Disclaimer: I do not own Negima, but you know that, so I question posting this here. No, really.
Full Moon Shuffle: The Year of Innocence
A.N/ So In order to balance out the word count on both halves of the first year I've decided to merge the library operation with the first chapter. At 13k+ I figured that would have been the sensible choice since it was originally supposed to serve only as an introductory segment to branch the first half with the second half. (With the second half including things like Sayo "Recurring ghost of ADVENTURE", the Dark Mistresses biannual banquet, Chisame and Negi's visit to demon hunters Konoka and Setsuna's manor, and Mana Tatsumiya's official introduction to the story, I'm already looking at a VERY big chapter.)
1) So the story is going to be broken down into four summers.
2) Between every year will be a chapter chronicling Chisame's school year as the 'in between' for each summer. These will focus more on the relationship building between Chisame and the rest of the characters as well as her grooming into a competent supernatural detective.
3) At times there will be little interludes to shed more light on Negi's past as 'The Immortal', mostly to build on his relationships with Mana Tatsumiya, Evangeline McDowell (And by extension, Chachamaru) Konoka and Setsuna, and Sayo "Recurring ghost of ADVENTURE".
4) I'll try to fit as much of the main cast as possible, with more than a few role changes here and there. Some girls may pop up as themselves, others may appear as demonic or supernatural beings. Negi Springfield himself will retain some of his canon qualities, but he isn't playing hero anymore...
So there, now you know what you're in for...
The immortal is a figure that entered the scene around the middle of the eighteenth century, a young man of hair that danced like fire and piercing eyes that could strike terror into the hearts of men, but an expression that could easily contradict the fierceness they possessed as though they weren't his own. There are no logs in the records of man of any prior appearances before his debut in the Seven Years War where he accompanied a figure that had long ago captured the eyes of the world in her infamy, the Archdemon of War as historians dubbed her when she first appeared crushing throats and tearing spines in the Jugurthine War like a beautiful beast escaped from the jaws of hades.
His trend followed hers closely, appearing only at the turning point of a large conflict to tip the scales to the side that he favored, always at her side in the beginning like a close companion, however, turning to her opposition as a rival upon occasion as the decades turned, and just as she did he waged war not only among the mundanes of the youthful planet, but with the mystical beings and mages of other worlds and overlapping dimensions. Stories about him naturally varied from tales of heroism, protecting towns and cities from legions of soldiers or taking on demon lords and beasts of catastrophe, to tales of his misdeeds in leading the forces of darkness himself as a demon of ruin, and they spanned the years as timelessly as the folk tales and myths that fill the shelves of libraries young and old until records ended abruptly with his disappearance during the Nexus War of the underworld, leaving the Archdemon of War to grace the bloody fields alone once more.
The speculation for the Immortal's bow from history still ignites debate to this day, some claiming that perhaps his immortality had been tested by one of the dark mistresses or lords whom laid him to rest, while others say it was a valkyrie of the wolven ranks that finally put him to the ground. Those who are bold enough to say as much believe that the Immortal never existed at all; that perhaps he was nothing more than an elaborate act by the Archdemon of War herself, an act that she had gotten bored with in time, and then there was a thread of speculation that even delved further into unconventional thought: that the Immortal chose to favor love over war in the end.
Summer vacation! Summer vacation. Oh, how Chisame loathed the summer vacation and all of its empty promises of fun and opportunities to discover one's own identity–yet here it was again! The end of the school year and everyone was already bouncing up and down in their seats, eager to hear the final bell so they could throw their hands in the air and sing of the wonders of summer all over again, as if this one would prove to be even more magnificent than the last and those that were succeeded by it. Chisame watched the other girls in her class with a wry smirk on her face, knowing well what would come in the next twenty seconds, and she counted them down one by one as if every single twitch of that red dial was stealing away the final precious seconds of her life.
And here we go. Chisame thought bitterly, swallowing the lump in her throat. Three...two...one.
"Hi there!" Chiu the net idol greeted her net fans with a brilliant smile, posing in front of the camera ridiculously as she flashed a victory sign. "Guess what? Summer is here!" She jumped up and down (Some computer magic would throw in some bouncing to go with that later) to show her excitement, doing a quick turn when she was done to show off the softness of her brown hair before talking again, "And that means that Chiu's swimsuit summer special will be starting soon!" A wink here and a cock of the hip there to emphasize the finer points of her planned event. "Look forward to it, all of my wonderful fans! I will!" And with that announcement caught on camera, Chiu brought the bottom of her heel down on the cut switch beneath her foot. When the camera stopped rolling Chisame walked over to her bed and fell face first onto it, muffling the long sigh that she heaved.
"...Yeah, here we go again." She grumbled to herself, turning over onto her back. She propped herself up on her elbows and directed her eyes to the laptop sitting on her desk at the corner of the room beside the window. She was going to have to doctor that video before she uploaded it onto her idol site. "That pretty much decides what I'll be doing for the rest of the night." Her eyelids fell halfway shut as her eyes swiveled over to the door. "I should get something to eat before I do, though." She kicked her legs forward to swing herself into a sitting position at the edge of the bed and stood up to put her filming equipment away. When everything was hidden away she approached the door and opened it to walk out into the guest room where her dorm mate Haruna Saotome was lounging on the couch, looking through the contents of her sketch book with a satisfied grin on her face.
The manga-ka turned her head to acknowledge her room mate when she heard the door swing open. "The hermit comes out." The bespectacled girl remarked with an amused hum in her throat before she turned back to the pages of her book, settling into a sprawled out position on the couch, her right leg hanging off the side. Chisame tried not to make it obvious where her eyes were directed when the girl did that; the curves of her body, that is. Saotome was an attractive girl, tight and round in all the right spots, which was something that Chisame felt she couldn't say about herself. The only thing that kept her from being so popular amongst the other girls in the dorm hall was the fact that she was a weirdo with a disturbing fetish that involved bishounen characters and tentacles, something which was present in most, if not all, of the works that she put out for sale at the comiket events that she attended. That may have been the reason why she was stuck with her.
"Whatever." Chisame brushed off the title that the girl often tagged her with. "I'm going out to get something for my stomach."
"Z'right." Haruna made a half-hearted response as the net idol passed her. "Oh, by the way..."
Chisame looked over her shoulder as she slipped her shoes on at the door, one hand against the wall to keep herself from falling while she did. "What?"
"Already know what you're gonna do over the break?" The other girl asked with no clear intention in mind, sketch book concealing her face.
"...No." Chisame answered after some hesitation, looking away. "You?" She turned the question back on Haruna as she opened the coat closet. She retrieved a black pull over hoody and slipped into it, running her hands over the back of her neck to fix her hair afterward.
"Yeah..." The other girl replied, keeping with the dull exchange. "Lots of events planned." She wiggled the toes of her foot sitting on the arm rest as if to wave goodbye to the net idol.
Chisame caught the gesture with a quiet snort and opened the door. "Good for you, I guess." She closed the door behind her.
The net idol acquired her meal for the night from a chinese take out Restuarant a few blocks down from the dorm apartment building. The woman behind the counter attempted to make small talk with her as she waited for the chefs in the kitchen to finish preparing her order, but Chisame could only manage half hearted responses throughout the awkward exchanges regarding trivial things such as the odd changes in the seasonal weather and her possible plans for her summer vacation since it was now upon her, and she was oh-so-sure that Chisame had oodles of things to look forward to on her sacred time off. The look that the woman gave her as she grabbed her food to leave stirred negative feelings within Chisame as she turned to walk out of the take out shop. If she had to put it in her own words, the lady almost seemed sorry for her.
The way it all played out put her off enough that the original idea of returning to the dorm just then suddenly didn't feel very appealing, especially since Haruna didn't appear to be going out anyplace tonight, which would make for an awkward dinner unless she brought the food into her room. Her personal hygienic sense wouldn't allow her to risk the possibility of leaving crumbs on the floor or grease on her equipment, so she opted for the small park on the way back to the apartment building. It wasn't completely dark out so Chisame wasn't particularly worried about running the chance of an encounter with the unfriendly sort.
Taking a seat on a bench facing a row of lonely swings that were squeaking eerily against the summer breeze, Chisame slipped her container of food out of its plastic bag and opened it on her lap. The pleasant smell of her favorite dish wafting into her nostrils momentarily stole her mind away from her resentment of the woman's look from earlier, but as she dug into her food she couldn't keep her thoughts from wandering back to it with a private scowl.
"What did she see that made her look at me that way?" Now she was self conscious, and she hated nothing more than that. "Ugh." A disgusted look came upon her face, her chopsticks pausing before she could pop another piece of duck into her mouth. "Why do people have to make things so awkward?"
Not that she had anything against people in general, mind you, just the sort that always felt the need to intrude upon the lives of others which just happened to be most of the individuals that she had the unfortunate luck of coming across. She once read that those whom refused the company of others tended to attract it most; a tragic twist of circumstance for one like herself who generally did her best to maintain a distance from others, and so absorbed was she in her disgust that she paid no heed to the person that took a seat beside her.
She flinched when a cordial voice entered her left ear without any decency of a proper warning. "That's unusual, you arrived here before I did." Chisame turned her head quickly to face her uninvited bench partner, a young man perhaps a few years her senior dressed in a dark three piece suit with his jacket left unbuttoned. The flaming red hair that complimented his handsome countenance was the first feature that caught her undivided attention since the breeze appeared so fond of it, giving him away as a foreigner where his mastery over the Japanese language had almost decieved her. It served as a momentary distraction from the most intruiging features of his face, the two piercing eyes that regarded her with such unrestrained intensity that she found herself bewitched at near instant.
Chisame collected her wits once she caught herself staring back at him a little too hard, "Wait, what?" The net idol blinked at him before scooting away quickly to put a distance. "I'm sorry. What are you talking about?"
The mysterious young man quirked a brow in genuine intruige at the question. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you weren't expecting me."
Chisame jabbed her chopsticks at him. "I'd say you were the only one expecting anybody." Not that you even know who that is judging by your reaction, pal.
"I'm sorry," He cocked his head slightly, those eyes narrowing slightly at her. His odd eyes made the innocent expression appear dangerous, picking up the pace of her heartbeat with simply a stare, "Might I have your name, my lady?"
Chisame hesitated for understandable reasons. While this individual didn't appear needlessly malicious, or scheming at a glance there was an odd feeling about him. How could she be sure that his looks (handsome and proper as he was) and his manners ("My lady"? Really?) weren't simply tools to draw her in to an elaborate trap of his? Those piercing eyes of his weren't doing anything to help his case either.
"Chisame Hasegawa." She wanted to slap a hand over her mouth when the name slipped out carelessly. Why the hell did I do that for?
At her admission the young man grinned with an air of mischief about him. "Chisame Hasegawa, was it? I...I don't quite know what it means, but I like the sound of it." He released his gaze from her, setting his sights to the twilight sky for a moment to say, "Yes, I think you have been waiting for my arrival, miss Hasegawa." He turned his gaze toward her again. "And I've been searching for you just as well."
"I haven't been waiting for anyone." The net idol told him, finding that she was losing her apetite as their conversation carried on. "What are you playing at here...stranger?"
The red haired stranger stood from the bench and offered her a courteous bow with a flourish of his arm. "You may call me Negi, lady Hasegawa. I'm currently an English professor at the Ursula Academy."
"You?" Chisame's expression spoke of skepticism after receiving his introduction. "A professor at the academy? Aren't you kind of young for that?" You can't be anywhere over nineteen or twenty at most, although there is something about you that feels off. Do all the guys where you're from talk like you?
"You're not the first to get that impression, believe it or not." He told her with a sheepish grin, seemingly oblivious to the way she rolled her eyes. "But I dabble in it more than anything. My actual life's work is in the field of supernatural affairs."
"Huh?" She hadn't been expecting something that whimsical to come out of his mouth. She already had her suspicions about him, but this confirmed it. This guy is a wierdo. I should've known.
"I don't expect you to readily accept it as a truth, especially since I don't have much to show for it at the current time." He told her with a look of understanding that almost had her believing that she was the crazy one in this conversation. "Most common folk go through their entire lives without encountering the supernatural, however, there are those individuals whom come upon them by chance. Once that occurs they are unable to completely tune them out as effectively as before the contact was made." He tapped his temple with a knowing grin. "So comes the rise of superstition within mundane society."
"I'm really not interested in any of that occult stuff." She told him with a deadpan expression before cracking a frighteningly irritated grin as she went on to ask, "Could you possibly take your nonsense elsewhere?"
"Tell me, why are you out here eating alone, lady Hasegawa?" Negi inquired without missing a beat. He wasnt going to leave her be with simple scare tactics it would have seemed.
That question made her self conscious again. "How is that your business?"
"Just curious." He answered her sincerely. "If I recall correctly we've just let out for summer vacation. I'd find it odd that anyone your age would be spending their afternoon alone on this particular day." That last expression of his made it seem like he considered himself a man already far ahead in his years when he couldn't be more anymore than just a step past legal.
"What's so special about today?" The net idol sneered. "Its just like any other day of the year."
"I see." The strange young man crossed his arms, stroking his chin with one hand as he fixed her with a critical look. "You're a loner, right?" Not that he meant anything wrong by saying it, but the title struck a nerve in the girl judging by the prominent vein on her forehead.
"Are you seriously–" Chisame started indignantly at the label, but...
"So it might also be safe to assume that you have no plans for the summer, right?" His chipper tone made her want to punch him in the face. The prospect of her being free for the summer break appeared to please him.
Her face flushed furiously. "You assume wrongly! I have my summer mapped out already for your information." That summer special was going to require her to go to the beach after all, and there was the matter of getting a few swimsuits to pose in and whatnot.
There was a purposeful beat before Negi offered his input on the matter. "I believe you–"
"Who cares what you believe?" His response bristled the girl even further.
"–but if you should ever change your mind, I'm looking for someone to fill in as my partner."
Chisame raised an eyebrow. "A partner? For what?" Not that she was interested in anything he had to offer her because she wasn't. At all.
"For my investigations." He told her, pleased that she was interested enough to ask that much. "I normally go it alone, but I make a habit of picking up partners every now and again."
"You make it sound like you've been doing this for a while." Chisame remarked skeptically. Where do these guys find the time to fool around?
"You might say that." He replied vaguely. "I don't require you to have any prerequisite knowledge or experience in the field if you're interested, although a little insight on nosferatu wouldn't hurt."
She couldn't play along with it anymore. "Vampires? Are you kidding me?" What's next, Don Quixote? Ghosts and goblins, or perhaps dungeons and dragons?
Negi kept an annoying calm despite her blunt uncooperativeness. "I'm quite serious." And he sounded so sure of himself too. "In fact I've been invited to a biannual banquet held by a close friend of mine that just happens to be a nosferatu herself."
"And how did you two meet?" Her sarcasm was dripping from her words, but he remained infuriatingly accommodating in spite of her temperament. Can't this guy take a hint?
"We were comrades during the war." He told her with a straight face. "Although we're not as close as we used to be. I blame myself for that." There was regret in his voice when he spoke. It was all so convincing and yet Chisame knew it couldn't be true. He was either a good actor or simply self deluded, she was sure of it.
Hearing more than enough than she cared for, Chisame closed her container of food and put it away before rising from her seat, standing just a few inches shy of the young man's height. "Leave me alone." And with that said she walked past him to take her leave.
"Til we meet again then, lady Hasegawa." She heard him call from behind.
"Whatever, weirdo." She grumbled to herself, though she couldn't deny that she found herself in slightly better spirits on her walk back home even if the guy annoyed her. Must be nice to live in a world like his. Far more interesting than the one we live in, I'm sure.
She shook her head when she caught that last passing thought. "What the hell was that? Better to live in reality than to live a neverending reverie, right?" They were her own words, a product of her own will, and yet she couldn't shake off the unwelcome sting of hypocrisy that she felt, as if she had somehow betrayed herself by saying them.
"Huh?" A knock against her right shoulder stole Chisame away from her thoughts, and she looked over it to see who it was that carelessly bumped past her; a long haired blonde wearing what looked to be a black nurse cap on her head and a waist length cloak equally as dark. It was a strange choice of clothing for the warm weather, and judging by the turn the girl made on the next block her destination was the public park she just had just taken her leave from. Suspicious.
"That wasn't weird at all." Chisame said to no one in particular before proceeding on her way without sparing another glance in the other direction. She was sure something terrible would befall her if she did. Maybe she's the person that Negi fellow was supposed to meet? Another violent shake of her head at the thought of that suave day dreamer. What do I care anyway? Its none of my business who that quack was waiting for.
Unfortunately for her fans, no further work was put into Chiu's summer special that night. Chisame found that her motivation had been severely lacking upon her return to the dorm, but she was sure it hadn't been related in any way to her park encounter with the self proclaimed 'professor' Negi. Tomorrow morning would mark another day to further her glory as the adored net idol Chiu, and also the beginning of yet another unremarkable summer vacation.
