"I really do thank you for coming Mr. Springfield. Though you are younger than I expected I don't doubt Konoe-san's judgment. To be a middle school teacher at your age, in a prestigious school like Mahora, you must be quite well learned." The principal of Juuban middle school had been laying praise thick since the mage's arrival. It was getting quite embarrassing.
"Not at all, Yamoto-san. I'm just glad I can help."
"For that, I am thankful. The situation with Sakurada-san was really growing complicated. We couldn't find anyone able to fill in for her leave. But it needed to be done, considering her poor condition as of late." The older man nodded solemnly.
"I hope it's not too serious?"
"Well, no one is quite sure exactly, she has fainted and been hospitalized with alarming frequency as of late. The doctors say it's due to exhaustion. They believe a bug of some sort might be going around as many people have come in feeling tired." Negi's eyes widened slightly but he made no comment, setting that information aside for later. "She has soldiered on but we insisted she take some time off to recover." They stopped next to the faculty room. "Sakurada-san should be waiting for you inside. She just finished her last class. She will give you a run down on the lesson plan as well as her students. I wish you luck Springfield-san."
"Right, I won't let you down." With a firm shake of hands the principal headed back to his office. The mage had to admit the set up was working quite well, considering how surprised people had been thus far with his false age. It looked like it was for the best he didn't come in his natural form. Negi took a breath and headed inside. It wasn't all that different than the teacher's office back at Mahora, all of the teachers' desks spaced at small intervals in various states of organization. Over in the break area, a young woman stood. A look of excitement morphed slowly into confusion as she stared at him. "Um... Haruna Sakurada-san?" he ventured with a smile, but it comforted her some. She gave a dazed nod.
"And you... are Nagi springfield?"
"Yes, pleased to meet you Sakurada-san."
"I was expecting you to be older... I mean, I heard you were young but..." She sighed deeply, to the confusion of the mage.
"Um, are you feeling okay?"
"Oh yes, sorry. Don't mind me." She gave a forced smile. "Well…
Shall we go?" she asked, making to leave the lounge.
'It must be the after effects of that dark magic...' Negi thought to himself as he followed after.
Mana scanned the landscape from a rooftop perch. The citizens milled about below going about their daily lives. They were unaware of the secret war going on under their noses. Missions in major population centers, where so much of the populace was non-magical, were always the most bothersome. There we so many factors one had to keep in mind at all times, especially with when your backup was less experienced. The mercenary sighed, cutting off that train of thought before it became counterproductive. "How is the progress?" She had to wait a moment before the reply came in through her headset.
"Looking good, Ane-san. With this node, our detection range should be boosted a good deal." The ermine's voice wasn't nearly as grating once you got used to it. The usefulness of his contacts in the ermine network as well as his diverse skill set was a pleasant surprise. "I don't know why they don't keep these active, though. Ya'd think the council would wanna know when stuff was going down in a major city."
"Efficiency is often at odds with politics." Mana replied, if only to let her mind focus on a different topic. "Konoe-san doesn't have the pull to keep the full grid on at all times, the other organization have enough to fuss about as it is. But in a situation like this, things get simplified."
"True enough, I guess."
Chamo's reply was accompanied by some muttering on his side that she couldn't pick up. Even if she knew the reasons, she also didn't see the reason for all the tip toeing. Though, Mana had always been one for more direct resolutions.
"Almost done. Huh? What the hell?"
"Chamo? Is something coming up?" The ermine had gone silent for a moment. She tensed in anticipation.
"I got something coming up, but it's pretty vague. It's not zeroing in enough to get a clear reading."
"Pass on the general area and I'll do a sweep. I'll be able to get a better feel when I'm closer." Her commanding tone got Chamo jumping to action. The area wasn't far. She gathered up her duffle bag and began to take the rooftop route, cutting the distance to her target.
"I'll contact Aniki so he can meet you en rou-"
"Don't bother, I only plan to observe. I'll only engage if I absolutely have to."
"...If you say so." He sounded anxious but complied. Mana remained focused on her goal, stretching her senses out on the approach.
