Nishimura Kazuo cursed his luck. First his meeting ran late, causing him to miss his train. Then, when he'd been forced to drive the whole way to Black Forest Village, his car had blown a tire. And his mobile phone couldn't get a signal, which meant not only that he couldn't get a tow truck but that he couldn't even call ahead to tell anyone that he'd be late.

He'd never changed a tire before in his life, and having to learn while doing didn't encourage him. Particularly given that it was at night, while a cold, steady drizzle fell around him. He'd had to dig the spare and the tools out from beneath the pop-out panel in the floor of the trunk, working with one hand while he held the owner's manual in the other and a penlight between his teeth. Now he was kneeling in the muddy surface of the dirt road in the same pose, hoping that sooner or later the jack would hit something solid and start raising the car up instead of pushing the jack base down. Finally it happened and he set to work on the lug nuts. His fingers were getting cold, though, and when he took the second nut off he fumbled it when it came loose. It bounced off his shoe and went skittering off behind him.

Cursing under his breath, Nishimura turned and began to hunt for the escapee, playing the penlight beam across the road. Where had it gone? Could this day get any worse?

"Looking for this?"

"What?" He turned and saw the outstretched hand holding his lug nut. "Oh, yeah, thanks. Lucky you came along or—" Nishimura broke off as he took in the appearance of his Good Samaritan: a thickly built man dressed in a kimono and geta. The nose in his bulbous, jowled face was at least a foot long and bright red. And he had wings growing from his back.

"Aaah!" Nishimura yelped, leaping back. Now he could see other figures filling in around the winged man, these even more inhuman with the heads of crows and hands like birds' talons. He could see them clearly, because their bodies glowed with faint light in the dark.

"T-t-tengu!" he screamed, and in the next instant he was sprinting pell-mell down the road and vowing that—if he ever got the chance—he'd never ask "what else can go wrong?" again!

~X X X~

"Ahhh, this is the life," Takamachi Nanoha sighed, sinking back in the hot spring. The steaming hot water and the cool air combined to make the outdoor bath a unique and pleasant experience. "This was a great idea, Hayate-chan."

"Thanks. I figured we all could use some time to relax, and a hot springs resort seemed like just the thing," said Yagami Hayate.

"It's too bad Arisa couldn't come with us," Tsukimura Suzuka said.

"Yeah," Nanoha agreed. She, Suzuka, and Arisa had known each other since the first grade; they'd only met the others a couple of years later. "I know her dad wants her to regularly get acquainted with the family business, but it's harsh to have her miss out on a holiday trip."

"Sometimes it sucks being an heiress," Hayate agreed.

"But at least Arf was able to come along!" pointed out the last of the four fifteen-year-old girls, Fate Testarossa Harlaown. Arf yipped in agreement, the orange-red puppy lounging on the rocks next to the hot spring.

"That's true," Nanoha agreed. "I just feel bad because it was Arisa-chan who bought the tickets."

"We'll have to pay her back," Hayate decided.

"She won't like it," Suzuka warned. She was closest to Arisa in the group of friends and so knew her best, but in this case everyone was nodding along, even Arf.

"That's certainly the truth," Nanoha agreed.

"She'll go all tsundere on us and make lots of harrumphing noises about how we're all being ungrateful," said Hayate. "She absolutely has no ability to gracefully accept other people being nice to her."

"She's not that bad!" Suzuka protested.

"Just because you have a crush on her is no reason to overlook her faults," Hayate said archly, but with a wicked grin. Suzuka's blush grew a little redder than the heat alone could explain.

"Our feelings are at stake though, too," Fate said. "We'd all feel bad getting to have a fun trip paid for by someone who didn't get to go, and while none of us is as wealthy as Arisa we can all afford to pay our own way."

"That's right," Nanoha agreed. "It's four"—Arf interrupted with a yip—"make it five against one, so Arisa-chan will just have to accept it."

Despite the cool autumn weather, the girls were all so well-heated after getting out of the bath that they were grateful their kimonos were lightweight.

