By Rob Morris
Kanae sat from a perch that many would envy, and that some of those same people made the entirety of their life's goals to sit from, or merely glimpse.
"Dumb! Dumb Onii-Chan! Going kissy-face with Yuka? Eeewww!"
Kanae was in Heaven, or a positive afterlife so like it, it really didn't matter. But she was not at peace.
"Sure-I can't ever touch him again, but she gets his kisses and hugs."
Kanae saw someone else she didn't care for.
"Oh, No! Not her again. I thought she was gone for good."
In the view that Kanae had before her, Kouta and Yuka, having just emerged from a shrine after fleeing from the rain, saw one of their other housemates. This third person was someone well known to Kanae. Known to her. But not at all liked by her.
"What's wrong, Kanae?"
Kanae of course spent most of her time with her father, even in this place. But she also had time to walk free, and in this time, she often walked with her friend Lucy.
"C'mon, if there's anything burdening you, you can tell me."
No, not that Lucy, though like as not this was apparent. Yet this still needs to be known and understood, because the object of Kanae's view-portal scorn was just that particular Lucy, though in fact she herself scorned that false name. The Lucy who was Kanae's friend was true in her concern for her, but not so true about her real identity.
"Hi, Lucy. I'm just watching my Baka-Shin of an Onii-Chan and his girlfriend. Well, two of them, anyway. That one girl seems like she's afraid of him, or something. Stupid, Stupid, STUPID Onii-Chan and his STUPID girlfriends!"
Lucy was keeping secrets from Kanae. She also kept some thoughts entirely to herself. In a place made out of thoughts, this was quite a feat.
*What is it about Japanese girls and their older brothers?*
"Why do you hate these two girls so much?"
Kanae folded her arms.
"Well, the first one is Yuka, and Yuka is...well, she's Yuka. Isn't that enough?"
Lucy shrugged at the scene in the view-portal.
"I dunno. She seems kind of nice to me. How did they meet?"
Kanae once again watched the portal, where Kouta stopped the other Lucy from walking away.
"Oh, dumb Yuka is our dumb cousin."
Kanae's friend openly winced.
"Wow, to go after your cousin? That's sick."
Kanae looked back at her Lucy in surprise.
"No! She's bad because she's Yuka. Why would she be bad for wanting to date her cousin? Oh. Are you American?"
The girl smiled weakly.
"Well, I have spent some time there. I saw a rock concert at a place called Altamont in 1969. My Dad, he knows a lot of people in Washington and Hollywood."
Indeed he did.
"Well, Yuka was always inserting herself between me and Kouta Onii-Chan. But as much as I hate her, I really hate the other one. The one with the horns."
Lucy unconsciously tugged at the beret she wore (or projected).
"What's-so bad about horns?"
Kanae again looked confused.
"Nothing. I don't care about her horns. They look kind of cool, really. No, I hate her because-"
Lucy pressed Kanae.
Kanae looked down (or seemed to).
"-well, she's the one that killed me."
Her friend held Kanae's hand.
"I'm sorry. I don't know why my Granpa even created that spe-"
Lucy panicked, and spoke in a loud, powerful voice.
"FORGET MY WORDS."
Kanae blanked, and looked at Lucy oddly.
"Hi, my name's Kanae. What's yours?"
Lucy rolled her eyes, whether they were there or not.
"Darn! I overdid it again. Restore memories prior to 'I don't know why'. Oh, I am going to get in so much trouble if this doesn't..."
"Thanks, Lucy. But I'm only sorry I'll never get to see Onii-Chan again-or tell that stupid horned girl off for what she did to me and Papa-wow, what's that?"
Lucy had at first been relieved that her sloppy work had been undone. Then she a shadow from overhead.
"Kanae-can we talk later? I might be able to help you get what you want."
Kanae's face lit up, and that made the trouble Lucy was in feel lessened.
"For real? Oh, I love you, Lucy! You're my BFF!"
Kanae ran off, and the shadow descended. An angel in golden armor and with a flaming sword stood over her, and looked angry.
"Lucy-you have to be more careful. And you should also tell Kanae the truth."
Gently, the angel removed her beret.
"Things are different here, than what they understand while living. She won't spurn you."
Lucy's eyes teared up.
"Uncle Michael, please don't tell her. Promise?"
The Good Right Hand Of Creation's Will was firmly wrapped around the little finger of this child.
"I will have to tell your Father-and your Uncle Yeshua as well."
Lucy tried to get a little more play.
"Wow. Both of them?"
"Yes. Both of them. And again, be careful with Kanae and trust her. Her family will one day change the world below us in ways not yet known."
Lucy gave in.
"Except for Granpa. He always knows."
"He keeps certain matters even from me, and some, even from Yeshua."
Lucy was already thinking of a scheme-a plan, she corrected herself, to give Kanae what she wanted.
"By the way, why does Granpa put up with that awful Flying Spaghetti Monster parody?"
Her uncle began to fly off.
"That one? He loves it. Finds it hilarious. That and George Carlin's "Stuff' routine-will he ever be shocked when he gets here."
Alone, Lucy looked around and whispered.
"Granpa? Are You There? It's me, Lucy. Help me to help my friend-and let her stay my friend. Please?"
In a place where there was no such thing as time, a few days later, Lucy roused Kanae from a slumber she didn't need and yet took every afternoon-so to speak.
"Hey? You wanna get that horned girl but good?"
Kanae rolled out of her cloud-bed and listened intently as Lucy explained. Afterward, she was still confused.
"But Lucy? How is this possible? How can you help me do this?"
Lucy folded her arms.
"Isn't it enough that I can? Now, do you know what to do?"
Kanae felt scared, but the thought of paying back that stupid girl was too great a temptation.
"I treat the view-screen thing as a door and aim at her, right?"
"Right! When you're done bawling her out, I'll get you back here. Really let her have it, promise?"
Kanae nodded grimly, and jumped into the portal, where she saw the girl resting. She had almost hesitated, but then she saw her brother taking care of her killer, and this enraged her into action.
Lucy realized something, although far too late.
"Hey, I was supposed to...tether you...DAMMIT!"
Whether it was her curse words or someone just noticing her actions, Lucy saw lightning and thunder flash all around her, as two angels, one with white downy wings and one with raven wings landed next to her.
"Hi, Uncle Michael. Hi..."
She looked down and whispered.
Kanae fell, and fell, and fell, until she saw Kouta squeezing the damp towel he'd placed on the girl's head.
"Onii-Chan, HELP ME!"
Kanae almost expected to fall through the floor, but instead fell inside the girl she hated so much.
"I hear someone talking."
Kanae plodded along, seeing the landscape shift as the voice kept talking.
"I see that at this point, Kouta can't possibly forgive me."
Kanae wondered who was talking, and then looked in horror as the scene shifted to Kouta holding her own lifeless body.
"My fault...All of it my fault!"
Kanae shook her head, and then noticed her father's head by Kouta's feet.
"Papa-did you feel anything when-NOOOO! Onii-Chan, it wasn't your fault. It was her that killed Kanae-Kanae and Papa!"
The other voice kept on its narrative.
"Without memory interfering, Kouta and me could be the way we were back then. If I were someone else, we might be closest friends once more."
If Kanae had been frightened by the prior scene of carnage, she was less fearful but more shocked by the scene she saw next.
"Kouta and that girl-eating cotton candy at the Summer Festival? Wait-is that me again?"
But this Kanae was not dead, either as a corpse or as a ghost. Instead, she came running up to the young couple pleading for some of the girl's cotton candy, while Yuka complained of her babysitting chores.
"Huh? This never happened."
The voice indirectly answered this question.