The blip appeared to be coming from one of Tokyo's many business districts. From her rooftop perch, she could hardly identify the purposes of the nearby buildings, much less what was inside them. Fortunately, she had more than just her eyes to help her. She took a moment to focus her gift, the demon's eye. She extended her senses out in all directions filtering out the mundane life force of the civilian populace... It made the unusual energy stand out like a signal flare. "Found it." She turned and hopped to an adjacent roof, "The energy is coming from a building slightly south of my location... Crystal Seminar, some kind of cram school." she continued to report as she settled on the edge of the roof.
"Realigning the node... got it. That's it, alright." Chamo affirmed. He was already recording any kind of information the device could pick up.
"This energy... it's vile." It was a distinctive feeling to be sure, it felt darker than any necromantic or demon magic she'd ever felt. "I feel unclean." she muttered as she pulled out her binoculars and began to scan up from the bottom trying to pinpoint the exact location among the general miasma. Another energy surged. Lights flickering on the third floor caught her eye.
"Wait, I'm getting another blip... It's the other energy!"
"Yeah, I feel it too." she relayed, still pushing out with her senses. This one was different, just as hard to place but felt much the opposite of the dark energy. "Getting a visual." She scanned across the third floor as a counter surge of dark magic hit. This time she had it narrowed down to a classroom. "There's a red humanoid, could be demonfolk in nature but I'm not sure. It has a hostage, the room is full of civilians but they aren't reacting to the monster."
"Some kind of spell?"
"Likely. There is one other girl that doesn't seem effected, dressed in some kind of cosplay. I think she's... posing." Even as the words left her mouth she could hardly believe it herself.
"What?" Chamo didn't sound much less puzzled.
"Your guess is as good as mine." The monster was apparently not impressed and began shooting some kind of projectiles at the girl. The way they embedded into the walls belied their paper-like appearance. "Blondie is going to get herself killed, I'm engaging." With practiced ease, she put away her binoculars and swung the shoulder bag to easy reach. With a thought, she also negated her demon eye, so she could focus more clearly on the task at hand.
"W-Woah, this is an observation mission!" The ermine had clear panic in his voice. "At least let me call Aniki and get you some back up."
"We don't have that kind of time, Chamo." She put her rifle together with expert precision and was in a crouched shooting position before most soldiers would have gotten half way. The view from her scope cemented her decision. The once passive civilians were shambling toward the blond, while the red monster had armed itself with an ax. "I'm taking the shot." she said, flipping off the safety.Her finger pressed lightly on the trigger. She was drawing a deep breath when her something flared in her senses. She jumped back to avoid several projectiles that struck her firing position. Looking for its source, she saw a man on the adjacent rooftop dressed in a tuxedo, face half concealed with a domino mask.
"Another agent? You don't quite feel like the others..." the man said clearly, "But there's definitely a dark energy coming from you. With that in mind, I can't let you interfere." A trio of roses appeared between his fingers. "State your business."
"Sorry, that's classified." Mana replied calmly placing the long range rifle down in favor of pulling her pistols free from their shoulder holsters.
"Ane-san? What's going on?" Chamo squawked in her earpiece but she could hardly spare much thought to reply.
"Sorry, looks like I'm going to be busy..."
"How much further?"
"Three blocks over from your current position." Chamo had wasted little time in alerting Negi to the situation. He managed to excuse himself from the remainder of the orientation without too much trouble. Fortunately, the confrontation wasn't too far from the campus. At least, not for a wind mage who could passively increase his speed.
"So Mana is fighting one of the darkness monsters?" Negi turned into an alley to cut off a few more precious seconds.
"I think so, she mentioned some kind of big red demon thing..." Suddenly the compact wand in his hand seemed all the more puny. He missed his staff already. "Just ahead Aniki, across the street."
"Right." He reached to take hold of the wand but stopped as her saw someone crossing the end of the alley he was about to exit. Eyes widening, he canceled his speed spell. The focused air dispersed in all directions. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to stop all his momentum. Negi exited the alley with a rush of wind colliding with someone, but he managed to catch both them and himself from falling into traffic. The wind died down after a moment and he stepped back. "Sorry about that, wasn't watching where I was going." he said with a small bow.