...And that wasn't the least bit conflicting at all.
The bathroom mirror reflected a groggy face the next morning when Chisame Hasegawa came face to face with it. The previous night had not been kind to her with the tossing and turning, twisting, and at one crucial point, near suffocating. Whatever it was that put her in such a restless mood last night, she wanted to personally walk up to it and drop kick it, and while she had an idea of what (or whom in this particular case) the cause for her unsettled mind might have been she refused to acknowledge it because to do so would have been to empower it, to give it a place in her mind where it would infect the rest of her thoughts and rankle her and-
"Punch you!" Chisame snarled at the reflection in her mirror which had come to resemble a blown up image of professor Negi's handsome face by some perverse trickery of her dazed imagination. "In the face!" And unwittingly empowered her newfound nemesis by doing so. Today would be a grand day, this critical moment would ensure that.
After washing up at the sink and almost succeeding in cracking her neck in the bathtub, which had been unusually slippery, Chisame slipped into a mint green sundress (which had gotten a little tight around the waist, she took note) with sandals before heading into the kitchen for a quiet standing breakfast; quiet because Haruna was nowhere to be seen this late in the morning meaning that the living room was dead silent with the television off. So she had plans after all.
"Hmm." The full body, three angle reflection of Chisame squinted its eyes back at her as it cocked its hips to the side in a Bandeau twist top and side tie hipkini. The net idol stepped down from the viewing stand and grabbed her glasses from the chair before getting back up to the mirror and putting them on. Apparently her mind wasn't playing tricks on her after all.
"My butt is getting big." She grumbled in a not too pleased voice. She pinched at her flat stomach and pulled lightly, letting go with an intruiged hum. "Its not like I'm putting on any pounds or anything...unless everything I eat is just going to my ass." She gave her back to the mirror and looked to the one angled to her right to get a better look at her meatier posterior. "I guess some girls get it up top and others get it down here." She faced the mirror again and brought her hands up to her small breasts, lifting them a little before pressing them together with a forced grin.
She sighed. "I've still got time to fill out up here. I just gotta be patient about it, I suppose." What the hell is Saotome doing to get them so big anyway? I can only imagine the back pains that girl will have when she gets older.
Her hands reflexively flew back to cover her behind when the door to her fitting room rattled with a few pulls from the other side.
"Occupied." A girl's voice stated the obvious from the other side with a sigh. "Any luck over there, Karen?" She called to whom Chisame assumed was her shopping girlfriend.
"This one over here is empty." The so dubbed Karen informed from farther away, following the light bang of a door swinging open against the wall of the secured fitting room.
"Great!" The voice beside the door chirped before the shadow at the crack moved away. Chisame shrugged her shoulders and stepped down from the mirrors to retrieve one of the other swimsuits that were hanging from the hook on the door when she heard more to the exchange that caught her attention.
"Its been a weird year, hasn't it?" The voice of Karen remarked in a jittery voice. "They still haven't found out what's going on with the back area of the library. Rumors are that there's a spirit haunting the place."
"I'd believe it." The unnamed girl replied dramatically. "That delinquent girl still has a cast over her arm from when that bookshelf against the wall fell on her two months back."
"Or that other girl that had to get her hands bandaged when she woke up with all of those weird cuts running across her fingers."
"Next year I'm going to the Mahora library for my research." Said Karen with an unsettled giggle. "That's way too freaky."
"You know what's really weird though?" The other girl asked immediately after Karen replied.
"You mean weirder than the that stuff at the library?" Scoffed Karen. "Try me."
"The new English language professor that just came in at the end of the year." The other girl told her, taking her challenge. "Negi Springfield, was it?"
No way... A sardonic grin worked across Chisame's lips at the mention of that guy. They can't be talking about the same guy. I mean, he never told me his whole name.
"I've heard a lot about him already, but I haven't actually seen him." Karen admitted. "I hear he's a real hottie, though. Apparently the list for his summer advancement course is already completely filled out."
"He's, like, nineteen or twenty years old-tops!"
"C'mon, that's poppycock. How is the guy even out of college already unless he's like a super genius or something?" Karen argued skeptically. "Don't you need certain degrees and credentials to become a professor? Maybe a published work under your belt or something like that?"
Chisame's forehead fell against the door when her hand slipped from the shock of disbelief that struck her at that moment. No way is a weirdo like him actually a professor at Ursula Academy! Are they just hiring anyone these days? Besides he's not much older than his students, for crying out loud!
"I feel for the guy if its really true." Said Karen with a hint of mirth. "Those girls are going to eat him alive." A chuckle. "Heck, he's probably looking forward to it, the sly dog."
"Rumors down the grapevine says he already has someone."
"Hot damn!" Exclaimed Karen. "Campus talk moves quick. Who's the lucky girl?"
"He keeps a photo of some dark skinned woman in his suitcase, I hear." Answered the well informed nameless one. "A real gorgeous siren of sorts."
"Like that'll stop anyone." Scoffed Karen once more. "I can already imagine all the extra help those girls will be requesting."
"You watch too much of those late night teen dramas, you know that?"
"Ugh! They're so addictive though!" Cried out Karen. "You wouldn't believe what happened last night-"
"Saionji caught Mikuru with Misaki." Cut in nameless one.
"Really? You couldn't just pretend not to know, Eri?" Questioned the disappointed Karen. "By the way, that striped bikini makes your ass look chunky."
"You bitch." And while Karen was sure Eri had been the one to say it, she couldn't help but wonder why the remark also happened to come from down the row as well.
Chisame maintained her arm bent at a forty five degree angle to keep her shopping bag from hitting the steps as she ascended the stairs to her floor. The main elevators were being kept packed servicing a steady stream of girls when she entered the dorm hall so she decided to cut through the wait with the otherwise much neglected stairwell. The net idol was eager to get started on her video editing, and she had the most dreadful feeling that if she remained away from her work any longer she would be putting herself in further danger of running into professor Springfield. It was an absurd thought, she figured as much herself, but something told her that if she paid anymore mind to that peculiar individual things were going to change for her, and right now she was comfortable where she was.
"Hmm..." Chisame stopped at the door to her dorm and began to sniff the air when the aroma of food struck her. It was most definitely coming from inside her dorm room, but that wasn't a regular occurrence at all because neither her or Haruna cooked. "What's going on in there?"
Chisame slipped her key into the hole and turned before opening the door slowly, eyes scanning the apartment for anything out of the ordinary. "Saotome?" She called out to her room mate, closing the door behind her with a kick of her foot.
"Saotome!" She called out a little louder, approaching the kitchen when-
"Yo." Haruna came to the entryway of the kitchen, blocking the net idol's way by leaning to the side with one arm against the frame in a laid back manner and the other hand resting on a cocked hip. She was wearing a white sleeveless top and black capris that did a job well done of complimenting her figure in a non subtle way. "You got back fairly quick, Hasegawa. What's that," the mangaka's eyes fell upon Chisame's shopping bag with a gleam of interest, "Swimwear? Nice."
"Is someone else here?" Chisame asked, cutting to the chase. "It smells like someone is cooking."
"I'm getting lessons from a pal of mine." Haruna told her with a smirk that spoke of intentions all but noble. Chisame could picture horns growing out of the girls forehead as she leaned toward her, voice lowered. "He's going to be the perfect model for my newest project. Oh, and he's just my type, too!" The girl's tongue passed across her upper lip with a questionable flick that gave the net idol the impression that she was talking to a snake.
"Hearing that much worries me." Chisame mumbled, all but excited to hear about it. "How long is he going to be-urk! " She choked on her words when Haruna's cooking pal stepped into view behind said young woman.
"Lady Hasegawa!" Negi Springfield sounded oh so pleased to see her again. "What a pleasure seeing you again. Might you be a friend of lady Saotome?"
Haruna answered for the stunned Chisame. "She's my room mate..." She paused, blinking a few times before turning around to look at the flame haired professor. "Wait, you know the hermit?"
"We met at the park yesterday in the evening." He told her. "I would have never guessed that we would meet again so soon. It must be a sign of things to come."
"Don't decide those things by yourself!" Chisame snapped at Negi upon regaining full awareness. "Either you're stalking me, or this is some sick excuse for a coincidence!" Chisame exclaimed, gesturing wildly with her free hand. 'I was right about this guy. He's bad news for my project.'
"Hey." The net idol's attention was brought back to Haruna with that call. The green haired manga artist had a displeased scowl on her face. That was new. "Where do you get off making that claim, hermit? I invited Prof over. Him being here has nothing to do with you."
"Stop calling me that." Chisame hissed at her through clenched teeth. "And if you knew what we spoke about last night in the park, then you'd understand why I'm so suspicious of your friend here."
"While it is true that I am here at lady Saotome's invitation, I'll have to agree with you that this second meeting between us is something we shouldn't take lightly." Negi spoke up, stepping around from behind Haruna to stand between both girls, his back to the artist.
"Um, hey?" Haruna held out a hand to the back of the eccentric young man when his attention had completely gone over to Chisame. "Um, Prof? Hey, dude."
"There are no coincidences, lady Hasegawa." The red haired young man told her, the look in his eyes honest and unflinching. Chisame could feel herself sweating under his dangerously piercing gaze. "We're face to face again for a reason."
Chisame held still to her wits, shooting back. "Don't start talking nonsense again, professor." She chanced a glance in the direction of her room. If she could just get inside and shut the door she could get away from this guy and return to what really mattered to her. "You two guys have fun." She pulled herself away from his stare and turned to walk away.
"Hmm?" Negi blinked when the net idol turned away. "Are you leaving again, my lady?"
"Nah." Haruna told him, taking her place beside him with her arms crossed. "She's just gonna lock herself in her room for the rest of the day." She caught the flash of disappointment on the young professor's face and slapped a hand against his shoulder to perk him up. "Its not your fault, Prof! She does it all the time."
"Does she?" He questioned curiously, looking to the manga artist with an expression of wonder. Apparently the idea of one confining themselves in a room for long periods of their own will was a concept that was foreign to this individual. "That can't be healthy for her."
"Gah..." Chisame flinched at that last comment, her hand pausing, clenched around the knob of her door. Why couldn't this guy keep his damn thoughts to himself? "What do you know?" She snapped at the redhead, glaring at him from over her shoulder. "I've got things to take care of!"
"In your room?" Negi inquired innocently, and yet the contrasting quality of his piercing orbs made it difficult for her to take his question as it was intended.
"Do you see me going anywhere else?" She shot back coolly, eyes narrowed testily as if to dare him to say anymore on the subject of her own personal business. "Yeah, in my room."
The young man crossed his arms, cocking his head to the side just slightly. "What sort of important business could you possibly be conducting in your room?"
And that was the question she was hoping he wouldn't ask her. Chisame felt a sudden stiffness in her legs, a hot sensation course from the base of her neck to the tips of her ears, and a quiver in her bottom lip before she opened her mouth to answer him. "W-Well...it's..."
"I think she's an online game junkie." Haruna spoke for her before she could come up with some sort of excuse.
"A what?" Negi looked to the other bespectacled girl again.
"You know those people that spend all of their time playing online adventure games?" The mangaka told him, ignoring the way the blood vessels in Chisame's face exploded from the mortification of it all. "I'm telling you, the only time she ever leaves that room is for food, water, and bodily necessities. I can't think of any other reason why'd she do that herself." She shrugged her shoulders, grinning mischievously. "But some people find that lifestyle fulfilling, ya know?"
"I see." Negi said in a low understanding voice, nodding his head slowly before looking to Chisame and forcing a polite grin. The net idol felt another tug of humiliation in her heart when he did. "I apologize for inquiring." And that was the final tug she could take before her self control was utterly obliterated.
"She's wrong!" Chisame cried out as she whipped around, hands clenched into tight trembling fists. "And I can't believe you're just going to nod along with that crap she's feeding you!"
A gleam appeared in Haruna's eyes at the other young woman's surge. "Then what do you do in there, hermit?"
Chisame backed into her door at the veiled challenge, glowering at Haruna like a cornered beast ready to lash out. "The hell do you care, Saotome?"
"I have an idea." Negi cut in before the two girls could have at it right there. "Why don't you join in on our cooking session, lady Hasegawa?"
Chisame's expression fell neutral when his words cut through the pooling tension. "What?" She blinked at him.
"What?" Haruna ejaculated at the proposition, but not out of curiosity. This isn't the one on one I had planned at all!
"Do you have any experience with cooking, my lady?" Negi inquired of the net idol with a soft smile.
Chisame shook her head, not ashamed of it. "Aside from my sad forays in home ec, not a lick."
"Any particular reason why its never piqued your fancy?"
"Never found myself pressed to try it on my own, I guess." She replied, oblivious to Haruna's growing displeasure of the gradually shifting situation. "I buy my food prepared already. I mean, that's what restuarants and cafes are for, right?"
"Not necessarily true." Negi took her hand smoothly, using his free hand to slip her bag out of her arm and hang it on her door knob, "Allow me to inflame your love for another world."
"I didn't say–" Chisame stammered as she was pulled toward the kitchen against her will. "–Hey, are you ignoring me?"
Haruna stood with her arms crossed as the professor and the net idol passed into the kitchen together and clicked her tongue. "This is likely my own undoing. I'm sure of it now."
Chisame and Haruna exchanged a long cool stare before looking down at the long wooden board set in the counter in front of them. Two long salmon fillets were laid out on top of it in all their red, translucent luster beside sharp, long knives.
"Looks like we're finally bonding." Haruna quipped.
Chisame rolled her eyes at the witty remark. "Whatever. "
"This is a simple recipe." Negi cut in before the sparks could start cracking between both girls. "Grilled salmon is a healthy and wholesome meal that's easy to prepare. You can't possibly go wrong with it." He paused, poking his head in between both their faces. "You two wouldn't happen to be allergic to fish, would you?" He turned his head right and left to receive their answers in the form of head shakes.
"Good." He said pleasantly. "Now what do you girls think comes first when preparing fish?"
"Well its filleted already, sooo can't we just season it?" Haruna offered. "Not that I'd know how to fillet a fish to begin with." She tacked on sheepishly.
"One more step actually." Negi told her. "Its a simple precaution, really."
"We wash the fish." Chisame answered him, near monotone.
"Was gonna say that." Haruna grumbled.
"Correct." The flame haired professor nodded with satisfaction, and so both girls went about running water over their fillets. When they were done they set them back on the wooden board and dabbed at them with paper towels.
"Next we'll apply the seasoning." Negi instructed them. "Here," he gestured to a pair of salt and pepper shakers, "is the bread and butter of our operation. Some would also include garlic depending on your tastes, or perhaps a lemon rub, but we're going to take a basic approach."
"What exactly are you again?" Chisame interrupted, an eyebrow raised. "An english professor or a cooking instructor?"
Negi chuckled warmly to her chagrin. This was a difficult guy to faze, apparently. "I've had a lot of practice in the kitchen. I blame that on some of the friends I've made along the way."
"That's cool." Haruna grinned at Negi at his admission. "I don't think I've met any guys that are really into cooking. Must make you popular with the girls, huh, Prof?"
"It works both ways, I suppose." Negi answered her. "Some women don't particularly care for men that cook."
"I could see how that might be the case." Chisame concurred. "Might come off as a little infuriating depending on the person."
"But cooking shouldn't be a skill to acquire solely for the sake of showing it off." He explained to them.
"Cooking is a vehicle one can and should utilize to enrich themselves. It is a means of self discovery and therapeutic healing." Negi pressed a hand to his chest. "Its the feeling of creating art with your own hands and finding joy in it. Self serving it may be at a glance, but one can easily use it for the benefit of others just as well, and possibly as a means of communicating with others."
"Communicating?" Both Chisame and Haruna inquired at the same time, shooting glares at each other when they caught themselves immediately after.
"Indeed." Negi affirmed with a smile. "As in "I love you" or "I hope you'll accept me" or "I welcome you". When you cook for another its the same as giving your pure feelings to that other individual, because whether conscious of it or not, the product of your cooking is a reflection of yourself."
"A true reflection of yourself..." The net idol said in a low voice, turning her eyes to the filleted salmon.
"Like anger and sadness?" Haruna asked. "Can those transition into your cooking as well?"
"Of course." Negi nodded. "Cooking is risky business, but it is a journey worth taking on." His piercing eyes fell upon Chisame, and she found herself turning to meet them as he finished, "You will discover things about yourself. That is the chance you'll take, but it is taking that chance and facing the consequences that make you all the braver for it."
Chisame swallowed hard for some reason as they continued to lock eyes.
"Remember that." And when he said that it was as though she had been released from a spell. She released the breath she had been unconsciously holding, and turned away from him quickly, doing her best to direct her attention to something other than his magnificent eyes.
"Hey, Prof." Haruna took that opputunity to take hold of the reins, directing Negi's attention away from the unusually flustured net idol. "I'm not very experienced with handling a knife. Could you show me how to use one properly?" She grinned, showing her pearly whites. "Don't wanna cut myself."
