Thank you for all the lovely reviews! Between now and September I'll be working on my thesis and doing fieldwork, labwork and data analysis so updates will be whenever I have time. For now, hope you enjoy this chapter!
The day started rather abruptly for Kotoko, more specifically, at 1.33am, when she happened to wake up with a start, sensing that something was wrong. Scarcely three seconds later before she even thought to cast her senses Ripo alerted her to a demon presence that had appeared in the region.
Kotoko gave an internal groan and cursed silently, throwing off her covers at once. Secretly she was glad that the demon aura wasn't anywhere near her. For a moment she had thought that a demon had managed to sneak into the house.
She threw a contemplative look at the bedroom door. Casting her senses like Ripo had taught her, Kotoko scanned the Irie household. To her dismay, it seemed as though Oba-sama was sill awake. There was no way Kotoko would be able to sneak past her shrewd senses.
Sigh. The window it was then. She couldn't risk teleporting from here in case the energy beam was traced back here. From what she and Ripo could sense, the demon presence was actually quite far away and a large jump would cause a detectable energy spike.
Climbing out windows, she decided, was a far harder task than depicted on TV. She lost her footing and only just prevented herself from crashing against the house exterior. Kotoko was beyond glad that Irie-kun's room was on the other side of the house.
Luckily Kotoko caught hold of the windowsill edge and managed to find her way down with Ripo's guidance.
It was fortunately quite dark outside and so Kotoko didn't have to run far before transforming and teleporting. As an extra precaution she teleported to the park first and then to the location that the demonic aura could be pinpointed to.
Heart Warrior and Ripo found themselves on the top storey of a multi storey car park. There were no cars or human auras about but instead there was a massive crater smashed into the concrete.
Gingerly Kotoko walked to the edge and peered down. The hole extended through the layers of the parking complex, the impact must've been immense. She was faintly surprised nobody had been alerted to this. Then again the car park was part of a shopping mall on the outskirts of a town or city.
Kotoko couldn't see far down into the dark abyss but the demonic presence tugged at her consciousness ominously. She gulped. It looked as though she would have to descend through the dark hole to get to the basement level. Ripo gave an encouraging mental yip.
She formed a hollow orb around herself and levitated herself down through the darkness. Kotoko didn't dare to create an energy orb as a light source. If there were Harvesters down there then she didn't want to make herself into a target.
She suppressed a shudder as she imagined one jumping out of the darkness and mauling her to pieces. Her descent was slow and her imagination went into overdrive as the darkness made her even more nervous.
Continually casting her senses, the demonic aura was becoming closer. Her heartbeat quickened as she sensed hundreds of demon life signals. What calmed her nerves slightly was that all these life signals together did not even equal the demonic aura of a Harvester. Whatever was down there was weak. Still, the numbers alone could overcome her if she weren't careful.
She made this communication to Ripo who agreed readily. Both of them sense the demon auras pulsing steadily and not moving from their position.
"You can cast a light orb", Ripo said. "If those are what I think they are then they won't be going anywhere any time soon."
"And if they're not what you think they are?" She replied back shakily, if it was even possible to do so in a telepathic conversation.
"Don't worry; if it isn't then you have your energy orb as a shield," Ripo assured firmly. "If those Harvesters the other day could not penetrate it then what can demons as weak as these do?"
This managed to calm Kotoko down immensely. She cast a light orb as soon as her feet made contact with the cement, the white brightness lighting up the basement level with an eerie glow.
Her eyes immediately zeroed in on the impact area. From where she stood at the edge it looked as though a giant ball of green- grey slime had crashed through the multi- storey car park but as Kotoko approached it wearily she saw that the slimy mess was actually composed of hundreds of small, circular pulsing sacs.
Kotoko had a horrible inkling of what these things were, especially when she saw multiple legs moving from small, oval bodies, but she still asked Ripo for clarification, hoping that she was wrong.
The dog spirit growled. "It's and Arachnid spy squad. The Jinn send them in to infiltrate and observe areas from obscure places. They are quick, agile and good at hiding, capable of fitting through minute spaces."
Kotoko swallowed. Great, so not what she wanted to hear. She hated bugs, let alone demonic ones.
Some of the sacs bulged ominously, making a disgusting squelching sounds. Kotoko could see some of the arachnids shake violently within the sacs.
"Quick Kotoko, get rid of them before they hatch!" Ripo instructed urgently.
"With my sword?" She questioned, hand already on her sword hilt.
"No, create an energy orb and surround the nest. If you increase the power then the energy orb should dry the nest out," Ripo explained. "If you try and blast the eggs then some of the Arachnids may escape and you don't want that, they're a pain to chase".
Kotoko did as he said at once, creating an orb like the once she had made to levitate herself down. This time she put as much energy as she could into it.
To her satisfaction, she watched as the eggs rippled violently and began to bubble. They seemed to shrivel before her eyes, releasing fume and a nasty, noxious, foul smell. Kotoko tried not to gag at the black fumes emitted. The colour of the nest darkened to a gooey black.
All the while Kotoko had her sense cast and released the orb once the last aura had faded. She approached the pile of gloop, nose wrinkled in disgust as she peered at it cautiously. Her eyes widened in alarm as she got a good look at it.
