DISCLAIMER: Love Hina belongs to Ken Akamatsu. Other characters belong to their respective owners. This story however, belongs to me. Feel free to repost it anywhere, as long as you give due credit.

Author's Notes
This was something unique to write. With the earlier chapters, I would start with a plot in my mind. This time I wrote down different events in a document and expanded on that. In addition, based on feedback on another story I tried a different approach in the writing style. It lasted for about two-thirds of the chapter.

The result is that this chapter is both planned in plot and disjoint in execution. I actually had a good mind to redo the entire thing, but my betas tell me that it isn't that horrible. Their support and my laziness is why I decided to publish the chapter as it is. Hopefully you readers will like it.

You can thank rukia8492 and EagleCeres (both from TFF) for convincing me that this isn't horrible. Further appreciation should be extended to bespa, EagleCeres and Without Remorse (all TFF) for fixing minor spelling, grammar and other miscellaneous things that crept in.

Nearly forgot, there is an association between Kanako and cardboard boxes that gets mentioned here - credit goes to Antimatter (TFF) for the idea. Also, I need to thank HotelKatz(FFN) for reminding me about Moe in a review. Technically, she gets her first dialog in this chapter.

Hmm... I just realized - with this chapter the story will cross the 100k word limit. Wow! Ironic that it happens with a chapter I'm uncomfortable with.


Alternate Universe Story so far:
Keitaro Urashima (20 years old), a mage-in-training has agreed to 'try out' an engagement with Motoko Aoyama (19 years old) a master of the Shinmei-ryu style of kenjutsu. They will formally decide within the next 4 months if they should continue onto a marriage or not. In the meantime, Keitaro is pursuing a dual-degree program at Tokyo University while Motoko is preparing for a second attempt at the Toudai entrance exam (she failed the first time).

The two of them have accepted guardianship over a young girl named Shinobu Maehara (12 years old) while her mother is out of station. The little one is living with them at the Inn and bakes cakes as a hobby at school.

Kanako Urashima (17 years old), Keitaro's sister has come to the Inn on a visit. She's followed everywhere by her cat-familiar Kuro-chan.

Last chapter, Motoko saved a couple of highschool girls from being molested by perverts and met a rude student named Naru Narusegawa (18 years old) from her preparatory school. Shinobu mentioned an issue involving a cursed doll at her school and was formally introduced to Keitaro's kitchen.

Ronin & Sophomore

=A Love Hina fanfiction=
(chapter - 10)

Start of a Promise

Kitchen, Hinata Inn

"Good morning Shinobu-chan!" greeted Keitaro as the girl walked into the kitchen.

"Good morning Keitaro-sempai …" she trailed off stifling a small yawn.

"You woke up rather early today." he commented turning to a nearby cupboard. Opening the cupboard door, he took out a bowl from inside. "We still have plenty of time before breakfast." Placing the bowl on the counter, he poured some batter into it. Then holding it up in his left arm, started stirring the mixture with a spoon in his right hand.

Shinobu watched her sempai prepare breakfast with admiration. It was comforting to watch people work in the kitchen as they prepared the various dishes. When she stayed with her mother, Shinobu would stand next to her and listen as Mama explained how each dish was prepared. Her mother wasn't a very good teacher however and the result was that Shinobu didn't learn much from her - other than baking.

"Can you teach me your style of cooking, sempai?" answered the girl settling into a nearby chair. "The food you make is really delicious."

"But aren't you good at baking cakes?" he asked, puzzled at her request.

"Baking is just about the only thing I can do in the kitchen." admitted the girl with a small sigh. "When I try to make anything else, some problem or the other pops up." she frowned in conclusion.

Keitaro satisfied with his batter mix, placed the bowl on the table. He then picked up a teflon pan and turned on the stove. As the pan got warm enough, he poured some of the batter over it and spread it evenly with his wooden spoon.

"What kind of problems?" he asked, slowly raising his left eyebrow.

Next, he adjusted the flame to the lowest setting and moved towards the fridge. Opening fridge-kun with a gentle pull, he extracted a container from inside and closed the fridge door. Picking a clean cup from the drying area, he poured some milk into it and placed the drink on the table in front of his ward.

"All kinds of problems." complained the girl. "Even my miso soup turns out bad."

She picked up the cup with both her hands and raised it to her lips. She closed her eyes as she drank her milk. Meanwhile, Keitaro resumed his position near stove-chan and turned a knob to increase the heat.

"That is a bit too vague for me to help." he pointed out. "Perhaps you could describe what happened the last time you made miso soup?"

Shinobu placed the cup back on the table and was about to answer when she heard someone barge into the room. Turning her head towards the door she spotted her sempai's sister followed by her cat-familiar, Kuro-chan.

"Good morning everyone!" announced Kanako as she entered the kitchen with a smile and waved her hand towards the others present.

"Good Morning Kanako-chan/Kanako-san." came their responses.

"What's for breakfast Onii-san?" asked Kanako as she walked towards the fridge.

"I'm making pancakes today." he replied. "How many do you want?"

"About four or five, I guess." she answered as she took out a carton of chilled orange juice. Next, she took a glass from the counter and poured herself a drink. After gulping it down, she placed the used glass in the sink and looked around the kitchen searching for the last member of their household.

"Is Onee-san still sleeping?" she asked, not expecting it to be true.

"You mean Motoko? She's training at the clearing in the forest."

"Errr …" trailed Kanako as she returned a blank stare towards Keitaro. He started back at her for a few minutes before blinking twice as he realized his mistake.

"Oh right! We have more than one clearing around here, don't we?" he said. Trying to be a bit more clear he continued, "Do you remember the one deep in the forest, which has a small waterfall and stream? We used to swim there when we were younger. Motoko should be there right now."

Kanako started at the ceiling as she recollected the location of the clearing. After a few minutes, her eyes lit up in recognition and she turned to leave the kitchen.

"I'll go visit her then. Do you think she'll mind?" she asked taking a step towards the exit.

"As long as you don't disturb her, it should be fine I guess." answered her brother as he poured some batter over the pan preparing the next pancake.

"I won't!" shouted Kanako as she left the room.

Shinobu silently sipped her milk as she watched her sempai make the next pancake. She lifted the cup vertically in the air over her head as she finished it's contents. Getting up, she walked towards the sink and placed the cup inside. It would get washed later on.

"Motoko-sempai doesn't practise behind the Inn?" she asked, confused about her other sempai's exercise spot. She watched as Keitaro-sempai moved a finished pancake off the teflon pan and prepare the next one. As he spread the batter with his wooden spoon he replied,

"She needed a location away from the building. Motoko might need to practise advanced sword moves and it would be troublesome to damage the Inn by accident. The clearing where she is now, is far enough from the building that it's no longer an issue. In addition to being an ideal training spot, there is also a small pond and stream located in that area. Not to mention a little waterfall as well. It's a nice spot for relaxation."

"Is it really that nice a place, sempai?" asked Shinobu dreaming of the location in her mind.

"It sure is!" he replied as he finished making the pancakes, turning off the flame on top of the stove.

"Can I go see it too?"

"Hmmm..." trailed off Keitaro as he began stroking his chin with his right hand. "It's right in the middle of the forest and not easy to get to. You are more likely to get hurt if you go there by yourself."

"Oh …" mumbled Shinobu with disappointment in her voice.

"On the other hand, I could accompany you there." suggested Keitaro when he saw her sad face. "Tell you what - why don't I take you there this Sunday? We could have our own little picnic as well!"

"Will you really take me there, Keitaro-sempai?" asked Shinobu with stars in her eyes as she looked at him with both her fists below her chin.

"I will." he answered. Keitaro couldn't help but smile as the younger girl squealed in response. "Now, how would you like to try your hand at cooking a pancake or two?"

Exercise clearing, Forest near Hinata Inn

Kanako wore an expression of disbelief as she entered the clearing. The small waterfall was just as she remembered it, so was the little pond and the stream flowing out of it. What was unexpected was the state of the trees in the area. Most of them had cut marks on their trunks and branches. The grass on the left side of the pond was mostly eroded. She sighed in relief as the grass on the right side had been spared and was still green.

At the very center of the open space on the left side, with no grass growing around her, stood her future sister-in-law. Kanako waved her right hand above her head as she approached and saw Motoko nod back before resuming her exercises. There were a few big rocks near the pond and Kanako sat on one of the smaller ones. She watched as Motoko swung her bokken up and down.







She got bored of watching the kendoist exercise after a few minutes. Kanako yawned and looked up at the sky. A few clouds floated around, but it didn't look as if it would rain. Kuro-chan, who had accompanied her to the clearing, meowed sitting next to her.

When Kanako bent her head down to look back at Motoko, she noticed that the kendoist had changed her exercise pattern. Now she was sheathing her bokken on her waist and practising the action of pulling it out.

Kanako let out a long sigh. She had not expected much when she left the Inn, but she hoped that Motoko might have been in a mood for idle conversation. Watching the kendoist practise so hard, Kanako felt that it would be rude to interrupt. So she decided to proceed with her backup plan instead.

