Homura walked down the stairs and to the dining room, leaving Shirou to handle whatever that mess was that he had just found. Considering the state his Ashikabi was in when Homura had dragged him up to his room last night, he highly doubted that anything had actually happened between the man on the other 3 women. Well, not for a lack of Nero trying anyway. And that other woman who Homura really felt he should recognize from somewhere seemed to be ok with it too. Really, Uzume was the only one acting sensibly in that whole nonsense.
Homura walked into the dining room to find Rin looking over a stack of papers, her Sekirei seated on either side of her. The dark haired girl looked up as he entered the room. "What is Shirou cursing Caren's name for this time?"
Homura blinked in surprise at how she didn't seem at all confused at how Shirou had just shouted a woman's name as if calling for vengeance. "I don't know. All I did was hand him a letter from that…" he spared a glance a Tsukiumi. "person who came here last night. Who is Caren anyway?"
"Wait, I thought his sister's name was Yukari."
"Caren is his step-sister." Rin said with a sigh. "She's the daughter of that priest which raised him. Unfortunately, she picked up a trait or two from the man."
Homura frowned. "Shirou has never really talked about it, but I've gotten the impression from him that his father was not the best of men. Is Caren…?"
Rin snorted. "While saying that Kirei Kotomine was 'not the best of men' is a better complement than he deserves, his daughter is fortunately not a bad person." She looked of to the side and grumbled. "Merely annoying as hell."
Homura was about to ask more about it, but then remembered that he probably wouldn't like the answer anyway and changed the subject. "So, what are all the papers for?"
"Contracts with GeoSynth." She replied as she turned back to the work in front of her. "It's the artificial gem lab that I was coming to Japan to meet with in the first place. It took a while to reschedule an appointment since I missed the first one, but that's had its advantages." Rin gave a smirk that looked positively evil. "Because I got an MBI card, the company has made a very generous first payment for me. I think I might build a swimming pool back at my estate for this."
The man wasn't quite sure how to feel about that. On the one hand he felt like chastising her for using MBI's money irresponsibly, but on the other hand… well, Minaka certainly deserved worse. "So, what are you going to do when they find out that you're not using that money for the Sekirei Plan?"
She shrugged. "What can they do? It's not like I signed any legally binding documents or anything, and I somehow doubt that they'll be viewing me in a positive light for much longer given what we're planning. Besides, I am using some of it for the Plan." She pointed her thumb off to the side. "I am having a workshop built in the vacant lot next to the inn. It is a crude thing compared to the one I have back in London, but it shall suffice for the time being."
"I had wondered what that was…" Homura muttered to himself. He had seen the shed being built for the past few days but had not enquired what it was for.
Tsukimui merely grunted at this. "Though it is admirable that you are taking this seriously, I do not see what good a 'workshop' will do. I as the strongest Sekirei will most definitely win the Sekirei Plan!" She said with her fist held clenched in front of her.
Homura winced slightly at this. It had only been a day since Tsukimui had joined the group, so she still didn't know that they were actually planning to put a stop to the whole nonsense. Considering how focused on the Plan she was, Tsukimui would likely not enjoy hearing it either. Rin must have been thinking the same thing, as she glanced at the blonde to her right with her lips pressed together.
Whatever she might have had to say though was interrupted when Musubi jumped in and said "That's right! Together we can protect Rin-san and win!"
Rin turned to Musubi with a confused look on her face. "Wait, Tsukiumi I can understand, but how is it you don't know about this?"
"Know about what?" The woman asked, tilting her head to the side.
"She obviously is talking about how there can only be one winner." Tsukiumi said. "We can be allies up to a point, but when it comes to the end there can only be one Sekirei and their Ashikabi who win the Plan."
"Oh right!" Musubi said cheerfully, knuckling her hand into her head. "I forgot!"
"No, I was taking about- wait, what do you mean there can only be one Sekirei?" Rin asked, her expression shifting to concern. "I assumed that was a generalization because most never wing more than one. MBI can't possible expect Sekirei bonded to the same person to fight each other."
"Those are the rules." The blonde to her right said sternly.
"I look forward to fighting you someday, Tsukiumi-san!" the brunette to her left said happily.