"Ripo!" she couldn't help but exclaim out loud.
Most of the eggs had shrunk in on themselves, melting from the inside into shrivelled balls. However there were a few dried eggs that consisted of flat skins, tear marks clearly visible on them with no sign of anything having been inside.
Ripo growled. "Damn, they must've hatched before we got here".
Kotoko cast her senses frantically but didn't sense anything.
It's no use, Ripo sighed. "These things move incredibly fast. They'll be long gone by now".
"Well, it's worth having a look," Kotoko suggested. "It couldn't hurt to try anyway". She would rather see what she could do now to remedy the situation rather than wait for something bad to happen.
Ripo was proud of her determination but knew they would most likely find nothing.
It was nearly 5am when Kotoko decided to head back home. They had searched within a thirty mile radius of the impact zone but had sensed nothing.
If they were hiding underground Kotoko might not be able to sense them so easily. She hoped they weren't, she didn't fancy venturing into a dark sewage system, especially at night. Her courage didn't quite stretch that far yet and even Ripo said it was pointless to do so now.
Climbing back up the side of the house to her room proved harder than climbing down, especially since she was tired and groggy. She stubbed her toes and knees a few times and had to refrain herself from cursing out loud.
Her head had barely hit her pillow when, what seemed like five minutes later, her alarm went off. Kotoko groaned pitifully before reluctantly changing. Before she headed down for breakfast she found the strength somewhere to do a few yoga poses to soothe her aching body.
Kotoko trudged down to breakfast knowing she looked as awful as she felt but couldn't quite bring herself to care. After greeting everyone she didn't say anything and instead fought with a piece of toast which she was struggling to eat. Oba-sama watched the girl worriedly but kept her silence for now.
Noriko watched a rather tired Kotoko leave with her son Naoki but didn't say anything until Yuki had left for school.
As soon as she was sure that her youngest son was far from the house, Noriko started pouring out her laments to her bewildered husband Shigeki who had decided to start work a bit later that day. Noriko wailed about how she feared Kotoko was distressed and harming herself needlessly.
"Whatever do you mean?" Shigeki asked, clearly having no idea what his wife was on about.
Noriko grabbed him. "Isn't it obvious? Kotoko has some sort of eating disorder! How else do you explain all the meals she's been skipping? And all this exercise that she's been doing!"
She wailed in agitation. "And then there's those study sessions that...aha, that's it! It must be because of that boy..."
Noriko released her husband and paced around the kitchen. "Poor adorable, sweet Kotoko started changing after meeting this boy...he must be bullying her, or trying to sway her attentions from my precious Naoki! That's it, I declare him the enemy! I must find out all I can about him!" Noriko declared, not listening to her husband's placations.
Noriko would not have been so anxious if she had witnessed that morning's commute to college. Kotoko appeared to be in a bit of a daze, following Irie-kun absentmindedly. A couple of times she actually dozed off, bumping her head as she walked straight into him.
He turned around in surprise when it first happened, turning around to see a sleepwalking Kotoko. The next time it happened Naoki responded by slowing down in his walk so that he supported her somewhat.
Naoki kept close to her on the train, glaring at any guy who looked as though they would take advantage of Kotoko's less than aware state.
It was a surprised Takendo that greeted a sleepy Kotoko seemingly attached to Naoki as they approached the college gates. Kotoko managed to get out a bleary 'Good morning,' before promptly falling into a daze again. She almost walked into a wall but Naoki managed to keep her steady.
"What's wrong with Aihara-san?" Takendo asked worriedly.
Naoki sighed, casting a look at Kotoko. "She's just tired, that's all. Don't worry about it."
Whilst Kotoko was nice and distracted in her own little world, Irie-kun took the opportunity to ask Takendo a few questions about how he had met Kotoko and he reiterated the story they had weaved the day before.
"Hm," was all that Naoki said in reply. He wasn't convinced. Something was off about this whole thing.
Kotoko woke up with her start when Ripo gave her a rather sharp mental prod. Her eyes opened wide in surprise as she realised that she was at the college gates with Takendo and surprisingly, Irie-kun.
When she asked why he was still with her when he'd usually be gone, Irie-kun replied that he thought it would be nice to spend a bit of time together since he was moving out on Sunday.
Kotoko had been a little astonished at Irie-kun doing such a nice thing for her. In fact she was more than a tad sceptical. Since when had he considered her feelings like that before? A more likely reason as to why he was still there could be that Irie-kun was trying to fish for information.
Instead of questioning him for his real motives, Kotoko replied to him extra sweetly, telling him that although he was moving out, it didn't mean that they weren't friends anymore and they would still see each other at college. Except, she though privately, she would be avoiding him as much as possible.
Irie-kun stayed with them until it was almost time for classes. As he left she did not see Takendo look at Irie-kun's retreating back with a contemplative look and knowing smile.
Knowing it was best to get this over with as soon as possible to avoid incessant stalking, later that day Kotoko introduced Takendo to Jinko and Satomi. The two couldn't be more thrilled for their friend at finally having a suitable love interest.
