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 have 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.
Mai Hime and all its characters belong to Sunrise.
Batman, Superman and all related characters and elements belong to DC Comics.
All other characters mentioned also belong to their respective copyright holders. We make no money out of them, either.
Any resemblance of anything in this story with anything in real life beyond "human beings have eyes and legs" is a simple coincidence.
Thanks a million to Shadow Crystal Mage, Darkenning, and all others who collaborated with Unequally Rational and Emotional, and hopefully will continue doing so.
OM's Notes: Well. This might be the last Unequally chapter posted in Fanfiction Dot Net, because the next chapter might have lemon content not fitting this site's policies, and it might lead into a few arcs with lemon content in them. It all depends on if I can find the time to spin a SFW version and another, NSFW one. I don't want risking posting the lemons here and get the whole story so far purged out (I mean, all that hard work and those long chapters gone to waste…), but I don't know if I can balance writing two branches of the same story. I do have an Archive Of Our Own account and an one, so the lemons might find their way there. We'll see. There are many things I need to think over.
Also, sorry, but once again, I couldn't fit the 'Rakan's Son' segment this time either. Maybe next time, he said for the umpteenth occasion…
Sharp eyed readers of mine might notice most of this chapter was taken from the now deleted Unequally Rational and Emotional Darkness, which was supposed to be the original lemon-scented route. Rather, this was its still-SFW prologue. This is part of why this chapter is so different from the contents promised in the prior chapter's preview. It just wasn't working out that way, although the events promised there still will take place shortly, mind…
Lesson 42: "All Old Things Are New Again."
Unequally Rational and Emotional Zero.
I still remember it as if it had happened yesterday.
The gateway down exploded and then imploded back into itself before the legions of angel brandishing flaming swords could reach it, compacting into a miniature black hole that swallowed itself and then was no more. The goddesses standing on the level above stared down in shock, an emotion they had forgotten they had long ago.
"They're gone! They're back at Midgard, with the Code!" a young Peorth panicked. "Lady Anzasu, what should we do?-!"
"And they stole our panties too!" the young Urd added.
Belldandy gasped softly, with a hand on her lips. "We... We cannot possibly initate retrieval programs, can we?"
With her hands on the protection rail, her mother Anzasu let a very long sigh out. "No. No, we cannot. The terms of the agreement with Nifelheim were clear. We cannot interfere with the mortal realm any more than they can."
"But Clause 5438, Paragraph 6932, specifies we can start an emergency protocol under Type Alpha situations like this!" the young Rind said. "Give the word, Lady Anzasu, and we can launch an erasure process on the site where they landed!"
"No, since they have the copy of the Code, " the mother goddess shook her head. "Hitting it could trigger a Third Impact. The consequences for the mortal realm could be catastrophic, and we have no Omega Initiative clearance."
"All those lives..." Belldandy whispered.
Her mother straightened up. "I will assume full responsibility over the breach and escape to the All Father. You all did what you could. Now go down there and attend to the Security Squadron Gold. Some of them might have been injured."
"But, My Lady—!" Rind protested.
"You heard me, Rind."
As her mother sharply left and her sisters went down to carry on her elders, a tiny, wide eyed Skuld kept on looking at the place where the gateway had been. To think, simple mortals with such primitive technology could have booby trapped a Heavenly escape way like that...
"Cool..." she whispered.
"We did it!" the Juraian Prince pumped a fist up. Back then, he still was an optimistic fool, a true Idiot Hero. Not in book smarts, on which he had plenty, more than any living human but Lorentz, but in the ways of life. A pampered rich boy who had ran away from his father's domains after seeing their subjects were slaves. The poor idiot. As if it wasn't the same everywhere, and it wouldn't be the same forever no matter what. Back then, I was the only one I could see it. Then again, that's the advantage being the oldest and wisest one has.
The Prince had come up with the name in a whim. Ala Argenta. No doubt due to the wings of silvery energy he could display at extreme situations. He always was a narcissistic, like any good prince is, even if he wouldn't admit it. Always thinking the whole world was on his shoulders, always believing he knew better than everyone, when it was the full opposite. Then again, since those wings had saved us from certain death up there with their shielding capacities, I played along. As a sign of gratitude.
Next to him, Lorentz panted and nodded wearily. The weakest and frailest of us all, only brought along because of his mental prowesses. Our Smart Guy. The visor he had used to protect his eyes while surfing through the Yggdrasil databakans and retrieve the info on the Code had fused to his face due to the Holy Light, and there were hideous bleeding scars where the metal melded to the flesh. They would take years to heal, but right now, he didn't care. He was happy, as well.
"Miss Kimidori?" he asked with a weary but vivacious voice. "Is it safe?"
The biggest outsider of us all, you could have called her our Sixth Ranger, analyzed the huge and heavy metallic container sealed with glowing runes she was holding in her small pale hands. We could see the complex codes running down in her eyes for a few moments before she nodded, her long light green hair caressed by the dry breeze of the desert. "Yes. The Code has survived entry, as well as the Tabris samples. The mission has been reported as a success to the Data Overmind. Thank you, it has been a mutually benefiting collaboration."
"Hah! I told you we were going to do it," the other alien, the green skinned one, turned to smile at me. "See now, Savage? It was worth it, after all. With this, we have the key to a better world. One that won't need subjugation under anyone like you."
He towered over me, full of might and majesty. Our Big Guy. He still had a lot to learn, however. Behind him, the short man with charcoal black skin stood in silence, arms behind his back. Now, maybe he understood it to some degree. It always was difficult to tell with Popo. Truth be told, he was the only one of the bad of fools who gave me pause. There was something unnerving about him I never could exactly quantify or pin down. He never did anything that threatened our goals, and yet, I had the impression at times he, and not me, was the team's Token Evil Teammate. His vacantly cruel remarks at times didn't help matters.
Still, I wasn't without those myself. "We'll see, " I said. "I wish you good luck in your enterprises from this point, lady, gentlemen, but I believe this is where our paths grow apart. I got what I was looking for, and so did you, so I see no need to stick with you anymore. I have no interest on creating any new world; only on ruling over this one. Maybe when I'm done with that..."
The green giant stepped on my way. "Wait a second. If you think we are going to—"
"Let him go," the Juraian Prince said. "We must honor our word. We swore we would let him escape just this once if he helped us, and he did."
"That is true," Popo said with a single nod, his expression unchanging.
With a gruff humming, the green goliath stepped aside reluctantly. Yet I could feel his killer intent, his desire to squash me down. "You'll have to reign that dark side someday, my friend, " I walked past him. "Or you could end up actually hurting someone."
"I'm not your friend!"
"Savage!" the Juraian Prince called out for me one last time.
"Yes?" I asked. Vandal Savage. Back when I was young and stupid, when I was just trying to make a name for myself as a barbaric conqueror, I renamed me that hoping to impress my enemies. If I had to do it again now, I'd choose a less stupid name. For God's sake, it sounds like something a Gotham madman would come up with. But despite it all, I have grown used to it, and it is part of what I am now, for better or worse.
"Thank you, " the Prince said, and there was warmth in his voice.
I smirked at him over my shoulder. "You're welcome. Just remember my warning, hero. You either die a young hero, or become an old villain. So please try to die young so this old man can have his way gracefully, will you?"
And the Prince laughed, full of life and enthusiasm. "Oh, Savage. I'm almost going to be sorry next time I foil your plans and kick your butt. Almost!"
"Heh. It might be. Regardless, good luck all the same, Lifemaker."
"Well, you told me you hated your birthname and what it stood for, didn't you? And you are going to create new life, so it is just fitting you get a name matching your new existence. Farewell, Lifemaker."
As I walked away slowly under the dawning sun, I still could hear him one final time, musing to himself.
"Lifemaker, huh? I actually think I sort of like it..."
Like I said, back when I was young, and I still was somewhat young then, I came up with names only an idiot would like.
Prelude: My Little Carnival Phantasm Can't be This Cute.
The Ahnenerbe Cafe was a tiny speck at the middle of the Mundus Magicus plains, a small resting place for weary travellers, a haven for those stranded on heroic quests far away from their homelands, where they could relax over a jar of drink and-
"Like hell!" Kiryuu Nanami cried out while serving tables in a micro-skirted waitress outfit, with a cow bell hanging from her neck and fake cow ears on her hair, rushing from customer to customer. "This is a slave trap! We've been running ragged here for three weeks now! And we were supposed to go on a journey to save Princess Emeraude after that bitch plucked us from Earth!"
"Wow, thanks for the helpful recap for the readers, Nanami-sempai!" Shidou Hikaru said, also serving customers in her cute uniform with fake cat ears and tail. Unlike Nanami's, hers was Service with a Smile. "But it isn't so bad, is it? The patrons are kind and generous, and our boss is just so cute...!"
"Hear, hear!" Neco Arcueid, the owner of the cafe, nodded vigorously from behind the counter.
"Personally, I prefer being here over being out there in the wilderness, slaying beasts, ogres and other creatures," Kikukawa Yukino sighed wearily, while walking out of the kitchen holding three full plates. "The only downside is, at this rate I'll never get to rejoin Haruka-chan at Mahora. Ah! Haruka-chan...!" she moaned, as a huge image of a proudly grinning Suzushiro Haruka, arms folded, hovered over her, teeth glinting perfectly. "Still, at least we didn't fall at Tohsaka-san's gladiator arena complex. I heard OverMaster-sama had plans to make an adaptation of Ura Jamma 15..."
"What's an Ura Jamm 15?" asked Hikaru.
"Ask your mother!" Yukino snapped.
"Hu hu hu," Neco Arc chuckled. "If you want to see those from the Old World again, you might just get your chance soon enough." She turned the cafe's TV on. "The Carnival is about to start."
"What Carnival, Arc-sama?" Tsuwabuki Mitsuru peeked his head out the kitchen.
"The Carnival," Neco Arc mused, "only comes once in a man's lifetime. Or when Type-Moon needs extra profits, or when fanfic authors have taken enough crack. It's the time when people from all dimensions meet to have fated encounters, short lived as they may be..."
The TV showed several images of Jack Rakan gently caressing Hasegawa Chisame's face as he took her from behind...
"Have you been buying porn channels again, Arc-sama?" asked Yukino, while Nanami covered Hikaru's eyes and Tsuwabuki collapsed with a nosebleed.
"That's another thing I don't understand!" Nanami shouted, casually slapping a drunk patron trying to fondle her ass. "Why do you have television in a supposedly fantasy setting? Why do you have cable television, but we still have to go to the bathroom in latrines?"
"Actually, we do have fully functional modern toilets," Neco Arc said. "I just make you use latrines because I feel like it."
"That, and you use a sandbox, don't you?" asked Hikaru.
"And I'm not letting you use it!" Neco Arc nodded.
"You're still making me clean it, though..." Yukino mumbled.
"So, this Carnival..." Nanami muttered bitterly, "Exactly what it is about, anyway?"
"You'll know soon enough!" Neco Arc meowed happily, pointing up at the TV. "It's starting!"
"Wait, just like that?" asked Yukino. "How abrupt!"
Prelude: Previously, in Unequally Rational and Emotional…
"Well, you see, Dean Konoe gave special instruction for Negi-sensei to move here until we can find a permanent place for him," Shizuna informed them.
"I'm sorry to be a bother," the boy apologized.
"What?" Chisame snapped. "He's supposed to be a teacher, isn't he? Why can't he stay with another teacher?"
"Most of us either live too far, have children of their own, or simply have far too small living quarters," the beautiful blonde explained patiently. "He can't live alone, and your other classmates are too... enthusiastic or too... complex for a child to be trusted with".
Chisame made a face. How desperate did they have to be for the two of them to be their best hope? In any case, it was logical to guess the old man wouldn't dump that load on his beloved granddaughter. Damn favoritism.
Satomi didn't look too shaken by the news, but still seemed wary in her own way. "I don't think I could carry out my experiments freely if I have him running around," she informed dutifully.
"You shouldn't be carrying out experiments here in the first place," the adult reminded her.
Hakase sighed. "It always has to be that loophole, doesn't it?"
"He's a mage," Satomi calmly pointed out from above.
"A mage? That's ridiculous," Chisame blinked several times. "And scientifically impossible. For you of all people to say that..."
"Um, actually, she's right" Negi meekly conceded. "I'm a wizard, or mage. Both definitions are technically correct".
Chisame gave him a blank and huge shocked stare. "No. For real?" she eeped out.
"I'm telling you the truth," their teacher insisted. "That thing yesterday with the eraser? I did it. It was a lesser version of the spell I just used on you."
Chisame just kept looking at him, unable to speak.
Negi, meanwhile, was chuckling softly, pulling his roster-book out and writing 'WE BEAT HER!' under Eva's picture. "Anyway, Evangeline-san, now you'll stop attacking people at night, won't you? And you won't skip any more classes, either... You'll study hard so you can graduate along with everyone else!"
Evangeline's dangerous smirk returned. "We'll see about that. But remember this, and remember it well, Boya. Watch your back. Because I'm far from being the only powerful enemy your father made, and they'll be gunning for you right like I was. You might not be so lucky next time." She turned to his Ministra. "As for the lot of you, I'd suggest pondering your future choices while you still have them. Tonight, you put on a pathetic, sad showing of poor, uncoordinated skills. If you really want to be Ministra Magi, you'll have to try better than that. If not, just quit right now. You've been warned. That's something the Mistress of Darkness does for almost no one." Her fierce green eyes sparkled threateningly.
What is more harmful, doing too little, or doing too much?
Konoe Konoemon had been accused of both things a lot of times through his long, long life. Mostly of the former in his latest years of life, although not as much recently. Since, well, he was old, and you couldn't blame him for not being that active anymore, right? No doubt he was starting to grow senile, and that always was an issue no one ever wanted to touch. You're supposed to humor old people, after all, while waiting for them to meet Death head-on and get out of their miseries and ours.
Konoe Konoemon was aware he still was respected, but more due to his past, his legacy and the power he had, rather than his current activities. Some said he was too soft and liberal; others argued he was too old fashioned and out of touch with today's youth and their needs. All behind his back, of course, but Konoemon knew every argument, every discomfort voiced only in occasional whispers, mostly unsaid save for the direst circumstances. They always found a way to his ears, somehow.
The old man shuffled from behind his large oak desk and around his office, supporting his weight on his cane. Not that he really needed the cane; theoretically, he would need it after lengthy periods of physical strain, but since he never achieved those periods of activity anymore, and the amounts of strain he would need to get tired would have completely spent most men under thirty, leaving them literally dry dead husks, that was never a problem. Still, he had grown to like the cane, and the way it allowed him to be lazy in his walking, like a pampering mother carrying a child old enough to walk. It was a small innocent vice, like the random bottle of wine and the freak pipe smoke here and there, only continuous, and serving the purpose of making him look frail and tired.
Although in a way, he was tired.
He was tired of doing so little while doing so much.
"The wait's the worst part," he mused, looking through his window.
Mahora Academy lay beneath him, majestic and radiant, full of life and energy. Not always wisely used energy, but again, how was he to talk? His children, no, the children of the future, walked in all directions, never resting quiet, vibrant and happy, under the bright sun and the clear sky. It was a truly pleasant sight. Only seeing his granddaughter's face made him happier.
Many of them were strange and dangerous, and those were, as a matter of fact, his favorites. Those were the ones he had handpicked personally, the ones who couldn't be allowed to stray anywhere else. There was High School 3-F. High School 1-E. Middle School 1-A. Middle School 3-A.
3-A. The jewel on his crown. And not only because his dearest person was there.
"Forgive me," he whispered.
Summer was approaching, and with it, the time to check on the results of his bet.
"Forgive me," he whispered again.
What was done was done, after all. No point of ruminating back on it. He couldn't do anything but forge ahead now, and so would they.
The old half-Chinese man turned around and oddly waddled his way to the office's door.
It had been a peaceful, uneventful week ever since Class 3-A's return from Kyoto and the departure of the alternate universe Ala Alba. Except for one detail or seven.
The First Day of the Rest of Our Lives
Something he had learned quite early in his life, and he was sure his brother was learning it step by step now, too, was the world was an inherently bad, mean and crappy place, but you could improve it by placing relatively little effort into it; all you needed was knowing exactly where to apply that effort. The extent to which you could improve on it depended on your capacities, and the Bro had a lot of capacities and the iron will to carry on them with hard work, so Albert Chamomille had a huge trust he would change the world in a radical way, someday.
Of course, conning and tricking your way through life demanded a lot of effort as well, and Chamo, as he was known by most, prided himself on his own skills at taking opportunities others might have considered immoral or questionable. The white ermine elf didn't care about anything those he regarded as squeamish could think about him. Lesser men and women were always quick to doubt the hard working visionaries and their enterprises.
From the day he had arrived to Mahora Academy months ago, with a squad of police ermines hot on his trail all the way from Wales, he had recognized the unique potential of the situation his 'brother' Negi Springfield had landed himself into. Chamo got him provisional contracts with Hasegawa Chisame, Kasuga Misora, Hakase Satomi, Kakizaki Misa, Kagurazaka Asuna, Shiina Sakurako, Suzushiro Haruka, Saotome Haruna, Yukihiro Ayaka, Akashi Yuuna, Hasegawa Sora, Konoe Konoka and Sakurazaki Setsuna during that short span; far many more Pactios than most mages got through their whole lives. And the Bro could sustain them all with little to no problems; his magic pools showed no signs of being anywhere near their limits. It all thrilled Chamo beyond reason. He had to link Negi to even more partners, making him the greatest mage of his era, even greater than his father, Nagi Springfield the Thousand Master.
And naturally, that would make Chamo himself very rich in the process, but that was part of being a successful entrepreneur. Everyone profited from your actions, including yourself.
It all reminded Chamo of those days until less than a year ago, when Negi still was studying with his childhood friend Anya Cocolova. Anya was a very pretty girl one year older than Negi, with healthy red hair and gorgeous green eyes, active and athletic, the second best in their class, after Negi.
"C'mon, Anya-Sis!" the ermine pleaded, running after her through the majestic corridors of Merdiana Academy. "It'll be only a little kiss! A peck on the lips! I'd bet you even will like it! And even if you don't, well, it's a small price to pay for all the power you and the Bro will get out of it!"
"Leave me alone, weasel!" the girl finally had enough, turning around and stomping on Chamo hard and frantically. "Negi is still only a whiny brat! Why would I want to be his Magistra?"
"I... I was thinking you'd be the Ministra..." Chamo gurgled under her heel, only to be stomped even harder.
"What!" Anya shrieked. "Why would I be the Ministra? Negi could kiss a bucket and the bucket would become his Magister! Don't make me laugh!"
It was always the same way.
But now, it was Chamo who laughed, well, chuckled in this particular case, as he leaped down from the drawer of stolen feminine underwear where he slept (most of it unwillingly supplied by one Kuga Natsuki-sempai). He'd get Anya one day, for his Bro of course, he was sure of that. As it was right now, he took a satisfied look at the upper bunk where, once again, Negi had snuck in next to Chisame in his sleep, Satomi doing the same from Chisame's other side. Both smaller figures cuddled against the uneasily sleeping secret Net idol, who snorted at periodic intervals.
Chamo was very proud of Chisame's 'catch', although she'd kill him if she knew he thought of it that way. Being the first one to contract with Negi, she had become his primary partner, and she had, despite her numerous and constant complains, taken the responsibility with a drive that overcame her physical limitations- while strong enough for a teenager when flying in a mad rage, she was no trained fighter, and in close combat she was all but lost most of the time. They'd have to work on that later on.
And Negi, Chamo could tell, despite his claims of all students being equal for him, felt closer to Chisame than to anyone else.
Chamo would make sure that relationship would go all the way. Someday.
Whistling to himself, the ermine scurried out a window. The Chao Bao Zi had to be opening to sell breakfasts, and Yotsuba Satsuki and Karakuri Chachamaru always tossed generous crumbs and leftovers his way. Not that Chisame-Anego was an awful cook, but nothing ever compared to Satsuki's cooking.
Maybe he also could arrange a Pactio for her along the eventual way.
At the same time, in the dorm room next door, another small magic infused animal yawned and stretched, waking up from his first full night of sleep at Mahora. He felt well rested and ready to tackle on anyone or anything, especially Clow Cards.
On second thought, he told himself as his tiny nose caught on a pleasant smell coming from the kitchenette, he was ready to tackle on anyone or anything, especially breakfast. Humming to himself, he unfolded his diminutive white wings and flew there, finding Nodoka and Yue, already in their school uniforms and working together on the meal's finishing touches.