"Years and years of these dreams, so foolish, so unachievable. They will never be for me. My only chance at happiness is to never be myself again."
Kanae at last found the source of the voice, and stormed into the center of the girl's being.
"Hey, You! Baka Crazy-Dumb-Ass!"
The essence of the girl also known as Lucy or Nyu turned and looked at the intruder. For a moment, she seemed to shimmer between a grim look and an innocent one, till they coalesced in a look of total confusion. She got up in her mind and approached her visitor.
"Kanae? What are you doing here?"
It was an almost casual greeting, like they had known each other, and this made Kanae all the angrier.
"You stupid-I'm here to tell you that you're a jerk-and-and-you are! So there!"
Kanae's nemesis lost none of her confused look.
"Is that it?"
"Well, what more do you want?"
Lucy/Nyu shrugged, again with that odd shimmering.
"I guess I expected you to, I dunno, float around and glare at me with your top torso while your bottom walks around and kicks me, or something. That's how these things usually go. I mean, the poor lady from the festival usually pops her head back on and lectures me about how rude I was, and then her head pops back off. Kurama's secretary keeps offering me coffee-then spilling it on me. I haven't seen Tomoo's bunch for a long time now. Oddly enough, the worst ones are where the families I killed make me clean up after myself."
Kanae asked a question as much out of exasperation as horror.
"How many people have you killed, anyway?"
Lucy/Nyu seemed to be doing some mental math.
"The last one was a while ago. I killed her right after that wannabe idiot Kakuzawa. Wow-I-I killed her just so the other one wouldn't take over, but she did anyway. Has it become that casual to me?"
Lucy/Nyu looked almost annoyed at Kanae.
"Would you please haunt me and have done with it?"
Kanae turned away.
"I said what I had to say-JERK!"
Lucy/Nyu suddenly reached out and touched Kanae's shoulder, and then pulled back, as though scared.
"My hand didn't go through you. You're not a memory."
"No. Kanae is only a memory. Because of you."
Lucy/Nyu grabbed her and turned her around.
"It's really you."
Kanae pulled away.
Kanae found herself bear-hugged.
"I'm so happy! I never thought I'd have a chance. Maybe there's still hope!"
Lucy/Nyu looked at her.
"Kanae, can you ever forgive me for what I did to you and your Papa?"
These were quite literally the last words Kanae ever expected to hear from this girl. But before any sort of answer could be given, another voice was heard. There was no confusion or longing in this echo. Only fear. Fear, and Hate.
"A Broken Toy, Pieced Back Together. How Shall We Break It Again? I told you not to have friends anymore, KAEDE! I tolerate those losers at Maple House, but that is all. Hi again, little sister! "
Lucy/Nyu actually seemed fearful.
"Kanae, get out of here! I'll stop her."
So chilling was the new voice, Kanae forgot to hate her host.
"Who is that? And who is Kaede?"
"I'm Kaede. Or-I used to be. But you know how people who do bad things say the devil made me do it? Well, that's the devil who was there with me when I killed you. She can't make me do anything, but she can talk me into...no, Kanae, not in there!"
Panicked, Kanae left Lucy/Nyu/Kaede/whoever and ran for a door, which slammed shut behind her. The mocking voice laughed as the horned girl wept.
"My memories are in there."
Kanae heard the door slam, and it was the loudest sound she ever heard, even worse than a sound she later realized was her Onii-Chan crying over her as life left her for the last time. That was another one she owed the horned girl. The shock of being taken in two should have killed her instantly, but she recalled rising in the air and then hitting the ground. Not much else filtered through the pain, except a horrid thud and Kouta's cries of 'Papa'. The last thing she recalled was her Onii-Chan's touch, and its fading to nothing as her spirit rose.
Kanae's vision shifted. She saw that she was in a place that looked like no one's home, yet there were a lot of kids. One of them, a much older one, had just tripped her. Other kids - it seemed all the other kids - were laughing at her.
"Don't do that - I feel sick."
The boy was trying to look cool in front of a girl, so he laughed derisively.
"You should feel dead. If Kami were just, you would be."
"See if they come off!"
Suddenly, they were around her and pulling on her hair-No, not her hair, but something in it.
"Stop-I have my paddle!"
The older kids dispersed and Kanae smiled at the woman - a teacher? - as she got up. The woman turned her around, took her paddle and whacked her across the behind.
The woman gave her a stern look.
"You're always causing trouble, Kaede!"
"But my name is Kanae."
This only earned another whack, faster and harder.
"Kaede got whacked!"
"No-Kaede's Mom got whacked-that's why she has those things."
"That's why her Mom ditched her like trash. The teachers told me."
Kanae could not think straight. The images shifted like phantoms. Since she herself was a phantom, this was especially disturbing.
It was the older boy again, the one who had tripped her.
"What do you want?"
"That girl who was so impressed by my trick on you? Heh. Now she says she's saving herself. A little late, to hear the stories."
He reached out his hand.
"Guess I'm saying is-I'm sorry. Look, can I offer a little free advice?"
Kanae was instantly suspicious.
The boy shrugged.
"My ex? When she pushed me off, she was looking to make me sad or angry. But I'm way better than that. You get all this negative attention because you react to everything they do. They get a show. Even I did it, and I'm not like that, really."
Kanae felt her heart narrowing. *Or Maybe You're Really All Like That*
"So you see, Horns? Don't react. Don't give them a show. Do what I do. Shut yourself down. No show, and they will go away."
The boy started to fade, and Kanae ran to a bathroom to clean herself up. In the mirror, she saw them.
"No! I've become that girl. I'm lost inside her memories."
Kanae realized she was covering the horns with her hands.
"That won't do any good. It's like he said. No show, and they will go away."
Time was passing faster than it should, but not fast enough for Kanae. Yet the boy's advice was sage. The taunts, tricks and attacks didn't stop, but the downpours turned into brief trickles when they didn't yield the emotional reaction the jerks wanted. One day she felt sick again, and was under the care of one of the workers.
"There, there, Kaede-Chan. The medicine will lower your fever soon."
She had her own room for some reason. Was that even possible in an orphanage? The woman attending her took on a grim look and left. Barely outside the door, she spoke with another.
"Don't tell me she has a fever again?"
"I've lost count on how many instances this makes. I wish she'd just die and stop bothering me."
"That's horrible! I guess she is unusual. Then again, it is our duty."
"Yes, Yes, I'll do what I have to for her, but those things growing out of her head? What are they? What - is she?"
"She's just so damned eerie."
When they left, Kanae found the strength to punch the air. To her shock, some material from the ceiling came loose.
"Horrible place. Not only is it in disrepair, but there is no heart here."
Her fever aside, Kanae (but wasn't her name Kaede?) got up from her sick bed, and stumbled out the door, briefly glancing upward and seeing what looked like a handprint on the ceiling, where the material had come loose.
"There is a treasure in the forest. A treasure only for me."
She had found the treasure one day when the taunting had almost become too much, and she fled. Sitting down to cry, she awoke to find the treasure right in her lap. As she collapsed outside, the treasure did so once more.
"You like me being worried about you, don't you?"
The pup's simple, unconditional love gave her new hope and new life against the cold shoulder her cold shoulder had earned her.
"Stop poking my face, you little imp."
In fact, she wanted it to never stop. But something would make it do so. Once more, she saw her mentor/tormentor talking, this time with another boy his own age.
"What is this, a freaking Twilight Zone episode? He gonna send us all to the cornfield? He's a little kid, Jet. His followers are all little kids. We can end this."
His friend seemed not so bold.
