove by blowing someone up while we were already on thin ice with the local superhuman law enforcement. I believe your behavior speaks for itself."
During this tirade, I opened my mouth several times to retaliate. However, after processing what Luna said, I decided she was right.
"S-Seriously?" Sayoko voiced up into an opening in the exchange. "You're arguing about... About..."
"Freaking you out?" I filled in, hopefully helpfully. "Yes. Because this is my life now."
I turned to Luna.
"Seems that way," she sighed. "Apparently the more universes are different, the more they're the same."
"Okay..." Sayoko nodded as if understanding. "So... What was this plan you and everyone else keeps referring to? Obviously you need me for something."
"Yeah..." Luna sighed, giving me an exasperated glance. "I was hoping he'd pick up on things a while ago. But, short version: We have a tentative deal with an elf to provide her with specialized goods that can only be produced by an industrialized world. Your status very obviously screamed the right connections to make good on that deal."
"Uh-huh..." Sayoko nodded in slight disbelief. "An ELF..."
"Two demons, three sliders, in the room," I pointed out in annoyance at her tone.
"Right." she nodded curtly as if in fear of another reprisal from Marller. "So..."
A slight nudge in the ribs from Luna got my attention as she quietly cleared her throat. Glancing at her, she nodded her head back towards Sayoko.
"You've got the gold AND the gear," she muttered. "And I got you an opening, now make with the bargaining."
I gave Luna a blank look for a second, piecing the conversation together before it clicked the right way.
"Oh..." I began stupidly. "Oh. Okay. Apparently I'm doing this..."
For the first time since we got there, I stood up, causing everyone else in the room to wince as joints cracked in protest.
"Oh-kay," I muttered. "That felt kinda' good."
With a step I switched seats so I was sitting next to Sayoko, all but collapsing into the counter with all the grace of a phone book being dropped on a porch. Sayoko, to her credit, seemed a lot less put off by my appearance than before.
"You weren't joking when you said you weren't in any condition to make passes at girls," she stated bluntly.
"Yeah," I chuckled slightly. "Best part is, this is the best I've felt in two days."
Sayoko frowned, giving me another once over. "This is your best?" she asked incredulously.
I risked as much twist as I could get out of my current bindings. "I've had a bad week."
"No kidding," she replied with a slightly arrogant touch of sarcasm. "What hit you? A bear?"
"Close. Giant murder-cat," I replied a little too bluntly and automatically. "I suggest not fighting monsters at point blank. They hit like a truck."
Sayoko, who'd shifted back a little at my reply, winced in genuine sympathy for the first time.
"Ow..." she stated before shifting her features to be more discerning. "So what is it you need from me that your friend is so desperate to drag me through an emotional bender I'm still not quite sure can't be blamed on my drink?"
"Leatherman," I stated curtly.
Sayoko kept her gaze neutral, only giving a slight head tilt after a few seconds to ask for elaboration.
"Leatherman multi-tools?" I asked. "You know... Pliers, knives, screwdrivers... All folded into one-"
"Okay, I get it," Sayoko interrupted. "So why not hit up a hardware store instead?"
"I need a bulk order," I pointed out. "Probably something like a hundred. I'd be hitting every hardware store from here to the other side of Tokyo to get that many, and I don't have that kind of time."
Sayoko nodded understandingly.
"So why me?" she continued. "And what's in it for me?"
"Well..." I began, then paused, turning. "Stand back... Luna?"
I reached out my arm so that it was clear, and popped my dimensional pocket open. Sayoko stared at it with a fresh look of fear passing across her face.
"You've experienced weirder in the last five minutes," I pointed out bluntly, earning only a vacant nod. "Luna, I need the gold pouch."
"On it," Luna commented, walking around the portal before reaching in and feeling around. After a moment, she retracted her arm with the jangly money pouch that had become my interdimensional emergency fund.
With a nod, Luna plopped it on the table in front of me, and I closed down the gaping hole in space time.
"Let's just speak your language," I stated, opening the drawstring and digging into the clinking coins within. After a few moments enjoying the feel of the cool metal coins making metallic poker-chip stacking sounds just out of sight, I pulled my hand free, four of said coins in my hand, and smacked them firmly on the table between us as if placing a high-stakes bet.
Sayoko gave the four coins an appreciative glance for a moment, before her eyes wandered back to me.
"I'm not entirely impressed," she stated bluntly. "I've had money thrown at me before. It loses some of its meaning when you already have all the wealth you could want."
I stared back, contemplating that for a moment. I wasn't expecting just throwing money at the problem not to work. Sayoko actually needed convincing!
"Look at it this way then," I began tentatively after a moment. "You can be the first person in the world to conduct inter-DIMENSIONAL business."
"First mortal, technically," Marller chimed in. "Hild-sama already holds a contract with that honor. With you actually."
"Right..." I rolled my eyes. "Whatever. First mortal. Point is, you get to become the first one to make a business deal that transcends spacetime itself. You go down in the history books as a world first in cross-universe business negotiation. If that's not worth a bulk order of Leathermen, I don't know what is."
Sayoko gave me a stern look, eyes flicking back to the coins on the counter before returning to me.
"And if I don't believe you?" she asked.
"You literally got polymorphed into a cat not five minutes ago," I pointed out.
"I'm still on the fence about whether this is even happening or not," she rebuked. "Despite the evidence... This could even be a really elaborate scam. I am the daughter of the Mishima conglomerate. It's not outside the realm of possibility."
Fair enough... Evidence not withstanding. She's stubborn.
"Alright," I conversationally agreed for a moment. "We'll do this then."
Reaching to the counter, I grabbed the four coins and slid them closer to Sayoko.
"Consider this a down payment," I advised. "I will double this upon delivery of what I'm asking for. But you get these now. Believe what I'm saying or don't. These are yours. Take them home, test them. Whatever. If I'm telling the truth, you gain some reputation and the most lucrative business opportunity of your generation. If I'm lying, you still walk away with four gold coins. Either way, you can't lose."
Sayoko remained quiet for a minute or two. I decided at this point it would be better to let her think on it, even as she nursed her drink a little more. Finally, she set her drink down to ask another question.
"So," she began. "A hundred Leatherman multi-tools?"
"Eh," I waved my hand. "I was floating it. Whatever the gold will buy, minus what you think is a fair fee as the go-between."
"And when do you need them?" she continued. I sighed, almost leaning back but remembering I was on a stool, not in a chair.
"The way all this jumping's been working out for me," I sighed. "A week. We'll call it one week minimum. If I don't come around in a month, I'm either not looping through universes, or dead. At which point it won't matter and you can do as you please."
"At which point I would be stuck with a bulk order of tools," Sayoko pointed out.
