SCM's A/N: Please help, the URAE, 2814, Uzumaki Harry and Card Captor Harry trope pages need wiki magic! Also, please check out my blog. It's at shadowtower dot wordpress dot com. Come on, you know at least it'll be interesting…
OverMaster's A/N: Apparently, Akamatsu won't be continuing Negima anymore, according to the latest reports from Tumblr. The world has become gray and sad.
Unequally Rational and Emotional
Lesson 40: Kyoto Memories
Disclaimer: Mahou Sensei Negima and all related elements and characters are the property and creation of Akamatsu Ken, and the authors of this humble piece has made no material profit from it, and never will do.
Ah my Goddess! and all its characters were created by and are the property of Fujishima Kosuke.
Batman and all related elements belong to DC Comics.
Mai Hime and all its characters belong to Sunrise.
Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya is written by Hiroyama Hiroshi, and owned by Type-Moon.
Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi.
All other characters mentioned also belong to their respective copyright holders.
Unequally Rational and Emotional created by OverMaster.
The 2814-series created by Shadow Crystal Mage.
Warning: this fic contains unholy levels of crack, crossovers, awesome, madness, crossdressing and slight amounts of cake. Thanks for putting up with it! We'll soon return you to regular levels of insanity.
Kuro: Previously, on Unequally Rational and Emotional…
"MINE MINE MINE MINE!" Tsukuyomi howled, kicking a demon in the crotch, and then sinking Hina down into his head. "ALL MINE!"
The red-head cocked her head aside in a frankly petulant and dismissive way. "Do you have any actual idea who are we?" ''
"I AM NOT GOING TO DIE A VIRGIN!" Haruna was crying out defiantly, sending sketch after sketch out in a frantic attempt to slow the mini-demons down so the others could subdue them.
"Mister Tetch, it's time to go, " Michael urged him. "Lady Amagasaki has betrayed the objectives. The project has failed completely."
Both Konokas stared at the suddenly naked woman before them. "Oops, " Maga Alba said as Konoeko's eyes fluttered, the woman beginning to rouse.
Chisame took a moment to survey the new fighters. "Is that Satsuki in a mecha suit?" she said disbelievingly. "No. Sorry, but there is no way in hell you'll convince that the Satsuki in your universe is some kind of mini-mobile suit pilot!"
Chachamaru raised her weapon again, readjusting her aim and other vital settings. "Al-Iskandariya, " she called out, raising it up from the mere fraction she had used in the first shot. "Maximum Power."
"Saotome Haruna, rider of the Wild Horse…!" Paru Speedgrapher cackled, gripping the reigns tightly.
"TAKE IT OFF!" Haruna hooted, waving a wad of bills around in a group with Hansel, Gretel and Tsukuyomi.
"You realize she's ten, right?" Valkyrie Black said.
"UNLIMITED BLADE WORKS!"
Other Chao gave them a look. "What? Hakase's moved on, and I deserve a chance to do so too. I love my daughter, but I have needs darn it!"
"Huh? What? I'm only in awe of the unexplained ability she's displaying! I have got to learn how she does that! Yes, I'll have to take her to my laboratory… maybe strap her to a table… strip her down to probe her… and…"
On the opposite shore, a naked Chigusa struggled to her feet, her head ringing from both the impact and the after effect of being a conduit to so much magic. "No…" she growled. "NO! This can't be happening! I am a goddess! I AM A GODDESS!"
Yuuna coughed, supporting herself on him. "What a sucky night. What was the deal with all those guys…?"
Kuro pointed down at Negi. "Have sex with him."
"I have arrived!" she announced grandly, extending her arms under the dawning sun. "Attracted by the call of blood not unlike mine, I have come to make my presence known! Magical Princess of the White Moon, not to be confused with the other Magical Princess of the White Moon! But you can just call me Magical Princess Phantasmo—"
Chisame: Okay, that's cheating. Seriously, you're going with a montage of schemes from the previous chapter? What is this, an episode of 24?
Kuro: Hush you, I'm doing my job. Besides, this is my penultimate chapter. I'm going back to endless procrastination soon. At least your writer actually writes!
Calculator: She's got you there.
Chisame: Well, I object to the shoddy quality! We're not getting my money's worth!
Kuro: This is fanfiction, no one is getting paid anything.
Chisame: And yet, you're still managing to rip us off.
Calculator: Ooh, burn. Chisame-Five!
Kuro: Oh, fine! Last episode, we had a bigass fight scene that went on for pages and pages. Good guys win, dirty jokes were made, Konoka got a Pactio, the end. There, you happy? Sheesh, girl tries to be artistic…
Chisame: 'Artistic'? You actually gave an accurate summary of the last chapter! We hired you for senseless madcap fake recaps! That's it, you're fired!
Kuro: I have an iron-clad contract.
Asuna: Can we get back to the chapter now? I've FINALLY got something that looks vaguely like protagonist-hood and I'm not letting it get away!
Deadpool: All this and possibly something worth reading, on the next Unequally Rational and Emotional!
Kuro: Gah! Who let him in here?-!
After finally making it back to the Inn, everyone only had a couple of hours to grab some sleep before their paper copies exhausted themselves. Negi and most of the girls were tired enough to go straight for their futons, but not Setsuna. As the others slept, she quickly readied a small bundle with some of her belongings and sneaked quietly out the back door.
She kept on staring at the photo of Konoka in her hand as she walked on, one Kuro had provided and was thus NSFW. Now no one was looking at her, she let her tears flow out freely, while a sharp pang of pain drilled through her heart. But she had to do it, she had been a complete failure on all levels, and not only that, but she had stood before Konoka as the hideous monster she was…
"A bit early to go catch the train, Sakurazaki," a dryly sarcastic voice said from behind her.
Damn it. She was so absorbed into her misery, she didn't feel them coming. Yet another failure to add to her ever growing list. With a humorless expression, she turned around to face Chisame, Chamo, Negi, and AngelGARd, all of whom stood there, visibly exhausted but firmly on their feet.
"Don't try to stop me," Setsuna said. "And don't misunderstand. I'm not abandoning my duties like a coward; I'll keep on watching over Ojou-sama, but now from a distance, as it should be. I have decided on this, and there is no other way for one who has fallen in such a low disgrace as me."
"So… you're going to stalk her," AngelGARd said blandly without a hint of irony.
"Which disgrace?" an annoyed Chisame snarled. "That we saw you have wings? Look, I know I'm always the first one to complain about how our class is full of weirdos, but what do you care about what people like me think?"
"Yes, Setsuna-san," Negi nodded. "If even Chisame-san can accept you for what you are, everyone will!"
"Hey, are you saying I'm some kind of bigot? Ungrateful brat, who was the one who kept you in her home right after learning you were a magic using, clothes blowing freak!"
"Ehhhh! I, I thought that was what you were intending to mean, Chisame-san!"
"Th-This isn't about you!" Setsuna snapped. "I couldn't look at Ojou-sama's face anymore, knowing that not only did I hide my true nature from her for years, not only did I help to keep her from realizing her own gifts for all of her life, but I even failed to protect her properly! Kasuga-san had to rescue her for me!"
"You did an excellent work defending her against the demons later on," her counterpart reminded her.
"That was a group effort! I'll never be like you. Unlike yours, my blood is doubly tainted. Not only I am a crow demon, but our father's wicked blood, the same that runs through Tsukuyomi, pumps through my veins as well. I know you'll try convincing me of how your Ojou-sama accepts you regardless of your condition, but mine is far worse!"
"Nonsense!" Sakurazaki barked. "That's your excuse? That you're the same as Tsukuyomi? Can't you think of anything better?"
"And besides, you still can prove yourself, Setsuna-neechan!" Chamo said, with a glint in an eye. "Last night you just lacked firepower, that's all! And do you know why? Because you haven't made a Pactio with the Bro, unlike GAR-chan here!"
"C-Chamo!" Negi gulped.
Chisame sighed. "Of course we'd get to this…"
"I'm GARd, not GAR," Sakurazaki lamely pointed out. "And it's all one word. And calling myself that wasn't my idea…"
"Same thing!" the ermine cried. "Setsuna-nee, to perform all the feats GARd-nee ever achieved, you're going to need a Pactio! Well, two, actually, but we'll go one step at a time. So why not to go to the point and kiss the Bro already? Unless, of course, you'd prefer going with Konoka-nee first, but I wouldn't advice it until she's gained more control over her power…"
Setsuna broke into a violent fit of coughing.
With a patient sigh, Sakurazaki reached over to pat her back until she was done. Had she ever been that bad?
"Feeling better now?" she finally asked.
"Uuuhhh…" Setsuna gurgled, eyeing everyone suspiciously.
Chamo blew some gray smoke from his suddenly present cigarette. "The way I see it, Nee-san, you could either run away from your duties at Konoka-nee's side, remaining a distant occasional helper, or you actually could be as useful as you are able of being, forming part of a team that includes your protege, balancing your strengths with everyone else's, gaining top notch training rather than stagnating all alone. What do you think would be better for Konoka-nee's sake?"
Setsuna's eyebrows twitched. "You're putting it a way that fits your own goals, Chamo-san, but I couldn't possibly—"
"I've talked about it earlier with the Bro and Anego here," the ermine said, "and they're both okay with it. It's for everyone's benefit, after all!"
"I don't know. I still think it's—"
Then she drew in a deep breath and let it out the same way.
"Setsuna-san," Negi started, "We all will understand if you wish to stay out of our association, but I beg you, don't leave us. You're a very important part of our class, not to mention Konoka-san's life. We all would miss you too much, wouldn't we, Chisame-san?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, sure thing…"
Setsuna looked down at him for a moment, then at the stoically quiet and silent Sakurazaki, and finally gave a single nod. "Very well. I will do it."
"THAT'S IT!" Chamo leaped up in glee, a piece of chalk already between his fingers. Diligently, he drew the circle in a blinks, and then grinned at Setsuna. "Not changing your mind yet, are you?"
The pale girl frowned. "The path of the sword is not one for doubts," she told him, before stepping in front of a gulping Negi. She lifted his chin up a bit and softly asked, "Please be honest. Are you sure you are doing this out of your own will? Not because you are being pressured into it?"
"Are you?" he asked back.
After a moment of silence, they said "No," at the same time, and then kissed.
Sakurazaki blushed and turned away, even as her eyes kept sliding sideways to peek
Chamo jumped in a perfectly vertical spiral, waving hyperspace fans in all directions. "PACTIOOOO!"
"Huh," Sakurazaki coughed uncomfortably. "It's so strange, seeing this happening again, but from the outside…"
Then she took a photo with her cellphone. Maga Alba would never forgive her if she didn't bring her one, after all.
Chisame only watched in a fully unreadable silence.
AngelGARd grabbed the card right as it appeared, taking a good look at it. It was identical to her own to the last detail, which would be a plus if she ever had to train that girl.
Setsuna finally pulled back, with a face as red as Negi's and breathing heavy. She covered her mouth with a hand, wondering why the hell she had liked that so much. Other than her childlike infatuation with Keitaro-sempai when she lived at Hinata, she had never had any particular feelings on contact with any man, not even during previous encounters with Negi. Then again, she tried to reassure herself, a mouth kiss was very different from anything she had ever done before. To be honest, it rattled her a bit seeing that, despite his blush, Negi seemed to have taken the kiss as normal in the aftermath. Well, after kissing twelve other females, she supposed he had to be growing used to it, but that was disturbing in its own way, too.
And poor AngelGARd was torn between which denial mantra she was supposed to say…
"I can't believe it!" Asakura Kazumi fumed as she marched down the corridor leading to the baths, followed by a calm but cheerfully smiling Misa. "I missed all that?-! THE news of the century passed by while I slept like a log?-! What kind of friends are you, not telling me anything until it was over?"
Misa made a disapproving but playful sound with her tongue. "Tch, don't think it was all fun! We nearly died several times over! Really, you're taking this way too seriously. If anything, you were lucky you weren't there! You could have been frozen like Iinchou's Terminator maid or the creepy biker sempai!"
"I don't care about the risks!" Asakura protested, with a hand on her chest. "That's something any good journalist must be willing to accept! Burning buildings! Falling off helicopters! Getting kidnapped! All good journalists must be wiling to face those occupational hazards! But really, you guys even had Batman there with you, and didn't even bring back a picture of him! If I had Batman right in front of me like that, I'd—"
Then she bit her tongue, as she saw a rather an imposing and vaguely familiar foreign man with short black hair returning from the men's baths. The man passed by next to them without a word, soon disappearing behind another corner.
"You don't think he heard anything, do you?" Mis felt like whispering.
"Nah," Kazumi said. "And even if he did, he's an American. Odds are he wouldn't understand half of what we were saying anyway. Regardless, I'm having my big shocking exclusives one way or another!"
"What do you mean?" Misa asked, frowning.
Asakura winked an eye to her. "Wanna help me go for some group photos?"
"For the trip book? I'll pass. That's boring…!"
Kazumi chuckled. "I was actually thinking of something more fitting another kind of book…"
"Man, I still don't know if this is the best or worst class trip I've ever had…" Yuuna said, resting her back on the edge of the onsen she was sitting in. "I feel like it lasted months and months…"
"It was very fun, though!" Makie giggled while toweling her own back. Smooth, healthy, unmarked back, Ako thought with a sad inward sigh. "The only thing that would have made it better was if I could have kissed Negi-kun!"
"Makie-chan, you did," Akira reminded her, with her eyes closed and on the edge of taking a nap right where she was.
"It doesn't count, since I was drunk and I don't remember it!"
"I heard you kissed a girl, however, Makie-san," Mana calmly said from where she was washing her hair.
"Ehhh?-!" Ako jolted in shock. "You did, Maki-chan?-!"
"Misa told you, didn't she, Mana?" Makie pouted.
"Actually, it was Haruna…"
"Well," Makie turned to Ako and Akira, "it's a very long story. Let's just say I had to do it, and it was with a girl named Skuld-chan, who… By the way, Mana-chan, where is she now?"
"I think she stayed at Konoka's house to talk with Konoe-sama and his wife."
"Yeah, well, you see," Sasaki continued, "we were in this very dangerous situation, and I was scared, and this girl just told me and Morisato-san she could protect us, so…"
Mana tensed up, looking back.
"Something wrong, Mana-san?" Akira asked, failing to notice how Mana was subtly reaching under a wooden bucket…
Then a flash startled them, just as some nearby bushes rustled. They all rushed to see Asakura's head popping out the bushes, laughing, with Negi's ermine perched on her shoulder.
"ASAKURA!" Yuuna shouted. "What was the big idea, peeping on us like this!"
"Ah ha ha! It's just a picture for the memories! Not like I'm going to sell it for a high price and buy myself a new printer!" Kazumi said.
"You even planned out what you'll do with the money!" Yuuna tried reaching for her. "Give me that back! Dad will never forgive me if that gets made public!"
"I'll give you a cut!" Kazumi kept on laughing as she ran out, taking advantage of her clothed state while they were naked, wet, and unable to follow her outside.
"… At least she couldn't take a picture of my back from that angle," Ako told herself.
Mana sighed and pushed the handgun back inside of the bucket, as discreetly as she had grabbed it. I was about to shoot her between the eyes…
Sitting at the breakfast area across from Satsuki, Chao kept on reading her newspaper, unaffected by the shouts from the baths. "'Arsene Lupin the Third revealed to be faking his death, stages daring escape from prison. Involvement of his cousin Phantom Thief Arsene suspected'. Huh, good to see the world is regaining some semblance of normalcy. Maybe there's hope after all, ne?"
"What are you talking about, Chao?" Yotsuba asked her in a polite tone.
"Nothing, Sat-chan, nothing. Ooh, another Kaitou Saint Tail challenge!"
Breast Friends Forever
Meanwhile, in the dressing rooms, Ayaka, Chisame, Haruna and Nodoka still were changing to meet with the Elder, since he had told them he had something to show them before departing. Takahata had talked with Shizuna and Nitta, giving them an excuse for taking several students away for most of the day. Exactly what that excuse had been, Chisame felt better not knowing.
Chizuru and Natsumi also were there, minding their own business, but it wasn't long before the Class Rep just had to boast something about her latest achievements to her former roommates.
"Fu, fu, fu fu!" she laughed. "This has been the best trip of my life! Truly, my love for Negi-sensei has grown leaps and bounds through it!"
"R-Really?-!" Natsumi suddenly gasped, her alarm senses tingling.
Chizuru stifled a sigh. Oblivious as she was to Natsumi's feelings, Ayaka was bound to eventually say something that would sink her other best friend's self-esteem even lower. Chizuru would have to steer the conversation away from that.
After hearing a bit more, of course.
"Indeed!" Ayaka nodded. "And I can tell his closeness to me has grown as well! We are maturing together, and that has to be an auspicious sign leading to a golden life together!" As she said that, fleur-de-lis petals began floating around her.
Natsumi made a choked, impressed sound.
Chizuru leaned close to the freckled girl and whispered in her ear, "Don't worry. I swear I'll help you get there before she does."
"C-CHIZU-NEE!" Natsumi gasped.
"P-PARU!" Nodoka was gasping at the same time, pulling away from a similarly secretly conspiring Haruna.
It was then when Haruna and Chizuru stared at each other's eyes, and for a moment, sparks crackled amidst their gaze, identifying in each other a worthy and dangerous opponent.
"Well!" Haruna started, placing her hands squarely on Nodoka's shoulders. "Iinchou hasn't been the only one to grow stronger and more confident as a woman during this trip, right, Nodo-chan?"
"R-R-Right!" Nodoka gulped.
"Ho, ho, ho!" Ayaka laughed. "Yes, from something Suzushiro-sempai told me, you even got to meet another boy during your stay here, didn't you, Miyazaki-san? One you showed a lot of protective concern towards!"
"Ah…!" Nodoka was stunned.
Chizuru's eyes sparkled. An opening! "Oh, is that so? My, my, I'm so happy for you, Miyazaki-san! And remember, in this day and age, long distance relationships can work out! You got his e-mail address, didn't you?"
Before Nodoka could produce more incoherent sounds, Haruna took over. "There's no need for that, Chizuru-neesama!" she said, making sure to use a 'really old woman' intonation with the honorific. "Honya-chan doesn't aim low! She won't be satisfied with anything but the best!"
Nodoka blushed to her limits, while Natsumi looked as if she was choking on a golf ball. Chisame just looked back and forth between them, in a jaded way and sighed, muttering something about purple being more mature.
"All the same," Ayaka decided to take that battle to a level Nodoka and Natsumi just couldn't ever win at, "I haven't only grown in spirit, but in body too!"
"And in idiocy," Chisame muttered only to herself.
And then, Chizuru was somehow behind Ayaka, cupping her breasts from behind between her hands. "Hu, hu, hu, hu, yes, they certainly have grown, Ayaka! Still, you have a long way to cover yet, yourself…"
"KYA!" Ayaka screamed. "C-C-CHIZURU-SAN!"
Chizuru released her, only to turn around and smile in her face. "Just to be sure, though, why don't we compare? You too, Chisame-san, Natsumi-chan, Honya-chan!"
"Why would we compare ourselves to giant-sized people like you?" Chisame asked.
"Oh, what is that I'm hearing?" Misa stepped in, with a camera already prepared. "Is it breast comparison time again? I'll tell you what, this time, to prevent nitpicking, we'll catch ourselves with photographic evidence to confirm our current ranking!"
"Were you spying on us?" Chisame asked. Whenever a cheerleader was around without the other two, it meant they were scheming something bad. Or Sakurako was smooching with Hakase somewhere else. Which was bad too. Or not. She had momentarily forgotten that wasn't supposed to be her problem.
"Me? Oh no, goodness, why would I do that? I was just passing by," Misa said as she herded them together, Chizuru and Haruna quickly helping her for their own goals. They all but pushed Natsumi and Nodoka side to side together, and that was where the two smaller girls realized, at close sight, that yes, Natsumi's chestline was indeed a bit wider than Nodoka's. This relieved the former and depressed the latter. "Live a little, Chi-chan! This is just for some good clean fun between friends!"
She pulled her shirt off, leaving her torso clad in only a lacy bra. Since the others still were in their underwear, she posed next to them thrusting her chest up, as the camera she had readied took a picture of them all standing closely together.
Chisame looked at the picture as soon as it was taken, humming to herself. Not bad, after Naba, Saotome and Iinchou, she seemed to be the fourth bustiest one in the group, barely beating Kakizaki and…
"MATOI?-!" she whipped her head back as soon as she saw the girl right behind her in the image, with her hands on Chisame's hips. "Ah! You were here!"
"Yes. Always. Shouldn't you be used to it by now, Chisame-sama?"
Minutes later, a smugly smirking Misa rejoined Asakura and Chamo outside.
"Everything went okay?" Asakura asked.
"Like silk," her classmate replied. "You know, I'm starting to understand why you get your kicks out of this. But it's even better when you're photographed, too! It's like being a supermodel!"
"Thank you, Misa-chan. Now, wanna see if we can get some juicy pics of the Vice President and her classmates?"
Misa's attitude suddenly drooped. "Sure. As soon as I get myself some milk. I just realized I'm starting to lose to Chisame…"
As Honest as Friends can Be.
"So, where did you spend last night?" Yue passively asked, while putting her tiny bells on her braids.
Haruna and Nodoka, who still were dressing up, shared a somewhat uncomfortable look for a moment before silently agreeing on being completely sincere.
"After Konoka-san was kidnapped by mercenaries, her father took us to their villa in the mountains, Yue," Nodoka started, head bowed and eyes obscured by her bangs. "There, we had a council of war that was interrupted by the arrival of a Chao-san from a parallel universe. I caught the Create card, which was wreaking havoc across Konoka's mansion, and then demons from Hell and the Joker attacked us all."
Yue nodded. "I'd be calling for professional help right now if I didn't have a flying and talking plush lion sitting on my head at the moment. But please continue."
Kero snorted from his comfy spot on top of Yue's scalp.
"We all came together…" Haruna chuckled for a moment, "… to fight the demons, but the sexy monkey lady who had kidnapped Konoka-chan summoned two even bigger monsters, each one taller than a building, to kill us all and take over the world. Everything seemed lost, until a goddess who had kissed Maki-chan and Morisato-san arrived, plus Eva-chan and, well, another Eva-chan, and they defeated the giant monsters, although most of the other bad guys got away. But hey, we saved Konoka-chan's butt, so everything that mattered came out okay!" she grinned.
Yue stared at her for a few moments that stretched into tense minutes, before coughing to clear her throat. "Ah. Ah, well, yes, I suppose that happens at times. Anyway, Haruna, I also have a strange confession to make. I… I don't know how to tell you, but…"
"But?" Haruna asked, with her ever present curiosity.
"Your boyfriend, Rito-san, was here last night," Yue confessed.
"Ah? But he's in Tokyo Disneyland with his class!" Saotome said.
"Yes, I know, but that's the hard to explain part!" Yue fretted. It was a very cute odd sight. "He… you see, he was brought by a girl…"
Haruna's face betrayed some real shock. "What?"
"A-A-A-And they came… s-sorry, arrived… with another girl, who had blue hair, and they were both aliens, I mean, both girls, or so they said, and th-they all dropped here naked, because they had this alien device that transported them, but not their clothes, or that's the excuse they gave, and the pink haired girl said, she was Rito-san's new fiancee, and I grabbed h-her t-tail, because she had a tail despite it being anatomically impossible, a-and she told myself I was her fiancee now too.."
During this hyperventilating rant, Yue had looked away, red-faced and an expression of supreme embarrassment. Then she heard the loud thud of a body hitting the floor, and she turned around in panic. "NODOKA! Nodoka, don't—!"
But Nodoka was only a bit pale, sitting next to a fainted Haruna, who was sporting a wide, creepy rictus of a grin that reminded Nodoka disturbingly of the Joker from the night before and a thin red trickle coming out of her nose.
Nodoka gave Yue a helpless stare while fanning Paru. "I… I think it was too much for her… But in a good way!"
Mundus Magicus. Motsu. Sneeze in a good way.
Yue's head grew a gigantic sweatdrop as she knelt down at Haruna's other side. "Haruna, my friend, I'm sorry, please forgive me, I never wanted to…!"
Haruna's eyes shot themselves open, eerily wide like saucers. She asked in a stilted voice. "Did you have sex?"
Nodoka choked on her own tongue while Kero face-pawed and Yue screamed, "WHAT?-! NO!-!-!"
"Oh, good," Haruna sighed. "I have to be both your first time and Rito-kun's…"
Yue stepped on her head. "Be serious, Haruna! I doubt Rito-san is still a virgin, after seeing that!"
Haruna sat back up, apparently no worse for the wear, while wiping her nose with a tissue. "I trust Rito-kun, and mostly, I trust his issues with women and sexuality. If I haven't been able to crack him yet, no one's gonna beat me to it. That kind of things just happens all the time to him, yanno."
"I don't know how you can take it that easily," Yue mumbled. "Not to mention the part about them being aliens. One of them an alien princess!"
"A princess? For real?" Haruna was mildly impressed. "Cool. The only royalty I knew so far was Uncle Toma, and he's just that dateless guy who kidnaps Auntie Akane sometimes when he feels lonely. Was she cute?"
"Well… I have to admit, s-she's very beautiful… Th-Think of Makie-san's personality with Iinchou's body, but… But that isn't the point…!"
"Of course it is!" Haruna patted her shoulders. "The point is, you're very lucky to be engaged to such a special person, Yue-chan! My congrats!"
Nodoka suddenly realized the true meaning of 'Yue being engaged to another girl' and felt as if a hideous green-eyed, orange-lit invisible monster was surrounding her, but she kept mum.
"I don't think I have anything to be congratulated on!" Yue protested.
"Of course you do!" Haruna argued. "If you're going to marry into an alien royal family that allows polyamory, you'll finally be able to get yourself the harem you have always dreamed of!"
"I HAVEN'T EVER DREAMED OF HAVING A HAREM!"
In her sleep, Valkyrie Black sneezed.
Haruna chuckled. "Sure, let's go with that," she said and paused. When she spoke again, her tone was slightly more serious, worried even. "By the way, she was looking for me, wasn't she?"
"Yes, she was."
"She didn't want to kill me to have a clear path to both of you… Did she?"
"She never mentioned wanting to harm you, but then again, she doesn't know you yet…" Yue deadpanned.
Ala Alba and friends were experiencing post-battle crash.
In the room they'd been sharing, our noble heroes lay in various poses of 'passed out and dead to the world'. After last night, most of Ala Alba had passed out, having used up both physical and magical reserves. Deathnote had finally been overcome by her phantom pain and lay in a twitching, ill-dreaming heap, various now-lukewarm cold gel compresses taped to parts of her body. Asuna and Twilight Red lay sprawled, limbs every which way, mouths open and drooling slightly. Sometimes the arm of the older of the two would stir, feebly and blindly groping at her side, as if expecting a small form to be curled up there. The Konokas were curled up next to each other, sleepy smiles on their faces, a little drool dripping from the corners of their mouths. The Setsunas lay against the wall nearest them, swords leaning on their shoulders, heads lolling numbly. They'd planned to stay up and keep watch, but having wings and using them to fly takes up more calories than most people think.
Valkyrie Black was passed out still wearing her metal boots, with Nodoka next to her using her leg as a pillow. Calculator was the most comfortable, with her head on one robot maid's lap and her feet on another's, both fanning her to keep her refreshed. Kuro just slept where she'd fallen, still clad in armor, muttering about Illya. Chao lay curled on her side, face finally relaxed and looking alarmingly careworn. Usagi slept the sleep of her mother, which is to say the oblivious and naively happy-go-lucky.
In the middle of this, Negi slept, utterly exhausted, his head pillowed on Chachamaru's lap. She'd gotten this much-coveted position by dint of still being conscious, and was smiling and humming happily to herself as she stroked Negi's hair with all the care and tenderness she usually reserved for a newborn kitten. In a final mild indignity, at some point Negi's hair had been grown back to 'Nelly' lengths, and he was clad in a jarringly feminine pink nightdress. The other Negi lay on his back next to him, tired after his most recent Pactio, and just as sound asleep, those his arms occasionally moved feebly, as if seeking something.
The door slid open violently, and a widely grinning Evangeline cried out, "Transform and rise up, brats and bratettes! Mama wants to see Kyoto and she's not going alo—!"
That was as far as she got before a rocket punch caught her full in the face.
As McDowell raised an inquisitive eyebrow, the local Chachamaru tried to hand Evangeline a tissue, and Evangeline cried out along the lines of "HEY?-! WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?-!", Chachamaru meekly retracted her rocket punch. "My apologies Lady McDowell. You startled me. I was concerned perhaps you were an enemy sneak attack, and my emergency protocols reacted before the situation was fully assessed. Your pardon," the gynoid said as the others in the room blearily began to rouse from the noise, voice full of sincerity and innocence. She definitely wasn't annoyed at having her special petting-Negi-like-a-kitten time interrupted, and definitely hadn't taken her ire out on anyone. Nope, not at all. That wouldn't be very Chachamaru-ish.
McDowell gave her servant a level look… and looked away, saying nothing. She definitely wasn't smirking. No, not at all. What was there to smirk about?
"Ugh, what time is it?" Asuna asked blearily. "Know what, never mind, whatever time it is, it's too damned early!"
"Can't you be a normal vampire and sleep during the day?" Kuro groused with a marked lack of her usual good humor. "Go be sparkly somewhere else!"
"We sniff in the face of societal pressure telling us how we should act," McDowell said with a smirk. She was, indeed, practically sparkling. Small ice crystals appeared and disappeared around her and on her skin, catching the light as her near-manic glee made her a bit sloppy with reining her magic in.
"Bwah?" the Konokas said, blearily rubbing their eyes.
The vampires, of course, hadn't arrived alone. "Good morning, everyone!" Makie declared cheerfully as she skipped into the room energetically. "Rise and shine! It's a wonderful da-" was as far as she got before the trajectories of several pillows intersected with her.
"KEEP IT DOWN!" Yue and Haruna cried, also not their usual selves.
Somewhere, Akemi Homura suddenly snapped up straight, looking up at nothing in particular. "My mama-senses are tingling…"
The vampire, however, was not to be denied. "MOVE IT YOU DUMB LOGS! This is my first time out of Mahora in years and I'm not going to spend it hanging around a boring ass inn! Up and at 'em! We're going to Kyoto Animation, and then the Kiyomizu temple, and if I feel like it we're meeting with the Eishuun-brat! Move, move, move!"
"Must not purify her, must not purify her, must not vaporize her…!" Usagi muttered as she futilely tried to bury her head under a pillow.
"Why do I hang out with these weirdos again?" Calculator muttered tiredly.
"Because they're your friends, Chiu-sama?" Mint suggested.
"Oh, yeah. I knew it was something stupid and inconvenient like that…"
A Certain Not-SoBrief Briefing.
"It would seem both Sergei Kravinoff and Golden Darkness escaped during the confusion, while we were busy at the lake," Eishun explained, now in a white suit and smoking a cigarette (which disappeared as both Konokas popped up next to him with ninja-like speed, one plucking and throwing the offending object away as the other sternly said "Smoking, bad!") while overseeing the rebuilding for the villa, Konoeko walking silently at his side. It amazed Negi they were starting over right after the situation had been put under control, but since fortunately no one's lives had been lost, he supposed they had no reason to delay the reconstruction of such an important place. "However, Batman-sama delivered Tetch's gang to the police, and Inugami Kotaro-kun is in custody of our forces. Amagasaki still refuses to talk and is nearly catatonic, but I trust we will be able to learn if she had other co-conspirators."
Haruka pointed at Psycho Purple. "Well, why not ask her to read the terrorist's thoughts?"
Psycho Purple tensed at that. Sending the authorities after Kosmo Entelekheia this early in the timeline, especially a Kosmo Entelekheia that seemed to have several Averrunci active at once plus the capacity to bring Mundus Magicus natives to Earth, might be sending them on a doomed errand. Besides, Negi himself might get involved at some point, especially if he learned of the connection with his father's destiny, and he definitely was not in any shape for it yet…
Eishun only smiled gently. "There's no need to bother our guests anymore, Suzushiro-kun. We have our own means to read minds, as well, and you have done enough for us as it is. Just enjoy the last day of your stay as best as you can, please."
"Where are we goin', anyway?" Yuuna yawned, rubbing her eyes with the back of a hand. After Eva's whirlwind mini-tour, the group had rejoined the Konoes to head somewhere, but she had been too sleepy the whole time to pay a lot of attention to what they had told her. Her feet ached, though. Stupid ridiculously overpowered vampire she couldn't tell to go jump off the Kiyomizu stage…
"How many more times do we have to explain it, Akashi-san?" Ayaka murmured. "The Kyoto home of Negi-sensei's honorable father!"
"Eeehhhh? He lived here too?" Yuuna blinked. "I thought he was English!" The other Yuna's journal hadn't mentioned anything about any Kyoto houses of his, although that had to be because she wasn't in on the secret at that time.