"Good morniiiiiiing!" Kerberos greeted them happily. "Oh, you two woke up early! Good, good! That's a fine trait for a Card Captor, Nodoka!"
"Good morning, Kero-san," his newest protege greeted back. "Well, we wouldn't ever want to be late in a first day of classes. We'll have your breakfast ready in only a moment..."
"Kerberos-san," Yue spoke next, in her usual tone, which was far more on the flat side than Nodoka's. "What will we do about the Clow Cards? We unleashed them at Kyoto, after all, but we just couldn't stay there to deal with them, and we only got three so far..."
"Tch, don't worry about that part," the plush lion told her. "The cards will always tend to gravitate around the ones who freed them, attracted by their magical energy and that of the Clow book itself. Some of them will challenge you and try their best to defeat you and be free permanently. Others will subconsciously look for your help, feeling lost and longing for a master, although one they feel like testing first. The thing is, once they have felt you have moved here, and trust me, they are very quick to catch on those things, they'll make their way to these grounds."
"How convenient," Yue muttered.
"Would you prefer going back to Kyoto every weekend?" Kero challenged.
"Actually, I was thinking on handing that duty over to someone who lived in Kyoto, but there's no point on discussing that now, is there?" Yue exhaled.
During breakfast, it amazed the girls seeing how much and how quick could a creature as tiny as Kero eat. When Yue discreetly asked on it, he only said "I need to recover my original form fast!" and kept on gorging himself.
"Didn't you tell us you'd need to recover all the core Elemental cards for that?" Yue insisted. "What does eating a lot have to do with that at all? Also, where does all that food go? You have eaten thrice your body mass already!"
Before those fascinating questions could be answered, a loud and masculine, but not manly enough, shriek of surprise and terror ran through the air, startling the trio.
"W-W-What was that?-!" Nodoka gasped.
Yue had paled. "Plato's word, that was Rito-sempai..."
"Sempai?" Nodoka blinked. "But Yue-Yue, he lives far, far away from here! It couldn't possibly be... Could it?"
Yue swallowed hard, running a hand over her throat. For some reason, a single word kept coming and coming to her mind now.
If there was anything life had taught Yuuki Nao, that was money could get you anything but a return ticket from the death. Money had bought her father freedom after he took advantage of her mother, one of his students, in a confusing incident the yellow press had dubbed 'the orgybus'. When, years later, her mother was mugged and left comatose by a street gang linked to someone with far more power and influences than Nao's uncle and aunt (all hints pointed to Nao's father), the case never went anywhere. Had she been a Bruce Wayne, loaded with more money than a king, she might have devoted her anger and channeled her frustrations into becoming a vigilante. Instead, with nothing but what Uncle and Aunt saw fit tossing her way, she'd become an opportunist, out for her own hide and little else.
Then again, Uncle's money had also bought her and her two cousins that nifty residence near the Mahora teachers' living quarters, while most students had to cram themselves into dorm rooms. Nao appreciated that, at the very least. Her psychological evaluations suggested not distancing her from the family she had left, so the Dean, in what Nao was sure was more of a senility display than a merciful one, allowed her to live with Rito and Mikan. She was okay with it. She really loved Mikan, and Rito-kun was such a lousy guardian it was easy to slip out every night, to do her thing.
Earning her money.
Of course, night after night of compensated dating across town, sneaking under the Mahora guardians' noses, meant she usually was doggone tired by dawn, so much she often fell asleep at classes.
Which was why it took her a few moments to react properly to Rito's scream that morning. His older cousin tended to overreact about everything, and he probably had only stubbed his toe or walked into Mikan in the shower again.
It took a second scream, this one understandable as "PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!" to move her to react. Was Mikan refusing to dress back up? Well, Nao had always suspected she had a thing for Rito, but she'd never imagined cute lil' Mikan would ever be so bold...
With nothing but detached curiosity and amusement, Nao, still in lingerie smelly of sweaty forty something businessmen, walked over to Rito's bedroom. Mikan was standing at the doorstep, in a Piyo-Piyo apron, slippers, shorts and a light tee-shirt, with a frying pan in a hand, and round, wildly shocked eyes. Following her gaze inside, Nao saw a naked buxom girl with long pink hair and a long black tail sitting on top of a pajama-clad, horrified out of his wits Rito.
"Huh," the red-haired delinquent student lifted an eyebrow. "Okay, Rito-kun, if not for that yell, I'd congratulate you on proving me wrong on your being gay, Saotome beard aside. Who's the babe?"
"La! La la lalalalalalala!" Rito stammered.
"What he said!" the nude girl greeted, extending an arm ahead peppily. "Good morning, people of Earth! I'm Lala Satalin Deviluke, Rito's fiancee and heiress of the Deviluke throne!"
"M-M-Madwoman!" Mikan shrieked, moving in a flash to slam her frying pan on Lala's face.
"Ten points," Nao rated her.
"GYYYYYAHHHHH!" Rito yelled, already seeing the alien warships razing the planet. "Mikan-chan, no!"
Lala blinked, rubbed her face with a hand, and smiled. "Ah! I recognize the cultural pattern of the younger sister meeting her unexpected sister-in-law! It's good to see identifiable general lines of humanoid behavior remain even in this isolated race! Less culture shock to overcome!"
Nao warily stepped in between Mikan and the lunatic. "Honestly, Rito-kun, crazy chicks are hot and easy, yeah, but there's crazy and then there's this. I know you can't be picky, and she has a killer bod, but still...!"
"Another little sister?" the stranger deduced.
"Cousin," Nao corrected her.
"P-Put on some clothes and get out of Rito's bed!" Mikan commanded.
"W-What she said!" the boy gulped. "What are you doing here anyway? What was your big idea, sneaking into my bed while I slept?"
Nao blinked. "Oh, so it was that? Should've known. The only way you'll ever get any is if someone rapes you, Rito-kun..."
"Not funny at all, Nao!" Mikan roared. Even Nao couldn't help shrinking down at that.
Lala fell to a knee before Mikan, grabbing her free hand and placing a delicate kiss on it. "My apologies! I should have announced myself before, but you all slept so peacefully, I didn't have the heart to wake you up!"
"You were watching us while we slept?-!" Mikan was even more horrified now.
Lala nodded. "I'm glad to see you love Rito so much, you even mutter his name in your...!"
Mikan's frying pan collided against Lala's face again.
"Ooooohhhh! More proof of sisterly protective love! I like you a lot already!"
"Class," Negi had said that Monday morning, still a bit unsure on how exactly to go about this himself. The words themselves were easy and had been carefully prepared, and even practiced a few times on his way here from the Dean's office, but the weight of what he was going to say on his closest companions was something he was not comfortable with. "I know this might come as unexpected and, ah, abrupt, but starting this mid-term, we're going to have a new student who will honor us with her presence."
Most of the class fell into surprised and impressed gasps, although not to the undisciplined level they would have shown at the start of Negi's period. Patiently, he waited for the brief chitchat to end, then softly rapped his eraser on his desk to silence the last few comments from Misa and Haruna.
"I trust you all to make her feel welcomed," Negi said very seriously, with both hands placed squarely on his desk. "Especially since she is very, very far away from her home and family."
"We'll make her feel as welcomed as you, Negi-kun!" Makie promised.
He smiled. "Thank you, Makie-san. Then I'm sure she'll feel wonderful. But do please call me Negi-sensei." And he coughed. "Everyone, without further delay, I wish to introduce you to Student Number Thirty Two, Skuld Odinson."
Chisame, Misa, Sakurako, Chao, Satomi, Yuuna, Makie, Akira, Ayaka, Asuna, Setsuna, Nodoka, Haruna and even Evangeline all did a collective spit-take. The rest of the class watched expectantly how a short girl around thirteen or her early fourteens walked in, wearing the same uniform as they did, her long and silky black hair trailing behind her. She stopped right next to Negi's desk and smirked.
"Apocalypse Girl…!" Misa whispered to herself.
"Greetings, everyone!" she feistily said. "My name's Skuld, and I look forward to a very interesting school year with you!"
"You can walk in without any concern, Odinson-san," Minamoto Shizuna said, with a tone as sweet as heavenly honey, and as inviting as paradise. "There's nothing bad or wrong in there."
A bigger lie had never been said before.
But since Shizuna-sensei had a voice so kind and so incredibly identical to Belldandy's, Skuld was powerless to do anything but obeying her without any questions.
She followed the busty woman inside, where a sour faced Akashi Yuuna waited for them, sitting on her couch, in a Mahora basketball team tee shirt, Daisy Dukes, and mismatched socks. It was as if she had prepared herself to look as unglamorous for the occasion as possible.
Nonetheless, Shizuna decided to act as if that wasn't an issue at all. "Odinson-san, no doubt you already met Akashi Yuuna-san early this morning. She's Akashi Wataru-sensei's daughter, and a valuable player in our junior high basketball team. Starting today, you two will be roommates."
Yuuna sighed in resignation, and offered Skuld a hand. "Welcome home, Skuld-san," she monotoned, as if reading from a script after playing five consecutive games.
Her newest classmate shook the hand, not with the biggest enthusiasm either, but at least putting some effort into it. "Pleased to be here with you, Akashi-san." And she sounded, at the very least, mildly sincere.
Skuld then looked around uneasily, taking on all the basketball memorabilia and family portraits Yuuna kept around, plus a few pictures with Ako, Akira and Makie, and some gun replicas and tiny military models. Glancing past over, to the bedroom, Skuld also caught a glimpse of a copy of the Kyoto group photo on Yuuna's nightstand, plus... well, she had never met anyone who ever kept an amplified poster picture of her father in swimming trunks next to her bed. But to each their own.
"Pretty living quarters," the Norn blandly said.
"Thanks," Yuuna replied in the same tone. "Dad taught me I had to be neat and tidy, and hammered and drilled it into me since I was little," she had to laugh at her own (and inaccurate) double entendre, which made Shizuna scowl. "Although he never preaches with the example. Our home's a mess since Mom..."
She hit a bump there, choosing to get around it instead of over it by just shaking her head and continuing, "Never mind. Anyway, you're welcome to redecorate your half if you want, Sku-"
She had to stop in mid sentence when she saw Skuld already arranging astronomy models, books, complex machinery pieces, power tools, diagrams and schematics all over the room, under an amused Shizuna's gaze. "Just remember," the adult was telling her, "No experiments in your habitations!"
"Oh, everyone around here experiments in their habitations nowadays..." Yuuna snarked under her breath.
"What was that, Akashi-san?" Shizuna asked.
"Promised!" Skuld placed a hand on her heart. "I'd never perform experiments in an environment where I can't properly isolate and analyze all involved variants and factors, anyway!"
"I'm glad to hear that," Shizuna regained her smile. "Well," she finished exhaling, "They will install your upper bunk tomorrow, Odinson-san, but in the meanwhile, Akashi-san has told me she has a futon she can spare to you. Or we could..."
"The futon will be fine, thanks," Skuld waved off, fighting to not clench her teeth like she wished to. "It will be only one night, right...?"
Yuuna chuckled. "Well, if you're one of those foreigners who need a bed, I can take the futon..."
"I just said I'm okay with it," Skuld tensely said, preferring a night of bad sleep over being pitied. There was pause. "But only for one night, I repeat?"
"Yes! That's perfect!" Shizuna put her hands together, pleasantly. "Then I feel confident leaving you two alone from now on. Odinson-san, if you have any further questions for me, you have my phone number, okay?"
As soon as Minamoto left, no doubt to get herself drunk, Skuld asked Yuuna, "Why the sudden interest on guns and ammo?"
"Well, I must get used to them to become good with my Artifact, right? Makie-chan has said she'll coach me. You asked specifically for this room, or what?"
"It was either this one or Asakura's, and I don't enjoy being questioned all day long."
"Point. But wait, Zazie has no roommates either..."
"... I have my reasons to prefer sleeping in a burning stove at a side of a muddy road than ever going there."
"Okay, sheesh, I got it. So, um, wanna have dinner while we talk? I can defend myself in the kitchen. Mom taught me the very basics, and then my grandma..."
"Do you have ice cream?"
"Then let's go out for ice-cream!"
"Wait, you can't eat anything but ice-cream?"
"I can eat anything, even rat poison. It's just ice-cream is my primary energy source. Cold, delicious, sweet ice-cream...!" her mouth watered.
"A goddess who runs on ice-cream! Now I've seen everything."
"Hey, don't complain. My sister Urd runs on booze. You'd have a really hard time keeping her here...!"
Konoka: Animal Attraction
"So," a stony-faced Asuna asked, "Your grandfather's excuse is that animal originally came from—?"
"Australia," Konoka smiled, holding the small brown furry creature on her lap and petting her head.
"I don't read a lot of books on Australian animals or anything, Konoka-chan, but I've watched Animal Planet, and I don't think there are things like that in Australia. It's not trying to kill you, for one thing. C'mon! Your grandpa knows you were held captive in a demonic ritual to awaken an evil god, so what's the harm on telling you that critter is magical?"
Konoka shrugged as she fed the happy animal a carrot. "Does it matter if she's magical or not?"
"Well, not like I pay a lot of attention to Makie's babblings, but she's always talking about those evil wish-granting critters…"
"Grandpa would never bring something that could hurt me and you know it, Asuna-chan," her roommate gently chided her. They were alone in the bedroom after dinner, making small chat before sleeping. "My cousin Tenchi has owned Ryo-Ohki for two years now; don't you think he'd have noticed if there was something wrong with her?"
"Mya! Mya!" the small animal meowed loudly at the mention of Tenchi's name.
"Huh-huh. And have you ever met that cousin of yours personally?" Asuna questioned.
"Well, no. Apparently, he lives far too deep in the hills. And maybe he had secrets Grandpa didn't want me to learn, just like myself. Maybe this loan is their way to begin introducing me into their secrets, one step at a time."
"Betcha she can talk and offer contracts just like Chamo," Asuna came closer, pulling her face down before Ryo-Ohki's. "I'm on you, hairy thing! Confess! You're another kiss-pushing little pervert, aren't you?"
Ryo-Ohki sniffed the air, felt Asuna's aggressive intent, and took a bite off her nose.
"AHHHHH! IT TRIED TO KILL ME! IT'S EVIL INCARNATE! MY NOSE! MY PRECIOUS NOSE! IT'S BITTEN OFF NOW!" Asuna's arms flailed around.
"Asuna, it was only a tiny chomp," Konoka said. "It didn't even draw blood. You scared her…"
"IT'LL TRY TO KILL ME IN MY SLEEP LIKE THAT RABBIT IN THAT KING ARTHUR MOVIE!"
"Now you're just being silly. She won't…"
"I REFUSE TO SLEEP IN THE SAME ROOM AS IT, AND SO SHOULD YOU!"
In the end, Konoka ended up having Ryo-chan sleep over at Ayaka's every night after playing with her all day long. It worked great actually, since Makie loved Ryo-chan, and Ayaka and Ryo-chan found… some common ground of sorts.
Asuna was bitten ten more times before the week ended.
She was gorgeous, like a statue of a Greek goddess given life. She had very short golden hair, and large, bright blue eyes. She wore a tight white unitard that had a large round window on her chest and bared her legs, plus a red cape and thick boots up to her knees.
And, of course, she had huge round breasts on top of her well muscled and toned physique.
Kara felt immediately inadequate when she first laid eyes on her.
It had started less than one hour ago. Clark and her had gone on shopping spree through Metropolis, just to satisfy one of her young girl whims. Clark wouldn't ever say it, but it still was clear he was uncomfortable about it. Lois still didn't seem too accepting of the "cousin Linda" story, after all. And Clark, even if he never outright said it, lived for Lois. Sometimes, it puzzled Kara. She never understood what was so special about her.
The point was, Clark, patiently and without a complain, just like always, had followed her across the City of Tomorrow, carrying her bags, looking as if they really had any weight to him. When Terra-Man showed up, for a second it was as if it was a relief for him.
"Kryptonian!" the gruff, loud shout echoed through the mall, as the tall and robust man in cowboy clothes, holding the futuristic looking handguns, rose from the wreckage of the spot where he had landed after crashing through the ceiling and the two upper stories. "C'mon and die like a man, doggone alien! My detectors told me you're around here, so don't try acting shy, varmint! Or else I'll start shootin' city slickers down!"
Clark's face tightened between the screams of the crowd. The relief was over, quickly replaced by grim determination. Kara knew that expression well by now, as well as the way he gripped the middle of his shirt, ready to pop the buttons off and reveal the huge "S" shield underneath. The next thing she knew, he'd become a blue and red blur, and he'd be out of sight for only a moment, lost between the gasping and distracted masses, just to return just as soon flying in through a window...
Then, even before that could happen, the floor under Terra-Man literally exploded, and a white and red blur flew up, fists first, into the cowboy's jaw. The villain was shot several dozens of feet upwards, disappearing into the heights with the blur going up after him. It was then when Clark vanished.
When the strange new woman arrived back from above, he was there, with his muscular arms folded before his chest, suspended in the air in front of her. The crowds below whistled and cheered in awe, cameras already flashing everywhere. People in Metropolis never left home without a camera. The woman had a groggy Terra-Man grabbed by the collar, with a bleeding nose; Kara's super senses had allowed her to see the other blonde punch the criminal literally hundreds of times at super speed while ascending, all in the span of moments.
As always, Clark was polite but firm, his Superman voice dripping with a regal quality Clark Kent never could display.
"Welcome to Metropolis," he said. "And your name would be, Miss...?"
She flashed a wide, winning, confident, charming smile. One that matched the sheer presence of her appearance. It was simply subjugating, and everyone but Clark, including Kara, found themselves speechless as she spoke, clearly and for everyone to hear:
"I am Power Girl. I have arrived from far, far away to help the heroes and marvels of this age protect this world! Greetings, fair people of Metropolis! Greetings, Superman, greatest of Earth's champions!"
Keeping the smile, she extended a hand over to him. In the briefest of spans, he analyzed the hand with X-Ray and microscopic visions, doing a complete scan of her flesh's properties. No power absorbing capacities like the Parasite's. Instead, Kryptonian genetic makeup combined with human genes. Or rather, the very slightly different Argo DNA structure Kara had, not his own's.
He smiled back and shook her hand. "A real pleasure, Power Girl."
There always was a mystery at hand in the never ending battle.
On Tuesday, Kerberos felt another Clow Card's presence in the Mahora Elementary's playground. Nodoka headed there that evening, after banal rumors of children seeing a strange card fluttering around them all day long were spread during an otherwise boring school day. Since the card acted completely harmless, either the rumor didn't make it to the magical staff, or they paid it no attention.
Yue followed her armed with a video camera. And a baseball bat. And Chisame's number on speed dial in her cellphone, just in case they needed Negi.
"There it is!" Nodoka cried, pointing behind the huge statue of the Penguin King near the slide rides. She gulped and ran there, with a butterfly net in her hands, and Yue and Kero in tow. "S-Stop right there, please, Clow Card-san!"
The card was visible once they doubled behind the statue, not in any humanoid or beast form, but as a simple paper rectangle that flew in wide circles. As soon as it noticed Nodoka's arrival, it tried to pirouette out of her reach, but using The Jump, the girl could catch up to it in a single bound, trapping it inside of the net.
"Return to y-your true self, Clow Card!" Nodoka commanded, and the card fell like a dead weight. Breathing in relief at how easy it had been, Nodoka pulled her pen out and wrote her name on the card.
Yue blinked. "Wow. I didn't think such a simple plan would work."
Kero made a 'Tsk' sound. "That was nothing. The weaker cards tend to be the first ones to manifest themselves. The difficult ones, on the other hand, are far better at remaining off the radar. You'll be in for real fights later on!"
"Like the progression of enemies in a manga series?" Yue asked.
"Don't put words in my mouth."
"S-So, what does this one do?" Nodoka looked closely at it. "It only says 'The Card'..."
"It's because that's the Card card," Kero explained.
"Card Card," Yue echoed in dry disbelief.
Kero shrugged. "Master Clow had a strange sense of humor. Anyway, this card does nothing at all."
"Ah?!" Nodoka and Yue chorused.
"Yes, other than being able to trap people inside of copy cards it creates, it just can't do anything," the plush lion completed with a snort.
"Wait, it really can capture living beings into cards? The size of actual playing cards, I mean?" asked Yue.