Kanako had brought a towel with her when she came to the clearing. She put it down on one of the neater rocks nearby and took off her blouse, placing it next to the towel. Her shorts followed soon after. Standing fully nude, she began doing a simple warm up exercise next to the pond.

Finishing her current set, Motoko paused her exercise routine and looked at the younger girl with skepticism. About 30 seconds went by before her curiosity got the better of her.

"Kanako-chan, what are you doing?" she asked the other girl.

"Exactly what it looks like Onee-san." replied Kanako. "I'm doing a few warm up exercises."

Motoko lowered her eyelids in a flat stare and morphed her mouth into a straight line.

"I can see that. What I meant is - why?"

Finishing her warm up routine Kanako stood up and turned to face the older girl.

"I want to swim in the pond." she answered. "It's considered healthy to exercise a bit before jumping into the water."

"Aren't you …" Motoko trailed off as she struggled trying to address the issue as tactfully as she could.

" … exposing yourself a bit too much?" she finally asked.

Kanako blinked once in puzzlement and raised one of her eyebrows. Kuro-chan meowed from the side swinging her tail.

"From what? It's not like a stranger can easily sneak into this compound and catch any of us unawares." She smiled in a cat-like manner and posed her body by placing one hand on her hips and the other behind her back.

" … Or perhaps you swing this way?" she asked suggestively. "If it's Onee-san, I don't -"

"No!" she answered, quickly turned her head to the side to avoid looking at Kanako. "And can you please behave a bit more appropriately?"

Motoko heard a splash. She turned to see Kanako neck-deep in the pond, idly making ripples on the water surface with her hands. Kuro-chan was sitting by the side of the pond and watching her master. Letting out a sigh the kendoist walked towards the edge of the pond and sat on one of the nearby rocks.

"When you say that a stranger cannot easily sneak in here" she wondered "What exactly do you mean by it?"

Kanako swam away from her with a backstroke. Motoko saw that the girl's chest was above the water surface as she swam. The female swordmaster unconsciously smiled as she realized that her own assets were bigger. Kanako stopped when she reached the other end of the pond and stood up, with the water surface at her waist level. The clear water dripping off her wet hair flowed into the pond.

"We have wards around the property." she explained. "Surely you must have noticed the small vibrations that ripple across the aura of the Hinata Sou when someone enters or leaves the place? You've been living here long enough."

"That could very well explain what I've been feeling for some time now." answered Motoko raising her right hand to her lips. "The ripple was so faint that if it weren't for the fact that it appeared as a perfect circle, I would have dismissed it as ambient noise. I will need to run a few tests to confirm your explanation."

"Guess it's different for everyone. It's very unlikely that Shinobu would feel it, but you being a swordmaster should be able to sense it. Try reaching out a bit more when you know someone is leaving or entering." explained Kanako. "The feeling is a bit more pronounced if someone with harmful intent enters the place."

"I'll keep that in mind." said Motoko nodding her head. "But even ignoring outsiders, this isn't like some female-only dormitory you know. There is a male present as well."

"You mean Onii-san?" asked the girl in the water. "He's busy with Shinobu-chan in the kitchen. It's very unlikely that he would come over here right now."

"Nevertheless," started the kendoist, "there are matters of principle that should be followed." with a frown she continued, "I do not think it is appropriate for you to be walking or swimming around without covering yourself."

"Perhaps" suggested Kanako as she grew a smirk, "you are worried that I will steal Onii-san away from you?"

"I doubt if I need to worry about Keitaro falling for his own sister." replied Motoko with a small smile. "If that really was an option, Granny Hina would not have needed to arrange Omiai meetings for him."

"Actually …" trailed off Kanako with a small voice. She brought her hands in front of her chest, bent her head down down and began playing with her fingers, "I'm not his real sister."

"Pardon?" asked a confused Motoko with raised eyebrows.

"It was years ago." answered Kanako, still standing waist-deep in the water. "I was still an infant when Keitaro found me in a cardboard box and took me to his house. I've lived with him ever since."

"That …" trailed off Motoko as she tried to be polite, "is an intriguing story." She blinked once and asked politely, "If you don't mind, can you share the details with me?"

"It's best to tell it when Onii-san is around." replied Kanako shaking her head. "Ask again some other time."

She then swam towards Motoko, stopping a few meters away from the kendoist. Kanako took a deep breath as she composed herself.

"More importantly, I need to know." she began, still neck-deep in the water. "What are your feelings for Onii-san? Do you like him? Or are you planning to leave afterwards?"

The kendoist blinked in surprise at the sudden question. She was about to dismiss it as playful teasing when she looked at Kanako's eyes. The younger girl was serious and seemed to be focusing her attention on her. Blood-relation issues aside, this was the sister of her fiancé and as such, was entitled to ask that question Motoko decided.

"I'm not really sure." she admitted. "We did agree to give each other a chance and so far, I find him promising. If things continue in this manner, I guess the day will come when I will eventually call him my husband." she concluded with a small blush over her cheeks.

"I'm glad to hear that." said Kanako nodding her head. "At first I was worried if Onii-san would find a real girl attractive, but I can tell that he has a soft spot for you."

She smiled at Motoko and began climbing out of the water.

"What are you talking about?" asked the kendoist watching the other girl pick up her towel from the rocks.

"I've tried seducing him myself" admitted the girl as she started to dry herself. "But he's never shown any reaction to my advances."

Motoko blinked back in shock at the honest confession.

"At first I was worried if it was because of my body, or if I was not feminine enough." continued the girl as she finished drying her legs and began to wipe the water off her arms. "So I tried going out with a few other guys."

Kanako then moved the towel over her head and began to dry her hair. Kuro-chan meowed from the side.

"I'm proud to say that I've been able to seduce any man I've had my eye on till now." she said with a smirk. "Some of the other girls in class used to call me a succubus."

She finished drying her hair and reached out for her blouse.

"And when I say seduce," she began as she put on the garment, "I mean that I've gone all the way!"

Motoko just stared at the younger girl speechless. Kanako wasn't finished talking.

"But no matter what I've tried, Onii-san has never seen me that way. I've been worried for some time if he was gay or not." she said as she bent down and pulled up her shorts. Buttoning them up she continued, "Hmm … I never thanked you for saving me, did I?"

Kanako stood up and looked at Motoko's eyes. She pointed her right hand at the kendoist and exclaimed,

"As repayment, I've decided to help you hook up with Onii-san!"

Unfortunately, Motoko's head was spinning in confusion and she was just swaying on the spot. The kendoist hadn't been paying attention after Kanako admitted to seducing her own brother. Or at least, attempting to.

Did it mean that Keitaro's sister was a pervert? She would have to punish her then! But it didn't seem like anyone was hurt or abused, so what did that mean? Was this proper decorum? Girls should not act like this! But there Kanako was right in front of her. She needed to be punished but …

Not realizing that she had short-circuited her future sister-in-law, Kanako grabbed her hand and led them both back to the Inn saying,

"Come on, it's almost time for breakfast. We better return soon or else Onii-san won't be too happy!"

Kitchen, Hinata Inn

Everyone was sitting around the kitchen table eating breakfast. Kuro-chan was on the floor eating off her bowl.

"This is really good Keitaro-sempai!" praised Shinobu as she bit into her second pancake.

"I must say, it is quite excellent." agreed Motoko. "Did you try a new cooking technique or something?"

"Guess it must be the flour I used." replied the chef. "I tried out a different brand today."

"It makes a difference?" asked Shinobu looking towards Keitaro.

"It does." he said giving her a small nod. "After all, if you don't use the best ingredients you can find, how can you expect your cooking to be the best you can produce?"

"Hmm... I see." replied the blue haired girl.

"Onii-san, are you teaching Shinobu-chan how to cook?" asked Kanako while spreading some honey over her pancake.

"She already knows how. I'm just giving her some pointers."

"Then consider yourself lucky Shinobu-chan." said Kanako as she chewed her pancake. "Onii-san *munch* is a world-class chef!"

"Speaking of which, have you ever tried participating in a cooking contest, Keitaro?" suggested Motoko towards her fiancé.

"You mean you haven't told them yet?!" exclaimed Kanako raising her eyebrows and stared at her brother.

"It's not like I won anything, now is it?" replied Keitaro, subconsciously scratching his head.

"What is it Keitaro-sempai?" asked the youngest member at the table, looking at her senior with admiration. "What happened?"

Kanako turned towards her and explained with a proud voice,

"About 2 years ago, Onii-san almost made it to the quarterfinals of the 'Iron Chef' cooking contest!"

"Waaahhh!" exclaimed Shinobu. "That's the contest they hold every year to find new cooking talent. And you can only participate once in a lifetime!"

Motoko blinked as she recollected,

"Yes, I think I remember hearing about it on TV. But it has never been won by a male since that one boy from Fuyuki City seven years ago."

Kanako smiled back at the kendoist and clarified,

"I never said he won the contest. But he was really, really close. There were about 14 or 15 competitors and Onii-chan almost made it through!"

"It is most impressive, even if you didn't win." praised Motoko looking at her fiancé. "Any idea why you lost?"

"I wasn't close to the kitchen." he replied with a sigh.

"What?" asked the confused kendoist.