"He spent a lot of time in Japan too, idiot," Evangeline grumbled sourly. "Or where do you think he placed that hellish curse on me?"
"Yeah, the cad," McDowell agreed, puffing her cheeks out. The two vampires nodded agreement at the untrustworthiness and lousy character of Springfield men in general.
"By the way, Evangeline-san," Ayaka asked, "Didn't you tell us earlier you could only manifest yourself on the grounds the Academy bought? Why are you able to walk all around the city now?"
Eva smirked. "Don't worry about me, Class Rep. The old man is taking care of that. He is allowing this as a special occasion for my further education. Heh, heh heh…"
At his Mahora office, Konoemon sighed while stamping seal after seal on field trip permission after field trip permission. "Hahhhhh… I should have known I'd end up having to do it anyway…"
Konoka shuddered a little. "Poor Grandpa. I can actually kinda feel his pain…"
Maga Alba patted her on a shoulder. "It's okay. He's much stronger than he lets on…"
"Whatever happened to Sukuna, by the way?" a concerned Setsuna asked.
"It's all okay now," Eishun reassured her. "We placed all the seals back on him, with some new extra safety measures supplied by Skuld-sama here," he gestured towards the short newcomer walking along them, who smiled smugly enough to almost compete with the Evangelines there. Almost. "Then we took Calculator-chan's practical suggestion and put a ton of explosives on top of it so that if anyone ever tried to wake him up, they'd be blown to kingdom come automatically."
Chisame stared at the other her, who was only shrugging at the seemingly overly violent notion, and resolved to cut back on her violent thoughts. If that was where they were heading…
"Once again, we wish to thank all of you for your contributions to our daughter's safety, and those of this city as well," Konoeko added formally. "Especially to you, Evangeline-sama."
"Why, thank you…" McDowell began.
"She means me, dolt," the other Evangeline growled.
"If you all survived, it was only because I was holding back, fighting Amagasaki's control!" McDowell said proudly. "You owe me your lives all the same!"
"Goodness, good thing I'm not as much of a liar as you!" Eva taunted her with a laugh.
"No, you're a lay instead!" the other Eva shot back.
"Hey, you begged me to do that thing with my tongue–" was as far as the Negis heard as hands snapped up to cover their ears.
"'As much'?" Makie wondered.
"I-Inugami-kun will be okay, won't he?" Nodoka finally dared to ask. "I'm sure he wasn't going to actually…"
Since everyone was looking at her by then, she fell silent and lowered her head in red-cheeked shame.
"I'm sure he won't receive that much of a punishment," Eishun reassured her to defuse the overall tension. "We'll try finding his family, if he has any, and arrange a reform plan for him. Now, the pale girl and the fire-using boy who fought her, well, they do have us somewhat concerned," he admitted. "They seem related to an old enemy of our organization…"
"The Kansai Society, or the other one?" the Evas needled him, cringing upon realizing they had said exactly the same thing at the same time.
"The other one," Eishun confessed.
"What's that?" Yuuna asked.
"What was that, instead," the man told her. "I'll explain it in length once we arrive at our destination and enjoy some more privacy. Regardless, we've placed an alert through the whole magical community of Japan for them. I doubt they will ever dare to approach Mahora with Father-In-Law and Evangeline-sama there, but please be very careful either way."
"We will!" Negi nodded. "And I'll become as strong as Erebus-san to keep all my students well-protected, Sir!"
"I'm sure you will, mou hitori no boku," Erebus said, voice as mildly depressed as it had been since he'd been stuffed into another girl's blouse and skirt before they'd set off.
"It's like seeing a plane crash happening all over again…" Calculator muttered, to nods by the Ala Alba in hearing range.
"I'm glad to hear that," Eishun said, finally stopping and pointing up at an old observatory surrounded by thick vegetation, on the outskirts of another hill. "We've arrived. The outside looks abandoned so no one will think of looking there, but the spell placed on the building keeps it unsullied inside."
"What does 'unsullied' mean?" Makie asked Skuld.
Clenching her teeth, her new Magistra said, "Clean!"
"I was expecting more of a traditional Japanese home…" Keiichi observed.
Kero scratched his head with a paw. "I seem to remember Master Clow once visited a place exactly like this one…"
"Chizuru would love being here…" Ayaka mused softly.
Meanwhile, Negi's eyes had grown huge and starry. "My father's home! It's really happening! I'm going to see my father's legacy firsthand!"
As they all approached the huge entrance covered by veins, Konoeko took the lead, placing a few ofuda on the door and whispering a prayer. Instantly, the huge and heavy door opened from the inside, pushing all the vines aside and revealing the building's indoors to a mesmerized young Negi's eyes…
The Odd Couple:
Well, she had promised herself the night before she would do it. So Yue took a long, deep breath and knocked on Zazie's door.
Nodoka and Haruna were with Negi and the others. Technically, there was no obstacle at the moment, for her to do that, other than her own unwillingness to act on her promise.
Was it that Zazie scared her? The girl was, after all, strange and even unnerving at times, with her extremely long silences and her fixed stares. Not to mention her odd hobbies, like the things she was doing when the door creaked open upon contact with Yue's knuckles. Ayase braced herself, swallowing a lump as she saw Zazie alone in a light yukata, feet bare, sitting on the wide frame of the open window, juggling a dozen colorful balls while two curious birds sat on her head singing.
Since obviously Zazie wouldn't talk first, Yue did it. "Rainyday-san?"
Zazie tilted her head slowly towards her, and she never stopped juggling as she asked, "?"
Yue breathed and offered her a carton of juice. "I… I know you have a liking for exotic things, so as soon as I found this, I bought myself two, because I thought you might like it…"
"!" Zazie said.
The balls stopped falling after one another in Zazie's skilled right hand. The dark skinned acrobat set them carefully and walked over to Yue, birds still perched on her head. Yue could almost believe they'd end up making a nest there. Zazie took the offered carton, gave her thanks with the subtlest nod, and began drinking from its straw daintly, closing her eyes.
She finished it almost as soon, giving it back to Yue with a reverence and a heartfelt, "…"
"You're welcome," Yue said. "Sorry to disturb you, but since we're both alone at the moment, what if we take a short stroll around town together? Today is our last day in Kyoto, after all. We shouldn't spend it locked up here…"
"?-?" Zazie, who knew well Yue's bookish ways, looked more or less confused by the idea she wanted to spend a day out in the open, but still ended up nodding. "!-!" Apparently she wasn't as adverse to company as she seemed.
Oh, she's enthusiastic! I believe so, at least, Yue thought, before saying, "Okay then, let's go for some changes of clothes and…" Her jaw went slightly askew when she saw Zazie just dropping her yukata down carelessly right before her, revealing she hadn't been bothering with anything underneath. She turned around, giving Yue quite an interesting view, and bent down to look for clothes in the lower drawers of the room, giving Yue and even more shocking eyeful. "Well, ah, I'll go back to my room while you dress up, and we'll meet at the front gate, okay…?"
", ," Zazie expressed her agreement before, finally, stepping into a pair of simple white panties. Birds still chirping happily on top of her head.
As Yue walked away for her own room, she wondered about a lot of things. Too many for her comfort.
It was a bright, beautiful, glorious late morning.
Sakura Mei was having a light nap, sitting on the cruise's deck and resting her head against a stoical looking Takane's arm. The days spent with Naru Onee-chan and her friends had been truly taxing, and she had been eager to return to the relative calm and quiet of Mahora Academy. VERY relative. Takane's group had joined them on the boat, and the younger student had been overjoyed to meet her Sempai and Magistra again. It didn't matter if it had been just a few days; she had still thrown herself into Takane's arms in such a way most of Class 3-F had chuckled knowingly, while Itoshiki-sensei just looked aside uncomfortably.
Takane had been mortified, of course, but she still couldn't hold any grudge against dear sweet Mei. And in any event, she had not lost her clothes in public yet. As a matter of fact, she had not suffered any incidents of that kind during her whole class trip. She had a feeling her luck was changing, and that had her in a relatively good mood.
She was now staring at a younger girl on a lower part of the deck who was walking over to an even younger red-haired boy sitting on a bench, next to an expressionless taller girl around the same age as the first one. The taller girl had very dark skin and short curly hair and wore glasses, plus an Ohtori Academy uniform. Those skirts were short, not that Takane was staring at those long, dark skinned legs, or at the other girl's rather buxom chest….
The walking girl stopped next to the boy. She had short orange hair and shiny blue eyes, and smiled gently at the kid, who had to be around two or three years older than Negi-sensei. "Here, Takumi-kun, Anthy-chan," she said, handing each one of them a can of Pepsi.
"Oh, thank you, oneechan!" the boy said sincerely as the other girl accepted her can as well with a submissive "Thank you, Mai-sama."
The 'Mai' girl sitting at the boy's other side, while a strange and tiny animal resembling a miniature monkey crawled up onto one of the dark-skinned female's shoulders, said. "So, how are you feeling, Takumi-kun?"
"I'm fine, really, Oneechan," he said. "This hotter weather is already feeling better than Ohtori's. We made the right decision coming by boat…" he said, taking in a deep breath of the fresh air.
"Okay, if you say so," her older sister nodded vaguely. "I'm just worried we got accepted in Mahora so sudden and quickly." Now that part interested Takane. "I almost feel like they're playing a prank on us. I keep fearing they'll just send us back as soon as we arrive…"
"Oniisama would never lie… on such a matter," the Anthy girl said simply, allowing the monkey thing to drink from her can. "You should relax and enjoy the trip while we can, Mai-sama."
"While we can?" her friend frowned. "What do you mean by—"
Then, however, they were distracted by the yells of the sailors from the other side of the ship's deck. "Look!" one of them was yelling. "See? I told you, there's something floating there, and it looks like a body!"
"Huh?" Mai tilted her head in that direction, puzzled, and looked away at the sea's surface. Takane followed her cue instantly. "Now what's going on…" she said, and then saw…
Back to the Roots:
There were books everywhere. Along with several tables and stands loaded with strange techno-magical equipment that intrigued Hakase, but mostly, impossibly tall stands full of books lined up in every floor of the building.
The building, much like Konoe Manor itself, looked even bigger from the inside, and it was completely dust-free and well-kept, just like Eishun had said. Negi thought it was the most imposing thing he had ever seen, and the sound of amazed glee that escaped his throat conveyed that well.
Nodoka was similarly impressed, even if for different reasons. "So many… So many of them…!"
Haruna wiped a thin line of drool from her lower lip. "Just think of it, Nodo-chan! Marry him, and you'll get all of this! Then you can invite me and Yuecchi over…!"
Chisame turned sharply to Eva. "Wait, I'm not getting this…"
Eva pointed to the other Eva cynically. "This one is yours, moron."
"Ah. Sorry," Chisame turned away from McDowell and to the other vampire. "I saw that Nagi guy in your dreams, and he didn't seem the reading type at all. He boasted he hadn't studied on his spells, so why is he a bookworm all of a sudden?"
"How should I know? The bastard never brought me here!" Eva hissed.
"Maybe he just kept books around as conversation pieces and to make himself look smarter to visitors?" Sora wondered. "Our mother does that…"
"Maybe he just collected them for their monetary value?" Yuuna piped in. "I'm no expert, but all those things must be worth a fortune!"
Valkyrie Black looked at a shelf filled with several volumes of rom-com harem manga. "Yeah… not likely."
"To be honest, I must warn you most of you wouldn't understand the majority of these volumes," Eishun told them. "They tend to be on complex magical subjects none of you but Negi-kun, Evangeline-sama are familiar with."
"Well, to be Clow Reed's heiress, Nodoka will have to learn on the ways of magic," Kero looked at his young mistress' completely fascinated face. "Still, I understand we only would be intruding if—"
"Please feel welcome to check any and all books, as long as Negi-kun doesn't mind," Eishun invited. "This property is technically his, after all…"
"Huh?" a just-as-amazed Negi blinked back to reality. "Oh, of course I don't mind. You can read anything you want from here, Nodoka-san, Haruna-saaaaaa—" His voice trailed off when two blurs ran past him and to the nearest book stand at a speed that impressed Misora.
Makie made a disgusted face. "What kind of perversion is that? Books, ewwwww.." A beat. "N-Not that I'm saying your Dad was a decadent pervert or anything Negi-kun, how could he have been…"
Yuuna placed a hand on her mouth. "Maki-chan. Please stop inserting your foot in your mouth now…"
Besides, from what she had seen in that other world, Konoka's dad was the closet-perverted one. She only hoped this one was different.
Ala Alba had dispersed, their librarians joining Haruna and Nodoka at the books, with Yue and Konoka opening their own volumes and perusing them with visibly more understanding than the other two. Well, they did use magic, so it's to be expected they could understand what it was all about. Erebus, for some reason, was examining the curtains of all things, a strange, far-off look on his face. Yuuna wondered what that was about. The Evangelines were giving the place a dissatisfied look, likely annoyed at not knowing about this secret lovenest. Yuuna supposed she couldn't blame them.
Skuld indifferently grabbed a particularly thick book from a lower stand and flipped through it. "Eh, algorithms of reality warping and how to sustain it through time? How elementary. This is what we used as First Grade textbooks at home…"
Wandering around trying to examine everything closely, Negi ran into (not literally!) a small table on which there was nothing but a small framed picture. He gave it a curious look, and his heart jumped. It portrayed his father, younger than in Eva's memories, but clearly the same young man, along with a few others. There was a towering dark skinned man who dwarfed everyone else, grinning idiotically. A much younger Eishun clad all in black. A slyly smiling black haired man in white robes. A rugged handsomely older man smoking a cigarette. A little boy who looked just like Takahata, along another one who was a dead ringer for Itoshiki. Another boy with a neutral expression stood apart from those two and closer to Nagi. A small figure wrapped in a purple cape that stood facing away from the camera, its face obscured by a wide hat. A man second in height only to the bronzed giant, who was a blond with a beard and wearing a scaled orange shirt and green pants, smiling in a confident way. A tall red-haired woman in a waitress outfit, smirking and holding a gigantic knife. And finally, a curvy and gently smiling young girl in a pretty summer dress.
Matoi craned her neck from behind Chisame, who was in turn craning her neck behind Negi to look at the picture. As a matter of fact, Ayaka, Misa, Makie, Keiichi, Sora and Haruka all had also gathered around him to look at it.
"AH!" Makie cried, pointing at the big man. "Isn't this the Rakanator 3000 Kira-chan made last night?"
"Huh, so this is where she got those guys from," Misa commented, recognizing many of the figures Deathnote had called. "So that's why she felt they could be that strong, if they were Negi's dad's teammates…"
Matoi reached over to poke at the smiling girl in the photo with a finger.
"Say," she, well, said, "Isn't this Asakura Ryoko-san? The student who vanished without a trace last year?"
"She didn't vanish, she transferred out," Misa said, just parroting the official explanation. "But yeah, it's her! I recognize her! How many years ago—"
"Twenty," Konoeko replied evenly, before her husband could.
"But that's impossible! Asakura Ryoko was only sixteen!" Misa said. "Unless this is her mother or aunt or something…"
Eishun rubbed his chin, not as surprised as he should have looked. "I see. So that's what happened to her after the War…"
"W-Which war?" Chisame asked, understanding less and less.
"The war where Chigusa's parents died," Eishun sighed. "I'll tell you of it, but be warned, it's not going to be a pretty story…"
The Devil in the Details.
"I'm surprised," Yue said, exiting a bookstore with Zazie and carrying two volumes on Russian children's literature, while Zazie carried a tall pile of tomes on diverse subjects. Well, she no doubt had the money; her mother was rumored to be rich, after all. However… "I never imagined you'd be into heavy reading."
Zazie's grades had always been very bad, but then again, Yue's were even worse, so Baka Black guessed she shouldn't have judged her classmate's reading habits based on that. All in all, they had been having a pleasant last day out in Kyoto. Zazie was quiet and considerate, and noticeably less standoffish than Yue had expected. Yue supposed now Zazie just had to be shy, so Yue decided helping her out of her shell much like she had done with Nodoka.
"I want to become a researcher," Zazie whispered, much to Yue's surprise, while walking down the street together. Zazie… had used grammar!
"Seriously? I always thought you wanted to be a performer."
"That's only a hobby. Specifically, my real serious long term inclinations lean towards terraforming," Zazie answered, amazing Yue even more. Two sentences of those lenghts in a row! Unheard of! Was Zazie sick? Had she been allergic to that drink Yue had given her? Crap, Yue had poisoned her classmate!
"Oh, well, yes," Ayase gulped. "That's… that's something we'll perhaps have to look into in the future, after all the current environmental crises reach their peak."
Zazie nodded. "Always think of the future."
"I'm… I'm thirsty," Yue said to shake the terrible dizzying sensation of uncertainty off herself. If Zazie was talking, nothing was to be taken for sure anymore. She needed a soft drink. "What if we go that cafe over at the corner?"
Zazie only nodded, thankfully returning to being a cute mute.
As they sipped their milkshakes with cherry, pineapple and sprinkled chocolate chunks, they saw a girl around two years older than them, with glasses and short dark brown hair, entering the cafe. The girl stopped abruptly, recognizing them as well. "Ah! It's you!"
"Fortune-teller-san," Yue calmly said. "What a surprise, meeting you again…"
Minutes later, they were drinking together, although Honami Takase Ambler, the girl in question, had asked for a simple glass of Pepsi for herself. "After yesterday's Cinema Town racket, the police closed several blocks in search for more perps, so I had to take the day off," she offered the official excuse. In truth, after being frozen and then spending the whole morning in preventive treatment, the Elder had graciously given her the rest of the day to recover. Never one to stay quiet, Honami decided slipping out to clear her mind out at town. She thought she had truly earned it. "Listen, I'm sorry for being so harsh when we met. I was just shocked by what I saw, that's all. I must have sounded like a madwoman…"
Zazie only nodded sagely, making Yue rush a red-cheeked apology. "N-Never mind Rainyday-san! She's a foreigner, so she has… her own sense of humor. It's fine. Forgive me for saying this, but I don't believe in fortune telling anyway."
Honami gave her an even glare. "Why? Haven't you had that fateful find in a library yet?"
Yue's mouth sprayed juice all over the table.
"It would seem she indeed has…" Zazie whispered.
Yue gave her an annoyed stare before primly cleaning the corners of her mouth with a napkin. "A thousand of apologies. I choked after drinking too fast, that's all. You never mentioned anything about any library…"
"I saw that too, but I was too rattled by seeing your harem," the young witch said.
"I won't have a harem!" Yue replied. A sigh followed. "No one could possibly ever have a harem in today's Japan, much less anyone like me. I'm short, flat, ugly, poor and asocial."
"Don't say that. You're a cute girl," Honami casually shook her head. "And poor? Aren't you studying at Mahora, one of Japan's most exclusive schools?"
"I'm there on a scholarship my grandfather bought for me after earning a huge prize," Yue explained. "And my family has probably spent the rest of the money by now. That's all."
"I see," Honami tapped on her cheek with a finger. "Well, I couldn't see all the details, but you'll have several lovers, I'm sure of that. It doesn't have to be right now, and society can change a lot through the years."
Zazie took that moment to nod again.
Yue pouted. "Yes. Sure. It's easy for a really pretty girl like you telling me that, Ambler-san. You even have your own business already."
"Don't think it's such a boon," Honami told her. "It's only one of my part time jobs, and in addition to my studies, I have almost no time left for myself."
Yue blinked. "Oh…? What's your other job, Ambler-san?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that, sorry. It's a top secret…"
Somewhere, Xelloss sneezed. Or maybe not. That's a secret.
"Compensated dating, right?" Zazie quietly asked.
Honami's eyes flared red.
"Foreign humor! Foreign humor!" Yue waved her hands in front of herself.
Sea you Later.
Takane and Mei watched how the sailors pulled the person they had found in the water up into the boat. It was a girl around Mei's age, much to everyone's surprise. She was short and wiry, with spiky hair finished in two very thin and long braids. The weirdest thing about her, however, was how she was clutching to a gigantic sword almost bigger than she was (on second thought, Takane scratched the 'almost' from her mind upon a better look), despite the fact she was unconscious. She wore a Tomobiki Academy junior high uniform, and her skin had the tanned tone left by a life of intense activity under the sun.
Chit-chatting abounded amongst those closest to Magistra and Ministra.
"My God, she's so young…"
"A tragic waste of a life…"
"Actually, I don't think she's dead…?"
"Weird crap all around lately…"
Class 3-F had also gathered as close to her as they could.
"A sacrifice to the gods of the sea, no doubt!" the blond and blue eyed Kimura Kaere was saying. "In my country, we toss a maiden to the ocean twice a year to guarantee successful sailing and appease the Great Old Ones who dwell in sunken Rhyleth, waiting for the stars to align so they can rise from the depths and plunge mankind into dark madness! Or get their ass kicked by Ultraman Tiga, whichever."
"Once, captain of big ship we in tossed Maria to the sea!" reminisced Maria Seikutsu, the immigrant student of dubious legality. Far too happily for what she was saying. "And whole family of Maria too! We no seen cousin Haroldo ever since!"
Itoshiki-sensei shook his head with heavy sadness. "I had thought of drowning myself at this spot, but if even a little girl like this unfortunate soul could not finish her existence here, then it is hopeless for me to even try…"
Fuura Kafuka laughed. "What are you saying, Sensei? It's impossible for someone to try and commit suicide by drowning, being so young, in such a beautiful and sunny day! No doubt she only was practicing the noble sport of Face-Down Swimming with Cutting Instrument!"
Tokiha Mai stared with faint horror and complete disbelief at the class of weirdos and their cadaverous teacher in the hakama and sandals. Some of them were wearing Mahora uniforms, but surely, they had to be anomalies, right? Most likely, most Mahora students were as normal and agreeable as she had been told…
Now, why did she feel like the world was laughing at her?
"Back when I was only barely more than a boy, and your father wasn't that much older than me, Negi," Eishun started, sitting on a chair as the others sat around him. Even Natsuki, Roberta, Skuld and Yuuna had approached. Haruna, Nodoka and the librarians were still busy going through pile after pile of books, and hadn't even heard Eishun's announcement. Satomi was similarly busy examining some machinery, with Chao and Sakurako sticking close. "Back then, we travelled around the Magical World with two other comrades, Filius Zect and Albireo Imma," he pointed at the cold looking boy and the ambiguously handsome man in the picture. "We had been warned about a secret organization that had plans to throw that world into chaos, and we set out to dismantle them. They contracted this man," he pointed at the biggest one of the bunch, "Jack Rakan, the deadliest and, to be honest, most insane mercenary in existence, to eliminate us before we could find them. However, after we reached a draw with him, he agreed to join our cause."
"Wait, all of you against him, alone?" Yuuna asked. "And you were legendary heroes, right? And yet he got a draw? What kind of beast—?"
"Well, back then, we weren't exactly legendary," the Elder allowed. "We only gained that reputation later, during the war itself. At that point, our enemies had sown enough discord through the governments of the world to cause a huge war where thousands died. Part of their plan had involved this ugly statue they'd stolen from the royal palace of Equestria as a spell focus, though we never found out what that was about. We decided to stop the war at all costs, but we had to learn our enemies' true identity, and their motives. We succeeded at the former, but to this day, I'm still not sure we fully managed the latter."
The other Chao, Eva and Ala Alba tried to look ignorant, though Chao was giving them sideways looks.
"My mother gathered a lot of data on that war," Natsuki intervened coolly. "Around that time, she was only a novice researcher who had just found out about magic, and she was so excited by it, she took her first chance to infiltrate that world and learn all she could on it. That was when you met her, right?"
He only nodded, even as Konoeko shifted in slight discomfort behind him. Chisame noticed, and frowned.
"Your mother was one of the bravest people I ever met. Without any powers, she challenged the odds every day for her quest," the Elder said sadly. "We often didn't see things the same way, but her arguments were always well-thought, and her ideas were brilliant, although maybe too much for that time."
"What happened to your mother's research, Kuga-san?" Negi asked her, hoping it could hold more clues about his father.
"It all was stolen when she was killed," Natsuki replied grimly. "There were many who would have gladly murdered for that knowledge, so my search has been long and complicated."
The extremely awkward silence that ensued was only broken by Eishun's gentle cough, as Calculator had the presence of mind to slap a hand over Kuro's mouth to cut-off her inevitable snide comment about angsty avengers. "Like I was saying, both major sides involved in the War hired the services of Western and Eastern mages. Chigusa's parents were a casualty of the Eastern side, and she grew to blame our Association for not backing their side more decisively. Although at that point, I hadn't joined the Association yet. I was still only an independent adventurer."
"How did it end?" an eager Keiichi asked.
"With the help of several allies, we managed to find the organization manipulating the world's governments, Kosmo Entelekheia," Eishun gravely explained. "One of its members was an Averruncus, a powerful warrior very similar to the two fire- and water-using enemies you met yesterday. He and his master, the enigmatic figure known as the Mage of the Beginning, defeated us all, with only Zect and Nagi left standing. They won the final battle for us, but at the tragic sacrifice of Zect's life."
"Okay," Sora gulped, "And then…?"
"For a short while, we thought the worst had passed," Eishun said. "We had a couple years of peace, during which we briefly went our separate ways. It was then when Nagi met you, Evangeline-sama. However, shortly after he bound you to Mahora…"
"It was then," Skuld interrupted him, "when the Second Impact almost happened. A goddess, a messenger from Heaven, fell to Earth, causing a ripple between this world and the magical one when agents of Mundus Magicus captured her in a vulnerable state. Ala Rubra reunited, and they barely managed to prevent a global disaster from taking place. But they lost one of their closest allies there, and they split permanently after that crisis was averted."
Eishun nodded again. "Indeed. After that, Nagi traveled alone, only settling briefly with your mother, before going by himself into a personal mission he never returned from. After a few years of absence, he was officially declared dead, but no corpse was ever found. I'm sorry, Negi. That is all I can tell you."
Negi nodded, gulping down the knot in his throat. "It's okay. I understand. You have told me a lot as it is…"
"What happened to that goddess who fell to Earth? Ala Rubra rescued her and she went back to you guys, right?" Keiichi asked Skuld.
He received a hostile glare from her before Skuld turned those sulky eyes to Eishun instead. "No. Ala Rubra never went to save her. She was taken to Mundus Magicus, where the governments nailed her to a cross to drain her power and life energy, day after day, night after night of agony, for years and years, to this very day, as an alternate power source for that dying world."
An even blunter silence than the one before fell all over the room.
And Skuld finished, lowering her head, "She was… is… my older sister."
The horribly tense silence that ensued (again, Calculator had slapped a hand over an annoyed Kuro's mouth, just in case) was only broken this time by Asuna's gushing voice. "Wow, what a real hunk! What's his name? He's almost as hot as Takahata-sensei!"
Everyone looked at her; while no one had been looking, she had slid in between Konoeko and Eishun, to the former's mild discomfort, and grabbed the Ala Rubra picture, mostly focusing on the older man with glasses. Eishun smiled somewhat sadly and said, "His name was Gateau. He died a few years ago."
Asuna lost her smile. "Oh. Oh, I see. My… my condolences. What a loss… Is this one near him you when you were younger, Elder-sama?"
"Honestly, Asuna-san!" Ayaka fumed. "Weren't you paying attention to anything in the honorable Elder's story?"
"Actually, I was using the bathroom. Man, the toilet paper here is so old it feels like sandpaper. That crumbles into dust when you wipe," Asuna replied, with her habitual tact and elegance. "Why, did I miss something important?"
Facepalms abounded, Twilight Red's most especially. Even the Nodokas had resorted to one.
Asuna, oblivious to it all, just kept staring at the picture, raising an eyebrow as if she was trying to figure something out, with the usual great effort mental tasks demanded from her. "Something wrong?" Twilight Red asked, mildly hopeful.
Asuna opened her mouth to talk, then seemed to reconsider it and closed it back, then, just as soon, opened it again. "And this kid is Takahata-sensei? Boy, he sure has improved…!"
Ala Alba facefaulted for a moment. "What happened?" Chisame asked Calculator.
"Nothing," Calculator grumbled, standing back up.
"If anything, I'd say he's gone downhill," Ayaka humphed. "He has really let himself go, after being such a cute child…"
"Hey, watch that big mouth, Iinchou!" Asuna warned.
Ayaka picked the photo up and sighed. "And Itoshiki-sensei made an even cuter boy! With those adorable puppy-dog eyes! Oh, if only I had been there, I'd have guided him into being an actual stable and happy man! It's clear he always lacked the understanding love of a warm big sister! After all, that's what Negi-sensei had to make him perfect."
Negi blushed and looked down. "Please, Iinchou-san, don't say things like that…" he said as Kuro struggled to keep from bursting out laughing.
"Well…" Misora started, "He has a nephew who's that age right now, and he looks just like that too…"
Ayaka perked up, Shota alarms ringing in her head, before giving Negi an uneasy sideways look and blushing. "He… He does? Oh, I'm sure that's, ah, very interesting, but, well, I already have, I mean, you know!"
"Yes, we know," the Chisames, the Asunas, Skuld, Haruka, Yuuna and Misa snarked all at once.
Kuro shook her head. "Really don't see what all the fuss is about…"
Then someone else was examining the picture closely, and asking gruffly, "Tell us more about your sister." Even though he wasn't looking at anyone in particular, somehow his tone conveyed perfectly he was talking to Skuld. "You arrived here to help her, not actually us, didn't you?"
Everyone gave a mildly to utterly impressive start.
"AH!" Matoi gasped, looking at the Batman suddenly amidst them. "You were here?-!"
"Yes," the Dark Knight said, somber. "Always."
Matoi blinked. "Huh. So that's what it feels like…"
"Crap, you will stop doing that!" Kuro cried out. "One of these days, you or that crazy Amazon ninja are going to give me a heart attack, coming out of nowhere like that! Or I stab you, whichever!"
Skuld gave a short sigh. "Actually, one thing involves the other. I'll be honest here. My sister is at Death's door. Seriously, Death-sama is the only one she has to talk to anymore, and while Death-sama is good compay, being in a constant near-Death experience isn't good for you. Cut off from Yggdrasil, our home and support system, her reserves won't last much longer, pumping life into Mundus Magicus as they are. And once that happens, Heaven will declare war on these worlds."
Yet another horrified silence blanketed the room, this one even longer and more disturbing. Again, Asuna's voice was the only thing to finally interrupt it.
"Which sister are you talking about?"
Tales from Mundus Magicus: Wound
The girls, the boy and the annoying tiny animals all cringed in terror mixed with disgust as the blade cut a red path through Alcyone's body, the dark sorceress backing away barely in time to avoid being completely gutted. Alcyone hopped back, eyes bugging out, taking the hand that had snapped Presea's right wrist to her bleeding new gap.
The weaponsmith charged at her, but without a word, and making a masterful twist of her body, her enemy turned in place, kicking at Presea's head just as the hand holding her wound glowed bright blue.
"She's curing herself! In a bad way!" Motsu shouted. "Someone finish her while she–!"
That was Hikaru's cue to jump out from behind the overturned table, thrusting a hand forward. "FIRE ARROW!" she screamed, and the fire spell flew from between her fingers, zooming straight for Alcyone, who couldn't dodge in time to save a large portion of her hair, but at least managed to save her skull.
"Hah! I knew I'd bring you out of your hiding, little rat!" the dark mage said, slapping Presea aside, although the fighter managed to remain on her feet, swinging her sword with her good hand. Alcyone raised both hands up, allowing everyone to see how her wound was quickly healing, which made Motsu emit a choked gasp and faint on Shichimi. "You should have escaped instead of trying to protect your doomed friend!"
"Sh-Shidou-san!" Tsubaki gasped, rushing to her side, either to protect her or be protected by her; he wasn't too sure himself. "You could have killed that woman!"
"Didn't Guru Clef make it clear enough?" Presea grunted, trying to determine what to do next while standing her ground. "This is a war! You can't hesitate during life and death combat!"
"Guru Clef didn't have the time to tell us everything," Hikaru said, breathing hard. She had noticed her spell had broken a window while flying past Alcyone, but fortunately its curtains didn't seem to have caught on fire. "But… Look out! Trampy lady…!"
Indeed; a sword of ice had formed itself in Alcyone's hand, and she dove forward, clashing blades with Presea frantically, forcing the blond woman back with her insane rhythm. She knew Hikaru couldn't use the Fire Arrow in such close quarters with Presea, and from the looks of it, the girl couldn't use any other spell. If the others could do anything, they'd have done it by then. She'd just finish Presea first, then sweep the children off easily.
Nanami scrambled up to Hikaru's side, trying to pull her away by an arm, with Yukino close in tow. "Shidou-san, this might be our only chance! Let's go!"