"Was everything all right?" the resort manager asked them when they emerged from the changing rooms. She was a stately woman in her forties wearing a lavender kimono and with her hair done up in a traditional style.

"Mmn!" Nanoha agreed, nodding. "It really was, Ichinomiya-san!"

"I was wondering, though," Hayate said. "Since we arrived here, I haven't seen any other guests. Are we the only ones staying here?"

The manager flinched, and Nanoha shot Hayate a look.

"We're sorry, ma'am," Fate rushed in. "We didn't mean to be rude."

Ms. Ichinomiya shook her head.

"No...no, it's all right. And I really should tell you. After all, I'm sure you'll find out for yourselves sooner or later—probably sooner," she said, dejected. "Let's have a cup of tea while I explain."

She took them into her office, where the computer, phone, and hot plate broke harshly into the illusion of it being hundreds of years past that pervaded the rest of the inn. She prepared green tea, though, in an earthenware pot and porcelain cups that looked like genuine antiques. Nanoha sipped her tea, finding it excellent.

"The truth is, ordinarily we'd have as many as three dozen guests here at this time of year," the manager explained once they were settled on cushions on the tatami-matted floor and drinking their tea. "It's very unusual that you're the only ones here, and there is a very unusual reason for it."

"What's that, ma'am?"

A shadow seemed to pass across her face.

"The other guests have all been scared away by the tengu."

"The tengu?" the girls chorused.

"What is a tengu?" Fate asked.

"You've never heard of them? Ms. Ichinomiya seemed surprised.

"Fate-chan is from Italy," Nanoha explained, "so she hasn't heard many of our legends yet."

"Ah, I see. Well, the tengu are said to be a kind of mountain spirit or goblin."

"Goblin!" Fate yelped, suddenly squeezing Arf.

"That's right. They have an association with crows and are said to be winged, and sometimes can have other birdlike features. Sometimes they are said to be helpful to humans—"

"It's said that the tengu taught the yamabushi, a sect of mountain monks or hermits, the secret arts that became the foundation for ninjutsu," Nanoha contributed.

"—or they can be mischievous and play tricks." Ms. Ichinomiya sighed. "Unfortunately, the tengu around here have all taken the latter attitude. They play pranks, damage property, and scare people. I haven't had a guest stay for more than a couple of days in the last two months, and rumors about the area are getting around, so that those who don't show up and get scared away instead call and cancel their reservations outright. Even my employees, three maids and a handyman, quit in fear over the past two weeks."

"Has anyone been hurt?" Hayate asked.

"Thankfully, no, although there have been some near-misses. One of the maids was walking on one of the paths out back when a rock fell from the cliff above her, and she looked up and saw a crow-headed tengu cackling at her!"

The girls looked at each other.

"It sounds like there's a real mystery going on around here!" Hayate said.

Fate shivered and looked Arf in the face.

"You know what it means when she says that, don't you?"

Arf nodded and licked Fate's nose.

"You're right," she told the puppy. "We don't have any choice."

If Hayate was going to expand on her remark, she didn't get the chance, because a chime rang from Ms. Ichinomiya's computer. She set her teacup aside and rose.

"Please excuse me, young ladies, but someone has just arrived. Since I do not have anyone else to act as desk clerk any more, I installed a motion sensor on the front door. Feel free to stay and finish your tea."

"Come on; let's go see who it is," Nanoha said as soon as the manager had gone. "If everyone was supposed to be scared off, then maybe whomever this is has something to do with this mystery."

"Or maybe it's a tengu!"

"Suzuka!"

The violet-haired girl giggled.

"Sorry, Fate-chan."

"Really, you're as bad as Hayate sometimes."

They slipped down the hall. The newcomer wasn't a tengu, but a man of about thirty wearing blue jeans, a white button-down shirt, a khaki vest with bulging pockets, and a floppy, wide-brimmed hat.

"Okamoto-san," Ms. Ichinomiya addressed him in a snapping tone very unlike she'd used towards any of the girls since their arrival, even when she'd been introduced to Arf. "What are you doing back here?"