"Sure." He complied with her wish, taking his place beside her to guide her in the proper handling , but–
Haruna pressed her back into his chest and looked to him over her shoulder with a catlike grin. "Maybe a little more hands on instruction will help speed along the learning process?" She suggested with a wink to make her intentions clear to him.
Negi blinked, but he remained surprisingly unaffected by her forwardness. "Whatever accommodates you best, lady Saotome." His blatant disregard for her charms struck a sound blow to the mood she was trying to set.
"I wish you'd stop being so formal, dude." She groaned, disappointed by his nonchalant response.
The rest of the cooking lesson went by smoothly to the silent shock of one Haruna Saotome, who'd been expecting a great deal more of interference from Chisame, what with the fight that she put up earlier in the living room, but after that moment shared between her and Negi earlier the net idol grew oddly compliant with the young professor's instructions. While she didn't appear completely comfortable with Negi Springfield's presence just yet, she had become so absorbed in her preparation of the food that any verbal jabs from her were unheard of for the duration of the lesson. It wasn't until they had seated themselves at the table to partake in the meal that they had cooked that Chisame began to speak again.
"The fish is a little bland." Chisame remarked discontently after swallowing a small portion. "I knew I wasn't cut out for this."
Negi shook his head. "On the contrary, my lady. This is very good for a first attempt. You can't expect to grasp perfection at the first step. You can only keep at it until you see it within reach."
"You're like a talking fortune cookie that fell out of the bag, you know that?" Chisame retorted before slicing into her fish again with a mumble of, "But I suppose you're right."
"Can't wait to try my hand at more dishes." Haruna chirped eagerly before looking to Negi. "So how many time are we going to be doing this a week, Prof?"
"Twice is enough." Negi replied. "That should give you two time on your own to experiment."
"And I'm sure you've got other things to take care of." Haruna quipped with a smirk. "Those girls at Ursula are going to keep you busy over the summer, eh?"
"True." He chuckled. "I never expected my summer course to fill up so quickly. Its good to know that they're so eager to explore a different language."
"And how many languages do you know?" Haruna asked playfully. When he hesitated she leaned over and tapped him on the hand with a widening grin. "C'mon, you can brag. We don't mind."
Negi smiled sheepishly, "Well, I know more than the fair share, you can say."
"You're pretty fluent in Japanese, that much is apparent." Chisame commented after taking a sip of her tea. "Where are you from, professor?" Her use of the title still held much skepticism for understandable reasons.
"I was born in Wales." He answered her. "My family traveled a lot so I never stayed around long enough to claim that I was raised there." Negi set down his eating utensils before elaborating further. "Though that isn't the reason for why I learned many languages. By the time I was fifteen my only fluent lanaguage aside from English was French, with limited access to Italian."
"Excuse me..." Chisame grumbled sarcastically with a roll of her eyes. Talk about modest.
"By the time I was old enough to officially enter into the family business, I spent most of my time traveling the cities of England and Northern Ireland with a few of my close friends and family members." Chisame caught a fond glimmer in his piercing eyes as he spoke of that particular time, though it wasn't too obvious as he got into details as to why. "It wasn't until I was reborn in the back streets of London that I left the country to travel again."
Reborn? Chisame quirked a brow at his use of the word, taking a moment to glance at Haruna to see if she was as equally intruiged by it, but it didn't show on the artist's lovely face whether that was the case. What did he mean by that?
"And...what brought you here to Japan, exactly?" The net idol asked him, filing away her suspicions for another time. She didn't catch the curious look Haruna shot at her when she did.
"I was invited over by an old friend of mine that works at Mahora. She referred me to the teaching position at Ursula." The flame haired professor replied truthfully. "I would require some form of employment while I remain here."
"Its still surprising that you got the job, though." Haruna remarked, gesturing to him with one hand. "I mean, you're so young."
Negi let out a good natured snicker, surprising the two girls. It just didn't seem in line for his character. "Yes, I suppose it would seem that way."
The way of it annoyed Chisame, and she wanted to get to the bottom of it. "How old are you anyway, professor?" She couldn't get used to calling him that.
"Negi is fine, my lady." He told her, seemingly aware of her discomfort. "As for my age..." He came to a pause as if he required time to think that answer over. "...its been so long I can't be bothered to recall."
At his reply Haruna couldn't bite back a chuckle. "Man, you're a real mystery."
"Whatever." Chisame rolled her eyes again. But Saotome is right about that. There's a sure air of mystery about this guy, and I don't like it.
"So, lady Hasegawa..." Negi began.
"Just 'Hasegawa' is fine." Chisame corrected him with a groan. "You make it sound awkward when you say it that way."
"Have you considered my offer?"
"Like I would." The net idol answered him, eyes narrowed. "So maybe you weren't lying about being a professor–whatever–you can't expect me to believe that other crap you talked about yesterday."
"Hmm?" Haruna blinked at the exchange taking place.
"If you say so." Negi replied nonchalantly, successfully ticking her off. He stood from the table and offered them both a slight bow. "I enjoyed this, ladies. I would stay longer, however, there are matters that call my immediate attention."
"All the same, Prof!" Haruna was quick to return the gesture. "So is Saturday night fine for our next lesson?"
"I'll get back to you on that." Negi told her, eliciting a groan of disappointment from the mangaka. He grabbed his jacket off the back of his seat to slip it on and turned for the door followed by Haruna to let him out, but he stopped at the entryway of the kitchen to look back at Chisame. "By the way Hasegawa–" Without the usual title accompanying her surname it sounded strangely informal now. "–strange happenings at the Ursula library as of late, as I'm sure you've already heard. I'll be setting up an investigation soon." With that enigmatic message he was off with Haruna after him, questioning him about his offer to Chisame and how she would immediately accept had he propositioned her about it.
Chisame's eyes lingered where he stood for a long while. She eventually turned away with a humph. "And why should I care?" Those girls at the clothing store were talking about odd things going on at the Ursula library, but...no way. There couldn't be any kind of connection between those bizarre incidents and him being here, right?
As she expected dinner had become another awkward affair when Haruna returned from letting Negi Springfield out. The rest of the night was spent with the two of them stealing glances at each other over their plates of food, and while there were sure to be leftovers for tomorrow with all that they had cooked the net idol wasn't sure if her and her roommate would meet at the dining table the following night for a repeat. Perhaps they would do this in time without having to be pushed into it like they had tonight (As she had just taken notice), but as for when that time would be upon them, Chisame couldn't be bothered to concern herself with the possibility. She proceeded to her room after they had gotten done with cleaning up after themselves, checking the clock on her desk to find that the evening hour had crept in quickly while Negi Springfield had kept them engaged with his company. Chisame looked to her personal computer, her eyes lingering upon her longtime companion painfully, but she tore away from it before her legs could lead her to it. She was too tired to work on Chiu's summer special tonight, and there was too much going on in her mind for her to concentrate on anything in particular. A good night's rest would do her some good, she wagered.
Maybe I should visit the library tomorrow... She thought to herself, staring up at the ceiling from her bed. The Mahora library, of course. I'll probably run into that professor if I go to the Ursula Campus library.
Thinking back on it later into midnight, she wasn't sure why the idea even crossed her mind in the first place.
Once again, in retrospect, Chisame Hasegawa wondered why she even set off to undertake such an endeavor as to venture to the infamous Library Island, with its immense size; so large that it had to be situated on its own island (As the name subtly implied) at the center of Mahora Lake. The main building of the library resembled a castle with large, dome like roofs crowning each section that could be seen all the way from the main campus. It was surrounded by smaller buildings that gave Library Island the appearance of a town at the center of the lake. The island itself could only be accessed through a bridge from the main campus. Any attempt to dock at the island was made impossible due to the island being designed so that it was flanked at all sides by waterfalls that cascaded into an ever present fog of mist. Rumor was that the library extended further below into the mist that obscured what lied beneath the island.
Even with Mahora Campus on summer break Library Island still received a steady visitation from many students, all from different schools in the area as well as visitors from around the world, which was why Chisame found herself pushing through a violently moving stream of students and hopeful scholars crossing the bridge to reach the island. By the time she got to the other side she directed herself to the nearest unoccupied bench and took a seat to recuperate.
"Maybe I should have just opted for the bookstore." The bespectacled young woman muttered to herself, cross legged on the bench, massaging her right foot. As many times as her feet had been stepped on during the trip she could have decked someone for their troubles. I should just take the bike route next time. She turned her head when a girl on rollerblades zoomed past her. I should get myself a pair of those.
After the ache in her feet had subsided she slipped her sandals back on, made a mental note that sneakers would have been the far superior choice, and proceeded on her way to the library main building. Upon entering the place, which welcomed her with a long stretching hall with staircases leading to higher and lower floors to the right and left sides of her, she couldn't help but direct her eyes upward toward the ridiculously high skylight of the dome, and the upper floors lined with bookshelves against bookshelves beside bookshelves across from bookshelves. This place was truly a scholars wet dream, and it made her dizzy just thinking about where she would have to go to find her research materials.
"Better go there." The other end of the entry hall opened up into the enormous, circular main lobby (The main building itself was a large circular tower that branched out into seperate wings that had smaller towers.) which was home to a large circular desk that wrapped around a column of visual displays serving as a central data hub. Eager librarians lined the inner circle of the desk waiting to assist overwhlemed visitors like herself.
Almost all of the librarians were already occupied helping people except for– "Her!" Chisame exclaimed to no one in particular, hurrying over to her targeted librarian–a short female librarian of shoulder length lavender hair with long bangs that almost managed to obscure her eyes from public view. At a glance she appeared to be hiding in plain sight, almost as though it wasn't in her intention to be seen by anyone, which was probably the reason why she wasn't receiving many of the visitors on her end.
"Morning." Chisame greeted the librarian when she stepped up to the desk. The greeting wasn't returned, in fact there was no indication of the young woman ever hearing her. "Um..." The net idol pressed her hands on the end of the desk to lean toward the librarian. "...Hello?"
"Awawa!" The lavender haired librarian came alive, flinching at Chisame's call. Her next immediate response was to bring both hands together at her lap and bow in apology. "I–I'm sorry!"
Chisame shook her head. "Its alright."
"How long did I keep you waiting there? Was I gone long? I'm so so sorry!" And she followed with another bow that nearly resulted in her forehead slamming against the desk surface.
"Hey!" Chisame gripped the girl's shoulders from across the desk to bring her upright again. "I said its okay, alright?"
"Alright." The cute librarian replied with a nod, but now that her bangs were slightly out of her face from all the prior bowing Chisame could detect a faint redness in the girl's eyes. It was the sort of red irritation that resulted from hot tears. She must have been crying a while ago because her eyes weren't that puffy.
Chisame peered into the girl's face. "Are you alright?"
The librarian cleared her throat before giving a steady answer of, "I'm fine."
"I know you, don't I?" Chisame asked, narrowing her eyes breifly as she tried to recall where she'd seen her before. "You're Miyazaki, right?"
"Nodoka Miyazaki." The librarian nodded again. "Yes, that's my name." She then flinched, her eyes flickering with recognition. "Ah, we're in the same class! You're...ah...you're-"
"Hasegawa." Chisame filled the blank for Nodoka, seeing that she was having some trouble. "Chisame Hasegawa."
Another prompt nod. "You always take your seat at the back of the class."
"That I do." Chisame nodded with a wry smirk. So she at least recognizes me enough to know where I sit.
"How may I help you?" Nodoka brought a finger as discreetly as possible to her left eye to wipe something away, getting a slight raise of the eyebrow from the net idol. She must have realized that Chisame caught it because she dropped her hand at her side like a stone. "I'm sorr–"
"You can stop that." Chisame held up a hand. "I originally came here to look at some recipe books, but..." She paused a moment, staring harder than she intended because Nodoka's expression appeared apprehensive before she finished. "...where can I find books on myths?"
"Um, any myth in particular?" The librarian asked, trying very hard to be helpful to mask her own embarrassment. "Greek mythology, maybe?"
"Vampire myths." Chisame replied sheepishly. "Or just any books relating to vampire folklore. I'm thinking more on the lines of studies and observations, not novels or short stories."
"Certainly!" Nodoka nodded, lifting a section of the desk to step over to the other side. "I'll lead you to the section that you're looking for."
"Um..." Chisame took a moment to look around at the floors above them stretching to the very top of the tower. "...great." She must know this place pretty well.
The cute librarian lead her to the west stairs, taking her up several flights without showing any sort of physical toll from the excersise where as Chisame, on the other hand, had to put in some noticeable effort not to appear exhausted by the time they hit the fifth complete flight. (Two staircases for each floor) When they reached their floor Nodoka lead her through a long hall lined with dreary paintings depicting withering trees that faintly resembled humanoid figures and scenes out of fairy tales depicting sprites and elves interacting in dramatic fashion.
They all looked fairly antiquated, expensive and disturbingly well captured as though the painter had the creatures around to model for them in the same way royal portraits or landscape paintings were carried out. It must have been a testament to their astounding level of skill with the brush, Chisame concluded, her attention reluctantly drawn away from them as she entered the next area at the end of the hall with her guide.
It was a very large section of the library consisting of a base level where all the tables and chairs were set up for the visitors to conduct their research, a second level that could be reached via a short climb of stairs at the end of a designated path between the tables where the librarians desk could be found, and finally the third, fourth, and fifth levels that could be accessed past the librarians desk through another short climb. The last three levels were the book cage; a maze of bookshelves, an image reinforced by the fact that there was only one way in and out of it. One could easily get a good view of the main lobby and the other floors to the east side of the chamber from the guard rails.
Chisame's eyes were glued to the book cage the entire time she was following Nodoka to the librarians desk. "That's a lot of paper." She muttered quietly in amazement. I wonder how much digital information all of this alone is worth.
"Nodoka, where have you been?" Chisame's left eye made a reflexive twitch at the all too familiar voice.
"They posted me downstairs for today." Nodoka replied to the librarian standing at the desk, a long haired bespectacled young woman that Chisame had the pleasure of seeing everyday.
"You work here, Saotome?" The net idol did little to hide her dismay at the development.
Haruna Saotome grinned wickedly at her roommate. "Color me surprised, hermit. You actually came all the way out here to Library Island?" The girl slapped the surface of the desk with a laugh. "I've gotta say, my respect for you has gone up."
"I told you to quit calling me that." Chisame growled.
"Sorry." The bespectacled librarian's apology sounded less than genuine to the ears. "Its become a bad habit."
"Is Hasegawa a friend of yours, Haruna?" Nodoka inquired, intrigued by their exchange.
"We live together." Haruna answered her off handedly. "That's about as far as our relations go, I'm afraid. So..." She looked back to Chisame. "...how may I be of service, eh?"
"Good question." Chisame grumbled. Not particularly thrilled at the prospect of receiving any from you.
"She's doing research on vampires." Nodoka informed the fellow librarian in her stead. "Did I get that right?" She looked to Chisame for confirmation.
"Yeah." Chisame replied, feeling slightly uncomfortable as Haruna looked back to her again.
"Vampires, huh?" Haruna blinked, taken by surprise yet again. "I didn't figure you for the type to be interested in that sort of stuff."
"Its not like I have any weird fascinations with it or anything!" Chisame exclaimed perhaps a little too defensively. Both librarians regarded her curiously after the outburst at which point Chisame grumbled, "J...Just ignore that last one." What am I doing here?
"No prob." Haruna told her, holding both hands up. "But I can help you with that." She tapped at the keyboard of the desktop computer in front of her with one hand, striking the enter key after inputting the reference information.
"You can find what you need on the second level of the cage." She looked to the ticket dispenser beside the computer when it began whirring, and tore the ticket away once it was done printing. "Just follow these numbers and you'll find some suitable reading materials."
Chisame received the ticket from Haruna and alternated long stares between the slip of paper in her hand and the intimidating book maze. "Yeah...thanks..."
Haruna leaned over the desk with a neutral expression gracing her lovely face. "I know the feeling." She told told Chisame, staring at the book cage along with her. "Looks like it'll just swallow you up, right? If you don't feel too comfortable going in there alone I could always escort you to the bookshelf myself."
Chisame shook her head. "No, I'm fine." She assured the librarian in spite of her stiff body language. In all honesty the sheer size of the cage made her feel quite uncomfortable, and the idea of walking between bookshelves didn't sound like a good idea after hearing those two girls trade gossip in the clothing store. She could already see herself being pinned underneath one of those heavy book racks, crying out for help with nothing but an arm protruding from a pile of books, fingers desperately scraping at the floor until the nails were peeled back bloody. No, her imagination didn't understand the concept of holding back.
Haruna quirked a brow skeptically. "Um, you sure about that?" Chisame had the very expression of a shellshocked war veteran carved on her face. Even with all the rough edges between them it still managed to be a disconcerting sight for the librarian.
Yet, in spite of all the little voices in Chisame's distressed mind screaming for her to simply accept Haruna's gracious offer- "Yes, I'm sure." - She still declined her assistance and stepped forward to brave the book cage alone, starting toward it with a first few hesitant steps.
