Based on "The Illustrator" by Abicion

Part 1: Dawning Sun

"No, please! Please give it back, Sato-san!"

"Give what back? You mean this?" That was Arisu Sato, speaking with mock ingnorance, her dark eyes shining with cruelty. With deliberate slowness she pulled the page out of the sketchbook, taking pleasure in how the sound of tearing paper almost caused her victim physical pain. Once separated from the spine, she gave the drawing a brief glance. "That's Taiyoman, right? Isn't that show for babies?"

"Don't do it, Sato-san, I beg you! I worked so hard on it…"

"You're begging me, and yet you're forgetting something, aren't you?"

There was a long pause. "… Sato-sama. Please, Sato-sama."

"That's better." Arisu smiled… she was such a beautiful girl for her age, almost like a high-school student. Though the year had only started weeks ago, already she was receiving love letters and requests for dates on a daily basis. She was unusually tall, with long black hair, pale skin, bright eyes despite their dark color, perfect teeth, perfect posture… the Japanese epitome of a young lady. The Sato family was very rich, and it showed in her bearing, in the polite way she spoke in class, in her arrivals in the morning via the family limousine, in her extravagant boxed lunches that she brought every day, always stuffed with things that most students only ate once a year.

That was the Arisu Sato that most of the world saw. There was another Arisu Sato underneath her skin, one that was as far from the sweet and demure student council president everyone thought they knew as the earth was from the sun. Though she went on token dates and was popular among her classmates, there were only two people she could ever say she tolerated: Hidariko and Migiko, the tough, athletic girls who held a much smaller girl between them at the other end of the bathroom. Hidariko and Migiko were her henchwomen, her lackeys, her allies; on the rare occasions that she couldn't talk her way out of trouble with her silver tongue, they were there to take the fall, always. One might have called them her friends… unless one knew Arisu's true nature. In that case, it would be obvious: Arisu Sato had no friends, only subordinates.

"She said it," grunted Migiko, keeping a tight grip on the squirming girl's shoulder. "You want us to let her go now, aniki?"

"Hmm," said Arisu, putting a delicate finger to her lips. "No, I don't think so. I don't think she meant it. Keep her still." With that she dropped the drawing into the sink. Her hand hovered over the faucet's spigot.

"No!" That was Yayoi Kise, fourteen years old, small for her age and timid as a newborn mouse. She shook her head back and forth, the blond curls that framed her cute round face shaking with the motion. Once more she pulled against the hands of the two larger girls flanking her, trying to escape, trying to save her precious drawing from what she knew was going to happen… Tears spilled freely from her wide brown eyes. "S-Sato-sama, d-don't do it! You m-mustn't!"

"Aww, look at that!" Arisu's laugh was musical; it echoed pleasantly in the small space, off the polished tiles. "See, I knew you'd start crying. Hidariko, you owe me five-hundred yen." Her smile changed, morphing from the pleasant one she wore for her parents and teachers into a sadistic smirk. "I guess it makes sense, really. The crybaby watches baby shows like Taiyoman."

"I-it's not…" Yayoi sobbed, unable to get words out. "I-I-I'm not a-"

"Yes you are," said Arisu coolly. "You're a baby, and you always will be, Kise. You just can't grow up… For God's sake, you're what, fourteen? You really think you can get anywhere in life doodling superheroes from toku shows all day?"

"I… I…"

"Really, I'm doing you a favor. Maybe this year you'll learn your lesson." With that, she twisted the spigot. A jet of cold water poured from the faucet, soaking the paper through instantly. Taiyoman's trademark mask and armor slid away, the graphite lines melting into wet pulp.

The first few times they had done this, Yayoi had wailed in despair. Now she simply watched in silence, tears rolling down her round cheeks as her work faded away into the water. She sagged against the hands holding her. There was no point in struggling now. They had won, like they always did.

After a minute, Arisu shut the water off. Gingerly she fished the sodden piece of paper out of the sink basin, holding it between thumb and forefinger as if it were poisonous. "Now you can let her go, you two."

They did; Yayoi stumbled to the tile floor, dropping to her hands and knees, unable and unwilling to look up at her tormentors. Droplets of water fell from her lashes, dripping into the gaps between the tiles. Then something else began to fall around her… scraps of wet paper.