"Like you couldn't just sell them for a profit," I replied. "You're only investing time into this at practically zero expense. You lose nothing."
"True," Sayoko nodded after a moment. "Alright then..."
I perked up at how her tone lightened slightly.
"I'll take you up on this," she stated near imperiously. "If the gold is good, you've got yourself a deal. But nothing moves until I test it personally."
I almost grinned at the thought of something actually going my way today, what after the start we had in Marller's 'base'.
"Go for it," I all but waved my arms. "Heck, if you keep a testing kit with you for when I come pick it up, you can test the other half of what I promised if it'll make you feel better."
"Hmph..." Sayoko smirked slightly, sticking out her hand. "Okay, I might just do that then. Deal?"
I reached out with my own.
We both almost fell off our stools when a pile of paper that went from the counter to the top of my head slammed down right on top of the gold coins next to us.
"I'm back!" Hild chimed happily from her spot in the air next to us. "And my timing is perfect as ever. Why, half a second later and you would have closed that deal without ANY benefits!"
"Jesus Christ, Hild!" I snapped.
"Still wrong!" the Daimakaicho trilled with glee as I pulled myself steady. Sayoko likewise mirrored the motion, a look of shock equally on her face.
"Where'd she come from?" she all but blurted after a moment, the shakes having returned to her hands.
"Hell," Hild began casually, ticking off her fingers. "Hades, Abaddon, The Pit, Gehenna, Purgatory, The Abyss, The City of Dis, Nidhogg, The Nether Realm, Heaven's crotchless panties, Nifleheim, the Realm of Eternal Torment, The Inferno, or if you're going for a TV Y7 rating in America 'Heck'. Or the Home For Infinite Losers. Depends on who's dubbing anime at the time..."
Sayoko blinked in shock, but said nothing.
"Not a fan of that last one though," Hild suddenly mock-pouted. "I mean, in SOME cases it's accurate, but I'm not a loser."
"R-Right," Sayoko repeated her owlish blink. "Who are you?"
"Oh, where are my manners?" Hild grinned, settling from her casual levicline to a standing position and sticking out her hand enthusiastically. "As per his blurt before, I am Hild. CEO of the church of darkness, top shareholder in the business of odious business, dealer of dirty deeds done dirt cheap, master of malicious mise, leader of Hell et el... The Daimakaicho."
Sayoko blinked silently once more before seemingly suffering a relapse to earlier conditions.
"My boss," Marller drolled. "The Devil Herself, as it were..." Instantly, Hild shot the demon first class a scowl, her eyes glowing red with power. Marller no less instantly prostrated herself on the floor in a manner that left an audible thud as she groveled for whatever mercy she didn't deserve at the moment. Hild smirked at this and returned to Sayoko's perplexed gaze.
"Basically that," she chirped.
Sayoko continued to stare while Hild's hand remained outstretched. After about thirty seconds of this, the student let out a quiet, contemplative 'huh...' and reached sideways for her drink, nursing at it for a moment.
Hild took the unintentional slight quite well, only scowling, but not unleashing her terror-field, or whatever it is Hild does when pissed. Luna hitched a sympathetic hiss through her teeth, half expecting Bad Things™ to happen.
"Shake her hand," I instructed calmly to Sayoko. "Or you'll discover what you can survive without organs... Or biology for that matter."
Nodding dumbly, Sayoko shakily set her drink down before reaching out to grasp Hild's outstretched hand. Hild, in response, grinned emphatically and gave a firm, but relaxed shake.
"A... Pleasure?" Sayoko half-stated, half-asked.
"Of course," Hild replied. "And don't worry, I'm aware of how... Overwhelming my presence can be to mortals."
"Your presence is overwhelming be they mortal or immortal, Hild-Sama," Marller delivered in reverence. In response, Hild smirked, stepping on the demon's back and forcing her down even lower despite the total kowtowing she was already performing.
Still completely overtaken by whatever cross of confusion and shock qualified at this point, Sayoko glanced between the Marller-skinned rug on the floor, and Hild. Then she asked one of many, at least to anyone not in the know, million dollar/yen/whatever questions.
"How does someone of your age become her boss?"
Marller let out a strangled 'hrrk' of fear, but Hild just dug a heel in, her face remaining serene.
"Oh, you know," she smiled amiably. "When you're the uncontested master of the deepest depths of evil, you have underlings that do that whole aging thing for you. Isn't that right Ma-chan?"
"Hai! Hild-sama!" said demon managed to enunciate despite her current state.
"Also," Hild continued. "This is only part of me. Something along the lines of... One-one-thousandth of myself. The rest of me is off rearranging job positions to satisfy an immortal treaty. Hell's work is never done, you know."
"You can... Split yourself up?" Sayoko asked, now firmly going for curious. "How?"
"Oh it's easy!" Hild launched off Marller's back and whipped an arm around Sayoko conspiratorially. "See, just think of me as a computer program that runs half the universe and rewrites its own code as needed. In this case, I just write myself up as a fractional subroutine, give myself some autonomy that passes information back to me, and voila!"
"-actually easy to follow," I blinked.
"It is," Hild nodded. "Of course, for a mortal it falls under the category 'easier said than done'. There's a certain amount of information compartmentalization you can't do so long as your mind operates by using matter as a pattern-holder. The inability to directly restructure your consciousness is a bit of a hindrance there."
"Right," I nodded, eyes tracking down to find Marller slowly pulling herself up a stool. Then my eyes returned to the torso-sized stack of papers next to me. I motioned to it.
"So what's this all about?"
"Oh, that little thing?" Hild asked.
"Just some paperwork for you to fill out."
Then Hild paused, probably seeing the rancid features that took over my face.
"Well, maybe not all of it," she continued. "Mortals have a hard time handling ten to twenty pages. I get this might be a bit much, but I-"
"A bit MUCH?!" Luna cut in. "I've seen laws passed back in the Silver Millennium that didn't involve this much documentation. What could you possibly-"
Luna's mouth vanished, resulting in a few seconds of her continuing to rant in inarticulate hums before she realized what Hild had done, then crossed her arms in an annoyed growl.
"I was getting to that, Kitty," Hild rolled her eyes. "Do try not to interrupt when your betters are speaking. You should know how that goes around me."
Luna snorted in annoyance, but sat back down without further complaint.
"Very good," Hild continued, releasing Sayoko from her buddy-buddy grip. "As I was saying, this is for you-" she pointed at me. "-to fill out. Though to be fair to you, I'm trimming it down to the essentials. Anything you need on top of that can be brought in and signed on the fly."
"Essentials for what?" I was almost afraid to know the answers.
"Why, to become my Intern of course," Hild smirked.
Marller was in her boss' face in an instant.