"I'm more used to my kitchen here." answered Keitaro waving his hand around them. "My appliances know me and I know them. But back in the contest, the organizers wouldn't let me use them."

"I do not think I understand." puzzled his fiancée. "Are you telling me that you cannot cook in another kitchen?"

Keitaro paused and looked over his kitchen as he formulated his answer.

"How do I say this? It's not that I cannot cook elsewhere - I can. But … it's kind of like borrowing someone else's shoes. You can walk in them, but you just can't feel the comfort of your own."

"Hmm ... I see." answered the kendoist. Curiously enough, everyone at the table felt that the appliances were preening towards Keitaro after his admission. Motoko personally felt that the affection coming from fridge-kun was the strongest but decided not to comment on it. She didn't think it would be appropriate ruining the moment.

After a few minutes Kanako turned towards Shinobu and asked,

"Hey Shinobu-chan?"

"Yes, Kanako-san?"

"Are you old enough for your monthly visitor now?"

Shinobu nearly choked on her food and had a difficult time swallowing. She quickly drank some water before replying with a huge blush,

"Yes … but why are you asking?"

"Oh good. Then I don't need to worry about taking about those kind of things in front of you." answered Kanako.

At this point Keitaro let out a very audible sigh.

"Kanako, please do not start talking about your eroge collection at the breakfast table." he said interrupting their conversation. "We've already discussed this and I thought I made it clear that it is not a suitable topic for everyday morning conversation."

"Darn it …" trailed off his sister as she mumbled about the unfairness of it all. Suddenly her eyes lit up and with an innocent voice asked,

"Onii-chan, do you find Motoko-san attractive?"

Keitaro blinked on hearing the question. Motoko just slowed down her chewing and glanced towards her fiancé wondering what his reply would be. While he may have confessed that he found her beautiful, she was curious to know if he would openly admit it as well.

"Where did this come from?" he asked taken aback.

"Answer the question Onii-chan! As your imouto, I'm very concerned about your relationship."

He blinked a few more times towards his sister. Turning his head to glance at his fiancé, he found her smiling back at him waiting for a reply. Keitaro mentally wondered why the women were ganging up on him.

"It's not like I'm trying to keep it a secret or anything … but I do find her attractive." he answered with a light blush. "Now tell me, why did you ask that?"

"I find your answer difficult to believe." countered Kanako.

"What?!" exclaimed both Keitaro and Motoko simultaneously. Silence loomed over the breakfast table before Shinobu decided to ask,

"How can you say that Kanako-san? True, I do not know Keitaro-sempai as long as you have, but he seems to be happy with Motoko-sempai. … at least, to me he does."

"I did not say that he's unhappy with her." clarified Kanako shaking her head. "What I'm more worried about is if Onii-san really finds Motoko-san attractive?"

Twisting his mouth into half a frown and raising one of his eyebrows Keitaro commented,

"Knowing you, I'm almost certain that I'm going to regret this - but I'm going to ask anyway. If for no other reason than to satisfy the others sitting here. What exactly are you talking about imouto?"

His sister knit her eyebrows closer together, raised her right hand and pointed a finger at him saying,

"If you really do find her attractive, then why is she still a virgin?"

The stunned silence that hung over the table lasted even longer this time. Kanako took a deep breath before continuing,

"It appears to me Onii-san that you have no idea how to express your feelings. The same goes for Onee-san as well. But don't you two worry, I'm here to help."

She suddenly got up from the table, pointed towards her chest with her right thumb and announced,

"I give you my word as an eroge-otaku Onii-san and Onee-san, that neither of you need to worry about holding back. I will work my hardest to ensure that Onii-san makes Onee-san a real woman as soon as possible!"

Kanako then got up from the table, picked up her used plate and placed it in the sink. Ignoring everyone's shocked expressions she said the customary "Thank you for the food" as she left the kitchen. It wasn't until two whole minutes had passed did Motoko break the silence by asking,

"What … just happened?"

"I don't want to know" answered her fiancé as he shook his head. "I really don't want to know."

Front gate, Hinata Inn

"Looks like we split up here. See you in the evening Shinobu-chan." said Motoko as she waved her right hand towards to the younger girl who was heading off in the opposite direction. "Take care!"

"I will. Have a good day, Motoko-sempai!" replied Shinobu as she ran off towards her school.

Motoko turned and began to walk towards the metro station. It was a cloudy day and she had packed a small umbrella in her bag. She wondered what her teachers would discuss when she turned a corner and nearly bumped into a familiar face.

"Ah! Good morning Motoko-sempai." greeted the highschool girl in front of her. It took Motoko a few minutes to regain her bearings. When she did she smiled back and replied,

"Good morning to you too Sachiyo-chan." Motoko paused while she gathered her thoughts. It seemed odd to be meeting up with Sachiyo Matsumoto at this time.

"What are you doing here?" she asked in a confused voice. "It's dangerous to just stand behind a corner like that. I nearly bumped into you."

"I was waiting for you." answered the chestnut haired girl enthusiastically.

"Huh?" wondered the kendoist.

"Do you not like my company?" asked the shorter girl with a whimper. Motoko released a sigh and answered,

"I do not mind. It's just that I find it really strange that you would want to wait for me. We don't even attend the same institution."

"I still want to walk with you."

"Come along then. I do not want to be late for my class and neither should you." said Motoko as she began to walk towards the metro station. Sachiyo followed a step behind, to her side.

The two of them eventually got on a metro train compartment and stood next to each other. After a few minutes Sachiyo asked,

"Motoko-sempai, where do you normally have lunch?"

"I haven't settled into a routine yet, but I ate in the park around noon yesterday."

"Can I join you there today then?"

"I see no reason why not." replied the kendoist.

"It's settled then!" exclaimed the younger girl brightly. For the rest of the trip Sachiyo wore an attractive smile on her face.

When their stop came, the two of them got out and went their separate ways. Motoko to her preparatory school and Sachiyo to her high school.

Living room, Hinata Inn

Keitaro and Kanako had just sent their housemates off and were relaxing in front of the television. After a few minutes Kanako asked,

"How come we only have 2 channels on TV, Onii-san?"

"Because these are the only free channels our antenna can pick up right now." answered Keitaro.

"Is there any special reason why we are not subscribing to cable TV, like most other people?"

"Actually, I did put in a request with the cable company. But there have been delays in laying the wiring to our compound. Hopefully, everything will be set up by next week."

"What about internet access?" asked Kanako with some concern. "I buy most of my games online and there is a new eroge coming out in 2 weeks!"

"For now we are getting on by with our cellphones, but a physical wire will be pulled in along with the cable TV." replied Keitaro.

"I hope so …" trailed off Kanako. "It will be dull playing the same old games again and again."

She turned off the TV and the two of them sat in silence for a few minutes. Kuro-chan walked up next to Kanako's legs and began rubbing against them. Unconsciously, she bent down to scratch the cat's ear.

Keitaro suddenly got up, put his hands behind his back and stretched. He blinked his eyes a few times to get rid of the drowsy feeling in them.

"We'd better get to work imouto."

"With what?" questioned Kanako. "It's too early to start making lunch."

Keitaro shook his head in dismissal and pointed to the stack of cardboard boxes next to them.

"I mean the unpacking. It will be good to get my old wardrobe back. Which boxes have our clothes?"

Kanako got up and walked towards the boxes. She spent a few minutes searching among them before she located what she was looking for.

"It's in these Onii-san!"

She pointed to a few boxes stacked in the far corner.

"Among all the boxes, the most important ones get pushed back in the corner." complained Keitaro. "It's going to take some time getting those out. So … which boxes are mine and which are yours?"

"What are you talking about? They are all our boxes." replied Kanako.

"No" replied her brother shaking his head. "I mean, which ones have your clothes and which ones have mine?"

Kanako brought a finger under her chin as she thought about the answer. With a small light bulb flashing over her head she replied,

"The ones wrapped in red tape have our underwear and the ones with blue tape have our everyday clothes. The more formal clothes were packed in the boxes with black tape."

Keitaro nodded as he processed her answer. He looked at the boxes when he suddenly realized something.

"Wait … did you pack our underwear in the same box?"

"Of course! Is there a problem? You wash them together anyway." replied Kanako.

Looking a bit uneasy Keitaro answered,

"I'm not exactly sure … but why did you do that? It would have been easier to just dump a box with your stuff and another with mine. Why go to all the trouble to pack our clothes based on their category?"

"I wanted to protect myself." mumbled Kanako as she turned her head away hiding a small blush. Keitaro blinked in confusion.

"I do not understand."

"The customs officials sometimes open the boxes to check for contraband and I didn't want them to see my underwear. You always hear of some pervert or the other stealing them and the thought made me uncomfortable."

She took a deep breath before facing him again and continued,

"So I sandwiched my unmentionables between your underwear Onii-san. That way, if they open the box, the only thing they'll see is your stuff."

She moved up and peered at the boxes. "On the good side, it doesn't look like any of the seals on the boxes were disturbed, so I needn't have worried. Still, better safe than sorry, right?"

Letting out a long sigh Keitaro began to scratch his head as he said,

"So let me get this straight - your underwear is literally sandwiched between mine in those boxes? And I'm guessing it's a similar story for our other clothes as well?"