"We'd better get back to class," said Arisu. "Sensei might catch on if we're late. Kise?" She squatted down on her haunches before Yayoi. "You're not going to tell anyone about our fun, right?"

Yayoi's lip trembled. "No."

"No what, Kise?"

The rest of her joined in the trembling. "No, Sato-sama."

"Good. We'll see you after school." Three pairs of soles clicked across the floor, pushed the door open, and left her behind, her only company the sound of the dripping faucet.

Why? Why can't I do anything?

She knew very well why; Arisu's last warning was hardly necessary. Weak, people called her when they thought she couldn't hear. Coward, wimp, whiny little crybaby. All of it was true. Yayoi couldn't even muster up the courage to tell her teachers about Arisu and her lackeys… standing up to her personally was out of the question. Not that the teachers would believe her if she did tell; in their eyes, Arisu could do no wrong.

So for weeks now, she had simply let it happen, putting up token resistance, always anticipating the moment when they had had their fun and would leave her alone. She was too small and timid to fight back… trying to do so would only make Arisu do worse than tear up her drawings.

Yayoi curled into a ball on the floor, hugging her knees tight against her chin. I could stay like this, she thought. I could just stay here until the end of the day. Nobody would notice me, and when the bell rings I can just get my bag and go home.

No, that wouldn't work. Hadn't Arisu already said they would be waiting for her? Fresh tears began to fall. She tried to curl up tighter, and something poked her side.

Her sketchbook… they had left it behind. Through some small mercy, or maybe just a short attention span, Arisu had only ruined one drawing today. The rest were still intact. Smiling just a little despite herself, Yayoi flipped through the pages: Taiyoman punching a boulder and shattering it into dust, Taiyoman rescuing people from a burning building, Taiyoman piloting the immense Taiyo Majin to battle invading aliens…

It wasn't just Taiyoman that she loved, though he was her favorite. Super Sentai, Metal Heroes, Kamen Rider, Rescue Force… she watched them all. Anything with a superhero excited her; at home she even had a sizeable number of American comic books, mostly Justice League and the X-Men, though there were many others that most people in Japan had never heard of: Power Pack. The Howling Commandoes. Hawk and Dove. Sandman. She loved them all, loved slipping into adventures where people in brightly-colored costumes could harness amazing powers to overcome impossible odds. They fascinated and thrilled her, and her greatest ambition in life was to become a manga-ka and create those kinds of adventures for herself, and for other people. They were her escape from a world that all too often seemed to side with real-life supervillains.

No one understood her passion. Akane, Nao, and Reika chatted with her occasionally, but she didn't dare tell them about her drawings or her love of superheroes… they would never understand. Worse still, they might turn out like Arisu and make fun of her for it, or even worse, join in the torment…

Yayoi sat up and hugged her sketchbook tightly to herself, burying it in the folds of her yellow cardigan. Shivering, she whispered to the empty bathroom: "I wish I could make them see." Then, speaking louder than she ever dared in front of other people, "I wish I could make them respect my drawings. Respect me…"

The last thing Yayoi Kise ever expected was for someone to hear her make that wish. Or rather, something. A pair of round red eyes gazed unblinkingly at her from the bathroom windowsill. There was a creature sitting there where none had been before, swishing its bushy tail back and forth with interest. It tilted its head, and it spoke to her in her mind, its voice cool and clinical as a surgeon's knife. Is that really what you wish for, Yayoi Kise?

Yayoi's head jerked up. She whirled around and let out a very small scream, more like a squeak than anything else. Something was sitting on the windowsill, a creature sort of like a cat and sort of like a rabbit. And it was talking… not out loud, but speaking telepathically. Talking to her, with no hint of scorn or mockery in its cool voice. "Who… who are you? What are you?" she said to it, strangely unafraid.

My name is Kyubey, it said. I'm a Messenger of Magic.

"Messenger of Magic…?" Yayoi repeated, her brown eyes going wide. Inside, some small part of her screamed with excitement: This is it. You always dreamed of this happening to you, and now it's happening. It's real, it's real…

Yes, said Kyubey. Your wish summoned me to you, Yayoi Kise. I can grant you that wish.

Her eyes sparkled with hope of an impossible desire being fulfilled. "R-Really? You're not joking? You can really… grant my wish?"

The creature nodded. Indeed. All you need to do is make a contract with me, and become a magical girl…