Kotoko had tried to explain that she wasn't really dating Takeno but this fell on deaf ears. She walked off in exasperation as Jinko started speculating how their wedding would be; ignoring Takendo's sniggering at their antics.
Takendo asked if she had heard the news report that morning about suspected demon activity at a shopping mall. Kotoko replied with a vague negative and he filled her in. Apparently a team of government scientists had swooped in on the site to take samples and perform tests on what they had found there. According to him the entire area had been cordoned off for a five mile radius and there were military personnel keeping a strict control on who went in and out of the perimeter.
His information only served to remind Kotoko that she could not rely on any government authority for help, at least not yet anyway. Hopefully in time they would come to accept her. She had enough hostility to deal with without adding the government into the mix.
She had been lucky so far in that there had been only two demon appearances. Kotoko dreaded to think what would happen if there were more than one at the same time. She needed to find her allied quick, on her own she could not cope, that much was clear.
To her exasperation Kotoko found that it wasn't only Irie-kun that was acting strange today. Ayako acted strangely moody towards her, Kotoko didn't know why. She thought Ayako would be thrilled that she had 'given up' on Irie-kun. Instead Ayako needled her about Takendo, trying to find out what she had done to gain his attention.
A confused Kotoko mentally asked Ripo if the Jinn had somehow manipulated Ayako and Irie-kun into behaving so strangely. A gruff bark of laughter was the only response she got in return. That mollified Kotoko but she could not help but feel she was missing something big.
She was on her way to her next class when Ripo growled, instantly putting her on alert. Kotoko could have cried. Not again! Reluctantly Kotoko skipped classed and found a safe place to teleport away. So much for maintaining her perfect attendance record.
This time, thankfully, there wasn't a standoff between the Jinn and the police. However the scene she encountered somehow seemed worse than last time.
There was only one Harvester at the scene but at this place, a small children's playgroup that was more than enough to cause horrific damage. Her heart gave a lurch as she rapidly took in the sight a teacher trying to protect her charges, small children who couldn't be older than three.
A quick assessment told Kotoko that a few had bloody scratches on them, thankfully not too big. That however wasn't her biggest concern right now. It seemed that there had been another teacher present at the scene and by the looks of things he had tried to attack the Harvester.
Unfortunately the man found that he was no match for the demon and the Harvester decided to feast off him instead. Kotoko had been lucky enough not to encounter such a situation before but now she saw the grisly sight she had hoped never to see.
The Harvester had pierced the man's stomach with one of its deadly claws. The man screamed horrifically as blood spilled from the wound.
Kotoko knew from Ripo's information that the claw contained a toxin that would paralyse the man, and then the Harvester would take its victim back so their body could be harvested.
The sudden adrenaline rush she got banished away any fatigue Kotoko had been feeling. From arriving at the scene and taking in the situation barely a minute had passed before Kotoko went rushing in without a plan, there wasn't time for one this time.
She used her sword to make a clean cut, severing the Harvester's claw before the creature could move and further damage the man. It howled in pain but Kotoko was way ahead of it, decapitating it before it could even take a proper look at her. The man gasped as the pressure on his wounded area lessened.
The children cheered as the Harvester vanished into oblivion. Although the man was now safe from further harm, she couldn't help but think that it had been rather easy this time to destroy the Harvester. Could she have gotten better that quick?
Kotoko knelt down by the man and asked the other teacher to bring a first aid kit or cloth, something to stem the bleeding.
"What's your name?" Kotoko asked her gently. The teacher looked slightly nervous.
"Mi..Mio," the young woman stuttered out.
Kotoko tipped her head in acknowledgement."Mio. Right then, if you tend to your friend here I'll call for an ambulance and calm the children down."
Mio nodded gratefully and tended to her wounded friend. The claw was still embedded in his stomach but Kotoko's limited knowledge of first aid told her that it was better to leave it to stem the flow of blood. She knew that the claw would be extracted and experimented on and who knows, maybe those government officials would find something useful. The demon toxin would at least numb the pain for now.
She let Mio tend to the man, who she obviously cared a lot for. Kotoko in turn called for an ambulance as promised and then comforted the children, who after seeing her defeat the Harvester had lost some of their fear and were instead intensely curious. She sat with them, distracting them with toys and letting them touch and prod her.
Some of them, she thought, would probably need counselling after this. Hopefully most of them were too young to understand what was going on and therefore wouldn't remember it.
It was as she knelt down among the children that she felt a strange aura emitting from close by. Kotoko offhandedly cast her senses and sensed a malevolent black aura coming from a shelf where a pile of toys were stored.
She frowned internally, wondering what it could be; the aura was too weak to be that of a Harvester. The answer came to her mind immediately. Arachnid. Of course, what else could it be? Ripo advised her to approach casually and cautiously.
"Bait", Ripo thought. "Its aim was to watch you fight the Harvester, assess you and report back its findings".
Kotoko felt sick. So what, this whole thing was a set up? These poor people...
She ushered the children closer to Mio, who gave her a questioning look. Kotoko shook her head slightly, warning her silently not to say anything. She approached the shelf in a roundabout way, making it seem as though she were just randomly checking spots in the room.
