Even though it was late fall, the unusually warm weather drew large crowds to the Hikawa Shrine. It was interesting to watch all the different kinds of people wandering the Shrine grounds that day—young couples with small children, the elderly, those dressed in track suits, others dressed in business suits, students, and many others.
Not that Raye had any time to be paying attention to all those details. She spent most of the morning running around the Shrine trying to cater to all the needs of the guests. With a grandpa who found it more exciting to flirt with young ladies rather than do his duties, Raye had a lot to attend to that morning.
Among those visitors was a well-known blonde. While other people would not dare to open the door to the gift shop, Serena went on ahead and opened the door. Raye was restocking the shelves with charms and small traditional looking gifts.
Raye noticed Serena's presence, but she didn't say anything. She kept on working, trying to detangle the tassels on the charms.
Serena grabbed a cluster of twisted up charms and started to work. "Busy, huh?" Serena looked around at all the people.
"Yeah," Raye said. "It's been like this all morning."
"Well, it's a great day to be out." Serena said. She was quiet for a few moments until she felt ready to talk about what she really wanted to talk about. "So have you asked your Grandpa yet about Orion?"
Raye gave her friend a dirty look. "Does it look like I had the time to do so?"
"Sorry," Serena shook her head with an "Oh, Raye" kind of look. She finished detangling a set of charms and reached for another.
"Did you talk to Ami today?" Raye tried to be a little kinder.
"Yeah, I called this morning." Serena nodded. "Everything's okay. "I'm going to go over there after I'm done here though."
"That's a good idea."
It was then that a group of giddy high school girls walked up to the shop. Instead of buying something though, they just stood around running their hands all over everything and giggling.
The box of charms was finished. As Raye moved onto the next item of inventory—the calligraphy pens—she rolled her eyes at the giggly girls as she turned away from the counter window. Serena noticed the look and shrugged her shoulders.
Raye put the box of brushes on the counter and began filling the display compartments with them.
"I think I'm going to buy a few love charms since I'm here," One of the high school girls said a bit loudly.
The group giggled some more before the next words could be spoken. "Yeah, I just hope they're lucky." She looked off into the distance. The girls' attention seemed to be divided between looking busy around the gift shop and between something off in the distance. "I'd really like to get the attention of that Shrine boy over there."
Her grip firmed. Her thumb started exerting a tremendous amount of pressure on one of the calligraphy brushes. Her knuckles turned white. Suddenly, the calligraphy brush snapped in two. The snap from the wood breaking caught her off guard. She looked down, seeing the pieces in her hand.
"Are you okay?" Serena looked more startled that Raye did.
Raye blinked, trying to find her thoughts.
"Yeah, he's gorgeous!" One of the girls exclaimed, trying to keep her voice in a whisper but not succeeding. "I've heard he's a senior at 10th Juuban. God, what I wouldn't give to transfer just so I stare at him all day."
Serena was still waiting for an answer from Raye.
Raye's brow furrowed. "I'm fine!" She snapped, throwing the broken brush towards the back corner of the gift stand.
Serena grimaced—things were not fine, and it was about to get ugly somehow. Luckily, she wasn't going to be the target today.
"Excuse me," One of the high school girls said. "Where are your love charms?"
"We're sold out," Raye didn't bother to look up from her task.
The high school girl was taken aback by the abruptness. "Are you sure?"
"And why wouldn't I be sure?" Raye looked up at them.
The girls made their excuses and walked away, but not before calling Raye something nasty under their breaths. Raye, however, continued to work without a word.
"And what was that about?" Serena asked.
"What was what about?"
Not today. Serena just shook her head. "You're hopeless."
"Yeah, whatever," Raye uttered.
It didn't take long for them to finish. Raye picked up the empty boxes and headed out of the gift shop with Serena trailing behind her.
"What are we doing now?" Serena asked.
"We've got to find Akira. I'll need his help for the…." Raye let out an exasperated moan. "You've got to be kidding me!"
"What?" Serena looked around for a moment. Finally, she saw it, but it was too late to do anything about it.
"What are you doing here?" Raye's eyes narrowed. "You're not even a Shinto practitioner."
The girl who stood before them had long dark hair and chocolate brown eyes. Her face was as equally snide as the two girls who stood on each of her sides. It was Regina Carlson—Raye's rival at Catholic school.