"Hild-sama!" the demon all but shouted. "Surely you can't be serious about this! He's a mortal! A transient mortal! Not only is this unprecedented, but we don't have the support structure to even provide orientation! He would be a total newbie at everything! Magic management, cleanup, deal negotiation... I can't even really begin to imagine what all we'd need to do to support him. And that doesn't even begin to speak about how the goddesses would react to active recruitment of mortals."
During this tirade, Hild kept her smile set strictly to 'all according to plan', until Marller petered out, her worries firmly expressed.
"Finished?" Hild asked politely.
"Very good," the Daimakaicho continued. "But you needn't worry about this. For one, training will be your job."
Marller couldn't have gone back into outraged mode any faster if she tried.
But Hild powered on through.
"You have the most experience with mortals out of anyone down stairs at this point," she pointed out. "And as a First Class demon, you hold all the certifications necessary to oversee training of any demonic matters that come up."
"And I'm lost again," Sayoko muttered.
"It'll be clear to you in a moment sweetie," Hild smirked. "I just need to bring my subordinate here up to speed with the current market strategy."
"B-but," Marller continued, seemingly still too much surprised to be cowed at the moment. "The treaties!"
"I'll handle those," Hild smiled in a genuinely amiable grin. "And it's not like we're promoting a brand new mortal intern to demon first class or anything. You of all demons should know that takes guts, hard work, and LOTS of brown nosing."
For a moment it was silent, but Marller still clearly showed off the total shock of what Hild was planning.
Then a second later I finally realized what they were discussing, and who they were discussing.
Ah... Diplomatic Discourse at its finest.
"Oh," Hild half-pouted before stepping over next to me. "I wanted to explain this to you in a manner that was a little less out of left field. But short version, little Urd was just a biiiit too perceptive on our last try."
Hild then picked up a sheet of paper off the top of the stack.
"So I devised a bit of a paper trail to make your story more credible..."
Then the paper flashed into a blue fire and turned to ash.
"But then I was thinking the best lies are the ones that contain the truth. And the PERFECT lie IS the truth!"
Hild picked up part of the stack and poached a document from somewhere in the middle.
"So rather than merely pretending for you to be a demon," she continued. "I figured, I'm the boss, I make the rules, and we don't need anything special to make it happen, just paperwork."
"So you're making me a demon," I began. "For real?"
"BINGO!" Hild then pressed my nose with a finger. "Though, to be fair, I can't really justify anything higher than 'intern' on account of your mortality, transient nature, and everything that goes with it. Ergo, I have to dance around the rules we abide by so as not to arouse suspicion. So, no demon magic, a required escort anywhere you go on Earth, and mandatory training. At least on paper."
I glanced at the giant stack again.
"And I have to go through all this?" I asked. Hild reclined in the air, crossing her arms.
"Like I said," she rolled her eyes. "I managed to cut things down to the essentials. It may seem like a lot to mortals, but there's quite a bit more to being a full demon. At least this way, we can get to what I want to do sometime this century. And I say that literally."
'Uh..." Sayoko raised a hand. "Excuse me... Speaking of time. I do have classes today. So is it possible I can finish what we were doing before you bury him in a few days of documentation?"
Hild didn't even pass Sayoko a glance before answering.
In response, I shot Hild a rather annoyed glance as she prepared to no-doubt destroy the last fifteen to twenty minutes of whatever progress I was making here towards... whatever end I was- Honestly aside from being a nice guy to an elf, I had no freaking clue what I was doing.
"And don't you worry your pretty little head about it," Hild interjected into my thoughts. "I put a few ergs into reverse-time-dilating the cafe. That's why nobody's walked in here since you've arrived. We'll have plenty of time to on-board him, and closing your deal without you missing any classes. My treat."
"I'm afraid I don't follow," Sayoko pointed out.
"Hild-sama wants him on the demonic roster before you close your deal with him," Marller rolled her eyes, albeit discretely and with a quick sidelong glance to make sure the Daimakaicho hadn't seen it.
"And who wouldn't want that?" Hild grinned, buddy-ing up to Sayoko again. "After all. As a demon (intern), his contract will be his bond, and you'll be guaranteed this little endeavor will be seen to completion. Plus you'll get other benefits like dispute arbitration, equal value exchange, future wish priority- Has Ma-chan explained our Orichalcum program yet?"
Hild then waved a hand as if to say 'never mind' and stepped away from Sayoko.
"Just be patient. I hear it's a virtue. And while I'm the mother of all evil, I do appreciate the value of virtue."
With that, Hild turned, crossing her arms and giving me an expectant look. After a few seconds, the other ladies in the room more or less traded glances and joined Hild in said expectant look.
I traded my own looks with the lot of them, glancing at the tower of paper and all but cringing internally. There was no way I would be able to deal with a stack like that. I doubt I could even READ through a stack that big let alone- Wait.
I plucked a page off the top, apprehensive for a moment as I expected to find Nordic runes or Japanese katakana to melt my mind. Luckily, Hild seemed to realize my ability to read was at least part and-
I squinted again. Something was... Off about what I was looking at.
I turned the page sideways, confused as I tried to look for what it was. It almost slipped by me until I had the paper upside down, and noticed that despite being upside down and backwards, I was able to read the script as if reading it perfectly fine normally.
Suddenly, Marller sighed in exasperation.
"It's written in Babelscript Font," she stated. "All hellish documents are. Otherwise we'd be stuck producing forms in every language that appeared from the beginning of time straight through to Ragnarok."
"Which becomes quite a hassle when you consider that we keep documentation on everything since pretty much the beginning of time," Hild shrugged. "Imagine having to duplicate every record we have the moment a new language gets traction."
"Sounds like Hell," Luna smirked, apparently having gotten her mouth back. "I'm surprised that's not your standard way of doing things."
"Please," Hild smirked back. "I'm a bit cruel and callous with a side of sadistic. But I do happen to desire efficiency and power. If all of demon kind were buried up to their necks in documentation, they'd provide me with none of those things."
"Fair enough," Luna nodded, picking up the second page of the stack. "Though I must..."
Luna glanced again.
There was silence for a few seconds before the felis sapien visibly lost some color.
"Oh my," she gulped. "Is... Is this actually REAL?"
Confused, I traded pages with Luna, going from a basic, if wordy page to...
I immediately regretted my decision. Because even with Babelscript, what I read on the page was about as clear as machine code to a kitten.
A regular kitten, not Shampoo or Luna.
"Oh god," I blanched. "Legalese."
"His is worse, actually," Hild shrugged, looking up to the ceiling. "We at least have the sense to assume you can form coherent thought. His defines the idea of separate entity communication before you even start the preamble. Kind of comes part and parcel with having built the cosmos up the way it is."