"That was just what I said, wasn't it?" Kero said. "I'm starting to understand why they call you Baka Black."
"That actually sounds useful in a fight," Yue pondered, not deigning the comment with an answer.
"B-But people can be turned back to normal, can't they?" Nodoka gulped.
"As long as you tell the card to do so, sure thing," Kero nodded.
"I'm not complaining, but then why didn't it ever attack anyone that way?" Yue asked again.
"It's because it is one of the nice and gentle cards, isn't it?" Nodoka started to smile.
"Actually, it's because it is too stupid to do anything it isn't commanded to," Kero clarified. "It's only a card in every sense of the word, after all."
"Ah," Nodoka said, smile fading.
Yuuna: Casted Out
"Wow, Dad," she whistled as she walked in. "Your house's surprisingly clean and neat! You hired a meido or something?"
"Oh, calling it 'your house' now?" Professor Akashi said, closing the door behind her. "It's yours too, you know. It always will."
"I guess so. It's just I've spent so long away…" The girl sighed, heading for the kitchen. "Well, I think I can make us some dinner before heading back home. I just was passing by from buying some clothes…" she explained while dropping her bags next to the kitchen's door. "Whoa, even the kitchen's squeaky clean! All right, where are you hiding that woman?"
"I have no woman here!" he tried to laugh it off. In a sense, it was true. But, I had extra free time while everyone was away. So, um, how did your trip go…"
"It was… interesting," she said, looking through the cupboards to see what she could cook. "I saw a lot of Kyoto, that's for sure."
After a brief pause, she added, "I visited Konoka's house. It's very big."
He blinked, and she noticed that over her shoulder. As expected, it had elicited a reaction from him. Immediately, she chided herself for saying something like that so impulsively. What if she had compromised everyone's secret? To try and fix it up somewhat, she changed the topic. "W-Well, you're even better supplied than usual!"
"I was expecting you'd come to tell me how you did on the trip, so I stocked up…"
"Right, right. What would you like to eat?"
"Oh, nothing fancy. I'll be fine with some tempura and curry."
"Okay! I'll get to work on it!"
There was a whisper in his ear. "Ooohhhh! She's even cuter in person! I like her so much already…!"
Akashi grunted to try and silence her.
"Don't concern yourself, Master," the disembodied voice whispered. "As long as I'm in this form, only you can hear me. Our private secrets are safe, as long as you don't compromise them yourself."
He nodded stiffly. Yuuna was bending down to pick something she had dropped, and he thought he heard a brief pleased sound from Caster's lips as she eyed the girl's firm and round shorts-clad posterior. Then it dawned on Akashi that, in an unconscious answer to Caster's reaction, he had been looking there as well, and he looked aside uncomfortably. This all was simply stupid.
"You… You could bring a woman into your life if you wanted, you know," she said, in a quiet and distant tone. "I've been thinking a lot lately, and I decided you definitely could use that. As long as she's a nice person, of course. And not some kind of gold digger or black widow or an evil vampire out to suck you dry…"
He laughed weakly again. "Yuuna-chan, I'm far too busy to even think of that now…" Vampires? The only one he knew of in the area was Evangeline, and honestly, he didn't swing that way… mostly…
"But you still do," she accused. "You still keep all those porn magazines under your bed, don't you?"
Awkwardly, he cringed. "Yeah."
He had been mortified as hell that time Yuuna had found them while cleaning. And then almost as mortified when Caster had recently stumbled on them. Yuuna had chewed him out back then calling him a perv, but Caster had just read them all with fascination and used them as inspiration for that night's 'recharge session'. Akashi was starting to suspect that much recharging was not necessary.
Either way, the incident made him even more convinced Caster and Yuuna shouldn't meet.
"It's okay, it's a natural need in men," Yuuna said while preparing the ingredients. "Sorry about being so bitchy that time."
And then he knew he should be worried. "Yuuna-chan, are you okay?"
"Why do you ask? I have to be feeling bad if I decide to be more understanding and mature, accepting my dad is a man who has needs?"
"N-No, of course not! It's just you're… quiet."
"I had a very active day at the court today, Dad. I'm tired, that's all."
"Oh, then let me help y—"
"No. You still can't cook anything worth a darn. I don't want to spend the night with a stomachache to boot. Just sit back and relax."
Caster massaged his shoulders from behind with ethereal, ghost-like hands and purred. "That is an excellent idea. She is intelligent in addition to being gorgeous…"
No, they definitely shouldn't ever meet.
In that moment, he had fatally tempted fate with just a thought.
"See you tomorrow, Chihaya-chan!" the twins Ami and Mami waved happily at her as she walked out the studio. Then thin, relatively tall, rather flat chested young woman with the very long dark blue hair waved back at them weakly, before stepping out into the Agency's main hall. There was someone new working there, behind the reception desk, making Chihaya pause in surprise, perhaps more than she should have shown.
"Oh, good evening. We haven't been introduced yet, have we?" asked the slightly older woman, who was strikingly gorgeous, with her fair skin, blue eyes and long blond hair. "I'm sorry. I was hired just today, by Hatoko-sama. My name is Nekane Springfield. And I'm honored to be here, working with you from now on."
Chihaya nodded stiffly. It was typical of the struggling, emerging agency not telling everyone at once when decisions of that kind were made, particularly when the volatile and absent minded Hatoko-sama was deciding things without consulting anyone first. "L-Likewise. My name is Kisaragi Chihaya," she said, as softly as ever.
Chihaya was still reeling from it as she walked to the subway station. Nekane Springfield was there. Nekane Springfield shouldn't have been there at the time. Something was terribly wrong there, she could feel it clearly. The girl sat on a sidewalk bench for a moment to gather her thoughts and ponder her options, which were not many, as usual.
She lifted her gaze, looking at the beautiful twilight sky, so unlike the harsh blood skies from her home. This was such a peaceful, pleasant world (warts and all), it almost broke her heart, thinking about... it.
But she stood back up quickly and continued walking. There was no point on dwelling on it.
She stopped again before a music store's window. Her eyes grew very round at the sight of a CD in particular. Fast and noticeably nervous, she wanted in and asked the clerk, a pimply young foreigner, how much was it.
"Oh, that?" he asked back. "Dirt cheap. It's just a promo single from a local band. Strictly experimental stuff. The kind of thing schoolgirls throw together during their festivals just to see what happens. You sure you don't wanna the newest from Afternoon Tea Time? We got it yesterday, you know."
"No. I want that one," she insisted, her tone flat but firm.
A hour later, at the lonely apartment, sitting at a corner of her bedroom's floor, she played the single again. The music flowing into her through the headphones gave her heart yet another blow.
She blocked the other voices out, focusing only on the melodic one she had not heard in years. The voice that had sung for her so many times, back then. Only this time, her tone was not melancholic and sweet, but cheerful and wildly energetic. Chihaya did not care. It still was hervoice, and that was all what mattered.
Other than that whispered word, Chihaya suffered in absolute silence.
The High Priestess:
"In other news," televisions were announcing all over Munich, "German premier Gerhard von Faust confirmed today his engagement to genius robotic researcher Doctor Lorelei Geitlin. Dr. Geitlin, best known for her adamant opposition to America's Sentinel program, is probably today's most advanced developer in the field of artificial intelligence. The announcement comes as a surprise to few, after recent-"
"Well," Dr. Lorelei said evenly, as best as she could with a hand wrapped around her throat. "I don't know why are you so furious at me. Your debut got top billing in the evening news over my engagement."
"How could you?" Power Girl snarled on her face, holding her out the balcony and high above the streets below.
"Well, how can you do this?" Lorelei asked back. "Isn't this the kind of thing a fledging superheroine never wants to be caught doing?" Seventy stories of freefall, and she didn't have feet-installed jets like her mother. She had lost those feet, not to mention her mother, in, ironically, a Super Sentinel raid all those years ago. Or all those years ahead. Good to see her luck still held up, eh?
"Before entering, I found all your digital filming links across and around the place, and burned them off with telescopic heat vision. Nice attempt trying to shield them with lead and magic. It would all have worked with Uncle Kal, but I still could hear the pulses, and for the magic, well... you know. Just as you must know about Faust's plans. And the kind of man he is!"
"Of course I do. He's a lonely, sad, broken man who led an extremely painful childhood and worked very hard to get where he is now. Not all of us were born lucky enough to do anything we wanted. And I'd ask you how you found me, but I believe I just answered my own question, in a way..."
"I just had to keep an ear out for an unique kind of heartbeat," the much bustier woman said.
"All over the planet?"
"I had time."
"As we all did. I guess you have more than the average of us, however, being able to use it at super speed. If you are so angry at Faust, why aren't you holding him out his window instead?"
She brought her back into the apartment, but still didn't lower her. "I came here to prevent a third World War, not to trigger it."
"What a coincidence. Me too. But you only have answered half of my question. How did you know I was in this period in the first place?"
"I was told. That's alll you need to know."
Now she lowered her, with actual care of not hurting her. The woman with the long orange hair fixed her collar up. "Thank you. It's funny, in a way. I never imagined meeting my sister would be like this."
"I'm not your sister."
"Oh? Would you rather say you are what I would have been if Father had married your mother instead of mine?"
"My parents never married."
Lorelei smiled sadly. "A pity. I was hoping you could show me pictures of what's a Kryptonian wedding like. I always had that curiosity. That is an advantage I have over you, at least. I guess. But you know, we should at the very least trying to compare notes, to see if our goals are as mutually exclusive as it'd seem at first glance. We both want to prevent our apocalypses from ever taking place..."
"You're wrong again," Power Girl told her. "In my world, there never was an apocalypse. Do you see now why my vision must prevail over yours?"
"What about Father?"
"He died young, but it was to guarantee a safe future for us all. I won't stand for you to ruin everything he sacrificed himself for."
Lorelei sighed. "Forget it. You should know I can't allow that, more than you can allow me... Look, if you're so adamant about it, and you're so powerful and unstoppable, and you think I'm such a danger, and your vision is right, obliterate me at once, will you? My mission is all I have left to live for. Without it, there's no point. Make it look like an accident. For you, it'd be easy. That, of course, if you are so sure of..."
"That isn't what my parents taught me. And I'm sure yours didn't either."
"Oh? And then, were you just bluffing with the window?" she sounded completely unsurprised.
Power Girl smiled. "My favorite uncle's favorite questioning tactic."
They looked at each other's eyes.
"I'll be watching," Power Girl promised, starting to rise slowly into the ir from the balcony.
"You know that, by preventing my timeline, you're sentencing me to blink out of existence, don't you?" Lorelei asked her, "You're still going against what your parents taught you."
"No. They taught me there's always a way to save everyone, except maybe yourself. I only have to find it."
And she zoomed up, up and away, becoming a twinkle in the sky.
Lorelei sighed and let herself fall sitting on her favorite couch. Soft mewlings abounded around her feet. She reached down and petted the head of one of her dozens of cats.
"What's your opinion, Evangeline? Should I trust her? Should I go with what Mom and Dad taught me, too, or should I go with what life taught me instead?"
After a long brooding silence, she grabbed a cellphone. And he made a call. Talking in a tired, regretful, mirthless voice.
"It's me. Get me Metallo."
That Wednesday, the cosmic tyrant known as Thanos the Mad Titan gained control over the last of the six Infinity Gems (Mind, Reality, Power, Space, Soul and Time) and assembled them into his right armored gauntlet, which he unimaginatively dubbed the Infinity Gauntlet. To impress Death itself, with whom he was madly in love, he snapped his fingers and destroyed half of the universe's population, including everyone in Mahora Academy. The surviving heroes of the universe gathered to fight Thanos, but he massacred them all, save for three. As Jack Rakan gave him a wedgie, Doctor Stephen Strange (the Sorcerer Supreme) and Adam Warlock snatched the Gauntlet away from Thanos. Death, being a rather nice girl but also having her limits, finally had enough of Thanos' DEEP LOVE and his attempts to commit genocide in her name, and turned him into stone forever, or at the very least until the next cosmic crossover. The universe was fully restored, with no one else retaining any memories of what had happened.
That night, Negi, Chisame, Satomi, Matoi and Chamo went to have dinner at the Chao Bao Zi, somehow especially glad to be alive, although they couldn't figure exactly why.
Skuld and Natsuki stared at each other over the table, aggressively and intensely enough to move most other customers to pay in a hurry and leave.
Finally, one of them shouted.
Satsuki sighed, grabbed a pot of mayonnaise, a jar of milk, and began to work again...
"You can't even start to say ice-cream is a better flavor than mayonnaise, because for starters, ice-cream doesn't come in a single flavor!" Natsuki argued.
"So what? All of its flavors are better than mayonnaise!" Skuld shot back.
"You're delirious! Mayonnaise tastes better and fills more than ice-cream, which is only for babies anyway!"
"Who are you calling a baby?-!"
"Who do you think, you whiny crybaby?-!"
Then Satsuki set two large cups between them. "Here."
Natsuki sniffed at her cup. "W-What... What is this I don't even-"
Skuld did likewise. "Mayonnaise ice-cream? Seriously? But this can't even be edible...!"
The polite but firm glare Satsuki gave them moved them to eat immediately.
And then, sheer bliss.
"This... This is the best thing I've ever tasted...!"
"Ahhhhhh, I've died and gone back to Heaven...!"
From a nearby table, Fujino Shizuru cooed to herself and began taking pictures of the wide eyed, starry eyed, Super Deformed-cute Natsuki eating quickly.
From another table, Chisame snorted. "Weirdos."
Negi laughed weakly. "Oh, Chisame-san...!"
Standard punchline setting pause.
"One for each one of us too, please," Chisame called out.
Asuna: Follow your Heart
"Like I could ever like a brat," Asuna told herself. "I mean, yeah, I admit liking him as a pal of sorts, even though he bothers me so much with all those tests and homework. Because you can't deny he has a lot of guts, and yeah, if he ever gets his act together, maybe he'll make Chisame or some other girl a happy nagging wife someday. But my type? Hah! Not even when he grows up, I think. I don't like just any grown man, I like them fairly older than me, and distinguished. Negi may be formal and stuff, but he isn't distinguished the way Takahata-sensei or the Elder are."
"You're talking about my dad, you know," a sleepy Konoka quietly interjected from the bunk below, with a smuggled in Ryo-Ohki asleep on her chest.
"I'm just putting him as an example," Asuna made clear.
"Anyway, I'll never forgive Negi for stealing my first kiss!"
"Wasn't that something you agreed on, Asuna? Something you did to save your own life, too?"
"If he's so smart, why couldn't he think of any alternatives? I'm a Baka Ranger, I couldn't be expected to come up with anything myself! But he should have!"
"Well, I'm glad to be his partner," Konoka fondly said. "I prefer him over any of those old guys I meet in my omiais."
Asuna frowned and kept on staring at the ceiling.
"Konoka-chan," she finally said.
Her best friend stirred from the sleep she had just entered. "Yeah, Asuna?"
"Who do you like best, Setsuna-san or Negi?"
"Why, that's a very private question, but since it's Asuna-chan, I'll answer it," she giggled. "I like Setchan best because she's been at my side almost my whole life."
"Yeah, but… Well, you know…"
"I like Setchan best, then Daddy, then Asuna-chan, then Negi-kun!"
"V-Very funny, Konoka. Har har," she mumbled, not noticing the faint pink washing over and around her own nose.
"And then there's Yomi-chan," Konoka sighed.
"What?-! C'mon, now that isn't even a joke. That psycho kidnapped you and tried to kill Setsuna, the girl you just said you love above everyone else. Remember?"
"I know," and now her voice sounded sad, which was so rare in her, it made Asuna take notice. "Still, I can't help it. Whenever I think of her, I only can think of that sweet crazy girl who played with us. And how she always smiled, but her smile was shallow and sad. The three of us once meant so much for each other, Asuna. In a perfect world, Yomi-chan would come back to her senses, and we'd be happy together, as if nothing happened, the way we used to be. But I know that'll never happen."
"Konoka-chan, I… I…"
"Good night, Asuna-chan."
The next morning, Asuna noticed Konoka's slightly reddened eyes during breakfast, but didn't comment on them. It was a best friend thing.
That Thursday, Kerberos felt another Clow Card, this time at Haruna's drawing studio.
"I can feel her wicked presence!" he cried. "No doubt, she was attracted by the twisted and corrupted nature of this place!"
"That way!" Nodoka pointed at one of the shadows of the studio, which slithered around encircling them, until something long, thin, slimy and snake-like sprouted up from it. Nodoka and Yue's faces became green. Haruna's turned red, although out of excitement rather than any shame.
"It can't be! Way cool! One of these in my own workplace! I have been blessed! I never dreamed I'd see this day!" Saotome gushed, hopping in place. Boing, boing, boing, she Gainaxed.
"What the hell's wrong with you!" Yue cried, turning the video camera off in disgust.
"It's The Tentacle! Created by Master Clow after a wild drunken night at a seedy movie theater!" Kero warned. "Watch your backs! Uh, and since you're all girls, your fronts too!"
The Tentacle was not that tall, being barely shorter than Yue herself, but moved very fast, as Nodoka learned firsthand when it whipped ahead to lash at her, making her shriek as it ripped the front of her skirt, exposing the modest panties underneath. Kero flew in and bit The Tentacle to protect his mistress, making it back away before it could really harm her. However, it bashed the plushie aside, and he'd have crashed against a wall if Haruna hadn't drawn a Pactio-created cushion to intercept him right on time.
"Keee, ke ke ke ke!" Paru cackled madly, stepping protectively between the card and her friends. "What a cute thing, I want to keep it! But you came to the wrong place, sweetie! You're out of your league against the sexy Speed Grapher-sama!"
Then a voice said "Stop! Before you hurt yourselves!"
Kero, Nodoka, Yue, Haruna and The Tentacle looked aside to see a tall, androgynous and strangely attractive figure stood on a large open window's frame, with a gloved hand cockily supported on a hip, and the other one holding ... a black rose. The stranger wore a white suit and top hat, not to mention a garish mask covering most of his or her face.
"Summoned here by the sensation of a great injustice!" he or she yelled dramatically. "Bathed by the moonlight, a new defender of the helpless arrives! A messenger of good will, the Black Rose Baron! I - KYAAA!"
Making a slurping sound, The Tentacle leaped onto the newcomer before the sentence could be finished properly. A rather girlish shriek had ensued, but Speed Grapher drew a set of giant hands to catch the Baron in mid-fall and pull him or her back in, the fast moving Tentacle still attached to him or her, fondling all over his or her body.
"AAAHHH! TAKE IT OFF! TAKE IT OFF!" the vigilante yelled, although to the weirdo's credit, he or she now was whacking at the creature with a cane, and hard.
Haruna drew a set of pincers to yank the maniacal tentacle off the Baron's pants, since it had just stuck to his or her lower backside, making vague chuckling sounds. However, it had been grabbing so firmly that parts of the pants and the underwear beneath them were ripped off along with it, uncovering a pair of shapely pale buttocks.
"Oooops!" Haruna stuck the tip of her tongue out. "Sorry!" she lied.
Sick of it all already, Yue swung her baseball bat down on The Tentacle and began pummeling it with efficient but relentless brutality. Haruna cringed, and Nodoka looked positively ill. The Black Rose Baron paused in his/her task of making a makeshift skirt with a curtain to shudder as well.
Once the brutal bludgeoning was over at last, Yue calmly gestured for Nodoka towards the splattered tentacle. "All yours, Nodoka. I'm sorry you had to see that."
"Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes, thank you, Yue-Yue," Nodoka gulped warily, at then tapped her staff on the mangled card as gently as she could, with her staff. "P-Plese return to your natural form, Card-san."
The Tentacle returned to being a simple looking card, which flew into Yue's hands. Yue grunted and pushed it back. But it flew back to her, slamming itself against her flat chest. "Nodoka, Kero-san!" she called out.
Kero cleared his throat and lectured, "The Card will always submit itself to the person who had the biggest part in its defeat. Besides, The Tentacle is one of the most perverted cards of them all, and so it likes being mistreated and abused."
"Away, lascivious card!" Yue pushed it back again. "What use could I have for something like you?"
"You kidding?" Haruna asked. "It has a million of practical uses! Why, you even could use it to start your own harem!"
"I'll never have a harem!" Yue screamed, pushing the card into Nodoka's left hand and holding it there. "Quick, write your name on it and claim it!"
"... do I have to?" she asked.