Kotoko felt the aura tense and knew she had to move fast. She sensed rather than saw it as it burst forth like a bullet. The children cried out in alarm at the sudden motion which turned to whimpers as they saw what it was she had struck.
The Arachnid was certainly a lot larger than the average spider; instead it was roughly the size of a large cat. It had a large black oval body the size of a football but vastly more slim. It had long, long legs that made it appear much bigger. The twitching legs were thickened with sharp, indigo scales. Multiple red eyes on its body roved madly as it clicked its sharp jaw skittishly. A disgusting gloop dripped from its jaw, similar to that of the egg nest from earlier.
"The saliva contains venom that also causes paralysis. This as well as its speed is its only defence," Ripo informed her.
The Arachnid twitched, its legs jerking in the air as it lay helpless, pinned by her sword. It continued twitching, shaking and twisting madly even as it disintegrated to dust.
"So that was an Arachnid huh?" She said it mentally, not wanting to worry her audience by making it seem like she didn't know what she was doing. It had been fast, she wouldn't have been able to catch it if she depended on her eyesight alone.
"Yes, one of the lowest level rank demons, one used for gathering information," Ripo replied. "Looks like they've decided to infiltrate any random place. It seems we won't catch the others easily if their hiding in places like this".
Kotoko stayed with the teacher, Mio, until the sirens of the ambulance could be heard. She teleported out of the building to the sight of Mio's grateful smile and the children waving goodbye.
She reappeared in the same place near the college that she had come from originally and gave herself time to steady herself before going back to class. Ripo stopped her, instead telling her to go to the nurse's office instead as it would give her a plausible reason for skipping class. The nurse took one look at her face and let her rest on a bed without raising a fuss.
"We need to disguise that necklace of yours", Ripo informed her before she could close her eyes. "It's too conspicuous. If a Jinn saw you wear it in your civilian form they would immediately recognise it as the same design on your uniform."
Kotoko sighed before reluctantly sitting back up. "Great idea but how am I suppose to do that?"
Ripo answered by directing his own energy towards it. The energy formed into a strong glamour, making the necklace into a simple, silver rectangular shape. Kotoko was slightly disappointed, having expected to be caught a new magic trick. Making glamours would be an awesome power to have.
Kotoko lay back down and drifted off to sleep, dreaming dreams of glamours, demons and Irie-kun.
Naoki had heard through the grapevine that Kotoko hadn't turned up to one of her classes. He was worried until Nurse Mai, on her lunch break in the cafeteria, mentioned that Kotoko was resting in the nurse's office.
He padded softly into the office, spotting Kotoko's vibrant auburn hair immediately spread against the crisp white sheets. He reached out, brushing the hair away from her face softly.
She was sleeping deeply and Naoki could make out the black smudges of tiredness beneath her eyes. Why was she so tired? Had she stayed up late last night?
Naoki repressed a sigh. Kotoko sure knew how to make him worry. He had probably felt that emotion more in the time that he had known Kotoko than the rest of his life. He marvelled at this girl who could cause so much havoc with his emotions
He didn't know why Kotoko had suddenly decided to hang out with Takendo. Naoki knew how strong her feelings were for him. And this wasn't like that time when she and Sudou had conspired to make him and Matsumoto jealous. Kotoko genuinely seemed to want to spend time with Takendo.
If he was going to be honest with himself, Naoki didn't like that Kotoko had gone to Takendo for help with her studies. Hadn't she always come to him before? Sure Takendo studied law which was a lot closer to literature than science but still, when had Naoki ever let Kotoko down?
Wasn't Kotoko his to look after?
He stoked her cheek lightly, fingers revelling in the feeling of her soft skin. Naoki leant closer, brushing her forehead with a light kiss.
Well then, if Kotoko was really serious about forgetting about him then it looked as though he would have to work harder to retain her affection and trust. If he wanted Kotoko to continue liking him then he would have to give her a reason to continue doing so otherwise he would definitely lose to Takendo.
She woke up with a warm and fuzzy feeling as she basked in the remnants of a calm, peaceful aura. But when Kotoko looked around the office there was nobody else except her there in the infirmary. She stretched, feeling a lot more relaxed than she had done earlier.
Kotoko found that she had regained enough strength to attend her remaining class which she did, even if she didn't really want to.
To help convince herself to go, she just kept telling herself that Japan didn't need a stupid heroine. That was enough to make her hotfoot it from the infirmary to class. Kotoko chose to overlook the fact that an English Literature degree probably wasn't all that useful in the grand scheme of saving the world.
After classes Sudou-sempai approached her during yet another tennis practice, whistling a jaunty tune which made Kotoko instantly suspicious of him.
"What is it?" she asked wearily. He grinned and she doubted it had anything to do with tennis practice.
"Say, isn't Irie-kun moving out over the weekend?" Sudou-sempai said innocently. "You haven't got long left living with him. Such a shame, you don't share any classes so you probably won't see each other as much."
Kotoko eyed him through narrowed eyes. "So?" She was admittedly a little cranky from the battle earlier and the thought of the work she had to make up from her missed classes and so didn't feel up to dealing with another of Sudou's schemes.