"Here," Sayoko cut in, stepping forward and reaching for my page. "I have a few law classes under my belt, I'm sure it's not so bad."
Taunting Murphy in the presence of the devil with damning (pardon the pun) evidence sitting on the counter next to us. I would point this out to her, but the fact that Sayoko was even volunteering to help was enough to prevent me from being a dick about it, if only slightly. With an almost 'like its hot' motion, I handed the paper to the student to let her decipher the mess.
Sayoko stood there for a few seconds, her eyes zipping back and forth. Then she inhaled deeply.
"Mordy-Kun," she announced. "I'm going to need another one of my usual, extra Vodka."
"That bad?" I asked.
Sayoko looked up from the page, her eyes expressing a sudden lack of any amusement.
"This page, in size 8 font, spends six paragraphs defining 'self', as it pertains to the person's signature."
"Well," Luna began with a sigh. "That doesn't sound so-"
"The CONCEPT of their signature," Sayoko clarified. "Not what makes a valid signature, but what is defined, in reality, as the very concept of signing over rights by authority of self."
Sayoko set the page back on the stack and clicked her tongue as Mordecai deposited a fresh drink next to her.
"And I'm willing to bet page one defines 'authority' and 'self'," she continued with a give-it-here look at Luna. "And probably 'rights' as well."
"I never said we were MUCH better than Him," Hild chimed in helpfully.
Sayoko, her previous attitude all but melted away and transformed into an almost indignant disgust for what she was reading, flopped down in the stool nearest the stack itself. After another sip of a fresh custom espresso, she looked up at the mountain with determination.
"Alright," she stated. "Let's get started."
"What," Luna blinked before I could comment. "You're helping? Why?"
Sayoko sighed, looking tired for just a second before straightening up.
"It's simple," she stated in an almost haughty tone. "Either I'm still asleep after a weird combination of law class, bad Chinese action movies, and another night of drinking more than I should have... Or this is real. And if this is real, well, I'm waiting on him-"
Sayoko pointed to me.
"-to close a deal. Which means he needs to get through this demonic company on boarding packet-"
Hild made a little 'hee!' sound as if proud of herself.
"-and it's implied that the private deal he makes is no longer private. Thus, if something screws him over, I'm screwed over. And as I represent the Mishima Conglomerate to an extent here, what screws me over, screws the company over. And if that happens, I'll never hear the end of it."
"Ohohohoho..." Hild all but cackled with glee. "Ma-Chan, I like her. You should have introduced us sooner."
"I honestly never considered her history beyond getting at Belldandy," Marller shrugged.
Sighing again after another sip of her drink, Sayoko reassessed the paper mountain that dwarfed the largest phone books.
"I'm not exactly certain about this time bubble thing," she continued. "But we're going to need every minute of it if I want to get through THIS and make it to class on time."
"Yeah," Marller sat down cross-legged in the air. "About that. I'm not in the mood for sitting around for three days while-"
Marller paused, casting a nervous glance at Hild, who was now reclining on her back in the air reading a magazine. At least, I thought it was a magazine. Every time I tried to discern it, my eyes watered and my vision went out of focus from what kaleidoscope effects I could make out. I made quick to look away after Hild apparently signaled Marller to carry on.
"Er..." Marller continued. "Not in the mood to sit around while you go over every little detail. You want pages one, two, seventy three, one-seventy-nine, two-eighty-three, four-nineteen, five forty-seven, six-sixty-one, eight-eleven, sixteen sixty-three, and seventy-nine nineteen."
"That's only ten pages," Sayoko stated.
"Eleven," Marller corrected. "They're all primes, even the count of relevant pages. If you want to be careful, grab the two pages before each of those and you'll have enough to be safe. Page six-sixty-one will reference page six-sixty-six, mainly because someone in the department of infernal beasts thought it would be funny. There are also exactly seven references to page seven-seven-seven, which doesn't exist. Don't worry about that. Just doodle in the blanks. It keeps the demons at internal processing entertained... Little worms that they are."
"Marller-demon being strangely helpful," Shampoo voiced up after an excessively long silence.
"Never go through the Demon Code in its entirety in one sitting," Marller advised. "That way lies madness. Just ask Loki."
"We don't like to talk about him," Hild muttered idly.
"Right," Sayoko gave the Daimakaicho a weird look before turning her face back to the papers. "Er... There's just one problem with this that I can see."
"Oh?" Marller tilted her head. "And what's that?"
Sayoko held the page up, showing it off.
"These aren't paginated," she said.
"Crap," Hild's head snapped up. "I materialized the old copy."
Then she relaxed again, going back to her magazine from beyond time and space.
"Oh well, not MY problem..."
Marller gave her boss a very dry look, but didn't dare to say anything before she turned back to face us.
"Okay," she stated. "One side, I've got this."
"What do you have in mind?" Luna asked as the demon first class sized up the stack. Then, after plucking what Sayoko was holding and setting it on top, she proceeded to shrink it.
"Old trick of mine from back in the day," Marller narrated to us. "The old card-trick spell works on any stack of documents."
With that, Marller picked up the entire stack in one hand, and began performing what could only be described as a series of card tricks for dividing and shuffling the deck. Sayoko let out a little 'squee' of bureaucratic horror at the the sight, but otherwise stood her ground, even as Marller hummed a jaunty tune (that sounded suspiciously like 'we're in the money') while going through a series of motions that were more at home in a cartoon than real life.
After a few passes of this shuffling, Marller came to a stop, resized the stack, and dropped it on the counter with a resounding 'thud'.
"There," she stated proudly. "Everything we need should be the first thirty-three pages, and everything else should be right in order as before."
"From... From shuffling it?" Sayoko asked.
Marller crossed her arms, closed her eyes, and gave a large, overzealous nod.
"Yep!" she all but crowed. "Never do paperwork without it. I've yet to work automated stapling into it, but I can sort almost any stack size in minutes."
"One of Ma-chan's useful side talents," Hild replied from behind her Eldritch reading material. "Got her ahead of the competition."
Plucking the first three pages off the top of the stack, Sayoko examined them with a discerning eye before handing it to me.
"Fill you name on the fifth line, twelfth line, and last line of this page," she instructed. "Then initialize the bullet list in the middle."
I glanced at her.
"It's just the part that says you are who and what you claim you are," she rolled her eyes. "Perfectly safe."
"Right," I exhaled. "I just need-"
A small pop, and Marller handed me a pen.
And so, for the next three hours, we tackled the most horrifying piece of paperwork I would ever hope to never encounter ever again. The Demon Code (of Employee Conduct and Etiquette).
And in all my life, I had never seen anything before as outright absurd as that.