An intimidated Nodoka obeyed. As she did so, the card finally calmed down, and she added it to her deck, sweatdropping. "Master Clow must have been a ... very eccentric man." Then she remembered something. "Oh! By the way, Black Rose Baron-sama, sir, thank you very much for -!"
"She's gone," Haruna told her. "I wonder if Batman-sama gives classes on this to new masked vigilantes, or something ..."
A lot of blocks away, at the other side of Mahora City, more than our hour after, Nekane Springfield sneaked into her new apartment, slammed the window closed behind her, and fell face-first onto her bed.
"I'd bet this sort of thing never happens to that Tuxedo Kamen fellow," she grunted.
Cocone: The Fear
"Shouldn't you be with your friend?" the man asked her, seeing her sweep the church's front entrance all alone.
"Shouldn't you be elsewhere?" the kid asked with rather heavy bluntness despite her quiet, unassuming tone. "I heard you were an Atheist."
He made a slight disapproving sound with his tongue. Modern children. "I came to visit Father Kotomine. While we may disagree on the principles of his doctrine, I have found we happen to share several viewpoints on the world in general."
"That's good. He's inside, but talking in private with Sister Yukariko."
She only made the vaguest of all shoulder shrugs.
After a while, he idly asked, "Weren't you two always together? Every time I passed here on my way back home, I saw you two playing, but lately, not so much."
"She is… running errands."
"I see. Well, taking serious tasks is an important part of growing up."
Cocone only nodded.
Finally, despite herself, she found herself saying, "She needs to grow up."
"And you should find yourself friends your own age anyway," he mused, Well knowing there were not any others of her age working at the Church.
Often, a simple and short look at the physical features told a whole world about that person's insecurities. Dark skin in a Japanese environment meant she was most likely seen as an alien by her peers to some degree or another. Probably an outcast of her own will, judging from how silent and introverted she was.
Only one actual friend, not her age, who wasn't there for her anymore. Doing big girl things out. In the age to think of boys, not about child friends anymore.
The diagnosis was a fear of loneliness.
And often, only the simplest words, innocent, innocuous words, were enough to kick-start the most fascinating of processes.
The young adult nun with the milky skin and the worried eyes walked out of the church then, bowing polite and nervously. She had all the signs of awkwardness about her, probably a result of being afraid and undecided about her path in life. The things he had overheard Ishigami saying about her had helped him in reaching that conclusion, as well.
"Oh! Oh, good evening, Professor—"
He bowed back, with cold confidence. "Good evening to you as well, Ma'am. Ishigami-sensei sent you his regards."
The ephemeral faint blush was only confirmation. "Ah! I see, that's very kind from him. Send him my best wishes as well…"
Cocone kept on sweeping even after Rance-sensei walked in for his meeting with the Father, even after Sister Caren left, even after the entrance was spotless.
She kept on waiting for Misora's return.
Never afraid of anything that could happen to her while alone, but of being alone itself.
Source of Income. (Adapted from a Colonel Aki 4-Koma).
"Hey, want an apple?" Sakura Kyoko offered her one.
Miki Sayaka looked dubiously at the huge bag of apples Kyoko was carrying, and she huffed. "From where did you get enough money to buy all that? I know your family is still going under finance troubles! Don't tell me you did something... underhanded!"
Yuuki Nao passed by next to them absently sending cellphone messages.
Kyoko frowned. "What are you talking about? I earned my money through perfectly legal means!"
"Such as?" Sayaka pressed on.
"The Chao Bao Zi's 'Finish It All in 30 Minutes or Less' Ramen Extravaganza Challenge!"
"Ah?" Sayaka blinked.
The redhead continued, "The '10,000 Yen-Prize All Star Curry Buffet Contest'! You have no idea how hard it was, beating that crazy Excel girl!"
"No, seriously, what-"
"The 'Survive Three Bowls of Tendo Akane's Cooking' Ultimate Challenge! They had it in Extreme TV, you know!" Kyoko proclaimed.
The blue haired girl postrated herself before her. "Say no more! Sorry I ever doubted you at all!"
The next day, Friday, Negi, Chisame, Matoi, Chamo and Satomi were gathered at Negi's room after classes, with Nodoka, Kero and Haruna telling them in length about the events of the previous night.
"... and t-that's what happened!" Nodoka finished. "He simply disappeared as if he had never been there!"
"She, not he," Haruna corrected.
"But he introduced himself as a Baron," Nodoka said.
Haruna pulled a piece of ripped lingerie out of one of her pockets. It was pink. "This is what The Tentacle ripped from her buttocks. Doesn't look too manly to me!"
Chisame snorted. "A weirdo like that might wear panties under his pants, for all we know."
"True," Haruna allowed. "However -" And she took a deep sniff of the piece, creeping Nodoka, Negi, Chisame and Kero out. "- the sweet smell of femalehood cannot be denied! Back me up here, Chamo-kun!" she said, passing the cloth to the ermine.
After sniffing as well, Chamo grinned dreamily. "Sooooo nice ... why, it smells exactly like Nekane-Oneechan's undies!"
Negi's face suddenly became a whole lot scarier than usual. "Now that isn't funny at all, Chamo-kun."
"B-But I'm not joking!" he claimed. A second later, the even harsher glare Negi shot him made him regret saying that. "What I mean is, it was an accident! There was this huge hawk hunting me, and I just had to hide in the clothes she was going to wash!"
Negi, being Negi, bought the excuse immediately, and even blushed. "Oh! Oh, I'm sorry I doubted you, Chamo-kun!"
"It's okay," the animal waved a paw magnanimously. "You're still young and prone to lapses in judgment. That's why you need me around, after all!"
Chisame grunted. "Since Negi's big sister is still in Wales, however, what if we focus on more relevant things anyway? What kind of wacko would dress like a gay Tuxedo Kamen knockoff and go prowl the night? I'll look into recent police reports. Maybe some adrenaline junkie nutjob escaped a lunatic asylum recently or something like that."
"He looked like a nice person," Nodoka mused, still refusing to believe that had been a woman. He was almost as elegant and elegantly manly as Negi-sensei, with the airs of a classic dandy gentleman. "And he had such a cultured foreign accent, too. Somewhat similar to yours, Negi-sensei."
"So, it's another Welshman?" Matoi hummed, massaging Chisame's tense shoulders from behind. "What are the odds? On the other hand, that'd explain why he kind of smells like Negi-sensei's sister. Maybe they use similar Welsh scents. If she's a woman, it makes much more sense she'd use female cologne."
"It wasn't cologne, it was the natural smell of a joyous youthful body!" Chamo then refuted the report.
Negi tensed up now. "Wait! Smells like Sister, a family member ... goes around the world helping others ... noble looking, tall and charming ... w-what if that's my ... that's my father?!"
"Wasn't your father an expert mage?" Haruna asked. "The person we met wasn't what I'd call a powerhouse. Besides, I'm still convinced she's a girl."
"Well," Chisame coughed, "from what we've seen in Eva's memories, Negi's dad was a bumbling fool at times. But I don't think he'd be enough of a dick to wander around Mahora without letting his dear son know he's still alive."
"I suppose you're right." Negi deflated.
A general paused ensued now.
"Can I sniff the piece of underwear again?" Chamo begged. "Just to see if I can, ah, establish a trail or something!"
Shizuna: The Unremarkable
"So," Arai Chie-sensei asked her over a cup of coffee after work hours, "How did you enjoy your class trip? Could you finally relax like you wanted to?"
"I see," Chie-sensei said.
"It wasn't like it was taxing. Actually, it had to be the most boring and bland trip we ever had," Shizuna said. "It was so boring, as a matter of fact, most of the children spent most of the last day asleep."
Chie raised a thin black eyebrow. "Are you sure they weren't tired after too much excitement instead?"
"No. It was only the usual happenings. You know, spin the bottle games that ended up in disaster, Nitta-sensei yelling at them, mobbing Negi-sensei… The same things that always happen everywhere. And nothing else."
"Well, it can't be helped. What you need is a trip of your own, where you can meet interesting people your age without having to worry about the children."
"I don't think I'll be able to do that for the foreseeable future."
"Oh? Why not?"
"My finances are at a low point, if you must know."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Maybe you could do what I do to earn some extra money? It's a bit shameful, and not the kind of thing a teacher should be caught doing, but… it pays remarkably well…"
Shizuna blushed and looked at her with very wide eyes. "Wh-What…"
Chie looked at her wristwatch. "Talking about that, I'm about to have my session for tonight. Want to come with me? I could teach you how to pull off a duo…"
"Don't be scandalized! Live a little and loosen up. I know only young people used to do that, but I still feel in shape for it. With no false humility, I'll say my hand-work is simply remarkable…"
Shizuna gulped. "Really?"
"Really. The kids love seeing it…"
"Well, I'll admit they shouldn't even be out that late to begin with, but that's their parents' fault, that's my motto."
"B-But what if we're caught doing it?"
"Well, it's against the regulations, but the Dean always forgives me when I'm caught doing it. He says that, as long as we aren't hurting anyone, it's fine."
"The Dean approves of that?-!"
"Sure. Sometimes we do it together, too. He's quite spry for his age, and has excellent reactions."
Shizuna fanned herself with a hand. "This… That, I've got to see it…"
Mahora Game Center.
Shizuna groaned to herself as she mechanically tapped at the buttons of her side of the Arcade machine, while next to her, Chie blasted enemy ships left and right like… a pro. A crowd of amazed youngsters surrounded them, gasping at Chie's impossibly high scores.
"See?" Chie told her at some point. "I make a killing every night with the bets! And like I said, the youngsters love me!"
"… I'm starting to understand why you haven't married either…"
That Saturday, Skuld stomped into Suzushiro Haruka's Student Council office with the overwhelming force of Thor's carriage, protesting at the top of her lungs. "Miss Vice President! Miss Vice President! This is an outrage! You must take measures on it immediately! People need to be punished, preferably in ways involving lakes of eternal fire!"
From the corner where he was sitting at going over Yukino's old tasks, her default replacement, student council assistant Tate Yuiichi, couldn't help but cringe. Some rather bitter experiences on handling hot tempered women, however, prompted him to stay silent.
Haruka lifted a tired but still firm glare from the budgets she had been checking. "What. Is. It."
Skuld dumped a thick, heavy stack of envelopes she had bound together on Suzushiro's already overloaded desk. "THIS! IS! IT! For the last five days, my locker has been stuffed with this obnoxious junk! I demand that you do something about it!"
Haruka picked one of the envelopes at random, ripped it open, and read its contents carelessly. "My hearty pumps madly whenever I see you ..."
Skuld's cheeks grew crimson. "It's a huge offense! It's sexual harassment, that's what it is! I'm being stalked just because of my good looks and alluring intelligence! I demand protection!"
Calmly, Haruka unlocked a cabinet under her desk, pulled an even taller and thicker bundle of older, slightly yellowed envelopes, and dumped them before Skuld's. "See these? I got them when I joined this Academy and I was even younger than you at the time. I agree it's annoying and immoral, but it happens all the time. It can't be stopped. Believe me, I've tried. Several times. Hard. Girls tend to get them right after enrolling, while they're still a novelty. They'll stop coming when another pretty girl joins in."
Skuld blinked. "Th-That's it? Aren't you Suzushiro Haruka, the Rules Devil of Mahora? Aren't you going to do anything?"
"I am doing something. Something far more important, as a matter of fact." The busty blonde returned obsessively to what she had been doing. "An honor student of ours disvanished without a trace during her class trip, and I'm setting a budget for a search campaign. Mahora won't abandon one of their own! We'll make lots of missing child announcements all over Japan, until ... until ... until Yukino-chan is found safe and sound!" she finally cried.
"You say either 'disappeared' or 'vanished'," Tate stoically supplied.
Skuld looked on curiously as Haruka mumbled bitterly, returning to loom hunchbacked over her workload.
"Kikukawa Yukino?" the young Norn finally asked.
Haruka nodded curtly, before she visibly realized something and lifted her scary gaze to meet hers. "Do you know about her?" The idea had finally snapped to life in her mind. If that girl was a real goddess, as she had claimed during the Kyoto trip, not that Haruka could be really sure she was despite everything, then she -
Skuld rasped uneasily, subtly looking in the direction of the oblivious, bored Tate. Haruka caught on and Skuld faked a laugh. "Of course not! A normal student wouldn't know anything about it, don't you think? I happened to hear about the case! She was your friend, wasn't she? I'm sorry about your loss; even if I'm sure it's a temporary one!"
Haruka nodded formally. "Thank you. Tate-kun, would you be kind enough as to go bring snacks for Odinson-san?"
He got up with his hands in his pockets. "On it," he droned, gladly taking the chance to walk out.
Once they were alone, Haruka grabbed Skuld by the lapels of her uniform's jacket. "Talk," the blonde snarled.
"Your friend and the students who disappeared with her were transported to Mundus Magicus, the parallel world Chao Lingshen hails from," Skuld whispered. ""They were summoned by Princess Emeraude from the Cephiro continent to help her avert the upcoming crisis threatening that world's continued existence."
"YUKINO-CHAN?!" Haruka gasped, appalled. "B-But she isn't strong or able! She's depended on me since we were children! That's insane! We have to bring her back!"
"Well ..." Skuld said, obviously not wanting to add anything to tantalize Haruka.
Haruka only shook her vigorously. "You're a goddess, aren't you, dammit! What do I need to do to get you do it? Pray to you for the rest of my life? Build you a shrine? Start your church? Sacrifice cows on an altar? You name the price and I'll meet it! Except for a human sacrifice. Unless Fujino will suffice," she quickly amended.
Skuld smiled roguishly. "Oh, yeah?"
"YES!" Haruka nodded.
"I'd need to calibrate a few parameters of search first, so give me a week," Skuld said. "I make no guarantees, but there's a fair chance I might locate her exact current position by then."
"A WHOLE WEEK?! In a strange fantasy world?! By then, a delicate flower like her could be devuo - devoud - eaten by a dragon! Killed by hobgoblins! Sold as a slave! Who knows what else!" She shuddered, biting her finger nails so hard shards of them flew everywhere. Even at that, she was a scene-chewing ham.
"It's the best I could do trapped in this backwater world," Skuld shrugged. "Don't you worry. She's with people who know how to defend themselves. What's the worst that could happen to them?"
Often, to find yourself, you need to be alone.
I love Fumika-dono and Fuuka-dono dearly, I do. However, they aren't that good at helping anyone with enlightenment. That's why I scurry out while they sleep, to sit out alone in the night, looking at the stars.
I can't deny it feels well, in a different way than their company. One such as me must appreciate quiet and peace whenever it is available.
Maybe I will come to lead an actual kunoichi's life, one fraught with nothing but deceit, blood, an early demise, and possibly immortality in an action-packed shounen manga. Or maybe, like my parents hoped, I will live the existence of a normal modern girl… which might actually be more dangerous than the path of a kunoichi, if observation is to be believed. I would marry a hopefully good man– or woman, it's modern times, after all– and become a housewife, since let's face it, I'm not the career woman type unless that career involves ninjutsu and espionage.
I'm fine with either option, actually. Happiness doesn't depend on hoping your single selected path comes true, but on being able to adapt and find joy whenever you can get it. You must be like the river, flowing and changing your course until you eventually reach the sea, and ignore the toxic pollution being dumped on you by the factories that set up alongside you.
I close my eyes and enjoy the cold breeze on my face. Find solace in the present. Live each day by itself. It is a cliché, and maybe it is wrong to some degree, especially for those who must plan everything ahead, like Negi-sensei. But it is the way I've chosen to live. The only one I can actually follow. I suppose I'm simple-minded like that, but it can't be helped.
I'm just a dumb ninja retainer, but don't get me wrong, I'll never hate myself for it. No one ever should hate themselves for being what they are, unless there is evil in their hearts. Or they're a Twilight fan, which pretty much amounts to the same thing.
That's a lesson several of my classmates and my teacher will have to learn by themselves, I'm afraid. I'm not good at teaching, as Fuuka-dono and Fumika-dono can testify. Testify is the right word for that, isn't it?
It is almost the time when Fumika-dono gets up to use the bathroom, by the way. I should head back now before they notice my absence. I have had enough me time for a night.
However, I still haven't managed to clean my mind of its biggest stain yet, much to my shame.
Because I'm still wondering what that stupid priestess doing right now.
Very early that Sunday morning, Negi, Chisame, Satomi, Chamo, Haruka, Matoi and Ayaka headed over to Evangeline's cottage to submit a petition.
"And you want me to keep training you," Evangeline summed up after it was clear Negi wouldn't get past the pandering, praising stages anytime soon. She spoke with disdain, not bothering to get up from her bed, in bunny pajamas and with her legs crossed lazily. She rubbed her nose, since her allergies were killing her.
"Well, please remember everything Skuld-san told us," Negi reminded her. "A global crisis might be approaching, and we need to be ready for anything. All of us!"
After a loud sneeze, Eva laughed, cold and evil. "Why should I care of the world ends? No matter how big the catastrophe may be, it couldn't destroy me! I will outlive mankind and whatever race comes next!"
"Dammit, that goes well past the callous," Chisame said.
"I don't care! I'm evil! Perverse! Selfish and cruel!" Eva barked.
Haruka stood up. "For shame, Mc Dowell-san! Weren't you human once, too? Are you going to become a betreacherous to our species? You claim to be unable to kill women or children, yet you'd wash your hands clean of oceans of their blood just to satisfy your negligence?"
"Yes. Yes, I would," Evangeline yawned. "By the way, the correct word there is 'betrayer'. Or 'traitor'. Next question?"
"However," Satomi pointed out, "Wouldn't it be in your own best selfish interests to help us become a powerful militant fighting force, like Erebus-sensei's class? What I intend to express is, based on the knowledge we have, you need either Negi-sensei's blood or his increased magical skill applied to the task of breaking your current imprisonment, or all your efforts and hopes to date would be thwarted, should he perish with the rest of mankind."
"That ... that is no problem!" Eva snapped. "If Nagi is truly alive, his spell will be broken as soon as he dies!"
"Are you sure of it, Master?" Chachamaru asked from where she stood in her maid outfit next to Evangeline's bed. "Until recent events, you had always operated under the assumption the Thousand Master was dead, and yet you never questioned the barrier's continued existence."
"I don't remember asking for your worthless opinion!" the vampiress seethed. "Besides, that Erebus boya couldn't find a solution for that other vampire despite becoming as powerful as Nagi himself!"
"He's only one year older than Negi-sensei," Ayaka argued. "I'm sure they can eventually find something that can help you!"
"And besides, you couldn't have your long wanted personal revenge on Nagi if he died before you could find him, could you?" Chisame questioned.
"Ah ..." Evangeline said.
Chachamaru spoke once more, "Furthermore, if mankind is destroyed forever, who will sate your thirst, Master? And think of the kittens!"
"It's a conspiracy!" Eva cried. "You can't force and blackmail me into being moral! Don't you have any ethics?"
She huffed and puffed in place, tightening her fists at her sides before running a hand down her face. "Okay. Fine, I got it. I'll tell you what, Boya. One week. I'll give you one week to prepare to pass a test I'll give you. If you manage to do that, I'll train you and your pesky band of brats. If not, don't bother me again. Okay?"
Negi nodded eagerly. "Okay! What is the test about?"
"I'll tell you as soon as I consider you are ready to know. It shouldn't take me more than a few days of careful considerations."
"Then how can I prepare myself until then?"
"Use those days to get ready for anything," Eva simply said.
"You still haven't thought of a good test to give him, have you?" Matoi droned.
"Shut up, you creepy stalker!"
"HAH!" Ayaka smiled smugly. "Negi-sensei will pass with flying honors, no matter what it is!"
"Don't needle her, moron!" Chisame whispered into her ear, angrily. "You'll make her give him an even harder test!"
"Listen to your field commander, Yukihiro Ayaka," Eva said blandly, making Chisame cringe.
Ayaka, on the other hand, tensed up in shock. "F-Fuh-Field Commander?! Hasegawa-san?!" the Class Rep babbled.
"Who decided that, and when?" Haruka frowned.
"The primary partner, when there are several Ministra, is usually the one to take the field control under the Magister," Eva folded her arms behind her neck and lay on her back, kicking her bare feet playfully. "Hakase and Tsunetsuki already accepted those conditions."
"Oh, like they would say otherwise!" Ayaka said. "I'm a born leader with experience!"
"You are only a Class Representative, Yukihiro-san!" Haruka intervened. "Being used to a much higher position, it's just logical I should have command priority over you!"