"You're not even Catholic, but that doesn't seem to stop you from coming to school," Regina smirked.
Raye looked away, grimacing—touché.
"Besides, it's a lovely day out for a walk, isn't it, girls?" Regina looked to her two friends. They nodded fervently in agreement.
"Since when do you walk anywhere?" Raye asked, recalling the fact that Regina was driven to school in her family's Mercedes every day.
Serena glanced back and forth between the two girls—Regina and Raye. They sort of looked similar with their long dark hair and light skin, but feeling the tension in the air, Serena decided it wasn't a good idea to mention it. She did, however, wonder why these two seemed to hate each other so much.
"Hey, did you finish stocking the charms yet?" Akira walked up, not noticing the two girls were right in the middle of a tense moment.
"Uh," Raye's concentration broke and she had to refocus for a moment. "Yeah…it's finished."
"Alright, then let's start collecting the offerings."
Before Akira could turn away, Regina reached out and grabbed him by the arm. "Oh, could you help me?" She asked, it a much cuter and sweeter voice than she had been using before.
"He's busy!" Raye snapped.
Akira tried to pull his arm away. "Yes, she's right. I'm sorry."
"Oh, it will only take a moment," Regina batted her eyelashes. She pulled out a tourist map to the Shrine. I just don't know where to find the…the…the…" Her eyes scanned up and down the page for a moment. "Ah, yes…the haiden hall! Where is it?"
"The haiden hall?" Akira clarified.
Raye slapped her hand over her forehead.
"Yes," Regina nodded vigorously.
Akira pointed to the building only a few meters in front of them.
"Oh," Regina laughed. "There it is! Wow, you're so helpful!"
"Yes, there it is." Akira said, glancing at Serena with one of those "could anyone really be this dumb" looks.
Serena only shrugged back at him.
Regina didn't let go of Akira's arm. "It's all just so…" She exclaimed. "All the…" She looked around. "Oldness…and things…"
Raye groaned. "I've got work to do!" She stormed off.
"Well, I guess I'll see you at school tomorrow," Serena said before following Raye.
"Yeah, I'll see you then." Akira waved goodbye to her.
Regina kept latched onto Akira's arm. "So, now that they're gone, can you tell me all the…you know…stuff about this place?"
"Well, I'm supposed to be working too," He said.
"Isn't giving tourist information a part of your job?"
He frowned—yes, it was.
The blender was getting a lot of use lately. Ami put in a handful of strawberries, a few spoons of protein powder, yogurt, and some ice. She put the lid on and started up the machine. She sighed. She was so tired, but still, things were on the upside. Trista was showing improvement already.
While she let the blender run, she went over to the ironing board in the kitchen. She had to get her school uniform ready for tomorrow. It was highly unusual, but the last place Ami felt like going to tomorrow was school. She was that tired.
Orion came into the kitchen. He looked tired as well. He stopped for a moment and studied the activity in which Ami had herself involved. He leaned against one of the kitchen counters and watched as Ami went back to the blender.
"Are you hungry?" She called to him.
"I'm not sure," He said, rubbing his tired face.
A strange hissing noise came from the clothes iron. Quickly, Ami spun around to take care of the iron, but the blender pitcher slipped out of her hands.
He meant to teleport, but instead, he found himself smacking his face on the floor. His nose was already sore from getting punched in the face yesterday.
Ami managed to catch the blender, run to the iron to turn it off, and then went over to Orion. She helped him stand to his feet. "Are you alright?" She looked around, trying to find what he tripped on. "What happened?"
He obviously looked embarrassed. "When you dropped that machine, my reaction…well, my reaction was to catch it…but I…"
"You can't teleport anymore," She finished his sentence.
He nodded. "That ability was given to me."
Ami went back to the blender. "The way you speak—you speak as if you had inherent abilities before you joined the Negaverse…"
"I didn't join the Negaverse," He said, quietly.
She turned around. "I'm sorry." By the sound of his voice, she knew that there was a story behind there, but she didn't say anything.
He shook his head, noting that it wasn't her fault. "Don't worry about it." He leaned back against the counter as Ami continued to prepare lunch.
Ami put a strawberry in her mouth just for good measure. After she chewed some of it, she spoke again. "After lunch you can clean up, if you like. I left some extra towels in the bathroom for you." She went over to the sink to wash her hands.