"Remember what happened to the guy who tried to kill that kid in Twilight Zone, Tohru? Face it, he's got this system gamed. The instructors all think he's this little angel, even the ones who should know better. We go pounding on a kid, even to scare him, even if we catch all his runners before they can squeal, and we look like wilding jerkasses. Nurse-Sensei is not shy about using that paddle, and I hear Tejou is never coming back here, after his pounding. You're a few years from walking out the front door. Don't leave by a hearse."
His friend turned his back and walked away.
"Face it, Onii-Sama-Tomoo runs this place now."
A fact Kanae learned the hard way in times to come.
"Hey! Everybody listen. You want a whole month of freedom from my Hall Monitors?"
The boy Kanae's age pointed at her.
"I hear tell you walk away from Horns here because she doesn't react when you try and liven up her oxen cart. Well? You want the big prize? Make her react, and make sure I'm there when she does. How do you like that hay, cow-girl?"
Kanae said only a few words.
"You'll do what you want to do."
The emergence of a teacher kept Tomoo from acting out, just then. He had already left Kanae/Kaede's thoughts when she snuck food to the pup.
"I'd give you a name-but you'd probably eat that as well. You need more, but I don't have more."
Kanae suddenly had the feeling she had gotten on a roller coaster at the summer festival, right as it was climbing to the big slide. But in this scare, there was no fun, and no one, not Kouta, Papa, Auntie or even Yuka was there to hold her hand and tell her to be brave.
"Stupid Horns! No one earned the prize and now they're all looking scornfully at me. Do you know what you've cost me and my position as leader?"
Kanae allowed just enough emotion to rise to stealthily strike back. Had Kaede actually said this? How far lost was she becoming?
"You'll only be leader till someone figures out how to be better at what you do than you."
Tomoo muttered some oath against her as she walked away, but Kanae/Kaede did not so much as upturn her mouth. Vengeance came the next day, as milk was spilled all over her book bag.
"Mean Tomoo! Get out or I'll tell teacher!"
The girl helped her up.
"He's so rotten, to attack a girl like that. Does he make you angry?"
The red flag thrown, Kanae/Kaede stayed calm.
"Tomoo is what he is. Nothing to fret about."
The girl was persistent, and that made her seem sincere, but suspicion still prevailed.
"We all have burdens. Sharing them is a great way to make them not as big. If you have any secrets, I'll keep them for you, I promise."
Again, time moved faster than it should have, and bridging events showed only a secret revealed and a promise made.
A promise that was somehow broken. Kanae saw a rock descend-or was it a vase? She saw a treasure destroyed, heard laughter, and thought she caught a smile.
"I'm so sorry!"
*Sure You Are*
"There's no place in this world for people that aren't Human!"
Kanae stopped the explosion of power from within her. She spoke calmly.
"The only ones who aren't Human-are all of you. I'm the real person, dealing with animals."
First, the girl.
"I'm looking through you."
Kanae used the arms she now knew she had inside her to blow a hole through one of the girl's eyes, leaving almost a crater.
"Thought you should know."
The two follower idiots.
"Let's play DaiKaiju. I am Gojira-"
As Tomoo cowered, she sheared their heads right off, and for good measure, she sheared the girl's head off and placed them all together.
"-and you are Kingu Ghidorah."
Tomoo began to shit and pee himself, and had sweated all the water he had left from his system. Kanae pointed.
"You once told me that in this place, you were everywhere at once."
Some of her new 'arms' excited his blood pressure to obscene levels, and some kept his bodily integrity until there was no more give and Tomoo exploded. The walls and floors were painted red with his remains.
"So there you are. You are now literally everywhere in here."
To Kanae's surprise, Kaede separated from her.
"That's not how it went! My power just sort of spurted out."
Kanae smiled, and it was a horrid thing for Kaede to see.
"I know-but your way was too merciful."
"Merciful-I killed four kids! Four really rotten kids-maybe four. Damn her, why couldn't she have just admitted it?"
"It doesn't matter. She even said she knew Tomoo would hurt the pup. So if she only blabbed or was in on the joke, she got the punch line."
Kaede pulled something out of Kanae, and Kanae felt ill. But this illness passed, and the horror of the re-enactment struck her in full. She grabbed the pup's body and ran outside. Kaede yelled after her.
"Kanae, don't go anywhere. You'll just get more lost."
The ugly voice from earlier spoke as well. It now fancied twisting Kanae further.
"Let her be. Maybe she's better suited to be you than you are. I like her-creativity."
As this struggle kept on, Kanae buried her treasure.
"I'm so strong now, but I couldn't stop them. I'm sorry I couldn't protect you. I'm sorry I wasn't stronger when it counted."
She turned to leave that horrid place and memories forever. But a sight stopped her.
"What's the matter? You seem really hurt."
Another boy. He would die quickly.
"Are those horns on your head?"
Maybe not too quickly.
"Yes. What about them?"
The boy smiled, bounded up and grabbed her shoulders.
"Cool! They're so awesome!"
Kanae no longer had a heart, and this was good, because it would have given out.
She heard his voice a second time, and moved towards it at the speed of thought.
"Nyu-Baka. Stop troubling me so often."
A damp cloth lay on her forehead as she awoke. It was her Onii-Chan, to be sure, but he looked almost like Papa. In her view-portal, he had still looked the same as she remembered him. But this was real. Kanae caught her breath, and realized that she had to do just that. For she was alive again. She grasped her brother's hand and wrist from the sick-bed.
"Aren't you being overly sweet. Just what happened today? Why were you hugging everyone in sight? Heh. I think you would have even hugged that crazy girl who attacked you. Did you bear-hug Nozomi-Chan or something? Because she was really nervous when she left here."
*Onii-Chan still loves to hear the sound of his own voice. But that's all right. So do I.*
**Kanae, get out of my body.**
*Screw you, and screw Nyu, too. Kanae is back with her Onii-Chan. Even Heaven's perch can't compare.*
Down the street from Maple House, a blue-haired young woman, also with horns, felt Lucy vanish yet again.
"One minute, Lucy-San's presence was filled to overflowing. But now, it's like she's trying her best to cease to exist."
But Nana's answers in this were still hours off, as was one of the biggest changes in her life.
Back in Maple House, the outward signs of the struggle in Kaede's body had Kouta concerned.
Utterly overwhelmed, Kanae teared up and hugged her brother for all she was worth.
"Out of the blue, you calm down, and now this? Hey, hey! Stop holding me like I'm going to fade away. I'm always with you, so stop worrying."
*Why can't I make this girl's mouth work? It's like when she's the nice one, she can't speak right.*
She hugged him once more.
"Kouta, I love...you."
There was a sound of packages dropped at the door to the bedroom. But both were lost in an embrace that only one of them knew the true significance and tenderness of.
Kouta still felt something of it, though.
*Why is this so overwhelming? I mean, my embraces with Nyu have become an everyday thing, haven't they? Yet somehow, I feel so nostalgic and warm, like before the illness that took her...or was it an accident...or did she drown at the beach? Food poisoning? Uggh. Sometimes, it's like I have a multiple-choice past. I know how she and Papa died. I think.*
Kouta then got up to check the sound at the door. Kanae felt like her new life had been ripped out of her.
*Was someone there just now? Nyu's being so affectionate today, I got lost.*
*Why did Onii-Chan pull away? I love his hugs so much, and it's been so long. And why won't this stupid girl's voice work right for me?*
Unable to take the breakaway, she began to cry.
"Hey, Hey. No More Tears, Okay?"
A happy shock awaited the possessing spirit as Kouta continued.
"Whenever I see Nyu's crying face, I'm reminded of Kanae."
The spirit-girl brightened. Was her brother somehow seeing her through the form she wore?
"Yes. It's the name of my younger sister. She died in an accident."