"You didn't even get enough votes to net a Class Representation!" Ayaka accused. "You only got your post because no one else wanted to run against Fujino-san!"
"The fact I was the only one with the courage and morals to run against the vile Bubuzuke Woman only farther proves my point!"
"Further," Matoi supplied.
"Don't fight, don't fight!" Negi tried to break the looming physical conflict.
Eva gave a small cute yawn. "Stop it now, you two. If Boya gets my approval, I'll stage a contest to see who's the best choice for his lieutenant. Understood?"
Both blondes still stared poisonously at each other before looking in opposite directions.
"Fine with me," Ayaka said. "There's nothing she can do that I can't do better."
"Hm!" Haruka replied. "A sure sign of a delusional mind if I ever saw one!"
"For starters, I actually have a grasp on the Japanese language!"
"My Japanese is flawless! I only have the occasional stress induced slip!"
"Someone who stresses so much wouldn't make for a good leader!"
"Girls! You heard her!" Negi suddenly grew serious. "Save your energy for when it can actually be put to good use!"
"... Yes, Negi-sensei," they reluctantly chorused.
"... I'm not interested in the job, really, I'm not ..." Chisame said weakly, going completely unheard.
While it still was early morning at Mahora, it was night at Metropolis.
He swooped down on the top of the Daily Planet building, on top of the giant globe on it, even. The bat was waiting for him there, turning off the device in his right hand.
"What took you so long?" the Dark Knight asked.
"I had to take care of an alien scout ship before they could approach critical range," the Man of Steel said. "For some reason, they have been coming one after another lately, but whenever I try to question them, they just deploy thrusters I can't catch up to and escape. It's getting honestly frustrating."
"Thrusters you can't catch up to?"
"I have my limits, just like anyone. No luck with the Joker yet?"
"While in Japan, you could say I almost had him, just like you with your spaceships. It might be related to the matter that brought me here, actually. I heard some ... worrying news while I was there. It may be that the person who told me was lying, to some degree or another, but you can never be too careful."
"You were raised in religious middle America. What would you say if I told you Heaven might be about to wage War on Earth?"
"Probably I'd react the same way I did when told about the world devouring alien god five years ago."
"Hnh," Batman grunted. "We learned nothing from the Gah Lak Tus incident. This time, we should assemble a team of specialists to deal with it. Remember fifteen years ago?"
"The covered up crisis? Yeah, I wasn't even in costume back then, but I heard it from the other side of the world. I flew there, but ... magic. The biggest concentration of magic I've ever ran into, and considering it was my first encounter with magic, it knocked me down badly. I spent five days floating around the Antarctic, unconscious, until Doctor Occult, you know, the mystic, found me and pulled me back. Nice man, even if eccentric. Ma and Pa thought I had died ..."
"This might be a repeat. On a much larger scale. Someone claiming to be one of ... them ... told me they are coming back."
"Coming back? Why?"
Batman slowly pointed a finger up at Mars, a tiny light in the starry sky.
"The mages have another one of them up there. She was captured all those years ago, and her relatives aren't happy."
"I see," Superman said quietly. "Well, okay, I can see how we'd need some extra help."
There was a short, thoughtful pause.
"I wonder if we ever could have a normal conversation."
"This is normal for me."
Sunday Evening at Mahora:
Nodoka: Bubble Bobble
A sopping wet Nodoka emerged from the cold waters of the practice pool, hair all over her face, coughing and wheezing heavily.
"Nodoka!" Yue shouted, taking a step closer, but then the floating mermaid girl who was the card's spirit spat a stream of bubbles at her feet. The bubbles exploded on contact, and although they were rather harmless, they still forced Yue to back away in surprise.
That gave Nodoka the opening she had been waiting for. Running forward while being careful to not slip, she swung the Clow Staff up, hitting the young-looking mermaid's back.
"Return to your true form, Clow Card!" she yelled, and then, with a choked sound, the magical creature was sucked into her card self, falling down like a dead weight into Nodoka's waiting hand.
"Hooray!" Kero cheered from the sidelines, pumping a paw up. "Nice job, Nodoka! You've caught The Bubbles!"
The shy librarian nodded, breathing in and out, and gesturing for a pen. Yue handed it over dutifully, and Nodoka wrote her name on the Card's back. It was done.
"It'd have been easier if Haruna had been here, though," Yue observed. "With her Artifact, we'd have no problems at all catching the cards."
Nodoka shook her head. "It's-It's okay. The cards aren't evil, or actually dangerous. There's no reason to bother Haruna over this."
"You know she'd actually love to help…" Yue pointed out.
"Maybe it's exactly because she'd love it too much," Nodoka sighed, trying to wring the water out of her skirt. "She'd take it all as a game, and besides, you know I'm required to catch the cards myself. Haruna is finding her own way, with Rito-san and the manga club and Ala Alba…"
Yue frowned. "Listen to yourself, Nodoka! Your way should be with Ala Alba, too! Haruna herself will tell you that!"
"Well," Nodoka sighed sadly just to change the subject, "There's one thing I could use from a Pactio now… These clothes are too wet to walk back home through the night in. And if someone sees me, they'll ask awkward questions. If I had a Pactio outfit to change into, it wouldn't be a problem, but after I lost the Create, I can't make myself any spares…"
"There are still several hours until dawn, and tomorrow's a free day," Yue said. "Just take them off and wait for them to get dry enough. This is an indoor pool, and no one will come for a long while."
Nodoka blinked, giving Yue a look of mild shock, before asking, "Really? I-I mean, you really think so…?"
Yue smiled a tiny smile. "Nodoka, maybe Haruna's right one something; maybe we should learn how to live a little looser. After all, we're already in on the insanity whether we want it or not, right?"
Kero blinked. "I'm not sure I'm following you girls."
Yue kept on smiling, beginning to unbutton her top and keeping her weak blush hidden in the darkness. "I overheard a rumor Akira does this here often. If it's sane enough for Akira, it is for me too."
"R-Right…" Nodoka repeated, clumsily pulling her sopping top off.
After some quirks of an eyebrow, or what passed for an eyebrow in him, Kero turned around and began flying away at a stunned pace. "I think I'll go home ahead of you girls. Um, have fun."
Yue shuddered as she entered the pool in the nude. "I-It's colder than I expected…!"
Nodoka sighed, going in after her. "You get used to it after a while."
Yue: Ripples in the Water
They floated together in the cool water of the indoors pool, moving around slowly, just enjoying the moment despite their shared nerves.
They were both rule abiding, fairly proper girls. A few months ago, they would have choked half to death at the thought of doing something like this (which didn't mean they wouldn't have done something like this, just that it would have been Haruna's fault somehow if they had).
"A lot of things have changed," mused Yue.
"Yes," replied her best friend. "It's scary, but I'm… actually glad they have. It's like my eyes have been opened to so many things. Before, it was like I lived in a box, but now, the world seems so wide, so full of wonders to explore. I… I'm scared of it all, but I also want to keep walking this path forever."
Yue bobbed her head aside to smile and give her friend a placid gaze. Under the silver moonlight falling on them from the skylight, Nodoka's features were almost supernaturally beautiful and delicate. Yue felt her heart going faster. Dammit.
Nodoka exhaled a tiny sigh, and the sight of those pinkish lips half open while water droplets ran down that lovely face troubled Yue even more.
"I don't know how to walk that path, though…" Nodoka's voice cracked for a moment. She had been left behind in the race for Negi's heart, and Kotaro-kun was just a memory left in Kyoto now. Her feelings were a confusing mess, and while she felt confident while chasing the cards, once the thrill of those hunts was over the reality of her personal life sank back in.
Haruna never understood, and her parents couldn't even be asked. She was deadly afraid of telling Negi, and he was always surrounded by prettier, better, stronger girls. She wanted to keep going so badly, but how—?
"Together," Yue whispered, and intertwined her fingers with Nodoka's.
Nodoka's head snapped aside to look at her. For a moment, they only looked at each other's eyes, and finally, they shared a tender comforting smile.
Nodoka moved in for a hug, pressing the shorter girl against herself. Yue felt goosebumps all over her skin, and not only because of the cold water. But clumsily, she hugged back, resting her hands over Nodoka's buttocks, high enough to avoid giving the wrong (wrong?) idea, and her chin on Nodoka's right shoulder.
"Together," Nodoka was echoing her whisper now.
They stayed that way for a few more moments until Yue pulled back uneasily. "I… I think your clothes must be dry enough by now…"
"A-Ah, yes, of course…"
Yue hung slightly behind while watching Nodoka pull herself up from the pool, walking back to her clothes and using a gentle draft from The Windy to dry herself before getting dressed back.
It dawned on Yue they could just have used the card to dry the clothes up from the start. She wondered if Nodoka had actually forgotten that as well, or it was just…
Well. It didn't matter. It had been better this way
Nagi: The Fallen
He kept on sleeping soundly, undisturbed in the darkness and for some reason dreaming of that time they went to that city called Rhyleth…
Ia, Ia, Nagi ftagn! Ia, Ia, Nagi ftagn! Ia, Ia, Nagi ftagn!
He really wished he could yell at whoever was doing all that chanting to keep it down, damn it!
Ayaka: Mommy Dearest
"Okajima-san," she asked as they went over the papers, "Why does my mother spend fifteen thousand yen a month on an Italian masseur named Alessandro?"
Rock, as his friends knew him, struggled hard and desperately for a few moments to find a suitable answer. Sweating streams of ice, the accountant simply ended up saying, "Greeks are more expensive, I think…?"
She shrugged while flipping to another page. "Just asking. Wait, Father also has one named Piero..?"
Another Monday at Mahora:
Misa: School Days
"Who is this boy, Misa-san?" Negi asked after picking up the small photo the girl had dropped from her purse while heading back home after another day at the resort.
"Oh, he's my ex-boyfriend, Taisuke-sempai. Never mind him, he's a creep. I only keep his picture out of pity."
"Well, you know. He may have been a bad part of my life, but he was still a part of it. He's an awful person, but I can't help feeling bad for him, because… well, he's so shallow and vulgar…"
Chisame, who walked near them with a bored expression, lifted an eyebrow, but said nothing. Somehow, it still was clear as crystal what she had just thought.
"Well, at least he wasn't like that friend of his…" Sakurako reminisced, hanging shortly behind Misa. "And he didn't end up as badly as him…"
"Who was that friend?" asked Chisame.
"The stabbed guy," Misa said indifferently.
Chisame choked on her saliva. "THAT guy?-!"
Misa shrugged. "Yeah, him. He actually seemed a nice guy at first. I met him a few times, and I never thought he was that awful, but then, the worst people are often like that."
Negi blinked. "What are you talking about?"
"It happened a year before you arrived," Sakurako reminisced, and she spoke in Gratuitous Engrish, "In the school, the three guys met. Their relation had been changed in the season, and turned into three love stories."
"Three guys?" Negi blinked again.
"She means two girls and a boy," Hakase explained.
Misa looked at her, wide eyed. "Wow, even you know about it!"
"Soryu-san commented a lot on the case," Satomi explained. "I think it makes a fascinating clinical study on the nature of human psychoses and the effects of interpersonal relationships gone wrong, if you are interested in that field of studies."
"I don't think I get it…" Negi confessed.
"Well, that was a scary year," Misa sighed. "There was the case of the Net Idol who went mad and stabbed men to death after disguising herself as other girls…"
"And there was that horrible murder that was solved by that funny detective with the moustache, his teenaged daughter and that cute little boy with the bowtie…"
"Ah," Negi said.
"And those awful rumors about the whole Bible Black thing…" Misa made a sour face.
Chisame became green with disgust. Oh yes, the Internet rumors on that had been just sickening…
"And then there were those Phantom Thieves who tried to steal the school seal…" Sakurako said.
"Who did get it, by the way? Arsene-sama?"
"No, I heard Saint Tail stole it, then gave it back. She was only in it for the prestige…"
They marched in silence for a few moments after that.
"Good thing we live in saner times now!" Misa smiled.
Sakurako looked in another direction. "I wonder why Father Kirei and Rance-sensei are going that way with that huge bag and those shovels…?"
"Now, now, their kinks are their own…"
Akira: Big Damn Heroine
"You have to help me!" the old woman cried desperately. "He's going to die!"
Akira, Minako and Artemis all looked up at their latest challenge.
The small gray cat looked down at them from the treetop with lazy but deeply evil eyes.
Minako calmly addressed the pudgy old woman. "I'm a cat owner myself. He'll come down eventually, you don't have to worry."
"Noooo!" she bawled, rubbing her tearful eyes frantically. "He's only a poor baby! He won't be able to go back down without hurting himself!"
"He isn't a kitten," Sailor Venus scowled. "It's obvious he's rather grown up."
"He's my baby!" the old lady protested. "Fine, then, he's old! Same difference! The point is he can't go down without help! What kind of heroines are you? Can't you even handle this?"
Akira sighed and bowed respectfully for her. "We're sorry. You're right, of course. Please allow me to take care."
Minako groaned. "Always spoiling people, Mercury-chan…"
Akira climbed up the tree easily and reached for the glaring, sinister cute animal. "Here, here, Kamineko-kun, I'm your friend, I'm— AHHH!" she said, as the cat opened a set of surprisingly huge jaws and bit her fingers with a mouthful of impossibly sharp teeth.
"Need some help there, Mercury-chan?" Minako called up.
"No, I'm fine, I'm— EEEEEEEE!" the other Senshi cried as the gray furball jumped on her face, claws out and swirling all around maniacally.
Five seconds later, Akira dropped from the tree, landing on her face. A life bar appeared over her, depleting itself.
Minako sighed and rolled her inexistent sleeves up. "Step aside, Mercury-chan. Let a veteran handle this…"
Twelve seconds later, they both were flat on their faces in the ground, as a tall and majestic figure in blue and red flew down from the tree, carrying Kamineko in his powerful, muscular arms. He gently placed it on the expecting hands of the beaming old lady.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you so very much! You really are always around for everyone, no matter what or where…!"
He smiled, with the most perfect smile in the world. Minako would have swooned if she still wasn't too busy twitching with slash marks all over her face. "It's no problem. I was just flying over the neighborhood."
Artemis bowed her head in deep reverence as soon as the lady was gone. "Extremely pleased to meet you, Superman-sama."
He blinked, but then smiled at the small white pet and patted his head. After meeting Gorilla Grodd, Howard, Tawky Tawny and Mr. Mind, a talking cat wasn't such a strange occurrence. "Well. Nice to meet you too, ah…"
"Artemis. Can I have an autograph for my friends there? I'm sure they'll appreciate it."
"What happened to them? Is it serious?"
"Nah, just leave the autograph and you can go back your way without even looking ba—"
Minako's hand sprang up and clutched Artemis' throat.
Evangeline: Cold Hands, Cold Heart
She sat there, cross legged, with her chin resting on a hand.
"Wouldn't you have better things to do with your time?"
He replied quickly, since she never liked waiting for answers. "After everything Skuld-kun said at Kyoto, I doubt there's anything more important than preparing all of them for what may lie ahead. And your place is the only one where I could teach her quickly enough before the timeframe we calculated."
Evangeline hummed lazily, tapping the bare foot at the end of the leg resting on the other in the air. "And why should I care?"
"Negi told me you lent them the resort for practices before the trip," he said.
"That's different. I only did that out of respect for the other me's wishes, and to see what the other children were capable of. Now that they're gone, why should I bother to waste my time overviewing anemic upstarts?"
"But you heard Skuld-kun," he insisted. "None of us will be safe if what she predicted comes true, unless we're all ready for it."
"Even assuming that child is what she claims to be, I can't believe there is any power I should fear enough to force me to accept such indignity," the vampire huffed arrogantly. "Furthermore, don't you remember what happened when you took to using this resort? You spent your youth away, now you want to become an old man before your time, too?"
He smiled weakly. "Don't worry. I won't go overboard this time."
"Who is worrying, stupid brat? In your own way, you're as bad as Boya. No wonder that idiotic girl likes you so much."
"Whatever the case may be, you won't lose anything, will you? At least, it could entertain you."
"True, I suppose," she allowed haughtily. "Hah! I was never fond of keeping pets, but there's a first time for everything. An old woman must get her amusement wherever she can find it, don't you think so?"
"You're only as old as you feel, Evangeline," the man reminded her good-naturedly.
She countered with another old saying. "Old enough to know better, not enough to care. Fine. If you exhaust yourself to an early death, that's your funeral, not mine. At least you'll be making Kagurazaka happy for a while before giving her the ultimate pain."
Now that hurt, and he knew Evangeline knew.
Knowing he knew that, too, the mistress of the cabin smiled wickedly. "Then again, you don't care, do you? Judging from the other Kagurazaka's attitude, she won't hate you even after he learns about all you hid from her. I suppose that's a good thing about loving a simple soul."
He opened his mouth and began. "I don't—"
Evangeline silenced him with an annoyed stare. "You know you can't hide anything from me. Never insult me by pretending your childish attempts can even begin to fool me, or else—"
Humbled, he lowered his gaze. "Forgive me."
The lazy evil smile returned. "You still can't cope with it yourself, can you? I warn you, if you are going to teach her, proximity will only make it that much more difficult. For both of you."
"I know how to restrain myself. It's what I've done through my whole life."
"I'm sure, as soon as she comes to know me, as soon as she sees the kind of man I really am, she'll get over me. I am positive her future lies with Negi. It's better if she realizes it soon enough."
"Truly, you lack perception on all accounts," Evangeline shook her head. "You are your own worst judge of character, and you don't really understand Kagurazaka's heart either, even after all this time. You're so consumed by your self hatred it blinds you. You're even worse than Despair, since he at least is honest about it."
She stood up from her seat.
"But so be it!" she declared. "I'll allow you to finally teach the girl in something she's good at. At the very least, you'll come out of this with a better understanding of her, even if you end up regretting it. But that isn't my concern. I only ask for one more thing in exchange for access."
He already had a good idea about what would it be. "I'll do it."
She grinned and extended a tiny pale foot ahead.
Takahata dropped to his hands and knees and kissed the foot until she seemed satisfied enough, pulling it back. "A small price to pay for enlightenment, don't you think?"
"Then you are wrong. This isn't your price, just something I made you do to, how do they call it, troll you." She chuckled, rather full of herself. He didn't even flinch. "Your price will be the consequences of your decision. Not something I'll collect upon, but something you'll bring upon yourself," she predicted. "Unless you prove me wrong and are a better man than that, but like I'm ever wrong. I know you better than yourself, child. You are admirable in everything you hold yourself guilty of, but flawed in the only thing you consider yourself strong at."
"Thank you, all the same," he said, knowing well there was no point in voicing his disagreement.
Evangeline clapped. "Chachamaru."
The gynoid appeared at the room's door. "Master."
"Lead your former teacher outside. As soon as the Boya earns his stay here, IF he ever does, he'll be helping Kagurazaka with her training."
Zazie: Circus of Fear
After dropping Sakurako and Misa off at their dorm, and Hakase at the lab's gates, Negi and Chisame kept on walking.
"So, where are you going now?" Chisame blandly asked him.
"I promised Rainyday-san I'd go see the circus act she's working on for Mahorafest," her teacher explained. "You're welcome to come too, of course!"
"Sheesh, she's already preparing an act for that? Talk about jumping the gun!"
"Oh, it's closer than you could be thinking. Time flies, you know!"
"Does it? It looks like it's dragged like hell since you arrived…" she snarked.
Seeing his immediate hurt face at that, she sweatdropped. "Dammit, kid, I was trying to joke!"
He breathed in relief. "A-Ah, right, of course. I knew that. Anyway, aren't you also preparing an act of your own for the cosplay contest?"
"NOT SO LOUD!" she yelled. "We're out in the open, dumb brat! I-In any case, I don't think I'll take a part on it… Too bothersome… I'll most likely end up using the costume for the webpage…"
"But it's a lovely costume, and you look great in it. Everyone should see it, not only—"
Jerking her red face aside, she just barked. "Stop it! I don't want to talk about it!"
Soon, they arrived at a large circus tent set near a small lagoon, right before reaching the woods. "Wow," Chisame said. "Rainyday seems to have put a lot of effort into this."
A mildly awed Negi nodded. "Her mother once told me she loved the circus. Ever since she was a child."
"Well, all children like circuses. Don't you?"