"What if I told you I knew where Irie-kun was working, eh? Then you wouldn't have to worry about never seeing him." Sudou-sempai folded his arms and beamed, evidently pleased with himself as he saw Kotoko brighten up.
It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him but she managed to stop herself in time. Wasn't she supposed to worry about seeing Irie-kun? With a heavy heart Kotoko forced a smile onto her face.
"Ah, it's ok Sudou-sempai, I really have no interest in knowing," she said nonchalantly and then walked away seemingly casually when she was actually restraining herself from shaking him to spill all the details.
Sudou-sempai unfolded his arms, letting them hang limply as he watched her go.
"Huh, guess she really does like that Takendo guy," he commented. "Great, now I have to find someone else to distract Irie so Matsumoto will notice me. I know I'll go find Ayako!"
Despite her day already being somewhat hard going, Kotoko still had more to do after tennis practice.
Takendo met up with Kotoko after her tennis practice and this time they actually did study. He went through the material that she had missed from her classes when she had mysteriously disappeared earlier.
He watched her as she concentrated intently on her work and he observed how tired she was. Takendo wondered what it was she was doing that made her so weary.
As she was working, he noticed the necklace hanging around her neck. It was just a simple silver chain with a long, plain rectangular silver charm but he couldn't help but feel that there was something strange about it.
As he tilted his head and looked at it further, Takendo thought he saw the image of a key. He blinked, checking to see if he had seen that right. A silver rectangle charm shone back at him mockingly. Takendo shook his head, wondering if he was going crazy.
He looked down at his wrist where he wore a simple silver wrist cuff. Takendo had found it last night as he had taken a wander through the dark. As he had meandered his way to a quiet spot to contemplate the beauty of the night sky, his eyes had caught sight of something silver flashing through the inky black sky. A shooting star!
Well that's what he had thought but his mind changed as the moving object fell from the sky. Huh, maybe a meteorite then.
Feeling adventurous, Takendo had followed the path of the falling object. When he reached the area that the object surely must have fallen too, he was excited to see a mini crater created by the impact. His excitement turned to wonder and surprise as he saw not a rock but the silver cuff that he wore now.
Takendo had picked it up, marvelling at its warmth.
After that his memory was hazy. He remembered hearing a terrible roar in the distance and the sound of pounding feet getting closer. The next thing he knew Takendo was in his bed at home with no memory of how he got there, wearing the silver cuff. He touched it thoughtfully wondering if he had just imagined the events last night.
Kotoko looked up from her work. "Eh? Is something wrong Takendo?" He looked up to see her looking at him with a concerned expression. Takendo blushed a little at her cute expression.
"Eh, no, nothing's wrong, my mind was just wandering, that's all," Takendo stammered.
She gave him a small smile. "Ah ok, glad nothing's wrong."
Takendo sighed internally and made himself focus on the girl in front of him rather than his crazy delusions.
In order to take her mind off Irie-kun, Kotoko busied herself over the days leading up until the weekend. She stepped up her training by jogging each morning before going to college and imposed a strict diet on herself, cutting out all junk food.
Kotoko had even mustered the courage to venture to the dojo on campus where she signed up to the karate and judo club. The day she joined the judo club had been training and Kotoko joined in, ending up with a few bruises after learning how to break fall and perform a basic throw.
The warm up had been tough too, she had marvelled at the strength of some members who managed to walk on their hands from one end of the mat to the other. Kotoko could barely manage five seconds.
If she was honest with herself she wasn't that hot at the actual martial arts either but Ritsu-sempai, a handsome and calm senior (totally opposite of Sudou-sempai) in the judo club and an assistant coach in the karate club, had been pleased with her determination to learn. Unlike Sudou-sempai, he didn't expect Kotoko to grasp things right away and explained that it took time and effort to get used to the techniques.
Kotoko signed up to attend judo and karate twice a week each, so along with tennis practice, she had something on every day after class. If worse came to worse she would have to drop tennis club seeing as she had only joined it because of Irie-kun anyway and since she was trying to avoid him then she had not real reason for going there now.
She resolved that she would quit the tennis club after Irie-kun had left, that way he wouldn't interrogate her anout it at home. Then it would only be a matter of avoiding him on campus and spending time out of the house when he visited. Simple right? Kotoko hoped so. She was glad she had memorised his timetable so she knew when and where on campus he would be.
The past few days Irie-kun had taken to seeking her out on campus during lunch breaks, luckily she had used the after school clubs as an excuse not to walk home with him when he asked, something Kotoko was very aware he had never asked before.
It was obvious to her he was only being nice so he could get information out of her. Again she was surprised to find she couldn't wait until he left the Irie household even though she would miss him but with him gone there would be one less distraction.
The Jinn had been suspiciously quiet of late and Ripo suggested that they were most likely analysing their surroundings closer using data from the Arachnids that had managed to escape. By now it was likely that higher up demons had figured out which were the best places to infiltrate and had assumed human guises to fit in unnoticed. Kotoko didn't know what sounded worse, that or Harvesters. In an ideal world she wouldn't have to face either but she had her job and would stick to it.
Before she knew it Friday had arrived, bringing a mixture of dread and hesitation. Today Irie-kun would be moving out.