Kanae wondered at this, but somehow Nyu's voice was not wired to produce coherent explanations or objections. So she just let Kouta continue as he showed a picture of her at play so many years ago.
"I told Kanae something rude, and maybe even unforgivable just before she died. But-if I knew she was going to die from that illness, why would I be rude?"
"Yeah, I did say it was an accident, didn't I? It seems like an ancient story, but was it really that long ago? But new or old, I can never leave behind her hurt, wounded face. It's burned inside my mind. Every minute of every day since then, I wish I could apologize for being so stupid. Stupid, stupid Onii-Chan! I'll never get her to forgive me until maybe I see her again, when I die."
Kouta began to fight back tears, and Kanae was horrified.
*Onii-Chan remembers me with pain and tears? NO! Kouta, Kanae could be a brat. I was hateful to Yuka-even if she deserved it by being Yuka so much. She's always so Yuka-like. No! Kanae must tell him. Kanae must speak, even if this girl's throat is weird.*
"Do-do-don-don-Don't Cry, Kouta!"
Kanae had forced Nyu's mental relays to form the most words Kouta had heard from the horned girl, outside of those times she was gloomy and weirder than normal.
"Eh? What was that?"
"Kouta, Don't Cry!"
Kouta took a second to realize the unique nature of this situation.
"Someone's been increasing their vocabulary, all of a sudden. Now who was in that hallway? Was it that crazy blue-hair girl again?"
Kanae did not want her brother to ever stop hugging her, and the cessation plus the sheer emotion made her cry as he checked the hallway, finding the medicine Yuka promised to retrieve.
"Hey, Hey! No more tears, okay?"
But the sight of herself when she was alive coupled together with Nyu's illness made Kanae fall back down into bed, with Kouta barely catching her as she fell.
"Nyu, you still have a fever. For pity's sake, stay in bed till it passes. For me?"
Kouta gathered the fallen bags holding the medicine.
"This may be too strong to take on an empty stomach. I'll make you some rice gruel, Nyu. Now stay put this time, alright?"
Kanae's thoughts swirled as she lay back.
*I could stay here. Be a part of Onii-Chan's life again. Wow - in this body, I'm not really his sister anymore, am I? Could I be Kouta-Kun's girlfriend in my new life? Heh. That'd teach Yuka!*
Kaede/Lucy reasserted herself.
**No, you can't-that's still my body, and Nyu's. And why do you hate Yuka? She's nice. I understand now why Kouta likes her too. She takes care of me when I'm-not quite myself. I think I even kind of like her.**
*Wow, you like Yuka? You really are evil. Plus, fair's fair. You took my life away.*
**That's Not How It Works!**
*So how does it work?*
Kanae ignored her unwilling host's answer and forced herself awake.
*Onii-Chan must learn who I really am in here, and I must help him from his pain.*
Stumbling to the dresser, she spotted a pair of scissors, looked in a mirror and began to cut her hair to more resemble the style she wore when alive.
*One of Onii-Chan's shirts-one of that other scared girl's skirts-I'll ditch this smelly sleep-shirt and...*
Kanae saw her borrowed form in the mirror.
*My boobies are HUGE! Not fair-I never lived long enough to get boobs. And-how did this weird pink hair get between my legs? Well, I better get dressed-being naked always seems to bring Onii-Chan barging in. Hey, what do these things feel like, anyway?*
She let out an audible gasp as she grabbed at her borrowed chest.
*That-was wrong. Ohhh-maybe only Onii-Chan is supposed to touch them? But they're so soft-and so are Yuka's-EEEEWWW! Adults are perverts! Stupid Imouto! It's not healthy to want Yuka-she's Yuka!*
By the time Kouta came back in, he saw the transformed Nyu and dropped the food he'd prepared.
"Nyu? Oh, what is it with you and ditching clothes? What's with that outfit-and your hair? Oh, Nyu-"
It was a struggle harder than finding a perfect seashell, but Kanae again spoke as best she could, hoping for recognition.
"not...Not...Nyu...K-anae. Kanae-forgives Kouta. Kanae Forgives Kouta!"
Witnessing the realization in Kouta's eyes, Kanae felt a jolt. Nyu was suddenly back in control, and seized upon Kanae's improvement of her speaking skills.
"Par-don. Pardon me for sea-shell-breaking."
Kouta immediately realized what Nyu meant, and this improved the bond between the two. But sadly, he never learned that it was the real Kanae who had given the forgiveness he so badly desired.
Again stuck inside of Kaede's mind, Kanae fumed.
"How could you pull me out just then? I was holding Kouta Onii-Chan, and telling him who I really was."
Kaede/Lucy was unyielding.
"Kanae, you're not supposed to be here."
"Because you killed me!"
"Yes! And I will answer for that—I already have answered for it."
For good or ill, Kaede now had Kanae's curiosity.
The world they inhabited was mental, but Kaede still turned away to answer.
"Because of what I did to you and your Papa, there is no hope that Kouta will ever truly love me. One day, his memories will return, and on that day-"
She sank to her knees.
"—I am sure he will say that he hates me."
Kanae felt a question arise.
"If you're so sure of that, why did you come back?"
Kaede shook her head.
"Knowing your brother for that short amount of time was the only unbridled happiness I've ever known. Maybe the only happiness at all, before I came to this place."
Kaede became misty, and if she'd been in her body, she would certainly have cried.
"I love them all—yes, even Yuka. She's so scared he doesn't love her, when he so obviously does, and she tries so hard-and those boobies-ummmm-anyway—"
Kanae found herself more than a little creeped out by the 'sight' of Kaede's hands making a squeezing motion as she talked about Yuka.
"-poor Mayu. I wish I could be more like her. My mama rejected me, too, when I was born, but she's still standing. New world ruler? Hah! I'm a wreck. But don't I deserve to have a place in the world?"
Kaede turned 'back' and looked at Kanae.
"That's why I kill, Kanae. Your world and your species has no place for me. In order to have a place to be and just live and maybe find love, I have to displace your race with mine."
Kanae did not agree.
"You're not making any sense! You say you love these people, and my Onii-Chan most of all, but you want to make a world where they couldn't live in. And how do you know a world with people just like you would be any better, or that you would be any happier? You talk about the girl whose Mama and Step-Papa hurt her, but you don't see people being just like each other doesn't change anything?"
Kanae saw something very like realization begin to dawn on Kaede's tormented face, but forces existed within the horned girl meant solely to shut all such connections down, and to shut them down hard.
*Oh, ye olde bullshit argument. Kaede, you know that a world you have made is the only one where you even have a chance, right? Your friends will spurn you, when they know you're not just a cute boob-squeezer with a limited vocabulary. The Tower you seek to climb is pent shut against freaks like us. Besides, we're only doing what the new species has always done. They made it personal. Not us. Do you remember what we saw during those five years of wandering? Was Aiko's father worth turning back evolution's destiny? Think again of what screams we heard during the three years in that place, where Kurama tortured the babies he didn't bother to strangle. This little brat lived and died in a world where she was wanted and loved-*
The voice gained an extra tinge of sinister intent.
*-even if she did cause her mother's death, merely by the decision to have her.*
Kaede seemed to wither under the voice's taunts.
"I'm sorry, Kanae. I'll try and protect them, but I made a promise to make this world a place for me. I demand that much, and I won't back down. This world declared me unfit, so I must return that judgment. Now go back where you came from."
Kaede didn't really know Kanae all that well, so she could be forgiven for not knowing a simple fact.
Kouta's beloved Imouto really didn't cotton to ultimatums, and she despised being dismissed. She looked at Kaede with anger actually greater than the vengeful rage she felt over her own death.