"No!" Hikaru said, looking around for a weapon and grabbing an average sword lying near her feet. Derflinger was about to tell her to pick the one a few steps away instead, but then she was saying, "Not only can't we leave Presea-san with her, but we aren't fast enough to flee from her! If we don't finish her here, it'll happen the same way that it did with Clef-sama!"
Her eyes gained a dangerous glint while she said that. It was something she had caught from her uncle. He was an awful person, but he at least had taught her there were some times where you had to stop being nice.
Motsu turned to Yukino. "Yo, Shield Girl! Toss that trademarked huge frisbee at the evil witch, will you!"
Yukino panicked, holding the shield closer to herself. "M-Me? But I can barely lift it! Even if I can toss it, I could hit Presea-sama instead!"
Then they heard a gruff, loud growl, and they were startled when Kirara grew back to her full size, roaring as she leapt on Alcyone. Presea jumped back allowing the furry beast to pounce on the trampy lady, who shrieked in shock for a moment.
"Let's go! Go, go, go!" Presea ran to the children, quickly herding them out for her garden.
"Counter-terrorists win!" Shichimi yelled.
"But Kirara-chan…!" Hikaru gasped.
"She'll be okay!" Presea argued. "The most important thing is your survival! She'll buy us some time! Quick!"
"No, not so quick! Not so quick!" Motsu tried frantically to keep up with them, hopping behind the quintet carrying Shichimi on his back.
"Wheeeeee, this is fun…!" Shichimi wagged her tail.
As they crossed through the garden, another window exploded from the inside in a major crash of long ice spears, and Kirara was sent flying out at their feet with several bleeding marks all over her fur.
"Kirara-chan!" Hikaru yelled while the furry animal shrank, wheezing heavily.
Alcyone was stepping out as well, wide bite marks over her arms, and crushing a helmet under her heel. "Hahhh… Hahhh… Miserable interlopers, I am going to—"
Nanami, sneering, yanked a tablecloth from a lawn table Presea had out, and tossed it in the wounded sorceress' direction, managing to cover her head for a moment. Taking advantage of her momentary confusion, Nanami took hold of Yukino's shield and rammed it forward, slamming it against the witch's stomach and sending her stumbling into Presea's garden pond. "Melt, you… you bitch!"
For a moment, they all looked down at the water as Alcyone sank quickly, a myriad of bubbles coming up until they stopped altogether.
"Wow…!" Tsuwabuki exhaled. "Nanami-sama, you are the greatest! Who else but you would have thought the Wizard of Oz would have—"
Then the pond's water exploded in all directions, and Alcyone flew up in a screaming paroxysm of unbound rage, clawing her hands in all directions.
"Now!" Hikaru pointed at her again. "FIRE ARROW!"
"You're so foolish!" Alcyone seethed. "You can't use the same spell twice on me! FROZEN SHIELD!-!"
Her personal barrier of ice stopped Hikaru's attack effectively, although it still made her reel back. Still somewhat spent, she had to drop it shortly afterwards, and then the round shield hit her in the head, making her drop to the floor.
"See?" Presea said, briefly looking at Yukino as the shield returned to her good hand. "That's how you throw it. It always will return to you, like a boomerang, but the key is timing it adequately…"
Yukino nodded, visibly impressed. "Thank you, Presea-sama…"
Alcyone huffed and puffed, pushing herself back up. "I'm not defeated yet, you insects! FROZEN SPEAR!"
The ice projectile appeared and flew for them faster they could react. Presea tried her best, quickly thrusting the shield to save the intended target, but she failed just short, as the spear managed to reach its objective, and for a moment, the place fell deadly silent save for a strangled gasp of pain.
Magical History Teacher Sku-chan
Skuld looked at Ala Alba before saying, "What you are about to hear most likely doesn't apply to your own universe."
"I would dearly hope it doesn't," Calculator managed to deadpan through the overall chilling silence the groups had fallen into. "We have enough problems as it is."
Skuld coughed and pulled out an extendable pointer, quickly doodling a complex set of equations and calculations on a blackboard Nagi had kept near a particularly tall pile of books. Assuming a practiced professor speech stance copied from Auntie Washu, she began, tapping on the blackboard. "This is a very elementary and vague basic approach to the Yggdrasil Principle established to sustain living matter. In other words, it's the ABC to the War and Peace that is the actual equation to create life."
"Interesting," Other-Chao said. "So, if you reverse that, would you have the very basic blueprints for the Anti-Life Equation, as well?"
Skuld nodded. "Darkseid actually got the baseline counter principle to this long ago, during one of his frantic quests for the full Equation. It's just he hasn't ever been able to figure out to take it from there. Without direct access to Yggdrasil's own base codes, no one can develop anything like this into a functional creation or destruction process."
"It gives me a headache just by looking at it," Makie complained.
"Only one mortal was ever able to steal that kind of information from Yggdrasil, and even duplicate our results to a smaller scale, based on the stolen data," Skuld went on. "He was a royal prince, a runaway from the Juraian Galactic Empire. Jurai is one of the first planets in this universe to manifest humanoid intelligent life. Originally populated by a pirate culture, the first Emperor to unify the planet under his rule forced their culture to adapt to a more lawful system, but did so through fear and intimidation. His first son, disapproving of his father's ways, departed for Earth, where he mingled with the primitive humans for decades and decades. Juraians are blessed with unusually long life spans by human standards," she said, briefly giving Konoeko a look few of the others even noticed, still too shocked out their wits.
"W-What does this have to do with the end of the world?" Yuuna managed to ask.
"Patience, patience!" Skuld tapped harder on the blackboard. "That Prince soon turned to magic as a means to create a society he could deem as perfected beyond the Juraians, or the barbarians he was living with. However, he quickly learned magic alone wouldn't achieve his goals. So, with the help of a group of adventurers who were convinced they were doing the right thing, much like Ala Rubra in a way, they figured out how to open a gate to Yggdrasil. Normally, the touch of Yggdrasil itself could outright kill any mortal body; only souls can be there. But the Prince was extremely intelligent, and he found a way for him and his comrades to storm into our sanctuaries and steal the Yggdrasil code from us. That," she said, "is the actual origin of the myth of Prometheus. He literally stole creative fire from Heaven."
"Let me guess," Calculator droned. "That Prince then created a world of his own…"
"And made beings in his own image…" Kuro added, smirking wryly. Her voice dropped to a creepy hiss. "Seven days…!"
Calculator sighed and belatedly clapped a hand over Kuro's mouth before she said anything else.
Skuld frowned. "With a previous spoiler, anyone could see that coming! Anyway, yes, he did, as prototype before attempting to create a whole universe, maybe. Our opinions on it are divided; some say he was simply perfectly contented with creating a planet-sized realm. Whatever the case was, he succeeded at creating a world patterned after Earth during the so-called Classical Age, before supernatural creatures began going extinct at a fast rate, pushed by man's expansion across the planet. All those creatures would find sanctuary in Mundus Magicus, and called their savior the Lifemaker, or Mage of the Beginning."
"Not to be blasphemous, but if he could create a safe happy world for so many, why didn't you guys make us one of those instead of leaving us in a world filled with—" Keiichi began before Haruka slapped his head from behind.
"Listening now! Metaphonical questioning later!"
"Metaphysical!" Skuld corrected, then said, waggling a finger, "However, while the Lifemaker was an extremely intelligent man— he couldn't have ever actually made his copy of the Code work otherwise— his Code was imperfect compared to the original. It had several flaws and bugs that meant the world would eventually collapse upon itself in a few centuries. At that point, the Lifemaker had started become unhinged himself, too. Cut off from the revitalizing waters and trees of Jurai, his long living body was decaying, so he turned to the taboo art of using others' bodies to preserve his own existence. His original physical form ruined, his mind and spirit became a magically bound and empowered parasite jumping from one host body to another, consuming them and writing his self over theirs by force."
Eishun nodded gravelly. "That part, I was aware of it. We fought at least three different physical incarnations of the Lifemaker."
"And now," Negi said, truly somber for once, "That time has arrived, and that world is… about to perish. Isn't it?"
Skuld nodded sadly. "And my sister with it."
"But why are you guys going to wage war on us right after that?" Haruna asked this time. "What do we have to do with it?"
Kuro nodded, looking disapproving. "We'd never put up with such uppity behavior from gods in our world."
Skuld glared at her and gave the librarians (and attendant Setsunas–Setsunae?) a critical but indulgent look. "Oh, so you could finally pry yourselves from your dead trees long enough to hear about your destiny. Well, basically, avoiding the Omega Initiative, Yggdrasil's codename for Apocalypse, was the reason why my sister came to Earth in the first place. She always has loved you," again, briefly, she looked into Keiichi's direction, noticed his lack of any particular distraught impression other than that you normally had when told by a goddess the world might about to end, and she frowned. "And she arrived to issue a warning. Stop harming each other and your planets, learn to live in peace and harmony, or we'll have to spank you hard."
"And, of course, we should put a stop to immorality in the world, shouldn't we?" Haruka asked.
Skuld shrugged. "I find mankind as a whole deviant and perverted, but to be honest, that was never too much of an issue. As long as you don't harm others with your perversions, that's your life. I must admit many in my family wouldn't have any room to complain on it, like my other sister, Urd. She's a real dirty slut. And don't get me started on Uncle Zeus, and Cousin Aphrodite, and Cousin Ashtara, and—"
"Okay, we got it!" a defeated Haruka gestured for her to stop, while the Harunas high fived each other.
"What about Sodom and Gomorrah?" asked Kerberos.
"They indulged in the worst vice none of us would forgive," a somber Skuld said.
"Yes, [[INSERT LOUD HONKS, BULLET HAILS, EXPLOSIONS AND DONKEY BRAYS HERE]]," Skuld confirmed. By the time she was over, everyone including the Harunas was pale and sweaty in abject horror. Everyone but the Negis, since Chisame and Kagurazaka had covered their ears from behind.
Negi looked at Erebus. "Does this happen to you often?"
"Generally at least once when I'm in the same room as more than four girls."
They shared a sympathetic nod.
"Question!" Makie raised a hand. "If that big bad thing that happened fifteen years ago was the Second Impact, what was the first one?"
"Oh, that," Skuld said. "It was the incident that caused the extinction of dinosaurs."
"What, the dinosaurs also deserved to die for their sins?" Calculator snarked.
"One word: Barney," Kuro intervened.
"Cute, cute!" Skuld crossed her arms and shook her head. "In truth, they only were unintended collateral damage. It was an apocalypse aimed at other races in this galaxy, but a shattered fragment of a destroyed planet hurled against Earth and accidentally destroyed most of your species at the time. In our defense, Orochi, the God of Destruction, was severely punished over the incident."
Negi's eyes had grown huge and wet. "Poor, poor dinosaurs! H-H-How could you, Skuld-san…!"
"N-Negi-sensei?" Ayaka asked. "What…?"
Chamo chuckled between cigarette puffs. "The Bro is a major fan of dinosaurs. You know kids, Iinchou-nee…!"
Ayaka frowned, both at still being unaccustomed to the idea, much less the sight, of talking ermines, and still distrustful of what she felt could be a bad influence on her teacher. "I— I see…"
Chisame pinched one of Negi's ears. "Cut the waterworks, Negi-sensei! Look, Erebus-sensei isn't taking it that dumbly, and he's only one year…" she noticed Erebus had a hand covering his face, droplets leaking from between his fingers. "… Never mind," she said, with a sweat drop hanging from her head.
"Hey, if dinosaurs hadn't gone extinct, you mammals would have never inherited the Earth! Be thankful even for our mistakes! Where do you think you would be now if reptiles still controlled this planet?" asked Skuld.
Negi and Erebus shared a thought bubble showing dinosaur versions of them both, then wept even harder at the missed chance for extra awesomeness.
"I still don't understand the hows or whys of this very well …" Twilight Red confessed, sheepishly scratching the back of her neck, "But we'll help you in anything you need us for! Right, guys?" she looked at her teammates.
Magus Erebus nodded immediately. "Of course I will!"
"You mispronounced 'we'," Kagurazaka told him. "Again."
"The sanctity of life on a global scale must be protected at all costs," Sakurazaki nodded gravely.
"I never liked when people start tossing heavy holier-than-thou judgments on others…" Kuro scowled. "Even if those people claim to be gods… ESPECIALLY if. They're usually just being delusional sociopaths."
"Raging against the Heavens? That's a new one…" Calculator sighed. "Well, after risking our lives, I guess our souls were the next logical step, right…?"
"We started risking our souls as soon as we started hanging with Paru and Kuro," Kagurazaka told her.
"Good point," Hasegawa allowed.
"Oh yeah, I love it when the shota brigade starts boasting about how much more moral than me they are…" Kuro rolled her eyes. "At least my sister's the same age I am!"
Skuld coughed loudly to make herself heard. "Actually," she said, "It'd be in the best interests of this world and yours if you guys just left as soon as possible. We're very thankful for your help, yes, but… how can I explain this in very easy terms? Let's just say you are akin to adult organs being transplanted into a foreign body, just those organs already exist in that organism, and it's a child's body. That causes a reaction where this reality, for lack of a better term, 'rejects' you, much like antibodies tend to fight off any insertion of organic matter formerly belonging to another biological system."
"Ah?" Makie babbled. "You're sounding like an old ER episode now."
Skuld facepalmed. "Father, give me patience. Look, all I'm saying is, reality itself, in this dimension, is a product of Yggdrasil, our heavenly mainframe extending over the whole universe. You could think of it as an extremely highly advanced artificial program created by us." She looked over to both Chisames, who nodded in interested understanding. "That's how that Servant, the Temptress, was able to displace the kaiju Chigusa summoned, by cancelling the subprogram bringing them to this planet. Like I said before, just like Mundus Magicus, this whole universe runs on a code that can be hacked or altered by a powerful enough reality warper, or simply someone with the right tools for the job."
"Like a Great Grandmaster Key?" Kagurazaka asked. "I think I'm still carrying mine. Hang on, let me check…"
"Sort of, but on a different scale," Skuld said, nodding as she pulled a shiny red apple and placed it before the redhead.
Accepting it with a blink, that Asuna turned to her Negi and asked, "Why don't you give us rewards like this when we get an answer right?"
"What's a Great Grandmaster Key?" asked Satomi, full of vibrant curiosity.
Skuld went on, "That isn't important right now. Regardless, your presence here right now is like that of a bug filtered into the program. The fabric of reality doesn't recognize you as anything but errors in the system, so to counter the imbalance you bring to the chain of events surrounding your counterparts, the system likely 'tries' to make up for the power shift you bring by, in turn, altering probabilities to balance the course of events supposed to take place. That's why the situation at the lake was that much more dangerous this time around. If you stay here, not only is there no way that could happen in your world, but here, reality will keep upping and upping the scales. So, when you finally depart, you will have broken the power balance so much, you'll have left the locals with an out of control escalation they'll be unable to cope with."
"I didn't understand the techno babble, but the core idea is basically, if these guys stay, the world will keep throwing bigger and badder crap at us, right?" Natsuki said.
"Essentially," Skuld nodded twice.
"The world is mean!" Haruna complained. "You could have created a somewhat fairer universe for us, you know!"
"Yeah, well, tell me something I don't hear in prayers at least three thousand times a day."
Misora grimaced. "Wait a second there. You get our prayers, too?"
"I'm a part time operator too, so yeah, some of them get through me before reaching Father. I'm afraid your breasts will never grow too much, but the person you'll end up with will love them as they are, so don't worry about it."
Misora, with suddenly huge and tearful eyes, nodded a single time. "Thank you, Your Holiness!"
There was a beat.
"So, uh, who's that person? Is he in this room?"
"I've never said it will be a 'he'."
"Then again, I've never said it will be a 'she' either."
"Now you're just trolling me!-!-!" Misora wailed, while a little voice in the back of her head gently reminded her of a little story Deathnote had told her the first night the librarians had slept in her room…
"Not the first time, even. Remember all those times you lost a sock for no apparent reason? The times it rained when you were about to do track and field despite the sky being clear moments before? The times when Sister Shakti just felt the need to check on you right when you were about to slack off in your duties?"
"That was all your fault!-?"
"We need to test you through trials and tribulations from time to time, you know. It helps you build character."
"Build character for what?-!"
"For more trials and tribulations, of course."
Haruka had to restrain Misora from behind. "No, don't be blastemphemous! What if she's really a goddess?-!"
"Then I'll just send her back home! Lemme go already…!"
Ayaka sighed and patted Skuld's shoulder. "Congratulations. You have snapped her out of her fear of the unknown…"
"See, what did I tell you? Becoming a better person through trials and tribulations!"
"Well, if that's the case, can you help send them back home?" Chisame asked. "And after that, are we supposed to just make our last wills and testaments, or what?"
"I'll certainly try to help them establish a jump point back to their universe," Skuld replied, then gave Other Chao a condescending look, "Although I'm sure I'm even that needed here, since my colleague's talents here should be enough for that task…"
"Aw, you'll make me blush…!" Other Chao laughed, scratching the back of her head.
"You already have eternal blush stickers," Kuro mumbled.
"Your colleague? What, is she a goddess too?" Makie asked.
"Oh, no, I'm only the goddess of nikkuman," Other Chao said.
"And goddess of the Mahora Science Clubs," Chao added.
"Secondary goddess of the Mahora Chinese Martial Arts Club after Ku-chan…" Other Chao went on.
"Co-Goddess of Japanese school robotics with Satomi-chan…" This comment was followed by a brief blush of Satomi in the sidelines.
"And goddess matron of all awesome, cute and scientific things that challenge your intellect while flattering your eyesight!"
"Other than that, no, we aren't goddesses at all!" both Chaos said, grinning at once in a perfectly coordinated way.
Everyone else in the room felt slightly uncomfortable for a moment. After all, it was pure dual-Springfield charm at work. Had the Negis joined then, this story would have turned X rated automatically.
Skuld took in a long breath before saying, "I meant my SCIENTIFIC colleague! Anyway, it's my sister's life at stake here, too, and I've had all the time in the world to prepare myself," she boasted, with a somewhat smug self-confidence that couldn't help but annoy the Chisames, the Asunas, Misa, Misora and Hakase. "Rest assured I have a plan, and by saving my sister, I can save the rest of your realm as well!"
"Great," Yuuna then urged, "So let's hear that wonderful plan!"
"Do you have the next three days free?"
"Is it that complex a plan?"
"It's a plan to rescue a nearly omnipotent but restrained being made of pure heavenly energy from a parallel world guarded by creatures and armies that would make last night's challenges look like an appetizer. A single wrong step would kill my sister and send a divine pulse shockwave that would devastate both worlds. Then we have to deliver my sister back home and enact a complex protocol to guarantee the cancellation of the Omega Initiative after what most of the Heavenly Council considers a Level A Plus Three offense, kidnapping and attempted deicide of one of the Almighty's daughters. Just by explaining this, I already made Makie-san fall asleep. Do you really think you're ready to take on the full details?"
Yuuna shook her head while supporting a napping Makie's weight. "Now that you put it that way…"
"Hey, not all of us are pinky here!" Kuro said, offended. "I'm a Nasurian! We deal with more insane magical concepts in basic training than most wizards do by the time they reach fifty!"
"Just because you can stick your brain in a blender doesn't mean the rest of us want to," Twilight Red said.
"Good to see we're finally understanding each other. Now, I'm going to need your help at the key stage of my plan, but first, you should all try reaching the power and skill levels of Ala Alba here. Once that's achieved, you'll be in condition to actually be helpful, rather than loads. Don't fret yet, we still have several months ahead of us, and if they could do it, so can you," Skuld reassured the locals.
"I feel so relieved," Chisame grunted. "Now, exactly what was the deal with that Temptress twerp? You mentioned she was a Servant, but a servant of who or what?"
Tales from Mundus Magicus: Blood.
Shidou Hikaru knew how it felt, seeing something fall in what looked like slow motion just out of her reach as she was powerless to stop it in time. It happened all the time back when she was a clumsy child, and she'd break a vase or something else valuable at her home. Time seemed to slow down just enough to let her experience the mild terror, to try and fail, to see the object crashing down against the floor, even up to the shards flying in all directions, after which time would retake its normal pace just in time for her brothers to scold her.
Granted, her brothers all loved her, in a perfect healthy and sincere, totally non-decadent, no-sirree way, and their scoldings never went past gentle recriminations, but still, they meant the world to a young and sensible Hikaru.
Now, it all was much worse. Because she was watching, in that same apparent slow motion, how Kiryuu Nanami's body, just pierced by an ice spear through the upper body, in between her right breast and shoulder, plummeted down accompanied by a strangled gasp. She was able to see perfectly well how her recent companion hit the garden's ground, the sword Derflinger slipping from her fingers. But despite everything, Hikaru, or anyone else for that matter, couldn't stop her fall in time.
"NANAMI-SAMA!"A horrified Tsuwabuki ran to his crush's side, grasping one of her hands tightly. Yukino came to Nanami's other side, checking her pulse with all the experience of an assistant to Suzushiro Haruka. Due to her stubbornness and zeal, Haruka-chan got into a lot of fights in the line of duty. And due to Haruka-chan's strength, Yukino often had to tend to battered victims of the Justice and Order Steamroller.
After a few gasps of pain, Kiryuu clenched her teeth, squeezed Yukino's hand, and hissed, "Kikukawa-san… P-Please look after Shidou-san…"
Tsuwabuki sobbed, waited for the inevitable "… and Tsuwabuki-kun…", failed to hear it, looked down, and saw Nanami still alive but refusing to say anything else, just keeping Yukino's hand firmly clutched, biting her lower lip. That only added to his heartache.
"Ah ha ha ha ha!" Alcyone laughed, standing over them, confident and haughty. "You are too weak, little girls! This is like eradicating helpless vermin!"
"Silence, you monster!-!" Presea roared, charging her alongside Hikaru, both of them swinging blades at once, but failing to meet their target as Alcyone blew them back across the garden with a hand thrust and a yell of "Frost Hurricane!" The resulting burst of icy air toppled them in opposite directions.
Presea, however, quickly pushed herself back to her feet, supported on her sword. "You… You keep digging your own grave deeper and deeper, lackey…" she grunted.
From where it had been dropped, Derflinger called out, "Hey, someone pick me up already! In the hands of an able user, I'd finish that witch in no time! Seriously! Yo, someone pay attention to the legendary weapon of the bunch…! Damn it, Talatsu never has to put up with this sort of disrespect…"
Motsu walked up to it. "Don't worry, Excalibur! I'll pluck you up to lead the forces of good to victory! In a really good way! A-hup we go…!" He grabbed the hilt and pulled it up, only to fall on his butt and then his back without moving the weapon even an inch, exhausted to his limits after that single try. "Ah, and so, my legend comes to a finish! After this epic struggle, I think I will go sleep in Avalon! But I shall return when the land needs me again! In a good way…!"
"If I could move by myself, I'd chop you up to pieces, seriously, man," Derflinger told him.
Meanwhile, Shichimi made her slow way next to Nanami's gulping head. "Ah. Does it hurt a lot, mya…?"
Nanami clenched her teeth and snarled something that badly tried to be a "What the hell do you think?-!"
"I see," the tiny furry thing nodded, slow and sedate. "Would you, then, like to feel better? I think I can do that…"
"You can?-!" a hopeful Tsubaki cried.
"Well. I can try, at least-nya," Shichimi said, slowly lowering her head. "You will forgive me if I do this, won't you?" she said, a single moment before her diminutive mouth descended on Nanami's, her tongue delicately lapping the cold lips of the teenager.
Yukino's and Tsuwabuki's eyes bulged out as much as those of Nanami herself.
Motsu stared on with a mixture of annoyance and interest for a few moments before snapping his fingers. "Ah! Revived by a cat kiss in a good way! I think I once watched this in a Michelle Pfeiffer movie! Or was she Hale Berry?"
"Seriously, dude, I'm gonna cut you!" Derflinger said.
Teach Us, Kuro-sensei! The Einzbern Consultation Exposition Room!
As one, all of Ala Alba turned to look at Kuro. "You're up, exposition girl," Deathnote said cheerfully.
Kuro snorted. "About time somebody asked. I wasn't going to say anything unless you did."
"Say anything about what?" Misora asked.
Kuro snapped her fingers. "Deathnote! Assist!"
Deathnote reached into her cleavage and pulled out her Pactio Card, casually summoning up her Artifact. "Exposition Illustration mode is ready," she chirped.
Kuro coughed as she began to pace back and forth. "Someone please find Makie a pillow while the rest listen. This is going to be a bit hard to follow, but please bear with it. To put it simply, Servants are the spirits of heroes called to material form. They're technically a very advanced, very powerful sort of familiar."
Makie was already swaying, her eyebrows drooping, but they opened again and she "ooooed" as a diagram appeared behind Kuro. The words "Servants=Familiar" were emblazoned on the drawing, along with generic sketches of heroically posed warrior figures.
Chisame raised an eyebrow. "That's it? Doesn't sound that complicated to me."
"We're getting there," Kuro said cheerfully as Keiichi fluffed up a pillow and placed it beside Makie. The dark-skinned girl resumed pacing, taking on a more scholarly tone and manner. "The context, however, is a lot more complicated than such a simple equivalency. To understand what a Servant is, you need to know what they're used for." Kuro briefly eyed Eishun, but the elder stood resolutely silent. "Servants are an integral element of an ancient ritual known as 'Heaven's Feel'. It is an attempt to recover what is known among a subset of magic-users, known in our universe as 'Nasurians', or Magi, as the Third True Magic, or Third Sorcery."
Negi frowned as the key words on the board changed. "What's so important about this 'Third True Magic'?"
Kuro smiled slightly, and this time there was a mocking edge to it. "The Third True Magic, also called Heaven's Feel, is the magic that allows for the materialization of the soul. The soul contains all the memories, mind and magic of any entity, anchored to the world by the body. If the body is destroyed, the soul passes on, and magical attempts to put the soul in a new body will result in either an inferior integration or the soul itself rotting and dispersing. However, with the Third True Magic one can both keep the soul from passing on and stop it from dispersing or decaying, metamorphosing it into a higher form of existence. The soul becomes capable of interacting with the world and of taking on new anchors." She smiled brightly as Makie's snores filled the sudden silence. "New bodies. It can be a suitably prepared puppet or anything with a brain. Once occupying it, the soul will reshape the body according to the form in its memories. Heaven's Feel is nothing less than True Resurrection, true immortality not just for the body, but also for the soul."
There was stunned silence as everyone but Skuld stared at her with expressions ranging from disbelief to unholy lust. Even Ala Alba, who'd heard of what all that business in Fuyuki had been about, stared in stunned horror.
"I-is this true?" Sora asked Skuld.
The goddess's face was woodenly impassive for a long moment. "Yes," she said eventually, her great reluctance obvious. "These things happen sometimes. You humans are too nosy for your own good, you know that?!"
"Cristo," Roberta swore.
"Yes," was all Skuld said on the subject.
"That sort of power…" Batman said, the gravel of his voice deeper than usual. "Anyone who had it… the potential for abuse…" It was a mark of how horrified he was that he couldn't think of any single example to verbalize just how terrifying the notion was.
Kuro gave them an annoyed look. "Oh, calm down people. Stop crapping yourselves. The magic is lost. No one living today knows how to work it, and I'm pretty sure any who used to know can't pull it off anymore. Remember, the point of the ritual was to recover it, remember? I mentioned that, right? So get those thoughts of bringing back dead relatives and immortality out of your heads."
Everyone looked at Haruna, who tried to look innocent despite the unholy lust still lingering on her face. Thus, few saw Natsuki, Negi, Batman and Ayaka flinch. Roberta's expression could have been used as an anvil.
Ayaka gave a start however as she felt someone take both of her hands and squeeze gently, reassuringly. She glanced sideways. Asuna's face was studiedly blank, looking away from her, her cheek leaning on the knuckles of her other hand. She completely ignored Ayaka's existence. Her hand was warm however, and wouldn't let go.
On Ayaka's other side, Twilight Red just made a small smile and gave her hand another squeeze.
"However, you all understand why someone would put a lot of effort into recovering such magic," Kuro continued as she resumed pacing in front of Deathnote's diagram and its helpful chibi-style progression chart of how the process worked. "A thousand years ago, the Einzbern Clan of Magi, the only ones known to have ever achieved the use of the Third Magic, lost the secret to its full utilization. They spent the next eight hundred years trying to rediscover the mechanics of it without success, until they were finally forced to ask for help from other Magi. Thus was laid the groundwork for the Heaven's Feel ritual, more commonly known to the world… as the Holy Grail War."
"I have a question," the Batman asked. "Revival by the Lazarus Pits… Does it have those potentially soul destroying effects on its users too?"
Before Kuro could open her mouth to answer, Skuld beat her to the punch, which annoyed her. "Worried about the spiritual wellbeing of your worst enemy? That's so noble. Actually, due to the supernatural properties of those alchemicals, which suffice to say have origins tied to those of the primal elemental soup that sparkled the first signs of biological life, their procedure of pulling the soul back into the revived body is remarkably safe for the soul itself, but not at all for its integrity and purity. They have a very high rate of spiritual contamination, which is the reason why the Pits induce insanity into their users."
Eva yawned. "What about the Dragon Balls?"
Kuro gave her a puzzled look. "Pardon?"
"You know, there's this legend about seven mystical spheres spread across the world, and if you can gather all seven and ask for a wish, a dragon will appear and grant you that wish no matter what, even if it involves reviving the dead," Evangeline stretched.
Somewhere in his subdimension of pure darkness, Nekron twitched in annoyance.
"That's the most stupid thing I've ever—" Kuro began before Skuld spoke again.
"The Dragon Balls, or rather, the dragon they summon, have actual reality warping effects," the young goddess explained. "In that sense, they are more powerful than Heaven's Feel, but since the dragon hasn't been seen in thousands of years, even most Magi have come to believe it's nothing but a myth."
"But it exists," Negi persisted.
It was Skuld's turn to shrug. "Yeah, but looking for them will probably be more dangerous and time consuming than looking for your father directly, so I'd advise you not even bothering to go there."
"Oh," Negi drooped.
Chisame frowned. "You know, I can't believe no one has bothered to ask you this, but… since you watch everything from above, you do know where Negi's father is, don't you?"
Negi's head sprang back up in intense wide-eyed interest, his eyes nailing themselves on Skuld. "Is that true?-!"
Skuld waved her hands before them. "EEEEHHHHH! I'm not one of those omniscient voyeurs! I spent most of my time monitoring readings and filling out paperwork, and I don't have the time to check on every mortal's lives and whereabouts! Sorry! Maybe I could access that information if I still had access to Yggrdasil's databanks, although I'd need authorization to share that information with mortals without being put on trial for betrayal. But as it is, I'm cut off from Yggdrasil now…"
"What?" Keiichi asked. "Do you mean you've been booted out of your home?"
"In a way, yeah. But that's all part of my plan. Don't worry," she smirked. "I already have a place to live at this world set for myself…"
"Ah. That's good to know…" Keiichi replied, although something about the way she had said it told him he should be worried about it.
"Ahem!" Kuro interrupted. She grimaced. "Where were we again?"
"Holy Grail War," Other Chao said helpfully.
"Ah. Thank you." Kuro coughed. "Anyway, the Einzbern finally swallowed their pride and asked for help. At the time, the Magi's Clocktower Association was having… aggressive disagreements with the Church, so they picked a place in the Far East where the Church had little presence. With the help of two Magi clans in the area, the Tohsaka and the Makiri, they set out to recover the Third Magic." She rolled her eyes and her toned went dry. "Being Magi, they went about it in the most complicated way possible."
Skuld chuckled slightly at the understatement.
"How's that?" Haruna asked, being drawn into the story.
"They decided that the best way to recover the magic was to basically knock down a hole in reality to get at Akasha and get the information back that way," Kuro said, her tone making it obvious she thought they were morons as Yue gasped. Apparently, her audience didn't share her opinion, staring at her blankly. She huffed. "Akasha? The Akashic Record? The Root?" More blank looks, though the Nodokas gasp and the Negis looks of dawning comprehension told her some were getting it. She sighed. "Um, okay. If, going by goddess girl's story about how the universe is just one big Matrix simulation run by the gods, then Akasha would be the indelible backup of EVERYTHING, past, present and future. All knowledge in the universe that was, is or ever will be resides there, and it is both the ultimate source and ultimate destination of… well, everything. Ah, I see that got through," Kuro said in satisfaction as 'Ooh!' expressions spread across her audience. Batman's face was inscrutable, but it was obvious he'd gotten it the first time.
Makie muttered in her sleep about why was Homura-mama wrestling with Madoka-mama so late at night and shifted slightly, a snot bubble beginning to develop on her nose.
"Isn't that a bit… overkill?" Misora ventured hesitantly.