"I don't know. To be honest, I've never been in one. They never visited our village, and after… well, that… I was spending my time studying. Takamichi offered to take me to one once, but I had to reject the offer since I had a test that weekend…"
Chisame didn't know how to reply. "Oh. Okay. W-Well, they aren't that great…" She took a look at the sign hanging over the entrance. "Nightmare Circus?"
"I figure it'll be something like a haunted house, right?" asked Negi.
Chisame grunted. "With Rainyday, who knows? C'mon, let's just get this over with quick."
"I-If you don't want to, you don't have to…"
She grabbed him by the hand and pulled him inside with herf. "Don't be stupid. If it's your first time in a circus, you'll need someone to explain a few things to you, and like hell Rainyday's going to talk."
"Circus acts need explanations?" Negi blinked, confused by the flimsy excuse.
Chisame grunted. "For a dumbass like you, yes!"
The inside of the tent was as wide as expected from the outside, but everything was fairly dark even though dusk was still a couple of hours off. Chisame squeezed Negi's hand tightly, feeling creeped out despite herself. Well, so much for those hopes of spending a nice and heartwarming time with Negi, even though she'd definitely never had those hopes, no sir. Although oddly, she was dimly aware she was seeing in the darkness marginally better than she could before. She attributed it to all the training and fighting in the dark.
Negi had the same brief thoughts, but they were cast aside when he noticed the bizarre and grotesquely fascinating way the big top was decorated, with colors everywhere, but always in a palette of tones that were, while bright, more threatening and sinister than cheerful. The seats and stands were painted blood red, with hideous laughing masks stuck to them.
And standing on the middle of the stage, Zazie was practicing her opening act, wearing a tight, skimpy and black one piece bathing suit with matching ballet shoes. She danced and pranced around the stage with the greatest of ease while singing in a very bombastic and over the top way that reminded you of a female Chris Rock. All the while sporting a huge, beehive afro wig on her head in all seven colors of the rainbow.
"DA DA DADA DADA DA DA CIRCUS! DA DA DADA DADA DA DA AFRO! CIRCUS! AFRO! CIRCUS! AFRO! POLKA DOT POLKA DOT POLKA DOT AFRO!"
Then she stopped abruptly. Her wide grin faded instantly into yet another bored expression, and in a blink, her voice changed accordingly to her standard monotone.
Her strange eyes calmly fell on the stunned Chisame and Negi.
"Oh. Good afternoon, Negi-sensei, Chisame-san. I'm glad you both came…"
Chisame blinked several times and sighed, scratching her head.
"Okay, now I understand the 'Nightmare' part…"
Chizuru: Dutiful Daughter
Despite everything, it was nice to visit. Especially after so many days without seeing him.
"— and I'm positive Saotome-san and Suzushiro-sempai have contracts with him as well," she summed up, standing behind him, her head just the slightest bit down. "I saw her cards the morning after. But theirs were different. Their designs were far more stylized, less childlike…"
After staring at the card some more, he handed it back to her without turning around. "They are true Pactio cards. This one is nothing but an oddity, a Suka. Completely useless tactically and strategically speaking."
"I'm sorry," she said, in such a sheepish tone Natsumi wouldn't have believed it was truly her if she had been listening to her now.
"Never be," he spoke, tone not sounding different at all. That was a relief. "It's still a first step in the right direction. You are on the doorstep to his world, and the daughter of Yukihiro should be even further in from what you told me. Perhaps all the way in. Her family's assets would be a valuable tool, and after enduring her father's rejection for so long, gaining control over his empire through his daughter would be a most delicious revenge," he commented with detached amusement.
Then, as she nodded docilely, he added, as an afterthought, "And of course, I know of your feelings for her."
She felt a brief shudder but she was not actually surprised. He knew everything, especially everything about her. How did he know something she had kept so close to her chest, so secret, all these years, was something she couldn't begin to guess, but probably had something to do with how well he was able to read her.
Either that, or he cheated and used mind-reading.
He ran a fond hand through her hair. "Chizuru. You deserve anyone your heart might crave for. Pursue that freely. People like us were born for that."
"Yes, father. By the way, how is everything going with Fujimura-sensei?"
"Oh, a most interesting woman. They don't call her a tiger for nothing. Too simple, perhaps, but she makes up for it with spirit. Of course, her family's connections don't hurt either. I always have wanted a part on the Fujimura ring…"
Chizuru nodded again. No one could ever accuse her father of being an impractical man.
"Chizuru, will you get yourself a real Pactio with young Negi?" he asked.
"Would you be okay with that?"
"Quite. His legacy is something he can't leave unexplored, and there is no one better to guide him along than we, don't you agree? Konoe and his shortsighted fools would let his whole potential go unexplored through his entire life, but like us, he is called for better and bigger things. Become his partner, and help him accomplish his destiny."
"While he helps us accomplish ours?" she accused mildly.
He chuckled, thinking of how much she was, indeed, blood of his blood. And yet so different. "It's only fair. Not too much to ask, I think."
"But he is—"
"I know, I know." His tone grew slightly exasperated. "I was under the impression you didn't mind such vague inconveniences, however."
"Father, that's a different thing. I don't mind our agreement at all, and even treasure it, but Negi-sensei is… not ready yet."
"But you still find him appealing, don't you?"
Again, how did he know such things? She tried shifting her gaze aside. Had to be cheating with mind-reading. "That's of no importance. Natsumi has deeper feelings for him, and I wouldn't hurt her. Not that way."
Toying with her, subjecting her to daily little humiliations and confusing and scaring her, that all was amusing and pleasurable, but in the end, Chizuru wanted Natsumi's ultimate happiness more than anything else.
He sighed. "But you will think about my suggestion, won't you?"
"Naturally," she replied quickly. And honestly, As a matter of fact, she most likely couldn't shake those thoughts off even if she wanted to.
"That's enough for now," he nodded, apparently satisfied. He knew it was only a matter of time to shift her views enough to get her do what he wanted; he had been doing for her whole life, and decades before her birth, he had already been an expert on doing it upon others. "Then," he said, moving towards the penthouse's dining room, "Care for dinner, my dear Chizuru?"
She nodded and followed along. "Thank you, Father."
Chamo: Animal Crackers
"My life's so hard, and no one ever understands, yanno," the ermine hiccupped between sips of his rice liquor. "I've single-pawedly improved the lives of all dose girls, and my Bro's, too! Yet no one ever thanks me! Haven't ya ever had dat feelin', 'Zero-chan?"
"No. Why should you bother improving lives when you could destroy them?" she asked.
"Well, I'm not dat kinda guy!" he slammed his tiny glass down and burped. "I'm a nice guy, gotta problem wit' dat?"
"Wanna know the truth? I hate nice guys, but I know you aren't one, so I don't really hate you," she confessed. "You're a slimeball, but you're so pathetic you're funny. And I like people I can laugh at!"
He smiled dumbly. "Thanks. I like ya too… You're a real Sis, 'Zero-chan! You're freakin' honest, and me likes dat in a woman! Whaddya say to a Pactio with the Bro?"
"Hell, yeah. Not like I have a life of my own."
"I guess you're right there," she said, tilting her large head around with tiny clacking sounds. "You're just an appendage of others' lives, and when it's a doll telling you this, you know your life has gone terribly wrong."
He sobbed a little, head hanging down. "How right y'are. Dammit, 'Zero! You know how to say the cruelest things…!" he bawled.
"They're cruel because they're the truth!" the doll chirped. "Awwww, don't get so sad! What if I give you some pity sex to make you feel better?"
"Ummmm, thank you, but I don't think we're each other's type…"
"Stupid ermine, I didn't mean that. I don't have the parts for it anyway." Actually, she had them, creepily enough, but she felt like trolling him. And she held up a very long for their sizes steel pole, which had several rusty spots of dry blood on both ends. "I mean giving you the ultimate pleasure with this! I call him Vlad, and after you enjoy it, you'll NEVER complain about life again!"
"B-B-Because I'll be impaled, right…?" the ermine trembled.
Chachazero made eyes at him. "Oh, give it a try! I promise you'll NEVER have to use it again if it goes the wrong way in! I like men who are sure about their sexualities, enough to try it!"
"I'm not a man!"
"I'm not picky! As long as you can bleed, I'll happily play with you!"
"… This has been a heartwarming date, but I think I'm expected at home like right now."
"But you'll come back tomorrow, won't you?"
"Of course I will, Hon…"
Kotaro: Chasing Your Tail Around
It was just like in those crappy and boring police drama and trial movies his mother used to watch. They had sat him behind a huge table in a featureless room with white walls, then made him wait and wait to break his patience and get him off balance. But in all matters not related to a brawl, Kotaro was patient to the point of apathy. They wanted him there, fine, he'd just chill there without any care in the world.
He had a rather nice nap, actually. The chair was pretty comfy.
He was woken from his nap by a discreet but forceful cough of a feminine throat. Kotaro rubbed his eyes and took his feet off the table to look at the young woman and taller young man now sitting at the other side. "Yo," he greeted them. "Then, let me guess…" He lazily pointed at the stern looking girl with freckles, short brown hair in a pageboy style, and the black pointy wizard hat on her head. "You're the bad cop, full of bile, Tsundere, the typical strict and humorless Class Rep type. And you," he told the placidly smiling boy with the cats, "are the good cop. Affable, happy go lucky, especially happy in the pants. You'll suggestively and not-quite try flirting with me to make me feel uncomfortable, but not so much that if I complain you'll tell me I'm just projecting. But you'll still be helpful and will calm your friend here's outbursts, suggesting we make mutually benefitting deals instead."
"How many times have you been arrested, Inugami-han?" asked the girl with a Kyoto accent as thick as Tsukuyomi's. Had she been dubbed into English her accent would have been so far south it'd be in Antarctica.
He moved a hand in circles. "More than a boy my age should, far less for a merc with my experience. I didn't think I heard your name, Nee-san."
"Honmai Takase Ambler, president of the Youth Council of the Kansai Association," she introduced herself with dry formality. "He is our vice-president, Nekoyashiki-han."
"It's a pleasure, Inugami-san," the tall boy, always smiling, bowed to him. His skin was pale and milky, and his hair was silvery white. Even his fine robes were white as well, so he looked slightly like a ghost given a body.
Kotaro snorted as he looked at all the meowing cats hanging around the older male, rubbing themselves against their master, some of them even climbing on the table to slink around before him. "Is that even a real name? I don't like cats. Did you bring them here to annoy me?"
"Rest assured, Inugami-han, I take them anywhere I go, no matter the circumstances. Now, since we were the elite members closest to your age available, we were sent to ask you a few questions. No wonder you'll feel more comfortable talking to us than to stuffy older men…"
"It's all the same to me," he shrugged indolently.
"What's your real name?" Honami asked him.
"Is Inugami your actual surname?"
"Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Why, writing a book?"
"We can't help you if we don't even know your true identity," she told him.
"You're getting it wrong, dumbass," Kotaro yawned. "The good cop is the one supposed to offer help. You must belittle and insult me."
"Do you enjoy being put down by women, Inugami-san?" an amused Nekoyashiki commented. Kotaro only snarled at him, without any enthusiasm.
"Listen," the freckled girl said. "Since you're a minor, you'll get away relatively scott-free, but you must still pay for your offenses to some degree. You understand that, don't you?"
"Do you think I'm mentally damaged? Of course I understand! I knew this job was dangerous when I took it!"
"Right," Honami said. "I'll bet your mother isn't too happy about it, is she?"
"I don't have a mother," he replied. "The Wolf Tribe abandoned me when I was a kid to fend off by myself. It's what we do, you know, to grow stronger than fancy talking pretty girls like you."
"We have your blood test results. You aren't Wolf Tribe, but a Dog Tribe-human hybrid," she told the mouthy boy. "And we know you have a mother, one you are fond of. Valkyrie Black-han and Psycho Purple-han handed that info to us before leaving."
Kotaro winced angrily. Those two stupid girls. How had they found that out?
He looked aside in a semi-blushing way Honami had to admit inwardly was boyishly cute. "So what if I have a mother? Everyone has one, most of the time. Some people have two. You bastards are going to threaten her if I don't cooperate?"
"If we operated the same way Amagasaki Chigusa did, Amagasaki Chigusa wouldn't have left us," Honami said very seriously. "We don't act like criminals. We only want her name and address to reunite her with you… and to protect her."
"Protecting her against what? Wait, now you'll tell me an elaborated lie on how my employers are going to eliminate loose ends, right? Well, joke's on you. I went into this alone. And there's nothing you or them can track down to find any family I might have. Besides, you have the old lady in prison too, don't you? Nothing the witch can do anymore."
"Actually," Nekoyashiki said, "She was sprung out recently. We lost five men that night."
"Really? Huh, well, crazy as she is, she always has an ace up her sleeve. Still—"
"We don't think she had planned that. Surveillance footage shows she was quite surprised, and even scared, herself," Honami interrupted him. "It looked more like a kidnapping than a breakout."
Kotaro blinked, then laughed. "No joke? Oh, that's rich! After spending so long trying to kidnap those girls, she got kidnapped herself!"
"Poetic justice, indeed," the pale young man agreed with a nod.
"Justice, nothing. Five innocent men are dead because of that," Honami hissed. That made Kotaro stop laughing. "Do you find the deaths of innocent people to be a funny thing?"
"No," he moodily answered. "Unless they're Twilightards, and then we're on another thing entirely…"
"All right." Honami took a calming breath. "Even leaving that aside, the young woman you worked with, Sextum Averruncus according to the Elder's reports, is on the loose as well. She shares a last name with Fate Averruncus, a well-known dangerous criminal and terrorist from Mundus Magicus, who hasn't been seen in years. They even look remarkably alike, from what we gathered. We still believe Fate is dead, but this girl could be his daughter or sister, and just as dangerous as him. What do you know about her?"
"Absolutely nothing. She never talked with anyone. Only with the girl who always hung behind her like a bootlicker."
Honami nodded. "We were told her name is Homura."
"Yep. From Mundus Magicus, no doubt. We don't have that kind of freaks in this world," he said, apparently completely oblivious to the irony and the news reports form the US. "Fire Nation, I suppose. Never been there myself, but I've heard the stories. She never talked to anyone either, so that's all I know about her. When do we eat around here?"
"What about Tsukuyomi-han?" Nekoyashiki asked this time. "She escaped as well. Any ideas on her current whereabouts?"
"I'd suggest looking in strip clubs, whorehouses, love hotels and other places for perverts," Kotaro said. His sexual urges hadn't awakened yet, but he was experienced at hunting his targets in seedy recreational places, and had a good idea of what people did there. His sneer made clear he found it all disgusting, the same way a normal child would talk about the girls' cooties. "Or alternatively, slaughterhouses. The freak just loves blood. But of course, I know you'll only give her a slap on the wrist," he taunted. "She told us her tale about being the granddaughter of the Aoyama big fish. Or was that a lie?"
"No," Honami replied truthfully. "Her real name is, indeed, Aoyama Tsukuyomi. Going back to that topic, then, what is yours?"
He grunted and tapped his fingers on the table, shaking his head. Finally, he spoke with great reluctance, "You harm a single hair on my mother's head, and I'll kill you all with my bare hands. Slowly. Got it?"
"Higurashi. Higurashi Kotaro. Dad had no last name, being Dog Tribe and all, but I took Mom's. We used to live in a shrine near Tokyo, but after Dad's death, we… had to move near Kyoto. The South side."
Honami nodded, softening her expression at last. "We'll need an exact address, however."
"Ah-ah. I don't trust you. I'll take you there personally."
"We'll have to get the Elder's permission for that."
"So go tell him already." He folded his arms. "But gotta warne you, she's gonna chew us out all hard. Even your precious Elder, most likely."
"Oh, I know. I have a mother too, after all…"
"Completely unreasonable and doesn't support your career, isn't she?"
"Yes. But I love her anyway."
They all nodded. On that, at least, they could all agree on…
Misora: Moved By Feet Not My Own
She tightened the hoodie of her sweater around her head. "This," she said, "is a frankly stupid and bad idea."
"Then why did you go along with it?" Misa asked, walking ahead of her without a care in the world.
"Because Sister Shakti told me to, that's why," the runner mumbled bitterly. "You don't know that woman, she's second only to Eva in how bad she is."
Misa twitched slightly. "You're only saying that because you didn't train under that demonic dark-skinned archer loli."
"Well, it makes sense she'd want to send you. This wacky priest knows every adult in your church, doesn't he? And Cocone-chan is far too young for this. It had to be you!" Haruna stated, walking between both of them with her hands in her own sweater's pockets.
The three girls walked down the cold, lonely street, under a dark gray sky, night approaching at its own inexorable pace.
"They could have put on some darn disguise glasses, you know," Misora lamented. "But no, as long as they have this goat to test the road for them, why should they bother?"
Haruna rolled her eyes. "You should be grateful they trust you enough for this now. Didn't you always want recognition and respect? Well, this is part of the package!"
"I don't think they're respecting me," Misora disagreed. "I still only get the assignments no one wants!"
"My God!" Misa tossed her hands up. "If this weird cult demands someone from the audience as a human sacrifice, we'll push the crybaby, won't we, Haruna?"
"Very funny, Kakizaki!" Kasuga hissed.
"Don't worry," replied Misa. "I'm sure their evil elder god will toss you back to Earth as soon as he sees how much you whine."
Misora stopped. "Wanna fight, queen bee? Fine by me, I can pull your sting outta your ass!"
Misa sneered back at her. "That's the only way you could ever tap any ass, wouldn't it?"
"Girls, please!" Haruna put her hands together piously. "We are going to visit the house of the Lord! We are about to join a rapture of Love! Leave your sinful thoughts of anger and envy behind!"
They both glared at her. Then they looked at each other.
"At least I didn't volunteer myself for something this perverted-sounding," Misora reasoned.
Misa smiled. "Of course not. You'd have needed some guts…"
Misora grumbled and marched ahead again. "Whatever happens in there, I'm gonna tell Negi you two loved it."
There were two young girls greeting the newcomers at the church's gates, barely any older than the 3-A students, both red-haired, one with long hair while the other one's was short. They handed Negi's students some pamphlets; Haruna began reading hers quite avidly, while Misa pocketed hers just after getting it. Misora tried to read it to see what was in store for everyone in there, but then they were herded inside to make room for the next group of newcomers.
It was very crowded in there. That thing was definitely as successful as the street talk was saying. No wonder the Mahora Church wanted to investigate it. Donations had plummeted recently, and even Sister Shakti had stopped receiving so many love letters. Oh yeah, and there were those concerns about the guy's honesty, too.
"I think someone just grabbed my ass," Misa blinked while they pushed their way through the crowd. "Oh, they did it again!"
"Big or small hand?" Misora asked. "Because I just felt one on mine too, but it didn't feel like a man's…"
Trudging behind them, Haruna whistled innocently. Then she felt a hand on her ass, and angrily elbowed the man behind her, who doubled down muttering apologies.
Again, Misa and Misora glared at her. "What?" asked Haruna.
"Double standards, much?" an angry Misora growled.
"Not at all," Haruna said with a shrug of her shoulders. "Between beloved friends, anything is fair play, but only a creep would make a move on a perfect stranger. I mean, at least introduce yourself first."
"Funny, I don't remember ever becoming your dear friend," Misa said.
"It comes with the territory of sharing a man's lips, Misa-chan," Haruna winked saucily, making a few heads tilt back to them. Misora felt more mortified than ever. "I mean, we've even kissed indirectly, haven't we? There's no point in being petty with each other."
"Another nugget of wisdom from Saotome Haruna!" a playful female voice teased from very near them. The three girls looked on to see a grinning Asakura Kazumi coming closer, with a stern-faced Tatsumiya Mana in close tow. "Good evening, gals!"
Kazumi: Snoop of the Century
"Oh, Asakura," Misora muttered with no humor at all. "And Mana-san, too. Glad to see you," she said, voice flatter than a Narutaki's chest.
"Likewise," Mana replied just as cheerfully.
"Whatcha doing here?" Haruna asked with a playful smirk. "Didn't you worship Lois Lane and Money, respectively?"
"Ah ha ha ha, always the kidder," Kazumi winked an eye. "Well, I'd love to tell you right now, but I think I drank a bit too much before coming, and you know…"
"Oh ho ho ho, say no more!" Haruna got the hint quickly. "To be honest, I could use a quick visit too! Don't you, girls…?" She turned to those who had arrived with her.
"Yeah, sure, fine," Misora grunted.
Misa nodded. "Going alone to the bathroom in a group activity is against the Sis Code, after all."