"What does it look like? I want a room."

"The last time you stayed here, you wrote an article that's nearly ruined this resort. You started all this tengu business!"

Mr. Okamoto regarded her coldly from behind his steel-rimmed glasses.

"The tengu started this tengu business, Ichinomiya-san, not me. I came here because I'd heard the rumors that they'd been sighted up by the construction site. So of course I wrote about them. Writing about the supernatural is my job, after all."

Hayate stepped out into the lobby, the others trailing behind her, unsure of what she intended.

"Oh! You're 'Ghost Writer' Okamoto, aren't you, sir?"

The man sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger.

"Yes, I am, though I wish you'd avoid using that awful pun of a nickname. One of my editors thought it up a few years ago and I can't seem to get rid of it." He did a double-take, then, and looked at the girls.

"Who are you?"

"We're guests at the resort," Nanoha told him, "just like you."

"Assuming that I don't tell you to get out of here and sleep under a rock," Ms. Ichinomiya snapped, not at Nanoha but at Mr. Okamoto.

"If the tengu has been as bad for you as you claim, I should think that you'd be glad for anyone willing to pay to stay here."

"...Fine. You can have Room 5."

"I'll take my own bags, since you don't seem to have a bellboy on hand." He walked off down the hall, suitcase in one hand and shoulder bag slung on its strap.

"As Arisa-chan would say if she were here, what a jerk!" Nanoha decided.

"Is it really his fault you've lost so much business?" Fate asked the manager.

Ms. Ichinomiya sighed.

"Probably not, to be honest about it. Yes, he's a well-known author on paranormal topics"—she glanced toward Hayate, who'd already confirmed the point in advance when she'd recognized the name—"and when he wrote his story it publicized the situation, but even then I was getting a couple of people who were actually curious about the idea of staying at a tengu-haunted resort. No, it's like he said, it's the tengu who are causing the problems and scaring people away. Okamoto-san's article didn't talk about anything that wasn't happening in real life."

"I still think he was being a jerk, though," Nanoha said. Ms. Ichinomiya smiled wanly at her remark.

"Well, thank you girls for your support. And now I need to get to work on dinner, especially now that there's an extra guest."

"Ichinomiya-san, didn't you say that the tengu had frightened off all your staff?" Suzuka confirmed.

"Yes."

"So you're going to make and serve dinner for everyone all by yourself?"

"You're right, Suzuka-chan," Nanoha spoke up before the manager even had a chance to answer. "We're going to help you, Ichinomiya-san."

"Oh, but I couldn't ask—"

"You're not asking, we're volunteering, and we're not going to take no for an answer."

"You'd better just give in, ma'am," Fate advised. "When Nanoha decides to help someone, they're going to be helped."

"Mmn!" Nanoha agreed firmly. "Hayate-chan and I will help Ichinomiya-san in the kitchen, while Fate-chan, Suzuka-chan, and Arf-san can have supper with Okamoto-san."

"Try to get him to talk more about the tengu," Hayate advised. "Knowing his reputation as a writer, he probably has a very complete story to tell."

"All right," Suzuka agreed.

"Couldn't we enjoy the meal in peace and tell ghost stories afterward?" Fate protested.

"Fate-chan, Ichinomiya-san needs our help. We have to get to the bottom of this mystery!"

The manager held up her hands.

"I couldn't possibly ask you girls to do this! It's bad enough to have my guests helping in the kitchen, but you can't be running around chasing after monsters! It's dangerous for adults, let alone girls your age!"

"You really don't need to worry, Ichinomiya-san," Suzuka said. "Honestly, they do this all the time." Arf barked her agreement.

"And you don't need to worry about the dinner, either," Fate chimed in. "Nanoha's family runs Midoriya Cafe in Uminari City, and Hayate has been cooking for her family for years."

"Thank you, girls. I don't know what to say."

"Don't thank us yet," Hayate said. "You can save that for when everything's done."