"You don't understand the Magus mindset, Mysterious Sister," Kuro said sagely. "In most Magi circles, you don't get respect if your methodology isn't as complicated, convoluted and elegant as possible. Besides, the Einzbern had gone a little crazy with obsession and desperation at that point. They had been at it for eight hundred years. Anyway, with the other two families, they set about setting up the ritual. Using incomplete knowledge they had left of the Third Magic, they constructed the Great Grail, inside a mountain in the area which would someday be the city of Fuyuki, with its magic circle inscribed into the land itself. Once the construction was complete, they invited other magi to act as witnesses to what they were going to do."
"Which was?" Batman grated. He was not enjoying the long explanations.
"To put it simply, the three families had constructed a wish machine," Kuro said bluntly. "Using what little was still known about Heaven's Feel, their wish machine would summon seven Servants, Heroic Spirits summoned from the part of Akasha known as the Throne of Heroes. This summoning, however, was every limited. After all, even just bringing someone back to life requires the Miracle of the Third Magic. Thus, the summoning a Heroic Spirit in its complete form would be impossible for the Grail, much less seven of them. To facilitate the process, only parts of the Epic Spirits are summoned, and materialized within spiritual vessels optimized for them, known as the seven Classes, which reflect abilities they had in life."
"And here," Kuro said as the words 'Seven Servants' appeared behind her on the illustration, as well as seven shadowed figures, "we come to the meat of the discussion. Servants are essentially nerfed down versions of Heroic Spirits, their personality complete but their abilities limited by the Class they were forced into during summoning."
"Heroic Spirits?" Setsuna queried.
Kuro took a deep breath. "Heroic Spirits are…" she paused, pondering. "When I say 'heroes', I don't mean just anyone who decides to pull on some tights and go out to beat up petty criminals." She didn't even so much as direct a snide look Batman's way as she continued. "When I say 'Hero', I mean it in the classical, mythical sense: powerful beings who in life changed the very world for those lucky or unfortunate enough to encounter them, either raising up empires or grinding it to dust beneath their feet. Actually, 'Epic Spirits' might be a more accurate translation, or perhaps 'Legendary Souls'. Epic Spirits are beings who have accomplished great achievements, or even outright impossible deeds, and because of this become objects of worship and lore after their deaths, or even before it. As a result, they are placed outside the normal post-life progression of the soul and ascend to an existence similar, or even beyond gods in order to become a power that protects existence. Many become ideals, ultimate examples of what they are, whether that be king, warrior, explorer, conqueror or what have you."
"That Temptress didn't look very mythepicandary," Haruka said doubtfully.
"Mythical, epic or legendary: pick one, don't use them all at the same time," Misa said.
"You'd be surprised," Kuro said.
"Beyond gods?" Skuld said tartly.
Kuro gave her a level look. "Oh? Do you think you can survive a fight with, say, the Epic Spirit of Gilgamesh of Uruk?"
Skuld paled. "D-don't be absurd! I'm an administrator and inventor, not some kind of soldier!"
"G-gilgamesh?" Nodoka ventured. "From 'The Epic of Gilgamesh'? Is that who you mean?"
Kuro nodded. "He's an ideal example. He's not only the first hero ever, he's the first superhero of recorded human history. Many tropes that are part of heroic traditions can be traced back to him. He was 2/3rds god in a period where most were lucky to be half. He was insanely rich. He had super strength. He built the walls around a city with his bare hands by using said strength to pull it out of the very rocks of the ground. He had a loyal kid sidekick. He went beyond the impossible and kicked reason to the historical curb, as is the heroic way. And he set the bar for all heroes who would come after. He's remembered for essentially taking on his entire pantheon of gods, telling the goddess of love she wasn't good enough for him, kicking the ass of the monster she sent after him as revenge, then going on to make them cry, essentially out of boredom. When his best friend died, became a broody loner. And yet in the end, he fell when he faced the greatest challenge, and had to surrender to Death herself." Kuro shrugged. "All these elements have survived the millennia. Don Diego, the masked hero Zorro, was a rich man. Sigurd bathed in the blood of a dragon to become different. Superman has the strength. On and on." She smirked at everyone in the room. "It's in all of us too. Abnormal births or biologies." The Setsunas winced. The Chachamarus remained impassive. "Royalty." Konoeko's face was coolly blank, and Erebus and Twilight Red both resisted the urge to whistle innocently. "Brooding loners." Natsuki glared at her in defiance. "Born into wealth and political power." Everyone turned to stare at Ayaka, Konoka and Haruka. "Now, if we can just do impossible things and make it look easy like, say, going back in time or destroying magic or saving the world or killing a god…"
"Why were you looking at me when you said that?" Skuld demanded while both Chao just looked innocent as the list of qualities scrolled down the illustration behind Kuro.
"So, you're saying that these Servants will be superheroes?" Negi asked hopefully.
"No," Kuro said bluntly. "As I said, I misspoke when I called them Heroic Spirits. Not all of them will be heroes. Indeed, due to dissonance when it comes to values across not only different cultures, but also time, few will subscribe to our definition of 'heroic'. I said Epic Spirits became objects of worship and lore, but that's a contextually narrow definition. A more neutral way of putting it is that they are remembered and that their legend is spread, with they themselves being held in reverence, considered so far beyond people as to no longer be normal, changing from a person into an ideal. Indeed, that's one way to describe hero worship." Kuro smiled darkly. "Care to guess the logical extension of this theory?"
Negi frowned in confusion, wondering what she meant. Heroes were heroes, weren't they?
It was Batman who spoke. "Villains," he snarled.
Kuro's smile darkened even more. "Yes. In the eyes of the Throne, the moral considerations of your actions do not matter, only their scale and their effect on the world and your legend. Jack the Ripper is as much an Epic Spirit as Robin Hood. After all, both achieved great things, and their legends are remembered far and wide. And really, isn't fear a form of reverence?" she asked rhetorically as behind her the image of Kevin Costner with a bow and arrow stood next to a shadow-faced gentleman holding a bloody razor. "To the Throne, all that matters is that you achieved great things. Terrible, maybe… but great."
"Stop!" Chisame cried. "Okay, summary time. Servants are nerfed Epic Spirits. Epic Spirits can be either heroes or villains. They've got something to do with this 'Holy Grail War'. And you're saying the right Servant could potentially kick even a god's ass."
"Not in so few words, but yes," Kuro huffed as Skuld glared. Argh, young people, wanting their information in bite-sized bytes! No appreciation for proper context or delivery. "The Holy Grail War is essentially a Battle Royale. The summoned Servants fight each other to the death, and the winner gets the Holy Grail, essentially enough power to grant any wish conceivable, and definitely enough to punch a hole to Akasha."
Negi's eyes brightened. "A wish…" he said, thinking 'looking for dad'-ly thoughts.
"Don't even think about it," Kuro said steely. "Unless you want to commit murder to find your dad, this isn't the wish for you."
Negi paled. "M-Murder?-!"
"It's a battle royale. Last man standing. There can only be one."
Negi gulped and shrank back, wondering why the universe saw fit to torment him so with impossible choices.
"In our world, the Holy Grail War involved only seven Classes of Servants," Kuro said. "Archer, Saber, Rider, Lancer, Caster, Berserker and Assassin. Though that doesn't seem to be the case here. Temptress, while unconventional, was definitely a Servant, and I suppose that a temptress is an acceptable epic archetype. Cleopatra would certainly fit in it, although I don't think that's who she was."
Ayaka frowned. "I'm sorry Kuro-san, but how do you know so much about this subject? Given Erebus-san's reactions, it's apparent this isn't common knowledge to the wizards of your world, so it's a bit puzzling that you are so well-versed on it."
Kuro smirked. "Ah, that's right, you weren't at my proper introduction. And Negi's girls aren't exactly renowned for their memory. Ah, well, I suppose it'll do no harm to tell you. My full name is Kuro von Einzbern-Emiya. My immediate family and I are the last of the Einzbern clan in our world."
They all blinked at her. "Your family started the Holy Grail War?" Asuna said.
"Yup!" Kuro said. "My mom and dad fought in the Fourth War eleven years ago, and my brother, sister and I fought the Fifth and hopefully last the year before."
Ayaka paled. "But you're so young!"
Everyone gave her a bland look. She blushed. "Sorry, force of habit."
Kuro reached into her pocket and handed Deathnote a few pictures. She leafed through them, whistling in appreciation. "Wow, that's some prime man-meat, Kuro-chan," she said, grinning. "I thought you didn't swing that way?"
"I don't," Kuro said primly. "Those are for references in case I ever get sent back in time."
"Ah," Deathnote said, she and a few other people nodding sagely in agreement. "Makes perfect sense."
"In what universe!-?" Chisame cried.
"Ours," Deathnote said simply.
"Due to the end of the Einzbern clan, many records were lost from the first three Holy Grail Wars," Kuro said. "However, thanks to modern record keeping methods, the last two Wars were recorded with some fidelity. While some details are missing, the following examples should give you an idea of what Servants are capable of."
On the screen behind her, the picture of a man appeared. Haruna wolf-whistled, adding a few "Ah-ooga!"s for good measure as a mortified Nodoka and an amused Konoka settled her back down. The man was pretty handsome, wearing tight black clothing, and carried a spear in either hand, one red, one yellow.
"This is the Lancer of the Fourth Holy Grail War, Diarmuid Ua Duibhne," Kuro said, pronouncing it flawlessly. "Both his spears— his Noble Phantasms, weapons which are part of his legend or abilities that personify parts of their legend— are magical, with one being able to disrupt magic, and the other causing wounds that do not heal as long as the weapon is intact."
Everyone shared at him. "Huh?" Asuna said. "Who's he?"
"Diarmuid Ua Duibhne," Batman graveled, "the son of Donn, foster son of Aengus, and first warrior of the knights of Fianna. Also known as Diarmuid of the Love Spot, due to a magical love spot granted to him by a young girl. Any woman who gazes upon the spot instantly fell in love with him, which eventually led to an encounter with Gráinne, the bride of Fionn mac Cumhaill. Gráinne had fallen in love with Diarmuid at her wedding party, and placed a geis on him to run away with her. They were pursued relentlessly by Fionn, but after much blood was shed, he decided to recognize their marriage, granted Diarmuid a proper title and land, and welcomed them back as subjects. Sometime later while hunting with Fionn, Diarmuid was fatally injured by a wild boar. Fionn had the ability to transform spring water in to a powerful healing agent. Fionn only needed to walk a few steps to the nearby spring, but is jealousy and hatred towards Diarmuid made him spill the water twice. By the third time he went to scoop water, Diarmuid had already died." Batman paused. "It's a relatively obscure Irish legend outside of the country."
Kuro was nodding as the display behind her showed a storyboard of the gory details. "Poor schmuck. My mother told me he was a very chivalrous gentleman. Sounded like a nice guy." She snapped her fingers.
The picture behind her changed, becoming a giant of a man with a red beard and cape, riding a huge chariot across the night sky, with a teenaged boy holding frantically to his leg and quite clearly crying. "Servant Rider, Al-Iskandar of Macedonia, the King of Conquerors. More commonly known as Alexander the Great. The sniveling little bug with him was his Master, Waver Velvet."
"'Waver Velvet'?" Misa repeated incredulously. "What, did his parents want him to grow up to be a porn star?" She paused. "Uh, did he become a—?"
"No," Kuro said. "He became a teacher."
Misa eyed the Negis. "Teachers can be sexy too," she said, grinning lecherously.
"Hear hear," the Evangelines muttered.
The two child teachers blinked in confusion. "Huh?"
"DON'T THINK ABOUT IT!" Chisame and Twilight Red chorused.
"According to my parents, Iskandar had the power to summon his army to battle," Kuro said. "And his chariot was some kind of flying, lightning-spewing weapon of mass destruction. Between those two, he was regarded as an extremely dangerous opponent and a prime candidate to win the grail. He was killed by this man." She snapped her fingers again.
The image shifted to a tall blond man with an arrogant expression, clad in golden full-body plate armor. Skuld stifled a squeak of fear.
"This is Servant Archer, Gilgamesh of Uruk, the First and King of Heroes," Kuro said. "He owns nearly every legendary weapon that ever existed, or at least the super prototypes for them. If legendary weapons were Beatles songs, he owns the songs from before they became famous." She paused. "Even as I say it I realize that's a horrible analogy."
Everyone nodded solemnly.
The next image was of a knight in black armor. At least, they assumed so. He didn't show up in the photo every well. "Servant Berserker," Kuro said. "Alias Sir Lancelot of the Knights of the Round Table. Insane, but can use literally anything he got his hands on as a weapon, a master of disguise, and his sword is the equal of Excalibur itself, and is essentially Excalibur's evil twin." She paused. "One of its evil twins," she amended.
The next wasn't a single person but a group of people all wearing black, carrying knives and wearing skull masks. "Servant Assassin, Hassan-i-Sabah, or at least, one of those who took up the name of the 'Old Man of the Mountain'. The name is a legacy title held by the leader of the al-Assasīn, which would later evolve into the League of Assassins. In fact, there's some evidence to suggest they were the ones who suggested the addition of the template. The Einzbern have vague mentions of Ra's al Ghul showing up during the planning stages of the ceremony before being told to buzz off. Thank goodness for crappy European-Middle-Eastern relations. They're designed as anti-Master units, meant to go after the Magus and not other Servants. They don't play fair, you'll never see them coming, and they'll kill you so many ways it's stupid. I'd tell you to avoid them, but by the time you see it, it's already in killing range and holding the heart it just tore from your chest."
Negi wasn't the only one to gulp, especially since Deathnote added a disturbing realistic graphic of a heart in someone's hand.
The next image was of a smiling woman holding a golden cruciform staff, with a short skirt, beret, and black wings sprouting from her back. Oddly, there was a shot of the same woman as a child, still in the same outfit, and another shot of her as a child with pale blonde hair.
"This," Kuro said, "is Servant Caster, Regina Daemonia, Destroyer of Worlds, Hero of Justice, Queen of the Night Sky, she who has fought gods and made them cry, withstood the attentions of Dark Evangel and the Green Devil of Earth, etcetera, etcetera."
As one, everyone looked at the Evangelines.
"Don't look at me," the local one said. "I've never seen that woman before in my life!"
The other one, however, grunted. "Oh, so that's what that was about. Huh. Maybe I should fix her big mouth, if she's going around bragging."
Erebus, however, was blinking. "Hayate-chan?" Then he snapped his fingers. "Oh, right. I forgot about that.…"
Kuro nodded. "Although Magi have always espoused that the Throne Of Heroes lies outside of time, making it theoretically possible to summon Epic Spirits from the future, Caster here is the first bit of empirical evidence to confirm it. In our world and time, Hayate-chan is an eleven year old girl with partial leg paralysis who happens to be one of the most powerful Mahou Shoujo on the planet. However, it was definitively confirmed that it was her who was summoned during the Fourth Holy Grail War, meaning that barring paradox, there is a high probability our Hayate grows up to be epically badass."
As one, Ala Alba turned to the other Chao, who smiled brightly. "What's everyone looking at me for?" she asked glibly.
Kuro snorted. "I've reason to believe that this person might exist on this world. I can't really tell you any more details, since that will likely bias your view should the time come, but I can advise you to keep him away from her until you save the world together at least once."
She pointed resolutely at Negi.
"Eh?" he asked, confused and a little hurt. "Why not?"
Kuro gave him a bland look. "Her harem won't appreciate you horning in."
"You seem very certain it will come to saving the world," Batman said accusingly.
"It always does," Kuro shrugged. "After all, don't you meet people when the world needs to be saved from, say, purely as a theoretical example, power-stealing, vampiric, tripod-riding shape-shifters from Mars who might or might not kill and replace a prominent US astronaut-turned-politician and use him to trick Superman to disarm all the world's nuclear weapons as they sabotage several deep space monitoring stations around the world, thus setting the world up for invasion?"
There was a beat.
"That was oddly specific," Batman said suspiciously.
"Ah, it was just a random, theoretical example," Kuro said with all the innocence of a child with crumbs on her lips when the cookie jar was empty. "I'm sure that your world won't be invaded by power-stealing, vampiric, tripod-riding shape-shifters from Mars who might or might not kill and replace a prominent US astronaut-turned-politician and use him to trick Superman to disarm all the world's nuclear weapons as they sabotage several deep space monitoring stations around the world, thus setting the world up for invasion who are vulnerable to sunlight." Kuro paused in her narration to smirk at Skuld. "Now, I trust our little divine highness could confirm if this Servant lineup also was in effect in this universe or not?"
After lifting her nose slightly (TSUN!), Skuld pulled a cellphone shaped device out of her breast pocket and held it high. After pressing a sequence into it, it displayed a 3-D image of a very strange man in purple robes, with his hood down, showing his freakishly pale face, long blueish-black hair, and bugging eyes. His posture and expression conveyed a stark sensation of malice and perversity. "Actually," Skuld said, "the same basic chain of events seems to have happened in this world as well, although with a few differences. The Fourth War Caster, in this world, wasn't the young woman you described, but this man. Gilles de Rais, the French noble and warrior turned follower of the black magic, who inspired the bloody legend of Bluebeard. Once a fair and gallant gentleman, the death of his comrade in arms Jeanne D'Arc twisted his mind and pushed him to study the dark arts. He massacred dozens of innocents, especially women and children, in his malevolent experiments for further power. The Church and the king had him executed, but his spirit was brought back to this world by a Japanese serial killer who saw fit to take part in the War as a sick game."
"Okay," Kuro scowled. "Bonus points for dramatic exposition. Continue."
Skuld glared at her before going on. "They captured several children across Fuyuki City in a scheme to set a trap for Saber, whom Caster wrongly believed was Jeanne brought back to life. However, Saber fought her way through the legion of monsters Caster had unleashed upon the city and was able to slay him. Shortly after, Caster's Master was shot and killed by the Magus Killer, Emiya Kiritsugu."
Kuro smiled faintly. "It's good to see no matter the world, Daddy could take care of business. However, from what I saw of the local Shirou-niichan…"
"Yes. The Emiya Kiritsugu who lived in this world has long departed it. Sorry," Skuld said before pressing more keys, now showing a curious looking antropomorphic figure in baggy pants and a green shirt, holding a wide round shiny shield in a way that obscured most of his face. On the shield was what looked like a heraldic symbol composed of three black circles. However, a pair of long, dog-like black ears could be seen poking from behind the shield. "Additionally, this was Servant Shield, another participant in that War you apparently lacked. Not that it matters much, since he was the second Servant to fall after Assassin. Shields are excellent at defense, but rarely remarkable at offense compared to Sabers or Lancers. Although the current Shield," the image changed to a shadowy, blurry picture of a tall blond woman holding a sword for a moment, "is a notable exception to that rule."
Kagurazaka, Eishun and Erebus seemed oddly rattled at seeing that image. Skuld smiled at them. "Something wrong?"
Twilight Red asked warily, "That Shield woman… She wouldn't happen to be…?"
Skuld closed her eyes. "Probably. Although I have no idea who're you talking about."
Chisame grumbled. "You're being misleading and obscure on purpose, aren't you?"
"If anything, I'm saying too much," Skuld sighed, showing everyone another picture, this time one of a thin and dashing young man with short orange hair. "Fourth War Vigilante, also known in life as Robin Hood, or rather, one of the men who took the Robin Hood identity through Prince John Lackland's rule. One of them was a fox-man, back when those beings still roamed this world. True story." She placed a kiss on her own fingers to make her point. "This other 'Robin Hood' was an expert archer, but since an Archer already had been summoned, he fell into the Vigilante class. Vigilantes are expert trackers and patrollers, but tend to fall short in direct physical confrontations. However, they can be almost as good as Assassins in covert missions. Unfortunately for this one, his Master disagreed with his methods, calling them underhanded, and forced him to fight in a direct way that had him killed rather messily by Berserker."
"Tsk," Kuro shook her head. "So Robin Hood's a legacy name, kinda like Hassan. And there was another extra Servant, you said…?"
"Yes," Skuld said. Now she was displaying the image of a buxom, smiling young woman in tall black boots, a red longcoat, and tight pants, holding a gun in each hand. Her hair was long, of a dark pink tone, and her cleavage was as wide as her roguish smile. Kuro, Haruna and the Chamos all looked on with visible interest. "Servant Stealer, who might have been a Rider if Iskander had not shown up before. In life, she was Sir Francis Drake…"
"But Sir Francis Drake was a man!" Chisame protested.
"Actually, no," Kuro said. "While that was what history remembers, mages have long known about Drake being female. You really should brush up on your proper history, Chisame-chan."
Skuld waved a finger. "Yeah, that's the history you have been told. Drake was a liar and libertine, a free spirit in an age where women weren't allowed into most positions of power, much less over hardened criminals and seamen. She and those who used her crew's services would spread the news she was, indeed, a man, and she often crossdressed during raids to preserve that impression amongst the survivors. Like most Stealers, she was a Servant specialized in treachery and dirty fighting, and yet she also had a twisted honor code of sorts. She fell to Rider, and her Master perished shortly afterwards at the hands of… ah, but that would be saying too much," she sighed. "As Gods, we aren't usually allowed to speak ill of the church."
"It was a Creepy Pervert Priest, wasn't it?" Kuro said.
"That wasn't amusing," Misora frowned.
"It wasn't intended to be," Skuld shrugged. "Now, Kuro-san," she turned her device off, "I think you were about to tell us about your Fifth War? Now that should be interesting…
Kuro smiled. "Next image, please."
The image behind her shifted into a beautiful blonde woman with shining green eyes, her hair up in a bun, clad in a blue dress and plate armor. A beautiful sword, as much work of art as weapon, was held in her gauntleted hands, and she had a determined look on her face. The image was next to a picture of another who might have been the woman's twin, except her skin and hair was paler, seemingly washed out, and her dress and armor was black veined with red, with lots of menacing spikes added, giving her an overall gothic look. This time, there were other pictures, mostly of the gothic one is severe dark dresses, bathing suits, a soccer uniform, and other fan services pictures. Some had her half-naked wearing only an oversized shirt.
"HAWT!" Haruna and Chamo cried, whistling loudly again.
"This," Kuro said, an edge of annoyance in her voice, "Is Servant Saber. She has the distinction of having been summoned in both the Fourth and Fifth Wars. Generally, the Saber class is considered the most-balanced class, with good stats in all fields and all have generally high levels of magical resistance, meaning your magic needs to be at least Erebus-level to put a proper dent in them. They wouldn't even notice Yue's level of magic."
"Thanks a lot," Yue muttered in annoyance. Psycho Purple patted her shoulder reassuringly.
"She has a natural talent with fellatio, and is apparently very good in bed. Her preferred positions are—" was as far as Kuro got before Chisame, Calculator and Twilight Red, all with strangled sounds coming from their throats, leapt at her, to Haruna, Misa, Deathnote and the ermines' cries of disappointment.
"What's fellatio?" Negi asked in confusion, and the three girls piled up on top of Kuro froze, staring in horror.
The room was suddenly filled with an aura of purest terror as Batman, suddenly looming above them all and looking like a demon out of hell said, in his deepest, most unearthly gravel, "Don't think about it."
"B-but—" Erebus ventured.
"DON'T THINK ABOUT IT!" Batman roared.
With a pair of Rina Sato-sounding girlish screams, the two Negi twitched and collapsed in a dead faint.
There was a brief mad scrabble as they tried to revive the two. When they came to, both had absolutely no memory of the preceding thirty seconds. It was decided not enlighten them, and Kuro resumed her lecture, a comical bandage on her head as everyone moved a teensy bit farther away from Batman.
"Ahem," Kuro said as a man in blue with a red spear not unlike Diarmuid's showed on the display. "Next is the Fifth Lancer, Cu Cuchulainn. Like his predecessor, he's Irish, and his spear causes wounds that don't heal and can magically target the heart by violating the law of Cause and Effect. He's also a pretty decent mage. Pretty nice guy, as unrepentant killer warriors go. Good at gardening."
"Gardening?" Chisame said. "How is that relevant?"
"It isn't, I just thought I'd throw it in," Kuro said. "Next."
The view changed, and Haruna and Chamo went nuts.
"This is Sexy Battle Oneechan Servant Rider," Kuro remarked dryly at the assorted images of the tall, busty woman with floor-length purple hair and glasses clad in everything from a low cut, high hemmed black dress and blindfold, jeans and a sweater, a bikini, and a maid uniform. Even Batman was forced to admit she looked hot in all of them. "Although I suppose it must be obvious from her pictures, but she's a Greek Hero. You might have heard of her. Name's Medusa."
"Wait, even I've heard of this one!" Asuna cried. "She's the one who killed her dad and married her mom, so she had to fight the cyclops by washing out a giant barn using the Golden Fleece that made whips of scorpions that could turn lead into gold statues who married Pygmalion because the goddesses wanted to punish him for eating the golden apple they were going to give Eve, right?"
Ayaka face palmed. "Asuna, you're being embarrassing…" So many myths, and not one right!
Asuna ignored her, puffed up from knowing she could actually contribute something. "Isn't she supposed to have, like, the head of Poison Ivy with snakes growing out of her hair?"
Kuro stared at Asuna, then turned to Twilight Red. She paused, then turned to Erebus. "You are working on her grades, right?" she asked, sounding almost desperate.
"HEY!" the Asunas chorused.
Kuro muttered something about idiocy power. "Anyway, even though her appearance isn't what you expect, she's still a dangerous, crafty opponent. She's extremely quick and agile, her eyes will turn any organic materials with insufficient magical resistance into stone— having to see her face is a sadly mythtaken assumption— and she can set up a zone known as Blood Fort Andromeda that will digest anyone unlucky enough to be in it into magic to feed her. Next!"
The image changed, to the disheartened groans of Chamo, Haruna, and, surprisingly, Keiichi, the latter two putting down the cell phones they were using to take pictures… only to snap them up again as on the display appeared a beautiful woman with relatively stubby elf ears and wearing revealing Phantom Thief Arséne cosplay, which displayed her sizable assets. "Kuro-chan, your world is an AWESOME place!" Haruna crowed as more similar cosplay pictures appeared. The one with her wearing a long, dark-toned, hooded dress was almost lost in all of it.
"This is Servant Caster," Kuro said, "alias Princess Medea of Colchis. She comes with a magic-dissolving dagger, the prototypes for dragon's tooth soldiers, anti-army spells, and the ability to cast spells on the scale of what Erebus used yesterday with only a few short syllables rather than a whole incantation. Oh, and she's desperately trying to get married, likes to cosplay, and seems to have a wedding dress fetish for some reason. She's also not very good at cooking; my mom had to teach her for the first few months after she got married."
"Is that information really relevant?" Misa said.
"Hey, she's a neighbor and one of my mom's best friends!" Kuro protested, a tad defensively. "That's the sort of thing that sticks to me, okay? Next!"
The next picture was not female, to the immediate disappointment of Chamo and Keiichi. It was a tall, lanky man with a vaguely villainous, sharp-featured, and somewhat rough-looking face, he wore a black leather duster. The Servant carried a carved staff in his left hand, and a shorter, more heavily carved rod in his right. Another picture of him showed him dressed in ornate Gothic armor of the style used in Western Europe in the fifteenth century. It was black and articulated, with decorated shoulder pauldrons and an absurdly ornate breastplate. Filigree was everywhere, its colors varying from a natural gold to a green that deepened along the color gradient to blue and then purple to give it a cold, eerily surreal look, the thing looking like it should weigh six hundred pounds. A Roman-style cloak of dark grey with a deep hood and front panels hung on his shoulders, its ties fastened to the front of the breastplate. All in all, he looked like a Games Workshop version of a Jedi Knight.
For some surreal reason, there was what looked like a zombie-fied Tyrannosaurus Rex in the background.
"This is Servant Assassin, and he's a bit complicated," Kuro said. "He's a hero who doesn't actually exist in real life. His name is Harry Copperfield Blackstone Dresden, and he's from a popular novel series where I'm from. Caster summoned him as a Servant by somehow manipulating the Grail System with her more comprehensive knowledge of magic. He's not really the book character, just a random spirit who happened to possess many of the qualities of the character and given his form and abilities. There's some possibility something similar may happen here as well… but then, there's also the possibility the world will be invaded by the Deep Ones led by Dagon and Cthulthu, so that doesn't mean much."
"Actually, no, they won't, my friends and I dealt with the possibility several years ago," Eishun said mildly.
The librarians, including his own daughter, Kuro, and the Negis stared at him, and the Evangelines were pretending they weren't.
"What?" Takamichi said, his cool, nonchalant indifference belying an underlying self-satisfied smugness. "Ala Rubra had a reputation for doing awesome things for a reason. It was no big deal."
As Konoka looked at her father with new awe and Negi stared vaguely off, possibility seeing his own father in his mind's eye, Kuro shuddered slightly. "I wanna go home…" she whimpered. "I wanna go home and molest my sister…"
Haruna stood, and walked over to Kuro, patting her reassuringly on the shoulder. "There, there," she said softly. "You don't have to worry, the Eldritch abominations have all been dealt with by the hot older men."
"I still wanna go home," Kuro said plaintively. "I haven't molested my sister in days, and Asuna's no good! She just doesn't taste the same!"
Asuna scowled, but uncomfortably, not really sure she should protest.
Haruna continued patting her. "Now, now, it could be worse. At least you have a sister to molest. I assume she's hot?"
"We're twins," Kuro said. "Technically."
Haruna shuddered, becoming glassy-eyed, a little drool dripping from the corner of her mouth. "Twins…!"
"Stop it, or we're leaving," Yue said bluntly.
The Final Problem
Henriette had struggled for too long to make the perfect detective out of Sherly. She had embraced the challenge, tackling it with unhealthy passion, trying her best to relive the thrill of the old chase. To remake the yin to her yang, to regain her balance. No, their shared balance.
Only she now realized that, along the way, somehow, she had fallen in love with the idiot herself, rather than with the perfect sleuth she had hoped to recreate.
Henriette wasn't quite sure what to make out of it. She deserved nothing but the best, didn't she? Her opponent, her match for life, her glorious nemesis, had to be someone in her own level. And Sherly was sadly lacking there. She had never recovered her Toys. The evidence was overwhelmingly not coming together at all.
Until Henriette realized she had been looking at it from the wrong angle.
She didn't really wish for a nemesis anymore.
She wished for her Sherly. Her Sherly…
"This," Kuro said, "is Servant Archer."
They looked at the image, a tall, dark-skinned man with silver hair and a semi-knowing, sardonic smile. He wore black armor and a red coat. The various other pictures of him showed in action poses, wielding various swords and a black bow. One picture showed him in an all-white version of his clothes.
They all stared at Kuro, at her dark skin, at her silver hair, and recalled her black armor— if it could even be called that— and the few scraps of red fabric she deigned to have on in a fight, at the various swords she wielded, and the black bow she used.
"I'm guessing there's some kind of long story behind this?" Chisame said blandly.
Kuro shrugged, but even Negi could tell her nonchalance was affected. "It's… complicated. I think I somehow got my powers from him.… or at least, they're based on his… but that was before I ever met him. This is one of those times I'm inclined to think 'it's magic' and leave it at that."
"Smart idea," the other Chao said cheerfully, while Batman looked disapproving at this deliberate ignorance.
"Servant Archer," Kuro repeated. "Identity, unknown. Capabilities.…" She pondered, as if unsure. "Mine. He can do everything I can do, only he can do them bigger, badder, and better. He has combat experience I don't have even a fraction of, he has a fully catalogued array of magical weaponry when I mostly know mine only by instinct, he can satisfy seven women in bed simultaneously, his tea-making skills are first rate, he—"
"WAIT!" Haruna cried. "Go back to that one!"
"You heard right the first time," Kuro said.
"Seven simultaneously?-!" Haruna said. "Wow! Even my dad can't handle four without a fight breaking out—"
"TOO MUCH INFORMATION!" Everyone cried.
The Negis opened their mouths. Batman glared at them.
"We know, 'don't think about it'…" they said, resigned.
Kuro had stopped listening at this point, staring at Archer's image with a mixture of admiration and despair. "Seven women… and two of them his little sisters… DAMN IT, WHY DO I ONLY HAVE HIS COMBAT SKILLS AND NOT HIS MORE IMPORTANT ABILITIES?-!" Kuro wailed. "At this rate, I won't get to sleep with my sister until I'm fifteen! She won't be a hot loli by then anymore!"
"TOO MUCH INFORMATION!" Everyone repeated, as scandalized Chisames, Asunae and Setsunas did their best to protect the Negis ears.
Other Chao sighed reached over and smacked Kuro up the back of the head.
She calmed instantly. "Thank you, I needed that," she said blandly. "Homesickness, you know."