Once all five of them had retreated into the small restroom area and away from indiscreet ears, Asakura opened fire with a business-like whisper. "You sure we are safe talking here? Mana?"
"The coast is clear for now," the mercenary whispered back after glancing carefully in all directions. "There are two others in that stall at the end, but they are too… engrossed to pay us any attention. And they sound sincere. We should be okay as long as they keep it low."
Misa quirked an eyebrow up, looking in that direction. "What kind of church is this anyway?"
"You can hear all of that from here, Mana-chan?" Haruna chuckled, trying to perk her ears up while Tatsumiya frowned. "Experienced, much?"
Mana slapped her across the head just short of actually hitting her seriously, although her expression didn't change.
Asakura hummed thoughtfully before speaking again, "Naturally, I'm researching this for the school paper, at least in theory. If what I find here is too much for that rag, I'll send the info to a real newspaper and that will be my ticket to the big time…"
"'That rag'?" Misora grunted. "I thought that newspaper was your whole life."
"Let's not kid ourselves, it's just a tiny starting step," the redhead said. "I may have put a lot of time and effort into it, but even the best school paper will always be a rag compared to the real deal. You gotta start thinking big ahead, Misora-chan."
"Can't you just open your own blog like everyone else?" Misa asked.
"Yeah, sure, that's a given," Haruna brushed the issue aside. "You, Mana-chan?"
"I can't comment on that," said the miko.
"Well, not like you'd ever come here of your own will, so it's obvious you were hired to sniff around, but it doesn't concern us exactly who did it, right?" Misa said.
"If you say so," Mana monotoned.
"You know, they are getting louder." Haruna was looking towards the closed stall. "I think I know those voices from somewhere…"
Completely ignoring her, Kazumi rubbed her chin. "What do you guys think? Do you feel anything supernatural behind this?"
"I don't think so," Mana said, folding her arms.
Misora breathed in relief. "You do?"
"Of course, that doesn't mean this place couldn't be dangerous," her dark skinned classmate cautioned. Misora shuddered again.
"You know more than you let on, don't you?" Kazumi accused.
"Should I?" asked Mana.
"I'll give you a twenty percent of any payment I get on this," promised Asakura.
"Thirty," asked the priestess.
"Wow, you are generous today," Kazumi blinked. "I expected a forty…!"
Mana shifted her gaze over to Misa, Misora and Haruna. "Since the payment will be split between you, I can allow myself an offer."
"Um, you know we're doing this for Ala Alba, right?" Misa asked. "We are making no money out of this."
"You always can pay me with something other than money."
"Oh, Mana-chan, you…!" Haruna cooed.
Mana slapped her head again. Kazumi, Misa and Misora winced as Haruna hit the floor with a weak giggle and a "Worth it…".
"I nee— want something to get a definitive edge over Nagase," Mana stated. "I want leverage to visit Evangeline's place."
"You do?" Misa blinked. "Uh, well, you could just ask Negi, but I don't guarantee Eva will listen, but… You know, it's kinda weird hearing that from you…"
"It is foolish not recognizing your own limits. If you never do it, you never will rise over them," Mana mused.
"Just to make something clear, you don't want a Pactio with Negi, do you?" Misora dared to ask.
"I have absolutely no interest in a Pactio with anyone," Mana stated icily, in such a way the girls were instantly sure it held no denial or irony. "I simply wish for a good place to train, and judging from how much you have improved since you started on that path, there must be something really good in Eva's property, since you go there every day."
"Wait, have you been stalking us to see where we go after classes!-?" Misora gaped.
"It isn't stalking, it's DEEP RESEARCH!" Kazumi declared.
"You too?-!-?" Misora's voice went dangerously high, so much that Asakura had to press a hand over her mouth.
Haruna, meanwhile, had sneaked over to the stall and carefully peeked into it. After some giggling, she mischievously sprinted back to the other girls.
"Don't tell me those are Honya and Ayase in there," Misa deadpanned.
"Oh, then I'd have joined in," Haruna said, making the others wince a bit. "Nah, they're Rito-kun's classmates Mio-chan and Risa-chan. I've always liked those two for a reason. No wonder they wouldn't listen; they are with their heads stuck too deep into each other's—"
"Let's go back outside. We might be missing something really important," Asakura wisely decided.
Madoka: Bastion of Normalcy
"So, starting today, Mikuru-chan, after a juicy and honorable stint as our Brigade's mascot character, is promoted to Secretary in charge of Maintenance and Brigade Aesthetics!" the President announced loudly.
Itsuki was the only one to clap, while Nagato kept her nose buried into her book, Kyon facepalmed and Madoka, sitting slightly apart behind Haruhi, felt yet another slight pang of dread.
"Does, does this mean I don't have to wear the maid outfit anymore?" Mikuru asked hopefully.
"Of course you'll have to keep wearing it!" Haruhi chided. "Haven't you heard the description of your new role?"
"So in truth, you've just demoted her to cleaning lady!" Kyon said. Well, truth be told, Asahina-san already filled that role too, but even so…
Ignoring him as usual, Haruhi went on, haughtily. "The current trends in the Moe market indicate big breasts are going out of style! But at the same time, small tits might get us in trouble with Ishihara!"
It was at this point that Kyon decided to interrupt her again. "Since when are you worried about what Ishihara or anyone might think about us?"
"Oooohh, so you like small tits, you fiend." Haruhi waved a finger at the blushing boy. Madoka made a sour, mortified face. "It's not that I fear the Ishihara Ordinance, it's just not following it for the time being might scare our future club mates away. That's why, instead of using Yuki as the next mascot, I'll be handing those reins to new recruit Kugimin instead! I'm sure she'll do a bang-up job!"
"Don't call me Kugimin! And stop downright admitting you use people! It's creepy!" Madoka asked.
Haruhi silenced her with a throaty cough that imposed silence upon the club room again.
She placed both hands on her desk. "Anyway, Kugimin, we're counting on your contacts within 3-A and your personal charm to lure even more members into the Brigade. Everyone knows 3-A is synonymous with the strange and unusual! Through your classmates and cute Shota teacher, we'll expand our influence to the whole Academy!"
The ensuing evil laughter chilled Madoka to her core, but she only had one resigned question to ask. "What will be my seat during meetings?"
"Ah, since you're just a newbie, you'll sit next to the only member who hasn't any merits to speak of yet." Haruhi casually pointed at Kyon, making Madoka gasp just a little, which the boy didn't seem to notice. "Well, since it's late and I'm hungry, we'll leave it here for today. Tomorrow, you'll be informed of your duties and responsibilities, Kugimin. Put on comfy underwear, the kind that wouldn't chafe under a bunny suit. Or better yet, go commando. It's less troublesome that way."
Madoka felt like screaming.
She didn't scream, however, until she rejoined Sakurako outside of the club room. Her two roommates had been away in their own weird club's meeting, Negi's English Research Society, and Misa had already gone her own way with Haruna and Misora, for reasons Sakurako hadn't explained well and Madoka had actually preferred ignoring. "I can't believe I'm doing this!" she yelled. "That abusive sempai! Deciding each step we take! Never putting anything to vote because she knows better than everyone! Honestly, she makes me so mad!"
"Then quit her club already," Sakurako said while chewing gum. "Not even that Kyon guy is worth that much headache! Join our club instead and, well, Negi-kun's already taken by Misa-chan, but we can hook you up with Itoshiki-sensei…"
"Sakurako!" Madoka said.
"What? He isn't bad looking, and he's filthy rich!"
Kugimiya tossed her hands up. "Believe me, at this point, I would consider that if I could…"
"Why can't you leave?" Shiina arched an eyebrow. "They have dirt on you?"
"Of course not! Actually, it's hard to explain…"
Then, as they doubled a corner near Sakura Lane, Shiina had the weirdest deja vu from Misa's story about the night when she had learned Negi's secret. Something in her mind yelled at her to duck quick, and duck with Madoka-chan. So, never one to distrust her gut feelings, she pulled her friend down with herself, rolling around like she had learned during the practices at the resort, shielding her with her body, and reaching for her Pactio card in her clothes. To hell with secrecy, there were knives being tossed at them, flying over their heads instead of through them just because they had moved in the nick of time.
But before she activated the card, she saw someone leaping over them, from the opposite direction the knives had been tossed from. She was a pale and short girl with short pale hair, which reminded Sakurako of Sextum-chan a little. As she landed cleanly on her feet at their other side, she gave them a brief glare and whispered, looking at the card, "Don't."
The same gut feeling told Sakurako to obey. Gulping and nodding, she pushed the card back in.
Madoka was too busy getting her breath back to do anything but gasp, never noticing Sakurako's card. "N-N-Nagato-sempai! What are you—"
"Stay low," Nagato Yuki commanded with soft words and a vague hand gesture, her cold eyes fixed on the darkness ahead. "Don't move. I'll deal with this by myself."
She dashed into the shadows, and after a few moments of tense silence broken by the subtlest sounds of scruffles, returned with the same kind of flat, apathetic expression. "You can continue your way back home. It's completely safe now."
Sakurako blinked. "But… what was that…"
"Stray drunk bum," Nagato-sempai said.
"But…!" Sakurako began objecting.
In the end, Nagato just gave up on it and gave them the standard memory erasure procedure regarding the last few minutes. She had never been good at making stories up.
Fate: You should have been there
They took their respective cups of coffee just as soon as Shirabe had served them, and thanked her with twin nods and nothing else. After waiting for a moment for any word from them, or even the slightest sign they had noticed she was naked except for an apron, Shirabe sighed, turned around, and left.
We should know by now, they don't even realize it… she thought.
Indeed, not even realizing it, both Averrunci continued their less than passionate conversation.
"Are you completely sure it was her?" Fate asked.
"Yes," answered Sextum. "Against all reports, she is not dead, although she appears to have been de-aged."
"She might be a copy."
"Even if she is, she displayed the same powerset of the original Twilight Princess, even if less developed. My theory is she suffered brain damage, most likely coupled with memory loss."
"She certainly did not display the same tactical acumen the Twilight Princess used to exhibit in combat. Although she seemed to be getting the basics of it. All the same, she should be useful for the project."
"True. It is an intriguing possibility," he allowed. "Now, as for the fourth model…"
"I regret to report he escaped as well, but I consider him a secondary concern on the whole. I believe he can be recovered, but even if he cannot, any of us can defeat him. I did it with ease, then so could Quintum, and although he is one upgrade above your baseline level, you have amassed more battle data and experience. I could see his fighting style was still unpolished and inefficient. I recommend focusing on the plan as scheduled, but also searching for ways to retrieve the Twilight Princess."
"I see. I will trust your firsthand experience on the subject and support your suggestion to Lord Dynamis."
"I am thankful," she flatly said, extending a small package over to him. "On that venue, I brought this for you. A souvenir from the locals."
"My gratitude goes to you," he replied in the exact same flat tone, unwrapping the package and pulling out a shiny and brand new coffee pot. "Ah. You remembered."
"Indeed. You had mentioned interest in purchasing a new one during the latest raid."
"I will treasure it," he promised, his voice always the same.
In truth, since that day, he had also gotten sets from Tamaki, Koyomi and Shirabe, but cold as his heart was, he didn't have it in him to tell his sister unit that.
If there was something he had learned well during his existence, even more than fighting or destroying, that was to never insult a female's gifts.
Of course, that didn't ever stop him from not noticing the other gifts his followers kept offering him, but that was hardly his conscious fault…
Chachamaru: Electric Fairy Tales
"Once upon a time, three little dolls moved out of their creator's house and into the forest. Their names were Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry…"
Evangeline scratched her chin, her head resting down on her soft pillow. "Those names sound familiar. From a televison show?"
"Please ask Chao-san. She is the one who programmed this story into my data banks," Chachamaru answered before continuing. "Lime, the first marionette, made a house of straw and then used the rest of her time playing around. Bloodberry, the second marionette, made a house of sticks and then used the rest of her time flirting with men. But the intelligent Cherry, the third marionette, took her time and built a strong, safe house of bricks."
"Oh dear," Evangeline rolled her eyes around. "I wonder how will this one end up."
"Then one night, the Big Bad Vamp stormed into the forest, intent on capturing young beautiful dolls and adding them to her harem of servants."
"I'll admit the Big, Bad and kidnapping parts, but I don't have a harem!"
Across campus, Yue sneezed, and thought maybe she shouldn't have spent so long skinny dipping with Nodoka. Nah. It had been worth it.
"First she went to Lime's house and said 'Come out, little marionette, or else I'll huff and puff and take your house down!' Since the marionette didn't come out, the Big Bad Vamp huffed and puffed, and took the marionette's house down. Then she captured her and added her to her harem."
"Bitch was asking for it, I'm sure."
"Then she went to Bloodberry's house and said 'Come out, not-so-little marionette, or else I'll huff and puff and take your house down!' Since the marionette didn't come out, the Big Bad Vamp huffed and puffed, and took the marionette's house down. Then she captured her and added her to her harem."
"Well, she's at least consistent, I'll give her that."
"Finally, she went to Cherry's house and said 'Come out, little marionette, or else I'll huff and puff and take your house down!' Since the marionette didn't come out, the Big Bad Vamp huffed and puffed, but the marionette's house was very strong, so she couldn't bring it down. So instead she used her powerful black magic to take Cherry's house down; she captured her and added her to her harem. And she lived happily ever after."
Evangeline sniffled and snuggled under her covers. "They don't write stories like that anymore…"
Chachamaru closed the empty book on her lap she'd been holding for form's sake and bowed her head respectfully, getting ready to stand up from her bedside chair. "Will you be needing anything else tonight, Master?"
"Tell me the one about Snow White and the seven Idiot Heroes now."
"The original version, or the one where the Wicked Queen wins?"
"She wasn't wicked, just misunderstood! A woman doesn't spend seven hundred years making herself the prettiest of the land just to have a newcomer out of nowhere snatching it away just like that!"
Sayo: The Empty Grave
"Haven't you ever wondered where your body is buried?" Kiri asked as she, Sayo and Oshizu sat after classes at Classroom 3-F, wondering why Rukia and Ichigo were taking so long. Probably more ghost hunting business. "I mean, now you can move out of campus with the doll, you could ask someone to bring you to the cemetery to look. I'd do it myself, but… you know…" The hikikomori wrapped her blanket tighter around her body and trembled.
Sayo's face was one of pure fear. "B-B-But cemeteries are scary! They're full of dead people!"
"I was buried in a common grave and now there's a mall built over it…" Oshizu said somberly.
"Uh," Kiri said. "That's… hmm… I'm sorry to hear that."
Oshizu waved a hand. "It's okay. Your burial site doesn't really matter. It has only your empty shell, so for all it's worth, all graves are empty. So it doesn't matter at all. Unless they use voodoo on it or something."
"Voodoo!" Sayo shrieked.
"Yes, it's very bothersome to watch your corpse shuffling around, biting people's scalps off to suckle on the brains underneath. It makes you feel dirty, you know?" the older ghost wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"Didn't you die four hundred years ago?" Kiri frowned while Sayo hid behind her sobbing. "There were no voodoo mages at Japan around that age!"
"Actually, now I remember, it wasn't a voodoo mage, but a necromancer who said she came from some sort of magical world in another planet…" Oshizu put a finger on her mouth.
"What?" Kiri blinked several times.
"Never mind. I'm sure it isn't important!" Oshizu shrugged. "I'm sure it's not plot-significant foreshadowing or anything…"
And it isn't. Really. Look, would we lie to you?
"… I-I-I've decided," Sayo said. "I'll find my grave and have my remains burnt into ashes, just in case…"
Satsuki: The Beautiful People
All through the night, she served customer after customer, just like always.
That new girl, Tokiha Mai-san, with her wide but weary smile and large… tracts of land, significant gestures at chest height. Satsuki could tell she was weary in the inside, since often, when people wanted to show they were happy but they weren't, their smiles only curved up in the outside, but never on the inside. Satsuki could tell when that happened. It was one of her gifts.
Regardless, like always, Mai-san was with her odd but likable friend, Mikoto-san, who was very pretty as well, in a wild child kind of way. She ate a lot, prompting Mai-san to muse she was going to drive her to bankruptcy (Satsuki chose not to ask on why she would have to pay for a friend's bills). Mai-san had asked if there was a job available at the restaurant, and Satsuki answered she'd consult with Chachamaru-chan, who apparently would have to keep on taking breaks for some reason.
Apparently, robots wouldn't be the ceaseless labor devices that never needed to go on vacation scientists had touted for decades. Who knew?
Then there was Saki-sempai, who came with her friends Aya and Rin, like always, drawing everyone's stares.
Tomoe Mami-san, who due to some reason or other was with Ako of all people, both dressed in black. Mami-san smiled as beautifully as ever and asked for tea and snacks for both. Hers also was the outside only kind of smile. Ako didn't even bother with one of those, but that only added to her mousy appeal.
Satsuki totally wasn't checking them out, really!
Siesta-san, Ayaka's charming maid, passed by with her boyfriend, buying an awful lot of seafood takeout. He was cute, or so Satsuki would have thought if she had eyes for anyone but Akito-sempai. Okay, so she did. Since Kyoto, weirdly, and seeing how everyone seemed to be getting closer to Negi-sensei, a tiny part of her had started to think maybe it could pay to see what that whole thing with boys was about. Not that she was naive or stupid, and she could understand the basics and theory, but she had never felt it. There simply hadn't been any need for it. Even now, from her scarce attempts to think on the subject, romance only looked like a pointless gamble, or perhaps a game. Even if it seemed to be making Siesta-san happy.
As soon as they had left, a tired looking Chisame and smiling Negi-sensei passed by to buy something to take home as well. Now, while Chisame wasn't a stunning beauty, she had a special kind of homey appeal, and yes, Negi-sensei was cute, although Satsuki still didn't understand why everyone made such a big deal about it, an opinion shared by only one other girl to Satsuki's knowledge, that dark-skinned, silver-haired girl who'd brought all her young friends to the restaurant on the day the class had come back from Kyoto. From what people used to comment, and everyone always commented a lot over meals, Chisame's popularity had gone up since that Valentine kiss with Asuna, not to mention her living with Negi-sensei. All of that would have outraged Chisame if she had known about it, but since she seemed to spend all her time indoors, Satsuki doubted she even suspected a thing.
A stone faced Rukia-san came in, bought enough food for two, and walked out. Honestly, Satsuki thought, Kiri-sempai had to stop using her to get the food she wouldn't go out to buy herself. Satsuki was fairly sure everyone would like having her around the Chao Bao Zi at times, at the very least. Then again, maybe that also was part of her rumored frail, pale, reclusive charm.
TOTALLY not checking them out, we swear!
Shortly after, Honsho-sempai and Orihime-sempai made the rounds as well, buying themselves the copious amounts of food Orihime-sempai always devoured. After asking if Rukia-san had been there, and learning she had, Honsho-san had lamented again how she didn't spend any time with them anymore. Satsuki told them she believed Rukia-san was with Kiri-sempai, and Honsho-sempai hummed and all but dragged Orihime-sempai away to Satsuki-knew-where, after giving Satsuki a thankful wink and grin. And blowing a kiss to her on their way out.
Yotsuba wasn't used to being flirted with, although lately, as she and her peers and sempai grew older, a few had done it teasingly now and then. Honsho-sempai was a staple, but then, she did it to all cute girls, and Mahora was full of cute girls (Satsuki didn't think she qualified herself, but she figured it was just special treatment, and she felt thankful for the attentions). That new girl from the science labs, Rika-sempai, had also thrown the occasional double entendres her way, but then again, she did it to everyone, not sparing boys either, unlike Honsho-sempai. Haruna-san, despite what most people thought, didn't treat her that way, but she was always kind to her regardless, so Yotsuba figured she was only wary of offending her if she treated her the same way that used to annoy their classmates.
Having gone through all of that in her mind, Satsuki noticed she never had any boys flirting at her.
Not that she cared about that, really.
But it might have felt nice, at least once. She wondered if Saki-sempai, Mami-san, Orihime-sempai or Ayaka ever got tired of it. She'd never know, apparently.
But she was okay with that.
If she had wanted to know, she could ask them, right? In a way that didn't offend them, of course, but…
"Are you okay, Satsuki-chan?" Ku asked her as she wiped her hands on her apron, walking back from the kitchen. "You've looked distant all evening long-arune."
"I think it's enough for tonight," Satsuki said. "Let's call it closing time."