Rin looked at both of the women, an expression of bewilderment and mild horror on her face. Then her expression grew harder. "No."
"I am forbidding you two from ever fighting each other." Rin said in a serious tone. "I don't care what any 'rules' might say, I will not have one of you die at the other's hand for such a stupid reason as that."
"But we're supposed to!" Musubi insisted. "How else will we supposed to know who the strongest in the plan is?"
"We're not participating in the Plan idiot, we're trying to stop it!" Rin yelled. "We talked about this at least a half a dozen times!"
"Oh right!" Musubi exclaimed with a giggle. "I guess I forgot about that too!"
Rin groaned at this and put her head into her hand, but that was far from the end of it. Tsukiumi, quite predictably, was not pleased to hear what her Ashikabi was planning. "What?! What do you mean you're trying to stop it?!"
Rin turned back to her exasperated. "I mean that the Plan is pointlessly cruel and seems to serve no functional purposes whatsoever. I honestly don't understand why you are so keen on the idea."
"It- It's just what the Sekirei are supposed to do!" Tsukiumi replied. "The honor and glory of victory go to the winner!"
Homura noticed a small sneer form on Rin's lips at that statement. "Oh really? And who told you that it would be an honor to win? The people running the damn thing?" The blonde shifted uncomfortably, but Rin pressed on. "And what will you do to those who don't want to fight? Because I far as I can tell, that happens to be most of the Sekirei in the city."
"A-anyone who doesn't fight is a coward." Tsukiumi said, but now she looked less sure of herself.
"It's not cowardice if you just want to live and be left alone. I would accept it if you Sekirei had a different outlook on things because you're aliens, but everything I've seen of you so far shows that's not the case. Like I said, most Sekirei are appalled by the idea of the Plan." Rin leaned in closer. "So, what will you do when you get to the end and meet an opponent who doesn't want to fight? Would you terminate those who only want to be with their bonded ones? Would you end them as they begged you to let them stay with their loved ones? Is that the glory you were talking about?"
"I-I…" Tsukiumi stuttered as she tried to answer, but she was clearly too unnerved to say anything. She had probably never thought that far ahead in her quest to prove herself the Strongest. Homura was starting to think that foresight was not one of the strengths of their species. Still, it was a good thing that Tsukiumi was facing these issues now rather than making a mistake later.
However… "That's enough, Rin." Homura said, drawing the woman's attention to him. Good though it might be for her, it made him uncomfortable to see her so distressed. "You've made your point."
Rin gave him a level look before she sighed and relaxed. "Fine, but I'm not going to have any of my Sekirei attacking people who don't deserve it. Besides, I'm sure that we can find plenty who do if you're really interested."
"Yay!" Musubi exclaimed. "I hope these people are really strong!"
The rest of the room just stared at the shrine maiden's in response to her statement. Fortunately, they didn't have to respond to it as a moment later the landlady walked into the room, a tray of food held before her. "You can put those papers away now, Rin-kun. I shall not have such business over lunch." She gave a mock sigh of sadness. "But to think that I might not even be making it any more. Your friend Sakura is quite good the culinary arts, as is that Deacon of yours. With the lot of you moved in, my kitchen is in danger of being taken over!"
Sakura followed in behind Miya, a plate in her hands as well. "Rin is also quite good at it Miya-sama." She said as she set the plate down on the table. "The three of us did not really have proper guardians, so we had to learn how to take care of ourselves. Over time, it became something of a competition between us." Akitsu followed behind her Ashikabi, carrying a tea pot.
"And nothing breeds skill like competition I suppose." Miya mused as she set down her own plate. In short order the table was soon filled and everyone was seated somewhere or another. Miya glanced around for a moment. "Is Sahashi-kun still asleep? I would have hoped that he was good enough to get out of bed by now."
"He's fine." Homura said dryly. "Last I saw he was with Uzume and the guest she brought here last night."
"I wasn't aware that the lay about had brought someone here." Miya remarked. Uzume had come home even later than Shirou and Homura had. "Is it anyone I know?"