Kanako nodded with a smile and said,

"That's right!" Kuro-chan meowed for added emphasis from her side.

Keitaro pulled back his right hand and began to slowly spin it around in the air. Adjusting his shoulders he said,

"Alright, lets get to work then! We'll move all those boxes to the laundry room. At least we have an industrial size washing machine here, so it shouldn't take too long."

"But why Onii-san?" whined Kanako. "I can assure you that they were all clean when I packed and there is no evidence of the boxes having been opened by anyone else!"

With a wry smile Keitaro looked back at his sister and said,

"As you mentioned before imouto - better safe than sorry."

Kanako grumbled unhappily as she helped him move the boxes.

Kitchen, Hinata Inn

"That was exhausting!" exclaimed Keitaro as he plopped himself onto one of the kitchen chairs. He had spent a good portion of the morning moving boxes from the living room to the laundry room. Then it was a matter of unpacking the contents and sorting the clothes, after which they needed to be washed and hung to dry. Needless to say, he wasn't brimming with energy anymore.

"You should have let me help out a bit more, rather than just the simple tasks." admonished his sister as she sat on a chair across the table from him. He looked back at her with a tired expression and said,

"No way. You still have a bit more recovery to do and I refuse to allow you to perform any strenuous tasks for the rest of the day."

"But Onii-san, I am a lot better at our healing arts now. Didn't I correctly deduce that Onee-san is still a virgin? Besides, my body feels fine to me."

"Imouto, just listen to your older brother for now alright? It's just till the end of the day. You can do whatever you feel like from tomorrow." he replied to the latter half of her assessment. Keitaro felt it best not to address the former part any time soon. Knowing his sister, she would start giving him 'suggestions' and in her more enthusiastic moments, live demonstrations. For the time being, he didn't want to deal with it.

Kanako frowned back at him and looked around the kitchen. When she noticed Kuro-chan purring at her legs, she got up from the chair and poured some milk for her into her bowl at one of the kitchen corners.

Her brother stood up from his chair with a big yawn.

"I better get started on lunch now." he said.

As Kanako looked around the kitchen her eyes fell on the toaster sitting on the shelf. She got an idea and asked,

"Wait a minute Onii-san. Can we have toast instead?"

"Huh?" asked her brother with confusion.

"We never had a toaster back in London and I want to play with Toaster-chan right now."

Keitaro looked from his sister to the toaster. Toaster-chan wasn't normally called for lunch meals and she seemed enthusiastic at the prospect. Turning back to his sister he said,

"Well, it looks like toaster-chan wants to give it a try, so why not? Just be gentle with her, alright?"

Nodding towards her brother Kanako went to the counter and picked the toaster from the shelf. She placed it on the counter and plugged in the appliance. Turning her head back to the table she asked her brother,

"How do I use her?"

"Well …" started Keitaro idly scratching his head, "there's not much to it. Just turn the dial for how long you want the toasting done, put in the bread slices and push down the handle on the side. When the time is up the bread will pop out."

Kanako took two bread slices from the side and put them in. She turned the knob for the minimum of 1 minute and using the handle on the side, pushed the bread in. She watched with open curiosity as the bread got toasted and popped out. She gave one slice to her brother and ate the other one.

"Yum! This is a lot easier than using the stove." she commented.

"Oh right. Back in London we didn't have a toaster and made toast with a pan on stove-chan."

"I want to do this a few more times. You won't really mind toast for lunch, will you Onii-san?" asked Kanako wanting to make sure that her brother was alright with the idea.

"I'm just hungry right now and don't really care. Go right ahead, imouto."

"Excellent! It's just you and me toaster-chan. We're going to have some fun times together. Just the two of us." said Kanako with glee in her voice. Keitaro could feel similar enthusiasm coming from his toaster.

The next 30 minutes were among the most bizarre he had ever seen in his kitchen. After the second round of toast Kanako decided to try a few different approaches.

"What if I try lowering the bread in slowly? Do you like that toaster-chan?" said Kanako as she placed the bread in the two slots and pushed the handle down very slowly. Keitaro felt toaster-chan strain herself a bit, but it wasn't damaging and the appliance seemed to take it as a challenge.

"Let's try it from the sides next. I'm going to put in the bread on it's side now." This time instead of placing the bread in horizontally, she put it in vertically. The result was that a bit of the bread was sticking out of the toaster, even if it was fully pushed in.

"I'm going to tease you now!" exclaimed Kanako as she pushed the bread in. But this time, instead of pushing it all the way through, she held the handle just above the point where it would get locked. She let go and watched the unheated bread pop out. She pushed again and repeated the process a few more times before finally letting it latch.

Keitaro was a bit worried about toaster-chan's springs getting damaged and he was going to voice his concerns aloud to Kanako when he felt his toaster. The little thing actually seemed to be in bliss! Actually, it felt a bit more than that. Realizing that he risked his toaster hating him for the rest of his life if he dared to interrupt, he just kept quiet. And watched. He had to watch of course. It was his precious little toaster-chan after all!

When lunch was finally over, the two them were stuffed with toast. Kanako rubbed her cheek against the side of the toaster and said,

She gave the toaster a small kiss on the side and turned to address her brother.

"I'm going to take a nap in my room now. Is that alright?"

"Sure, no problem." he replied with a bemused expression.

"Come on Kuro-chan!" said Kanako and Keitaro watched the two of them leave the kitchen. After a few minutes of silence had passed he turned to the toaster and said in a teasing voice,

"You like her, don't you? I can't remember eating toast this delicious before."

He felt the other appliances in the kitchen agree with him. From toaster-chan on the other hand, he felt a really huge blush of embarrassment.

Outside the Preparatory school

Motoko stepped out for lunch and was heading towards the nearby park when she heard someone call her name. Looking around she spotted a highschool girl running towards her. She stopped walking and recognized the figure approaching her.

"Hello Emi-chan!" she greeted the smaller girl. "Do you need something from me?"

Emi Ichikawa came next to her and paused for a few moments while her breath caught up with her.

"-pant- Good afternoon -pant- Motoko-sempai. -pant-"

"Is this some kind of emergency?" asked Motoko with some concern. It didn't appear that the girl in front of her was in any trouble, rather she just appeared to be very tired.

Emi shook her head in dismissal and said,

"No … -pant-"

"Then take a few deep breaths and calm yourself. Why were you running?"

Emi took her advice and collected herself. When she was done she answered,

"I was looking for you Motoko-sempai. You told me that you went to a nearby preparatory school, but I waited in front of the wrong one! It wasn't until the lunch rush thinned out did I remember that there was another school near here. What is this one called anyway?"

Motoko looked back towards the glass doors of her preparatory school. It was a sleek building, but there were no signs placed outside.

"It's called Sasaki Seminar. I heard that they are in the process of replacing the signboard outside, which is why it is not there now. It was removed a few weeks back."

Emi looked towards the building and commented,

"That seems to be a bad idea. How are people supposed to find the place if they don't remind us what its called?"

"A lot of us wonder the same thing." acknowledged Motoko as she nodded her head towards the building. Turning back to her companion she asked,

"So … did you need something from me?"

A light blush grew on Emi's cheeks and she bent her head down in embarrassment as she mumbled a reply. Motoko blinked in confusion.

"I'm sorry, but can you repeat that? I didn't hear you."

"I was hoping that I could have lunch with you." replied the girl shyly.

"Eh?" Motoko said with confusion evident in her voice.

"I'm not being a bother am I?" pleaded Emi with a cute voice.

Motoko closed her eyes as she let out a long sigh wondering why so many people wanted to eat with her. Opening her eyes she looked back at Emi and said,

"I was meeting with someone else, but I don't think your company will be a problem. Come along then."

Motoko turned and began walking to the park with Emi following a step behind her.

Park near Sasaki Seminar

"Good afternoon Sachiyo-chan!" greeted Motoko as she waved towards the girl who was waiting near the park entrance.

"Good afternoon Motoko-sempai!" replied the short haired girl.

Motoko then stepped to the side and waved a hand towards Emi to introduce her.

"I've brought a friend with me. This is Emi Ichikawa and she'll be eating with us as well. I hope you don't mind?"

"No problem at all!" replied Sachiyo as she shook her head. She then looked at Emi for a few moments before asking,

"By any chance are you Emi from room 5-D?"

"Yes, that's me." replied Emi as she nodded her head.

"Oh, so you know her then?" asked Motoko curious at their exchange. Sachiyo turned her head to face the kendoist before answering,

"Emi-chan is good at painting and I've seen her work hanging in the art room." she then turned to face the girl and greeted her with a smile, "I'm glad to meet you Emi-chan. My name is Sachiyo Matsumoto."

Emi's eyes lit up in recognition and she said, "Ah! You were the one who got second place at the marathon in our recent sports meet, right?"

Smiling Sachiyo nodded her head.

"That's me."

"Well then if we're all ready, shall we find a place to sit and eat?" asked Motoko from the side feeling hunger grow inside her belly.

"Yes" "Sure" came the replies.

A few minutes later, the three of them were seated on the grass, eating their lunches. They spent the time making small talk and generally enjoying the meal. Motoko was surprised to learn that Emi lived near the Hinata area. They agreed to meet at the metro station in the evening before splitting up.