I can do this alone. Chisame climbed the stairs into the cage and began her search for the stairs that would take her to the second level of the cage. She was surrounded on all sides by books and numbers in some devious imitation of a garden maze. Seriously... She turned at the next available corner, her eyes blind to the other turns she could have taken in her stride due to all the optical illusions caused by the colors and patterns of the books. ...whose bright idea was it to build such a ridiculous place? She made her way to the other end of the passage she took expecting to find another corner. She didn't.
"Huh?" Chisame placed her hand against the bookshelf blocking her way, staring at it in the manner Cesar did Brutus . She did an about turn and walked in the direction whence she came. I CAN do this alone. Her eyes spied a turn up ahead and she took it, taking a second immediate turn when she was met with another wall of books and following the passage to its corner, making a right turn and following the passage to an intersection. "This is nuts." The net idol looked over her shoulder, the thought of turning back very tempting, but-
"I've come this far." She took to the left turn and followed the passage down to a fork. Deciding upon the right path, she followed it to the next corner and found the staircase to the second level of the cage. Relief couldn't describe the feeling that filled her as she lay her hand on the stair rail to make the climb.
No sweat. Chisame thought to herself smugly as she ascended her way to the top step, however, the feeling was predictably short lived as she found herself faced with yet another uninspired passage of books. "Here we go again..." She raised her reference ticket to eye level and gave the numbers printed on it a good stare. All I've got to do now is follow the numbers to my shelf. Simple, right?
She proceeded forward, keeping her eyes to the slightly faded to barely legible numbers printed on the bookshelves she passed and sighed when she came to another fork. "How many people have died in this place, I wonder."
"You'd be shocked to hear the answer."
"Waa!" Chisame nearly jumped clean out of her skin when she received an anonymous answer. She pressed her back to the closest wall of books, blood pressure shot from being startled. "Who-" She began in a cry, gradually calming herself once her eyes fell upon her unexpected companion. A tall bespectacled man dressed in dark slacks and a white dress shirt with one tail left messily untucked. He had dark, long hair that fell around his face in thick long bangs, braided into a long ponytial that fell around his shoulder, and a handsome face that bordered on being too feminine. "Who...are you?"
The man's narrow eyes regarded her with mischief behind rectangular lenses. "I am Albireo Imma, head librarian."
"Oh, that's a relief..." The net idol heaved a sigh, placing a hand against her chest. You sure don't dress the part, though.
The mysterious man held up a hand to stop her from speaking further, his expression gone serious. "And now I'd like to ask you the date." The answer appeared to be important to him for some reason.
"Its the second of July." She answered him. "Why?"
"Oh my..." The man named Albireo said in a grave voice. "Have I really been lost here that long?"
"W...what was that you just said?" Chisame inquired in a shaky voice, a chill running through her.
Albireo gave her a long stare before a playful smile worked across his face. "Just kidding. I'm head librarian. I can't get lost around here."
Chisame's expression fell at the realization that he was messing with her. "Cute..." She grumbled under her breath before speaking up. "So might you help me find this shelf?" She held her ticket out to him and he took it with a slender, manicured hand.
"Of course." He chirped after giving it a glance and waved her in his direction. "This way." He turned and lead her to the right.
"Sweet." She discreetly pumped a fist and stepped forward to follow, but- "Oomf!" Her face mushed into his abruptly halting back.
"Actually," He said on second thought, turning to face her way, "You might have very well been going the right way." He squeezed around her and waved her in his newly appointed direction. "This way, please."
"Are you sure?" An irritable Chisame asked sarcastically, rubbing at her smarting nose.
"I'll tell you in just a moment." He called back to her with a beckoning wave just before turning into the corner at the end of the passage, out of sight. A beat. "Are you coming?"
"No choice." Chisame grumbled, submitting herself to her fate. You have my ticket with you, after all.
The head librarian had been done messing with her, it would have seemed, because he lead her to the desired bookshelf rather quickly after taking the lead in the other direction. Chisame looked over all the old looking books stacked on the shelves of the tall rack and sighed.
"That's a lot of reading." Chisame remarked sourly, reaching out a hand to pull a random book free from the line up, but Albireo Imma purposely cleared his throat bringing her to mid pause. She turned her head to look at him questioningly. "Uh, yeah?"
"Those won't do you much good." He told her with a disapproving look. "If those mistresses of the night knew that you were basing them off of the information held in those books they would laugh and ridicule you for your troubles."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about vampires, a.k.a, Nosferatu." Albireo clarified for her. "That is why you're here, am I correct?"
"...That's right." Chisame nodded, slightly put off by his ambiguous attitude.
"Then you should know, Chisame Hasegawa, that those books carry fabricated lies about the clan of the night." He informed her. "The lords and mistresses themselves saw to that personally."
The net idol now felt uncomfortable. "I didn't realize I was popular around here."
"You're not." The head librarian told her with a smile. "However, Negi Springfield has spoken to me about you."
"You know that weird professor?"
"Weird, you say?" Albireo laughed melodically. "I suppose he is an odd one given his eccentric tendencies. That he would live his life in the manner that he has decided upon would certainly make him weird." The head librarian returned to the original subject. "You don't believe in vampires, do you, Chisame? "
"You're getting awfully familiar." Chisame quipped at his casual use of her first name. "Why would you ask me that question anyway? Do you believe in that nonsense?"
"Oh, but to refer to them as nonsense is nothing but nonsense itself." Albireo retorted. "They have made appearance all throughout history, inspiring tales of their misdeeds and leaving traces of their existence in the wake of advancing civilizations. Vampires aren't the creatures of fiction that you assume them to be."
"You can't be serious."
"Dead serious." He assured her. "The passage to the world of eternal night is one that only shows itself on the advent of a fresh full moon. The mundanes know nothing of its existence or its whereabouts save for a select few, and that clan of hunters has all but thinned away with the disappearance of the family whip." He smiled. "Negi Springfield makes frequent visitations there, however. He is old friends with the most terrifying lot of vampires, one in particular whom is notably scarier than the others." He chuckled to himself as though making a personal joke of it.
"What sort of running joke are you two playing at?" Chisame demanded, annoyed by him. "And why are you insistently pulling me into it?"
"Its not in any interest of mine whether you believe any of this or not, young lady." Albireo replied with a shrug. "Negi Springfield is the person you should be directing all of your frustration toward. He sees something within you worth investing his time in. Speaking personally, I see nothing particularly special about you." He held his hands up quickly. "Not meaning to offend you, of course."
Chisame clenched a fist, narrowing her eyes imperceptibly at his blunt words, but all she could respond with was a cool, "Of course not."
Albireo shook his head at her lackluster response, crossing his arms to emphasize his disappointment. "Come now, get with the script, girl. This is where you tell me that I'm wrong in a hotblooded voice that fills the room!"
"I couldn't care less about what you expect from me at this moment." The young woman retorted, unamused by his theatrical act.
Albireo shook his head once more. "How very dry of you, Chisame. Surely there must be some legitimate reason why you ventured to this island, even when there were other places you could have gone to?" A mischievous glint reached his eyes as he teased her in a melodic voice. "Perhaps you wanted to go somewhere that placed you at lesser odd with running into a certain someone? Didn't want to get caught doing something you wouldn't dare admit to like, say, indulging your curiosity with nonsense like vampires?"
"I suppose I was just bored." The net idol replied in a partial truth, looking away from him stubbornly. "I couldn't think of anything else to do today."
"Ah, boredom is good."
Chisame blinked at the quirky statement. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Chisame, what is the word 'special' but a word? It is nothing more than a title bestowed upon the things that men favor, that they can invest their interests in, but it is all a matter of opinion in the end." Albireo explained in a sagely tone of voice, a strange contrast from his appearance. "So knowing this, why would you concern yourself with the idea of being 'special'?"
"...I don't." Chisame replied, unsure of the answer she gave.
"Well that would be because I lied just now. There is such a thing as something special, but most individuals interpret the title wrongly. What is special, but a status one can achieve ; a grade in life that can be attained with the proper steps?"
"I'm not sure I follow."
"Open your mind, dear." The head librarian told her, tapping the side of his head. "People are not born special, or great, or successful. These statuses are taken, not given, otherwise its simply faux . You don't need mecha, or deus, or destiny. You simply need to want it bad enough." He grasped at the air roughly, clenching his hand into a trembling fist to get his point across.
"But what are you trying to tell me here?" Chisame asked, a sudden need itching inside her for an explanation to his babble. "Why are you telling me all of this?"
"Aren't you tired of waiting?" Albireo answered her question with one of his own. "To become one of the so-called elite is a simple matter of hanging with the proper crowd. If you're bored with the monotony of the mundane life, then find something weird and study it, follow it..." His voice dropped to a sinister low,"...dissect it. While it may appear surreal or bizarre at a mere glance, you'll find that it can make a greater deal of sense than what you've been conditioned to believe in." He stroked a finger over the books on the shelf. "As I said before, these books will do you no good." He smiled cheerfully. "They're far too practical for a go getter like yourself."
"Thanks for the advice , I guess." Chisame brought her hand to the back of her head, scratching at it contemplatively. "By the way..."
Albireo perked up, still smiling at her charmingly. "Yes, Chisame?" It still didn't keep her left brow from twitching at his casual address of her.
"Help me get out of here, would you?" She requested, her cheeks tinged in embarrassment.
"Certainly." The head librarian nodded. He escorted her to the first level of the cage and showed her the way out, but he did only that. When they both reached the passage to the exit he remained behind, sending her off with a sagely nod. "Give my regards to that weird professor." He told her as she had her back to him, and when she turned to respond he had vanished without any auditory indication of ever walking away.
Strange fellow. Chisame thought to herself, dismissing Albireo Imma entirely from her mind afterward. She looked ahead to the light at the end of the passage and proceeded forward to make her exit where she met Haruna and Nodoka awaiting her at the other side.
"Hmm?" Haruna regarded her skeptically, likely under the assumption that she had lost her way within and had turned back. "Did you get lost in there? Where are the books you were looking for?"
"I'll go get them for you if you'd like." Nodoka offered to Chisame politely, getting a sigh from her fellow librarian.
"No use offering your services." The bespectacled librarian told the shorter girl, throwing an arm around her neck. "The hermit doesn't do with assistance." She jabbed a thumb at said hermit. "Stubborn girl."
"Actually," Chisame cut in, ignoring her roommate's attempts at provoking a reaction out of her, "I changed my mind about where I'd get my information, so I took a pass on the books."
Haruna scoffed, muttering under her breath. "Yeah right..."
"Then, um, what kept you inside for so long?" Nodoka inquired, raising her hand slightly as she did. It wasn't a weird question to ask, really, but for some reason Chisame couldn't help getting the feeling that the girl was trying to confirm a hunch by asking it.
"I was having a conversation with the head librarian." Chisame told Nodoka, paying close attention to the shift in the librarian's eyes when she did. "He's the one who suggested that I take a different approach with my research in the first place."
"You mean, Mister Imma?" Nodoka asked, visibly shaken by this information. That definitely confirmed Chisame's suspicions, but it also brought up questions.
"That's right." The net idol nodded, paying no mind to the lost look that gradually came upon Haruna's face as the conversation carried on without her.
Nodoka leaned forward, her soft expression becoming resolute. "Then could that possibly mean that you're going to see professor Springfield?"
Now Chisame hadn't been expecting her to ask that. "Th...yeah, that was the plan." She replied, knitting her brows. "But how did you–"
Nodoka didn't give her enough time to begin an interrogation, bowing frantically in apology. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" She backed away quickly before turning on her heel and making a quick retreat, almost stumbling down the stairs– "I'm sorry!"–almost clipping herself with the side of the main desk–"I'm sorry!"–and tripping on her own feet as she exited the room for good measure leaving a string of apologies trailing behind her.
Should I try going after her? Chisame debated with herself, staring at the chair that was knocked over against a neighboring chair in the wake of Nodoka Miyazaki's quick escape.
Deciding to hold off the investigation for another time, she turned to regard Haruna who had an irked expression. "What?" Chisame asked.
"What was that about?" The mangaka asked, one eye narrowing as she raised her other brow. "I don't really know about Nodoka's situation, but why are you going to meet with the professor? From our dinner yesterday I got the feeling you didn't like him very much."
"Right now its not a matter of liking the guy or not." Chisame retorted. "Which, by the way, where is he usually at this time?"
"Hey! Keep your paws off my character model!" Haruna went on the offensive without a moments notice. "I don't want you corrupting him with your sullen moods."
"Ah, forget it." Chisame sighed irritably, turning to walk away. "I think I have an idea of where he might be anyway. I don't have time for this." She followed Nodoka's example and made her exit before Haruna could hope to keep her pressed for answers. The green haired librarian watched on silently, hands clenched into fists at her sides.
Remembering what Negi Springfield told her last night before he left the dorm, Chisame designated the Ursula Campus Library as her next destination after fighting her way out of Library Island. The walkways were much clearer getting away from Mahora Campus so the trip wasn't as testing on her patience, however, while the decrease of traffic was a pleasing change of pace she couldn't help noticing the gradual decrease in people she passed as she neared her destination. By the time she reached the courtyard of the Ursula Library, a Greek inspired four floor building that reflected well upon the affluence of the academy, the walkways and the surrounding area were completely devoid of people.
It was so quiet that Chisame had almost turned back fearing that there had been an emergency evacuation of the grounds. Her only reason for not following on her instincts was the presence of a familiar blonde woman cloaked in black with a nurse cap to match. The woman in question was standing beside the large hexagonal fountain situated at the center of the large courtyard, staring at the large building as if challenging it to cause trouble while she kept watch of it. The presence of authority that the mysterious woman commanded was undeniably impressive, so much in fact that Chisame found herself hesitant to make any kind of approach, and when she caught the tell tale signs of the woman turning her head to look in her direction–
Crap! Chisame wanted to kick herself for hiding behind the nearest tree. "Why the hell did I hide? Now I'll definitely look suspicious if she walks this way to investigate."
"Place my trust in him?" Chisame heard the woman talk to herself in an irritated voice. "If the association heard about this what would they file in their reports about how I manage this sector? Shizuna must be insane to have me entrust this job to that wandering magister instead of following protocol like I'm supposed to."
"Magister?" The net idol quirked her brows. "What's that?"
"I could manage this myself if I just sent in my own team to handle this mess." Chisame stole a glance to see the woman biting a thumb impatiently. "How infuriating. This is why I hate owing that woman favors, and how am I supposed to include this incident in the weekly report anyway?"
There was a ringtone. "Yes, Mei?" Chisame didn't chance taking a look to see what was going on, but it sounded like the woman was taking a call. "The area is clear. How are things looking with Mr. Springfield?"
Chisame blinked at the mention of that guy. "The professor? Is he the 'magister' she was referring to?"
"Very well." The cloaked woman said in a resigned voice. "I've done what I can up to this point. It brings me no measure of comfort to entrust him with the rest of the operation, but I wish him the best all the same. I'll meet up with you soon."
The following silence marked the end of the call and the sound of clicking heels approached Chisame's general direction. The net idol pressed herself against the tree, trying as best she could to shrink away from sight as she moved along the tree to match the woman's gradually shifting angle of view. When the blonde had passed her hiding spot and left the courtyard Chisame waited it out a little longer before poking her head out slowly to survey the area.
"Yeah," Chisame said to no one in particular, stepping out of her hiding spot to explore the courtyard further, "That was definitely the girl that bumped into me when I left the park two days ago."
She stopped by the water fountain, taking a moment to observe the statue at the center of the fountain of a courageous woman Knight grinding her heel into the snout of a coiling serpent as she raised her spear to jab its forehead. She turned her attention away from it after a time to direct her gaze toward the library building with its thick stone collumns gracing the front entrance. It wasn't anywhere close to the size of the main building at Library island, but it matched the scale of a city library, and it was an elegant work of architecture at that with fine attention to subtle details.
"It certainly fits the snobby image that the school wants to reinforce, eh?" Chisame snarked with a roll of her eyes. "They even have a seating patio for girls that want to have tea and cookies." She observed a section to the left side of the library with stone tables and stools surrounded by a colorful rose garden; a skillfully tended to rose garden. The care was evident in the way the formation of colors were carefully arranged and the life that exuded from the lovely flowers.
"Alright," The net idol sighed to herself with a cross of her arms, "So maybe not exclusively tea and cookies, but it still pisses me off thinking about it."
"You came!" At that exclamation Chisame turned turned to face the courtyard entrance where she caught Negi Springfield just entering with a tall, green haired female companion, and if her eyes weren't playing tricks on her, were those...antennas in place of the girl's ears or...what were those things?
"Professor..." Chisame found that it was getting easier to say that even if the guy still looked like he should be in school himself. Still his sense of style was undeniably chic with his impeccably sharp three piece suits and polished to a shine dress shoes. Three days in a row and she never caught him wearing anything else, but on to the actual question on her mind. "Who is that?" She asked him, glancing at his lovely companion. She looked like a swimsuit model; not that she was envious or anything...