It seemed unusually quiet. She had to turn around just to make sure he was still there. He was, but he didn't seem right. Absentmindedly, he ran his finger back and forth over the countertop.
She pondered at him for a moment. Then suddenly, her senses focused on the sound of the running water. It was bothering him. Quickly, she shut it off and reached for a towel to dry her hands. "Are you alright?"
He jerked out of his musings. "What?"
She only looked at him. It was as obvious as day—he was afraid of water, but it was probably not the time to bring a subject up like that with him. She shook her head. "It's nothing."
The moonstones, charged with the power of the full moonlight, were starting to grow dim again. Another ritual would be needed to recharge them soon. There was so much upkeep for so little reward. It had been months now, but there were still no definitive answers about the Moon Prince or why he was such a threat to her operations.
When the situation seemed like it couldn't be any worse, it plummeted even more. Not that she ever did or would tell him this, but Orion was her best general. But he betrayed her—probably too smart for his own damn good. The man was under her servitude in exchange for his freedom from the Negaverse—well, without having his powers taken away. She made sure the first thing she did when she discovered the treachery was to cut him off from the Negaforce. That ought to have killed him, but still, she had her doubts. Orion was a clever one. She doubted that he would have ran off unless he had found some way of countering the effects of having the Negaforce drained from his body—little did she know that Orion simply just didn't care anymore. All of these thoughts fueled her rage as she punished those faithful to her.
Lightning shot out from her fingertips in furious sparks. Three souls withered and screamed under the intense currents ripping through their bodies. Those that remained—those who were loyal—were being punished for one who was not.
Standing was not possible. Lyra reached out her hand towards the Queen. "My Queen…please…" Her cries only fell on deaf ears. Another wave shot through her body.
Every fiber of his being pulsated painfully as the electric currents entered into him. He gritted his teeth to the point of chipping some of them. He would not scream—no matter what, he would not scream. No, he would find satisfaction somewhere else. If there was a chance at all that Orion was alive, Draco was going to rip him to pieces. If not, then he would just as happily direct that rage towards the Sailor Scouts. Somebody was going to pay for this.
Aludra, the Queen's magician, was punished too. Although she was never specifically sent out on missions, she was still one of Beryl's Generals and a part of the court. Examples must be made and standards must be set; therefore, Aludra bore the same punishments as her fellow comrades.
Finally, the Queen relented. This was the third time Beryl decided to make an example of these three before her court. The room was silent save for Lyra's weeping. The Queen racked her eyes back and forth over the three Generals still convulsing and withering on the ground.
"If I ever hear so much as a whisper that any of you knew about this," Beryl said quietly. "You'll wish you would have died right along with your pathetic excuse of a race!"
Draco picked up his head off the floor—only a few centimeters though. One eye was swollen shut, but he looked at the Queen with his good eye. Even though he swore to serve her faithfully, it was moments like these that made a small prick in his heart. It was the Negaverse that destroyed his planet—his and Lyra, Aludra, and Orion's planet. They were probably the only ones left. He always told himself that those things were behind him and that power was only before him. But moments like these made it difficult.
"If you want to redeem yourself, then you better find me the Moon Prince! Aludra, you will be joining Draco and Lyra in the search as well." Her voice boomed in the silent courtroom. Just for good measure, she sent out one last shock of electricity before turning away from the three Generals in disgust.
One evening came, the crowds at the Hikawa Shrine thinned down considerably. Relieved, Raye finished up the remainder of the chores and as a finishing touch, started sweeping the sidewalks. Serena had been long gone, and Raye found herself wondering about what was happening at Ami's house. Hopefully, everything was okay. She decided she would call after dinner.
The sun was dropping steadily in the sky. It was becoming harder and harder to see. Raye stopped sweeping for a moment and just looked at deep crimson, orange, and blue sky. The stars were starting to awaken in the sky. It was beautiful.
"It'll be a nice night out tonight, won't it?"
She didn't need to look. "Why? Are you planning any more temple scaling tonight, monkey man?" She looked anyway, wanting to see the look on his face after a comment like that.
As she hoped, he was amused. "No, I can't say I was, Princess."
She continued to sweep. "What a day," She sighed.
Akira sighed too. "No kidding."