Kitchen, Hinata Inn

Shinobu had come back from her school club activities and was making a cake in the kitchen. Keitaro was supervising her and Kanako was there because she didn't have anything else to do.

The blue haired girl had just put the cake in the oven and closed the door. She set it for the required time, stepped back and turned to face her guardian. He smiled back at her.

"Looks like you know what are you are doing. Frankly, I was a bit worried about letting you use the kitchen, but it looks like I needn't have worried."

Kanako looked up from the magazine she was reading and gave a small wolf whistle towards Shinobu.

"Looks like you passed. What cake were you making anyway?"

"A chocolate marble cake, Kanako-san." replied the girl with a small blush.

"When can we eat it?"

Shinobu looked at the watch in her hand and replied,

"It will take some time. But I think it should be ready by the time Motoko-sempai comes back."

"Shinobu-chan, I was wondering" started off Keitaro, "would it be possible for me to come to your school and check out that cursed doll you mentioned earlier?"

"Oh, me too Onii-san! I want to come and see the doll too!" spoke up Kanako.

"I … guess that shouldn't be a problem. I need to ask one of the teachers though." answered Shinobu.

"That's fine. We're not in a hurry and I would rather follow procedure if I can help it."

Outside Sasaki Seminar

With her classes over, Motoko relaxed as she left the preparatory school. After reaching the bottom steps she glanced ahead and saw a familiar figure walking ahead of her. She quickened her pace and was soon walking alongside her target.

"What do you want?" asked Naru sarcastically.

"I merely wanted to walk with you to the metro station Naru-chan. You were so difficult to meet up with in the preparatory school that this is the only chance I get to interact with you." replied Motoko in a pleasant tone.

Inwardly Naru cringed. It had been difficult for her to avoid Motoko during the day. The pest seemed to be everywhere! When she was trying to find a seat, the pest would try sitting next to her in class. The pest kept on trying to talk with her during the day, but Naru somehow managed to dodge her.

Until now. She was forced to walk with the insect until the metro station. She had hoped that by leaving a bit early she would be able to avoid Motoko, but it didn't seem that things would go her way. Staying back until the pest left wasn't an option as Naru didn't want to take the evening ride home.

It looked like she had to endure Motoko's company after all.

"But I'm not interested in interacting with you!" said Naru with hostility.

"You seem to be enjoying yourself, regardless." pointed out Motoko. Naru huffed in reply and said,

"Fine! Be that way. I'm going to mind my own business and IGNORE you."

"Not the most ideal of circumstance, but I suppose it will do … for now." replied Motoko.

The rest of the trip proceeded rather quietly. Naru didn't like the way the pest kept trying to walk next to her but she had to admit, at least she kept out of her personal space. They soon arrived at the station. Naru made a point to turn her back towards the insect as she walked to her platform. The kendoist having expected this just smiled and waved to Naru's back as she said,

"Goodbye! I'll see you tomorrow."

After that, the kendoist walked towards the platform that took her home. Greeting Emi & Sachiyo, the three of them took the metro towards Hinata. Motoko walked with the two high school girls for some time before their paths split up. She agreed to meet up with them again the next day before proceeding on her own towards the Hinata Sou.

Kitchen, Hinata Inn

"This is some excellent cake Shinobu-chan!" exclaimed Motoko after she swallowed her first bite. Everyone was sitting around the kitchen table for tea time.

"Thank you Motoko-sempai." replied the blue haired girl with a light blush and a smile.

"It really is delicious." commented Kanako from the side. Kuro-chan meowed in agreement from her corner. A small piece of the cake had been placed in her bowl as well.

"So how was your day?" Keitaro asked his fiancée. Motoko took another bite of the cake before replying.

"The teachers are pushing us hard and more tests are coming up. In fact, there is a rumor going on that they will try collaborating with other preparatory schools around the country to conduct a mock entrance exam."

"That sounds intense." commented Kanako.

"It's still a rumor at this point. Although, some of the faculty were heard saying that it might be too much of a strain to conduct it."

"What about the gardening club at your school, Shinobu-chan? Have they gotten into any more messes today?" asked Keitaro.

Shinobu shook her head.

"No. They've decided not to use any more machines for a few weeks now. Since the last incident, they want to try growing a hand-made flower bed before trying more advanced tools."

"There is a very puzzling girl in my class." said Motoko.

"Oh? What do you mean Onee-san?"

Motoko looked at the ceiling and thought about how best to describe Naru.

"Well, she's very stand-offish. And is deliberately rude to most people." Keitaro raised one of his eyebrows on hearing that.

"Deliberately rude? You mean to say that she's acting or something?" he asked.

"Well …" Motoko trailed off as she thought about how to answer. "At the very least, she doesn't behave like some stand-offish snob or something like that."

A few question marks popped up above Kanako's head.

"There have been a few incidents of bullying in the building and -"

"Oh, I see! She doesn't bully anyone directly, but tries to manipulate things from the shadows!" interrupted Kanako.

The kendoist shook her head and continued,

"No, that couldn't be farther from the truth. If anything she's the opposite. She stays on the sidelines and does things to stop the bullying."

"Sounds like a nice girl to me." concluded Keitaro.

"I thought so too. But whenever I've tried to talk with her for the past few days, she just brushes me off. Very rudely too."

"And yet, you still want to talk to her? Despite her attitude?" questioned Keitaro.

Motoko nodded her head.

"Yes, I am most curious to know what makes her behave in that manner."

Kanako brought a hand to her lips and thought about the whole thing.

"Hmmm... it's a girl who acts standoffish on the outside, helps people from the sidelines, feels like a nice person but doesn't seem to want to talk …" trailed off Kanako. Keitaro widened his eyebrows on realizing what she was hinting at.

"Imouto, you can't mean that she's ?"

His sister nodded back.

"Yes, I think she could very well be one, Onee-san."

"It would explain things … yes …" trailed off Keitaro as he gave it more thought.

Motoko looked back and forth between the two siblings and asked,

"Err … what are you two talking about?"

"She's a tsundere." replied Keitaro and Kanako simultaneously.

Motoko just looked back at them with an expression of disbelief.

"You have got to be kidding me. There's no such thing as a tsundere in real life!"

Keitaro sighed and answered,

"That's up to you to decide. But, it looks like you are going to have a hard time dealing with her. I wish you luck."

The conversation then drifted off to other topics. Shinobu got into a discussion with Kanako about her cooking club while Keitaro occasionally gave a few pointers. During all this, Motoko was feeling something off about her fiancé. He was still his usual self, but she couldn't seem to get rid of the feeling.

She closed her eyes and tried to extend her senses. It would be rude to get into a trance at the table so she could only do a simple probe. At least, her fiancé was sitting nearby. As she reached out to him she sensed that feeling again. It seemed to be directed towards Kanako.

Motoko opened her eyes in surprise. She blinked a few times and looked at the two siblings in front of her. It was hard to believe, but what other way could it be explained? Keitaro had feelings towards his younger sister! The kendoist sincerely hoped that she was misreading something because things would get really complicated otherwise. And what was that Kanako told her earlier? That she had tried to get her brother's attention before and failed? Did she finally succeed?

Motoko frowned a bit and looked at the two of them again. It didn't feel like lust. That she could easily confirm. Perhaps it was just sibling affection? Somehow it just didn't seem to fit. Adoration? But then why would Keitaro adore his own sister?

"Is something the matter Motoko?" asked a concerned Keitaro. "You've been staring at me for some time now. Is there something on my face?"

Motoko blinked and shook her head to clear her thoughts. This was embarrassing. She didn't mean for it to be that obvious.

"It's nothing. I was just lost in thought."

"Maybe she's just hungry for something other than cake?" suggested Kanako. She got up and moved to the counter behind her brother. "Here, I'll make some toast."

It was then that Motoko got a glimpse of toaster-chan sitting on the counter behind Keitaro. He was blocking her view of the appliance and from where she was sitting it appeared as if he was the source of all those feelings, when it was in fact the toaster!

Motoko let out a relieved sigh as she realized that her fiancé was fine and not having any weird obsessions with his sister. Still, the mystery wasn't fully solved. Why was toaster-chan giving off those feelings towards Kanako?

The kendoist watched as Kanako spread some butter on the bread before slowing pushing it into the toaster. The movement reminded Motoko of something, but she felt it inappropriate to mention at the table. Instead she decided to ask another question,

"Isn't it dangerous to put butter on the bread before heating it?"

"I thought so too, at first. But it seems that toaster-chan likes it when Kanako does it. Not only is the toast good, but she someone manages to keep away the mess." answered Keitaro.

"Here!" said Kanako placing a piece of buttered toast in front of Motoko. "It's really tasty. I'm sure it will cheer you up."

The kendoist smiled at her future sister-in-law and said, "I wasn't upset to begin with, but thank you." She picked up the toast and bit into it.

Motoko's eyes widened in surprise. The toast was amazing! She quickly gobbled it up.

"That was surprising. How did you manage to make it come out like that?"

Kanako was slowly rubbing the side of the toaster affectionately. She smiled back at Motoko and said,

"It's like Onii-san said before. Just take care of your appliances and they will take care of you."