Damn, why does it hurt to stare at her? Chisame thought darkly, doing a fine job of not letting her feelings betray her even if the atmosphere got absolutely dreary around her for unexplainable reasons. Whoever she was, she made that plain white dress shirt look sexy around her sensible bust, and those form fitting black slacks managed to look classy yet provocative at the same time, showings off the lovely shape of her thighs and legs. The small necktie wasn't a bad touch either.
"This is my life partner, Chachamaru." He introduced the woman, placing a hand on her shoulder and pulling her close. "We've been together almost all our lives and I wouldn't change it for the world."
Chisame gasped. "Y-You mean, your wife?" This is incredible. The fabled childhood promise fulfilled? A romance that spanned across their early lives and matured into a happy marriage?
"No." Negi shook his head with a warm chuckle. "She's my maid."
Chisame almost fell backwards. "Your what?"
"He is my master." Chachamaru clarified for her. "I have served him all my life, and will continue to do so for the rest of our eternity together. All I do is for my master, and–"
"Y-You can stop now, Chachamaru." Negi cut her short quickly, his cheeks glowing red. "She's very, er, passionate about her work."
Chachamaru shook her head. "It is not work, but worship. What is the shining sun in my sky, but the smile on my master's charming face?" The green haired one held up a clenched fist, looking to the sky with a resolute expression. "What is the oxygen in the air, but the praise I receive–"
"Ahhhh!" Negi cried out, clamping a hand over her mouth before she could go on further. "Ignore all that!" He told Chisame, a bead of sweat slipping down the side of his face. Removing his hand from Chachamaru's mouth, which produced a faint kissing sound for some reason, Negi introduced Chisame to the blushing maid. "Chachamaru, this is Chisame Hasegawa."
"You would be the master's new student?" The green haired beauty inquired, her zest a moment ago absent when she spoke this time. In fact, the way she asked gave Chisame the impression that it had been recited by her so many times in the past that it had long ago lost any meaning to her. "This would be your second recruitment since we made our stay here?" She asked, turning to regard Negi with her immovable deadpan expression.
"Not exactly official yet, Chachamaru." Negi replied with a sheepish smile, folding his hands behind his cocked head. "Well, Hasegawa, I must say that I am curious to find you here. What made you change your mind?"
"Don't act like you don't know." Chisame told the clueless professor with suspecting stare. "You put that head librarian up to it didn't you?"
Negi blinked after receiving her accusation, but he eventually smiled at the realization of whom she was referring to. "So you went to Library Island, did you?"
"That's right." The young woman replied.
"Interesting." Negi mused, leaning over to stare her in the eyes. "So Albireo appeared before you. I knew my intuition wasn't wrong."
"What do you mean?"
Negi straightened out and gestured toward the patio she was scoping out earlier. "Why don't we continue talking over there. We have a lot to discuss." He proceeded ahead of her, his maid following behind like a second shadow discreetly raising her hand to the back of his shirt collar. "Chachamaru," Chisame heard him say as they made their way to one of the tables, "My collar is fine. For the last time, stop adjusting it."
"You are imagining things, master." The net idol heard her assure him, her hands stealthily falling to her sides.
"So," Negi drummed his fingers steadily on the surface of the stone table, "Albireo told you all about them, hmm?"
Chisame shifted in her seat, finding the stool uncomfortable on her behind. "He just told me that I wouldn't get much information out of the books in the library. Supposedly the vampires had them purposely filled with false information."
"That slimey snake." The professor growled with a humph. "He's gone and stolen my thunder..."
"Hey." Her call brought Negi's attention to her. "Is all of that stuff real?"
"Hmm?" Negi stared blankly. "What do you mean?"
"Everything he told me about the vampires, and you being friends with the most terrifying one of all?"
"You mean you're still doubting it even after hearing it out of his mouth?" The red haired gentleman asked looking as though he'd been struck with a revelation of sorts. "I always figured Albireo for an accomplished smooth talker." Evangeline never did like Imma, so I can understand that last one...
Chisame nodded, giving him a weird look. "Do you honestly expect me to believe otherwise?" She rolled her eyes. "I'm still convinced that you put him up to it."
"You are a stubborn one." Chachamaru remarked. "I suppose I should have figured as much since master adores you stubborn types. He sees it to be a strong quality in humans."
Chisame saw Negi's hand move to Chachamaru under the table, perhaps to place it on her lap. "Come now, Chachamaru, no need to tease her." He swiveled his eyes back to her. "Hasegawa, could it be possible that you long for someone to destroy your presently conceived notions of reality?"
Chisame edged back, unsure of how to respond to such an odd inquiry. "Where did that come from?"
"I suppose you hadn't taken notice of the question you asked me a moment ago." The flame haired professor chuckled good naturedly. "In the park you were unwilling to give anything I said a chance, however, you just asked me to confirm whether vampires truly existed or not."
Crap, he's right about that. The net idol's right hand flew to her mouth at the realization of the slip. "Its not like I was honestly open for an answer." She denied stubbornly. "Its just..." She came to a pause, finding herself annoyed by the smile on Negi's face. It appeared fatherly in a way, which was an unnatural word of description for this fellow. Oh, why did this guy bother her so damn much? Why did those eyes capture her, yet frighten her so much?
Chisame folded her hands as calmly as she could without bursting a vein as she asked in controlled voice, "Why are you smiling at me?"
"Hasegawa, why don't we make a deal?" Negi offered, holding out a hand. "If I convince you that vampires can truly exist in this world by the end of the day, then you'll become my apprentice."
"But what would you teach me?" Chisame queried. "Is it really something that I should necessarily care for?"
"You'll find out when you become my apprentice, obviously." Negi told her grinning confidently, no indication of him mocking her when he did. "Of course, I'm sure that after you've seen the truth you'll find my mentoring will be quite helpful." His hand hovered over the table awaiting her decision and–
Chisame took his hand, surprised by how firm his grip was when he tightened his hand around hers in response. "Fine, but if I'm not convinced then you're going to stop bothering me from this day forward. That means no dragging me along into your business with Saotome either. Got that?"
"Its a deal."
They shook hands and released.
Negi turned to his loyal maid when he pulled his hand back, drawing her eyes to him before he could hope to open his mouth. It was like they shared a telepathic bond. "Chachamaru, now is the time."
"I suspected as much, Master." The green haired maid responded to the vague line with a slight bow. "Initiating 'Quibble' charm." Her eyes took on a sinister red glow and Chisame flinched at the sudden slam of the courtyard gate. The wind couldn't have possibly been responsible for that.
"Huh?" Chisame yelped, whipping her head in the direction of the courtyard entrance. "Did someone lock us in?" She blinked, feeling faintly in the back of her mind that she had just overlooked something equally peculiar if not more. "Wait!" She pointed to Chachamaru, getting to what was really bothering her. "What's with the red glowing eyes? That can't be natural!" The hell is she, the terminator?
"She's invoking the 'Quibble' charm." Negi replied matter of factly, pointing past her. She turned at the waist to see just what he was pointing her attention toward and she knit her brows at the irregularity taking place before her eyes. The gate that surrounded the library grounds had small burning symbols marking all the bars. They weren't any characters or letters she was familiar with; they more resembled runes of sorts.
"What...is this?" Chisame sputtered, turning back ever so slowly to face the eerily calm professor. "Is this some staged trick or something?" She couldn't keep her calm as the environment continued to change before her eyes. The runes started crawling across everything within the developing barrier like a spreading infection, marking the plant life, the grass and floor work, the tables and stools, the library building and the fountain; even the water that had originally been flowing from the fountain had come alive in the form of blue fire. "What the hell is going on?"
"The 'Quibble' charm, named after Haleen Quibbler, a once famous lawyer." Negi explained naturally, going on as if conducting a lesson. "The charm itself was originally created by her to ward away would be saboteurs from her filing room during the preparation phase of one of the biggest trials ever held in the magic realm (19th century)." He shrugged his shoulders. "That was its original purpose anyway. After she introduced it to the spellcasters guild, mages started finding more creative uses for it. What we're doing now is an example of its most common use."
"Charms?" Chisame said questioningly, her expression blank. She looked up, her expression still unreadable as she questioned, "Spellcasters guild?"
"Just in case you're unsure of what the 'Quibble' charm does, it uses potent powers of suggestion to ward off would be visitors or observers. It inspires fear, sometimes repulsion depending on the verses used to invoke the charm."
Chisame looked to him as if awoken from a daze, "I'm sorry..." Her words were slightly slurred. "Wwwwhat?" She drawled, her eyes focusing.
Negi cleared his throat. "On your way here you noticed a lack of people in the area, right?"
"Um, yeah..." She replied unsteadily.
"You probably began getting thoughts like 'maybe I shouldn't be here' or 'maybe there was an evacuation'."
She nodded. "That's about right." Her stomach began to dance around inside of her. "How did you figure all that from a guess?"
"You probably started to feel very paranoid as you came close to the courtyard." The flame haired professor went on, ignoring her. "I suppose you tried your best not to be seen by others."
"That's exactly right!" Chisame exclaimed. "I jumped behind a tree when some blonde girl came walking past me."
"You were experiencing the effects of a low level 'Quibble' charm." Negi informed her. "There are higher levels, but things could have gotten messy if we utilized the higher forms. The stronger the ward the stronger the suggestion I suppose you might say." By the end of his quick lesson the gate surrounding the area had taken on the appearance of a blue wall of fire.
"The charm has taken effect." Chachamaru reported to him. "There will be no interruptions on the job, Master." Something about the way she proceeded to stare at him after her announcement gave the impression that she was fervently awaiting a reward. Her deadpan expression did a remarkable job of contrasting with the zealous stare.
Negi took his maid's hand a pecked it affectionately. "Chachamaru, the things I couldn't do without you."
"You flatter me, master." She told him, pleased by his satisfaction. "I know this to be false."
"Oh, but it's true." Negi insisted. "I am only at my best when you are here with me."
"Also false, but I am appreciative of your lies."
"You're a difficult one." Negi quipped.
"You would have me any other way, master?"
"Not for the world, my dear." He let go of her hand and looked to Chisame with a smirk. "Let's do a quick briefing of the operation, shall we?"
Chisame got the feeling that she just stepped past the point of no return. "Am I just here to watch?" She asked, unable to shake away the sense of helplessness that took hold of her.
Negi shook his head, making her somewhat nauseous. "Absolutely not, Hasegawa. You're a key player in this job, you know."
A shrill giggle left her lips. "Greeeaaat."
But how is this... Chisame turned her head left and right, shakily. There was simply no logical way to explain everything that was happening right now unless this was all a product of her mind; unless this was all just a dream; unless she was passed out somewhere and her mind slipped away into oblivion. Perhaps she was still in the library right now, hunched over a table with her head resting in her arms.
I feel like I'm going to be sick. The net idol felt her stomach slowly twist into a knot as she did her best to maintain a respectable posture. "Did you drug me, or something?" By the sound of her voice the professor could tell her willing suspension of disbelief wasn't holding up as well as he had hoped. That and the color in her face was draining at an alarming rate, leaving her tone a milky white that wasn't at all uncommon amongst the undead folk of the western and northern parts of the underworld.
"Try to keep your wits about you, Hasegawa." Negi consoled her in a warm voice. It almost proved soothing to her ears, however, momentary it lasted in her addled state. "I'll be in need of your usual cool disposition."
Chisame's immediate response to his indifference was to lash out. "Cool? You want me to be cool?" She brought her hands to her forehead as she cried out before throwing them off to gesture wildly at the charmed state of their surroundings. "Is this all real life?"
"Is this just fantasy?" Chachamaru snarked as an aside in her usual monotone, not lost on her master who tried not to show his amusement. No need to encourage her sarcastic wit when it wasn't helping the mood, which wasn't lost on the maid as it became apparent to her that it wasn't the time to appeal to his humor. "Very well." She responded to his silence, looking away to pout from his view.
Negi folded his hands on the table, keeping an unaffected demeanor as he went on, "There is no foul play at hand here." He added on at the end in a lower voice. "Technically speaking."
Once again, his nonchalance was working on the net idol's nerves. She couldn't be sure whether he was mocking her, or if he simply didn't care how distressed she was at this mind gnawingly ridiculous revelation. "Then can you please explain to me why I'm so left out of the loop?" She demanded, covering her right eye with one hand while she glared at him with the other. If madness was somewhere within the vicinity it was approaching the young lady very fast. "Is magic commonplace, or what?" She removed her hand from her face to slam it on the table, getting a slight raise of the brow from Chachamaru who couldn't seem to find it within herself to show any visible concern. "What's going on? Are magicians actual practitioners of the art? Does 'C***s A***l' REALLY levitate off the ground?"
"The mouth on this one." Chachamaru remarked, though with her tone it was hard to tell if she was amused or annoyed.
Negi's expression, half smiling-half pained judging by the knit in his brows, indicated that his thoughts were somewhat along the lines of what his lovely maid may have been following. "Honestly," He started off, setting his apprentice in pending back into focus, "To explain all of that now would take up more time than I'm willing to afford on that particular subject. I'd like to improve Takane Goodman's impression of me, after all."
To label the look that settled upon the net idol's lovely countenance at that response as disappointment may have been missing the mark by a large generalization. Rather, while it may have been difficult to pin point it exactly, her exact state of mind was caught between shocked and disheartened, because this was the first time the professor had ever shown an unwillingness to humor her, and of all times to deny her! For once she would have loved to hear a good explanation about this world of his.
"B-but..." As much as it hurt her pride to admit to it, she was dying for a confirmation from him. His words were the sole thing her sanity was now hinging on because everything was moving too fast for her to adequately adapt. Right now she felt like an inexperienced swimmer caught within the deep roar of a raging ocean, and the professor was refusing her a floatation device to keep her from being sucked in.
Negi brought a finger to his lips to quiet her again before leaning back, waving out a hand to the side opposite of his maid in a distracting fashion. "Don't fret, Hasegawa. You will receive an explanation in due time, though I'm sure by the end of the evening you will have only more questions than answers so best to leave them for then than now. For now–" The professor stood from the table with one fluid motion, his movement mirrored by Chachamaru as though it had been coordinated beforehand. "–let's enter the library. I'll brief you on what we're up against while we're inside."
Chisame resisted the urge to reach out for Negi when he turned away from her and made his way to the library entrance with his lovely maid, leaving her behind without a glance back to check of she was keeping up or not. It then became quite apparent to her that the professor was now stringing her along with little to no effort on his part. He had her hooked onto his line and he knew it.
"That cunning bastard." Chisame scowled at the table before rising from her seat to follow after Negi and his lovely companion. When she got around to the front of the library the professor had just gotten done with opening the front door without tripping the security system, and by the looks of how he was sheepishly grinning at his maid she had likely just finished showering him with her usual bout of fanatic praise. How she managed to effectively convey such zeal with that neutral expression on her face, Chisame was past the point of fascination. After witnessing the glowing eyes earlier she was more concerned about the undoubtedly peculiar nature of the maid's insides.
"You followed." Chachamaru said to Chisame once she joined them by the double doors. By the looks of it the maid didn't appear to hold a high impression of her, sentiments not shared by the professor in the least because he simply nodded to his green haired companion's statement as though it was a matter of course. That head librarian from the island spoke true to her when he said that the professor had such questionable faith invested in her, but she honestly couldn't make any sense of it. She had done nothing to prove herself to him and had been stubbornly uncooperative up till now. Had she been in his place she would have already taken a pass and moved on to the next prospective candidate.
Fighting off the tension in her muscles from the unrelenting chill stare that the gynoid maid simply would not pull away from her, Chisame felt the need to strike up some kind of conversation to level out her nerves.
"I thought the entire library was under your spell." Try as she might to keep an illusion of coolness, a nervous chuckle escaped her when she spoke to the professor, who graced her with such an accommodating look that he could have been directing the same look at a curious five year old and it would have been so much more fitting. Hiding her irritation the net idol went on to ask, "So why are you still sneaking around like a burglar?"
Had Chachamaru been a knight she would have surely rewarded Chisame's insolence toward her master with a swift decapitation, and so unquestionably clear was her devotion to Negi Springfield by this point in their long relationship that Chisame could swear the professor had flinched in the maid's direction as if to preemptively stop her from doing something that, given the unflinching extent of her sweltering (?) loyalty, she would have likely paid no reflection to in the sleeping hours of the night when regret was a close confidant and debauchery was but a motion with no meaning or rhyme. The net idol, having felt an unmistakable disturbance the moment her words left her mouth, stole a glance at the lovely gynoid just to check whether she was holding some sharp or blunt object in hand; barring whether bare handed assault would not have sufficed for one of incalculable capabilities such as herself.
The professor stepped between Chisame and Chachamaru to divert the focus to safer tides, an approving nod to the net idol at her keen observation. "Very good, Hasegawa. You catch on to the fine details quite quickly."