~X X X~

"Couldn't Hayate be here instead of me?" Fate muttered as she, Suzuka, and Arf walked along the corridor towards Mr. Okamoto's room. "I'm nearly as good in the kitchen as she is, and ghost stories don't scare her at all."

"It wasn't Hayate-chan who divided the group up," Suzuka pointed out. "She or I might have done it as a gag to tease you, but you know Nanoha-chan wouldn't do that."

"I know," Fate said. "That's why I didn't argue about it. I thought that she must have a reason for wanting me to talk with Okamoto, or else that she wanted Hayate with her. Or both."

She stopped at the writer's door and lightly scratched on the frame. A moment later the sliding screen was pushed open.

"Oh, it's you girls. I thought for a second that it was that manager come to say she'd changed her mind and was throwing me out. What can I do for you?"

"Well, actually, it's about dinner," Fate said. "Since there isn't any staff here, the manager has requested that she be allowed to serve us dinner as a group."

"We thought you might like to join us," Suzuka added.

"Since the alternative is dining on an energy bar I've been carrying around in my vest pocket for the better part of a month, I'd be very glad to."

Arf growled at him. Mr. Okamoto had the grace to look sheepish.

"I'm sorry about that; I must have sounded like a complete ass. The truth is, I know very well that I'm not exactly Ichinomiya-san's favorite person right now, but it's not my fault, either. The tengu are a big story, and that's why I'm here to do a follow-up. I'd stay somewhere else if there was somewhere else up here to stay, but there's not and I'd appreciate it if we could at least be civil." He gave a heavy sigh. "But that's no reason for me to take it out on you girls."

"All right, but to make it up to us you have to tell us all about the tengu!" Suzuka declared.

"Oh, so you girls haven't heard the story yet?"

"Only the broad outlines; we haven't heard any real details."

"Ah, well, that's one of the things that makes this case of a supernatural manifestation so interesting. So often, there aren't many details, or there are only one or two witnesses, leaving one to wonder—is it really a haunting? Or just someone who might be mistaken, or drunk, or even delusional? Yes, the world of the paranormal is filled with those kinds of matters, where even the most convincing witness testimony is simply too limited to convert an audience of hard-nosed skeptics. This case, though...even the national media has picked up on it, if only in a back-page kind of way."

The resort didn't actually have a proper dining room, since in ordinary circumstances meals were served in the guests' rooms in traditional fashion. There was a kind of reception room, though, with a low table, which business travelers could use for meetings and the like while at the inn, and it had been pressed into service for meals. Fate and Suzuka sat down, with Mr. Okamoto across from them and Arf snuggled in by Fate's side. Ms. Ichinomiya entered a few moments later and served tea, then departed a few minutes later. The writer sipped tea.

"If I'm going to be storytelling, I could really use a beer, or in this place I guess some sake would be more appropriate, but I guess that wouldn't be fair since you girls couldn't join me. Bah! All this national drinking age stuff does is raise a nation of lightweights."

Arf made a noise that sounded suspiciously like a snicker.

"But you didn't want to hear me whine about politics, you wanted to hear about the tengu! Of course there have been legends for years about tengu in these mountains. It's said a rebellious daimyo in the Edo period tried to get the tengu to teach his army the magic of flight so he could overthrow the Tokugawa regime, but they mocked him for thinking they'd care about human politics, then tricked him into throwing himself off a cliff, believing that magic would protect him. As you might guess, the 'flying' part didn't work so well." He grinned wickedly, then slurped at his tea. "That's why they call the cliff area north of here 'Falling Lord Ridge.' Of course, that's just a story. In real life it might have been a case of an accidental slip, or suicide because the Shogun's army was closing in, or most likely of all murder—either by the Shogun's agents or his own retainers. That's what I mean when I talk about the limits of evidence in these kind of cases—how can you separate the stories from the facts? But what's happening now is a completely different kettle of fish."

Fate shivered.

"There's real evidence, then?" Suzuka asked excitedly.