"Watch line seventy-two," Marller pointed out. "Make sure you offer your services, not your soul. Contrary to popular belief, those things are worthless and I could photocopy them faster than you can say 'ghost army'."
I also learned why it was so damn large.
"Okay," Sayoko frowned. "I'm confused as to why this is even a point."
"Oh?" I asked. "What's this one say?"
"Subsection 2.a," she began. And we all braced for the mess. "Following the consideration that part and/or parts of the concerned parties of a situation in progress are submitted, at the time of the event, as defined in Art. 89 subsection 811.b of the Sentient and Meta-Sentient Beings Act, in part and/or in totality to the definition of a repository of infernal authority (thereafter referred to as "parties"), the necessity of conforming to the validity of a reciprocal and/or non-reciprocal agreement to actively participate in a competitive superposition of harmonic and/or dis-harmonic atmospheric vibration generation through the assistance of devices defined, but not restricted, by Art. 48101 subsection 1.a.a to 987.v.b of the Electro-Mechanically Assisted Audio-Vibrational Entertainment Devices Act (thereafter referred to as a "challenge") shall not be infringed by any authority that has not been explicitly listed in subsection 4.c of the present article."
"Oh I really hate this one," Marller soured.
"That's just the first part," Sayoko sighed. "Subsection 2.b: In the event of a challenge each part of the accord shall put under submission material, immaterial, spiritual, metaphysical possessions or services (thereafter referred to as "wager") for which a strict equivalence of material, immaterial, spiritual, metaphysical or moral value shall have been defined by mutual agreement of both parts under the strict provision that no undue material, immaterial, spiritual, metaphysical, or moral influence, as defined by Art. 77, subsections 5.a to 9.d of the Coercive and Non-Euclidean Argumentative Accord, has been exerted on either or both parties."
Sayoko looked up at us for a moment, making sure we were all caught up before she continued.
"Subsection 2.c: In the event of a challenge, each party shall endeavor to ensure the completion of the event with the consideration that any and all action taken, through either and both action and inaction, to cause a temporal drift between agreement and execution, shall put the responsible party under status of Contempt of Infernal Authority as defined in Art. 5, subsection 2.f of the Midgard Treaty."
She paused for another breath.
"Subsection 2.d," Sayoko all but droned. "Upon successful completion of a challenge, each party shall proceed to a willing or unwilling, through enforcement of the clauses defined in Art. 1, subsection 25.d of the Midgard Treaty (thereafter referred to as a "repossession"), transfer of material, immaterial, spiritual, metaphysical or moral possession, as defined in Art. 20, subsection 1.a of the Sentient and Meta sentient Beings Act, of the wagers mutually defined and agreed upon in the application of subsection 2.b of the present article related to the specific challenge that was successfully completed."
With that, she lowered the page.
"I really don't get this one," she blinked in confusion. "I'm sorry, but this one is beyond even me. The conditions stipulated here make no sense. It talks about some kind of challenge for goods, but the nature of the challenge... UGH! I have lawyers less recursive than this!"
"Okay," I did my best to lean against the table as I took the page from Sayoko to examine it. "Let me see."
Skimming the page, before long I was retracing what was said several times, trying to squeeze meaning from the mess.
"Two-A... Yadda yadda, challenge, electro-mechanical, harmonic dis-harmonic, blah blah-"
I blinked. Goddesses and Demons like to sing don't they? Like, song magic?
"Is this a song challenge?" I asked. "A musical challenge? Am I expected to participate in musical combat? How does one even participate in musical combat anyway?"
Sayoko gave me a look like I'd gone crazy. A look that had, by this point in tearing through this stuff, become quite common. But before she could tell me I was a fool and misreading it, Marller cut in.
"Yeah," she shrugged. "Like I said, I hate it. I never win, and that stupid robot is even programmed to use it as an attack."
And then it clicked.
"Wait..." I stared. "No. You can't be serious!"
"What?" Luna asked, Sayoko also gave me a curious look.
"You're bullshitting me," I replied. "You have to be."
"You get to point already?" Shampoo frowned. She had her own chunk of documents next to her, but they'd been discarded out of boredom at some point.
"The demon code literally spends a page-" I almost laughed, "-to tell me that I am forbidden from declining a rock-off challenge?"
"Yeah," Marller shrugged. "That's the problem with this thing. We've been trying to trim it down for centuries, but we're still stuck with a reciprocating, self-referencing monstrosity. Too many loopholes were getting exploited. And to think, this is just a version Hild-sama had trimmed down. The full code is-"
Marller rubbed the back of her head with a grimace.
"-An order of magnitude more intimidating. Consider yourself lucky you don't have to mess with it."
"I still don't get it," Sayoko blinked.
"And you probably won't for another sixteen years," Hild commented idly. Sayoko's head shot up in shock.
"D-Did she just imply time travel?" she asked incredulously. I couldn't help but sigh.
"What part of hideously powerful higher dimensional being are you failing to understand?" I asked. "We're sitting in a localized spacetime bubble at her whimsy, just so we don't get interrupted and you don't miss class."
Then I paused. Speaking of...
"Three hours and fifteen minutes inside," Hild turned a 'page' on her Eldritch magazine and turned the eye-watering abomination sideways... I think. "Three minutes and fifteen seconds outside. I kicked us up to a solid sixty-over-one when you got started."
"Kinda' makes me wish I could do that," I muttered, turning back to the paperwork and trying to ignore the ease with which physics was being bent over backwards. "So... Yeah. Take magic, sci-fi, and computer programming, smash it all together and just imagine the universe as running on that. Then consider all the demons and gods and such as the programmers. It'll save you the headache later. I think she even said that earlier."
Sayoko nodded ever so slightly before shoving her face back into the legal documentation that apparently said I had to hold epic guitar battles whenever anyone asked.
I'm going to have to learn to play, or I'm losing a lot of challenges.
Why am I taking that seriously?
"There's a signature line at the bottom," Sayoko cut into my thoughts. "As I can understand it, this is a signature for understanding that you can't decline the... Rock Off Challenge."
"You literally can't once you sign," Marller groused. "You WILL participate, even if reality has to drag you into it the hard way."
"Joy..." I let my tone speak for me on that one. I motioned for the page, taking a second to sign off with a sigh. The back corner of my mind was screaming obscenities that I was so readily not only going along with this, but signing off on a rather binding document with little to no forethought.
Then again, Hild didn't leave me much wiggle room. At the very least, if she decided to take things too far as her 'intern', I might be able to claim a little bit of coercion. Then again...?
"One more page," Marller commented, handing me the last one.
"That one simply states that you were not in any way coerced into signing," Sayoko pointed out. "Once you sign, you are technically..."