"I understand perfectly," other Chao said, nodding. "Sometimes I fantasize about being in class 3-A too…"
The last image came on. Everyone stared. It was a hulking figure, armored from head to toe in a dark, twisted armor that made the eyes hurt to look directly at it, smooth curves contrasting jarringly with sharp angles and spikes, seemingly all of one piece. The helm was just as black, the front a smooth plate, unadorned except for a pair of glowing white eyeholes. The sides, however, were as eye-searing twisted as the rest of the armor. Two long, straight horns rose straight up from the side of the helms, smooth as ivory. A black haze seemed to cover him, making discerning the exact outline difficult. There was a length of chain wrapped around his forearm, the end trailing almost to the ground, the tip a strangely squarish pronged thing, A black cape hung from its shoulders. Weapons hung at its belt, chains and blades and other things of clearly a dangerous property.
"And finally, last but definitely not least, the Fifth Berserker, my sister's Servant," Kuro said, swooning only slightly at the mention of her sister. "Of all the Servants, his identity is a complete and total mystery. We have no idea who he is, although I suspect he's some kind of ancient, world-devouring demonic entity."
Everyone stared at her. The locals glanced at her and Ala Alba, wondering if they were messing with them. They were kidding, right?
"Unlike most Epic Spirits, who have at most three or four Noble Phantasms, this Berserker had at least 7, and more than 20 skills that might as well be Noble Phantasms," Kuro continued. "His armor is some kind of life-support system that can keep someone alive even in space, his helmet radiates an aura of fear that can cause heart attacks and lets him teleport in shadows, his belt never runs out of weapons, he can assume anyone's appearance, his mind is completely protected from outside influences, anything he touches becomes a Noble Phantasm he can use as if he'd trained with it all his life regardless if whatever it is was a chopstick or a piece of cloth, he can cause weapons and equipment to come out of the aether… the only thing he can't do is kill. One of his Noble Phantasms is apparently a curse that binds him from doing that. I suspect he might be Irish, since it could be a geas."
"You don't say …" Skuld said dryly.
"But… isn't that B—" Negi tried to say.
Other Chao's elbow subtly dug into his side. "Be cool, man…" she said under her breath, interrupting him.
Kuro was sighing, apparently not having heard. "Unfortunately, now you know as much as we do. Berserker corresponds to no single known legend. He's apparently some kind of Knight, since one of his Noble Phantasms is called 'Knight of Justice', but no knight in history corresponds to the array of abilities he has. He bears some similarity to Lancelot, but we KNOW he's not Lancelot, so that's out. Frankly, I doubt we'll ever find out who he is. All I can say is that if you ever run into him, run and hope someone distracts him from you."
Chisame stared. "But… it's… he's obvious—"
Other Chao elbowed her too. "Shut up…" she said sweetly under her breath.
Batman stared silently at the armored figure. "Demon?" he muttered under his breath, pitched to Other Chao's ears.
"Isn't that what you're going for?" she muttered right back.
A small smile payed on his lips.
"Radishes!" Makie yelled in her sleep. Ayaka sighed and stroked her pair until she settled back down.
"To date, no one has yet properly won the Grail," Kuro continued. "The first ended with everyone dead, the second ended with so much collateral damage they finally got around to establishing rules, the third ended in disaster after a botched summoning, and the fourth… well, my parents fought in it, but they don't really like to talk about it…" Kuro said.
"Perfectly understandable," Eishun said. "War isn't something you should tell children about."
"… so my mom showed us a very traumatizing movie instead."
"How Rakan-esque," Calculator said blandly.
"So to sum up, you're all screwed," Kuro said brightly. "On top of Witches roaming the night, those… Orphan things, whatever the Sailor Senshi are fighting this year, the usual insanity Negi gets involved in, you have this on top of it. Sucks to be you. And on top of that, besides Temptress, there's a second Servant to be wary of."
Everyone frowned at her. "A second Servant?" Evangeline asked, sounding vaguely curious.
Kuro nodded. "I met him the night after we arrived. He called himself Servant Vigilante." Her face took on an "I can't believe I'm saying this" expression. "He was a duck in a cape and hat. Without pants."
Eishun and Takamichi, with superhuman strength of will, did NOT look at each other in shock.
"Oh! Just like Darkwing Duck!" Konoka said cheerfully, clapping her hands together.
Kuro blinked. "Pardon?"
"Oh, it's this thing papa invented when I was young," Konoka told obliviously. "Papa would tell me stories about this superspy duck who fought crime in this made up city called St. Canard, with evil dogs made of water, and duck plants and evil bananas… papa told the best stories!"
Kuro gave Eishun a bland look and said nothing. "Well, now you know. That's how the grail war is in our world. Just one big problem."
"Oh, what now?!-" Misa asked. "What, you're going to say it's all a big lie and that it's actually going to create a portal to hell, releasing Ultimate Evil into the world?"
Kuro sniffed. "Don't be absurd, Misa. We already have Gotham City."
Everyone abruptly leaned away from Batman as he glared hard at Kuro.
She womanfully ignored him. "The problem is that, if your world is anything like ours, the Grail is tainted. During the Third Holy Grail War, the Grail was tainted. Originally, there were safeguards in place to keep villains from being summoned, but during that war, the Einzbern clan somehow managed to summon the spirit of the evil god Angra Mainyu as a Servant. His summoning tainted the Grail, although it wasn't discovered until the climax of the Fourth War. Now, as a result of his presence in the Grail, any wish made on the Holy Grail will result in absolute death and destruction. In other words, it's all a big lie and it's actually going to unleash Ultimate Evil into the world. "
Everyone stared at her.
"Really sucks to be you. Well," Kuro finally said, really wishing for a glass of water. "I think that's all that really needed sharing…"
The Batman raised a hand dryly.
"Yes? The tall kid with the long ears?" Kuro asked.
Unamused, he only asked, "Why did the Joker become a woman?"
"Dunno," Kuro shifted her eyes in Skuld's direction. "Any idea, Divine Eyes?"
"Ah, that. He's basically become a Kampfer, a relatively new type of Magical Girl," the goddess explained with a quick wave of her hand. "Kampfers aren't really very powerful, so that shouldn't be a very big issue in the full picture…"
"You know you have just messed everything up by saying that, don't you?" Chisame questioned.
As if she hadn't heard her, Skuld continued, "Kampfers receive their powers from 'benefactors' known as Moderators, through talking Entrail Animal plush dolls. Technically, there are no moral or ethical requirements to become a Kampfer; since they are faced against each other in competitions to achieve an ultimate magical prize the likes of which I'm not authorized to share…"
"… naturally…!" Asuna rolled her eyes.
"… they tend to come from different walks of life. Regardless, the Kampfer transformations often cause a great deal of physical and psychological changes upon the subjects. Often, a really nice and decent girl becomes a bloodthirsty psycho after changing, and while the opposite is rare, it also can happen. As you can see, even men can become Kampfers, although the transformation always triggers a gender change then."
"Hnh…" Batman grunted.
"Yeah. As if your relationship wasn't full of all sorts of uncomfortable layers already, isn't that right?" Deathnote asked.
"We don't have a 'relationship'," Batman warned, using the same tone the alternate Paru had used with that word. "Not only that, but Pamela Isley and Harley Quinn seem to have achieved supernatural powers as well…"
Kuro sighed. "Yeah, what kind of crappy reincarnation system do you have here? In our world, all the Sailor Senshi are good people, Sailor Galaxia and Animates incident aside, and corruption against their will was at play there. Granted, our Uranus and Neptune can be hard to work with at times too, but this…!"
"Hey, Sailor Mercury is an excellent person!" Yuuna jumped to point up.
Kuro gave her a knowing grin. "Oh, she is. And I say this without any trace of irony."
Yet her tone was one that made Yuuna frown and sit back without knowing what to say next.
The Secret Origin of the Unequally Rational and Emotional Joker
A hideout somewhere in Kyoto:
"Do you want to know how I got these scars?" the Joker asked, pointing at his own face.
"You don't have any scars," Temptress pointed out in turn.
"Not on the surface, but I'm pointing at what there's underneath, silly," the Clown Prince chided her. "Regardless, in a beautiful summer day, there was a boy riding a pony. Not the bologna type of pony you're used to riding, mind. Or perhaps it was. But that doesn't matter! I was that boy's neighbor. Neat twist, huh? Or maybe his cousin, I don't remember it well. My father took me to the ice skating ring one day. It was a very happy and bright day, and the sun smiled down at us. It's true; look long enough at the sun, and it'll smile at you. The spirit of the sun, who was a winged unicorn, came to me one night after Dad beat me silly. He was hiding from evil circus people pursuing him, but since my father didn't want me to have another horse, he made me kill him with a shotgun."
"I thought it was your cousin who already had a horse," Temptress argued.
"Cousin Melvin? He's been dead for years, how could he have a horse? Dead men own no horses and tell no tales, cutie. You can see I'm not dead because I'm telling you this story. The unicorn's older sister, who lived in the Moon, sealed for centuries because she was possessed by evil, broke free after her sister was killed."
"Wasn't that a male horse?" Temptress asked this time. "You just said…"
"What are you talking about? Cousin Melvin never liked male horses. They were never pink or cute enough. What matters is, the evil new unicorn gathered her troops and prepared to conquer Earth. It was then when a dead clown flew in through my window. 'It's an omen!' I realized. 'Quadrupedals are a cowardly and superstitious lot, so I shall suit up as something that puts the fear of God in their hearts! Yes, Father, I shall become a rodeo clown!' After killing my father, I trained for years at Clown Academy. I lifted weights, analyzed things under microscopes, I studied the classics, I learned how to fit forty men into a single tiny car, and I became the pinnacle of clown evolution. After so long, I finally was ready to face the Monster Bat…"
"Wait, what happened to the Moon Unicorn?" Tsukuyomi piped in.
"We married, and we were so happy!" Joker sighed dreamily. "The days were clear and bright, and the sun smiled down at us. Weird, I just felt deja vu. But one day, I learned she was cheating on me with several men. The milkman, the Riddler, a crooked cop, Jerry Lewis, and worst of it all, my father."
"Wasn't your father dead?" Ruri asked.
"She knew no limits!" Joker shook his head sadly. "She denied everything and began crying. I comforted her and told her everything would be okay, and I was happy. What else could I say? How couldn't I be happy, when the sun smiled down at us? Have you ever seen the sun's smile? Of course not, you young people never stop to appreciate the good things of life. I knew it was the moment to make good use of my training. I put on the makeup, the green wig, the purple suit, and it did nothing… until I smiled."
He tightened a fist and posed standing there for effect, long chin held high, breathing paused and measured.
"… and…?" asked Quartum.
"That's it," Joker said. "Well, then I went and killed a whole lot of people, but you all knew that part already, didn't you?"
"You don't use makeup, and that's your own hair, not a wig," Temptress replied.
"Well, excuuuse me, Temptress! That's the way I remember it today! Is it your past or mine?" Joker defended himself.
Tsukuyomi was crying uncontrollably. "That's… That's the most beautiful story I've ever heard…!"
The Honami Code.
It turned out Honami-san had studied in England, just like Negi-sensei had, and she was fairly knowledgeable on ancient history and folklore. So Yue found her rather pleasant to talk with, and viceversa, despite their first mutual impressions. Zazie sat aside as a mute witness, occasionally feeding the passing birds, which tended to flock around her window, much to the waitress' annoyance.
After a solid forty five minutes of conversation, however, Honami got a cellphone call. "Excuse me a moment, please, Ayase-han." She picked it up. "Yes, Ambler here? Oh, hello, Nekoyashiki-han."
"Hello," a boy's voice told her. "Excuse me for interrupting your rest so soon after last night's events, but we've got multiple 1313s around town."
She frowned. "1313s? Weren't they all dealt with last night?"
"Apparently a handful of them slipped away before the situation was solved," the boy said. "Listen, we're dealing with one right now, but there seems to be another one near two blocks away from your current location. At an apartment building. It seems fairly minor, but if you need backup..."
Honami sighed. "I'll run an evaluation before deciding that. Good luck on your side." After cutting the call, she smiled apologetically to the two other girls. "Sorry, but something just turned up. I've gotta leave right now."
"What was that?" asked Yue.
"Nothing important!" she said. "I'm doing side jobs at social rehabilitation, and let's just say there's a mean boy getting himself in trouble near here. I'll be fine. Waitress!" she called out. "Check, please!"
By now, Yue had a fairly good idea of what Honami-san's job could truly involve, but she decided to just go along. "It's been a pleasure, Ambler-san. I hope we meet again, sometime."
The girl nodded. "Yeah. Next time you visit Kyoto, feel free to visit me again. We'll discuss the progress of your harem. Just don't bring your perverted friends, please."
"I won't have a harem!" Yue protested, red-faced, even as Honami exited the cafe and she waved at her. The tiny library explorer then pouted. "Can you believe it, Rainyday-san? I don't know how she feels entitled to— Rainyday-san?"
Yue looked around in all directions, perplexed. The always too silent and easy to neglect Zazie had just disappeared without a trace while she wasn't looking.
"Now where did she go...?" Ayase wondered aloud.
Show Me The Green
"If I may be allowed to speak now," Ala Alba's Karakuri respectfully raised a hand, "During all of these events I haven't had a chance to broach the subject, but I also met a being who seemed to fill the basic conditions of a Servant at Mahora. He even claimed to be a Servant."
Both Chaos blinked notably. "May we have visuals, Chachamaru-chan?" Other-Chao asked, already pulling a tiny device shaped like a flashdrive out. Karakuri nodded, turning around and pulling her hair aside, allowing her co-creator access to her neck. Other-Chao jammed the tiny unit there, and it immediately displayed a holographic projection of Chachamaru's databanks for everyone to see, visible as a wide collection of computer folders. Everyone noticed how there were several of them with Negi's name on them, all of them adorned with diminutive locks, and frowns abounded.
A miniature pointer went to a folder labeled as "?WTF?", and clicked on it. Then it clicked on a thumbnail picture and expanded it. The image began moving in slow mo, showing a darkly wisecracking, very strange man in a yellow zoot suit, with a hat and colorful tie. He seemed to be bald and with no eyebrows, his whole head grotesquely green, his eyes bulging, a huge Joker-esque grin plastered across his mouth. "This is him," Karakuri blandly said.
Asakura, Chisame, Nodoka and Haruna all cringed in varied degrees of distress, while the Batman's scowl deepened. A lot. "So, I take it you have an idea who is this…?" Other-Chao asked. "Enlighten me, please. It's not often I get to play this kind of role reversal. Though if had to hazard a guess, I'd say its Lex Luthor finally driven insane by kryptonite-cancer mutations."
"Well, as a matter of fact, yeah, I'm familiar with his story…" Asakura said.
Chisame almost jumped out of her skin. "Gyah! You were here all this time?-!"
"Yes, always," the pineapple haired girl nodded. "That's the thing about us sneaky photographers," and she briefly paused to receive a high-five from an otherwise impassive Matoi and the stoic but slightly embarrassed Setsunas. "After you dumped me yesterday, I wasn't going to be out the loop yet again! I followed you as soon as you left the Inn!"
Kuro glanced sideways at the only one in the room with a cape. "Did you know she was there?"
"Of course. I'm Batman," he lied. Gotta look cool, gotta look cool…
Eishun hummed, smiling. Children were so cute when they thought they were sneaking without being detected by anyone. As it was, he had decided to humor her.
"Yeah, yeah, you're a master spy and we love you because of that," Yuuna said, rolling her eyes. "Anyway, what is what we all need?"
"Ten years ago, in Edge City, USA, a mysterious vigilante of sorts known only as 'Bighead' appeared, assailing the underworld and bringing criminals to justice while completely humiliating them," Asakura began narrating. "He was virtually invulnerable. Bullets didn't even slow down. Cutting him in half only set him back while he literally pulled himself together, although some say these were only exaggerations…"
"They weren't," Skuld said.
"Pretty sure our Negi can do that," Twilight Red said. "And Superman-sama's been doing the bulletproof thing for a while now."
"Ah. Anyway," Kazumi continued, "The police, being naturally distrustful of vigilantes, set out to stop Bighead, but he kept making them look like idiots. They couldn't do anything to stop him. But the worst part was, as months went on, Bighead became more violent, reckless and brutal. He began slaughtering criminals in sadistic ways not too unlike the Joker's MO. Even worse, he also started attacking citizens for random minor transgressions, or even imagined ones. The mob, rumors say, hired a metahuman mystery hitman known only as Mr. Walter to stop him. Think of Solomon Grundy who talked even less. He was one of only three people to ever face Bighead more than once and survive, along with a criminal scientist named Dr. Pretorius and Edge City police officer Mitch Kellaway, who had been chasing Bighead since the start of his career."
Haruna nodded. "Then, one day, he just… disappeared. No one knows what happened to him, although most suppose he just died, but what could kill a creature like him, who knows. Very very bizarre, yep."
"You two seem awfully knowledgeable on the subject," Misa said.
"Well," Asakura replied, "Peggy Grant, the reporter who wrote the most extensive book on the Bighead case, is kind of one of my rolemodels in investigative journalism. Many have accused her of sensationalizing events, but I think she's just one of those people who won't stop for anything to get a good scoop…"
"Not even things like ethics, right?" Misa inquired.
"I liked her book," Haruna mused. "Not very polished prose, but you could feel her emotion for the case."
"You never did anything to solve the case?" Kagurazaka asked Batman.
"Back then, I still was finishing my training on the other side of the world," the Bat said. "When I returned to America, this 'Bighead' had already vanished. But I still did some research of my own on him. See this?" he pointed at where the green of Bighead's face became flesh colored on his neck, Chacahamaru helping with a closeup. "I think this is a signal of the origin of his powers. He derived them from some sort of mask."
"Uncle Loki's mask, to be exact," Skuld yawned. "Uncle is the God of Mischief, so sometimes he just drops lethal artifacts in the human world, like cursed monkey paws, typewriters, Deathnotes, Hina, and the like on Midgard for shits and giggles. We keep telling him to stop it, but you think he ever listens…? We stuffed him back under his snake pit after that thing he did with that Twilight fanfic…"
"Exactly how much power are we talking about here?" Asuna asked.
"Well, let's see… Enough power to materialize objects out of nowhere, control minds, survive an atomic explosion at ground zero, chop himself into steaks while laughing, reform himself from being reduced to a severed head…" Skuld recounted. "Although that was before becoming an Epic Spirit, which always kind of nerfs your stats and skills down a bit. If you ever have to face him, he only has one weakness. You must separate him from the mask, which I suppose is working as some sort of Noble Phantasm permanently attached to him. If you do that, he should lose his divine powers and be reduced to a weakened state. Good luck getting that close, though. I imagine he will be the Servant to defeat in this Grail War."
"Everyone says that, they get their asses kicked by the strangest people anyway," Kuro said dismissively.
"He mentioned belonging to the Trickster class," Karakuri added.
Konoka frowned. "Whoever controls such an awful character must be a very nasty person," she mused, unusually disgusted.
Skuld gave her a short enigmatic glare before saying, "Well, while most Servants and Masters do share common traits that draw them to each other, that doesn't mean they always see the world the same way. For what it's worth, the Bighead guy started like a mortal with good intentions, but Loki's power would drive anyone insane. Even Uncle Loki. The Trickster's owner, most likely, is someone who started this with the purpose to do good, but could end up being devoured by the nature of his actions…" she said, as if warning.
There was a 'dun, dun DUN!'.
"HARUNA!" both Chisames cried.
"What? It was appropriate!"
That last sentence had been said in such a strangely ominous tone that for a moment no one seemed to be willing to even ask about it, until, of course, Makie went on a tangent, with a yawn and a rub of her eyes.
"What's that Noble Phantasm thing you mentioned, Sku-chan, Kuro-chan?"
"Noble Phantasms… " Kuro pondered, trying to think of how to explain. Normally, she'd go right into it, but since Makie had asked the question, she felt a token obligation to try and dumb it down for the gymnast to understand. "They're kinda like the hero's trademark," she said lamely, unable to dumb it down any further. "Like, something about them from their story that really symbolizes there… them-ness."
"… ah?" Makie said, clearly still confused.
"It's something that if you see them with, you'll know who they are, since they're the only one to have that specific thing," Kuro tried desperately. "Like how King Arthur has Excalibur, or how Negi has that staff of his."
"Ah!" Makie said.
"You got it?" Kuro asked, relieved.
"No, I just thought if I nodded along you'll stop trying to explain," Makie admitted.
Kuro hung her head. "Ugh, civilians…"
Tales from Mundus Magicus: Revival
Kiryuu Nanami felt a potent uprising of disgust as Shichimi licked her lips up and down, and a considerably better sensation of her body regaining her strenght and energy back up, and then some. Despite how coughy and stinky that tiny tongue felt in her mouth, she still couldn't move away from it, though, so she caught a glimpse of a red faced Tsuwabuki and a pale Yukino watching on, the latter covering her mouth with both hands.
And beyond that, Nanami could also see how the psycho witch kept on fighting Hikaru and Presea. Her blue eyes widened. Presea was bleeding profusely out of several wounds all over her body, while Hikaru had several bruises on her, and one of her eyes was swollen, while a thin crimson line trickled down her mouth. For how long had she been out, anyway?
"Na-Nanami-sama!" Tsuwabuki was gasping. She paid him no attention.
"FIRE ARROW! FIRE ARROW! FIRE ARROW!" Hikaru, out of desperation, was repeating the only spell she knew over and over, despite how easily Alcyone was deflecting them with her barrier. The spells either died on contact with it or were deflected into the garden's grass, which had started burning in several spots.
"Nanami-sama, please live on!" Tsuwabuki begged tearfully.
Nanami's shaky right hand felt around for Derflinger. Her fingers found the handle, and gripped it tightly.
"Ooh, baby. That's a sensitive spot," the sword cooed.
"Nanami-sama, please don't…!" the boy pleaded, trying to keep her down.
"Under the circumstances, you shouldn't move!" Yukino joined his efforts.
Nanami grunted, shook her head to throw Shichimi off her, and pushed Tsuwabuki and Yukino aside. Then she staggered up on trembling legs, hissing. Her shoulders wavered unstably.
"I grow tired of you, child. Die already!" Alcyone growled, thrusting a hand ahead towards a dazed Hikaru, who had just been kicked in the head. "Killer Blizzard!"
This spell was a barrage of sharp ice shards flying towards its target, covering more than enough area to skewer a petite girl like Hikaru. Stunned and unable to run in time, the red-haired girl just felt like the world had frozen around her again, and quickly readied herself to die. She thought she had no major regrets, which relieved her as she closed her eyes. Though she never did find out what a virgin was and why dying one was a bad thing…
Then she felt nothing but several shards flying past her, some of them slicing off strands of her hair, and leaving slight cuts on her arms and legs. She opened her eyes to see Presea's limp body falling on her, with blood flowing freely out of every last one of the dozens of shard wounds puncturing her. She coughed a red puddle on Hikaru, mouthed out something she couldn't understand, and fell still, empty eyes staring.
Hikaru's ears abruptly filled with a blunt, crushing hollowness, so big that she couldn't even hear Yukino and Tsuwabuki's shrieks of horror. She collapsed under the dead body shielding her but now becoming a liability as Alcyone stood over them.
"Well," the dark witch contemplated, breathing heavily. "Guru Clef and Presea the Weaponsmith, both in a couple days. I guess it's me who will become legendary. Suck on that, Lanfear." And she stretched a forth her hand, pointing it down at the paralyzed, wide-eyed student. "Farewell, Legendary Magic Knight," she said, imbuing the words with scorn.
Then she felt the blade entering her ribcage from behind. It was obvious whoever was holding it lacked the strenght needed to make a single swift and decisive stab, so that only made it all the more painful as the weapon was pushed up, with an anguished groan from its wielder. Alcyone spasmed in agony, vomiting blood as the blade was pushed up one last time, finding its torturous way into her heart. Then, mercifully, maybe, it was pulled out with great effort, and the sorceress stumbled forward, falling on her face on the dirt. She gasped for breath a couple times, tried to utter a beloved name one last time, and then stopped doing so.
She never saw Kiryuu Nanami standing behind her, collapsing to her knees and sobbing hysterically. Derflinger fell from her fingers, its reddened blade further staining the ground.
Swordplay movies, the kind she sometimes watched with her brother, made it all look so simple. So elegant and even trivial. The smiling swashbuckling hero would swiftly stab at the evildoer's black heart in the battle climax, with a witty one liner to save the day.
There were no one liners now. No epic fanfare. Not even any kind of satisfaction. Nanami only felt a terrifying cold, an uncontrollable anxiety within herself, and above it all, nausea.
She, too, doubled over and puked on Presea's garden.
Asakura sighed. "Anyway, do you know what do we need now?"
"I know I'm going to regret asking, but no, so what is it?" Chisame replied.
Kazumi grinned while showing her camera off. "A group picture, of course!"
"Gee, why would it be I'm not surprised?" Asuna wondered.
"C'mon!" Asakura told her. "Odds are we'll never be all together in the same spot, ever again! Don't you think we should keep a few mementos of this for the rest of our lives?"
Deathnote nodded. "It can't be denied she's right there, guys."
Haruna nodded as well. "Since we aren't going to stage an orgy, we should at least go with the next best thing…"
"Haruna!" Nodoka chided her.
"Just joking! Joking, sheesh!"
"I wish I could believe you," Ayaka grumbled. "I really do. But we should indeed keep a memento as proof our alliance, that which allowed us to manage the impossible! So we can remember our perhaps brief, yet eternal, bonds forever! Yes, Negi-sensei and I will proudly show this group picture to our children, and the children of our children, so the glorious legacy of the Ala Albas and our epic deeds is never forgotten! In this golden day, celebrating our victory over darkness and evil, I swear with a fist on my heart I will never allow time to sweep away our—"
Roberta nudged one of her shoulders slightly. "Ojou-sama, we're about to get our picture taken. Please do fall in with the group…"
"GAH!" Ayaka reacted, seeing everyone had gathered together already while Asakura readied the camera. The Class Rep hastily made her way over to Negi's side, not so subtly pushing Misa and Misora away, taking advantage of their own struggle to stand at Negi's left while Chisame stood at his right. More or less squeezed in between Chisame and Ayaka, Negi gulped a little. Matoi, as expected, had fallen in right behind Chisame, with Hakase at the stalker's other side, holding hands with Sakurako. Chachamaru had stepped right behind her creator, with Chao sitting on one of her shoulders and a bored looking Evangeline on the other. The other Chao, McDowell and Karakuri mimicked the arrangement on the opposite side of the group, a mildly amused Kuro next to them as Calculator subtly tried to put make-up on her face, her robot mades standing patiently behind her.
The Asunas had shared an evil look before moving to stand on either side of Ayaka, who was congratulating herself on snagging the much-coveted position. Her distraction grew as Erebus was pushed by group consensus to stand next to Negi, the former now blushing intensely in embarrassment as he realized he'd be immortalized in the picture wearing frilly pink girl's clothes.
The giggling Konokas each grabbed a Setsuna and posed, the local one standing next to Asuna while her parents stood behind her. For some reason, Natsuki awkwardly stood near Eishun, although frowning and facing away from him. Roberta stood at Ayaka's other side opposite Negi, just behind Asuna, while Haruka forced Misa and Misora to stay still, with her in their middle.
"Closer, closer, everyone, or we won't all fit into the photo," Asakura hummed, calibrating the angle and take. Then she looked back at… "Batman-sama? Aren't you going to be there, too?"
"Hnh," the Dark Knight said. "I don't do photos."
"Ohhh, pleeze…!" Makie looked up at him with Bambi eyes.
"Please please…!" both Konokas joined Makie.
"… No," he insisted, although his voice microscopically faltered for the slightest second in the history of mankind.
"PLEASE…!" Makie, the Konokas, Sakurako and the Chaos all cooed at once.
For a moment, the square jaw under the cowl moved in a strange way, before, wordlessly, the shadowy figure stood behind Skuld, Makie, Yuuna, Sora and Keiichi, although turning away from the camera so only the back of his cape and cowl were seen. "This is as far as I'll go."
"Awww!" Haruna giggled, squeezing close to Nodoka, both sitting down on the floor before Negi with their counterparts and Yue, making Misa and Misora curse not having thought of that themselves. "That's so cute of you, Batman-sama! You too, Kero-chan!"
"Don't call me Kero-chan!" Kerberos protested, while being dragged by Chamo and Albert and forced to sit on Nodoka's head while Chamo himself sat on Haruna's and Albert perched on Deathnote's. "Ahhh, I was supposed to be a mysterious guardian living in secrecy as fitting my range! If Master Clow could see me now…!" he lamented.
"Suck it up," Usagi sad as she stood at the edge of the ensemble next to Makie.
"I think I have it now," Kazumi smirked, finally sliding in quickly, stopping to stand with the Konoes and winking at the camera as the one ASuna signaled to each other. "Now, everyone say 'Cheese'!"
Both Asunas took that as the signal to suddenly viciously tickle the class rep from either side
"Cheese!" was the common word at that moment, said with varying degrees of enthusiasm or lack of it, as the camera shot itself. For all, that is, except Ayaka, whose intended dignified and joyful pose was completely ruined by the sudden cry of shock and laughter she let out…
Fanservice Time! (Again!)
Asuna made an exhausted hissing sound as she sat down into the hot bath waters. "Hahhhhhh… This was just too much to take in a single sitting. How are we expected to take things with calm, after being told all that…?" she said, submerging the comical bump on her head where Ayaka had exacted bloody vengeance.
"Well, what do you suggest? To lose our heads over the situation and run around with no aim hoping we'll just stumble into a magical solution?" Ayaka snapped from where she still was carefully washing herself before entering the relatively intact hot baths of the Konoe villa. "Besides, I still don't fully trust Skuld-san. Her end of the world story might be just a fabrication, especially since nothing of the sort has happened in Erebus-sensei's world. Has it?"
"Well, not exactly that," conceded Kagurazaka, sitting down next to Asuna and submerging her own, smaller comical bump, "but I heard it's been pretty close a couple of time. Although some of the threats one our side have been sillier. There was this threat I heard from Sailor Jupiter, about an evil circus from the black moon…"
Usagi, sitting nearby, shuddered at the memories, and wondered wistfully what Helios was up to these days…
"What reason could she have to lie to us?" Makie asked, soaking next to Yuuna.
"I don't know!" Kagurazaka tossed her hands up. "Our Honya-chan can't read her mind, and we know no counterpart of hers to compare her with! Yue, can't you look at the magical data banks of this world with your top-level clearance and see if they have something about gods?"
"I already have," Valkyrie Black neutrally said, naturally sitting between Deathnote and Miyazaki. "There seem to be three major temples in this universe's Mundus Magicus, each one devoted to a goddess. Fire, Air and Water. Those goddesses are often associated with the Past, Present and Future respectively as well. Skuld-san might be the Water-Future one, seeing how her name is that of the classical Norse mythology's Future Norn, and from what Makie-san told us, she transported through water, so that might be her domain element."
"She has enough magical power to give Makie-chan a Pactio, with a card that looks permanent, and at the same time she gave one to Keiichi-san, too!" Deathnote argued. "At the very least, she's got a lot more power than she looks like she should. She isn't normal at all, we can be sure of that… though, that really doesn't mean much with this crowd…"
Ayaka sighed as she took her place at Asuna's other side, glaring at the two, who smiled up innocently at her. Only because there were no other places available now. Of course. "Whatever the case may be, Negi-sensei seems to trust her, so I will do so too."
"Negi trusts anybody," Kuro said, eyes closed for the moment and not drinking in the sight of naked female flesh around her. Time enough for that. "Doesn't mean anything."
"Are you sure that's the way he feels?" Yuuna said thoughtfully. "We didn't exactly have time to ask him about it…"
"I can tell, since I know him well," the Class Rep confidently said. Suddenly, she turned her head in Chisame's direction. "Don't you agree with me?"
After opening her mouth to utter an angry "How would I know?-!" Chisame closed it and reluctantly added, "Although I'd say he does. You know how dumbly naive he is…"
"Here, here." Twilight Red said, nodding in agreement. If he didn't have me around he'd be falling for anything left and right."
"Eh? But Asuna, didn't you believe when you heard there was a chupacapbra living in the library?"
"THAT DOESN'T COUNT!"
Ayaka frowned at that, but since it validated her opinion, she didn't refute it despite the amount of disrespect in it. Since she still had to vent out on someone, she clapped her hands and called out, frustrated, "Roberta-san! Are you coming, yes or no?"
A flat voice replied from the dressing rooms. "I'm not worthy of enjoying a bath with you, Ojou-sama."
"Oh, please, drop it!" her young mistress said. "It's an order! Even Setsuna-san and Sakurazaki-san are overcoming their crippling inferiority complexes here!"
The Setsunas simply made twin mortified sounds while surrounded by smiling and nodding Konokas, who kept them both trapped between themselves.
"As you wish," Roberta humbly said, stepping into sight and undoing the towel that had been wrapped around her body. A general impressed silence fell all over the girls, due to a mixture of seeing all the old scars and battle wounds covering Roberta's skin, and seeing exactly how buxom, athletic and perfectly well-built the body those scars were spread over was. Now the maid outfit was not hiding Roberta's physique, it became obvious a woman stood there, facing all the teenaged girls.