Everyone got up bright and early to help Irie-kun load his stuff into the moving van. He refused to tell them where he was moving to as he knew he would get no peace if he did.
Oba-sama protested loudly but Kotoko didn't say a word, thinking it was probably for the best if she didn't know.
She watched as his parents hugged him and told him to visit and call often. Yuki smiled at his older brother and exchanged a joke or two. Her dad slapped Irie-kun on the back, wishing him the best of luck in his new place.
Irie-kun stood in front of her last of all, the rest of them watching and prepared to eavesdrop shamelessly. He looked at her with that cool, emotionless mask and she smiled a small sad smile as she thought about how much she would miss seeing him.
"For what it's worth, thank you for all the help you gave me, even though I was nothing but a burden for you," Kotoko began, speaking before he could open his mouth. "I'm also sorry for all the trouble I caused you."
Irie-kun frowned slightly. "It was nothing really. Besides you made life quite interesting here, if a little loud." Oba-sama gave a small cheer in the background and was promptly hushed by everyone else.
"I guess that's ok then," Kotoko said, exhaling slightly. "Then in that case, take care Irie-kun. I hope everything works out for you in your new home. Thank you again for taking care of me and for making my time here comfortable, I'll always cherish the memories of those happy times."
His brow furrowed slightly but he gave a small nod. "Thanks. Try not to do anything drastic when I leave. I guess I'll see you around."
Kotoko gave a small, noncommittal hum in reply. With a last goodbye to everyone, Irie-kun disappeared into the taxi he had ordered. She watched as it disappeared to a destination unknown, the burden on her shoulders feeling lighter but with her heart somewhat heavier.
As the taxi drove him to his new abode, Naoki mulled over Kotoko's words the entire journey. Sure his parents had been annoying acting like his move was a way bigger deal than it actually was but Kotoko's reaction had bothered him more.
He had, in truth, expected her to tear up and bawl about how much she would miss him. Instead her farewell had a note of finality about it, as though she were resigned to the fact that she wouldn't see him again. Why would she think that?
His brow furrowed again in worry. What was she up to? Naoki hoped that she didn't do anything stupid.
As he arrived at his destination Naoki spent the rest of the day sorting out his things in his new apartment and he was disconcerted to find that he couldn't get Kotoko and her strange behaviour out of his mind.
Later as afternoon turned to early evening Naoki relaxed down into his sofa and eyed his phone thoughtfully. He had already phoned his parents to let them know that he had arrived safely. He picked up his phone and began tapping out a text.
Kotoko was in the midst of stretching out her tired aching legs when her phone pinged, alerting her to a new message.
She had felt a bit empty inside now that Irie-kun was gone but there had been plenty to do to distract her. Kotoko had spent the rest of the morning consoling Oba-sama and putting up with her plots to track down Irie-kun. Then she had a meeting with Jinko who caught her up on her and Satomi's boyfriend gossip and troubles.
Afterwards she had gone someplace quiet to practice with her sword and to learn some acrobatic moves she never knew she was capable of doing. Granted it had taken a while and a lot of practice to get the moves right but still, she got there in the end.
She padded over to herbed where her phone lay and threw herself onto the soft duvet with an "Oomph!" Kotoko grabbed the phone and rolled onto her back, flipping the phone open. Her eyes widened in astonishment as she saw that the message was from Irie-kun.
Kotoko had to check several times to make sure she was not dreaming. Irie-kun had text her? She cast her mind back to the last time he had done that and came up with a blank. He had never done that before! She opened the message eagerly to see what he had written. Surely it must be important if Irie-kun had text her out of the blue.
Hey, how are you?
She blinked. Wait, was that it? Kotoko sighed internally. Well, what had she been expecting?
I'm good thanks, you? How's your new place? She typed back, waiting a few minutes before she sent it. Kotoko was surprised when barely a minute later he replied back.
Fine, everything's sorted now. Been up to much today? Kotoko stared at the words that formed a foreign question, at least for him it was. He had never ever asked her that before. Geez, why did he have to ask these things now?
Not really, just hanging out with friends, she replied, figuring he didn't need to know the details of the girls' gossip.
His reply again was super quick and Kotoko wondered if there was nothing else for him to do if he had to resort to texting her to pass the time. With Takendo?
Eh? Why did he care who she met with? No, she replied, I'm meeting him tomorrow. He should remember that, after all they had been at tennis practice when Takendo had asked her out. Then again, he hadn't cared at the time and he probably didn't care now that she was going on a date.
I see. Try not to do anything stupid.
Kotoko bristled at his comment. And what is that supposed to mean? She text back furiously.
It was a few minutes before her replied. Nothing.
Kotoko huffed as she stared at the ceiling mutinously. Even with Irie-kun gone he still found a way to invade her thoughts and confuse the hell out of her.
The next day found Kotoko in a stare of nervous anticipation which she tried to quell. Even though this was not a proper date, even though her feelings for Takendo were purely of friendship, Kotoko couldn't help the butterflies that fluttered in her stomach.
She was going on a date. It wasn't with Irie-kun but still, she was going on her first ever date. Ok so she wasn't properly going out with Takendo but still, Kotoko Aihara was going on her first ever date!