"I should certainly hope so, Miya-san." A voice drifted into the room, and following it was the dark-haired woman Homura had seen earlier, though thankfully she was wearing more clothes this time (even if the purple Chinese dress left little to the imagination). "After all, I did rent from you some time ago, among other things."
Miya looked at the woman in mild surprise. "Had I known you were stopping by I would have asked that you did so during the day rather than in the dead of night, Kazehana."
The name gave Homura a moment's pause, and he went still on remembering where he had heard it before. Kazehana, No. 03, former member of the first Disciplinary Squad. And she had been naked on top of his Ashikabi a few minutes ago. Why did that damn idiot end up attracting all of the dangerous people in the city?!
Said idiot was not far behind the dark haired woman, and perked up as well at Miya's comment. "Wait, Kazehana? Aren't you-" whatever else he was going to say was cut off as he glanced around the room and noticed Rin and Sakura. All three of them then looked away from each other awkwardly, light blushes forming on their faces. Homura simply pinched the bridge of his nose at this. He had spent his adolescence in the MBI tower like the rest of the Sekirei, but he had a sneaking suspicion that this is what high school would have been like.
Before any of them tied to do anything about the situation there was knock at the door. "I'll get it." Shirou said quickly and he swiftly made his way out of the room.
"What was that about?" Tsukiumi asked.
"Don't ask." Homura groaned.
The assembled group could hear Shirou taking with someone, but they couldn't make out any words. Kazehana turned to the landlady. "In any case, I find myself wanting to become a renter again."
"Really? Well, I suppose there is no problem with that, though I do hope that at least some of the new renters I've acquired in the past few days are able to actually pay rent." Miya replied with amusement.
Shirou then came back into the room. "I'm sorry everyone, but it looks like I'm going to have to eat and run." He said, and he began quickly taking food off the table and wolfing it down.
Miya frowned at this. "Manners, Sahashi-kun! And why is it that you have to leave us so quickly."
Shirou was draining a glass of orange juice as she said that, so someone else answered for him. "I'm afraid that is my fault." A cheerful old voice said, and that… thing that looked like an old man in priest garb stepped into the doorway. "Something has come up and we really do need him for church business immediately."
Miya merely twisted her mouth at him, but said nothing. A few moments later, Shirou finished stuffing his face and swallowed. "So, I… Uh, we'll… bye." He said awkwardly before he walked out the door with the priest.
Mubusi waved emphatically at their backs. "Bye Shirou-san! Bye King of Rats-san!"
"What?" Tsukiumi said, looking confused at the brunette's odd combination of title and honorific. "That can't- why would you call him that?"
"Because he's the King of Rats!" She replied. "He's actually this really cute little rat with a crown that can turn into a person! And he's also some boy's left arm! Because of magic!"
The table was silent at this, Tsukiumi and Kazehana staring at the girl like she was crazy, Homura, Miya and Rin shifting uncomfortably as they really didn't want to have to explain this. "Musubi…" Rin said slowly and with a fake smile on her face. "What have I told you about saying things like… that in front of other people?"
She looked at Rin in surprise. "Oh! Is this like the same thing with your making people fall asleep and your magic eye laser?"
"That was you?!" Tsukiumi exclaimed, pointing her finger at her Ashikabi. "I thought that I was just imagining that!"
A tick mark formed on Rin's head but she still managed to keep her smile. "Yes, well, that was me, but it wasn't magic. I simply have a very advanced prosthetic eye." She lied smoothly.
Tsukiumi frowned at her. "Why do you have an eye that can shoot lasers?"
"What part of 'because laser eye' do you aliens not understand?" Rin snapped.
"Ano…" Heads turned to the hesitant voice and found Sakura looking confused. "I'm sorry, but do the Sekirei know about magic? Akitsu wasn't very clear on this."
"Ah…" said the passive woman behind her. "I didn't know."
Rin gaped at her sister for a moment before she put her head in her hands with a groan. Fortunately, Miya stepped into and changed the topic. "Ara, that is enough of such silly nonsense. Let's move on to more important matters shall we? As it seems that you will be staying for a while, might it be best if you introduce yourself, Kazehana-san?"