"You really are stupid, aren't you? How are you going to protect Onii-Chan and the others from your new world when you fall for word-tricks so easy? You sound like Kanae did, when she used to accuse Papa of messing up her room, just so she'd have to clean it up."
Stunned briefly into silence, Kaede saw that Kanae was not relenting.
"You've done some horrible things, but Koutonii loves you, and I think some part of him knows who you are and what you did. Even if he said he hates you, he probably won't. If my big brother cares about you, you must be good inside, somewhere. Or Else, why would you bother apologizing to me? If I'm just this little brat that you smooshed like a bug, then why even try to say anything nice? You have a choice, Kaede. You just keep on making really stupid ones."
A familiar party tried once again to intervene.
*She knows what she caused in Kouta's life-just like you know how you made your Mama die, Kanae!*
Kanae chuckled at the booming entity.
"You think you're so big and bad. Papa explained that to Kanae when she was five. My Mama loved me and made a choice to try and get through having me."
*Well, goody for you. Because Kaede's Mama AND Papa didn't want her at all. So your Christmas-Special argument falls flat, little girl. It means nothing to her. So get out before we find out what can happen to a wandering lost soul.*
Kaede seemed somewhat afraid of the voice, yet it was more like she didn't know how to not heed its advice, having given in so often. Kanae realized she was now the champion of her brother's love, and in this she had to stand resolute, even for the soul of her murderer.
"You've got Kaede jumping through hoops for you, thinking she needs you. Well, if you're such a bully, take me on!"
Before the voice could respond, Kanae seconded her taunt.
"Unless you're afraid of me."
From its seeming place in the 'air' around the two mental beings, the Voice became lightning and struck into Kanae. Kaede screamed, fearful she would again be responsible for the loss of Kouta's sister, this time for all eternity.
Kanae felt a slap across her face.
*I hate you for lying, Kanae!*
She felt her body tear in two, and this time, she was conscious for the whole thing.
*Kaede will be my new sister, Kanae. She won't lie about my friends!*
Their Papa put a hand on Kouta's shoulder.
*Good job, son. You and your new sister have avenged your mother's murder.*
Young Kaede took the horns off her head, and placed them on Kanae's head. Both parts of her body twitched helplessly.
*Now you're the monster, and when you die, you'll be forgotten the way monsters are when they're finally gone.*
The Kaede the torn girl saw was really the taunting voice, and so added on one more twist of the mental knife.
"I can do this to you forever and a day, or you can finally take the hint and leave. Had Enough?"
Kanae felt the horns on her head. She smiled.
Arms came out of Kanae's head, and she quite literally pulled herself together. The Voice-Kaede was shocked, to say the least. Kanae dispersed the hate-versions of her family.
"How could you do this?"
Kanae floated with her arms folded.
"Duh. We're fighting in an imaginary place, and I've played pretend my whole life. I'm a whole person, and you're just part of one-if you're even real outside of Kaede. As to your mean teasing and bringing back my bad memories? Baka-Yokai! Kanae went to public school in Hokkaido. I got worse than anything you can give in my kindergarten year."
Kanae gestured at the hateful entity.
"My turn – which is also – YOUR TURN!"
The Voice saw younger Kanae washing up, sitting on a stool in the washroom, when the door opened behind her.
"Onii-Chan, I'm naked!"
Kouta smiled an impish grin.
"You are? Well, I can be forgiven. Your little body is so immature, I can hardly tell the difference for when you're naked."
As Kanae raged, the Voice began to smile, but this didn't last long as Kouta pulled a shopping bag from behind him.
"But, since you might eventually develop a body that might distract a kind brother, I better give you these."
Kanae looked inside the bag, and pulled out a robe with some room for growth, and a towel that could keep a modest girl's backside hidden when she bathed.
"Merry Christmas, Kanmouto."
Kanae forgot her modesty and shook her head at Kouta.
"But Onii-Chan gave me my gift last night, on Christmas Eve."
Kouta wrapped his gift towel around her, and tied it.
"I know how it gets when you hit this age. Suddenly, all you want is a little privacy. I don't need to see my sister nude to know she's going to break some hearts soon. I saved my allowance money and got you these for not ratting me out when I burst in on you and your friends."
"Onii-Chan only wanted to see Tarina's older sister naked—pervert."
She bear-hugged him.
"But Tarina's Onee-Chan didn't mind too much, so Kanae knows Koutonni did this just because he is kind in his heart and loves Kanae very much."
In some cases, the sugary scene would have some saying it was so sweet, it made them ill. But in the case of the Voice, this was a literal statement, and as it staggered from the assault of love, its control ceased. Suddenly, the older Kaede-Lucy was with them, smiling a kilometer wide at the scene.
"He—was always so—awesome."
To the shock of both, the Voice-Young Kaede just grinned wildly.
"You have won nothing!"
Resuming her form as a storm, the Voice began to bombard the pair, whether they were 'actually' in a place that could be bombarded or not. Kanae and Lucy-Kaede saw and felt winds, rain and thunder as deep and as wide as it could get.
"Lucy! Help me!"
The essence (or part of the essence) of the horned girl was confused.
"I'm right here, Kanae."
Kanae's friend from the other side at last appeared.
"She meant me, dummy—and I didn't come alone."
With the Other-Lucy was a man dressed in simple robes, looking to Kanae's eyes almost like a monk. His brown hair and beard were visible, but not overly long. He had eyes so gentle and loving, it made both Kaede and Kanae weep just to glance at them.
This was Lucy's Uncle Yeshua, and he was by trade a carpenter—among other things.
As for an entire turbulent sea, so for the hate-storm the Voice had drawn up. Yeshua spoke again.
Pointing at a spot in front of him, Yeshua's one word drew the Voice into the closest thing it had to a true form, that of a bandaged little girl. Kanae was taken aback.
"Huh? She's a shrimp! Kaede, why are you afraid of her?"
"Fear is always a small thing, Kanae. It is we who choose to enlarge it, to give it power."
The Voice-girl snarled.
"I am not Fear, I am HATE! Kaede, join with me and we can destroy the Nazarene!"
Other-Lucy laughed out loud.
"Yeah, Right! He is the Son Of, Ya Know? And that Nazarene stuff? Remember how the Omen Part 3 ended, you little-"
Kanae was confused.
"Who's he the son of?"
Yeshua smiled at her, and shrugged. The smile reminded her again of her Onii-Chan.
"No one special, at least to hear Father tell it. Kanae, you were very brave to fight for Kaede's soul. Thank You. But it is a battle she must ultimately win for herself."
The Voice tried a failed tack yet again.
"Kaede, do not let this nest of fools corrupt the purity of your mission. How else but ending the world of Humans can you hope to make-"
Yeshua took one finger and lightly touched the Voice on its forehead.
"As I strike you silent for a brief time, so will you be finally destroyed when you find that you are not only a liar, but you are the lie itself. You will learn this when wrath is refused. Wrath becomes Mercy, and you will thank my Father for your last of all lessons. Now withdraw. You have no power here."
Kaede-Lucy watched and felt as the Voice pulled as far back into her being as it had at any time since those wonderful summer days with Kouta. Yeshua then turned to her.
"Kaede, will you hear my words?"
Kaede-Lucy shook her head.
"I don't really see the point."
Other-Lucy raged at this assertion, and transformed into an angel with raven wings like her father's, and with exquisite horns that seemed like a crown and gave off their own light.
"You Fool! Do you have any idea who this is, and all that he has done for the lot of miserable sinners like yourself?"
Kanae's eyes (again, such as they were) went wide at the sight of what her friend truly was. Yeshua for his part seemed decidedly less impressed.
"Lucy, you made a promise to behave."