"Exactly. It started about six weeks ago, at the Matou Development construction site up the valley. There were workers putting in an overtime shift one night, and they saw the tengu. It appeared to them, claiming that they were trespassing on sacred ground. This apparently happened a couple of times. That's when I heard the rumors about it on the net and came up to see for myself."

"And did you?"

"See? No, but while I was here lots of other people did: workers, hikers in the mountains, guests and staff here. Apparently, it's not just one tengu but an entire flock of them. The leader is a long-nosed goblin like the stories say, while he has followers who are more crow-like with the heads of giant birds."

Fate shuddered.

"H-how many are there?" she asked nervously.

"Well, according to the people I've talked to, it seems like there are at least seven or eight, maybe as many as a dozen. Apparently, they oppose what Matou Development is up to, but their anger has grown to include all human activity in this area."

"Dinner is served!" Nanoha announced, leading the way into the room. She and Hayate supported the warming tray with brim-full pot.

"It's Yagami Hayate's world-famous hot-pot," Hayate added with a grin. "We made plenty, so go on and eat up!"

Ms. Ichinomiya followed them in.

"Is there anything else you need?" she asked, and when everyone shook their head, she turned to go, but was stopped by Fate.

"Aren't you going to stay and eat with us, ma'am?"

The manager glanced in surprise from Fate to the other girls and to Mr. Okamoto.

"Fate-chan's right," Nanoha said. "This is a completely unusual situation and it's hardly fair to make you go off by yourself. Hayate made plenty!"

Suzuka and Hayate nodded firmly, and even Mr. Okamoto made approving noises, so after more hesitation Ms. Ichinomiya was convinced to sit down and they all dug in enthusiastically, Fate even grabbing an extra bowl to fill with choice bits for Arf. However, eventually the eating slowed and the conversation came back around to the local mystery.

"So, Okamoto-san, you were saying something about Matou Development having angered the tengu?" Suzuka asked.

"That's the prevailing theory," he said.

"They're planning a big expansion on a four-hundred-acre parcel," Ms. Ichinomiya contributed, "with residential development as well as a commercial shopping center." She frowned and added, "In that respect, I sympathize with the tengu. Oh, they own the land and I'm sure they have the right permits, but when they're through it will destroy the character of the neighborhood. Do you know that this resort dates back to before the Edo era? Can you imagine having a shopping mall and fast-food restaurants within an hour's walk away?"

"It could be convenient for the guests," Nanoha offered.

"People come to an old-style hot springs like this to get away from the rush of modern life and relax," the manager said. "Having it press in on us so closely would hurt the very thing that makes us what we are." She then sighed heavily and went on, "But even that would be better than this. I may agree with the tengu's sentiments, but their methods are ruining everything for everyone!"

"Well, there's only one thing to do," Nanoha decided.

"I'm not going to like this, am I?" Fate asked. Arf rested a comforting paw on her leg.

"Solve the mystery of the tengu! I'm sure that if we can explain things to them properly, they'll be willing to reach a solution that's fair to everyone."

Mr. Okamoto almost choked on his tea.

"You want to talk to the tengu?"

"Why not? I've found that mostly, when people understand each others' feelings and point of view, they can compromise and work out a solution to their problems."

"That's an admirable sentiment, but these are mountain goblins, not people."

"It's no use, Okamoto-san," Hayate advised. "When Nanoha gets going, there's no stopping her."

"But how are we going to find the tengu?" Suzuka wondered.

The writer and the resort manager shared a glum look.

"Truthfully, Tsukimura-san," Ms. Ichinomiya said, "I think you're more likely to have trouble with them finding you."

~X X X~

The beams of Nanoha and Fate's flashlights stabbed out into the dark night. Black Forest Village and the hot springs were sufficiently remote that no city lights leaked out to illuminate the sky; all was dark and silent but for the occasional crying of a nightbird or the stirring of some woodland creature in the brush. These noises didn't spook Fate, though; she knew the sort of things that made them and it was ghost-story, horror-movie monsters she didn't want to meet. Animals were fine.