"But aren't these Keitaro's appliances?" questioned Motoko.

"They may be most loyal to me Motoko, but that does not limit them from anyone else. Kanako's never seen a toaster before and I guess she took a fancy to toaster-chan here."

"I'm not really sure what to think about all this …" trailed off Motoko with uncertainty evident in her voice.

"Look at it this way - as long as toaster-chan still makes good toast, does it matter?" asked her fiancé.

"I guess not."

"Then just go with that. Who knows? Perhaps it will rub off on you too." commented Keitaro with a knowing smile.

Motoko just nodded and picked up her orange juice. As she sipped the liquid from her glass, Keitaro caught her eyes subconsciously drift towards the stove.

Kanako returned to her seat nibbling some toast. As she sat down she asked,

"I'm planning to unpack some of my boxes after this."

"Which ones? I thought we already opened up our clothes earlier." commented her brother.

"My book collection. The dorm mistress back in London told me that I couldn't bring all my books with me and so I decided to bring them here. At least you'll be able to keep them from rotting!"

"I don't mind. Wait … aren't my books in there too then?"

"Yes. I was hoping we could shelf them all in the basement library downstairs." suggested Kanako.

"Wait, this building has a library?" asked a curious Motoko. Her fiancé nodded back to her.

"Oh yes! It's more than just a library though. Think of it as more of an open storeroom where the family keeps things for long term storage."

Motoko blinked back at him. That was a new term for her.

"What do you mean by 'open storeroom' ? I don't think I've ever heard of such a thing before."

Kanako decided to clarify for her,

"What Onii-san means is that we let guests who stay here access it too. The family vaults are in a more secure location, but the library as we like to call it, is full of little knick-knacks and other odd things that might be amusing to share around."

"Ah, I see."

"You do remember how I like the books arranged don't you imouto?" asked Keitaro.

"Don't worry Onii-san. I've got it covered." replied Kanako. "So can you guys help me?" she asked her other housemates.

"Why not? I'm curious to see your collection." answered Motoko.

"Me too. I'll help as well." added Shinobu.

Keitaro was about to join in the effort when he suddenly remembered exactly what was in Kanako's collection. Not feeling comfortable with the idea of suddenly exposing all that to their youngest member he suggested,

"Before that, could you help me with the dishes Shinobu-chan? We can talk a bit more about cooking too."

"Alright sempai. Sorry Kanako-san." apologized the youngest member to the girl across her.

"Looks like it will just be you and me, Onee-san!" said Kanako smiling towards Motoko.

Basement Library, Hinata Inn

Motoko was expecting some kind of messy storeroom based on the descriptions provided by the Urashima siblings. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the library wasn't as much of a mess as she thought. It was a huge underground room with shelves that seemed to extend far beyond what she could see. All sorts of things were kept there too. Mostly books, but as she walked by, she spotted a few stacks of old newspapers, some old toys, ancient game systems and even a few training dummies.

"You call this a library?" she asked aloud to Kanako who was walking in front.

"Well … a library is where you usually store books right? And we've got books in here too." she said pointing to a stack of old mystery novels.

"Most libraries I've seen do not have those in them." commented Motoko as she directed the other girl's attention to an old aquarium.

"I think that one belongs to Haruka-san. She's our aunt." answered Kanako. "And yes, there are more than just books in here, but at least it's easy for guests to access anything this way."

"Considering the dust around here, I have to wonder if any guest will even bother coming in here." said the kendoist dryly.

"Well …" started Kanako, "most of the time they just ask the Inn manager to fetch them something or the other. Sometimes we let younger children explore this room if they don't make a mess."

Motoko sneezed when some of the dust fell on her head.

"I think we'll need to clean this place up first."

"You are probably right. Looks like it will be a pain to do it ourselves. But, I've got this faint memory that the cleaning was done through magical means before." said Kanako.

"Really?" asked Motoko with a hint of surprise.

"Kinda. Onii-san would probably know what I'm referring to. I don't remember it too well."

The kendoist nearly stubbed her toe on a box on the floor. She pointed her flashlight at it and saw that it was an old doll. The packaging indicated that it was from the early 1900's. Motoko idly wondered if doll collecting was some kind of Urashima family hobby.

"Where are we going anyway?" asked Motoko getting a bit impatient.

"There should be a door somewhere back here …" trailed off Kanako. "Ah, here it is!" she exclaimed as she opened a door hidden behind a shelf and walked in.

"Here we are!" announced Kanako as she lowered the books she was carrying. Motoko placed the box she was carrying next to it.

"So where are we?" asked the kendoist.

"This is the reading room." answered Kanako. Kuro-chan who had been following her, meowed from below.

"Looks like a sandstorm passed through here." commented Motoko as she looked around the room. It was a mostly empty room with a few chairs and two sofas in the center. There was a thick pile of dust on top of everything. Even the underside of the tables weren't spared.

"We can worry about cleaning it later. For now, I just need your help to bring the boxes I brought from London in here."

The two of them spent the next hour moving things around.

Next Saturday, Storehouse B, Shinobu's school

"This is the storeroom where people have said the cursed doll resides." said Shinobu as she walked up to the door of the storehouse. She looked back towards her housemates. Keitaro was standing behind her, with Kanako behind him. Motoko was standing on his right. She didn't have classes during this weekend and had free time. Privately, Shinobu felt that she liked walking with Keitaro.

The janitor who lead them opened the storehouse door and turned towards them saying, "The principal tells me that you folks might be able to get rid of the demon who lives here. Well, let me tell you, I'll be glad to be able to use this room again. I've kept some really valuable tools in here and it's been a pain working without them."

Motoko looked back at him with a puzzled expression. "What do you mean a demon lives in here? We were told that it was a cursed doll that was scaring everyone away."

Using his right hand, the janitor stroked his beard twice before answering, "Cursed doll, demon, shadow monster - I don't really care what it's called. But the sooner you get rid of it, the happier I'll be."

Keitaro was about to step through the door before he remembered something. He stepped back and asked the janitor, "Before we start, is there anything we should know first?"

Looking back at his skeptically the janitor replied, "You already know that there's something weird in there. What else should I tell you?"

It was Kanako who answered by raising her finger in the air to say, "What Onii-san wants to know is if there is anything flammable in the room. Like petrol, gas or the like."

"Huh?" replied a puzzled janitor. "This is a school. Why the heck would we have any of those things around? It would be dangerous if any of the kids got their little hands on it." He scratched his head and continued, "Last PTA meeting, I heard that there was a huge fuss over one of the art teachers projects involving knives. Some parents didn't approve of their kids using such dangerous tools."

Keitaro blinked when he heard that. "Wait, this school has activities that use knives?"

The janitor shook his head. "Not the kind of knives you are thinking." He looked towards the sky while he recollected the event. "It was a funny story, really. The teacher in charge wanted to teach the class table manners. So he arranged fake spoons, forks and knives to be distributed to all the students in his class."

"That sounds reasonable." commented Kanako. The janitor nodded back.

"It seemed that way - at first. Then one of the kids found out that he could sharpen the knife by using a broken-down cycle as a makeshift grinding stone."

"Very creative of him." opinionated Motoko.

"The unfortunate part was the it was one of the class bullies who tricked him into doing it. Kids from the neighbouring classes found out about it and the next thing you know there were little knife-fights going on all over the school. It was a royal mess."

"I remember that event. A few of my classmates got some nasty bruises on their arms that day." added Shinobu with a sad tone.

The janitor frowned and looked back at her. "Yeah, it was bad. But my point is that we don't keep dangerous items in the school. If something of that nature does pop up, we just throw it into one of our storehouses and forget about it."

Keitaro pressed his lips and tapped the janitor's left shoulder. "Er .. excuse me?"

He turned his head to face the college student. "What is it?"

"By any chance is this one of those storehouses where you throw away dangerous stuff like that?" he pointed towards the open storehouse they were about to enter.

The janitor shook his head. "Oh no. Come on, do you take me for a fool or something? All those items get thrown into storehouse A. This is storehouse B."

"So … what gets thrown in here then?" asked Motoko.

"I have no idea." admitted the janitor.

"What?!" exclaimed Kanako.

He just shrugged his shoulders and continued, "I've never been able to use this storehouse since I got employed here. Each time I go in there, something or the other spooks me out and I run away screaming."

"That's awfully frank of you - admitting to us that you run away scared." said Motoko impressed with his honesty.

"Alright, that's enough chit chat." said Keitaro taking control of the situation. "Shinobu, you come with me and we'll go in together. Kanako - you stay with Motoko and check out the right side of this storehouse. We'll go left. Shout out if you find anything suspicious, ok?"

"Got it." "Understood." came the replies.

"What about me?" asked the janitor feeling a bit left out.

Keitaro blinked back at him. "Hmm... it won't be too useful if you come in with us, so why don't you just stand out here and monitor the situation? You can run away screaming if anything horrible happens."

"Yes sir!" he replied giving Keitaro a small salute. The university student was surprised that it actually felt reassuring. He then turned around and entered the storehouse with Shinobu walking next to him.

Inside the storehouse

"Do you see anything suspicious yet?" asked Keitaro as he turned around a stack of old textbooks with Shinobu at his side.