Kuro and Haruna spun to let their nosebleeds drip out of the pool. Wouldn't do to get the water bloody…
"… Good thing Anya-chan isn't here," Ayase observed, quietly eyeing the combat maid's ample mammaries, while Nodoka could only nod in a mechanical fashion.
Only Ayaka was unaffected as she made room for Roberta next to her. "Finally. You know, we hadn't bathed together since I was a child and you had to wash me all over. After all this time, I figure it's just fitting I should pay the favor back. Allow me to wash your back."
"Oh, no, it would be imposing, and this shouldn't be done in the furo…"
"But you hung back on purpose until we entered," Ayaka argued, "And there are some occasions that merit some minor tradition bending. Oh my. Are these bullet holes?" she asked, examining Roberta's back carefully.
The maid only nodded, pulling her long dark hair aside to allow better access. "I still have two bullets lodged inside, actually. One of them, I took it defending your father from AIM spies at his Guatemala factory."
"Ah, so that's why you took that leave three years ago, right? And to think Father had the gall of telling me you were cleaning his Switzerland ski lodge…"
"Actually, I recovered there, so it is, at the very least, a half-truth. Your Father only wanted to keep you safe from a world that is difficult to understand."
"The magic one?" Konoka asked, already feeling a kindred situation there.
"Actually, the harsher part of corporative life," Roberta replied.
Asuna rolled her eyes. "Oh dear, the princess heiress of a dangerous seedy empire is sitting right next to me!" she baited.
"Been there, done that," Twilight Red said in the same tone.
As expected, Ayaka swallowed it whole. "Father is completely honest! It's just any businessman, no matter what, amasses powerful enemies along his way!"
Roberta only nodded silently.
"Are you crossing your fingers behind your back?" Kuro asked, trying to check by herself as well, in addition of trying to get a good glimpse of Roberta's ass.
"Noooooo…" the maid denied dryly.
And Manservice Time Too!
At the same time, over at the men's side, Negi, Erebus, Eishun and Keiichi enjoyed a quiet bath together. Chamo and Albert had been forced to sit between the Negis to prevent any attempts of sneaking into the opposite side.
"Then, after this, do you think the separatist elements of your association are finished?" Negi asked Eishun. "I mean, from what I've gathered, Chigusa was the only one of them who really ever belonged to it in the first place."
The Elder nodded slowly. "There are some other malcontents still out there, and maybe they'll grow bolder after this, but we have endured them before, and we will do it again. Besides, our intel on them tells us they are in no condition to pull the same stunt Chigusa just tried."
"Really, after being told all that about the end of the world, those association inner matters should be the least of our worries!" Chamo cried. "Uh, no offense, Elder-sama."
Eishun only nodded again. "I know, I know. In the larger picture, even our most serious internal problems are nothing but grains of sand. Rest assured, if there's something we can do to help you in those crises to come, we will gladly rise to any challenge."
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time you fight in conflicts on that scale, eh?" Chamo asked him. "I knew the Bro's dad was a real bigshot hero, but I never imagined he had done so much!"
Eishun laughed, although sedately. Erebus could feel something still was worrying him very deeply, but he figured it just had to be due to Skuld's predictions. "Yes, well, back then, we didn't even stop to think about it. Especially not Nagi and Jack. Things just happened so fast, one after another, we couldn't just stop to as questions beyond the strictly necessary. And we were pretty much the only ones who could fix things back then, so it fell upon us."
Negi looked up excitedly. Even all the old scars covering Eishun's torso only told him of fantastic death defying adventures. He'd have asked if his father had just as many scars, but he understood it would have been in bad taste.
Eishun turned to Erebus. "And so, how's the other me doing? And your world's Konoeko-chan?"
"Uh, well, Sir, actually…" Erebus lowered his head awkwardly.
"Sorry, Elder," Albert said, stepping up and taking the bullet. "But your counterpart's wife has been dead for a while now. Long before we even arrived from Wales. Konoka-nee doesn't talk about it, and we don't ask…"
Eishun seemed to reel from the news for a moment. "Oh. Oh, I see. That's… sad to hear." And he tried to smile for himself. "Fortunately, my Konoeko-chan is the healthiest person I've ever met," Physically, at least, "And believe me, odds are she'll outlive me for a long, long time."
Albert elbowed him, chuckling cagily. "Much younger than you, ain't she? Oh, you sly dawg, you…!"
"Chamo!" Erebus said, while the other, local Chamo just laughed.
Eishun laughed as well. "Oh, stop it, please, Albert-san! Gentlemen shouldn't discuss a lady's age!"
Over at the ladies' side, Yuuna admired Konoeko as the older woman meditated in the water, drinking in for a moment her mature, yet youthful grace and charm. That was until Konoeko looked back at her, and Yuuna averted her gaze sort of clumsily. The lady of the house just smiled at her.
"Are you okay, Akashi-san?"
"Y-Yes! I'm excellent! Why shouldn't I be? Your house is awesome, even after all of that, and any moment spent here is like being in a resort!"
"Oh?" Konoeko turned and called towards her daughter. "Are you listening, Konoka-chan? You should start spending more time with us here!"
"Waaaay better than the last resort we were in," Misa said, sending a dirty look Kuro's way.
Kuro looked away from where the other Chao was nonchalantly– and badly– trying to sidle up next to Usagi and the latter was chalantly and brutally discouraing her, to the local Chao's bemusement. "Oh, get over it. It kept you from getting your ass kicked too badly by professional killers, didn't it?"
"You still look very young," Asuna noted. "If they had told me you were Konoka's big sister, I'd have believed it!"
"Thank you, Kagurazaka-san."
"Mom has a gift in that area," Konoka said. "She still just looks the same as she was when I was just a little girl. I only hope I grow up the same!" she joked.
"Oh, believe me, you will," Konoeko nodded. "That's a common trait of women from our fortunate bloodline…"
"No doubt why the monkey woman wanted Kono-chan so much then!" Makie gasped. "Now everything is clear! Kono-chan is the key to eternal youth? Ah! If Eva-chan could drink from her, maybe she'd become young and cute forever!"
"I already am young forever, idiot!" Evangeline grunted, pouring herself a cup of fine wine a servant had brought her.
"And we're drop dead sexy and gorgeous, not cute!" Mcdowell added, with a very cute evil pout. The two vampires nodded in tandem, then glared, as if the other had done that on purpose to mock her.
Nodoka, Nodoka, and Yue, sitting nearby, just all looked around, and stared down at their chests, sighing in envy and disappointment, the local Nodoka most especially. Two years, and her chest still won't have grown…
Zazie and Yue
Yue was sitting at the reception hall waiting for her by the time Zazie made it back to the inn, relatively late that afternoon. "Rainyday-san. I was worried about you. Why did you leave without telling me anything?"
"Got a call. Family affairs," she said.
"I see. Still, you at least could have told me before disappearing. What would I have told Negi-sensei if he asked me about your whereabouts?"
Yue half-sighed, then patted the seat next to hers. "Mind keeping me company a little longer, please? Nodoka and Haruna aren't back yet. N-Not that I'm saying your company is just a temporary substitute or anything, it's just… I feel lonely," she ended up confessing.
Zazie nodded and took the offered seat. Yue handed her a carton of pomegranate and cherry juice identical to the one she had been drinking, and Zazie accepted it with another nod.
As they sipped their juices (get your minds out of the gutter!), Yue asked, "Did your errand go well?"
"I'm glad. So, you can drop by at Library Island with us any time you want, you know. That is, to check out the kind of books you need…"
"Thanks. But you can't find those kinds of books at Library Island."
"You can't? No way. Library Island has all types of texts known to mankind. And those you bought today…"
"Only the basics. I'm going to need more advanced ones."
"Oh," Yue was mildly perplexed. "Oh, I see."
Somehow, there was something about that harmlessly phrased sentence that rattled Yue, and not only because it was a relatively long line coming from Zazie. It was as if, between the lines, the most enigmatic of her classmates had actually been saying "I know about the Clow, bitch." But surely that had to be Yue being paranoid after last night's events.
"Anyway," Ayase said, "I'm… happy we could spend some time together, then, even if it was a short one."
Yue had to half-smile. She wasn't sure why, but she still did.
Kuga Natsuki stood alone and silent behind the baths, wearing a solid black yukata and sipping slowly from a tiny cup of tea. She would have to return to Mahora tomorrow, and yet she had no new information on the First District yet. The trip had been a complete waste of her time. Part of her felt tempted to make up for it by going out to search for them herself, but she was not in top shape after last night yet. She was still tried, and even aching in a few points. At least, that was what she told herself. Konoka's healing had left her like new, but she still was reeling from recent revelations and too rattled to think properly. Not that she would ever admit she had been dealt an emotional blow. She had to be above that.
Several sneezes resounded through the house.
But whatever the case was, Natsuki knew taking on the First District now in the condition, physical or mental, she was in was just short of suicide. So she just stood there, sulking on her feelings of inadequacy for the task at hand, until she felt the soft steps coming from behind her.
Natsuki decided to act as if nothing was happening, since she knew she was in no danger. From the hesitant and inexpert way that girl was moving while trying to be stealthy, it was clear she was the local Konoka Konoe, not even Maga Alba.
Great. The one she wanted to see the least right then.
She waited, patiently, until Konoka paused before deciding to make herself known. "Kuga-sempai?"
"What do you want?"
Konoka bowed very deeply, in a gesture Natsuki barely caught a glimpse of. "I just wanted to thank you properly. Last night, you almost lost your life for me, despite having absolutely no reason to be there. Why, we've never even talked to each other before this…"
Natsuki grunted. "Oh, that? Forget it. I was just thinking I could get info on my mother's murder from foiling Amagasaki's scheme, but apparently I was wrong."
Konoka blinked and hesitated, but wisely refrained from asking how she'd planned to get any information of the sprt by stopping an unrelated madwoman's plot of world domination. "Oh. Still, when you were frozen, you were about to tell me, quite passionately, you were my… My what?"
"Ah, so you still remember that."
"How could I forget it? Please, Kuga-sempai, tell me… You are my what?"
Natsuki's green eyes shifted around discreetly. She just knew Setsuna had to be somewhere watching over Konoka, and despite the Shinmeiryuu warrior being too stealthy for her, Natsuki knew perfectly well when she was being watched, even when she couldn't tell from where.
"Nothing. Forget it," the delinquent student told Konoka. "It was just a stupid mistake, a wrong—"
"I see," Konoka interrupted her, her head hanging down. "In that case… Sorry, Kuga-sempai."
"I'm so honored you feel that way, I really am, but I can't return your feelings."
"Wait, what are you—!"
"I can tell. From the way you talk reluctantly, and how you avoid making eye contact with me. It's just like when Chisame-chan talks to Negi-kun when she isn't bossing him around. It's okay, I'm not offended, and you don't need to feel bad. But even so… My apologies, but I already have someone else."
Two random hairs sprang up from Natsuki's perfectly combed hair. At the same time, there was a loud rustling from the top of a nearby tree, which dropped several leaves. Natsuki looked that way and frowned.
"I don't know if that person loves me back, but I can't help having those feelings for them," Konoka was confessing. "I… I suppose I'll tell them when they're ready…"
"Them?" Natsuki's right eyebrow trembled a bit.
Konoka had to giggle lightly, giving Kuga a punch in a shoulder. "Oh, Sempai! You know perfectly what I'm talking about!"
"… Yes, I guess I do," Natsuki said, feeling torn between being disgusted, busted, and laughing cynically at the shaking and almost-whimpers coming from the treetop.
"Anyway," Konoka sighed, "You'll forgive me, won't you? I'll be praying for you to get the person you really need…"
"Um, sure, I'm fine with that…"
"Oh, that's a relief!" Konoka sighed very cutely. "I knew it was best to cut this short before it even started! Well, now that's out of the way, we should go sleep, don't you think? Tomorrow will be another quite intense day, after all."
"Yeah, I guess…"
"I'm glad you're so understanding. I always knew you were a wonderful person." And after some hesitation, Konoka leaned forward and gave her a tiny peck on a cheek, immediately spinning around to look the other way. "Well, see you tomorrow, Sempai!"
"Ah-hah, whatever you say…" Natsuki weakly waved as she saw Konoka walk back into the building. Then she shook her head to herself and muttered, "Honestly, what's with that girl? I can't believe she's really my—"
"Your what?" an eager Konoka's head peeked right back out.
"MY NOTHING! JUST GO SLEEP AND LEAVE ME HEARTBROKEN AND ALONE!"
"Ooops, sorry! Good night!"
As soon as Kuga felt she was really, really, actually, no doubt alone, she tossed the final drops of her cup aside and began heading inside as well. But then she felt a hand grabbing one of her wrists from behind, stopping her.
"Sakurazaki!" she snarled, turning around as best as she could. "Leave me alone, will you! I swear I have no—"
Then she fell silent, looking up at the tall and decidedly not Setsuna-esque figure who still held her in place, gentle but firm.
"Natsuki," Konoe Eishun pleaded. "Please, let's talk."
They walked farther from the baths, with him leading and her trailing in reluctant silence. Finally, he stopped under a large tree, and she followed suit, expression unchanged.
"Once again," he began, "I owe you a million thanks for what you did for Konoka."
"Mmm-hmmmm," she said, barely nodding.
After that opening declaration didn't get the effect he'd hoped, even if he hadn't actually expected it to, Konoe Eishun put his hands together, before his face, and sighed deeply. "I swear I never learned Saeko had a daughter, much less that she had died."
"An impressive feat for a man who could learn about anything ever happening within the magical community of Japan, Sir," Natsuki dryly replied.
"When she left my side, she made clear she didn't want me on her trail, or even knowing where she was. I swore to myself I'd respect that wish, since I never could deliver on anything else she wished for."
"Mother never was a fortunate person," the girl stated quietly.
"I know," Eishun mused. "Maybe I should have struggled to make her happier, back then…"
"But then you wouldn't have a gorgeous rich wife and an excellent nice daughter, would you?"
Eishun lowered his head even more. "When did she tell you about me?"
"Never. Whenever I asked about my father, the only answer I got was he didn't matter anymore. That he was somewhere far away, and we were better off without him, or without even knowing about him."
The man shook his head. "I never dreamed she felt that badly about me. We had a harsh falling out, that much is true, but…"
"It didn't take much for you to bounce back, though. I guess the Konoe fortune and a princess' hand were enough to fix any man's heart."
"It's true I reached happiness with my family. But, had I known a person who was so dear to me was suffering, my happiness would never have been—"
"She wasn't suffering!" Now that made Natsuki yell. "Why would she be unhappy? Because she didn't have you? God's gift to women? We were happy together! We were all we needed! We had each other! We were a true family!"
And then she heard a soft, polite voice telling her, "There is no absolute happiness. But we should always strive to achieve a little more happiness, especially for our loved ones. Your mother owed you that knowledge."
Natsuki spun around, her eyes squinting as she saw Konoe Konoeko walking out the shadows towards her, hands neatly folded over her lap.
"Don't pretend having any fondness for me," the girl said. "Why would you?"
"You protected my daughter's life, and you might be the daughter of the man I love," the woman calmly answered. "What other reasons could I need?"
Natsuki looked away from them both. "Don't act as if you understood our situation. It's easy for you to speak, surrounded by luxury, by the flattery of your followers and your prestige. We had a simpler life, and that's all we needed or wanted. And yet, even that was taken away from us, while you will prosper no matter what. But being like you… That isn't the kind of person I am or wish to be."
"Always be your own person, no matter what," Konoeko said, nodding agreement. "Unless that is a lonely person."
"Natsuki," Eishun approached her. "I'd like you to—"
She kept him at arm's length. "No. For everyone's sake, including Konoka's, no."
"I said it, and I won't take it back. No."
"I have a question," Konoeko told her. "If your mother never told you about Eishun, what brought you here? And why are you aware of your ties?"
"Potential ties," Natsuki corrected her.
"That's easily provnd," the woman challenged. "From what my husband told me, your mother did not give her heart away easily. And you seem well aware of that."
Natsuki clenched her teeth. "Why did he tell you about her? And when?"
"True love," Konoeko said, "Knows of no secrets."
And that made Natsuki hiss madly. "What are you implying? That she didn't love me because she kept secrets from me? Excuse me, but what have you been hiding from your daughter all these years, again…?"
It was Konoeko's turn to lower her head. "That, I realize now, was a grave mistake."
"Far from your only one," the younger female said, beginning to walk away.
Eishun still tried to go after her, but the smaller hand on his stopped him. He turned back to his wife and said, "I can't leave her like that…"
"She isn't ready yet," Konoeko told him. "In that, she is her father's daughter. After all, how willing are you, even now, to fully rejoin your brothers?"
"That isn't the same thing at all. I don't owe them anything, and they don't owe me either. But that child, she needs me, she always has needed me, and all this time, I have failed her…!"
"You had no idea she even existed. You couldn't be faulted. If anything, the fault lies squarely on her mother's shoulders, for leaving her alone when she should have told her of—"
"Please, Konoeko, no," he shook his head. "I… I feel dirty just by thinking of judging Saeko. We all make mistakes in our own time, but I'm sure she only did what she thought best for Natsuki."
She put a hand on his shoulder. "She is angry and disoriented, and you only will make it worse. Let her order her thoughts before approaching her again. Now she knows you aren't ashamed of her or reject her. It is a start."
After a long pause, she added, "Of course, you know the Association will not react favorably when they learn of this."
"I know. I'm sorry to drag you and Konoka-chan into this."
"It makes little difference to either of us," his wife said, indifferently. "I'm sure it's you who would get crushed over it. Reaching this position was your achievement, after all."
"If the Association thinks my years of service weigh less for them than my supposed fault, so be it."
"You have to admit, in the face of this crisis, several will question our handling of the situation. I know none of them would have ever known what to do themselves, but that won't stop them from thinking they would have."
"Let them think whatever they want about me. I have faced worse."
She smiled. "And there's nothing worse than a daughter angry at you, or is it? Do you think Konoka-chan has forgiven my treatment of Setsuna-kun."
"Konoka-chan isn't one to hold grudges. And when she thought we had lost you, she cried and panicked like never before. She loves you, but still, I believe you should make things clear to her and Setsuna-kun."
She nodded. "I will do so," she said, heading back into the building.
He still remained there for a few minutes, moodily pulling a cigarette out and smoking it.
He never had a caring father himself, so, like always, he'd have to improvise with what he felt best for the task.
Absolutely No Lesbian Subtext Here.
"This girl needs CPR to save her life!" Takane proclaimed grandly, falling to her knees before the unconscious young stranger just pulled out of the water. "Luckily, as a certified Mahora Academy junior security staffer, I'm qualified for the task! Leave everything to me!"
"Um, Miss…?" one of the sailors said. "Since we are this boat's official crew, and you're just a minor, you should just step aside and let us—"
Takane blasted an electrifying angry glare up at him. "That won't be necessary, sir!"
"Oh, come on! We're only doing our job! Stop looking at me as if I were a pervert!"
Behind him, several girls already were whispering to each other.
"He's just dying to kiss and touch her, isn't he?"
"Men are all the same…"
"I bet he wouldn't even mind if she was already drowned…"
"Eww, that's so gross…!"
The sailor twitched uncomfortably in place, slumping in despair. "You… You ungrateful passengers…!"
One of his crewmates put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. "Forget it, Saburo. Our society still needs to change a lot and overcome the unfair, narrow-minded prejudices and pre-set ill conceptions about the inter-gender relationships of a casual nature…"
"… Spare me the social commentary just this once, Genjuro."
"No, he's absolutely right!" Itoshiki-sensei declared. "We are a society full of double standards and archaic conceptions of gender equality or lack thereof, that still plague us to this day! I have long been a constant victim of those mistaken assumptions, myself! We are stuck on false morals, an eternal reel that only covers the surface, but does nothing to improve what we truly are inside! We give extra work to women, but we don't assume equal responsibilities at our homes, and we still obstruct their rise in the work force! Meaning they are twice our slaves as before!"
"That's too true!" his student Okusa Manami sighed sadly.
"Hey, someone revive the poor girl already!" Mai protested.
"We are fast to accuse others of perversion, but sleep peacefully as long as the perversions are happening behind closed doors, even if we know about them!" Itoshiki went on, now addressing the crowd. "Ours is a society built on mistrust, willful ignorance and lies!"
"For God's sake, she's going to die!" Mai screeched.
"We laugh at the poor men caught in 'It's not what it looks like' situations, taking joy on their physical and emotional suffering brought by domestic abuse!" the teacher slammed a hand down on the other. "Believe me, it happens in real life too! Ask at Hinata Inn if you don't believe me!"
"Leave my Oneechan out of this, Sensei!" Mei shouted.
"I'M IN DESPAIR!" he was yelling. "The still childish outlook we have on what is perversion and what is acceptable has left me in despair!"
"Stop clowning around and save her, dammit!" Mai yelled back, at no one and everyone in general.
Primly, Takane coughed. "Very well, I shall do so immediately…"
A red cheeked Mei pulled her back just as her lips were about to touch the wet girl's. "Ahhhh… NO! I mean, maybe the sailors are right, Oneesama! Better leave this to professionals!"
"What? I'm all but a professional, Mei-chan! Much better than many professionals!"
"How can you say that, Oneesama? How… How many others besides me and Nutmeg-chan have you—"
"Whatever about your love life! Just save her!" Mai pointed at the petite stranger.
But Takane was too busy covering Mei's mouth with her hands. "S-STOP IT! PEOPLE WILL GET THE WRONG IDEA!"
"Actually, I think we're understanding just fine," Abiru deadpanned.
"Don't worry, girls!" Kafuka said cheerfully. "You aren't involved in a shameful and unnatural affair, just in a happy go lucky, which translates as gay, alternate lifestyle that surely will not cause any intolerant groups to shun you! Because after all, things like prejudiced people, who we only see in TV, couldn't possibly exist in our fair academy!"
Harumi sighed. "To think, had it been a drowning boy, I might be enjoying some grade A Boy Love trigger…"
"Mei-chan, please, trust me!" Takane firmly said. "I'm just doing this to save a young life! To think otherwise would be ridiculous! Well, since, as it has been remarked, there is no time to waste, I shall proceed to… Ahhhh…"
Tokiha Mai already was on her knees giving the short girl mouth to mouth breathing. Anthy smiled saintly. (TM and C Naba Chizuru, used as indicated by commercial commons license). Takumi had pressed a tissue against his nose, hoping to stem the flow of blood out of him. Part of his illness. Definitely just part of his illness
Then, between frantic attempts to save the complete stranger's life, Mai was rewarded with a violent fit of coughing, and a stream of salty water being vomited up in her face.
Congratulations, Mai! Mikoto Route, Unlocked!
Meanwhile, at Mahora:
Takamachi Nanoha flew quickly, circling the water monster that had risen from the pool, waving massive liquid tentacles in all directions.
One of the tentacles had touched the hem of her skirt, quickly corroding the fabric and eating a large portion of it before she could fly back.
"It's a Jewel Seed!" Yuuno, who was clinging to one of her shoulders, pointed at a tiny shiny dot in the middle of the watery monster. "Nanoha, we must get close to it so you can seal it!"
"But Yuuno-kun!" she pirouetted in the air, dodging another tentacle's lash. "It's deep inside of that monster! And I can't touch it without melting my clothes off! Luckily no one's returned from the class trips yet, or that thing would have melted the swimsuits of maybe dozens of girls at once!" A beat. "Again!"
Yuuno nodded firmly, before freezing for a moment, lowering his head, and briefly sobbing into one of his paws.
"What's wrong, Yuuno-kun?"
"N-Nothing. Um… does that happen often?"
"Oh, not very often. Just once a week or so. My classmate Poemi-chan says it's the work of evil monsters looking for drain of energy, but that's silly. Energy-draining monsters don't exist," Nanoha said as she fought the water-monster borne from a magic jewel because a ferret had told her to.
A golden-haired girl sporting impossibly long pigtails and not named Tsukino Usagi watched on from the nearby rooftop of a science building,a huge red dog not named Clifford at her side. They just watched and watched, silently, waiting for the outcome, hidden behind some convenient obstructions. The convenient obstruction looked well-used, and had a Chappy the Happy Bunny doodle in marker on one side, next to a pile of rose petals, and some discarded pink panties…
"Fate?" the dog whispered, somehow audible despite the fact her mouth wasn't moving.
"Yes, Arf?" the girl asked back, in an even softer tone. Her eyes were fixed on the other girl as she pummeled and plowed her way with Raising Heart inside of the monstrous being, finally reaching the Jewel inside and slamming her staff on it. The magical binds surrounded the Jewel Seed and immobilized it, its power being assimilated by the stranger as the monster's water mass plummeted down, losing cohesion and falling back into the pool, animated no more.
"I did it, Yuuno-kun! I did it!" Nanoha cried triumphantly as she rose into the air holding the Jewel Seed, the ferret covering his eyes frantically and praying under his breath. "Ah, I'm just glad there's no one around to see me now!"
"Nanoha, for the love of God, let's just fly back and fast!" the ferret begged.
Arf hummed as she gently reached up with a paw to close up Fate's slightly hanging mouth. "That," she finally answered her young master's question, "was supposed to be your enemy, since she's also apparently collecting the Jewel Seeds. So I take it you're impressed only by her display of power, right?"
"Oh. Of course, Arf."
She just kept on looking as the other girl disappeared in the distance.
"It seems," Fate finally mused, "A voluminous dress is only a hindrance in battle. I will ask Mother for permission to wear a functional and less restrictive uniform during my missions."
"Well, I guess that makes sense, but—" Arf said doubtfully.
"More cloth will only get damaged more easily in combat, so it's better to wear something more skintight, harder to hit," Fate was pondering. "I believe that girl would have fought better if she had been wearing something like that today. Yes, a more resistant material is a must. Perhaps something leathery, that works well both under cold or heat. And a cape…"
"I don't think a cape is a good idea," Arf disagreed respectfully. "We've seen The Incredibles, remember?"
But Fate was too absorbed by the oddly persistant idea of that girl wearing all black, with a firm backside-enhancing leathery ensemble, and what Mimete-san would call a Badass Cape around her shoulders. Fate's expression did not change, other than her mouth hanging slightly open again, but her eyes clearly were somewhere else now.
Arf sighed and closed Fate's mouth again. That seemed to snap her back to reality, since it made her declare, with cold determination, "I know what I want to wear during operations now."
Down below, hiding between some bushes, Sister Shakti lowered the binoculars she had been using to monitor Nanoha's fight. "So, we have another magically powered unknown player in the area now, too. Dear God, just what we needed." She shook her head. Were they coming younger and younger now, or what? This one didn't even look a day older than Cocone.
And now they'd need to have the whole pool serviced. The warranty said it needed to be checked out every 10 water monsters or 500 days, whichever came first…
Arf sniffed and looked down. "We have a member of the local church under us. I don't think she's noticed us yet, but—"
"Understood," Fate turned around and began walking away. "We'll go before being spotted."
"You aren't wearing the cape, are you?" a worried Arf followed her.
"Calm down, I don't plan on flying near any airplane turbines…"
Konoeko found Setsuna getting changed to leave back for the Inn, fortunately in the company of no one, as was her custom. That would make their conversation much easier, so Konoeko was actually thankful for it. "Setsuna-kun?"
The girl, of course, had been aware of her presence since before she even actually entered the room. And Konoeko knew that. Still, the pale girl did nothing until she was spoken to, and even that only after a moment of shy hesitation or three. She turned around slowly, her head low, and then fell to one knee before Konoeko.
"My Lady. Again, I offer my heartfelt apologies over my failure to protect your honorable daughter single-handedly. Rest assured you'll never have to endure my unwanted, unworthy presence in your noble home ever again."
Konoeko sighed inwardly. This was not going to be easy, for more than one reason. "Rise, Setsuna-kun. There is no need for your apologies since—"
"I understand. You would not be satisfied until I have committed seppuku for my failures?" Suddenly, her hand was on a sword Konoeko had not even seen a second ago. "If that is what you think is needed to cleanse the faults of my family, I will—"
Setsuna quietly retired the tip of the blade from her stomach and looked up at her with puppy eyes. "What is expected from me?"
"Well. For starters, please keep on watching over my daughter."
"Certainly!" Setsuna said, nodding maybe a bit too quickly.
"And also…" And it was her turn to kneel before Setsuna with a lowered head, "… Please forgive me."
Setsuna panicked, her hair standing up. "W-What?-! Oh, NO! No! You have nothing to be sorry about! Please don't kneel before me! It can't be done! I mean, you can do whatever you want at your home, and I'd never suggest otherwise, but you shouldn't do it, not that I'm ordering you around!"
"I committed an unforgivable offense against you, expelling you out of our house when you only were a child, Setsuna-kun. Of course I have a lot to atone for regarding you."
"But you had your reasons!"
She placed a hand on the girl's head. "I judged you over misdeeds that weren't yours, and because of prejudices only an old woman could harbor. There is no excuse."
Setsuna's eyes were spinning in spirals now. "Ah! Please don't say that! W-What would everyone say, should they learn you are humbling yourself to a monster like me! You are a woman of prestige and honor!"
"There is more honor in you than you suspect. Don't let your humble origins blind you to it. It never slowed my husband down."
"But… the Elder is… different. Unlike me, he is… and he was… Not pathetic," she lamely finished.
Konoeko began pondering just getting the girl a good therapist. "Nonsense," she said. "At your age, he had nothing but a sword, some training, and a nothing-to-lose mindset. He didn't even have wings…"
"D-Don't mention them, please! The servants might overhear…!"
"Half the staff bathed you, Konoka-chan, and Tsukuyomi-han. The other half fears me enough to stay, in vulgar terms, the hell away from me when I'm not calling them. Well, other than Hayate-kun, but he is well used to strangeness of all kinds." A beat. "Not that I am calling you strange."
"Uh-huh. And besides, he's a boy, so he naturally wouldn't come close the female dressing rooms at this time."
"Well, yes, although for some reason, accidents tend to happen to him, often bringing him against his will into—"
Something crashed through the roof, falling between Konoeko and Setsuna's feet.
"Ah. Good evening, Hayate-kun. Fighting ninja assassins at the rooftop again?"
The figure on the floor nodded twice. "Must have come to take advantage of the chaos, Madame. Rest assured I took good care of them all, with the help of the Bat-clad foreigner…"
Up on the rooftop, Batman growled while tying up the black-clad lead ninja. "Since when are you a mere killer for hire, Kyodai Ken?"
"Not all of us are born with a fortune, Wayne, you filthy dog! I have bills to pay! You think this outfit is cheap?"
Some guys. Train a bit with them when you're younger, and they act as if they knew everything there is to know about you and your motivations…
"Keep it down up there, we're watching Monty Python!" Kuro called from a window.
Now with 100% Less Tate and Shiho!
Mei and Takane sat with that Tokiha Mai girl, her younger brother, her dark skinned friend, and their monkey-mouse-thingy pet. The sun was setting, and Mahora was only a few hours away.
"Aaaahhhh…" Mei said. "That's so sad, Tokiha-san…"
Mai cringed inside. If there was something she hated with a burning passion, that was being told she was pitied. But since she was used to being told that regardless of how much she hated it, she forced herself to smile and say, "Oh, no, please don't say that! It's true it has been hard, without Mom and Dad, but we still are happy together. Aren't we, Takumi-kun?"
"Oh, sure we are, Nee-chan!" the red haired boy nodded quickly.
"Why leave Ohtori, though?" Takane asked with obvious interest. "I had never met anyone who ever left Ohtori willingly. It's supposed to be, pound by pound, the best school in all of Japan."
"Oneesama!" Mei gave her a startled look. "Haven't you always taught me Mahora's Pride comes before anything else?"
Takane sighed. How to say that had been before meeting two Negi Springfields? Stupid (sexy?) stripping Negi Springfields. Even so, Mei-chan had a point. Takane D. Goodman never could go back in her word. "I just said it is supposed to be the best Japanese academy. Not that it actually was it."
"Ah. I'm sorry," Mei said.
"Well, yeah," Mai began, "We simply felt we didn't fit in there anymore. And a chance just… happened to come to our way, so hey, I figured we'd take it. I'm sure Mahora's warmer weather will be better for Takumi-kun's health anyway. On the subject of health, are you sure that teacher of yours and his students won't have any problems looking after that mystery girl?"
"Don't worry about Itoshiki-sensei," asked Takane. "He doesn't look like it, but he can literally plow through anything life tosses his way!"
"Actually, ah, I was more worried about the girl," Mai confessed.
"Mai-sama is quite the Good Samaritan," the Anthy girl commented.
"Don't say that, Anthy! Sheesh!" Mai told her. "It's normal anyone would worry about someone in her circumstances!"
A stats report mini sheet appeared above them.