Mr. Okamoto's directions to Falling Lord Ridge were relatively easy to follow. Due to the popularity of hiking in the area, the trails were well laid-out. Soon, they reached the place, a bowl-shaped clearing with the ragged edge of the cliff wall forming the north boundary and the treeline the south side. A ledge actually led up the cliff to the ridgeline.

Most of these details were difficult to make out in the gloom. One, however, was not. The forms of a dozen or more tengu, some perched on the ridge, others on the ledge, still others on the boulder-strewn ground, all shone with their own phosphorescent light. Most had crow-like features, while only one had the more familiar long-nosed form of legend.

"Who dares trespass upon our sacred land?" boomed the human-headed tengu.

Fate squeaked. Arf growled. Nanoha stepped forward from the group.

"My name is Takamachi Nanoha, Tengu-sama. I wanted to talk with you about—"

"Leave these grounds, puny one, or face your doom!"

"But, Tengu-sama, if you'd give me a chance to—"

A great, booming laugh cut Nanoha off this time.

"Child, do you think we do not know whom you are? There is nothing to talk about."

"I'm sure that if everyone would just sit down and work out a compromise, we could reach a fair solution that addresses the needs of the villagers and the developers as well as you." No one could say that Nanoha gave up easily.

"There will be no compromise! We have suffered the invasion of humans onto our mountain in greater and greater numbers as the centuries have passed. This is the last straw! We have been tolerant, and the response has been for you to inflict yet worse outrages. Now our patience is at an end. Any human who remains will suffer our curse! Begone!"

Nanoha sighed heavily.

"I didn't want it to have to come to this," she said. "I'd hoped we could all work together to reach a reasonable solution, but if you're going to keep on scaring people and hurting businesses, then you have to be stopped. Raising Heart, set up!"

"Stand by ready."

Fate stepped up beside her. "Bardiche, set up!"

"Get set."

Hayate chuckled.

"I could have guessed."

Light—pink, yellow, and white respectively—swelled around the three girls, leaving them clad in their Barrier Jackets and wielding their Devices.

"Wh-what the hell?" boggled the lead tengu.

"I said that you had to be stopped," Nanoha said, "and it seems we'll have to use force to do so. I'll take the ones on the ridge, Fate-chan the leader, and Hayate-chan, Arf-san, and Suzuka-chan the ones on the ground?"

"Works for me," Hayate agreed.

"All right, then. Raising Heart, Accel Mode!"

"Accel Shooter."

Around two dozen orbs of light shimmered into existence around Nanoha and sprayed at the ridgeline. The magical bullets sought out the tengu, three or four striking each one, and the crow-like creatures went over like ninepins.

Hayate held her left hand out and the Tome of the Night Sky opened, riffling through pages as it hovered over her palm.

"Shoot the fangs. Dye them with blood. Bloody Dagger!"

A ring of scarlet, cross-shaped missiles formed around the head of the staff in Hayate's right hand launched themselves at the various tengu on the ground. She didn't have Nanoha's pinpoint accuracy, but while multiple daggers shattered rocks or crashed into the ground, she took out more than one tengu as well and cleared the way for Fate.

"Haken Form!"

"Yes, sir," Bardiche answered, firing off a cartridge. The device's axe-head tipped back and sprouted a golden energy blade.

"Sonic Move."

"Haken Slash!" In an instant, Fate was standing next to the tengu leader and the energy blade crashed into his body. Rather than slicing him apart, the blow sent the tengu tumbling head-over-heels, ending up sprawled and unmoving where he finally came to rest.

Like her mistress, Arf flung herself forward at the tengu, her body swelling and expanding in mid-leap so that what smashed into her target wasn't a cute little puppy but two hundred and fifty pounds of snarling red wolf. Her paws pinned his shoulders to the earth, and her muzzle snapped down, biting at his beak. Her teeth bit down and she twisted her jaws, which had the effect of tearing off his whole crow face. Arf blinked in surprise and spat out the foul taste of rubber.