Not once did his voice raise above a tone of concern, with only slight annoyance betraying itself. This was enough to shift Lucy back into her preferred form, though her beret was now absent, while her horns and wings were perfectly visible. She looked at Kanae.
"I was going to tell you. I just didn't know how."
Kanae stared at someone she hadn't really known as well as she thought.
"Who are you?"
Her voice seemed to echo just a bit as she responded.
"I am Luciferia, daughter of the Morningstar, Lucifer, who is called by some…"
Other-Lucy looked down.
Kanae was about to say something she would really regret, but again Yeshua interceded.
"Kanae, if I ask you to wait until we are back home to discuss this, will you?"
Kanae smiled at him.
"You're a nice man. Are you an angel, too?"
Other-Lucy looked at the girl she hoped was still her friend.
"Okay. You're not getting this—at all? He's-"
Other-Lucy whispered a name, and Kanae slapped her.
"I'm still upset with you, Lucy—and anyway, you shouldn't swear like that!"
Other-Lucy went into stunned silence at this while Yeshua turned back to Kaede-Lucy.
"Why do you refuse to hear me?"
Kaede-Lucy seemed resolute.
"Simple. Your Father made Man in his image and likeness. Do I look like Humans?"
Yeshua kept on.
"My Father also made you and yours. Some have said to replace Humans, though he wonders where they took their information from, as regards this supposed choice. Then again, he gets a lot of people who claim that."
Kaede knew well who she was bantering with, but the need for answers overrode any manner of awe.
"Funny. I never pegged you for the type to engage in quips."
Yeshua never stopped smiling, and for Kaede-Lucy, it was all the more unnerving for the fact that it was an entirely sincere and positive smile.
"Hmm. And here my brothers tell me that I never shut up."
"Yeah, whatever. You still haven't answered my question."
Yeshua came as close to sighing as he ever might, and that sigh carried a universe of concern for Kaede's well-being.
"Your answers will not be found in this shadowed encounter, that you will likely not remember clearly after we are done. Also, since my niece informs me that I am sometimes a trifle cosmic and overly vague in my answers-"
"I didn't say that, exactly."
"-I will quote certain learned people living in the physical side of creation. To quote, or to paraphrase these scholars, Kaede, the phrases image and likeness are perhaps badly misunderstood. An image is a reflection, and reflections are never the precise recreation of what is reflected. On the same note, likeness refers to the nature of Humans, not how they appear. My Father is of one nature; Man is of a similar, or like nature-that is to say, that nature has a likeness to my Father's-but it is not the same nature. That likeness is a part of you and all the ones you play a part in creating, Kaede."
Kaede-Lucy tried to taunt the reassuring presence, to no effect.
"Like Hell We Are! And if that girl goes off on me again, we'll settle who's the Devil's Daughter real fast!"
"You'd so get your ass kicked."
Yeshua again remained the picture of calm.
"Potty-mouth—Kanae and Lucys both. And Kaede—she would make you regret that battle. It was left to her to punish those four children of your acquaintance, after all."
A look went from the mortal Lucy to the immortal one, and the latter nodded in confirmation. The mortal Lucy shrugged.
"I thought you loved kids. But those four got sent downstairs?"
Yeshua seemed saddened but resolved.
"Only after multiple opportunities to answer for their lives were spurned. We must all answer for the lives we have led, Kaede."
"On one level, I broke the law, knowing the consequences of doing so where the rulers were harsh and cruel. On another, I was told of the burden I must carry and chose to carry it. You will answer, Kaede, and there will be many you must answer to. The answer you provide will mark your journey thereafter."
Kaede-Lucy closed her eyes.
"Then I'm done, and I'll be frying with those four soon enough, I guess."
Other-Lucy tasked her counterpart.
"You think it's as simple as burning? This is the 2000's, girl! Nobody does brimstone anymore. Nope—it's a whole lot more personal."
This time, Yeshua did not task his niece, but a look asked her to stop interrupting. She took this look seriously.
"She is right, Kaede. Those four children had the power to escape being punished, and they still have it now, if they merely realize the right answer, and understand the truth of what they did wrong, with all its ramifications. Their true sin lay not in your betrayal, or even in the pup's torture. It lays in the miasma of hate they surrounded themselves with, as a shield against lives they didn't care for. That is really all it takes – true confession, true repentance, and true understanding."
That sounded far too simple to Kaede, who thought she had a counter-argument.
"So what about people like Hitler—or Kakuzawa?"
Kaede had almost included Kurama, but knew that he had a heart of some kind. In the whisperings about Chief Kakuzawa, and the rare times she heard him talking near her containment unit, she knew the words of a true monster. Before she died, she would still be astounded by the depths of this, though.
"Some are more lost than others, and sadly, may be lost forever. The sheer amount of people they have to give answers to can be a challenge. But let me offer you two last pieces of advice, Kaede, and you may take from them what you will."
Kaede-Lucy could be both cruel and prideful, but she knew the one before her could make her listen if he wanted to, so she listened.
"One is, if you were not of the same nature as Humans, would words or deeds matter to you? Would you even have bothered with Kouta? Would you have punished his seeming betrayal by hurting his family and not him, if such concepts were truly beyond you? Would that small soul who loved you, who you fed with your own meager food, and whose loss broke so much in you have even mattered to you in the slightest? Your problem at last comes, Kaede, not from being Inhuman, but from being all too Human. As to building your own world? Kaede, I know of a place where many dwell who have made their own world. It is a place most wish to avoid. My elder brother is warden in it, and it tasks him to do this."
Trying to digest this, Kaede did not interrupt as he finished.
"The second thing is, I can see that looking to me is not a possibility for you. So, if you cannot turn to my love—and it is there for you, Kaede, at anytime—"
He embraced her, and kissed her on her left horn. Kaede seemed embarrassed at first, but accepted it and then looked at the one she had tasked as he spoke.
"—then believe in all your friends, and in Kouta's love. It is a fierce, resilient love, and not a fragile thing you can break like Kanae's seashell."
Kanae spoke up at this.
"You broke the seashell I gave Onii-Chan!?"
Kaede-Lucy actually seemed more sheepish about this than about Kanae's murder.
"Yeah. Sorry. Nyu-she saw it made him sad, and snapped it in two."
Kanae rolled her eyes.
"Snapped it in two. Gee, wonder where she got THAT from!"
Yeshua looked at his niece and commented on Kanae's new speech method.
"You've been a bad influence on her. Kanae—that seashell had become a weight upon your brother. He no longer remembered you as a good memory, but as a sad one."
Kanae looked as horrified as she had when her brother, with poor cosmic timing, told her that he would hate her for the truth she told.
"Onii-Chan was sad because of me? Then that stupid shell is better off broken."
His business done, Yeshua prepared to take Kaede's visitors back to a better place. But Kanae made a plea. Yeshua nodded.
"If it is alright with Kaede."
Kaede-Lucy looked annoyed, but acquiesced.
"I will allow it—if Kanae tells me whether or not she can forgive me."
Kanae shook her head firmly.
"I can't. Not for me or Papa. But because of Onii-Chan. I saw in your memories that Kanae and Papa didn't matter to you at all. You really wanted to hurt Onii-Chan, and that I can't forgive. But Kaede? I really hope you get the chance to apologize to Kouta, when he remembers. Just—be ready. Onii-Chan can be really, really harsh—but he's usually full of hot air."
Kaede cracked a smile, to find common ground of the one they loved with someone she had wronged so badly. Kanae then made her leap.
Outside of Maple House, Nana's strategic apology for her attack upon Nyu had brought a measure of peace, as had Kouta's trip to the beach to fetch back a despondent Yuka and reassure her of his affection. Going outside to be with all of them, Nyu felt a sudden tug, and was briefly with her Lucy inside their mind, while another spirit got one last chance for a hug on this side of the veil.