They decided to go for a quick lunch before heading off to the amusement park. Takendo took her to a place called Donny's, a local diner which she had heard of but never been to before. They settled into a booth and chatted amiably as they awaited someone to take their order.
"Can I take your order?" the familiar, deep, (sexy) voice startled Kotoko. She looked up, gobsmacked to see Irie-kun standing at their table, notepad ready and pen poised to take their order. Her eyes took in the striped shirt and smart black trousers that of course he looked amazing in.
"Irie- Kun!" she exclaimed in surprise. "You work here?" She couldn't believe it. Even when she had not meant to encounter him Kotoko had inadvertently gone after him. She cringed mentally and hoped that Irie-kun didn't think that she was stalking him.
He actually looked a little surprised by her reaction, as if he expected her to have known that already. "You didn't know that I was working here?" Naoki asked lightly as he took in her genuinely astonished expression.
Kotoko shook her head, unable to trust herself to speak. She should've let Sudou tell her about Irie-kun's job, and then she would at least know to avoid this place.
"I'll have the Set A meal please, with a cup of coffee," Takendo said, breaking Kotoko out of her reverie.
"I'll have the same but with green tea please," Kotoko said whilst trying to calm her heart. She couldn't even remember what was in the Set A meal. Irie-kun took his time writing down the orders; Kotoko knew that with his perfect memory he needn't do such a thing.
He gazed at the two of them impassively as he finished writing and asked if there was anything else that they wanted. They declined and he walked away over to the counter where...Matsumoto stood watching the whole encounter!
The other girl said something to Irie-kun before looking back at their table. Matsumoto looked like she wanted to come over but she appeared to change her mind and instead followed Irie-kun to the kitchen. Kotoko looked down, trying not to scowl in annoyance.
It probably looked to Matsumoto that Kotoko had come here on purpose. Just a week or so ago, the old Kotoko probably would of done such a thing. The Kotoko of today however was a changed person.
When she looked back up again she found Takendo looking at her curiously. "You really didn't know that he worked here?" He asked in surprise. "Matsumoto-san joined the day after he did, the same day she found out about it actually." Takendo said that last bit with amusement in his voice.
Kotoko wondered if he had expected her to do the same thing. Great, even her date expected her to be up to date with Irie-kun's doings. Oh well, what did she expect after years of nothing but following Irie-kun around?
Kotoko held up her hands defensively. "Hey, I really had no idea he worked here. I think Sudou-sempai was going to tell me but I told him not to."
Takendo looked intrigued, as though he hadn't been expecting this sort of reaction from her but she was grateful that he said nothing more on the subject. He started talking about the 'book report they had been studying last night and how they could work on it'.
Kotoko was puzzled for this sudden talk of something they hadn't actually done until she saw Irie-kun return to their table with their drinks.
She caught on and quickly put her thoughts about the report. She internally grumbled to herself that Takendo seemed to have a far better understanding of the book than she did despite the fact he was studying a completely different subject.
Irie-kun darted her a suspicious look as he took in their conversation whilst sliding their drinks over to them.
"So where are you going on your date?" Irie-kun asked.
Kotoko looked to Takendo. "Good question, what are we doing on our date?" He grinned back.
"I was thinking of going to that theme park, you know, the one on Lotus Hill?" Takendo suggested.
"Oh!" Kotoko's eyes lit up in comprehension. "You mean Wonderland Theme Park? I've heard of it but I've never been there before."
Takendo leaned forward. "Well Kotoko, prepare yourself for the time of your life. I promise to do my best to make you happy."
Kotoko couldn't help but blush at his rakish charm. Irie-kun sighed.
"Well anyway have fun. Call me over if you need anything." He walked away and Kotoko resisted the urge to watch him leave.
The two ate their meals whilst making light hearted small talk and finding out more about each other. They tried not to ask too deep questions since Irie-kun was still lurking about and they didn't want to give him the impression that they didn't know each other that well. Which they didn't but Irie-kun wasn't supposed to know that.
Afterwards Kotoko gave a small goodbye to Irie-kun and followed Takendo to his car. The drive took about twenty minutes through a route that Kotoko wasn't familiar with.
Takendo paid for both their entry tickets, much to her protests but he was very insistent. Reluctantly she relented and they entered the theme park, marvelling at all the different things to do.
They started slowly, riding the carousel first which had the potential to be embarrassing but with Takendo sitting on a plastic horse behind her, Kotoko found herself having a lot of fun as he put forth some light banter.
Next the two chose to go on something a bit more thrilling and chose a fast, looping rollercoaster. Kotoko, who had never gone on one before, had so much fun that she insisted they go on again. And then again.
Afterwards she regretted it and a laughing Takendo sat her down on a bench whilst he went in search of drinks for the both of them. It was while she sat there resting that everything went to hell, again.
An explosion shattered the cheerful atmosphere and sent Kotoko crashing to the floor. She looked up in confusion along with everyone else as she saw that the Wonderland Castle in the distance was now missing its towers. Kotoko hoped that nobody had been inside.