"I'm not sure what was worse," Raye started. "The kid who threw up in the temizuya or…" Her thoughts immediately went to Regina's hands all over Akira. What the heck? Why did that just come up? Then suddenly the comments those girls were making in the gift shop started replaying in her mind.
"Or what?" Akira asked, waiting for her answer.
Raye shook out of her wandering thoughts. "…uh…well…actually…the kid throwing up was pretty bad." She rubbed the back of her neck.
Akira chuckled a little. "I think it rates up there with my having to pacify a group of teenage girls after your grandfather kept trying to flirt with them," He said. "And that was despite the fact that they threatened to call the police."
"Please," Raye rolled her eyes. "I have to deal with that on an almost daily basis."
"Well," He said. "You're the winner then. Now, let's call it a day and get some rest."
Raye breathed a sigh of relief. "Yes, you're right. I'll try to get rested up before school tomorrow."
Akira nodded in agreement.
Moments after taking their first steps towards the house, Raye heard her name in the distance. She turned back, looking for the source of the sound. Immediately, an unhappy sigh escaped her lips. "What is he doing here?" She muttered to herself.
Akira had turned as well. It was Raye's father. The same sigh came over him as well. The last thing he felt like doing was catering to a rude and insulting man all night after a long day of work. Plus, he hated the effect that this man's presence seemed to have on the girl next to him. He glanced over at the raven haired girl whose relaxed posture had already dissipated. She was now on the defensive with her arms across and her brow furrowed.
"Raye!" Takeshi Hino walked up holding his usual brief case and also bouquet of flowers. He passed off the flowers to Raye. She accepted them without a fight this time. "I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I should see you."
She glanced around the shrine grounds. "It's really late."
"Better late than never!" He said, chipperly.
She shrugged her shoulders.
Mr. Hino motioned towards the house. "Let's go inside. I have so many things to discuss with you."
Raye didn't like the tone this was taking. Before she could protest though, she was being ushered into the house by her father, and he was too busy snapping orders at Akira to even listen to a protest. Soon, the three of them were in the house. Immediately, Grandpa began to protest Mr. Hino's presence, but Mr. Hino was an expert at keeping authority in tense situations—or perhaps one would call it manipulation. As quickly as he arrived, Mr. Hino carted Raye off for a private audience, leaving Akira and Grandpa to eat alone that night. Of course, Mr. Hino still demanded that Akira bring them dinner and tea and whatever else he wanted, but for the most part, Mr. Hino was adamant about speaking with Raye alone.
Still after a half-an-hour, Raye didn't know why her father was there. Things were starting to settle down now. Her father had everything he demanded—dinner, tea, bottled water, ice, and his coat hung up properly. The door to the tiny meeting room was finally closed in peace.
The man didn't speak right away however. Raye stared at the tea kettle sitting on the table. She'd have to apologize to Akira for the way her father continually bossed him around. She poured herself a cup of tea and waited quietly for her father to speak.
"So, your teachers say you've been doing well enough at school."
Well enough? Raye only sighed at those words.
The man tapped his fingers together. "Things have been quiet busy with the campaign, but I kept my promise. I've come to see you."
Raye only continued to sit silently while drinking.
Mr. Hino sighed. "Are you going to ignore me all night?"
Raye looked up from the table to her father's eyes. Goodness, that was difficult—looking that man in the eye. "Sorry, I…" She mumbled then glanced away.
"Anyway, as I was saying, it's been very busy lately. I've been working hard on a very special project."
"And what is that?" Raye asked, trying to be social, and yet, not really caring.
"I'm glad you asked!" Mr. Hino perked up. "Guess who's going to be running for the House of Councillors this coming election?"
She was too apathetic to be asinine. She only motioned her hand towards her father.
"Yes!" He raised a finger. "The party recommended me for the job, and who was I to argue with that?" He laughed. "So I've been hard at work the last few months. We hope to announce my candidacy in the next few months."
Raye nodded politely. "That's nice."
"It's really quiet exciting," Mr. Hino continued. "We're announcing my running for election on national television."
"I'm going to be a tv star," Mr. Hino used his thumb to point at himself. He continued to laugh at his own sense of humor.
"Yeah," Raye nodded a bit and glanced away.
"Say," Mr. Hino looked at his daughter. It sounded much more rehearsed than spontaneous which was the first clue that something was not right. "Would you like to have a chance to be on tv?"
Raye crossed her arms over her chest. "No."