Sayoko paused, looking at the three demons in the room.
"You are technically a demon. I can't believe I'm saying that with a straight face."
"Join the club," I stated, glancing up at the student. "I would LOVE to give you the long story of what's going on. But I have the feeling that you're barely keeping it together as it is, and I'm already familiar with that. You just got a huge chunk of modern cosmology thrown out the window on you."
"Yeah," she blanched. "And I think I want to avoid the Multi-verse Theory lecture until after I've worked off my next hangover. What's worse, now I feel like I owe Morisato an apology."
"Eh," Marller made a 'so and so' motion with her hand. "He's got Belldandy doting all over him at the moment. Don't feel too bad. Those goddesses are concentrating more joy there than should even be legal."
At the mention of Belldandy's name, Sayoko narrowed her eyes, letting out a growl.
"Oh, is that jealousy?" Hild glanced up from her distraction. "Dear, I hope you haven't been trying TOO hard all this time. A mortal competing with the divine, especially with all the willful ignorance you've shown, will not end well."
"Aren't you supposed to encourage that outcome?" Luna asked in confusion.
"I mean for her," Hild shrugged, pointing at Sayoko. "Belldandy's a very sweet girl, and has curves in all the right places. Plus a singing voice even I can respect. As a goddess, she's all but perfection on the surface. A mortal's not competing with that."
Sayoko let out another, louder growl.
"Which is all the more reason to take her down and find out what's really going on inside that mind of hers," Hild cracked a devious smile. "No one is that perfect, and I plan to prove it."
Then she raised a finger to her chin, seeming to look at the ceiling for a second before her eyes found Sayoko again.
"Maybe after this is done, I'll get you in on a little 'test' of sorts for Belldandy," she pondered.
"You are REALLY determined to break that girl," I commented. "Aren't you?"
"Her naive innocence annoys me," Hild answered flatly. "How she can keep that up yet repress the darker feelings I've seen in her for so long is almost infuriating. But that can wait."
Hild waved at us with a shooing motion.
"You're almost done here. Go ahead and finish up..."
"Right," I sighed again, turning back to the last document. I pondered on the consequences of signing what pretty much officially roped me into this mess deeper than before. All things considered, it probably didn't matter in the end. We didn't find anything absurdly abusable aside from the fact that Hild all but owned me while I was 'on the clock', but Marller did point out that things were pretty relaxed.
Fuck it. Coerced or no, might as well keep with the railroading and chug along. At least this way I had some direction.
A signature scribble here, an initial there, and it was done.
Almost instantly, the documentation picked itself up and shot over to Hild, who took a scant few seconds to go over everything. Surprisingly, she had a very serious look on her face as she went over it. Not the smug 'I now own your soul' one would expect from signing one's life over to the devil herself. At least, while I was in this universe anyway.
"Well," she began after a moment with a nod. "Everything looks to be in order. I'll just pop these back to the office so I can finalize things-"
The documentation burst into flames and were reduced to ash. Sayoko choked at the sight.
"-And we'll get a quick orientation out of the way."
Clapping her hands, Hild conjured up what appeared to be an old 1950s looking projector, and a screen on the far wall, which Marller dutifully pulled down. At the same time, Mordecai emerged from wherever he'd been hiding for the last few hours, a bowl of popcorn being placed on the counter next to a glass of water.
Opportunity presenting itself, and only now realizing how thirsty the paperwork had made me, I guzzled the drink down, prompting an almost immediate refill courtesy of a finger-snap on Hild's part.
Said snap also dimmed the lights and started the projector up with a hum and a rhythmic ticking sound consistent with classic movie projectors.
After a few seconds, a distorted audio track began to play a fanfare more at home to a cold war era briefing film.
"Really?" I asked, but was shushed by Luna, earning her a glare of my own.
"Greetings!" an overly chipper male voice, equally at home in a cold war era briefing film announced. "And welcome, to Hel. Where you can be all that you can be, and more... If you practice your polymorph spells that is. Otherwise, you'll just be whatever you are now. Which is a demon. Then again, you're that no matter what at this point, so don't get your lemons in a twist."
The video part of the reel displayed what could only be described as animation befitting Disney's earliest work. I wasn't exactly sure if this was good or bad, even as the film made the sketch drawing of a classroom pop up.
"Chances are, you're in a class all your own. Literally. Because recruitment into demon servitude is so selective that class sizes usually end up being a prime number that can't be divided by a whole number. It's also a once in an eon thing. Also literally. We recruit maybe once every ten thousand years, give or take a millennium. Though to be honest, time has no meaning when you can pluck your work force from any point in the time line. Either way, you're here now, whenever now happens to be, and you're probably wondering 'Hellir, what have I gotten myself into with an orientation reel that sounds like a bad parody of a cold war briefing?' Don't worry if your thoughts were pretty spot on, that's just the mind-reading aspect of the film. It does that."
Now it's mind reading inanimate objects? Dammi-
"Annoyed swearing aside, don't worry about what you've signed up for. Demon Kind takes care of its own. Except for the occasional coup or back-stab attempt. That's part of being evil. But as a new employee, that won't be a concern for you for a while yet, so relax."
The film covered the wording with poor animation graphics of a demon named 'Boss' occupied with signing papers, only to have an octopus walk up, every arm holding a knife, and proceeding to go Caesar on the supervisor and taking his hat.
"As an employee of demon kind, your job is simple, but very, VERY important. Here in Hel, you're not just some hired minion or evil paper pusher, you're a vital inhuman resource. Because even with incomprehensible reality hacking powers, demons need energy, much like gods and goddesses do."
Is it wrong to be concerned that they were showing the energy in this animation as a classic atom symbol? Honestly, the animation couldn't seem to keep its era straight. The worst part? The next section was animated like something out of an engineering schematic come to life.
"'So you may be muttering amongst your non-demon friends watching- Mind reading reel, remember? -'How do I get this energy, and what does it look like?' Well, to answer the second question first, the energy you're collecting isn't in the format you might be used to. So it won't be easy to recognize on your first field assignment. So don't worry too much until later. To answer the first question, you collect this energy by making deals, granting wishes, and generally expanding Hel's share in the world. You probably caught that in the paperwork before you signed. If you didn't, well, we own you now, so tough luck. You'll get used to it either way. Anyway, to make deals, just find some poor sob who wants a wish granted, and make a contract. They get their wish, Hel gets energy, and you... What? Oh, right. Varda says you should remember to ask for something of equal value in return. There's no monetary compensation working for Demon Kind, so your fee for services is your commission. You get vital work-related support, but- Wait... You mean I've been making these videos for FREE? Who does Hild take me for? I'm trying to-"
There was a brief click and silence for a moment before the voice, slightly raspier, continued.