Hey, Fate! she called telepathically. It's just a guy in a mask!

The last two tengu standing were certainly reacting like guys in masks, because they were screaming and running towards the forest. The dark mouth of one of the trails yawned before them, and the only thing in their way was the purple-haired girl, who thus far hadn't started shooting at them or swinging a giant, glowing weapon or turned into a wolf. They tried to rush her, to run her down. Suzuka's hand flicked out and one went sprawling, then seized the other by the back of his kimono, effortlessly holding him in place.

"You don't smell like a legendary monster," she said softly, then looked up at him.

With glowing red eyes.

"In fact, you smell more like...dinner," she added, smiling.

Showing off fangs.

Behind his mask, the last tengu's eyes rolled up in his head and he fainted dead away. Suzuka lost her ominous air by giving way to a fit of the giggles.

"Is everyone okay?" she called.

"I'd worry more about them," Hayate said. "Fate-chan, you didn't get scared and use a lethal attack, did you?"

"Of course I didn't!" the Enforcer said hotly.

"She's just teasing, Fate-chan," Nanoha said, giving their friend a sharp look.

But if the tengu are just guys in masks, then who are they? Arf asked.

"Let's find out." Hayate flew over to the fallen leader. "According to stories, a tengu's nose can be made into medicine that can cure any illness, so let's see if this one cures ignorance."

She grabbed the nose and yanked off the mask while everyone clustered close to see.

"It's Okamoto-san!"

~X X X~

"So you're saying that the tengu sightings were all a hoax."

"That's right, Detective," Nanoha said. The flashing blue and red lights of the squad cars played across the resort's parking area and cast everything in a weird radiance. "Okamoto-san used his expertise in paranormal reporting to let him know just how to best stage things to manipulate people. And, of course, he fanned the flames with his own writing."

"But what was the point of it all? Publicity so he could get a bestselling book out of the story?"

"He probably would, too," Hayate took over the explanation, "but no, that's not it. He'd been hired by an assistant vice-president of Matou Development." She showed the detective the business card Mr. Okamoto had given her while he'd been trying to pass the buck as fast as possible after his capture.

"Matou? But they were the false tengu's primary victims."

"True, but what no one knew was that Matou needed this resort and the hot springs to make their development into a sure winner. The entire plan was to scare people away so Ichinomiya-san would be forced to sell out. They didn't mind slowing construction for a few weeks because without this piece of land, the whole project was pointless anyway. Scaring their own workers provided more witnesses while also concealing the true goal of the tengu hoax and even giving them an excuse to temporarily stop sinking more costs into construction. And in a few months when the hoax had done its work and there weren't any more tengu incidents, then the stories would serve as good publicity, an interesting local history to draw prospective buyers' attention to the development."

The police officer nodded.

"You're probably right. People are a funny lot. What I don't quite see is how you got on to all this."

"Well, it seemed strange that if the tengu were angry at Matou Development, they would be taking it out on Ichinomiya-san's resort," Nanoha said. "That made us think that something more was going on." She blushed faintly and added, "I never suspected a hoax, though; I thought that Okamoto-san had struck some kind of deal with the tengu."

"You suspected him from the first?" Fate asked.

"He was such a jerk!" Nanoha exclaimed. "Plus, I didn't see why he'd come back for a follow-up story when nothing had really changed from a paranormal-reporting point of view."

Fate sighed.

"So that's why you wanted me to talk to him before dinner. I'm the only one of us who gets scared of ghosts, and you wanted him to see real fear," she deduced, "so he'd be sure to have his tengu friends show up when we went looking for them."

"Right! That way, we could talk to them right away and settle the matter properly instead of spending days looking."

"And be ready with one of our traps if they didn't feel like talking," Hayate added for the detective's benefit.

"Only we kind of overdid it a little, since we thought they were real tengu." Nanoha rubbed the back of her neck, embarrassed.

The detective chuckled.