"I-It's okay." The victim was a girl with short cropped blue hair. She spoke softly a little red in the face. It was understandable, given her surprise.
"Ami!" Another girl came from behind him, blond with long streaming ponytails. They made him think of back home. Most odd was a black cat of all things trailing at the girl's heels.
"I'm fine, really." she assured her friend.
"She's on the move, Aniki! She's heading further east across the rooftops!" Chamo's urgent tone brought the matter at hand back into focus.
"Pardon me, girls. But I'm still in a hurry." Negi said politely, tracing a bow before taking off once again. He eyed the traffic and cross quickly before jumping into the nearest alley.
'He'sgood.'Mana noted as she was forced to hop backward and put some distance between herself and the masked man. He appeared to be human but was definitely using some kind of magic to augment his body. His strength, speed and agility were definitely beyond human. From what she could see he was most dangerous up close when fighting with his cane. She was confident with her close-quarters skills but bruise on her abdomen told her to keep things at her strengths. He was accurate with his roses and they flew like daggers but he used them more for distraction. They had some manner of purification effect on them similar to Shinto seals, so they were likely more dangerous to the darkness beings. To her diluted demon ancestry, they stung like hell.
His next strafing run was cut off by a counter offensive flurry of bullets. She knew a few of those shots found their mark, but the man didn't show any reaction. They may have only been rubber, but a solid hit with one of those enchanted slugs should have been enough to drop your average adult male. If they were non-magical, of course.
"These bullets aren't cheap you know?" she stated conversationally, keeping a close eye on her opponent.
"You're firing them freely enough." he replied in a similar measured tone.
"It's not like you've been giving me much choice in the matter." They were at a stalemate. He was far enough away to dodge most of her shots and she wouldn't let him get into close combat.
"Ras tel Ma Scir Magister," was all the warning either fighter got as streams of white shot out from the gap between two buildings behind Mana. "Seven arrows of wind, bind my enemy!" The masked man hesitated a moment before backpedaling rapidly batting the projectiles with his cane to disperse them, He barely escaped the surprise assault.
"So, reinforcements have arrived. I guess this is where I bow out. I suggest you don't meddle in the affairs of the Sailor Senshi again.Good day." With a bow and a cascade of rose petals, the masked man vanished. Mana lowered her guns, clicking her tongue in annoyance. He likely could have escaped at any time.
"Mana, are you okay?" She turned to see Negi pulling himself up onto the roof, concern first and foremost on his mind.
"I'm fine, Just a few scratches and bruises." she holstered her pistols and offered him a hand up. She gave her sensei an appraising look, noting his disheveled appearance. "You didn't have to rush out here, I was handling things."
"But, Mana I-"
"But thank you," Her words cut off his argument leaving him puzzled. She left him that way as she moved through the dueling field, plucking one of the discarded roses from where it had embedded itself. Not a moment after it was free, it dissolved into petals that disappeared into the ether shortly after. "Magic constructs. Makes sense." She ignored the others and made her way back to her discarded rifle and set to disassembling it for travel once more. She gave a look to Negi who was knelt by a small cluster of the roses carefully pulling one and watching its disintegration process closely. Eventually, her curiosity got the better of her. "Sensei, what are you doing?"
"Testing a theory." he said in a distracted tone, muttering a spell. A white arrow of wind appeared but he managed to hold it from launching. He reached for another rose. This time, as it started to dissolve the arrow circled the falling petals as if trying to corral them. The petals all vanished but took notably longer. "Close... looks like I need more. Ras tel Ma Scir Magister..." Mana raised an eyebrow, using one of the most common mage attack spells for such a use. It spoke volumes for his control. It took two more attempts but with five arrows of wind Negi had managed to 'bind' the energy to keep it from dissipating, the magic petals swirling about the orb of wind like a snow globe. "Now, we have some evidence." he announced proudly.