Kanae ignored all else, and focused on the one who would always be her big brother. Once again, Nyu's limited power of speech proved an obstacle. She surged forward.
She hugged him with all the urgency and fervor spurred by her condition, and held back a smile when she saw how it made Yuka uncomfortable to see this. But in her joy, Kanae was still Kanae, and when she heard Mayu snark at how this was hurting Yuka, she raged.
"Hmph! Kouta-San—aren't you just a cruel monster!"
Breaking the terms of her delay, Kanae leaped into Mayu and confronted her in her mind.
"Wha—what's going on?"
"Why do you hate my Onii-Chan?"
"Who are you?"
Mayu placed the face without knowing the name.
"I've seen a picture of you. Kouta-San stares at it sometimes and smiles. Wait—Kouta-San has a little sister?"
Kanae was still fuming.
"Never mind that! My Onii-Chan-and Yuka-give you a home, but you're always afraid of him, call him a pervert, and now you yell at him when someone hugs him and he didn't even start it?"
Mayu, like Lucy-Kaede and like all of us, could be a slightly different person when barriers were lowered.
"I don't hate him at all. I love Kouta-San and Yuka-San."
"You don't have to go that far."
Mayu seemed to welcome this openness.
"Kouta-San is my Papa. He is a very good Papa. I adore and worship him for giving me a home, and safety. If asked to, I would die in his place."
Kanae was badly confused.
"Then why do you get all nervous and angry towards him?"
"You see, my Step-Papa hurt me very badly. He hurt my trust. Kouta-San cannot help with that, so I look to another person who maybe can't be trusted, to rebuild that. But my head cannot trust Kouta-San, even though this is what he deserves. I guess—I guess that, because Kouta-San is so very kind, it's hard for me to see him end up hurting Yuka. Also, it's like Kouta and I have an agreement that he will suffer the wrath I can never vent on my stepfather. I guess, in that way, he's even a little like—well, I don't want to be blasphemous-where did you go?"
Mayu woke as Nana caught her stumbling. She saw a Yuka still fuming from Nyu's hyper-embrace of Kouta, made worse when Nyu again took over the body she shared with her darker self. Without knowing why, she whispered to Yuka.
"Maybe he's not being cruel. Nyu can be a handful—and she usually grabs one, too. I think he means well, Yuka-San."
The part about 'handfuls' made Yuka smile, and brought down her wrath just a notch as they moved to get Nana her first real meal and some new clothes. Despite some settling in, no one at Maple House would have to face real wrath for the rest of that week.
Then, a blond-haired cherub with a wrath to rival either of the two Lucys described herein would shake their world hard.
In one corner of creation, this encounter would prove revelatory and final.
In another, it would lead to a sinister satellite launch that would move a hateful plan into high gear.
But in a higher corner of those creations and many others, Kanae awoke after being forcibly pulled out of Mayu. She saw her Lucy, whom she was upset with.
"You lied to-"
But this Lucy slapped her, then grabbed her up and held her close, crying as she did.
"You moron! Going into Mayu was never part of the deal. What if you had gone into her memories? Her Stepfather could have hurt you, there. You might have gotten lost, and never been able to come back."
Lucy looked a stunned Kanae in the eyes.
"How would I feel if you never came back?"
Kanae felt one piece of joy, right away.
"You really are my friend. But why didn't you tell me? Lucy, you're an Angel!"
Michael and Lucy's Father stepped forward, and Kanae knew Lucy was in trouble. Michael spoke.
"Lucy is special, even here. But the other children, the ones from your side, have heard a version of Heaven's story that, while true in some worlds, is not in ours. As a result, they are frightened of Lucy and think she is trying to hurt them."
The Morningstar nodded and picked up his brother's narrative.
"In this iteration of our Father's creation, he attempted to avoid the conflict between us. He showed me worlds where my rebellion had gone horribly wrong, and even some strange ones, where I was the good one, and he the bad. Those-really make my head hurt. But he said that, without those strange parts, his Creation would be one less step than wondrous. So I renounced my rebellion, and my opposition to the creation of your kind down below. I took the post I inhabit in other realms, but I am still welcome here. Down below, I provide the keep for those too lost to see the light, until some few are ready to find and give the answers needed. But the story as most know it is persistent, and is told even where it is not the case."
Lucy picked up the next part.
"So is conflict. Persistent, I mean. It can't be gotten around—Granpa tried to explain it to me, but I fell asleep. So when the War In Heaven was averted, and when my Papa never tried to take my Granpa's place, the conflict moved to Earth, and someone else became determined to try. That man Kakuzawa that Kaede mentioned. He will create a war on Earth that will rival any Heavenly conflict in any world where my Papa actually rebelled. That's why your world has horned people—actually two different types."
Kanae sat down, and at first it just seemed these transcendent answers were too much for her. As she began to cry and sob, Lucy tried to run to her. But Michael stopped this.
"This is the first part of your punishment, Lucy."
"Kanae, why are you crying?"
Kanae looked at her.
"It felt so good to hold my Onii-Chan again, I forgot how much I love him, and now it'll be a long time before I see him anymore!"
Lucy felt broken inside, and realized Kanae's pain was a consequence of her actions, her misguided attempt to help her friend. But her own pain had only begun.
"Here's the other part of your punishment. Yeshua forgives, Lucy—because he's your Uncle, and he's well—Yeshua. But I'm your father—also The Accuser, The Adversary, and I can't go easy on my own!"
Lucy screamed as the wings were torn from her back. Kanae protested.
"Please! She only wanted to help me! Punish Kanae instead!"
For a brief moment, Lucy's father appeared to be exactly who all the old stories said.
"Kanae should be punished. Seizing bodies, letting herself be lost in Kaede's anger."
The moment passed, and he appeared again as a stern taskmaster who played it by the book.
"But she also fought for the redemption of one she had every reason to hate, and wished her well as she left. Yeshua was very impressed by you. As am I, and as is Michael."
The Morningstar handed Michael the wings torn from Lucy. They were changed to the reddish hue of Kanae's favorite bow—which was a birthday gift from her older brother. Michael placed them on Kanae's back, where they bonded to her. Michael nodded.
"Kanae—you will be in charge of shepherding those souls whose lives are taken in the course of the war to come. My wayward niece will show you the ropes-if we had ropes, so why did I say that?—oh well. Will you do it?"
Kanae lit up.
"Sure! But—stories or no—don't you and Lucy's Papa fight a lot?"
"Well, we are brothers, after all."
The two elders wandered off, trash-talking about who would win their next sparring match. Kanae attended to Lucy.
"I'm so sorry."
Lucy looked, saw that her family had left (well, except one who never quite left) and stood up. Her back wounds healed up, and she brushed herself off.
"It's okay. He usually doesn't just pull them off like that, so he must have been pretty pissed. Granpa will bring them back in about a week—maybe a month, this time."
"But why'd you scream like that, if it didn't hurt all that much?"
Lucy grinned a grin so evil, her earthly counterpart's inner voice would have winced.
"Let's just say, even the Morningstar has a Daddy's reluctance to punish his precious little girl."
They high-fived, and Kanae asked another question that made her friend roll her eyes.
"Who is your grandfather?"
"Promise not to slap me?"
Lucy (without really knowing why) whispered the answer. Keeping her promise, Kanae thought it through till realization sank in.
"Wow! What's that like?"
Lucy measured out an answer.
"On the one hand, I get almost whatever I want, and I'm currently the only grandchild, so you know what that means."
But her smile faded.
"On the other hand, you don't really get away with ANY-THING!"