Resisting the natural urge to blush at receiving praise Chisame responded with a flat, "What?" A response that made the green haired one look aside with a cross of her arms as though she foresaw such a misunderstanding on the girl's part.
Regardless, Negi found the grace to continue as though Chisame was perfectly aware of what he was referring to, explaining, "Though flesh and bone may be fortified, steel and wood enchanted, mind be addled and spirit be charmed; magic holds no dominion over the likes of circuitry and data."
At his finely worded statement Chisame inwardly preened. Finally she was beginning to understand his language. "So you can't tinker with technology is what you're saying."
"Indeed. A Mage cannot rely on the magical arts to carry out encryption or bypass. To beguile the sentinels born of man, cold and unfazed by superstition and illusion, one must turn to conventional methods." Negi held out his right hand, concealed in his pocket until then. Here he held a balisong, one befitting of his style a small part of her consciousness appraised. It was a curved blade with curved handles, definitely not something easily found and rather exotic looking.
"Yeah." Chisame nodded, amusement in her voice at the simplicity of the knife in the face of the professor's rhetoric. "That's conventional alright." The upturn at the corner of her lips betrayed her.
"So I can make you smile." Negi caught her off guard with that remark, causing her to quickly slap her hands over her cheeks to forcibly massage the expression away from his unbearably intense gaze. "That's a relief." He teased her, eliciting an irritated groan from the young woman as she felt her cheeks go warm in her hands. "I was beginning to think that you'd never warm up to me."
Ignoring the increasingly eerie stare that Chachamaru was directing at her, Chisame averted her eyes from the professor in fear that his eyes would pierce through her defenses further than they already had. "Can we move on already?" She grumbled, getting a soft chuckle out of the flame haired young man. It was a sound that she was gradually becoming accustomed to, though the feelings she associated with it was all but defined in her mind. Did she amuse him so, or was it meant to mock her?
"Your enthusiasm is welcome." Negi praised her, such ambiguity in his stance that the net idol couldn't be sure if he was being sarcastic or if he really took her response as a wholehearted request to continue in their steady plunge toward the otherworldly. "You will be an excellent partner." He gave her no time to question him on what that exactly meant as he beckoned her and Chachamaru to follow him into the building immediately after.
The maid was naturally right behind the professor before Chisame could hope to take a step inside the library, but she stopped just as both of her feet were past the door as if to bar the net idol's entry. When Chisame made to ask her why she stopped Chachamaru looked to her from over her shoulder with a warning.
"From this point on there will be no turning back." A warning spoken to her as if coming from the lips of Charon the ferryman. What could be more tempting than a statement like that? To go into forbidden lands of untold territories; even Chisame had to admit that the excitement of adventure was aflame in her belly.
At which Chisame had to ask, "Are you warning me or trying to chase me away?" All signs were pointing to the latter. She was hoping this wouldn't turn into a standoff because she'd read enough of those Greek dramas to know where that would be heading, and if the maid was fighting for a bone then Chisame could assure her that this wasn't a tug-o-war in any sense of the expression. Whatever the professor had done to deserve such loyalty from this woman (And one so lovely at that. Why she would choose the life of servitude when there were surely so many that would more than gladly serve her, Chisame could arrive at no logical conclusion.) the net idol found herself extremely curious to know.
"What I warn you from isn't the now, Chisame Hasegawa." Chachamaru answered her ominously, her ever enduring deadpan enhancing the effect. "If the master has selected you then he does so because he sees great potential, and in the rolling years he has never been wrong in his judgement. Never." She repeated the word with an unshakable conviction. "But the master isn't the person he presents himself as at heart."
Chisame stopped herself from chuckling out of consideration for the mood. "And here I thought you couldn't talk bad about the guy." Yet even as she said that the maid's words couldn't be ignored. From the moment she met Negi Springfield she felt something horribly off about him, from the smiles to his pleasant way of expression. It wasn't that she felt it was all an act because he did it all so naturally...but his eyes. Yes, those eyes contrasted so much from everything else, so intense and calculating, so otherworldly. They weren't gentle or forgiving, like the eyes of a hunter.
"Do not misunderstand." Chachamaru told her, perhaps sensing that her words may have been taken in the wrong light by the net idol. "The master is not a villain. He means well, however, if there has ever been one consistent turn out from all of his students it's been their insatiable desire for more power, and a resulting discontentment with their lives because of it."
"So..." Chisame narrowed one eye, raising her eyebrow over the other as she tried to come up with a simple statement to sum it all up. "...they all became over obsessed with power to the point of insanity?"
The green haired maid nodded, "That is one way to describe it, but not entirely accurate. They're all, to my knowledge, in full control of their mental faculties."
Sounds like your average level grinder. Though if the maid really wanted her to turn back from this she should have gone at it from a different angle like, maybe, eternal despair or something along those lines. Then again even that was a might bit more interesting than her current mundane existence.
"That doesn't bother me." Chisame told her with a frank shrug of her shoulders. "Obsession with power, obsession with fame and riches?" The net idol shook her head. "Everyone has an obsession to grapple with. It's only a matter of how you deal with it that defines you. In the end what else drives people to live than the desire to gain more than what they already have?"
Chachamaru didn't respond immediately to her words, but nodded soon enough. "Quite true." The maid said, her eyes hinting at nothing. "Humans are anomalous beings." She let out an admittedly cute gasp after she had spoken, catching Chisame off guard whom up to this point believed such expression to be beyond her. "That would be irony."
"So how about it?" Chisame asked, tilting her head slightly to the side with her arms crossed. "Are you going to let me walk in?"
"You have come to a decision on your own terms." Chachamaru told her before walking inside to let her follow through the door. She continued as she entered the shadows of the entry hall, "I have no reason to hold back a willing participant."
"So no more excuses from here on out, eh?" Chisame entered the library and the thick, black wood door swung shut behind her. She glanced back at it before returning her attention to the hallway ahead of her to make out the professor's dark silhouette amongst the shadows cast from the blue light given off from the field of the quibble charm penetrating from the library windows. Chachamaru's distinguishable outline took its respective place beside him, part of her visible through a ray of light that angled into the hallway from a window in one of the rooms to the left side of the hall.
Now Chisame wasn't a people person despite what her alter ego Chiu had to say on the matter of human contact, but the absence of other people had a dramatic effect on ones surroundings, not to mention their sense of confidence in real world limitations and logic (For example, that garbage can sitting there in the dark couldn't possibly be a stocky, homicidal midget lying in wait, right? But what if...oh god, is it safe to go over there?). Intruding breezes from wind slipping through the cracks of closed windows became ghastly moans in the deserted halls, and the echoes that accompanied every footstep inspired unsettling delusions of an unseen pursuer stalking in the shadows. What was a lively gathering place for studying in the morning hours had become a cold and lifeless tomb of books, paranoia creeping around every unexplored corner, and the promise of unsolved mysteries seducing the wary sensibilities with unspoken promises of discovery.
"No doubt, she knows we're here." Negi announced, looking up toward the ceiling. His soothing voice reached out and pulled Chisame free from the grips of her winding imagination with a quiet gasp. "Let's wrap this up before Goodman decides to take matters into her own hands."
"Who is 'she'?" Chisame asked the professor, walking up to him quickly to keep herself from getting left behind again. She bit back a cry when she felt herself run into a stray web thread as she came near him. "Are you talking about that blonde girl that was standing outside earlier?"
"The person you're referring to would be Takane Goodman, overseer of this region." Seeing the look of curiosity on Chisame's face after receiving that reply, he elaborated. "Her duty would be to monitor and investigate any abnormal activity that goes on within the area. In other words, prevent otherworldly beings from disrupting mundane society so as to keep their existence a secret." He pointed a finger upwards to the ceiling before going on, "She is not whom I'm referring to, however. 'She' would be the malicious spirit that is haunting the library, our target."
"How dangerous is this thing?" If she went by what she heard from those two girls back at the clothing store the most they had to worry about were tipping bookshelves falling on them. Strange as it might have seemed given her skepticism in the past regarding Professor Springfield, something told her that he wouldn't deem such an obstacle a threat worth his recognition.
"Truth be told," Negi folded his arms with a bow of his head before raising it again as he went on, "things aren't looking very well from the onset." Cue sweat drop from Chisame. "The stories from the students label our adversary a spirit, but the truth is we're dealing with a 'Demonforge', and a particularly powerful one at that, which would be the reason I decided to take on this assignment."
"Tonight promises to be educational." The net idol grumbled, pressing a hand to her twisting stomach. She decided not to steal a glance at Chachamaru because she was sure that the maid was staring at her to gauge her reaction to the professor's words. It was painfully obvious that the green haired one was doing a personal evaluation of her despite what the professor already thought of her.
Negi flashed her that iconic smile that she was already beginning to personally associate him with. There was an explanation underway, surely. "I'm sure you're curious to know what a Demonforge is, Hasegawa." And she was sure that he was oh so willing to provide such information.
"Less for my curiosity, more for my peace of mind." The bespectacled young woman answered him with a frown. "At least I'll know what I'm about to meet." And yet she had to ask herself why she was so cool about all of this when a moment ago she was losing her head over the events that took place in the courtyard earlier. If that was real then this 'Demonforge' had to be real too, right? The danger that the professor was talking about wasn't a lie and yet...maybe she was still in shock, or perhaps part of her still wanted solid evidence that the professor's world truly existed.
But I had my chance to turn back and I refused it. The net idol removed her glasses to massage the bridge of her nose, relishing the momentary absence of the familiar weight from her face before she replaced them. I have to see this through. No more excuses; I told myself that already.
The flame haired professor admired the look of stubborn determination on the younger woman's lovely face before he went on with his explanation. "Originally the orthodox-" He placed quotations here before he went on, "-methods one employed to summon demons or demonic spirits were to sacrifice the flesh and blood of virgins to grant demons a physical form with which to walk the Earth, or to offer the immortal soul in exchange for a bonding ritual of the human vessel and demonic spirit. The first method, while very effective, proved to be too great a price for what was granted in exchange; the reason being that while it was the only way to truly bring an all powerful demon to the summoner's plane of existence the physical body granted to the demon was mortal and incapable of sustaining itself for longer than a day. Not only that, but in order to maintain the form for longer than a day the demon would have to consume the flesh and blood of more pure bodies."
A light bulb switched on over Chisame's head. "That would be the reason for those folk tales about virgin sacrificial ceremonies?" She offered hopefully, surprising herself with how she jumped at the chance to humor him.
Negi nodded approvingly. "Indeed. Those tales about sacrificing virgin men and women to the higher beings would allude to such instances. There have been common cases where the summoned demons refused to keep their end of the pact and killed the summoner. Those demons would then go on to terrorize towns and villages, demanding sacrifices so as to sustain their forms and live the rest of their immortal lives in luxury."
Chisame raised her hand up reflexively out of habit before she could stop herself.
"Yes?" Negi asked, the knowing smile on his face hinting that he knew exactly what she was about to say.
The humiliation on her lovely face was apparent as she slowly lowered her hand, muttering, "I thought you said the demon was mortal."
"I certainly did." The professor affirmed. "The demon could be killed, however, should the demon sustain itself on flesh it could live on forever. There have even been cases where demons found other means of sustaining themselves; magical artifacts, dark arts, soul harvesting and conceptual anchoring to name a few."
The net idol quirked a brow. "Conceptual anchoring?"
"To sustain one's self through the glorification of an idea." Negi explained. "To go on living through worship, or memory. For example, there was a demon that anchored itself to the world by circulating oral tales about its deeds and meetings with others. Eventually these stories became known so well that they were compiled into books for the sake of entertainment. The demon continued to live on until a clan of hunters went through the arduous task of burning all the books that circulated the continent and spreading more interesting stories to completely erase the existence of the demon from the minds of the people who read the stories."
Now completely absorbed into the subject Chisame offered some input of her own, "So when you say that demons anchored themselves through worship you mean to say they started cults that would honor their existences?" Her thoughtfulness earned her a pat on the shoulder from the young gentleman, leaving her to linger for a moment on how she felt about it. Professor or not, receiving a pat like that from someone his age didn't seem like something worth getting happy over.
"You're very sharp, Hasegawa." The professor complimented her. "Around the time that practice began to die out sorcerers of the dark arts devised another way to grant themselves demonic power. Rather than granting the demon a physical body of their own sorcerers began to use their own mortal vessels to contain the demonic essence. This method allowed them to make free use of demonic power without running the risk of being betrayed by a demon."
"So how did they botch that up?"
"While this practice avoided the risk of summoning a rogue demon, a disastrous affair in more ways than one, it introduced other complications. In order to draw out a demonic spirit the sorcerer had to offer their immortal soul as an anchor to maintain a bond between the mortal vessel and the demonic spirit, which meant that the spirit would need to go through willful corruption. On paper, willful demonic possession."
"That was their grand plan?" Her sarcasm was noted.
"It worked." Negi told her. "With a strong will one was able to take control of the spirit without being completely corrupted by the intruding will. That resulted in a successful bond, and the birth of powerful being."
Predictably Chisame's next question was, "And if it was unsuccessful?"
"Either the host's will is completely overtaken by the lured demon soul leading to complete demonic possession, or the anchor, that is the immortal soul, is caught in limbo giving rise to a violent wraith." And yet for whatever reason the professor could only smirk after providing such a dreadful reply. The whole idea didn't seem to bother him very much. "So as you can guess, failure was not in the realm of possibility for a sorcerer."
"So they turned to demon forging as an alternative." Chisame tossed in. "Which is like, what, weapon forging?"
"That was the original idea." Negi told her. "The story is that a young swordsman, filled with grief at death of his lover, a demon girl, approached a blacksmith that took residence at the top of a mountain that overlooked a large fissure in the earth that supposedly lead a direct path to the underworld. He requested from her a rather bizarre task."
Chisame's interest was piqued again. "The blacksmith was a woman?"
"Oh yes, and a large woman at that. According to the story she was a beautiful demon woman, tall as a giant and muscular. So powerful were her legs that she tore the earth when she danced in joy at the fruits of her labor and so loud was the pounding of her hammer that she only did her work when the rumble of thunder served as her confidant." He entranced the net idol with his story telling, and Chachamaru's lips held the phantom of a smile as she watched her master speak. "This woman would receive a request from the young, grieving swordsman to fuse the spirit of his lover with his treasured blade so that they would be inseparable. With a measure of reluctance she accepted the request, but not without a price."
Put off by his pause Chisame broke her silence. "What was it?" Her childlike wonder was reawakened and starving for answers.
Negi looked aside playfully before parting his lips again. "The demon blacksmith had fallen in love with the swordsman. His unwavering devotion to his lover, carrying her on his back as he climbed to the top of the mountain, charmed her heart. She asked that he become her man in return for her services, siring her the children that she desired, and he accepted without hesitation. She would go on to forge the demon girl's soul to the young man's sword as was her part of the deal, and he would go on to become her husband to fulfill his end."
"How does this tie into the rest of the world finding out?"
"Jealousy." Negi replied simply with a chuckle. "While the young swordsman promised to be her man and even provided her seven children, his first love would always be the demon sword that was forged for him. As you can guess this did not sit well with the demon blacksmith whom loved and adored him so dearly that to share him with the soul of his former lover filled her with rage. One night as he slept in their bed she grabbed the demon sword and threw it into the sky from the mountain peak. It would travel the length of oceans, landing in a distant land to be discovered by a young wizard who would then attempt to reproduce the same results with other objects."
Detecting a discrepancy Chisame asked, "Forging isn't exclusive to weapons and armor?" Once again her sharpness was rewarded with another pleased nod. The net idol fought to ignore the satisfaction it brought her to elicit the response.
"What makes 'Demon Forging' so appealing for practitioners of demon summoning is not the object that houses the demon soul, but the very idea that one can grant a demon a physical vessel to sustain their presence in the world without the usual risks that accompany the ritual." Negi waved a hand over to one of the many bookshelves that occupied the room they walked into. "You could bind a demon soul to one of these books for instance. It could be anything, however, the results relied on the skill of the forge master, and a truly skilled forger was rare. Even the oldest forge master could still produce a mediocre demon forge if he didn't understand the actual art of soul binding. This brings us back to the demon blacksmith and her seven children."
"I'm assuming her children were the rare forgemasters that you're referring to?"
"As expected you're quick to catch on, Hasegawa." He praised her again. "When the young swordsman realized what the blacksmith had done he set off to reclaim his lost love." He caught the look of hesitation on his would be apprentice lovely face and stopped to humor her curiosity. "Yes?"
"So..." The net idol almost appeared embarrassed to ask. "...Did he hate her for it?" She hid her hands behind her back, fiddling out of the professor's view. "Throwing away his old girlfriend, I mean."