"Nothing yet sempai." she replied.

"Any idea why nothing has happened yet? From the rumors you told me, shadows should start moving around once a student enters this place."

"I'm not sure. Is that the reason why you asked me to wear my school uniform today?" asked Shinobu as she slowly began to understand the plan.

"Yes." her guardian replied next to her.

"What about Motoko-sempai and Kanako-san? Won't they need a student uniform too?" asked Shinobu with a bit of concern.

"You won't need to worry about that." replied Keitaro. "Trust me - it's better this way."

He couldn't prevent the small blush from his cheeks as he recollected the scene in the Hinata Sou a few hours earlier. After he told Shinobu to change into her school uniform, Kanako bounced off and quickly returned wearing one of her disguises. Appropriately, it was another school uniform. He wasn't sure how, but in the small interval when he left the living room to get drink some water from the kitchen, Kanako had convinced Motoko to try on the uniform.

Keitaro had to admit, while the dress was tight, his fiancée most certainly looked attractive in it. He was about to comment on it when Kanako flipped up Motoko's skirt granting him a clear view of the white panties she was wearing. In her embarrassment Motoko knocked Kanako out, while he quickly retreated into the kitchen. When he returned a few minutes later, the two of them were back in their usual outgoing clothes with Kanako apologizing to Motoko.

"It's better this way." he repeated to the girl next to him.

"If you say so." she replied with a small sigh.

The two of them looked around the storehouse for a few more minutes before Shinobu thought she heard something. She blinked and looked around. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Keitaro was next to her rummaging through a box of old sports equipment while she was next to a bookshelf. She turned in the other direction and tired listening again.

"Did you hear that sempai?" she asked aloud.

"Hmm..?" mumbled Keitaro as he got up and looked in the direction she indicated.

There was no mistaking it. They could hear footsteps approaching them. What was bothersome was that it sounded different. Normally when a person walks you can hear the sound he/she makes when they take a step. This is soon followed by a similar sound when the other leg steps forward. But the sound the two of them heard was the falling of both feet - not just one. It was highly improbable that either of their housemates would be pulling a prank on them so they stood still and peered into the shadows cast by the old equipment in front of them.

It soon appeared. A wooden japanese doll. She was really small, about the size of Keitaro's palm. The doll was wearing a blue kimono that was torn in multiple places. The paint on her left eye had smudged off and her face looked really dusty.

Considering how old it was supposed to be, Keitaro summarised that it was to be expected. What he overlooked was how Shinobu reacted to the display.

"EEEEkkkk!" she screamed pointing towards the doll approaching them.

"Stand where you are, we're coming!" shouted Motoko's voice from the other side of the storehouse.

The doll didn't walk. Instead it hopped. Ketaro guessed that it couldn't move it's legs - but why was that? Regardless he couldn't leave Shinobu standing petrified like that. He pulled her behind him with his left hand and said,

"Stay behind me, alright?"

"H-hai!" she nervously replied.

He tried to pacify her in a soothing voice, "Don't worry. From what I know of cursed dolls, they can't harm a person. For the most part, all they are interested is in scaring people."

He was surprised when the doll answered him back,

"He, he, he … But I'm different. I am no ordinary doll!"

Keitaro's eyes widened in horror as black miasma began to grow out of the shadows surrounding the doll.

"This could be a problem …"

"What's happening sempai? I thought you said it was harmless!" protested the girl behind him as she hugged him tighter.

"I wasn't expecting it to be possessed by a demon!" he snapped. "I hope Motoko and Kanako get here soon."

Keitaro watched as some of the black miasma grew into a gelatinous blob out of the shadow below the doll. It swirled around into the shape of a ball and shot out at him.

He quickly stretched his left palm in front and activated a spell. From behind him, Shinobu watched as a luminous circle quickly stretched out from the center of his palm and grow to a size double her own height. The circle acted as a barrier and the miasma that shot out at them slammed into it and dropped to the ground.

"Oh? Looks like you know a few tricks …" said the doll in a creepy voice. "But can you handle this?"

The amount of dark miasma around the doll tripled and at least twelve gelatinous blobs formed around it. In a synchronous motion they all shot out towards Keitaro and Shinobu.

"AAAhhh!" screamed Shinobu from behind Keitaro's back. He was frowning as the shots rammed into his barrier. From where Shinobu was, it looked like he was effectively at a standstill. Keitaro couldn't bring his hand down to try another attack as they were constantly being shot at by the miasma. Each time the blobs hit his barrier it made a 'THUD' sound and ripples similar to how they appear over a water surface formed at the point of contact.

Other end of the storehouse

"Stand where you are, we're coming!" shouted Motoko as soon as she heard Shinobu's scream. She glanced towards Kanako and nodded in silent agreement with her. The two of them sprinted towards the direction where the scream had come from.

Motoko frowned as she heard the sounds of fighting. It seemed that someone was using projectile weapons. It must be their attacker, summarized Motoko as Keitaro would be more concerned with protecting Shinobu than fighting back. Which meant that he expected the two of them to be on the offensive.

The kendoist turned a corner and came across an odd sight. Shinobu was frightened, standing behind Keitaro and hugging him. Her fiancé on the other hand was just playing a defensive game. He was frowning and appeared to be sweating, but his posture spoke differently. He was standing rigid without even attempting to attack the opponent! Normally when faced with a demon, the first priority would be to defend any innocent bystanders. The next step being to start casting offensive spells. But Keitaro was doing nothing with his free hand. He just used it to hold Shinobu closer to himself.

"What is he doing?" she whispered to Kanako who came up next to her. The two of them were crouching behind a table and the doll hadn't noticed them yet.

"Perhaps Onii-chan likes small chests? She is cute and very close to him at the moment …" suggested Kanako.

Motoko frowned and turned to look at Keitaro's sister. "Be serious for a change. Its too unusual for him not to try attacking the demon right now."

The other girl just stuck her tongue out and said, "It's what I would do in his place! Besides you haven't done anything with him yet. Onii-san's probably very frustrated right now."

Motoko bopped her on the head. "Even assuming that he was interested in Shinobu-chan like that, he has had plenty of opportunity to hug her back at the Inn. Why would he bother doing it now, in the middle of a fight?"

Kanako blinked as she considered it. "Good point. Perhaps it's Shinobu-chan who's trying to remove his pants now? I mean she does have her hands wrapped around his stomach and -"

Motoko chopped the younger girl lightly on her head. "Would you stop thinking all those perverted ideas and figure out how to deal with this situation?"

Rubbing her head she peeked over the table and commented, "I'm not sure why you are getting all worked about. It's not even a strong demon. Any one of us could easily -"

Kanako fell silent as she caught her brother's eye. She blinked back, acknowledging that she got the message and bent behind the table.

"Did you figure out something?" asked Motoko hoping that the other girl's sudden silence meant something.

"Yes, Onii-san just told me why he's not attacking the doll."

"Wait, how did he communicate with you? I'm right next to you and I didn't hear anything." argued Motoko.

"It's a family secret. Ask Onii-san to teach it to you later." answered Kanako. "He says that he wants us to dispel the demon from the doll before attempting to exorcise it. I don't understand why though."

Motoko knitted her eyebrows closer as she thought about it. Dispelling the demon would mean expelling it from the doll first. Exorcising it while it was in the doll should result in the same thing, so why would Keitaro make such a request? It didn't make much sense to her.

Her eyes widened in realization as an idea struck her. She peeked over the table and looked at the doll. There was no mistaking it. Faint as it was, there was something else inside that doll. Keitaro must have detected it and that was the reason he wasn't fighting back. He didn't want to harm the demon's host.

Motoko looked at the wooden bokken in her hand. 'Might as well give this a shot' she said to herself.

"Keep watching things from here, I'm going to try dispelling that demon." she said to Kanako as she was about to jump over their hiding spot.

"Wait Onee-san!" said Kanako grabbing the other girl's hand.

"This is not the time for another suggestion on how to seduce my fiancé!" argued Motoko.

Kanako shook her head. "It isn't that. But I don't think your bokken will work for dispelling the demon."

The kendoist raised her left eyebrow and asked, "What do you mean?"

Kanako pointed towards the wooden demon, "That's a wooden construct. With your wooden bokken you might end up destroying it instead. What we need is something metallic. By any chance did you bring your real sword with you?"

Motoko frowned as she shook her head. Kanako looked around the area hoping to find an alternative. Her eyes landed on a discarded bicycle. She smiled and said, "That should do."

The kendoist watched as her companion moved over to the bicycle and activate a pair of magic circles on both her hands. The glow of active mana appeared on the back of her hands. Kanako then placed her hands on the floor next the to bicycle. A faint glow came around the vehicle and Motoko watched in amazement as it disintegrated into the air splitting into tiny fragments of dust. A small wind formed on the spot with the dust reforming into a sword in front of Kanako.

She picked up the weapon and moved back to Motoko. The older girl noticed that Kanako was breathing heavily. She looked into her eyes with concern. Kanako understood the unasked question and answered, "I know a bit of alchemy."

Deciding that further questions could be asked later, Motoko accepted the sword and jumped over the table she was hiding behind.