The confusion turned to alarm as screams began to be heard from the direction of the castle. Kotoko tensed as she sensed the familiar malevolent aura and her worst fears were confirmed as four demonic figures rose from the rubble to survey their prey
Kotoko cursed as those around her screamed in terror and began pushing past her. She managed to extract herself from the ground and made her way against the flow of people to somewhere she really didn't want to go.
Takendo cursed as he fell to the ground, dropping the two cups of lemonade as he did so. However his confusion at what happened managed to remove thoughts of the sticky drink covering his clothes.
He gaped as he took in the sight of Wonderland Castles, wondering what on earth had caused that to happen. When the screams started his alarm began to rise and he immediately went in search of Kotoko.
Takendo became increasingly alarmed as shouts and cried of "Demons!" reached his ears. Kotoko was no longer where he had left her. A flash of auburn hair in the crowd caught his eye.
Kotoko! But why on earth was she running that way? Four figures leapt from the castle wreckage and Takendo felt a chill go down his spine. No way!
He ran after Kotoko. No matter what, he would not let any harm come to her.
Naoki was surprised when Reiko suddenly burst into the staff room. Whilst he was used to her following him, she never did so in such a dramatic way. He took in her agitated state and wondered what had happened.
"Irie-kun!" Matsumoto exclaimed as she regained her breath. "Did you hear? There's been another demon attack near here! They attacked Wonderland Theme Park!"
Naoki felt his blood run cold. Wonderland...that was where Kotoko had gone! He went to leave but Matsumoto placed a hand on his arm.
"The police have cordoned off the area and blockaded the roads, and besides, it's a twenty minute drive to get there so how do you expect to get there?" Matsumoto questioned. She spoke logically with no malice; she was as worried about Kotoko as he was, even if she would never admit it.
Naoki cursed softly. "I'll try to get through to her phone. Is there no way to get there?"
Matsumoto shook her head. "No, the police are sending traffic away from the area; they're not letting anyone near, not even reporters."
Naoki grimaced, bringing up Kotoko's contact details and pressed the call button, hoping that she would pick up.
They were cornered. It was to be expected really, they were the only two running towards the castle whilst everyone ran away and they had made themselves targets for the demons. Well that was what Kotoko had hoped for but not like this.
The four Harvesters advanced upon them with vicious grins on their faces. It was just them and the demons, there was nobody else around. The sound of sirens growing closer could be heard in the distance but they wouldn't be much help.
Takendo stood with his arms spread out wide, protecting Kotoko and bracing himself for the inevitable pain.
He received it, in the form of Kotoko grabbing his shoulder and shoving him behind her. As Takendo fell to the ground his eyes widened in surprise as he took in the form of the recognisable Warrior of the Key, Heart, charging at the demons. A fleeting look behind him confirmed that Kotoko was no longer there.
Ah. Now he knew the real reason why Kotoko had been pushing herself to the brink of exhaustion and why she had run towards the demons. He watched anxiously as Kotoko dove into a fight with the demons, wishing he could help her somehow and marvelling how different she looked from her usual self.
Takendo felt his wrist burning and he looked down to find the silver cuff he had found glowing brightly. As the glow brightened a design unfurled upon the cuff, an etching of an ornate key with a key handle in the shape of a star.
He watched as the gold glow grew into a golden mist that shone brightly, almost blinding him. The mist solidified until he found himself looking into the eyes of a gold phoenix.
"I am Kiko, here on behalf of Her Highness Princess Minako to seek your assistance," a soft, somewhat feminine spoke, the words resonating in his mind. "I cannot explain everything right now but if you truly want to help your friend than please accept my assistance."
Takendo did not even hesitate as he looked up to watch a clearly struggling Kotoko fighting to prevent the three demons from reaching him. To her credit she was putting up a good fight but then again so were the demons.
"I accept," he replied firmly. The golden light shone ever brighter, enveloping him in a cocoon. He felt his clothes become heavier and heavy objects weighed down on his back.
As the glow faded Takendo reached over his shoulder, feeling the outline of twin blades and a shield strapped to his back. He touched the shield, a light, compact round shield, and removed one of the swords but his instincts tugged at him to do something else. He removed his hands from his weapon and held them out instead to the demon.
Takendo felt a warmth swirl through his arms towards his fingertips. "Concentrate," Kiko instructed. "Think clearly about what you want to do."
What did he want? Energy thrummed at his fingertips and he had a vision of a yellow orb of energy forming in his hands before it disappeared as he thought indecisively. No, not that, he couldn't risk hitting Kotoko.
What I want, he thought as he watched the demons swift movements, is a way to keep them still. With this thought the energy flowed from his fingertips and he felt the energy pull him as it struck the demons dead on.
Warrior Heart spun round in surprise, taking in the sight of him and no Takendo. Her mask prevented him from seeing her expression but the pause was brief before she then took advantage of the moment and struck the closest demon. Takendo followed suit and proceeded with his withdrawn sword, the other hand keeping the demons in place.
The rest was relatively easy to take care of. Takendo retracted his sword and watched the demons turn to dust. He turned in time to see Kotoko sheath her sword as dust billowed away from her.
His masked friend tipped her head in acknowledgement. "So then, I guess I have lots of explaining to do, right?"