LEVELS OF CONCERN FOR MIKOTO.
Mai: Very Worried.
Takumi: Geez Poor Girl I Hope She's OK.
Takane: Mild Concern.
Mei: Oneesama Wanted To Kiss Her?
Anthy: Not Caring A Shit.
Chu Chu: Where's Mo' Food?
Meanwhile, outside the boat, but closer than any of them would have expected, dark forces conspired, but that's a plot point for the next segment…
Perfectly Ordinary Day
In the gloom of dusk, in a quiet little part of the woods surrounding Mahora, rainbow light began to sparkle. There was a sudden burst of light, creating a bright, shimmering sphere of energy, and there was a sudden explosive rush of air as a crapton of sucked-in gas was violently released outward.
From the shimmering portal, the sound of screaming came closer…
It had been a perfectly ordinary day. The sun had shown, the birds had sang, there had been a marked lack of middle-schoolers going to school… even the things had usually went bump in the night had just gone 'thump' and called it a day. An optimist would have said they didn't want to break the peaceful air. A pessimist would have said this was because they wouldn't find anyone to eat anyway. Even the Dark Agency had gotten in on it, giving everyone a day off and handing out company outing vouchers to any youma still standing to go and use a very nice bathhouse Jadeite had found recently when his latest plan to drain energy and find Star Seeds by taking over said bathhouse and providing under-the-towel services had been unceremoniously closed by a police raid (he had neglected to pay the proper kickbacks).
Yes, for once, all was right with the world, with nearly all of the crazy having been temporarily exported to other places.
Poor other places, but that was their problem now, the sorry suckers!
Sister Shakti sat in her chair in the underground command center, enjoying the warm scent of her coffee as she listened to the sounds being made by the skeleton crew, having made the call about the pool. It was only her and two others that night. Despite having lost her Toys all those years ago, thus ending what would have been a promising career as a Great Detective, Hercule Barton was a solid, if quiet, woman and could be relied upon to woman the console. Since the console didn't need much womaning right then, she was also roasting an eggplant (which she'd grown on the small plot of land still claimed by a roughly painted wooden sign calling it the Fun Farm of Milky Holmes) and some mushrooms (which she'd cultivated under her bed in a cold attic room that she shared with four other women) on a small roasting bucket and played Battleship with Copy-Cat Ken-chan. The photographer/semi-martial artist had gotten a job at Mahora after Albeiro Imma had kicked his ass in a copying battle. Ostensibly, he was just training for the rematch, but since the fight had been ten years ago, Shakti figured he was just enjoying job security.
Shakti took a deep breath to savor the peace. The day had been pleasantly uneventful, that water monster aside, and since she had nothing to do with it the paper work had blessedly been only two pages. Bliss. She took a deep draft of her coffee and reluctantly set it aside.
"All right," she said into the emptiness, causing Hercule and Ken to look up from their game in surprise. "It's been a long, good day. Sun shining, birds singing, all that good stuff. Can you please drop the other shoe now?"
A brief pause as the other two in the room looked at each other, concerned.
"Look, I'm really thankful for the reprieve and all," Shakti continued, still talking to empty air, "but come on, we both know this is set-up for something. Look, it's cool. I'm not folding a grudge. It's just that you're probably waiting for this to ruin my day, because that's how it usually goes, but I'm pretty cool with it. So let's stop playing coy and let me have it, okay?"
"Um, Sister Shakti?" Hercule asked hesitantly. "Who are you… what are you—?"
That was as far as she got before alarms began to blare, startling her and Ken and overturning their game.
Shakti just nodded in a self-satisfied sort of way. "Thank you. What's the situation Barton?"
"Oh! Ah…" she waffled a bit as she checked her console. "Um, there seems to be an outburst of s-some kind of magical energy. Currently at… 8088 thaums on the Rincewind scale and rising!"
Shakti nodded as if she expected nothing else, and hadn't just been told they'd picked up a magical reading ten times more powerful than the strongest recorded anti-army spell and four times what it took to get to Mundus Magicus. "Can you pinpoint it?"
"I've got the location," Ken said, for some reason choosing to turn into Nutmeg. "Bringing up a visual now."
Shakti sighed. "Well… get everyone on the horn, Barton. Let's see what we're up against."
The screen came on. What appeared was a scene from her deepest nightmares that sent a chill through her spine.
"Oh, crap…" she said faintly. "There are TWO of them!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!-!"
In the large, spacious office, the phone rang. This was a problem, as it was all Konoemon could do to use both hands to stamp papers and get them out of the way before he had to stamp the next one.
"Trickster," he said, in a voice that was beginning to show some strain. "Could you please bring me the phone?"
Grinning wildly, Trickster, for some reason clad as a slutty secretary— and thank goodness Konoemon spent most of his time with his eyes closed!— picked up the ringing phone and moved it closer to Konoemon on the desk.
"Ah. It appears there's been some miscommunication. Can you pick it up and hold it against my ear?"
"Okey-dokey bosseroony!" Trickster said, picking up the entire phone and holding it next to Konoemon's ear. It rang shrilly, which was rather annoying.
"Pick up the handset and hold it against my ear," Konoemon order, slightly irritated.
"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?" Trickster said, putting down the phone and picking up the handset.
"Hold it against my ear the other way around, Trickster," Konoemon said, annoyed.
Trickster turned it around.
"The other, other way around."
Trickster, grinning wider, turned it over.
"One last chance. Let's try it the way you haven't done it yet!"
With the handset finally the right way around, Konoemon finally managed to say, "Hello?"
"Headmaster, we have a problem," Shakti's voice said.
"Of course we do," he said tiredly. "Pray, why can't anyone ever call me to tell me there are new donuts or pizza in the break room? Well, what is it this time?"
Shakti told him.
"Well…" Konoemon said succinctly. "Crap."
Tales from Mundus Magicus: Loss.
"I'm sorry-nya, but there's nothing I can do about it," Shichimi had said, still wagging her tail, which coupled with her vacant stare, was getting really disturbing under the present circumstances. "She's completely gone, nya."
So Yukino had to completely take over. Hikaru was still hurt, and Nanami seemed to have lost it completely, muttering to herself on how her brother would hate her now and how Oh God She Had Killed A Woman. She sat there on the grass hugging her knees with a lost expression and a ghostly, pale face. Yukino could not fault her- she would have reacted the exact same way had she been the one to do that. But still, it would have been very nice counting on Nanami's help for the tasks at hand.
Between her and Tsuwabuki, they had to strain themselves to put out the flames in Presea's garden before they could spread into the house. Fortunately there had been a huge fountain close enough.
Once the fires had been extinguished, Yukino left Tsuwabuki looking after Hikaru and Nanami while she took some other matters in her own hands. Thanks to Motsu's confusing but mildly helpful indications, she found two shovels in a closet of the house and began trying to dig two adult women sized graves.
Just thinking about what she was doing sickened her, and that was on top of how physically frail she was. Still, she persevered with a drive that impressed Tsuwabuki even as he, for the first time in his life, kept a hand on Nanami's shoulder without being pushed away; his crush was still as a ragdoll, whispering a Madness Mantra under her breath.
Tsuwabuki noticed that, despite Kikukawa-sempai's lack of physical strength, she seemed quite adept at what she was doing, skill-wise. She just lacked the physical power to do it properly. Derflinger seemed to have noticed it as well, lying a few steps away from the first hole the meganekko was digging into diligently. "Hey, little sister, where did you learn how to dig a grave like that?"
"At my job as a Student Council Assistant," Yukino blandly said, not looking at the sword.
Tsuwabuki blinked. "Wow. A-And I thought the Ohtori Student Council had a lot of authority!"
"What…? Oh, no!" Yukino protested. "I mean, sometimes we had to bury the pets of the school sports teams and clubs when it was their time! That's all!"
"Don't you have slaves to do that for you?" Motsu asked her. "In a good way?"
"No, we don't have slaves in our academies," Yukino denied softly. "And Haruka-chan has always told me, if you want something done, don't delegate it and do it yourself. Even so, she always helped me. I miss her cooperation here…"
"Who's Haruka-chan?" Derflinger questioned.
"My best friend. She's always been my role model, and she's also the Student Council Vice-president. I know she's going to worry a lot about me…"
"I feel better now," Hikaru offered. "I'll help you!"
"No!" Yukino explained. "Keep resting, Shidou-san! I s-swear I can do this myself!"
Three hours later:
The still-wounded Kirara had sat down next to Presea's carpet-wrapped body, howling and meowing in deep distress and pain. Another, taller body was unceremoniously wrapped and dropped aside.
"Now?" Hikaru asked yet again.
"I'm almost done!" the sempai protested, still at midpoint of the first hole. "You stay seated there, please!"
By now, the day was just hot enough Yukino had sweat to the point of taking her overshirt off, leaving only her bra and the light, thin undershirt on her. Tsuwabuki, feeling quite uncomfortable with that, had resorted to look aside for the most part.
Another hour later:
"Now?" Hikaru asked once more.
"My answer's still no!" Yukino barked, although quite pathetically and covered by so much sweat it made her undershirt stick, wet, to her skin. Tsuwabuki's neck had started aching by now, making him wonder when he could look ahead again.
Half an hour later:
"Sorry, but aren't y—" Hikaru asked again.
A fully spent Yukino, collapsed on the dirt, just extended one of the shovels for her.
Hikaru accepted it gracefully.
Name's the Same:
"I have gathered you all here," Haruna began, with the utmost gravity and aplomb, sitting at the head of the table, "to discuss a matter of the greatest importance."
"Hmm, shouldn't we wait for Erebus-san and Ala Alba before starting, then?" Negi asked.
Haruna shook her head and rapped her knuckles on the table. "No! Why would we? We already have Erebus-kun and Ala Alba right here!"
Everyone looked in several directions for a few moments before Asuna said, "But from what Nee-chan told me, they needed their Natsumi to become invis—"
"B-A-K-A!" Haruna shouted. "That's our Erebus-kun-in-the-making!" She pointed at Negi. "And we're Ala Alba! Actually, that's what we're here to discuss. We need to make clear if we're going to name ourselves after our forbearers or pick a new name for our band of adventurers!"
"That's correct!" Chamo said, perched on Haruna's right shoulder.
"Being a librarian, you should really know that word doesn't mean what you think it does," Chisame deadpanned.
"Give me a break, there's no single word that exactly describes what they are to us," Haruna replied. "Anyway, folks, this is important! We can't go around saving the world without a proper title! We can't let people call us something lame like 'Negi's Girls' or anything like that! We need a catchy and edgy name, although I'm not sure 'Ala Alba' is radical enough for us. Maybe something sexier, hotter, bolder…"
"I was all behind you at the 'We can't go around saving the world' part, but then you had to continue…" Misora sighed.
"Seconded," Chisame nodded.
"You only want to upscene Deathnote, don't you?" Haruka accused.
"You mean 'upstage'," Setsuna told her.
"How about 'The Red Squadron of Asskicking'?" Asuna asked, making everyone cringe.
"Denied!" Ayaka said.
"What? Why?-! Don't go around deciding that all by y—"
"DENIED!" everyone else, even down to Negi and Nodoka, repeated.
Asuna dropped down. "Et tu, Konoka…"
Ayaka blinked. "Asuna-san! I'm shocked you even know the context of that phrase! Have you been listening in class?"
"Actually, she learned it from playing 'Roman Kombat'," Konoka said before patting Asuna's back. "Come on, Asuna-chan! It's just 'Ala Alba' is such a cool name! It means 'White Wing', and since Setchan has such gorgeous white wings, she can work perfectly fine as our mascot!"
Setsuna's face blanked. "I'm the mascot?-!"
"Why not 'The Danger Team'?" Yuuna asked. "Re-using a name someone already came up with is so lame!"
"The Angels of Justice!" Ayaka said.
"Negima Magical Squad!" Makie chirped.
"Megadeath from Above!" Kerberos said.
Everyone glared at him.
"What?" he said. "I think it sounds good!"
"Agency of Magical Combat Mahora!" Haruka said.
"Ala Alba!" Setsuna said, always quick to support Konoka's decisions even if she had to be the mascot.
"… The Avengers?" Sora mused, with a finger on her mouth. "Defenders? Outsiders, if we're going to work out of the public eye? The Ultimates, maybe?"
"You're all getting carried away with this!" Chisame despaired.
The girls all stared at each other for long tense moments before turning as one to…
"NEGI!" they said. "SAY SOMETHING!"
"Ala Rubra was the name of my father's team, wasn't it? Then, since stealing their name would be disrespectful, we'll just homage them by calling ourselves Ala Alba, just like Erebus-san did," he simply said. "That's all."
"But—!" several of them began to say.
"That's all," he repeated himself.
"All!" he repeated one final time, and it was clear it was, indeed, all.
The girls looked at him in a stupor just as Konoka placed herself behind him with a Saintly Smile©, Setsuna at her side.
For a moment, the others only gulped in unison, until Ayaka broke into laughter.
"Oh ho ho ho! Of course, Ala Alba it is! Excellent and wise decision, Negi-sensei!"
"Man, it took bringing his father into play for him to show some freaking authority already…" Chisame muttered.
Misa bit her lower lip. "He's so hot when showing unshakable domination…!"
"It's because we can't say 'Asskicking' in public, isn't it?" Asuna complained.
The Waking Dread.
Sakura Mei napped on her chair, sitting next to the bed of the strange girl they had rescued from the water earlier that day. Just in case, she had her broom on her lap; the sailors and the ship's nurse had looked oddly at her when she insisted on having a broom with her, but for mages, it often was useful to be seen as mere eccentric or harmless crazies. And so, now she was there, doing her best to carry on the task Takane had assigned her.
Well, more or less. She only was human, after all.
The girl on the bed also slept, although far more uneasily. Her nose twitched at times, and she kicked around regularly, until her right arm rose, her fingers stretching as if trying to reach for something, with urgency and exasperation.
The giant sword on the storage room two doors away trembled.
Moments later, it flew through the door, across the narrow corridor, and then through the infirmary's door, crashing violently, startling Mei awake, and finding its way through the air and into the unconscious stranger's hand. This was rather considerate of it, since it could very well have just gone trough the walls in a straight path. Her small fingers tightened around the massive handle as if they were made of steel, gripping it fiercely, possessively.
The odd girl's shiny eyes flew open.
Several more doors away, Tokiha Mai was getting ready to call it a night. Anthy was taking a bath, and since she spent so long while cleaning herself, if Mai hurried up, maybe she'd be asleep before Anthy returned and started calling her 'my prince'. That just had to stop, especially now that Archer-san was with them. Mai couldn't help wondering where was he now. She hadn't seen him all day long. Wait, Anthy had said he could spend part of his time in an invisible spirit form, so what if he was in the room with her now, watching her as she got into bed? GAHHHH!
Sitting alone on the ship's deck, Archer enjoyed the peace and serenity of the night. Until he saw a speed boat approaching from the south, heading straight towards the much larger ship with no signs of wanting to stop.
"Ah," he told himself. "There go the peace and serenity of the night."
He made a subtle smile.
Below, Mai shook her head while sitting down on her bed. No, she couldn't believe Archer-san was that kind of guy. While he acted somewhat strange and far too aloof, he seemed chivalrous enough, and more distant and dryly sarcastic than most lechers and perverts she had met. Besides, in her experience, most hunky and really hot guys always turned out to be gay.
To calm her nerves down, she followed the Bruce Wayne method of coping with anxiety and pulled out an old family picture, taken back when she and Takumi were only children. She smiled sadly, seeing how happy and full of life their parents were then. The four of them were at the beach, their mother proudly showing her pregnancy. It had been only a few weeks before…
Mai set the picture aside, wiping her eyes. Well, now she didn't feel nervous over being watched, but depressed as hell. Mission accomplished.
Then she saw the small white box on her nightstand, and recognized it immediately. Her brother had left it there earlier, when he was visiting her and Anthy.
"Oh, sheesh, Takumi…" Mai grumbled. "Don't tell me you forgot to take them this afternoon, too…"
Opening it, she saw, indeed, all the pills were there, untouched. She couldn't help feeling really angry.
"You little idiot… Can't you see you really need this…?"
Grumbling to herself, Mai dressed back up and stormed out after leaving a note for Anthy, medicine firmly in hand, stomping down the narrow lonely corridors. Takumi was sure going to hear a good piece of her mind now…
Interlude: Trial by Temptation.
The hideout was terribly, terrifyingly even, still and quiet as Joker, Harley and Ivy sat around the table with a confidently smiling Temptress sitting across them and Quartum standing behind them with folded arms and a bored expression. The petite Servant sat with her microskirted legs crossed in a way that would have carried a lot more sensual punch if she hadn't been sitting on top of some books placed on the chair to make up for her short height.
Still, something in Temptress compelled Harley to keep her eyes fixed. Harley told herself it had to be because she considered the mouthy smartass kid a likely competitor. She had been in Japan long enough to know people here were plain weird with their fetishes and stuff. She wasn't thinking of how Temptress had such nice and cute white thighs, or how even Ivy herself was staring at them either, even if more discreetly. Nooooo, sir.
As a matter of fact, Temptress noticed as she talked, Joker seemed to be the only one completely unfazed, bored even, by her charm and subtle persuasion as she spoke. If he was unimpressed by her, however, the feeling was most definitely mutual. Still, she would need his help in the near-future, so she was all sugar and spice as she talked, with a musical tingle in her words.
"So, that is my only condition to work with you," she said, making sure to move her eyelashes at the right rhythm to be charming without overdoing it. "I can do anything that Ruri-Ruri can do and much better, so just let her stay back. I will take over the duties she'sben performing, and more."
Joker rested his hands under his chin and hummed philosophically. "I don't know, Toots. Ruri-Ruri is, in showbiz terms, a proven hot commodity. We're very satisfied with her performance so far, and our public surveys show our audiences love her! You, on the other hand, are an untested risk, and you could bring us problems with overzealous parent groups. I can take on Batman, Superman and Spider-Man just fine, but soccer moms? Some evils are just too great for me! Besides, Quarty hs no UST with you! We'd have to start all over again!"
"I don't have sexual tension with her/him!" the two cried. No one paid any attention. Ruri and Quartum exchanged a look that said, for all they despised one another, they will credit the other, at least, with at least taking these stupid suggestions of attraction as utterly idiotic.
Temptress smiled. "Cute. Oh, so cute, Joker-kun! But you already saw what I did at the lake. I'm a real cyberfairy! I'm magic given life. I can alter probabilities with a few taps of my fingers on my keyboards, and that isn't even going into my actual hacking skills yet. I've gathered and assimilated the hacking abilities not only of Ruri, but also of every other master hacker of this era. Ruri-Ruri is good, but I can surpass her easily. With my services at your disposal, there is no system in this world you couldn't have access to."
Harley's eyes went wide enough to look like they were about to take over half of her face. She looked back at her estranged beau's face, hoping to see a gorgeous demonic smile there, and his eyes glinting with perverse glee and anticipation.
Instead, he only looked aloof and bored. Harley frowned, unsure of what to think about it. She didn't like when she couldn't read him. It usually meant he was going through one of his personality shifts, and that always ended up badly for her. She had the scars under her clothes from his 'why so serious?' phase to prove it.
"And what," Joker asked, "do you get out of it in trade, Cutie-Pie? Hmmmmmmm?"
"Powerful as I am," Temptress admitted, "I am one of the physically weakest Servants. My talents aren't for direct combat." She kicked her small feet around like a petulant child. The effect was terribly adorable. Even Quartum shifted around uncomfortably. But Joker still wasn't smiling. "In a Grail War, I would be an easy target, and so would my Master. But your Averruncus boy-meat is strong and fast enough to protect us from most Servants this side of the Fourth Archer. That's all I'm asking for. Protection and safety for my Master and me until we've won the Grail War."
And she looked up at them with the most endearingly lovely puppy eyes ever seen. Harley felt an irresistible desire to protect and pamper that supernaturally appealing creature, that angel. Even Ivy seemed somewhat taken aback, as she had been that time she looked after those orphans in Robinson Park.
Joker still frowned. "Why so protective of the little pipsqueak?"
"She's an innocent," Temptress said. "Despite how badly life has treated her since her first day, despite all the time spent with you, even, she is still innocent. I want her hands to be stained with as little blood as possible."
"Oh, but why? Washing your hands with blood is so much fun!" Joker sighed. "It's all natural too, with no nasty side effects but the occasional ramping up of your mania! HYA-HA!"
Temptress pouted. "Because I want it!"
Joker looked at the others. "See? That's the kind of attitude needed to get far in showbiz!"
And he offered Temptress a hand. "Shake 'em, Tina Margarina! You've gotten yourself your first ever deal that doesn't involve shady immoral backdoors activity!"
"At least, I should hope so," Harley snarked.
Temptress smiled in a good-natured way, rather than a sultry one. "Oh, normally, I prefer sealing my deals with kisses, but in this case, I'll gladly make an exception. The pleasure is all yours, I'm sure!"
And as she shook the offered hand, the electricity from the hand buzzer flowed back from it and into Joker himself, rattling him for a moment with a blood curling scream, before he fell from his chair and on the floor, smoking slightly and his hair stickingout everywhere.
"PUDDIN'!" a terrified Harley shrieked.
Dazed, he only waved with a hand for her and Quartum to be quiet. "Come on, come on, I'm fine and healthy and… well, not exactly well, but you get my drift…" He grinned maniacally at Temptress. "Nice trick there, Missy!"
The Servant shrugged. "I told you. Cyber-fairy. I can reroute electricity easier than I draw breath. I could have killed you there, had I wanted, you know."
Joker dusted himself off as he worked back to his feet. "You'd be shocked at how many times I've survived electrocution. Get it? Shocked? I think I may need a nap. I'm not feeling too well."
Ivy patted Temptress' head fondly. She was growing to actually like the little bitch. She felt a kindred spirit there. "Now, seriously," she whispered to her. "Why to shield her so much? Can't you get yourself another Master?"
"Oh, very easily," Temptress replied in the same tone. "But, you know… I, too, was innocent once."
Her smile was just a wee bit sad now.
Tales from Mundus Magicus: Eulogy
Between Tsuwabuki, Hikaru and Yukino, it took them a couple of hours to dig both graves since Nanami still wasn't up for it at all, being too submerged into her despair. Then, on top of it, they had to get the bodies down, and then shovel enough dirt on them to make a decent burial. At that point Hikaru had the bright idea of suggesting maybe they shouldn't have buried Presea-san next to the woman who killed her, but her proposal of digging Presea's body out and giving it proper burial elsewhere was met with a healthy dry 'Sorry but Hell No!' from Yukino and Tsuwabuki.
Every step of the proccess, Yukino would look at her WWHD bracelet and ask herself "What Would Haruka-chan Do?" and act accordingly. So, after the burial itself was done, she arranged Hikaru, Motsu, Shichimi, Derflinger, Tsuwabuki and a mostly catatonic Nanami before the makeshit graves and attempted to perform a funeral service of sorts. "Ah… A-Ahem," she coughed shyly. "M-Maybe someone would l-like to say a few honors? S-Someone who k-knew the… well, t-the sadly late Presea-sama?"
"I have something I would like to say-nya," Shichimi answered.
Yukino nodded and stepped aside silently.
Shichimi moved forward to take her place before the audience, sat there in silence for a few moments, then said, "She already was dead-nya. So I couldn't save her like I did with Complainer-san-nya."
They waited for the rest of the speech.
It didn't come.
Yukino coughed again and whispered. "Don't you have anything to say about how she was in life…?"
"Oh, yes," Shichimi nodded before saying, "Lady Presea was a nice person-nya."
That was it.
Everyone stared at her.
Shichimi blinked adorably. "Nya?"
Even Motsu had to facepalm.
Fighting the straining urge to kick something, prefferably Shichimi, very hard, Yukino asked tensely, "Someone else…?"
"I would like to give my respects, please," Derflinger said in a serious tone.
Again, Yukino nodded and stepped aside. Tsuwabuki carried the sword to the foreground and left it there. It said, "I have had very few chances to know people out of battlefields. My whole existence has been marked by bloodshed and conflict. You are young, and it's clear this is your first close contact with death. I'm actually saddened you were dragged into this, then. I, too, would prefer if things had been different. Both in what happened to you, and in what has just happened to Lady Presea."
"In her own way, she also lived for war, but she never let that darken her soul, as may be the case with me. She always valued the human spirit and believed in the best in all of us. She lived guided by faith, the faith her creations would, in the final overall balance, make an actual positive difference for this world's sake. Her whole life was defined by that ideal. That's why she placed her faith in you, and why I'm sure she kept thinking that to her last breath. She knew sometimes her weapons would be put to bad use, but she found the difficult balance, never letting that discourage her or make her callous. She kept on struggling and working. I never saw her taking a free day except to visit Castle Anthrax with her sister, and yet, while working, she always had a smile."
"You only knew her, sadly, for less than a day, but I'm sure those hours have already made your lives richer. Maybe not better, but definitely richer. I know she did that for me, and I'll miss her every day until I'm melted or shattered. Many treated me as a weapon, but she was one of a small handful of friends."
"There are two things we need to be happy and realized. The ability to cope with the results of our decisions, and the ability to cope with things we had no power over. Some have the former. Some, the latter. Most of us don't have either. But Presea had them both. She decided early on a path, an often difficult one, and stuck to it with determination and courage, never looking back. Her life may have been short, but it was noble and devoted to what she loved. And I can say there's no better way to live. So even if I could, I wouldn't cry for my friend today. Even if what passes for my heart would like to cry, not for her, but for how our world isn't as bright anymore."
Hikaru, Yukino, Tsuwabuki and Motsu began clapping slowly.
"That was… so beautiful, Derflinger-san!" Hikaru sobbed.
"Very sad, but in a good way," Motsu agreed.
"Very well put," the pale-skinned brunette with the ankh and the top hat nodded.
"Thank you," the weapon said, and he'd have bowed if he could. "I'm not as mighty at it as The Pen, but I'll keep trying my best, too."
The captain of the ship was an old man with a bushy white moustache and a beer belly. The Japan-born son of German immigrants, he had held a post as a Captain in the JSSDF for three decades before retiring to the much more sedate life of a cruise captain recently. At least, it had been a sedate life until now.
"Sir, we have a speed boat on a collision course from the southwest!" his young first mate was telling him urgently. "It just appeared from nowhere out of the fog!"
The older man clenched his teeth, looking at the quickly approaching smaller boat. "What is that idiot thinking? Initiate emergency evasive maneuvers, NOW!"
Masterfully, the speed boat took a sharp turn at the last minute and then someone leapt out of it, a figure wrapped in a thick and encompassing brown cloak and hood. They jumped so high it became an elegant silhouette against the pale disc of the moon for a moment, before landing on their booted feet on the deck, quickly moving before men could be sent to intercept them. As the smaller boat retreated into the darkness with as much speed as it had used to arrive, the intruder ran in a zig-zagging route to confuse any pursuers. A resolute fierce spark shone in their green eyes.
Meanwhile, in the cabin where Sakura Mei had been watching over the nearly drowned girl, the young Ministra stood with her broom in her hands, trying to block the way out for the revived stranger, who stood on her bed wearing only a robe and panties. And, of course, holding a gigantic sword in one hand, as if it weighed no more than a toothpick. Not to mention staring at Mei in a slightly deranged way, complete with head lightly tilted aside.
"Get b-back down, please!" Mei said, gesturing down, over and over. "You still a-aren't in any shape to be up!"
Wordlessly, the girl swung the sword up and down as if to prove she, indeed, was in perfect physical condition.
"O-Okay, maybe you're feeling strong, but you should be checked by a doctor first!" the Mahora Student said. "You never know how—!"
The mysterious stranger produced a loud hiss not unlike that of an extremely angry cat. She made as if to attack with her sword.
"Oh, what the heck…" Mei sighed, really thinking she should have skipped trying to reason, and just contacted Takane while she'd had the chance. "Maple Naple À La Mode!"
Somehow, the other girl seemed to notice the sudden surge of magical energy, and she leapt towards Mei, blade first. Gasping, the young mage reacted instinctively and cast.
Using big fireballs in closed-spaces was very dangerous, so she shot a small one, meant only to stun. But the catlike girl merely swung her giant sword down and cleaved through the fireball like you would cut through hot butter. Gulping in terror, Mei backed two steps away, and her attacker kicked her in the face, hard. The weird girl's white underwear was the last thing Mei saw before sinking into blissful unawareness.
Tales from Mundus Magicus: Take Me To Your Leader.
"I don't like this at all," Shidou Hikaru muttered sadly as she gathered the weapons Kikukawa Yukino was handing her over after some careful consideration in her arms, picking those that were light and easy to carry around, and leaving the rest behind. "Presea-san sacrificed her life for us, and now we're pillaging her arsenal before leaving forever. It just isn't right…"
"Well," Yukino sighed just as sadly, "It can't be helped, can it? We have no way to call any of Presea-san's friends or family, and we don't know who could be friend or foe in this strange world. We must be ready for anything, and you're the only one who can cast magic, so…"
"Presea won't have any use for those weapons anymore-nya," Shichimi said, sitting on Hikaru's head and wagging her tail. Had not she been a cute small animal, Hikaru would have scolded her for the somewhat impersonal tone she was using. "And she'd have given you all those weapons gladly if she had thought you needed them. Everything she did, she did it for good people's sake-nya!"
"I suppose that's right…" Hikaru sighed. "When do you think Nanami-san will snap out of it? I'm worried about her. She hasn't said a word since… well, the funeral. She just sits there with those eyes, hugging her legs and ignoring us…"
"If she won't move by morning, we'll just carry her around too," Yukino decided. As Haruka often told her, you leave no one behind in times of crisis.
"Still, I was thinking maybe we should be more active in cheering her up," Hikaru said.
"You and Tsuwabuki-kun have already tried and failed, haven't you?" asked Yukino.
"Well, yes, but, maybe, if you do it too…"
The girl with glasses sighed. "Sorry, but I've never been good with people. And I think Kiryuu-san dislikes me a lot."
"Don't be that way. She seems to dislike everyone-nya," Shichimi countered.
Hikaru frowned. "That was mean, Shichimi-san. Yukino-san, if I'm turning to you it's because you're our leader. You need to help pull the team together…"
Yukino gave her a horrified look. "The leader?-! Me?-!"
Hikaru just nodded. "Yep. Nanami-san can't lead around like this, I'm too dumb, Tsuwabuki-kun is only a child, Derflinger-san is a sword, and… well…"
"Motsu can lead us!" Shichimi proposed. "It's what he always does with me-nya!"
Yukino cringed just a bit. "Thanks for the offer, Shichimi-san, but…"
"You're a member of your Student Council, aren't you, Yukino-san?" Hikaru pressed her. "You have the experience! Please teach us the way!"
"But… But I only was the secretary! Haruka-chan and Fujino-sempai were the ones taking all the decisions, and…! And…!"
Then she remembered Haruka's words of support to her before their trip. "You can make it on your own, Yukino-chan! I trust you to be your own woman, because you are far more competentional than you realize! Someday, after we defeat Bubuzuke Woman and I take over the Presidency, you'll be my successor after my retirementation! So stand tall and proud! With your chin high! Higher than that! Yes, like that! You will be a magnificentamonius leader someday, I'm sure of that!"
Now, Yukino forced herself to smile and nod. "Okay. I'll do it then, Shidou-san! We must be ready to heed the call of duty whenever it shouts for us! I won't disappoint you and the others!"
"That's good to know, thanks…" the redhead nodded, "But why are you holding your chin so high all of a sudden?"
"I think she has just spotted something in the ceiling-nya," Shichimi opined.
Takane D. Goodman had been preparing herself for a few hours of sleep before taking over Mei's watch over the bed of the mysterious girl they had found in the water. She carefully tucked her hair and pride under a protective nightcap, covered her sensitive eyes with a black sleeping mask, and tucked herself under the covers with a satisfied sigh.
It had been a wonderful class trip! Uneventful, relaxing, and best of it all, she hadn't been stripped in public even once all week long! She felt so good that she quickly fell into a soothing, comforting dream of being pampered by a whole squadrom of Ministra at her complete beck and call…
… which lasted three minutes until they knocked on her door.
"WHAT!" she cried, throwing the door open to find a sopping wet and haunted looking Itoshiki-sensei standing there, looking terrifyingly creepy under the moonlight. She didn't care one iota. "And why do you have algae on your head!-?"
"I was trying to drown myself when I got the news, Takane-kun," he said, sounding as haunting as he looked. She still wasn't impressed at all. "It seems we have an intruder on the boat."
Takane's glare grew fiercer. "Oh, yes?"