Mr. Hino frowned. What was wrong with this girl? Wouldn't any teenage girl jump at the chance to be on television? He reached up and stretched his head. He thought she was uninterested, but little did he know, he had pissed her off. Slowly, he started to notice the sour look on her face. His continence immediately changed from light-hearted to harsh and angry. "What's the matter with you?"
That condescending and cutting tone—she remembered it well. She didn't want to start this, but she couldn't help herself. She rose up from her sitting position and slammed her hands down on the table. "You really want to know what's wrong?" It would be difficult to control her rage now. "What's wrong is that you come around pretending to want to spend more time with me when all you really want is for me to help with your stupid campaign!"
Anger flashed across Mr. Hino's face for just an instant, but he managed to calm his emotions quickly—a true politician. He took a deep breath, cocked his head, and nodded gently. "I understand."
"And for another…wait…what?" She cocked her head to the side.
Mr. Hino clasped his hands together and nodded his head gently. "I understand."
He continued to nod. "Yes, I haven't been around much in the past few years, and now, I come back around wanting your help. It's a bit selfish of me."
Raye returned to her sitting position, ready to listen.
"When I was nominated to run for election by the party, we immediately set to work on the campaign. My staff and advisors noticed that our demographics with households and families needed attention. They suggested that my family join me in the campaign advertisements." Mr. Hino paused for a moment to sigh. "That's when I realized something."
"What?" Raye couldn't help but ask.
"I had alienated my family." He glanced away as he continued to speak, as if reliving a memory. "I'm supposed to appeal to families using my family, but I have not been as attentive with my family as I should have been." Suddenly, his hand clasped over his daughter's hand.
Raye looked up, shocked. Her eyes darted back and forth between her father's face and his hand over hers. That had never happened before.
"I'd like you to join me so maybe we can find out what it means to be a family again."
There were too many thoughts, feelings, and emotions bouncing inside of her to have anything intelligible to say. Instead, she nodded.
"Terrific!" Mr. Hino threw up both of his hands in triumph.
Mr. Hino left in good spirits that night. That didn't mean however that he ceased to bark orders at Akira or snip at Raye's grandfather when he left. He left late into the night after explaining to his daughter the many details and preparation that it would take for the campaign. He assured her that she would not actually have to do that much—most of the work would be up to him—but her presence was valuable to the campaign.
After her father had left the house, she came out from hiding—allowing herself to be seen by her grandpa. Of course, Grandpa started playing 20 questions immediately on sight. Akira only sat quietly at the kitchen table eating a late night snack. He, however, would not take his eyes off of her.
She held out her hands, motioning for her grandpa to stop talking. "It's alright. Don't worry about it. Everything is fine." She looked over in Akira's direction, including him as well.
"Well, it doesn't look fine," Grandpa huffed as he fell hard into his seat at the kitchen table.
Raye sat down with them on the floor. She reached out and stole a piece of Akira's dekopon. She smirked as he watched the stunned look on his face when food was taken from him. "It's nothing any of you have to worry about."
Akira put another piece of the fruit into his mouth. Still, the way he looked at her showed that he was not convinced. But, the subject seemed to be dropped as he instead offered her another piece of his snack.
Ami looked around her room one last time. Trista was asleep so Ami did not want to wake her. Ami was looking around the room for all the books and school supplies that she would need in the morning. Once she was convinced that she had everything, she quietly left the room and closed the door behind her. She went back out to the kitchen. She placed her bag on the table with her extra textbooks that didn't fit in the bag.
The living area next to the kitchen was dark, but it was illuminated well enough from the lights of the kitchen. Orion was not sleeping. He was sitting with his legs crossed on the couch with a blanket over him.
Ami looked over at the clock. It was ten at night. She walked into the dark living room and took a seat in one of the recliners. "You should rest."
"So should you."
She smirked, looking down to her lap as her long blue bangs fell over her eyes. "That's probably true."
"You're going back to school," He said as a matter of fact.
"Yes," She nodded. "And so should you."
He almost laughed. "I'm not exactly a high school student, you know."
"You need to start somewhere," Ami said.
He only looked over at her. Nothing else needed to be said. He turned and looked out the apartment doors towards the city. When he left the Negaverse, he thought he would die. He didn't anticipate a future, but now, he was faced with having to make choices as to what direction his life was going to go.