The demon-possessed doll didn't even notice her sneak up behind in. Motoko muttered a small spell and thrust the sword through the doll's back. The miasma that was pounding against Keitaro's shield suddenly stopped firing. It fell back into the shadows and a black aura began to grow around the doll.

Motoko squinted her eyes and raised the sword, with the doll still attached, in a quick upward motion. The result was that the doll flew off the sword vertically into the air. The black aura however, remained on the sword. Not wasting any time, the kendoist threw the sword into the ground a little in front of her fiancé. As the doll fell back to the ground, she caught it with both her hands.

Keitaro dispelled his shield and slammed his open palm on the floor. A magic circle grew on the floor surrounding the sword. Some shadows tried to escape from the blade, but they were pushed back by his circle. He spoke another spell and turned the hand on the floor counter-clockwise in a right angle.

The glow around the sword brightened and everyone heard it shatter. As everyone's eyes readjusted to the dark room they saw that the demon and the sword were no more.

Living room, Hinata Inn

Everyone was looking at the old, broken and dirty wooden doll that was placed on the floor in front of the television. After the exorcism, they spent some time searching the storehouse for more clues as to the origin of the doll. The only lead they found was an old wooden chest. It was engraved with pictures that indicated it was where the doll was kept before it got possessed. There were many old papers in the chest which at first glance, seemed to contain instructions on how to activate the doll. With the janitor's permission, they took those items back with to the Hinata Sou for further study.

Keitaro looked up from the papers he finished reading and frowned.

"What do you think Onii-san?" asked Kanako.

Without turning his eyes away from the doll in front he answered, "It's difficult to say. These are instructions on how to activate the doll, but the rest of the documents are in code."

"Err... what is 'in code' mean? Is it another language?" asked Shinobu.

Motoko decided to answer, "Not exactly Shinobu-chan. In this instance, it simply means that the someone wrote those documents in a way that makes it very difficult to read for a person who does not know how to interpret it."

She then closed her eyes and probed the doll in front of her. There was no malicious feeling coming from the toy and the power within it seemed to be dormant. Motoko probed a bit more and quickly opened her eyes in shock. She blinked twice and probed again. There was no mistaking it!

"I have something to report" she said in a worrisome tone. When she had everyone's attention she continued, "Whatever power is within this doll is leaking away. I guess the effects of being possessed along with the subsequent exorcism were too much for it to handle."

"Is there any way we can save it?" asked a worried Shinobu.

"I could try binding the magical essence within the doll to the springs here. The problem however, is that it wouldn't' last for very long. The wood on this doll is really old and is almost ready to rot away. Frankly, I think it's a miracle that it's even lasted this long." answered Keitaro.

"That's only if we try to keep it in a dormant state, right? What if we activate the doll?" suggested Kanako.

"It would probably work but …" trailed off Keitaro with a grimace.

"You are not sure what the doll's purpose is, correct?" asked Motoko sitting across him. He nodded back.

"I do not understand." confessed a confused Shinobu.

Motoko turned her head to face her before clarifying, "Artifacts like these are always made with a purpose in mind. This is all the more important if it might be sentient. They will usually try to fulfill whatever objective their creator made them for and it might be harmful to us."

She turned to face her fiancé to continue, "However, I do not feel any harmful intent from this doll. While it has power, it does not appear to be dangerous. I'm guessing that it was meant to act as an assistant or something."

"Thats what I thought so as well." said Keitaro.

"Something I find most peculiar about the doll, is that it's aura is very human-like." said Motoko.

Everyone blinked at that. Keitaro decided to ask for clarifications, "Do you mean to suggest that a person's soul could be trapped in the doll?"

Motoko shook her head. "No, it's too incomplete to be a soul. But in spite of that, I get the very strong feeling that it is human. Or maybe something that should become a human?"

"That … doesn't make sense." commented Kanako.

"Sorry but I'm not sure how else to describe it." replied Motoko. "Regardless, I would like to activate this doll."

"Are you sure that it will be alright?" asked her fiancé.

"If we leave it alone, it will very likely disintegrate over the next week. Considering how human-like it is, it almost feels as if we killed a person should that happen. I do not sense any malicious aura coming from it, so I think it should be safe for activation."

"Why not Onii-san? You've always wanted a live doll for a long time now and besides, once it's alive you can ask it yourself what its purpose is." suggested Kanako.

Keitaro smiled back at his sister before answering, "Don't get me wrong imouto, I'm really excited about the prospect of having a live doll around. What worries me are these instructions." He pointed towards the documents he was reading.

"According to these papers, to activate our sleeping friend we need a strand of hair from a male and female. Just tie those around the doll's fingers and the latent magic within it should do the rest."

"I volunteer." said Motoko in a firm voice. "You are the only male present here and since I am the one who requested to activate the doll, it is only appropriate that I donate my hair for the procedure."

Keitaro smiled at his fiancée, nodding his head. With a worried tone he said, "As happy as I am to hear that, we still have another problem to deal with. Namely the amount of magical essence left in the doll. I could bind it to the spring, but its highly unlikely that it's wooden body is in any shape to survive the procedure."

"What about a magical transfer?" suggested Kanako. "It's not a must that you should use this same doll right? You could just transfer the magical essence to another doll or figurine and it should still work out."

"And from where would we find another such doll?" argued Keitaro. "Most of my figurine collection is plastic and even the wooden ones I have are of a different wood-type. Unless we find another doll with the exact same kind of wood as the one in front of us, such a transfer won't work."

"What kind of wood will work sempai?" asked Shinobu.

"The irony is that any doll older than 50 years would work. Around that time, a new cheaper wood-type was found and the newer wooden dolls have been made with that ever since." he replied.

Everyone sat in silence thinking about the problem before Motoko spoke up.

"What about the old doll in the basement library?"

Keitaro blinked back in confusion and asked, "What are you talking about? I don't recall any such thing."

"I remember seeing an old doll that matches the description you mentioned when I went down with Kanako earlier." answered Motoko as she stood up. "Wait here, I'll bring it over."

Living room, Hinata Inn

Keitaro had spent the past 20 minutes looking over the old doll that Motoko had brought. He checked its packaging, the clothes it had on and most importantly, the durability of its woodwork. Finally finished with his examination he let out a long sigh.

"Well, will it work Onii-san?" asked Kanako.

"I think it should." answered her brother as he nodded towards her. He turned his head to face Motoko and asked her,

"It's probably best to do the activation and transfer simultaneously. Are you sure you want to do this?"

She blinked, looked back at him and replied, "I would be a hypocrite if I backed down now. What do you need from me?"

"A strand of your hair."

Motoko nodded pulled out a strand of her long black hair. She handed it to him with her right hand. He smiled as he accepted it and tied it around the left hand of the European style doll she had found in their basement library. He pulled out a strand of his own hair and tied it around the right hand of the doll.

"That should be enough to initiate the activation. Kanako-chan can you help me set up the Essence transfer circles?" he asked his sister.

She nodded and got down on the floor. With a white piece of chalk she drew the Urashima family crest on one side of the floor. On the other side Keitaro did the same. Shinobu placed the European doll on the crest drawn by Kanako while Motoko placed the old Japanese doll on the one drawn by Keitaro.

"Oh, I nearly forgot." commented the university student. He turned his head to face the youngest girl present and asked her, "Shinobu-chan, can you get me a glass of water from the hot-springs?"

She nodded and soon returned with the water. Motoko looked at the glass she handed over and asked, "What is the purpose of that?"

"To help bind the doll to the springs. It's unlikely that we will be able to duplicate the original magic used, so it's the next best thing we can do right now." answered her fiancé while he sprinkled some of the water over both the dolls.

Next he stood at the center between the two circles on the floor and stretched out his hands sideways. Two fluorescent circles formed around his hands floating in the air. He started saying a spell and their color changed to green. The circles on the floor began to glow blue.

Everyone watched as a purple mist seemed to rise from the Japanese doll and flow into circle created by Keitaro's right hand. He tensed as he felt the transfer taking place. Next, the same mist flowed out of the circle around his left hand and got sucked into the European doll. As soon as it was completed, Keitaro collapsed onto the floor.

Motoko rushed up to help him up. She asked with concern, "Are you alright?"

He took a deep breath before replying, "Just tired. Give me a few minutes and I'll be alright. How is the doll?"

Kanako stepped up near the European doll and poked it from the side. It elicited no response. "Nothing" she said. "It still appears to be an inanimate doll."

Shinobu asked from the sidelines, "So was all that for nothing then?"

Keitaro frowned as he picked up the doll under its shoulders with both his hands. "Hmm... that's strange. I'm certain the transfer went without a hitch. Is something missing from the activation procedure?"

"Let me have a look at it?" asked Motoko as she brought her hand up to pick the wooden toy from her fiancé. As soon as she touched the doll's left hand, it began to glow orange. Keitaro dropped it in surprise. When the light dimmed everyone saw that the doll was sitting on the floor and had opened her eyes.

The doll blinked and looked towards Keitaro. In a slow voice she said, "I recognize you as my Lord" then turning towards Motoko she continued, "and you as my Lady." before collapsing back onto the floor.

To be continued …

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