"You sure? We still have like a hour ahead of us…"
Satsuki only nodded, and as usual, Ku didn't argue her decision any further.
Chisame: All in the Family
"Come on, Sora," she said. "It was you who wanted to do this with me, remember?"
"I-I-I only said I wanted to get closer to you… but not like this!" her older sister whined. "It's wrong! I can't do it!"
"Nonsense. It took me the whole evening to get you ready for this, and you aren't backing away now," she mumbled, grabbing her by the hand and pulling her close.
"But it's so mortifying! Oh God! And with Negi-sensei and Chamo-san watching, too!"
Sitting on Hakase's bunk, Negi sweatdropped. "It's okay, Sora-san. I think, um, you look good like that. You don't have to feel ashamed…"
"Y-Y-You think?" the older Hasegawa sister stammered. "Oh, but, oh God, I've never had done something like this before, so it's my first time, and don't laugh, Chisame…"
"I'm not laughing."
"… But I'm not as pretty as you, and I think I'll die of embarrassment, and… and…!"
"If I can do it, you can too! I admit it's a bit shameful, but you get used to it. And really, you aren't bad looking at all. Have some trust in yourself for a change."
"Oh… Okay, if you say so… I guess no one will know, after all… I mean, we aren't using…"
"We aren't using it, I swear. I never do myself," Chisame said, "And I've been fine this whole time. No one will ever know but us."
Sora gathered a very deep breath. "All right. Let's do it."
"Great," Chisame sighed, and turned the camera on.
Chiu spoke then. "Hello, everyone…! Chiu's Live Online Show returns today after Chiu's exciting holidays…! I bet you've missed Chiu as much as Chiu has missed you…!" There was a wink so strong it went 'ting!'. "And to make up for my absence, Chiu has brought you a special guest! Say hello to Chiu's dear Big Sis So-chin…!"
All dolled up, wearing contacts that were burning in her eyes, pinker than she'd ever been in her life, and carrying a basket with flowers on one arm, Sora waved nervously at the camera. "Oh, uh, ah, hello everyone! I-I-I-I'm so glad to be with all of you tonight…!"
Chiu giggled at length while, inside, Chisame cursed a storm. Despite all practices, Sora still had no handle over her stage presence at all. Stupid Negi and his stupid plan to reinforce her stupid sister's self-esteem. Why did they keep roping her into things like this…?
Sitting out of camera, Negi smiled to himself. This was working great! No doubt Sora-san would begin on the merry path of self-discovery and appreciation!
In truth, she fell so many times during the transmission, Chisame thought it would be a complete bust that would ruin her own Net career. However, the fan reaction shocked her when she saw a deluge of posts praising So-chin's Dojikko appeal and calling for a spinoff.
Fortunately she hadn't fed her an age-altering pill for the show, as they considered doing during preparation, or she would have stolen Chiu's top position from within. Darn country was just so full of creepy lolicon…
Mei: Truth and Dare
"Well?" Takane asked, folding her arms over the desk. They had just gone through Negi-sensei's report of the situation in Kyoto, and as his immediate junior supervisors on behalf of the magical community, they had received several folders of technical explanations on the trip's events. "What do you think?"
Nutmeg adjusted her glasses and hesitated before answering, "Well, unlike you two, I haven't ever traded more than a couple sentences with Negi-sensei, but still, I feel like he's omitting a lot of details here…"
"Precisely!" their blond leader nodded energetically. "And that's unforgivable! He who lies in the details will also lie in the big picture! Don't you agree, Mei?"
"Of course I do, Oneesama! However, what are we supposed to do about it? Takahata-sensei gave his approval, and even Itoshiki-sensei said we shouldn't worry about this."
Takane rubbed her chin in grand, majestic and frankly somewhat pompous concentration. "We must be careful while gathering the information needed to unravel this perplexing mystery. One of us will have to risk her life and infiltrate the area where we are most likely to find this information. We need someone with nerves of steel, and the courage to match, for such a potentially dangerous task!"
"But at the same time, someone who is diplomatic enough to talk her way out if she's discovered," Nutmeg pointed out.
And Takane nodded. "Someone small, so it's easier for her to sneak around."
"And innocent looking, so no one will suspect her," added Nutmeg.
"Most certainly. And she must be fiercely loyal, so she isn't swayed by the boy's disturbingly… well, boyish charms," Takane pondered.
"In other words, a flaming dy—?" Nutmeg began to say, before the blonde shot her with the fiercest of stares.
"You know that topic isn't to be brought in my presence," Goodman hissed, and Nutmeg gulped sheepishly. A mortified Mei sat at the sidelines, watching back and forth between them.
"S-Sorry!" Nutmeg apologized. "I forgot!" As a matter of fact, she could never forget it. Since she spent so much time with them, everyone always thought she was… like that as well, but she liked boys, dammit! Still, no point in bringing up any of that around Takane-oneesama, ever. "A-Anyway, to sum it up, we need someone loyal, petite, gentle, and hardworking, right?"
Takane nodded solemnly. "Indeed. Now, to be fair and democratic, we will submit it to voting. I vote Mei-chan."
"I vote Mei-chan as well," nodded Nutmeg.
"I vote Nutmeg-chan!" Mei whimpered.
"Well, let's count the votes now," Takane announced. "One, two, three. I'm glad to say we have reached a full agreement! Mei-chan has won with a complete consensus!"
Nutmeg smiled saintly and clapped.
"YOU GUYS AREN'T EVEN LISTENING TO ME!" Mei despaired.
"— and that's why I was right outside Negi-sensei's window!" Mei cried as she was pressed against that tree, between the concealing bushes, by a scowling Matoi, well past midnight. "I swear I wasn't peeping on Hasegawa-sempai!"
The dark haired stalker sneered. "Ah? What were you saying?"
"WAH! YOU WEREN'T LISTENING TO ME EITHER?-!"
"Sorry. I tend to get distracted while thinking of ways to dispose of riva— trash. Yes, I meant trash, sorry, not rivals' bod—"
"WAAHHHH! TAKANE-ONEESAMA, HELP!-!"
Haruna: Church and State
She, Asakura, Misa, Tatsumiya and Misora stood side-by-side while listening to the bearded, middle-aged minister's words.
"Beyond these doors is a complicated world, filled with strife and confusion. But within these walls, love and beauty reign supreme. Let every weary soul who would know the truth of love enter within. Here, love's truth is all that matters."
Haruna nudged Misa's arm and winked an eye at her. "Oh, I know his kind of love, alright."
Misa repressed the urge to sneer. Geeks like Haruna thought they knew anything at all about sex just because they consumed so much porn. Still, she humored the mangaka and nodded, partly because she shared the same feeling.
The speech continued for quite some time, and they had to admit, if nothing else, the man was a convincing speaker. Most of the attendance already was entranced, listening carefully, captivated by his smooth words and powerful tone. He spoke of many great things, of promises of better lives and a better world for everyone, and Haruna found herself agreeing with most of what he was saying, but as her mother had told her more than once, those you fully agree with are often those you have to be the more careful about. That, and "Never trust a preacher". Mother was wise in her own way.
Misora seemed more annoyed than anything else, as if the mere act of listening to that sermon disgusted her. Mana had the exact same neutral expression she always had, while Kazumi smirked cagily, in a knowing, worldly cynic way. Misa made slow thinking sounds, rubbing her jaw at times.
Haruna took a few sketches of the place, its entrances and exits, the priest, his wife and their daughters, in the process. The older daughter, the redhead with the long ponytail, seemed to have noticed that, and she stared at Haruna moodily, but Haruna never stopped, determined to keep doing it until she was ordered to stop.
That didn't happen until Misora saidto her, "Hey. It's getting late. Let's head back; I have curfew in less than an hour."
"Then just run back two minutes before time," Haruna whispered. "With your speed, you'll be left with time to spare, too."
Misora all but pinched her arm. "I don't like the vibes of this place. Let's go."
Misa chuckled. "What's the problem, Sis? Finding this faith more… aggressive than yours?"
Misora's whispers grew more urgent and authoritative. "As your Ala Alba senior, and the one Sensei left in charge of this operation, if I say we go, we go. We already heard enough for a first contact. We always can come back for more if we need to."
Haruna held her hands a bit up. "Fine by me. I was starting to grow a little bored anyway," she said, tucking her drawing implements on.
Misa sighed, seeing the numbers were against her. "Alright. Whatever you say, Fearless Leader. Hey, Asakura, Mana-san, you coming too?"
Mana only shook her head. "I haven't heard enough yet."
"Neither have I," Asakura agreed, smiling at the girls. "Don't worry, I'll fill you in if anything interesting happens, for a price!"
"Yeah, cool, thank you." Misora made a token nod as she started to move for the door, followed by her teammates. "Take care, and good night. Both of you."
The doors had been closed, but as the priest had assured them at the start of the sermon, they could leave at any time they wanted. As the youngest daughter proved by personally opening the door for them, cutely wishing them a good night on their way out.
"A very cute kid," Haruna said as the three of them walked down the street.
"Yeah," Misora said. "Okay, what do you guys think?"
"They seem harmless, but then, we only got the general introduction. It's what might happen during and after the initiations that interests me," Misa opined.
"You mean what worries you," said Misora.
"Listen, I can't say if it worries me or not if I don't know if they're bad or not," the cheerleader countered. "Give them a break. Innocent until proven guilty, remember?"
"The woman with him seemed very submissive," Haruna mused, remembering the silent female who had stood behind the preacher through the whole sermon. "They had the same kind of marriage rings, so they must be the girls' parents. Out of them, the younger looked genuinely kind, but the older one's a spitfire, I can tell. I wouldn't be surprised if she doesn't buy the father's baloney."
"Clever girl, then," Misora snarked.
Misa shrugged. "It didn't sound that much more bogus to me than official Christianism."
"Catholicism,"Misora corrected. "I'm not having this discussion," she warned
"Fair enough. Just speaking my mind. I think I can do that, right? I mean, I won't get the Inquisition on my butt, right?"
"Technically, we would all be burned at the stake anyway," an amused Haruna commented. "Maybe we aren't in the best of positions to talk about anyone else's weird groups and followers."
"Point," Misa nodded. "See, Paru agrees with me!"
"That doesn't mean I'd be buying anything if that guy knocked at my door selling brushes, anyway," Haruna cautioned. "Much less his life altering promise of ascended spirituality."
"All the same, I think we'll have to pay Asakura's price to learn what happened afterwards," Misora folded her arms and pouted.
"Maybe we'd get free cooperation from her if we let her in?" Haruna suggested. "The others had an Asakura with them, you know!"
"That isn't for any of us to decide," Misora said. "Let's all try to become a working team before we start stuffing even more people in."
"Now that's something I can agree with," Misa said, nodding with fervent emphasis.
Temptress: Maximum Efficiency
A hideout somewhere else in Japan:
"I can't believe it!" She let out a playful hissing sound, grinning widely and resting between a spent, sweaty and nude Quinzel and Isley. "A single session with you recharged me better than four replenishing rituals. Truly, sex with Sailor Senshi is a wonderful thing."
"Technically," Isley said, wondering in her daze why the girl hadn't even contracted a scratch, much less signs of heavy poisoning (if anything, she indeed seemed more energetic than when they began), "it wasn't actually sex with Sailor Senshi. We had not transformed, after all."
Temptress perked up even more. "That's right! I only was tapping on your latent reserves of power and mana! Let's try again, now with all the full juices flowing!"
"B-But, what will Puddin' say if he—!" Harley whined, but then Temptress was batting her eyelashes at her, and she couldn't resist, "— I mean, Uranus Power Make Up…!"
"Bwa ha ha ha! Yes! Oh, does this skimpy skirt always rip this easily, or is it just I'm that powerful now? Hee hee hee hee!"
In the room next door, Ruri shuddered and pressed a pillow on her own head.
Omake: Sneezing Powderkeg.
What do you mean 'It's contagious'?" Chisame asked, keeping a wary distance.
Negi sniffled and rubbed his nose. "It's Magical Flu. Anyone who gets it will get to sneeze the same way the person who contagied them does, uncontrollably..."
Chisame paled. "Wh-Who were you hanging with?-!"
He blew his nose, facing away from her. "I, I was in a meeting with the other teachers and the Dean today..."
"Oh my God!"
"Ah!" Kafuka said. "Itoshiki-sensei has brought a liberating wind upon us, which has left us in a perfect state of disconnection to mundane material belongings!"
Chiri pulled the spade from under her desk and leaped at the teacher. "DIE, PERVERT!"
Mido Miko-sensei's classes suffered no actual changes, all things considered.
"... You know I'll be suing, Konoemon-sensei, " Shizuna tried to keep a stoic face.
"BWAK, BWAK, BWAAK-ATCHOOO!"
Boo-sensei's jaw hit the floor, as he saw, in a flutter of feathers falling to the floor, all his pupils were actually chickens! GIANT CHICKENS!
"ATCHOOOO!" Ryoko-sensei sneezed.
For once, Yui couldn't put the blame on Yuuki-kun.
"Hey, Dad!" Yuuna walked in. "You left this book you said you'd need today on your—"
That day, her Electra Complex became seven shades of worse.
Omake: We will Save this World.
The room was dimly lit as the hooded figure sitting at the council table's head spoke. "Are you sure you weren't followed?"
"Completely sure," the first of her subordinates (because the voice coming from under the hood was clearly that of a girl) answered.
"Same here," another hooded girl added.
"Ditto," a fourth hooded female said, nodding as she chewed on a piece of Pocky.
"No one suspects I'm here," a hooded male said.
The lead figure looked at the empty seat. "How strange. There is one of us missing. She's either been stopped and captured, or she's late. I hope she isn't late! People with bad habits of unpunctuality angers me! And without her here, there's only five of us! An uneven number, how troubling!"
"Then, do we call the meeting off?" one of the girls asked.
The leader gave it some deep thought. "No," she ended up saying. "No matter our losses, we must go on ahead! Our noble task demands every effort we can devote to it, and there's no time to waste before the infection spreads beyond this Academy!" She pulled her hood back. "I, Kitsu Chiri, declare the start of the first meeting of LANCER, the League Against Negi Springfield's Erotic Decadence! Now, show your faces and say your names, fellow members!"
The red haired girl pulled her hood back. "Moved by pure and honest love for Kaji-sama! Despising all clueless brats! Soryu Asuka Langley!"
The short girl with the funny voice pulled her hood back too. "Protecting Mikoto Onee-sama against all sexual predators and Casanovas, even the innocent looking ones! Paladin of the Single-Target Sexuality! Shirai Kuroko!"
The grinning red-head with the Pocky in her mouth pulled the hood back as well. "Puella Magi with no place for romantic silliness! Doing this for kicks between Witch hunts! Sakura Kyoko here!"
The boy was the last one to pull his hood back. "Representing all those who can't compete! Fighting for a future where there are girlfriends for all of us! Saruyama Kenichi at your service, Ma'am!"
"Excellent" Chiri smiled. "The five of us will be the start of a turnaround that will save this Academy from a grim future of debauchery! Sisters, brother, ours is to reclaim this school for sanity and propriety! We will show everyone how—!"
"STOP!" a blue haired short girl stormed into the room, panting furiously. "President, you must stop this meeting before you reveal compromising information to the enemy!"
"Ah, Nishizawa Momoka-san!" Chiri said. "I hope you have a good explanation for your late arrival, not to mention showing up without your official conspiracy hood! I spent a whole night sewing these for you all, you know!"
"I do!" Momoka nodded fast. "Thanks to my family's resources, I learned the Negi Legions sent a spy among us! Someone who has been tricked with lies and depravity to join the enemy side and infiltrate us!"
"Oh?" Chiri arched an eyebrow in a perfectly symmetrical way. "And who would that happen to be?"
"YOU!" Momoka angrily pointed at Kyoko. "I know EVERYTHING! They promised you a threesome with Negi-sensei and Sayaka! Confess your crimes!"
"CRAP!" Kyoko leaped aside before anyone could catch her, using her spear to shatter a window and jump out through it. "But you'll never get me alive, suckers!"
The assembled society stayed behind, blinking.
"I could teleport after her..." Kuroko finally offered.
Chiri waved a hand. "Never mind that. The most important thing is we're down to five members again. We need a new sixth one. Anyone here has the Joker's phone number...?"
Extra: Class 3-A Roster!
Student 1: Aisaka Sayo.
Died in 1940. Don't move her seat. Friends with Kuchiki Rukia, Komori Kiri and Kurosaki Ichigo. Only the three of them, plus Negi Springfield, Kasuga Misora and Sawada Mio, can see and hear her.
Student 2: Akashi Yuuna.
Basketball Club. Professor Akashi's daughter. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 3: Asakura Kazumi.
Student 4: Ayase Yue.
Children Literature Society, Philosopher's Society, Library Exploration Club.
Student 5: Izumi Ako.
Health Officer, Manager of the Soccer Club.
Student 6: Ookuchi Akira.
Swimming Team. Secret Identity: Sailor Mercury. Only Aino Minako (Sailor Venus), Artemis the cat, Sailor Pluto, Yuuna and Ako know her secret.
Student 7: Kakizaki Misa.
Mahora Cheerleading, Chorus Club. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 8: Kagurazaka Asuna.
Fine Arts Club. Powerful kick. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 9: Kasuga Misora.
Track and Field Club. Mahora Branch of the Mary Magdalene Order. Codenamed 'Mysterious Sister'. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 10: Karakuri Chachamaru.
Tea Ceremony Club, Go Club. Two years old.
Student 11: Kugimiya Madoka.
Mahora Cheerleading, SOS Brigade.
Student 12: Ku Fei.
Chinese Martial Arts Society.
Student 13: Konoe Konoka.
Fortune Telling Society, Library Exploration Club. Granddaughter of the Principal. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 14: Saotome Haruna.
Manga Club, Library Exploration Club. Codenamed 'Speed Grapher'. Yuuki Rito's girlfriend. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 15: Sakurazaki Setsuna.
Kendo Club. Kyoto Shinmeiryuu School. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 16: Sasaki Makie.
Gymnastics Club. Ministra to Skuld.
Student 17: Shiina Sakurako.
Mahora Cheerleading, Lacross Club. Hakase Satomi's girlfriend. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 18: Tatsumiya Mana.
Biathon Club (Extracurricular). Official Caretaker of the Tatsumiya shrine with apprentice Munakata Shiho.
Student 19: Chao Lingshen.
Cooking Club, Chinese Martial Arts Society, Robotics Club, Eastern Medicine Society, Bioengineering Club, Quantum Mechanics Club. The best grades in the whole Academy.
Student 20: Nagase Kaede.
Walking Club. Miroku Ninja. Professor Mido's niece.
Student 21: Naba Chizuru.
Student 22: Narutaki Fuuka.
Walking Club. Oldest (for a minute and a half) of the Narutaki twins. Miroku Ninja in training.
Student 23: Narutaki Fumika.
Beautification Officer, Walking Club. Miroku Ninja in training.
Student 24: Hakase Satomi.
Robotics Club, Jet Propulsion Club. Shiina Sakurako's girlfriend. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 25: Hasegawa Chisame.
Second at command of Ala Alba. Great with computers. Also known as the Virtual Idol 'Chiu'. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 26: Evangeline Anastasia Katherine Mc Dowell.
Go Club, Tea Ceremony Club. Contact Takamichi in case of emergency. Also known as the Queen of Darkness, Mistress of Puppets, Dark Evangel, and Kitty. At least seventy hundred years old. Defeated by Negi during battle at the Mahora Suspension Bridge.
Student 27: Miyazaki Nodoka.
Librarian, Reader's Club, Library Exploration Club. Card Captor and official heiress of mage Clow Reed's legacy. Cards currently owned: The Windy, The Jump, The Create, The Card, The Tentacle, The Bubble.
Student 28: Murakami Natsumi.
Student 29: Yukihiro Ayaka.
Class Representative, Equestrian Club, Floral Club. Asuna's best friend. Ministra to Negi Springfield.
Student 30: Yotsuba Satsuki.
School Dining Officer, Cooking Club.
Student 31: Zazie Rainyday.
Juggling Club, Magic Club. True name impossible to pronounce by human tongues. 'Zazie' is the closest approximation human language can achieve both to it and her late younger sister's. Also known in her homeland as 'Poyo'.
Student 32: Skuld Odinson.
'Odinson' is a false family name. Magistra to Morisato Keiichi and Sasaki Makie.
NEXT: A Major Turning Point of No Return.
Also, more insanity.