"Indeed. Furthermore, the young stranger and her sword have disappeared, and Mei-kun was found unconscious…"
Walking down a side corridor of the ship, Tokiha Mai hummed to herself to keep herself calm as she headed towards Takumi's room, bringing him his medicine. Being alone in the dark, lit only by the faint moonlight, felt somewhat disturbing and unnerving, so much she was even starting to wish for Archer-san's company, but she kept on telling herself she was being silly since the ship was full of nothing but students, respected teachers, and professional crewmen. And in any case, once she arrived at Takumi's, maybe she could stay there to sleep with him. She was sure he wouldn't mind. As a matter of fact, he always had loved sleeping with her…
… On second thought, perhaps she shouldn't do that anymore. She was starting to suspect Takumi-kun might have been developing some sort of compl—
Then someone held her firmly from behind. Mai felt large breasts pressed against her back, and a stern female voice hissed in her ear, "Where is she?-!"
"W-WHO?-! W-WHAT?-!" A startled Mai tried instinctively to kick free, but the woman grabbing her was surprisingly strong. Mai tried to get a good view of who she was, but the hood she was wearing hid most of her face save her green eyes and a stray loose lock of bright red hair. "Who the hell are you! Help! I'm being—!"
The woman pressed a hand over Mai's mouth, twisting her arms behind her with the other. "The girl you pulled from the water today! Where did you take her…?"
"I'm here," a small, flat voice came from the corridor's end.
Mai and her captor looked to where the strange, short girl, her feet bare and half-naked, stood staring at the taller woman with a dry, scowling expression. "You again," she said. "Why do you chase me around?"
"I told you last time!" the hooded woman said, pushing Mai aside. "You mustn't go to Mahora! You won't find what you're looking for there! You're being used!"
"Ani-ue is in Mahora. So Mikoto will be in Mahora too," the short girl monotoned, lifting the mammoth sword and readying it for a strike. "Why are you an obstacle in Mikoto's way? Obstacles are for killing."
Somewhere in Nerima, Shampoo sneezed loudly.
Tales from Mundus Magicus: Farewell
"Please, Nanami-sama…" Tsuwabuki was still begging her on his knees as his crush just sat in silence, rocking back and forth softly at his side. The blond boy sighed yet again. "I'm the only one at fault here. If I had been as strong and skilled as your big brother, none of this would have happened. So please, take it out on me!" he pleaded. "Hit me! Kick me! Spit on me! Punish me in any way, except with your indifference, Nanami-samaaaa!"
"You have issues, kid," Derflinger told him. The sword was resting just a few steps to his right, next to where Motsu was eating a few oranges. "As for you girl, just snap out of it already! I've been soft on you so far, but that's enough already! Get over it! The world doesn't end because you've killed an enemy to save a friend! If anything, you've just saved the whole world for your friend!"
"They aren't friends. In a good way," Motsu said before scratching his head. "Wait, is there a good way to not be friends? I think I'm confused now…"
"Derflinger-sama is right, Nanami-sama," Tsuwabuki tried convincing her. "Through your brave actions, you haven't taken a life, but saved one. Please look at it that way! Moreso, if you hadn't done that, all of us would have died! You've saved us all, you don't have anything to be ashamed of!"
She only looked at her hands in eerie silence.
"Please," the boy rested his forehead on one of her knees. "I know my opinions, and even my life, aren't worth anything, but do it for yourself. Don't do this!"
"You're only doing this to call attention on yourself, aren't you?" Derflinger said. "I'll bet you're the typical Noblewoman who thinks everything is about you, so you have to freak out and break down after showing strength, so people don't catch on you're better than you let on, and you can continue depending on them. That's the worst kind of weakness! You'll never return to your world that way!"
"Derflinger-sama!" Tsuwabuki hissed.
"It's true!" the weapon barked. "To survive here, you'll need to become warriors! If you don't want to, you've lost! In more ways than one! Don't wallow in self-pity thinking that'll help you! I haven't ever met anyone that worked for!"
"Derflinger-sama, she's suffering!" Mitsuru argued.
"So am I," Motsu sighed. "I just ran out of oranges."
"Suffering? None of you has seen suffering yet, boy! Wait until you wander into your first battlefield! If you can't handle this, that will snap you like chicken bones! You'd better get used to the idea the time for games is over!"
"Derflinger-san, Tsuwabuki-kun, please," Yukino said softly as she stepped out of the house followed by Hikaru, Shichimi, and a limping tiny Kirara. Both girls were loaded with provisions and spare weapons. "Tis is not the time for arguing. Let's honor this place with a respectful departure." She handed Tsuwabuki part of her load. "You will carry this," and she placed another part of it at Nanami's feet, "And this will be your share. Now please stand up. We have no time to waste."
Nanami looked up at her with cold dead eyes.
Yukino sighed and gathered as much breath as she could. Once again, she looked at her bracelet and asked herself What Would Haruka-chan Do.
Haruka-chan. To be reunited with her, Yukino would do anything. Cross any river or sea, face any enemy, endure any humiliation. Even exerting authority.
She slowly stepped behind Nanami, inhaled, and then kicked her firmly in the rear, much to Hikaru and Tsuwabuki's shock.
"Get up already!" Yukino said, in a tone copied with Haruka, even tossing some of her mannerisms in. She had a lot of observations on the subject. "We'll carry you with us, even if you don't move, because we believe in duty and never leaving one of us behind, but is that what you want, huh? After telling us so much about that strong and proud big brother, are you going to act like a spoilered child? What would he think if he saw you like that? This is why I can't stand protenders with complixities! Do you think you're Kami's gift to the world, so naturality, when things don't go your way, you break down, uncapable of inderstanding why Heavens aren't spoimpering you anymore! Well, we're having nonething of that! Start pulling your weight around, load! Even though we're thank-full for what you—"
"Quiet," Nanami hissed, standing up as she picked up her share. "You're giving me a headache."
And she turned away from them, waiting.
A stunned Tsuwabuki was blinking. "N-Nanami-sama…!"
Hikaru looked at Kikukawa's face. "Yukino-san…? Why…?"
"What did you do to those poor, poor, innocent words…?" Motsu cried, aghast as tears streamed down his face..
The shy schoolgirl blushed. "S-Sorry. I didn't want to insult you, Kiryuu-san, but you weren't answering, I didn't know what else to do, and I thought of something, and my friend Haruka-chan just kind of… t-took over me…"
"Your friend is a ghost?" Hikaru asked.
"Noisy bugs," Nanami began walking away, talking with a strange ,tired voice. "We're going to that woman's twin's house, aren't we?"
"Ah, ah, yes, Clef-sama mentioned her…" Yukino nodded.
"Do you know the way there, Kirara-chan?" Hikaru asked. After a nod and a meow, the small furry creature grew to her full size.
Nanami stopped, looked back at them, and frowned.
Yukino spoke what she thought was in Nanami's mind too. "Are you sure you can carry all of us, carrying all of this, and after you were wounded, Kirara-san?"
Kirara made a few gruff sounds Hikaru translated as "I think she's saying she can, yeah!"
Tsuwabuki didn't bother to explain he had memorized Clef's indications on how NOT to get there (since the diminutive old man had mentioned it was very near a nudist colony). As it looked like their mount apparently knew the way there, somehow…
"Then let's go," Nanami said, dry and detached. She picked Derflinger up, added him to what she was already carrying, and leaped dramatically on Kirara's back.
She slipped up there and fell on her face at the other side of the beast.
"Idiot," Derflinger told her.
"Shut up," she said back.
Yukino looked up at the skies and sighed. Please wait for me, Haruka-chan. I'm coming…
"In a good way!" Motsu nodded firmly.
"Who are you talking about and why-nya?" Shichimi asked him.
Ship of Fools
"Wait, no! Don't fight! Don't fight!" Tokiha Mai cried out, trying to stand both as far from the fight as possible and close enough to clam the two weirdos down, waving her arms around. It worked as well as you'd expect.
En alguna otra parte, Emiya Shirou estornudo.
A giant labrys appeared in the hands of the hooded woman as she backed away far from a sword slash of the braided girl. And then the older girl began singing aloud without a care in the world while ramming ahead. "Aozora ippai ni. Watashi-tachi no omoi ga chiribame rarete iku...!"
The labrys and the just as huge sword clashed against each other, in a grandiose way that sent shockwaves and sparks everywhere. the deck under Mai's feet quaked and she lost balance, just as a random flying spark hit her hair and burnt the tips of several of her strands. She was falling on her back when she felt a pair of powerful arms encircling and holding her before she could hit the deck. Blinking, she stared at the confidently smiling face of her benefactor. "Archer-san!"
"Not even at Mahora yet, and your life's already endangered..." he shook his head, faintly amused. "Really, at this rate you won't even make it to mid-terms..."
She disentangled herself quickly, while both strangers kept on pushing against each other, snarling vigorously. The smaller one was quickly gaining a clear edge, pushing her adversary back. "T-Thank you, Archer-san, but this is no time for jokes! We have to separate those two before they kill each other!"
"I was unaware I was joking," he said, hands on his hips as if the whole ship wasn't trembling around them, "And what it is to you if they kill each other?" He casually caught the hooded female in mid-flight as the smaller girl tossed her back like a ragdoll, before she could splatter against a wall. Taking a quick peek inside of the hood, he hummed. "Although I guess it would be kind of a waste, in this one's case..."
"GEH!" the mystery woman slapped his prying hand away, swinging her labrys threateningly. "Don't get touchy, Romeo!" Then, seeing how the petite girl was charging at them to Mai's gulping horror, she easily blocked her rampage with her own weapon, holding her straining ground against her. "Go! Run away, you idiots!"
"But-But she might kill you!" Mai protested.
There was a tingle of perfect white teeth in a grin under the hood's shadows. "Who, me? Nonsense! I'm too cool a character to be killed off in the first episode!"
"Hate breaking your bubble, but we're in Chapter 47 already," Archer said, beginning to push Mai away from the struggle.
"Archer-san, separate them, please!" Mai asked. "They're going to take the whole boat down!"
"Don't be so paranoid, Mai-san," he chided her. "These are, after all, human beings. Stupidly powerful as they are, with emphasis on 'stupid', it's not like they are Servants, and—"
The deck section under the two combatants collapsed from the sheer pressure of their standstill, and the whole area of the corridor crumbled down; Mai fell with another scream as there was no floor below her anymore. Archer easily caught her again during the fall, as the two strangers kept slashing at each other even while falling. The Servant pondered, "Hmmm. Well, I should have known better than this, I suppose..." Then he shrugged without batting an eye, as he landed on his feet down into what seemed to be a grimly dark and huge storage room, securing Mai against himself to shield her from the blunt of the impact.
After hitting the floor with twin thuds, both fighters shook themselves off and began trying to chop each other down again.
"Do something!" Mai told Anthy's magical boytoy/bodyguard/whatever he truly was. "They way those two are going, they'll sink the ship in no time!"
"What a bother," he grunted. "This has nothing to do with the Grail War, so why should I care?" He looked aside while Mai fumed.
"Don't give me that crap!" the orange haired girl shouted. "Don't you even care about what happens to Anthy-chan?"
"Well, all I'd need is going to her, taking her to an escape boat, and leaving. As a matter of fact, I think I might do just that right now.."
"Hey, hey, no! Listen to me! Don't tell me you're a cowardly poser who only acts cool!" as she said that, the fight sent several boxes down, crashing into splinters and startling her.
Archer wasn't even fazed at all. "I have no reasons to obey your orders. I only recognize Himemiya Anthy as my Master, and believe me, I'm no foolish hero of justice. Give me one good reason why I should obey you."
"Fine, I'll give you two!" she smacked herself on the chest. "In the case you haven't learned it yet, nature dictates women lead and men follow, because boobs! And I have big ones, so I have a lot of authority! So there!"
Archer blinked. "What kind of desperate faulty logic is—"
He sighed, pulling two short blades out of his badass trenchcoat. "You realize this is just going to lead into a hilariously disastrous Let's You and Him Fight misunderstanding, don't you?"
"Very well..." he said, starting a dash against the black haired girl, who had subdued and pinned the woman against the floor, with a foot on her chest, and held the titan of a sword menacingly above her. Before either could reach their objective, however, a cry came from the level above them. Mai looked up to see a shapely girl she recognized from earlier that day, but now looking much more majestic, all in black and hovering down, standing on a large black humanoid figure with a featureless white mask. Her long golden hair trailed behind her, and her fists were balled up at her hips defiantly. Archer stopped in mid-spring with an annoyed grunt, really missing Rin for once.
"Foul evildoers, threatening the peace and safety of our passengers! You are under arrest in the name of the Mahora Paranormal Defense Commitee!" she said, and her voice filled the whole chamber. "Takane D. Goodman, THE APOSTLE OF JUSTICE, will make you pay for your sins!"
"What in the world," Mai said.
With an angry huff, the small girl with the giant blade jumped on the fallen woman's chest, using it as a trampoline of sorts to leap up at the newcomer, slashing at her. Mai was sure several laws of physics had just been shattered, but nonetheless rushed to the downed woman, pulling her hood off before she could stop her. "Are you okay?-! Hang on there, please! I..." she paused, seeing the beautiful face and bright red hair of the woman, "... wait, don't we know each other from somewhere?"
Bye Bye Kyoto!
And so, the trip finally came to its end. Minamoto Shizuna thanked the Heavens for it as she put on her best wide fake smile and addressed the classes gathered before her.
"Okay, everyone! We'll be arriving at Mahora Academy by lunchtime today! Did everyone have fun?"
A sea of young fists was pumped up all across the train station.
"YEEEEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHH!" the crowd roared.
"It feels like we're missing Horatio Caine saying a one-liner before that," Haruna mused.
"We were missing a lot of things during this trip," Yue sighed. "For starters, we lost what little normalcy we had left after Night One," she muttered to herself.
Nodoka, meanwhile, fumbled around in vain into her purse one last time, as if actually expecting to find The Create there. A frowning Kero, hanging from her neck like a plush ornament, only kept on brooding in angry silence.
Meanwhile, hanging at the back of the group, Chisame reluctantly put a hand on Negi's right shoulder. "I'm… I'm sorry," she whispered.
The boy blinked. "Huh? Why?"
She scowled and coughed, "W-Well, you know! Despite everything, we still have no idea where your father is, and that's why we came here in the first place!" she kept her voice as low as she could while still showing her exasperation.
He only smiled, however. "Don't blame yourself, Chisame-san. It's okay. I learned a lot about him, and I feel much closer to locating him now. And I couldn't have done it without all of you. Thank you. I'm forever indebted to you."
Frazzled, she looked aside. "D-Don't say that, moron. Many of us could take it the wrong way, should they hear you…"
"I demand easier tests from now on," Asuna said from behind them.
"A romantic strolling date every Sunday…!" Misa sighed before being pushed aside by Ayaka.
"Help finding the First District," Natsuki deadpanned.
"What's that? A red light district?" Haruka huffed. "Regardelessly, Sensei, you will support me in the next election for School Council President, won't you!"
"A sip of blood every night would be a reasonable payment for my services…" Evangeline hummed.
"GRAH!" Chisame yelled. "You guys were there?-!"
"Yes, always!" they said.
Matoi shook her fists at them. "That's my schtick and my catchprase, you disrespectful kouhai!"
"Will class 3-A please keep silent?-!" Nitta called out.
Shizuna rubbed her chin. "I don't remember Yukihiro-kun bringing a maid with her on our way here. Who's that pink-haired girl? And I don't recall the children with Nelly-san being this many. Since when has that blonde woman been a chaperone…?"
"The Headmaster authorized it all," Takahata and Seruhiko dryly chorused.
"… Very well, if you say so…" The busty woman then looked down at the short girl with black hair standing near Negi's bickering group, eating a whole bucket of lime ice-cream by voracious spoonfuls. "And you, Miss, would be…? Because I didn't have you in my list for the—"
With a sly smile, Skuld only gestured for her to look again. Frowning and eyeing the list once more, Shizuna blinked and whispered to herself. "Number Thirty Two? When…" She finally only shrugged. "Fine. I'm paid the same anyway…"
Had anyone in 3-A bothered to actually listen to her just this once, they could have saved themselves a real shock later on.
As it was, Skuld only smirked.
'Nelly' sighed as Shizuna walked away, going on to check the other classes. "That was close…" he muttered.
"Oh, come on, Sensei," an age-pilled other Chao said easily, wearing some of the clothes that had been bought for his 'disguise'. "It wasn't anywhere near that close. She didn't even bother asking who I was." She sighed in wistful regret. "And I had such a beautiful cover story prepared too…"
"I bet you did…" Usagi said sarcastically. She shook her head, still getting used to her hair looking as short as it had been when she'd used to be called Chibi-Usa. She sniffed and pointedly turned her back on Chibi-Chao, smiling broadly at Maga Alba. "So, how long have you and your girlfriend been going out?"
As Maga Alba and Konoka giggled and a pair of swordswomen choked on their own tongues and tried to interject denials, McDowell leaned back and smirked smugly at Evangeline, who was glaring at her in deeply-concealed resentment. The boobs were fake and they both knew it, but the important thing was she had them and the other vampire didn't.
Little Calculator stared morosely out the window, looking forward in the general direction of Mahora. All in all, she was once more reminded of how ignorance was bliss, as she hasn't enjoyed herself on this Kyoto trip nearly as much as she had the first time. Sora, sitting next to her and looking chaperone-ly, would occasionally ask her what was wrong, and seemed to ignore her rather terse replies that there was nothing wrong in favor of stroking her hair, fondly calling her Chiu-chan. She really should have put a stop to it. She really should have…
Once more, she considered how lucky the other Chisame was— a sister who obviously loved her, where she was an only child; a girl who was obviously devoted to her to a degree that rivaled Setsuna's love for Konoka; and, even if Calculator herself denied it, the obviously stronger bond with her Negi— and bitterly, wistfully considered old sayings about appreciating what you had, because there were other people less fortunate.
"I'm hungry," Makie said.
"Yeah!" Asuna said. "When do we eat?"
"I've got a little money on me.…" Chibi-Asuna said, pulling out some change. "Come on, imouto! My treat."
"All right!" Asuna crowed as the two magic cancellers headed for the vending machines. "Having a sister is awesome!"
"Yeah, it is," Kuro agreed, and for once left it at the G-rated comment.
Calculator could have kicked them. Instead she just strangled a sigh and leaned into Sora's hand, closing her eyes and pretending she had a big sister too…
Professor Nitta sighed while he and Shizuna made the rounds along the train car an hour later, checking on the students and teachers, especially 3-A. He rubbed a spot on his aching back with a hand and shook his head, looking over the students in their seats.
Kaede slept with Fuuka and Fumika napping on her lap, their heads comfortably stuck right under the tall girl's breasts. Nagase occasionally muttered something troubled and awkward about frogs, but other than that, she was as calm as ever. Shiina and Hakase were supported on each other, much like Lingshen and Yotsuba. Tatsumiya was sleeping with her arms folded and a tissue folded over her eyes, and next to her, tiny Zs escaped from Rainyday's head. Literally. Karakuri did not sleep, but she was in standby mode, with her eyes closed for a better appearance of humanity. Evangeline was on her lap, with her head cupped under the protective hand of the gynoid.
Yukihiro made strange sounds, ocassionally mumbling "Nggg snssss…" and pursing her lips. Kagurazaka, who for some reason had sat next to her, kept punching her aside even while sleeping. Oe of the gradeschoolers that had come with them— he still wasn't quite sure what that had all been about— dozed next to her, clutching a souvenir wooden sword as if she meant to guard her. He had to admit it was a pretty cute image. Across them, Konoe slept supported on an antsily resting Sakurazaki, whose eyebrows twitched at random in her doze. Their pose was mirrored by the two children next to them, though with slightly more drooling and nasal bubbles. The girl who rumor said was Sakurazaki's cousin— at least, that what he'd heard, and he supposed it kinda made sense they'd be traveling together, even if he still couldn't figure out why— clutched her own souvenir sword, muttering about protecting her oujo-sama. He was a bit unnerved at hearing such an orientation from one so young.
But then again, he'd heard stories from the grade school… like the Daidouji heiress… and that Poemi girl… and—
He decided not to think about it.
Saotome and Ku Fei slept quietly together, as did Miyazaki and Ayase. Akashi supported the weight of her resting body on Ookuchi's, while Sasaki was cuddling against Izumi. Asakura and Kasuga slept by themselves, with the latter hugging a trip bag and calling it, "K-k-nee chwaaaaan…"
Negi's cousin Nelly slept with her head on the lap of one of the other children, the green-haired one who bore a resemblance to Karakuri— who he didn't quite remember seeing on the way to Kyoto— with her other friends sprawled around her. It was quite cute. He was sort of reminded of a pile of sleeping kittens.
"The invincible Class 3-A, finally felled by exhaustion," Nitta mused, hands behind his back. "They must be getting old, since last year they returned wrecking havoc all the way."
"Hey, I'm still awake," Kugimiya Madoka said from where she was struggling with a crossword puzzle, but as usual, nobody paid her attention. Kakizaki slept with her head on the dark haired cheerleader's shoulder.
Shizuna chuckled, pointing in the direction of Negi, who slept snuggled against Hasegawa, who kept him under an arm while Tsunetsuki napped sitting at her feet, the older girl's head resting against Chisame's knee. "Even their teacher isn't so above it all, it seems."
Nitta shook his head again. "I keep thinking he's still too young for this job. Poor boy…"
Shizuna smiled with amusement. "They are very close, aren't they? Were they a little older, I'd worry for sure they've become a couple."
"A couple? Don't be nonsensical, Minamoto-sensei," the older man chided her. "They're becoming like siblings. That's all, and it's pretty obvious from how they act around each other."
Shizuna shook her head to herself. Men, always so oblivious…
Oh, well. It wasn't her business anyway, one way or another.
- To be continued…
A/N: Sorry, but I couldn't fit in the part where Rakan adopts a child here, on top of everything else! Next chapter, okay? You won't believe who is it!
Sailor V Says!
"Hello everyone! It's me, your old friend Sailor V-chan!"
"And I'm Ookuchi Akira, Sailor Mercury!"
"Dammit, Mercury! Haven't you learned anything through your class trip? Like, say, being more careful with your secret identity? Nice to see you back to Mahora, by the way."
"Oh, I'm really glad to be back. The trip was… exciting, but it's good to know I'm back at good old Mahora, where my life will finally return to some semblance of peace, quiet and comfort…"
(They look at each other for a long silent while, they break down laughing hysterically on each other's arms).
"(Chortle-Guffaw). No, really, Mercury-chan, tell the moral for the good children at home reading the M-Rated fanfic. What did you actually learn in Kyoto?"
"Oh, I learned many things. For starters, never trust anyone in Joker cosplay."
"Perfectly valid lesson."
"Also, if you're forced to work along with someone who is clearly unstable mentally, make sure of having a rational partner with you two at all times."
"Those are hard to find, but good point. Also?"
"If you hear strange and awkward grunts coming from the open air baths, you should ask from the outside before checking on them."
"Mana and Kaede said they only were wrestling, but all the same, that's something I won't be able to unsee."
"And the most important thing I learned: If you're fighting someone with a sword, cut loose!"
"That's a very un-Akira-chan thing to say. I'm impressed."
"I know. Although I assimilated Kuro-chan's lesson on the subject, and I'll do my best to avoid being skewered by Tsukuyomi-san if we ever meet again, I'm not sure if I'll be able to cut loose on her after all. She's still only a child…"
"Well, don't be so harsh on yourself. That's only a sign you have a tender and kind heart…"
"That's why I'll let you handle her if the Sailor Team ever runs into her!"
"I take that last statement back, Mercury!"
"HELLOO, STUDENTS! Like a Phoenix reborn from the ashes, I, Fujimura Taiga-sensei, return to FIGHT ON! With me, my loyal assistant Evangeline-chan!"
"And to think, in just two chapters, the Eizbern brat finally joins the cast to take this weight off my shoulders…"
"Today, we will be checking on what Negi-kun did right and wrong during his class trip! We'll run a checkup on all you need bringing for a safe trip to scenic Kyoto!"
"Why should I care? I'm always safe no matter where I go!"
"First! Always remember to bring your trusty, stronger alternate universe counterparts for your protection!"
"But what if you're stronger than your counterpart?"
"Second! Remember to report any monkey women, suspicious albinos and boys with dog tails to the local authorities as soon as you spot them!"
"Not like they'll be able to do anything, of course."
"Third! In case of Kaiju attacks, keep your calm! Exit the site orderly and always follow your teacher's orders!"
"Even when they aren't legally able to get drunk yet!"
"Fourth! If giant mutated fireflies start attacking your neighborhood or vacationing place, don't venture out alone into the night, unless you are properly accompanied by an officially sanctioned alien archeologist ferret and/or a robotic sentient war machine!"
"And fifth! Never accept marriage offers from unknown alien princesses, and above it all, never take hold of their tails or other parts of their lower anatomy!"
"The breasts, on the other hand, are fair play, but make sure to ask for permission beforehand."
"Now you know, students! And knowing is half the battle!"
"Not that it makes any difference when you're screwed even in the other half of that battle, but hey, it's always better losing knowing beforehand you'll fall. It helps you to prepare yourself psychologically."
"That's all for tonight! Be sure to catch our show again, next time in this same fanfiction!"
"And remember, always consume the local product! Better the Evangeline you know, after all!"
Omake: URAE The Dark Knight Rises
"I have DONE THE RESEARCH about you, Wayne," Bane said. "I have managed to track every trip you made all through the world during those missing years. I had to break many spines and shatter many throats, but it was well worth it. I learned everything there was to know about you, about your purpose, about what made you… Including those four years in that all-girls detective college at Mahora Academy. You were a member of the elite detective team Milky Holmes under the name of Anita West."
A beat. Wayne didn't even flinch.
"You know, I had to spend all those same years in a hellhole prison. Now you can understand why I would be so hateful of you and all you stand for…" Bane continued.
There was another long, tense silence between them.
"I lost my virginity to a lovely, huge-eyed Japanese dojikko and on the same day had a sixsome with her, her three friends, and the busty student council president. You?"
"A three-time killer named Axel, who— I'M GOING TO BREAK YOU, YOU BASTARD!"
As this isn't the movie, Bane got his ass kicked.
Unequally Rational and Emotional Q&A!
Today's Guest: Urashima Naru
A: I didn't punch that guy, no one saw me doing it, and even if I had done it, it possibly couldn't have killed him! I want my lawyer!
Q: … Excuse me, but… what?
A: Sorry. It tends to come out naturally by now, whenever I'm being questioned.
Q: … Okay. Mrs. Urashima, when did you first learn your foster sister was a mage?
A: It was shortly after Dad remarried. Mei-chan had brought this weird haughty girl home, a few years older than her, and then used to play around with wands, and for some reason, I always found them naked afterwards. I told myself it was no business of mine, and some girls start experimenting at that age, not me, mind, never listen to Kitsune's lies, so I left them alone. But one day after returning home from holidays after one of her school periods in America, Mei-chan called me aside and told me 'I'm a mage!'
Q: It must have been quite a shock for you.
A: At first I was convinced her friend Takane was getting her involved in drugs, but then Mei-chan showed me one of her fire spells. She messed it up, burned my clothes off, Keitaro walked in…
Q: And you punched him?
A: What a dumb question. Of course not! What kind of a woman do you think I am? I didn't punch him, because I had to cover myself with both hands! I headbutted him to stun him, and once he was nicely set for it, I kicked him into the next postal zone. Not kidding about that last part, by the way. I had to pay for his train fee.
Q: Oh, yes, about your marriage. What can you tell us about your new book The 1002 Secrets of a Successful Marriage through Physical Abuse?
A: I hate that title, but the editorial thought it'd be controversial and sell. I wanted to call it How to Dominate your Idiot and Guarantee Nuptial Bliss, but they said it sounded too sophisticated for the masses. That's why our culture just doesn't take off. Anyway, it's a book Keitaro and me put a lot of love and effort into. It was heartwarming, seeing how much enthusiasm he put on cooperating with the pictures for the instructions. And every image is poetry caught during motion. No one flies like him, not even Superman-sama. Here, you see how he moves his arms and legs in this one? Most gymnasts would kill for that grace!
Q: Your book has been called 'the Kamasutra of Domestic Violence'. Critic Tendo Akane gave it Five Stars until The Bitter End. It's popular even in Mundus Magicus, where the famous Louise la Valliere claimed it changed her life. How do you feel about touching so many lives?
A: It's simply heartwarming. It makes me so happy, going to bed every night knowing my teachings have gained so many adepts. I thank everyone who has bought the book, and sent me all those letters, twits and yes, even the bomb packages and the envelopes with anthrax. You fuckers know who you are. In truth, I owe it all to the man who taught me how to punch, Falcon-sensei. Wherever he is now, I hope he is proud of my humble achievements.
Q: Well, it's been a pleasure, Mrs. Urashima. That's a wrap for today. Don't miss our next chapter's interview with Hiraga Saito on the subject of escaping a life of torture through dimensional rebooting. A touching story of self discovery and personal remaking against the backdrop of cosmic cataclysm! Also, upgrading from Pink Haired Pettanko to Queen Sized Meido!
Top Ten Evil Organization Names Kosmo Entelekheia Rejected Before Settling for Kosmo Entelekheia.
10. Court of Owls.
9. Lifemaker and The Misfits.
8. The Beat-Alls.
7. Legion of Badly Handled Character Development.
6. Mars Attacks!
5. Evil Society of The Marginally Less Nebulous than the Ostian Senate.
4. Campione Fan Club.
3. Wanda Entelekheia.
2. The Averrunci Brothers and the Averruncus Sister Sextum.
1. The Mage of the Beginning's Flying Circus.
Real Name: Staff.
Known Aliases: Stick, Negi's Wood, Woody, Mea Virga.
Alignment: As Lawful Good as an inanimate staff can get.
Archetype: Trusty Weapon, Flying Means of Transportation.
Family: Mother Tree, Nagi Springfield (maker and first owner), Negi Springfield (current owner).
Affiliations: Ala Alba.
Background: Carved from a tree by a child Nagi Springfield after witnessing the heroic exploits of a master Magi wielding a very similar blunt weapon, the staff became Nagi's de facto favorite fighting implement through his late childhood, teen years and adulthood. It was present in every major recorded adventure of Ala Alba. Rumors say it often rested next to Konoe Eishun's sword, but a close relationship between them has never been confirmed.
During Nagi's final confrontation with the Mage of the Beginning, the staff was sealed along Nagi and the Mage themselves, but after Nagi briefly broke free to save his son Negi and niece Nekane from an attack of monsters on their home village, the Thousand Master gave it to Negi, along his wishes for Negi to become a strong and brave man. After that, Nagi vanished leaving Negi with the staff.
Ever since, the staff has been with Negi during his whole training at Merdiana Magic Academy, his teaching stint at Mahora Academy, and all related battles and adventures, including his epic encounters against Evangeline McDowell and Sukuna the Demon God.
Powers and Abilities: The staff is a surprisingly strong blunt instrument of bludgeoning, although Negi's pacifist nature means it's not often used this way. It can act as Negi's main magic catalyzer while casting spells, after Negi mostly stopped using his old training wand. Negi also can use it to fly on it like a magic broom, able to carry up to other two people with it.
Negi also knows how to use it to play crocket.
Character Annotations: Yukihiro Ayaka.
- I actually read the first two volumes of Negima before dropping the series. Back then Ayaka was the only character I really liked (a lot). After more or less a year, I watched the first anime series, which, despite its mediocrity, moved me to read the manga again (around this point, Chisame took over Ayaka's previous favorite character spot). I still hold a soft spot for Ayaka, though, and she'll always be in my Top Six of the Negima girls.
- I set out to make her an actual rival for Asuna, the Ken to her Ryu in a way. Obviously, she'll never have Asuna's anti-magic gift, but other than that, she should be, not there exactly head to head with her, but at least able to complete in the same overall league when Asuna isn't in Living Plot Device mode. You know what broke my heart? The part where, post Mahorafest, it's revealed she isn't even a blip in Asuna's radar anymore. It ties to my usual lamentations on how around this point Negima became split between "Characters who matter" and "Characters who don't matter", taking a lot of the old magic out, but you don't want to read about that here and now, do you?
- It's not like I dislike the idea of her canon Artifact, but it isn't a thing that translates well into adventure narrative, much less in prose form. I even can kinda see why Akamatsu never bothered to show it. So I decided to give her something simpler but more useful in combat, taken from the SHAFT anime.
- She's going to become much more prominent and much closer to Negi after the return to Mahora. That's all I can say on it for now.
Please review, C&C welcome.
Until next time, this is Shadow and OM, signing off.
Next Chapter Preview:
Ala Alba of 2814 departs, but is Unequally Ala Alba ready to take on their next challenges alone?
How will Haruka react to the news of Yukino's disappearance?
What's up with the strange child Jack Rakan has just found?
What will Evangeline ask for in trade for taking Negi as her disciple?
And what do the new faces at Mahora have to do with Negi and the Grail War?
Next, in Unequally Rational and Emotional, "Farewell my Friends". Be there!