"Myrkr Hellir here, sorry if my alternate reality counterpart got carried away. But greed is greed. Anyway, as he said, make sure your deals are matched with demands of equal or greater value. Unfortunately, you don't get paid. You're about to become an all powerful unstoppable force of pure Evil. What do you need money for? Hells, we don't even use money around here. Post scarcity is awesome like that, provided you keep the wishes granting and the energy flowing."
"How does that even-" Sayoko began, but was all but verbally run over.
"To close out, welcome to the job. If you feel a little dirty, that's just mortal philosophical moral issues soiling your uniform. Remember, you're bad now. And that's good. You don't have to worry about being good, which isn't so bad. Out of all the yous out there in the multi-verse, we want you to be yourself, not some other you pretending to be yourself, or you pretending to be them, or... I was going somewhere meaningful with that, kind of lost it. Immoral of the story: Knowledge is power. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Study hard, be evil. Myrkr Hellir, we're done here!"
And with that, the reel ran out and the screen went blank. A snap from Hild, and everything vanished in a puff of smoke. Despite Sayoko's near outburst just a moment before, Luna was the first to make a comment.
"So..." She began. "All this for power?"
"Does that mean his job is a more like a power plant technician?" Sayoko cut in as soon as she could. "How does that even-"
"Shampoo wonder if this energy is chi or-"
"Now now," Hild interrupted. "This is not the Q and A segment. Everything you need to know is in the main handbook section..."
The Daimakaicho motioned to the giant stack we'd spent three hours going over only a couple dozen pages of.
"Right now," she continued. "I need to finish this up."
As if on cue, there was a small 'ding!' like an egg timer going off. Snapping her fingers, Hild conjured up what appeared to be a fresh set of documents and an envelope.
"Excellent!" she cackled after a moment. "Internal processing got this done in record time."
I feel the need to snark that she sent that to herself, but something tells me pointing that out now would probably result in learning what Marller experienced on a regular basis. Shuffling the papers and opening the envelope, Hild retrieved a small card from inside, inspecting it for a moment before motioning me over.
"It's official," she chirped. "Congratulations on being the first full fledged transient mortal demon. Here's your ID."
Then her face took on a very serious expression bordering on her evil aura.
"Don't lose it."
Then it popped back to normal as she handed me the card.
I took it, tentatively, chancing a moment to look at it. Aside from a photo on there which I'd never seen her snap, it looked no more auspicious than one's typical driver's license. Granted, it didn't have any driving information, but rather my name, date of birth (in home universe... however she got that), position, rank, and restrictions.
In this case, I was apparently Demon Intern, Eighth Class, Special Category, Absolute Restrictions. As far as I understood, that all but said I was lower than the equivalent of a mail room employee in a holiday temp position.
Then I noticed the strange symbol in the 'markings' category.
"Hey," I began, pointing at the symbol. "Whats this marking me-"
As my eyes glanced up, I had just enough time to process Hild taking a swing at my face. Said blow connected with my forehead before I could flinch, and I stumbled backwards violently. I was saved from taking a spill when Luna caught me, shouting in surprise.
"What was that for?!" she snapped in anger. Shampoo likewise yowled her own annoyance at the sight, but was unable to do much more.
"Oh, don't stand your fur on end," Hild commented disdainfully. "I'm just applying his uniform."
"Uniform?" I glanced down the best I could from this damnable neck brace. "Like a boot to the head?"
"It didn't hurt," Hild asked. "Did it?"
Before I could answer, she continued.
"No? Good. Get over it and check the mirror."
Back on my feet proper, I glanced in the direction the Daimakaicho was pointing, noticing a full body mirror that hadn't been there before. My initial glance was for an outfit, but nothing was out of the ordinary until I noticed the pink welt right in the middle of my forehead, about the size of a quarter.
"Really?" I asked in annoyance at the sight, rubbing at it once to see if it came off. It didn't. The quarter-sized marking looked like a two-hued circle arranged to look like a small hurricane. A hurricane made out of three arrows that spiraled around each other only to straighten out and point towards the center, passing through a smaller secondary circle in the process.
"You punched me in the head to apply a demon mark?" I asked.
"Well, you need your uniform," Hild shrugged. "Can't have you wandering around without it if the goddesses are going to ask questions. I'm making your status legitimate in every manner I can."
"Right," I sighed, reaching for that second glass of water. I tried to think of something else to add, but at this point, I just couldn't come up with anything that was both snarky enough to poke at Hild, yet safe enough to keep her from becoming anything more than mildly annoyed. I disguised my pause with a sip, then with an extended gulp, followed by just emptying the glass in its entirety.
I had nothing.
"So..." Sayoko spoke into the silence. "If this pomp and ceremony is all finished... I have classes soon?"
"Yes, yes..." Hild stood up, walking over the the counter and made the giant stack of documentation vanish. "I get it, you're impatient. Go ahead, finish your cute little deal, we'll see how it works out."
"We never have tried closing a contract with a transient as the representative before," Mordecai piped up. "Have we Hild-sama?"
"Indeed we haven't," she commented idly. "So this is going to be interesting one way or another."
"Please tell me exploding isn't a hazard here," I blanched at the Daimakaicho.
"If it does," Hild commented idly. "I can put you back together, so don't worry too much. Might not be the old you, but you'll be you."
I'm suddenly NOT so sure about this.
"Let's just get this over with," Sayoko pinched the bridge of her nose in exasperation. "I think I'm about at the end of whatever it is that best describes handling this situation..."
"Patience?" Luna snarked.
"Sanity?" Marller chimed in helpfully.
"Suspension of disbelief?" Mordecai snapped up the glass I finished and spirited it away for cleaning.
"Yes..." Sayoko sighed. Then she turned to the four gold coins sitting on the counter. "So, again. As many Leatherman multi-tools as that pile will purchase, minus a fee... And about a week to procure them."
"Yeah," I shrugged.
"You sure about letting me set the fee?" she asked. "I could take half for all you know."
"You have more money than you know what to do with," I pointed out. "I doubt you'll rip me off for petty gains."
"Fair enough," Sayoko smirked for once. "Also true, so provided your end of things holds up, you'll have a bulk order by the end of the week."
Then she paused.
"Where should I have them delivered?" she asked.
I opened my mouth to respond, but shut it after a moment. That was a good question. Not like I even knew the addresses around here, let alone had one for deliveries.
"Just drop it here," Marller conjured and handed a small post-it note to Sayoko. "He seems to return to me when he shows up, so just drop it at the loading dock in back."
Sayoko took the note and examined it, nodding before shoving the note in a pocket.
"Alright then," she commented idly as she stuck her hand out to me. "We've got a deal... again."