"So it would seem." she muttered, allowing a note of praise into her voice, watching the swirling petals. "I don't suppose you could store that more permanently?" His earlier confidence fell into a sheepish grin.
"Ah, I'm not sure... not without knowing how this energy behaves on containment. It could be volatile," he cautioned. "But I should be able to keep this going until we get back to the apartment."
"A little conspicuous." Mana said with a frown, "But it will have to do." She stowed the pieces of her rifle carefully into their places and zipped the bag up. Shouldering the bag she meandered over to the edge of the roof looking to the Crystal Seminar building. The last of the confused and exhausted students were shambling out. "But one stop first."
It didn't take too long to find the third floor classroom where the battle had taken place. Even easier considering the rest of the rooms were empty. Curiosity had prompted a glance into the other classrooms, but it only proved that there were none. The rest of the building was completely deserted, but the halls were designed to make it appear as if the whole building was an active school. It only added more questions to the situation.
The classroom was in disarray but surprisingly intact all things considered. The room held a strong chill, a noticeable drop even from just coming in from the hall. Most of the surfaces were wet, as if they had been left outside and subject to morning dew.
"So what are we looking for?" Negi asked as her ran a finger over the slits in the wall where the paper projectiles had connected.
"Something preferably connected to the dark energy." Mana scanned the room with a careful eye. There seemed to be no physical evidence to the fight, not even a body. She had missed the conclusion of the fight due to the masked man's interruption but it looked as though the girl had won. "I will check on a deeper level." She said mostly for his Sensei's convenience as she took a deep breath and activated her demons eye. She frowned a bit taking the view of the once empty room now a chaotic mess of ambient energy.
"Tatsumiya-san, your eye..." Mana passed her sensei a glance, it seemed he had not been briefed much on her skills. Or at least not her background. It was just as well. Knowledge was power after all and she did her best to keep any about herself to a minimum. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine sensei, Just sorting things out." The light and dark energies hovered about in the air negating each other whenever they came in contact. She looked back to the disguised magister-in-training who, to her current view, was a beacon of focused energy. He orb in his hand glowed softly, matching the ambient light magic. "We'll need to be careful, the two energies seem quite opposed... we might lose the sample we have if any dark energy gets into that seal."
"I'll stand back then." He seemed to have recovered nicely from his confusion and took her opinion without question.
"Good," She turned back to the battlezone and searched for a high concentration of dark energy. Row by row she worked her way through until she found a broken monitor. The dark energy was dissipating but the heaviest concentration was at this terminal. With great reluctance she stepped forward into the miasma, repressing a shudder as the vile energy swirled in the air around her. She ignored the urge to negate her demon eye and focused her attention to the monitor and tower. Many of the other computers had trace amounts of energy but the larger cloud here had kept the computer insulated from the roaming light energy. Out of curiosity she began pushing buttons on the tower. Eventually, a purple floppy disk popped halfway out. The disk had an intense aura of dark energy but was already lessening after being ejected. Remembering the roses from the roof, she looked to Negi.
"Sensei, collect this disk." She deactivated her ability and was thankful to leave the oppressive feeling of the ambient magic behind her. "But try to keep the petals out of this workstation." she added quickly. The boy nodded and started over.
"Right," he drew his wand with his free hand softly casting his wind arrows but holding the five missiles in a circle around his wand hand. He blinked and looked to his other hand, still holding the swirling petal orb. His face flushed slightly. "Uh, can you hold my wand?" he muttered. Her small smirk didn't help his embarrassment. She plucked the wand from his hand. The arrows wavered, about to shoot off but he managed to hold them in place. Negi tentatively reached out and touched the disk, the arrows inching forward to encircle it as he pulled it from the machine. Unlike the rose it held its shape just fine. "You sure this is the one?" he said stepping back and looking between the two items.
"Reasonably. Just keep those things form touching." Mana cautioned, "Let's not waste anymore time." He returned that sentiment with a nod and started toward the door and stopped.
"Er..." He looked to his occupied hands.