A grin came to the young man's lips before he answered her. "He was quite understanding of the situation. He wasn't as much of a flake as you would believe from the story; he understood his wife's plight, but he could not simply abandon his first love. He told her this before he set out to search the world for his treasured blade and this is what began the true revolution of demon forging. The demon blacksmith sent her children to search the world for the first demonblade before their father could retrieve it. They were to return it to her so she could finally do away with it permanently, but the world was so vast and to find one blade among the many would be possessors would have been an extraordinary undertaking for any individual, even demon kin, so their mother would educate and train them in the arts of demon forge so that they would at least become somewhat comparable to her skill. These seven would possess skills inferior to their mother by comparison, however, the world would regard them as godlike."
"So her scheme was to lure in the one who possessed the first demonblade." Chisame deduced from his story telling. "If that person got word of these godlike demonsmiths the temptation to meet one would be too great to ignore."
"Indeed. You see, before the seven legendary forgemasters entered the scene the art of 'Demon Forge' was still unrealized to the men and women who had already come into practice. As you would expect that meant that most, if not all, of the demonforge produced up to that point were very low grade, and since forging demon souls into effective weapons was an even harder feat to achieve the only demonblade in existence by that point in time was the one produced by the demon blacksmith. This lead to demon forging becoming rather unpopular, however, when the seven demonsmiths did appear there was an expected boom in the production of high grade demonforge resulting in the art becoming so popular that demon summoning and demonic pacts had nearly become dying practices as a result."
"Was the demonblade ever found?"
"Unfortunately not." The professor shook his head. "The children, though loyal to their mother, eventually walked their own paths. They began to use their skills as a means of making a living, two even abandoned the practice altogether to pursue other interests. Of the seven children there were only two boys and they would be the only demonsmiths to specialize in the forging of weapons and armor, and as you'd have it only one produced armor and the other produced weapons so their philosophies of what mattered in war clashed. They did not get along as a result. In the end the five legendary demonsmiths gradually vanished from the forefront of demonforge, but they left behind descendants that would carry on the practice in their place, and just as their parents their skills were inferior to their predecessors by comparison."
"So high grade demonforge became a thing of legend." Chisame pointed up to the ceiling. "And that thing we're about to meet is..." She trailed off grimly, inwardly praying that she wasn't right in her assumption.
"A high grade Demonforge of legend." Negi finished for her cheerfully. "And one that has gained full sentience after one hundred years of existence to boot."
"Oh great." Chisame brought a palm to her forehead with a grumble of, "And next you'll be telling me that it's a book." What followed her halfhearted jab was complete silence. When she removed her hand to look to the professor he had a grim expression that confirmed the answer for her. Somehow Chachamaru's usual stare only made the realization worse for the net idol. "It's a book?" She asked again, louder this time. "The damn thing is a book?! We're in a library!" She gestured to the surrounding area.
"Duly noted." No lack of snark from Chachamaru.
The professor, on the other hand, acknowledged her frustration with a somewhat helpful response. "Luckily for us she appears to be the aggressive sort. She'll be doing half of the work by contacting us herself." He crossed his arms, a pensive look gracing his handsome face. "Though that would still leave us with the task of locating her main body."
Chisame quirked a brow. "Main body? She'll have more than one?"
"Though her main body is that of a spell book she has the ability to project her original demon form due to her attaining self awareness. With this form she is more than capable of full, physical contact with solid objects, very much as if she was in the possession of an actual flesh and blood vessel."
Chachamaru stepped into place beside the professor. "What this means is," she regarded Chisame with the usual deadpan expression, "she can utilize the projected body to act as a guardian for her main body, which would leave us at a severe disadvantage should she become hostile toward us. As long as the main body is hidden from us she is effectively invulnerable to any means of counterattack from our end."
"So this is basically a one-sided curbstomp unless one of us can locate that one book in a room full of bookshelves lined with hundreds to thousands of other books." And Chisame wasn't going to bother asking who that person was going to be since it was quite obviously her who would be given the task. "Disadvantage seems like the understatement of the year in this situation. How did this demonforge end up in the Ursula library to begin with?" That peculiar term was just rolling off her tongue, wasn't it?
"That question would be the cause of great concern." Negi told her with a sigh that was strangely out of character for him. It was the sort of reaction that the net idol would identify with someone more like herself and that bothered her. "You've met Nodoka Miyazaki, I'd assume?"
"She's a classmate." Chisame answered him. And considering how she mentioned you back at the island earlier it'd be safe to assume that you know her personally too, professor. "Is she related to this somehow?"
"Miyazaki made contact with the demonforge in question in one of the basement levels of Library Island long before I arrived to this country. From what she confessed that was nearly six months ago." Which meant the cute librarian was already associated with the supernatural in some way.
This new found knowledge didn't sit well with Chisame for some reason; it made her feel like the last person to be let in on a private joke after everyone else already got done laughing about it. For one who played the part of an innocent and timid girl so convincingly well, Nodoka was actually quite sneaky wasn't she? Did she ever share this information with Haruna? They seemed like such good friends back at the island, didn't they?
"Hasegawa?" Negi's voice pulled her back to reality. "Are you alright? I believe I lost you there for a moment."
Chisame blinked uncertainly a few times before shaking her head. "I'm fine. Just fine." Not all very honest an answer, but now wasn't the time for her to stew about the little details.
The professor studied her expression a moment before continuing. "In that time she gained the trust of the demonforge, and likely established a pact without realizing it. Two months ago the book vanished from the island without notice leading us to believe that this misplacement was done purposefully by the design of someone else, and anyone with the power to forcibly snatch away a self aware demonforge is a person not to be taken lightly."
"An evil wizard, maybe?" It took a good measure of self discipline on Chisame's part to make that suggestion without busting out a laugh mid-sentence, and the young man appeared ever so aware of it.
"Evil?" Negi chuckled with a subtle roll of his eyes. "I personally find that title subjective, but you may be on the right path, Hasegawa. Worst case scenario, we could be dealing with a high class of demon–" He caught Chisame in the middle of another question and cut her off with a fluid raise of one hand, interjecting, "–But we're out of time for another lecture so that will have to wait until later." He looked to a stairway in the corner of the room and proceeded over to it, Chachamaru following closely, and Chisame let out a sigh before going after them.
The net idol attempted to match their brisk pace up the steps as she ascended the stairs with them, but as they reached the second flight she found herself gradually falling behind the professor and his steadily following maid, and when they went up the immediate flight after that she felt the muscles in her calves weigh heavily with the sting of building lactic acids accompanying every raise of her leg, and at the very idea of a fourth flight Chisame was just about ready to throw herself on the floor like a little brat and tell them to go on without her in a strangled wheeze, but they had reached the top floor and she was quite thankful for that, if not a little annoyed with this Demonforge for picking the very top floor as its place of residence when the last two floors were just as accommodating considering that the blasted thing was a book. The fact that Negi and Chachamaru weren't spent in the least by their little trip to the fourth floor didn't make them any more popular with her, the damn freaks.
"Not the sort to waste time, is she?" Negi turned to regard his contractual apprentice after letting off that cryptic comment. The young woman in question was leaning against the wall with one hand giving him quite the glare as her shoulders rose and fell with a heavy rhythm. "Hasegawa?"
"...What?" The net idol growled after swallowing to moisten her dry throat.
"You'll recover faster if you place your hands on your hips." The professor suggested helpfully.
"What are you trying to say?" She shot at him stubbornly, pushing off the wall. "I'm just fine." And yet her hands slowly found their place on her hips where they remained while she discreetly sucked in sweet oxygen. That was to say that her lips were pursed like a lingerie model while she struck a pose.
"Just a suggestion." The flame haired one said with a grin, holding up a hand cautiously given how the girl was sending off the sort of impression that a riled feline would give. "Now..." With that same hand he produced a medium length wand-like object from seemingly out of nowhere. Either that or his hand was so quick that Chisame's eyes were hard pressed to follow. "You'll be needing this."
"Hm?" Chisame studied the wand in the professor's hand with mild curiosity. It was a finely crafted piece of wood, and expensive looking at that. At closer inspection she made out engraved symbols along the handle where his fingers allowed her eyes to spy, and encircling the rest of the wand to the very tip was a silver ornament resembling a floral vine at a glance. It was polished to a reflecting shine, and if her eyes were indeed playing tricks on her, it was giving off a gentle, purple glow. "A wand?"
"A wand." He confirmed to her with a prompt nod. "Since you have no experience with magic and are nowhere near the level of handling such high level curses you will require this tool for assistance. I've already enchanted it with a purging verse so all you need to do is tap the affected area and it will do the rest of the work for you." He demonstrated for her with an elegant flicking motion of his wrist. Chisame's eyes followed the wand as it sliced through the air in a smooth arc until it came to an abrupt upright stop. "The wand is really nothing more than an enhancing catalyst that draws out the latent potential of the caster. Once you've reached an adequate level you can move on to casting spells without it. High level combat mages tend to make use of staves and magical artifacts for the advanced level arts, while the traditional white and black mages wear enchanted robes, hoods, and hats to empower themselves."
Receiving the wand from him Chisame examined it more closely, holding it carefully with the forefinger and thumbs of both hands to roll it slowly so she could inspect it from every angle possible. When she was done she gripped it by the handle in her left hand and looked to the waiting professor. "You mentioned a curse, which I'm figuring the wand is for."
"Right." For whatever reason the professor felt the need to lower his voice to a soft whisper as he delivered his next words. "The demonforge lies quietly in Library Island, befriends a human and then feels the need to relocate to another library and cause a ruckus. Sounds odd, doesn't it?"
"We've already established that it was someone else's fault." The net idol promptly confirmed to him.
"Which leads to my next suspicion." Negi explained. "It's quite likely that the target has been bewitched by our conniving adversary. The main body was hexed, no doubts to be had about that, so if we rid the demonforge of the curse it'll return to its regular sociable self."
"Right, I get that." Chisame replied. "What I don't understand is why we're whispering."
The net idol's answer came from the ever attentive Chachamaru who pointed with one slender finger, announcing, "To answer your question..." And to this Chisame followed the maid's finger to find a person that she had not seen occupying the room when they first arrived, a young woman of long, dark blue hair (featuring two long braids; one coming down at both sides of her face, falling over her shoulders, and a noticeable long strand poking out and drooping from the top of her head like an antenna.) dressed in a most scandalous fur, two piece outfit of matching color that covered only the bare essentials (Breasts, or lack thereof in this girl's case, pelvic area, and from the looks of that tail swinging side to side from behind, likely the area crowning her butt as well), sitting upon a bookshelf four rows away from the one closest to them. Actually, upon more careful observation the fur outfit didn't seem like a very plausible set up unless it was somehow pasted directly to her skin. The logical conclusion, oddly enough, would have been that the fur had to be naturally hers . The catlike ears that twitched from the top of the girl's head drove the point home quite nicely. "...that."
"A cat girl?" Chisame could not stop herself from nudging the professor in his side as she asked this. She needed an immediate response, or she was sure to shake the young man until he found the decency in his soul to speak up. "Not my imagination, right?" If everything else the professor spoke of wasn't a lie then this had better been authentic or there would be no forgiveness left in her heart. Her faith in the world hinged on his reply.
"A bona fide neko." Negi confirmed.
The net idol's right hand, the hand not holding the wand, clenched into a tight fist of victory. "There is good in the world after all."
Negi raised a brow. "What was that?"
"You wouldn't understand." Chisame quickly dismissed his concern for her mental wellness.
"I'll give you that." He snarked aside just clear enough for her ears to pick up, but honestly, whenever he had these moments she couldn't be sure if the words out of his mouth were truly his own and not a design of her imagination; 'twas especially the case when he could so effortlessly switch back and forth from rude sarcasm to polite pleasantries at so much as the drop of a coin.
"Evening, dear girl." Negi stepped forward to greet the demonforge with a polite bow, perking the cat girl's ears toward him like darts. "I've come here to meet you at the request of your friend, Nodoka Miyazaki. Your leave from Library Island was rather abrupt, and frankly the poor girl has spent her tears dry in worry that something terrible might had befallen you."
The feline leaned back on her left arm, her tail curling slowly before shooting upright with a quick flick. "How affable we are, Immortal." The title she used, Chisame noticed, got a reaction out of the professor, however subtle it was. His relaxed demeanor shifted away with the rise of tension. "Oh yes, I know who you are." And she apparently knew this would get a rise out of him.
The flame haired young man's lips curled upward at the left corner roguishly. "I do realize that the title precedes me, but its very rare for people to tie the name to my face unless they've met an acquaintance of mine beforehand, which begs the question, dear girl..." He beckoned an answer from the cat demon with an elegant hand gesture that captured the eyes. "Who is pulling your strings?"
The feline took insult to his words, cocking her head ominously with a question of, "I beg your pardon?"
"Who brought you to this place?" Negi pressed her. "Or am I to believe that you relocated yourself, Demonforge Yue?"
"The girl you spoke of before. My friend Miyazaki stored me here for fear of my safety." Yue answered indignantly. "Out of fear that you would find and dispose of me, officious one."
"Wrong." The professor retorted with a wag of his finger. "As I said before, I am here at her request; neglecting to mention my other employers." He muttered the last part before pointing a finger of accusal at the lovely kitten. "You've been stirring quite a fuss, kitty, and I'd like to know why."
A cat smirk. "How else does one lure in a meddler than to provide affairs with which to stick their nose in?" The feline hopped to her feet, one arm at her side while her other hand rested on her hip. For some reason she looked more imposing than cute now. "Now that you're here before me I can dispose of you and return to my peaceful life with my new companion and master."
"The way she talks, I'm beginning to feel like we're the bad guys in this story." Chisame snarked aside, arms crossed.
Negi regarded the net idol over his shoulder with a shrug. "Yes, well, that is the general impression isn't it? I already predicted this response anyway. Negotiations with demons tend to be difficult enough in most confrontations, even more so when the one in question is being bewitched by the influence of another."
"Master." Chachamaru's tone caught Chisame off guard with its unguarded concern, and the professor's body language translated his feelings better than the sound of his voice.
"Yes, I'm aware of it, Chachamaru." And when he said that their feline adversary sprouted a second tail that was much longer than the one she already kept visible. "A vampire cat of all things." A chuckle. "Our mysterious adversary is a good matchmaker. They've certainly grabbed my attention."
"Did things just get worse?" Chisame asked, not liking the building suspense one bit.
"Maybe." Negi answered simply. "To put it in gaming terms, I'm weak against her type. Anything she hits me with is going to be super effective, so-" He raised his right hand out before him as if to gesture for someone to stop, or at least that's what Chisame thought he was doing just before her sense of self preservation screamed at her to duck down with her arms shielding her head from whatever decided to come crashing into them that very moment. The wind wailed, the floor quaked violently, and when the net idol finally worked up the nerve to open her eyes and see just what was going on she was treated to a visual feast of sorts.
Thick gold rings were drawn in the air surrounding the professor's outstretched hand; five of them with the smallest one just big enough to encircle his hand and the other four rings, each progressively larger than the last, encircling it and each other. Sigils filled the spaces between each ring, rotating clockwise and counter-clockwise with each successive ring to form a protective barrier that separated them from whatever was trying to break in from the other side of it, and whatever it was made Chisame's stomach churn with the unmistakable grip of fear and discomfort. She couldn't make it out quite clearly because of the storm of violently crackling crimson clouds that obscured any possible view of whatever lied on the other side, but the silhouette indicated that it was definitely a humanoid figure trying to forcibly break through with its clawed hands, pounding and clawing the invisible surface like a savage beast.
Chisame squinted hard at the silhouette as it continued its onslaught upon the barrier. "She really doesn't like us, I take it." Somewhere deep within the recesses of her mind a very small voice questioned the plausibility of her sanity. This wasn't an illusion, this wasn't a lie, this was the promise of pain and possible death clawing for her from the other side of a transparent wall and she wasn't stuttering or trembling like most normal people would have the decency to do in such a situation. Was this shock dulling her rational senses like an anesthetic before the blade was laid upon her, or could it have been possible that she was just as weird as these two characters she'd been spending that last half hour or so ridiculing in her head? On a separate note, how many times did this question cross her mind today?
"Ladies..." The professor's strained address pulled Chisame out of her muddled world of conflicting thoughts. It was at that point that her eyes were drawn to the young man's arm; the one he was holding up to maintain the barrier that was allowing her to drift away from reality when there were more pressing matters at hand far outweighing her personal concerns with reevaluating her willing suspension of disbelief. It was trembling-not the best sign. Still, one could not help but admire his insistence to maintain his usual polite (At this point Chisame found it deceptively so.) manner of expression even as his arm looked as though it was about to snap in half. "I won't mince words here. Seeing as how our target is on the other side of this here barrier, I'm going to have to let it down eventually..." Cue the fourth outer ring shattering from existence like a timely insult to his pride. "...Not that I'll be having a say in that matter very soon. Chisame," He called her by her first name surprisingly enough, looking to her over his left shoulder. "Chachamaru will help you pin point the location of the tome, but only you can touch it. No time to explain why, but under no circumstances should she be forced to make contact with the main body, understand?"