"Heh..." I shook. "Yeah, again."
We shook, without interruption this time.
Well, nothing interrupted starting the shake, but a second later I was hit with a surge of...
I don't know what. But for a second my vision swam, I was light headed, and it felt like I was falling. That's the best I could describe the sensation aside from it feeling very, very good. Then, after a second, a shout in my ear got my attention.
"GWAH!" I snapped in surprise, turning to find Luna's concerned face all but right in mine.
"Are you okay?" she asked, concerned.
"What just happened?" Sayoko asked in a more panicked tone. My mind coming down from, whatever the hell that was, I noticed I was all tingly like when Washu's hazard suit activated the nerve sync, and I was warm like I'd been snuggling under a wool blanket for an hour. I was also breathing harder than normal and there was this contented sensation like I'd just finished a meal that was juuuuust the right size.
"The- THE HELL WAS THAT?!" I asked, my mind reeling but settling towards surprise and shock as I finally parsed all the conditions I was now in.
"Huh..." Marller approached, glancing me over. "Well, you sealed that contract, but your body reacted much more dramatically to it than I would have expected."
Then she paused.
"Then again, we haven't had a newbie close a contract in ages, I may be misremembering things."
"That-" I began, shuddering as I inhaled, turning to Hild. "That was a CONTRACT?"
The Daimakaicho just smiled and nodded. On her confirmation, two new questions formed.
"Okay, first," I began. "Is it supposed to feel like the best meal I've ever eaten multiplied by sex?"
Sayoko hitched her breath and took a pertinent step back. Luna blushed a bit, but otherwise didn't react.
"What?" Hild asked in turn. "You think we'd try and promote making contracts without incentive? I'm honestly surprised you weren't expecting that."
"Does it really feel-" Luna started to ask but paused to phrase things differently, and failed. "-like THAT?"
"He's the first to use those terms," Marller answered. "But it does feel really nice. Completion is even better."
"Oh god, that's going to put me in a pleasure coma, if there is such a thing," I muttered. "Second question..."
I paused for effect, taking a deep breath.
I'm pretty sure that thanks to Medium Transfer Principle, I shouldn't be able to feel any of the universal contract shenanigans of this world. And I certainly haven't been here long enough to assimilate enough matter to do so... So, my rather vocal one-word question stands.
Hild smirked. Not the good kind either. It was the devious kind that said I wasn't going to like the answer and that my reaction was going to be amusing.
"Easy," she stated calmly, then tilted her head.
"Do you really think that was water you drank earlier?"
The room went dead silent at that, causing Hild's grin to grow more shark-like as she floated up and closer to me. Then, with a very chilling whisper, she spoke into my ear.
"I'm, inside you."
Not sure how to process that one...
"Seriously," she kicked back, reveling in a shudder that involuntarily shot up my spine. There was a small painful prick to one of my fingers, and the Daimakaicho raised a thin sewing needle up with a single drop of blood dangling from the end. "Take a look."
With that, Hild conjured a microscope up on the counter and placed the drop of blood on the slide. With almost manic glee, she ushered me over and all but shoved my face to the eye-pieces.
What I saw both made sense, didn't make sense, and added a new tier to my weird-shit-O-meter. I understand at this point my surprise at weirder and weirder things was becoming a bit redundant, but just you try and explain how you react to an army of microscopic Hilds in construction gear running around on a microscope slide.
Not joking. Dead center in the image, a short-armed, short-legged, super-deformed Hild, covered in overalls, a hard hat, and a reflective vest was waving around a hoard of similarly dressed copies of herself while going over a clipboard. After a second of silent shouting, she turned her microscopic head towards the optics and flashed 'V' sign with a huge grin.
"Consider that a starting bonus," Hild voiced next to me. "Give me oh... Five minutes and you'll even be out of that neck brace. Like the video said, we take care of our own."
I leaned back, mouth working open and shut wordlessly at this latest development. Nanomachines made sense. Universe jumping made sense. Reality warping made sense. So many things I'd encountered made sense in a distorted and open-minded point of view. But...
I found myself taking a deep breath. I was in the presence of a hideously over-powered higher dimensional being. Reality was her... 'Bitch' was the wrong word. 'Slave' was far better a choice this time around. I wasn't going to lose it just because Hild did something even I wasn't expecting. She was just playing with expectations and scale for a laugh. In a way, she was like Urd.
"You and Urd are so much alike it's not even funny," I groused after a moment. "I am honestly amazed you two haven't managed to get along better before now."
"Well," Hild shrugged. "She does take after me quite a bit after all. I wouldn't be her mother if she didn't."
And apparently that statement finally broke Sayoko. Well, broke her again.
"Okay," said student piped up in a tone that reminded me of someone who wanted very much out of the situation as fast as possible. "I think I've had it. Can I go now?"
Hild waved her off with a shooing motion.
"Go on," she smirked. "You've been plenty helpful dear. Just keep your end of the deal and everything will turn out fine."
Sayoko nodded, deftly grabbing the gold off the counter, pausing to slap several hundred yen bills down in their place, which Mordecai calmly picked up to process.
"Keep the change," she stated curtly, turning towards me for an equally curt bow of the head. I nodded back in kind before she rapidly made her way out the door, all but breaking into a jog before it shut behind her.
"She'll come around," Hild cast a lazy smile at the exit. "I must say, she handled herself nicely once you all broke her a little."
"All this to give an elf a business deal," I sighed, glancing to Luna. "Did we really have to do this?"
Luna only shrugged in return.
"At this point I'm just trying to roll with it," she admitted. "You made a point of trying to clean up after yourself and keeping your word. If this helps you keep that word, then I think it's worth it."
"Which I approve whole heartedly," Hild clapped a hand down on my shoulder. For a second, I flinched in the expectation of pain, but relaxed when it didn't materialize. "If there is anything we hold ourselves to, it's our word."
Then she suddenly grabbed me by the shoulders and began undoing the straps holding my neck brace in place.
"Speaking of which..." she commented idly. "Let's get this contraption off and see how well you're doing. The mechanical wonders in your blood stream have been doing an amazing job, but nothing holds a candle to a mother's touch."
Not sure how to respond again...
Hild finished undoing the brace and quickly pulled it free. And aside from being a little stiff, it was nice to be able to twist my neck without shooting pains.
"Hmmm..." Hild hummed as she examined me with one of those 'see-through-you' stares. "Yes, already a vast improvement. This Washu you know of should be complemented on how well her equipment has managed to operate outside their parameters. But your blood chemistry is well beyond its limits thanks to that. But now that you're on the clock, we'll have you fixed up and ready in no time."
Then she grinned again.
"In the mean time... We can work with this."