"I'll get the doors."
The walk back was a bit awkward, but aside from a few odd looks, they made it back with both samples intact. Chamo and Negi immediately got to work getting what information they could from the samples before making any attempt to preserve them. Mana took the downtime to write up a formal report of the incident. It was a good way for the mercenary to mentally unwind after what turned into a chaotic first day in Tokyo. Well, it should have been.
"Something wrong Tatsumiya-san?"
"I can't seem to remember the girl..."
"The one that was fighting the monster."
"The blond?" Chamo chimed in from behind his computer.
"Blond?" Mana frowned, the more she tried to place the appearance the less sure she was. "Did I say she was blond?" The ermine's nod only furthered her confusion.
"Is there anything else you can't remember?" Negi looked up from the readouts with a curious expression. She began to work through the events looking for inconsistencies. Strangely, all of the events before and after the girl in question were clear and concise. Until she reached, "The masked man." she said firmly. "I can remember the fight and even how he fought but I can't place anything about him outside his mask and the tuxedo. Not even his height or hair color..."
"Sounds like some kind of Glamour or defensive enchantment to hide their identities." the mage recited with reasonable confidence. "I suppose it's hard to keep a low profile otherwise if you're hunting monsters..."
"Is there some way to counteract this?" Being unable to identify your targets would make keeping an eye on them unnecessarily complicated.
"Enchantment isn't really my specialty, but I can look into it. Generally, the only way is to dispel whatever is causing the effect." It was an unexpected hurdle to the mission for sure. They'd just have to report what they could. With that in mind, Mana went back to the report.
"Okay, Aniki, that should do it." Chamo grinned over the top of the monitor. "This data should really help our early warning system."
"Good," Negi sighed rolling his shoulders. He was starting to get stiff. "Think we can try to find some place to store these? We'll need something magically shielded." he asked hopefully. His familiar looked thoughtful.
"Oh! I got it! One sec." The ermine hopped off, returning shortly with the jar of age pills. "This is shielded to get through customs so it might work, just let me get a bowl to pour these out. Negi did his best to keep patient while Chamo carefully poured the jar of candy colored pills into a bowl, a few strays rolling over and across the floor. "Here you go." He placed the bottle in front of the mage, stopper held closely in paw.
"Right." Negi took a breath and carefully turned his hand over, the orb of air continuing to stick to his palm. With a moment of hesitation he canceled the arrows, allowing the petals to fall, a few immediately dissipating. Chamo slammed the stopper back into place. With nowhere to escape, the remaining four petals settled at the bottom of the jar and remained. Both mage and familiar gave a sigh of relief.
"All right, mission successful." Chamo said cheerfully, "Now what to do for the other one..."
"Well, maybe Takamichi has some kind of stor- Gah!" The young man exploded into white smoke mid-sentence. In his place, remained a ten-year-old child in an oversized suit. Concentration broken, the disk fell to the floor. Any magic feeling attached to it faded along with its purple color. "After all that..." Negi sighed head drooping.
"It's just as well." Negi looked up to see Mana's usual impassive gaze. "We'll have more chances to get get samples... Though we will need a more immediate way to store them."
"I'll see what I can do on that end." Chamo said with a mock salute.
"Good." She looked to her Sensei. "You should probably change into something more fitting."
"Oh, ah, right." The child teacher flushed and gathered the clothes as best he could and headed to the bedroom. Mana shook her head at him, but it was hard not to feel a sense of accomplishment looking at the magic petals sitting in the jar. Despite the rough patches, the first incident had gone better than she expected, and her young partner had done more than enough to justify the headmaster's appointment for the mission.Though, hopefully not every day will end up as an incident; at this pace, this operation might not be marked as an observation mission for much longer...
AN – It feels weird to write Sailor moon again... one of my first fics was a Sailor moon cross (don't try to look for it it's no longer on this site...and it's pretty bad). But I think framing the show in the view of a different prospective (Negima) really helped me think of what could happen. I have some fun ideas for a little later on with Mana that I think you'll find interesting... stay tuned :)