"Well, whatever you did, it scared those guys silly. But I don't think anybody'll have any problem with four junior-high girls defending themselves against fourteen adult men pretending to be monsters! I just wish there was more we could do, legally. Sure, there's probably some trespassing charges for some of the incidents, assault if some people were afraid they were in physical danger, maybe reckless endangerment or harassment claims, but for the most part there's no law against capering around in a costume and letting folks think what they want."

Hayate glanced at the business card and Matou Development's logo.

"Oh, I don't know. I think there's still room in the world for justice."

~X X X~

"Please accept this as a token of our sincere apologies, Ichinomiya-san." The short-haired blonde bowed deeply and extended the envelope towards the resort manager on outstretched palms.

"I-I couldn't accept...not after all you girls have done for me."

Arisa Bannings shook her head.

"This is not from us. This is an apology from Nomura-Bannings Industrial Technologies to compensate you for the shameful actions of our subsidiary company, to repay you for your lost revenues, your employees for their lost wages, and an additional sum for you and for them for the time, trouble, and suffering. You may also rest assured that suitable chastisement has been arranged for the originator of the scheme."

When the chairman of the entire keiretsu had learned that his daughter's best friends had been put in danger by a sleazy scheme cooked up by one of his member companies' officers (motivated, it turned out, because the man had approved substantial investment in the development without making certain that the plan could actually go forward), 'chastisement' was a very nice way to describe the reaction. The man had a family, so firing and blackballing him hadn't been an option, but he'd be spending the rest of his career with a mop and a bucket—and aware that if he tried to quit, that blackball would come. As for 'Ghost Writer' Okamoto, the paranormal-research community probably would have ostracized him for orchestrating the hoax anyway, but by some strange coincidence his role in it had been thoroughly publicized by the national press and editors wouldn't even bother returning his calls.

"I just couldn't—"

Arisa sighed heavily.

"Just take the money!" she said, exasperated, making her friends laugh. "I've only got one day up here to hang out with my friends, and every minute I'm arguing with you is one minute we're not in the hot spring!"

"That was a...unique negotiating tactic, Arisa-chan," Hayate said when the matter was settled and they were all soaking in the bath.

"It got the job done," the blonde said.

"And you got to join us after all, even if only for a day," Suzuka enthused.

"Uh-huh. But seriously, I'm not surprised that Okamoto guy had to start staging stupid hoaxes. You should have known he was a total loser right from the start."

"Oh? Why?" Nanoha asked.

"The guy's supposed to be a hotshot paranormal writer and he can't even tell when he's eating dinner with two witches, an alien clone, a vampire, and a werewolf? Lame doesn't even cover it."

~X X X~

A/N: So, did anybody think for a minute that this was an AU when they were ordinary teenagers, or were you all on to me from the start?

Casting-wise, the girls and their Scooby-Doo roles are:

Nanoha: Fred

Hayate: Velma

Fate: Shaggy (not only because she owns the dog, but because I'd already established her as being afraid of horror movies and such in one of the omake to "Blood & Spirit")

Arf: Scooby-Doo

Suzuka: Daphne (mostly by default)

Hayate's incantation for Bloody Dagger is taken from the A's official subs—I have to thank Kaijo, though, because I had no idea where to find it (or even if it could be found), and he aimed me right where I needed to look.

Happy Halloween!

~X X X~

Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!

"Brrr, that was scary!" seven-year-old Vivio exclaimed as the Halloween cartoon ended. She snuggled closer to Zafira, grabbing clumps of her babysitter's blue fur. "Didn't you think so, Zaffy?"

"Terrifying," he agreed. The animation quality, the voice acting, the product placement...

She didn't immediately respond, so he turned his head to look at her, hoping she wasn't too scared. Vivio, though, had an almost ferocious look, her "thinking hard" face.

"Zaffy?" she finally asked.

"Yes, Vivio?"

"Werewolves...if they bite people, the people turn into werewolves, right?"

"According to the stories of your mother's home planet, yes, I believe that is how it is supposed to work." The concept seemed very unbelievable, magically speaking.

"Then, if you bit a dog, could it turn into a person?"