"I can see how that would be a problem. By the way, where is your mother?"
Kanae gave in.
Months passed, above and below, and Kanae did well in her training.
"Kanae-chan—oh, thank you for visiting Mariko so often. She is still so shaken, and misses her Papa so much."
Kanae checked the list, and gave some hope to Mrs. Kurama.
"When the last of her clones are done with, and that should be soon, Mariko will feel a lot better and be able to play."
Kanae checked in with her superior, The Angel Of Death.
"Why doesn't anyone know how to help Mariko sooner?"
Azrael looked over at mother and daughter in pity.
"This thing—this cloning—it's a new one, and I thought I'd seen it all. Until all the fragments of her soul arrive, even this place is no comfort. What about Number 28?"
"I brought her right to Yeshua. Peter even nodded me through."
Kanae had been glad. Even the minor formalities of that place had been suspended, in light of what the girl called 28 had been through. She was sleeping right in the Presence itself. But her boss had news for the new angel.
"Kanae, Lucy will be handling your job from now on."
Kanae was crestfallen.
"But hasn't Kanae done a good job here?"
Lucy's Uncle, like Lucy's father, was gentler than his reputation.
"You have. But the last arrival of this first part of the war will be arriving soon, and you will have the job of making sure her case will be prosecuted fairly. But before we start you on that, we have to purge you of an old hate."
"I don't hate Kaede anymore-I kind of feel sorry for her."
Azrael led her to a view-portal.
"You know who I mean. See now this past Christmas at Maple House."
Kanae frowned as the vision began.
Nozomi, Nana and Mayu stood around Yuka while she made a sweeping motion with her arms.
"He's not like that!"
"I think Kouta-San is wonderful. But to forget the Christmas you both first met? That's terrible."
"He's always so mean!"
Mayu seemed conflicted, but all the angrier for it.
"Why does he always have to do things like this?"
Kanae saw Yuka rise again to her Onii-Chan's defense.
"Oh, you want to know why? Because, Mayu, the same heart that insisted we take all of you in can't bear to remember one awful, awful night. The night his family was taken from him."
Mayu shook her head.
"Wait—I thought his sister died when her bicycle was run over, and his father died of pneumonia a month later."
Nana closed her eyes.
"No-his sister had cancer, and his Papa drank too much from grief and crashed his car."
Nozomi also recalled hearing something different.
"Yuka-San, has Kouta-San been lying to us? Why would he do that?"
Yuka almost seemed angry at her makeshift family.
"No, No, No! Didn't you listen to me? My Uncle and my little cousin Kanae were murdered. Horribly torn apart. Kouta saw it all, and he was covered in their blood when the police found him. Their killer was never found. Kouta spent a year in a psychiatric hospital, and ever since, he can't remember large parts of his childhood. He blocks it out, so he doesn't have to remember that night."
Nana took this in, and then had a Nana moment.
"So—you're actually the mean one."
Mayu's eyes went wide.
"Well, Yuka-San always gets upset and yells when Kouta-San doesn't treat her like his oldest and dearest friend, and if he doesn't remember that because of his Papa and little sister, then Kouta-San is all right and Yuka is mean."
Nozomi jumped in.
"I don't think Sempai is mean. But Yuka-Chan, if you know this about him, why do you get so upset with him about this?"
Yuka was now fighting back tears.
"I'm horrible to him. But when he doesn't remember things, I'm always afraid that it's maybe because he hates me, and if Kouta hated me, I wouldn't want to live! He's so stupid, and loving him makes me crazy."
She looked down at the picture of Kanae, and on the other side, the real Kanae made peace with her interfering, tagalong cousin.
"It's alright, Yuka-chan. Sometimes, I don't know how to love him, either."
Yuka saw that she had cried on Kanae's picture.
"Oh, look what I've done. You know, we two never got along, and if she could see this mess, she'd probably hate me even…"
Mayu grabbed a cloth, and took out the picture, lovingly preserved, from inside its frame.
"I'll clean it up, Yuka-chan. Go and make up with Kouta-San, and we can read Nyu a Christmas story-just not 'The Little Match Girl'."
"Not ever again. That was sad—and Nyu ran off like crazy."
While the trio walked off, Mayu heard Nana press Yuka for details on the murder of Kouta's family. When Yuka gave in and quietly told what she knew, something very like realization dawned in Nana's eyes, but she said nothing more. Mayu cleaned up the picture frame, and then whisked the picture out for a brief look. She set it down and bowed to it.
"Merry Christmas, Auntie Kanae."
Kanae began to beam at her 'niece', but the one person who kept complicating her life apparently had no desire to stop, even if Kanae's life technically had a decade ago.
"Nyu! Mayu come watch Christmas Carol? Magoo—Magoo! Brings down whole theatre!"
"In a minute, Nyu. Just let me replace the picture in its frame."
"Mayu's boobies growing!?"
The victim of the gentle girl's last sexual rampage, Mayu glared.
"Don't-you—even—dream-about it. Don't make me go all Shinobu on your head with that frying pan!"
Nyu frowned, then made her own Love Hina reference.
Nyu made a squeezing motion with her hands.
Mayu finished resealing the frame, and replaced it back in its place of honor.
"Mutsumi? Too clumsy. She wouldn't last ten minutes in the real world."
Both the Angel Of Death and Kanae were unnerved by what happened next.
"Is—is Nyu looking at us?"
Indeed, the childlike (though maturing, since the loss of her horns) girl seemed to be looking directly back at the other side.
Mayu saw Nyu waving at nothing at all.
"What are you doing now? Honestly, you're so unpredictable, and you get Kouta-San in so much trouble."
"Yes, Nyu. Kanae. I've fixed her picture. Now let's go watch Mister Magoo."
Nyu kept waving as she left.
"Merry Christmas, Kanae. Thank You!"
Azrael closed the view-portal with all haste.
"And people say I'm creepy?"
"You're also named after a cat. By the way, a bunch of soldiers just arrived."
Azrael threw up his arms.
"Yes. Please, keep sending ordinary soldiers against super-powered little girls. Because it always goes so well. And don't get me started about that cat!"
More weeks passed, and the expected arrival at last came. Azrael asked Kanae to be there, and the Lucy she knew finagled her way in to the waiting area as well. Kaede-Lucy arrived, an exhausted spirit whose one leg of the journey was done. She was, by the standards of that place, quite unconscious.
"Girls—take her and prep her for the trial. I'll inform her defense counsel."
The Lucy native to that place pointed.
"Uncle Az—another arrival—no two more!"
The keeper of the last scheduled stop (though it was wise not to call it the 'final destination' - he really hated that) was again confused.
"There's no one expected for five whole minutes."
Which was a miracle in their line of work, five whole minutes being an eternity. But indeed two more lights came through. Azrael looked at his niece.
"Ask your father if he wants to trade jobs."
To all appearances, another Kaede-Lucy appeared, also full-grown, this in the company of Kaede as she had looked while a young girl. The girl spoke first.
"But I thought Kouta-san was to destroy me…"
The other full-grown Kaede-Lucy quickly revealed her identity.
"Nyu! Hi Kanae! Nyu!"
As Kanae and Lucy Morningstar were bear-hugged and in some cases, more intimately assaulted, the haggard, overworked Angel Of Death looked at three arrivals who were supposed to be just one.
"This complicates matters. Oh, Father, why me? Don't—don't answer that."
Those answers, and even more questions, would wait for another day.
The many selves of Kaede had judgment to face.
Note : This part of the story will be resolved in Long Live The Queen 11, when I reach it. I hope no one took offense to my treatment of the afterlife here. This is not meant to proselytize, mock or do anything other than tell what I hope was an interesting story