"Got it." Personal complaints be damned. "Just use the wand, right?"
"I don't think the mark of the curse will be on the very surface of the tome so you may be forced to flip through the pages to find it." The howling of the wind from the other side of the barrier got louder as the third outer ring shattered nearly drowning out the professor's voice. Cracks began to reach across the floor beneath their feet like grasping skeletal fingers. "Apply the tip of the wand to the mark and it will do the rest! If my hunch is right, your true role will take center stage after the curse has been removed! I know you'll pull through!" He was gritting his teeth now as he looked over his opposite shoulder to his lovely maid. "Chachamaru, before you think of anything clever in the next couple of seconds I want you to remember how long we've been doing this together."
The maid was ever so quick to make a protest with an exclamation of, "But master–"
"Tut, tut!" The flame haired professor stopped her. "Your top priority is lady Hasegawa's safety and nothing more! I can take care of myself." And he winked at her. "Manage that and I will hold back nothing in reminding you of how deep my everlasting appreciation is for you, partner."
Chachamaru's gears changed so quickly that Chisame was sure someone else had been talking when the maid immediately replied with an ecstatic, "It shall be done, master!"
"I'm about to release it!" Negi warned them, raising his other arm in position to grapple with the demonforge as soon as it came through. "Get to it ladies!" The barrier was let down the moment the words left his mouth. With it gone the red mist came pouring through like a glutinous intruder and the thing that was being held back, or as Chisame could now readily identify as the Demonforge Yue, smashed into the professor with claws (Her arms, originally human like, had become furry and beast like with paws and curved claws. The same could be said about her legs from the calves down.) outstretched to receive him in a deadly embrace, knocking him back into the wall a fair distance away from where he had originally been standing.
"Wha..." Sparing a moment to check on Negi's situation, the net idol saw Demonforge Yue pinning him against the now cracked wall she had slammed him up against, one hand seemingly claw deep within his right side (His suit jacket made it hard for her to tell, but the look on the young man's face clearly indicated great discomfort.) while her other hand was preoccupied keeping his left arm held still against the wall to prevent any effective means of retaliation from his end.
The professor for his part was doing all he could with his right hand to prevent the cat girl from sinking her teeth into his neck as she was ever so eager to feast on him, mouth opened wide with gleaming white fangs to tear into his warm flesh. Right now his words to Chachamaru, not a moment ago, weren't reflecting his present state of affairs as the demon clearly had the advantage. Chisame figured at that moment she wasn't really digging the whole cat girl thing anymore.
"Hasegawa, we mustn't keep the master waiting." Chachamaru pressed her from behind, drawing Chisame away from the professor's problems and back to her responsibilities. Thinking about it as she followed the green haired maid to the rows of bookshelves, particularly toward the area that Demonforge Yue had been sitting around earlier, Chisame didn't think she could do anything to help Negi. If that girl was giving a professional like him so much trouble then her chances of success weren't likely any higher than his.
"Excellent!" Negi exclaimed when the two girls disappeared behind the bookcases. Now– He returned his attention to the cat girl's unrelenting efforts to sink her teeth into him, slowly becoming aware of the fact that at some point during their time together she had managed to penetrate the meat of his right side with her butcher worthy claws–I just need to keep you entertained until they're done doing their part.
"Kitty, I do believe that you'll fare better in intimacy if you simply rethink your approach." The professor placed all of his weight against the wall and raised his right leg to plant his foot against Yue's stomach, taking off some of the pressure she was putting on him. "Your level of aggression would scare off even adventurous men."
"Are you always this calm when faced with the sure word of death?" The beast girl inquired with her fangs still bared to keep him on edge. "Are you so dulled by your longevity that you remain oblivious to your inevitable end?"
Negi smiled, replying, "If you mean to call me an arrogant fool then I should say the same for you, kitty. You're so possessed with this misplaced bloodlust for me that you wholeheartedly believe that I'm struggling against you right now."
"I've already drawn your blood, Immortal." Yue retorted. "I'll pen your obituary on my skin with every last ounce of it, if that should lay the stories of your title to rest."
"Put my name to the test, will you?" He mocked her with his polite manner of talk, as if conversing with a fellow peer. "Yours is one of many declarations, you know." He pulled his left arm free from the wall against her pinning hand, demonstrating strength that she could only struggle with all of her might to subdue. Her right arm trembled as she attempted to push back his arm to no avail. "Although it is my suspicion that this declaration is not your own!" He kicked her off and the demonforge twisted her body back as she flew through the air to land on all fours with a hiss.
She stood proudly, narrowing her eyes at him as he adjusted the lapels of his jacket and leaned forward with a sprint. Closing in close she twisted her body around with a kick directed at his smug face that the professor casually ducked his head under as he adjusted his collar, whipping around to scratch him with a swipe of her claws when that failed only for him to duck again leaving her nails to tear through the nearly dilapidated wall. Not a moment later she received an uppercut from the young man to her stomach that stole her feet from the floor.
"Forgive me, kitty." Negi pulled his fist back with a twist as she still hung suspended in the air from the merciless blow, fluidly raised his right leg high up over his head and brought a cutting heel downward on her back slamming her into the floor with enough savage force as to have her body bounce upwards upon impact and provide him with the window of opportunity to snatch her from the air with one hand to lift her high up before smashing her through the floor to be received in the third floor below. After a quick inspection of his adversary's motionless body he proceeded over to the stairs to meet her below.
"Hey there." Negi began in a conversational tone once he got off the last step. "That was a little underwhelming, even you must admit that."
"Mrrrrrw..." The cat girl growled frustratedly at the embarrassment, pushing herself off the floor. "This body...it's been so long since I've done battle with this body." She stood on her feet, stumbling to the side a little bit, but righting herself to face him with dignity. "And I had not expected you to move so quickly."
Slipping off his jacket to toss onto a nearby chair, Negi unbuttoned his left sleeve and rolled it up his forearm before doing the same to the other. He beckoned her to him with a toss of his chin and readied himself with a fighting stance. "Well then, now that introductions have been properly made I pray that you'll face me with the same respect that I've shown you, kitty."
"Yes, how rude of me to have approached this fight so laxly." The cat girl confessed with sincerity in her cool voice just before her eyes took on the most ominous glow of blood red. She crouched low, wrapping her arms around herself and her body convulsed momentarily, expanding violently beginning with her arms. Muscles bulged with new definition around her shoulders, arms, thighs and calves as her hands and feet grew to monstrous proportions with even more lethal claws. Her fur spread across the entirety of her body in a full coat of midnight blue with her hair growing into a long mane that fell around her face and shoulders like a grand mantle fit for a queen, and when she stood to her full height, now three heads taller than Negi in her full grown adult werecat form, she was as lovely as she was intimidating. (If you're into that sort of thing.)
Negi offered her a charming smile. "You are truly a wonder to behold when you let your hair down, kitten."
"Still so bold as to mock me even now, Immortal?" Demonforge Yue asked with a hint of amusement as she swished her two ungodly long tails back and forth in a distractingly coordinated dance. "I'll have to discipline you, child!" Her tails coiled tight and when she straightened them out they became infused with thunder magic that cracked and filled the room with a blinding, divine light.
"I do so despise being called that." The professor's usual laid back demeanor melted away with the utterance of the word 'child'. "But I do suppose that even one like myself is nothing more than that to one so ancient as yourself."
"Mrrrrrrrw." His jab apparently struck a cord in the werecat. "Enough talk, boy!" She dropped down on all fours and arched her back so that her two thunder infused tails whipped back against the floor with a deafening crack before galloping at him like a blood hungry panther, the claws on her hands and feet digging into the floor tiles with every gallop until she lunged for him, smashing the young man through bookshelves, chairs, tables and a supporting beam before finally breaking past the fast approaching wall on the other side of the room with a crash and falling three floors down to the courtyard grounds where their true battle began. Meanwhile up on the fourth floor–
Chisame lost her balance and clung against the shelf she was searching through when the entire building rocked with a horrible groan. When the world returned to its stable self the net idol hesitantly let go of the surprisingly sturdy woodwork and pressed a hand to the drum solo beating in her chest.
"Hasegawa, if you would?" Chachamaru urged her on from behind, standing still as the shelf behind her, but Chisame knew better. If not for that promise the professor held her to earlier she probably would have proceeded to tear through the shelves in search of the demon tome herself. Still, with Negi distracting the demon downstairs what reason could she possibly need the maid for?
"You would figure..." Chisame removed book after book with steadily building disregard for her treatment of the archives as she tossed them into the trailing pile beside her. "...that a demonic book would have something special that stands out from the rest!" She slipped out a book and inspected it carefully only to toss it aside and groan. "Isn't there an easier way to do this?" She kicked the foot of the shelf and stubbed her toe hopping back with a cry. "Oh, son of a-" She turned on her side and bumped the shelf clumsily with her shoulder.
"There." Chisame stopped her hopping to see the maid point to something above her head and looked up to see a black book poking out from the top shelf like a disturbed tenant. Whoever left it there laid it on top of the books so that it wasn't organized uniformly with the rest.
"I'll take your word for it." Chisame leaned against the bookcase and reached up on the tip of her toes to grab one of the books beneath the demon tome and slide it out carefully. When the black book was more than halfway off the edge it fell forward and unceremoniously clocked the net idol on the top of her head. "Ugth!" She reached up to cup her mouth with one hand. "I bith my thongue!"
"Don't worry, I'm on it!" Chisame cut her off curtly with a roll of her eyes before turning to where the book fell and bending over to pick it-VWOOM-she blacked out for a moment when her entire body was thrown back without warning by a strong air pressure that sent her flying into Chachamaru's waiting arms.
"Perhaps you should have allowed me to finish." The green haired one told her flatly before letting her go.
"Yeah, sorry about that." The net idol grumbled feeling a little wobble in her legs once she was back on her feet; though her eyes did spot something highly unusual taking place, even if that was something of a given circumstance at this point in the game. "It's floating!" Chisame pointed a finger to the now levitating book, which had the face of a sinister looking cat embroidered on its front cover with markings that she couldn't read even if she wanted to. "That book is alive!"
"It is the original body, after all." Chachamaru stated matter-of-factly. "Get behind me, Hasega–" The net idol scurried behind her before the command was completely out the maid's her mouth. "Points for response time." She snarked to herself.
The demonic tome cracked open slowly as if to wave a hand out to them before the pages flipped through in a blur. When the desired page had been found the sounds of hushed feminine chanting began to come from the book, gradually getting louder until Chisame couldn't help but ask-
"What the hell is it doing?" The net idol poked her head out from behind Chachamaru, both hands at the maid's left shoulder.
"Brace yourself." The maid warned immediately after she asked, and the words inscribed on the open pages of the book burned so brightly that they appeared to come off the parchment. A yellow glyph took form in front of the tome and a bolt of lightning discharged striking them.
"Whahaaa!" Chisame flinched at the ear shattering crack when the white hot bolt hit, and yet for some reason she was still alive. "Eh?" Opening her eyes she saw why.
Chachamaru let down the protective field she raised to deflect the magical strike, her body language on the defensive and ready for more, and by the look of things that was a guaranteed possibility. "That was not intended to be a test of our competence. This book wants us dead."
"Oh god, I just bought this underwear..." The mortification was so very clear in Chisame's everything. Her hands were now trembling as they gripped Chachamaru's arm for dear life. "This is just nuts; It's completely nuts!"
"The time for fear passed when you made your decision, Hasegawa." The maid chastised her coldly. "Honor the master's trust in you with a show of courage. That will be your ally more than anything now."
"Maybe I'll grow a pair when I can erect invisible shields to protect me from thunderbolts!" Chisame cried out, absolutely enraged that the maid would dare to demand such a thing of her when the severe gap between their abilities were simply and undeniably unquestionable. "What am I supposed to do against something that can reduce me to a pile of ashes?!"
"Everything is exploitable, Hasegawa." The maid told her, holding up a hand in preparation to deal with the next incoming strike as the demonic tome flipped through its pages again to ready a spell. "It may have spells at its disposal, but the fact remains that it is a book and nothing more when held in your hands."
Chisame inhaled deeply to calm her nerves and collect her thoughts. "So if I can get my hands on it then it'll be defenseless, is what you're saying?"
"Correct." Chachamaru affirmed. "With the projected body locked in combat with the master the book has no means of defense when faced with a direct assault. I cannot lay my hands on it, however, I can act as your shield and provide you with a window of opportunity. That is what the master wishes of me after all."
Chisame nodded, feeling that her mention of that last bit was unnecessary, but whatever. "...Well, its not like I can back out anyway." The book was certainly not going to look the other way on her account, and even if she did find a way to escape it wouldn't make her feel any better to run away when she placed herself in this situation. Call her a wacko, but even she had her pride.
"Our choices are to do or die." The maid added for emphasis. "Backing out has never been a viable option."
"I'm all for doing!" The net idol declared, her body filling with adrenaline at the prospect of an uncertain tomorrow. If fear would be at her side this night then she would turn it into a tool for her survival. "You tell me when!"
Another bolt of thunder shot for them, crashing loud and hard against a timely deflection from Chachamaru, and when the residual sparks dissipated–"Now."–the two ladies swiftly advanced forward prompting the demonic tome to make a retreat in the other direction. The bookcases to their left and right began to rattle as the twosome pursued the living book down the row and just as they came to the end of it the final two bookcases came alive slamming together to crush them in between.
Chachamaru jumped, kicking away the shelves on both sides with a split and turned left on the corner of the row to continue pursuit of the elusive tome with Chisame doing an admirable job of keeping up. All of the bookcases began to rattle as they came after the demonic tome down the center of the room between the rows and all of the books spilled onto the floor, gathering in at the center to block their path by rising after them in a wave.
Chisame remained close when the maid pulled back a fist to punch through the rolling wave of books, shielding her head when books went flying about in every direction clapping to the floor all around.
"There!" Chisame pointed out the tome, spotting it as it tried to blend in with the other books by falling within the pile. She got around Chachamaru and sprinted for it, but just as she got within range to jump for the book it opened quickly with a loud clap and a feminine voice cried out the final verse of an incantation it had been chanting beforehand in preparation for such a trap.
The net idol's eyes went wide with horror when she saw a glyph form around the entire pile of books in the tell tale signs of a spell being invoked. "Oh, fuck me."
Chachamaru encircled an arm around the girl's waist just in time to pull her back, with a sharp cry of, "Hold on!"
Not a moment later did all of the windows on the fourth floor (skylight included) and throughout the entirety of the library building for that matter blow out in pieces from the strong gusts that erupted from within littering the courtyard grounds with countless shards of glass.
Both Negi and Demonforge Yue were momentarily distracted from their close combat when the explosion reached their ears and they looked to the library just as a violent windstorm of books, chairs and other articles of furniture emerged from the top of the building spewing bolts of lightning in every direction.
The feline's expression immediately spoke volumes at the sight and before she could run off to climb the side of the building the professor had already rushed forward to take her down, wrapping one arm around her thigh and gripping her shoulder with the other hand to slam her to the ground. She in turn wrapped both of her tails around his waist to tear him off of her before channeling enough electricity into the professor's body to ignite him into a living torch.
"Die already!" The demonforge snarled, crushing the young man between her tails as she continued to channel electricity through them. "I've torn into your flesh, crushed your bones, and cooked your body! Tell me, Immortal, what must I destroy so that you will die?! What endures even now?! Tell me!"
The professor's initial response was to grab hold of her right tail with his left hand and rend it with a savage pull back, getting a shriek from the cat woman as her left tail released him, but he grabbed hold of her remaining tail before she could snatch it out of his reach, finally replying, "Not to mock you, kitty, but I often ask that myself!" And he swung her into the courtyard fountain by the tail, impaling her through the chest upon the spear of the stone knight.
The demonforge hissed at Negi pitifully, weakly reaching for the spear end protruding from her chest, but the professor stepped into the damaged fountain with her and placed a hand upon hers to ease it away with a soothing whisper of, "Rest now, my lady."
"You foul beast..." The demonforge cursed him. "You steal my life away, and for what?"
"You are under a spell now, so to answer that misdirected question would be a waste of my time." Negi spoke to her softly, brushing her hair away from her lovely face. "But even so I will tell you now that I am a friend to you, and your life will not end this night. Rest now and when you open your eyes again you will see." And as though his words broke through the blood red haze in her mind she did close her eyes as he told her, her body hanging limply against the fountain statue like a vanquished demon.
Negi dipped the rest of his body into the fountain water to extinguish the remaining flames and frowned at the sorry state that his clothes were left in as a result of his efforts to put down the demon. He held a hand out to snatch his jacket from the air as it came flying by and pulled it on against his drenched body. "Now to wait for Hasegawa to fulfill her end of the job." He looked up toward the windstorm still raging above the library building and chuckled to himself. "What a promising apprentice that girl is."
Full Moon Shuffle: Year of Innocence, To be Concluded