"There is not much to tell, I'm afraid." The woman said, pulling a sake bottle from somewhere on her person and taking a drink, her tone taking a whimsical air. "I am No. 03, Kazehana, a searcher of love once lost."
Tsukiumi's need for propriety overcame her incredulousness at the previous conversation and she responded in kind. "I-I am No. 9, Tsukiumi. And I am the strongest Sekirei!" She exclaimed, falling back on old habits.
However, Sakura once again spoke up. "Wait, I thought Miya was the strongest Sekirei? Isn't that what the 01 means?"
"What?!" Tsukiumi exclaimed, now pointing her finger at Miya. "Y-you're the 01?!"
"Sakura… you're really bad at this." Rin said flatly.
The white haired woman had the grace to look embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm lacking some context to the current situation."
"Indeed you are, Sakura-chan." Miya said, her tone taking on that subtle dangerous quality that Homura knew all too well. "Perhaps you would do best to remain silent for now, lest you open your mouth and let things slip that others might have wanted to keep hidden." The landlady crinkled her eyes shut and smiled, and just as he feared the Hannya mask formed over her shoulder, radiating fear and malevolence.
However, somehow, Sakura merely smiled at this. "Miya-san, I do apologize, but you shouldn't use such a negative method of keeping order. Fear is an immoral motivator in my opinion."
Miya blinked in surprise at how ineffective her usual method seemed to be on this woman in front of her. Still, the 01 was not used to backing down, so instead of letting the technique go, she increased it. Black tendrils of darkness flowed from the mask, and the whispers of the dammed could be heard all around the room. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about." Miya said placidly.
"Believe that you do." Sakura returned, her own smile not wavering.
Miya frowned and increased the technique even more. More masks began to appear behind her, each its own grotesques visage promising horror and despair. They continued until they were an endless fractal pattern of non-Euclidian terror and insanity and oh dear god he can see the face of Yog-Sothoth-
Homura gave a start when he realized that the technique had ended. He found that he couldn't remember the past minute or so, but something told him that was for the best. The state of the others reinforced this idea, with Musubi and Tsukiumi clinging on to Rin, all three of their mouths open in horror. Kazehana had dropped the bottle of sake and was twitching slightly. Akistu had become so still that she was almost a statue.
But Sakura? She was still. Just. Smiling.
Miya looked at the white haired woman in confusion. "But… how..?"
Without the smile leaving her face, Sakura said, "When I was young I was violated in mind and body every day in order to break me. I have been subjected to such horrors that would drive men insane many times over. Then and only then, was I ready to have my being consumed by all the evils of man, and have my heart wrapped in a darkness so pure that no mere word can truly describe it's evil." She took a sip from her teacup. "I think your mask is cute."
The room held only the sound of stunned silence. Then, a loud slam caused everyone to jump, and all eyes turned on Tsukiumi, who had slammed her hands into the table. "Who the hell are you people?!" she screeched.
"Welcome to my hell." Homura said.
"So, what exactly is so important that you couldn't wait for me to have some lunch?" I asked the demon priest as I followed him down the street. He hadn't said much when I greeted him at the doorway to the inn, only that my presence was required immediately. I had full well been planning to see Merem later that day, so I was a little annoyed that he had sent his left arm to get me before then. Then again, I guess I deserved it considering how drunk I was when I met him that other night.
The old man gave me a sidelong glance. "Kotomine, a few weeks ago there was a Dead Apostle that made its way into the city, do you remember?"
I blinked, as I was not expecting that to come up in the conversation. "Yes, that was the night I met Hourma. Why do you ask?"
"You said that the Apostle had managed to bring some Ghouls into the city with it, did you not? Or at least that you found some with it when you killed it."
"Again, yes. What is your point?"
"And you are sure that you killed all of them?"
I suppressed an indignant huff at that. "Of course I did. Since when have you ever known me to leave ground unburned when there's a job to be done? The very idea-" I cut myself when I noticed the look he was giving me, and I felt my body tense as I picked up on what he was getting at. "Wait, you can't possibly mean-"
"That there are more undead still in the city." The King of Rats completed for me. "I have been enquiring with my brethren and I am afraid that such is the case."
There were times when I forgot what the being in front of me truly was. His title as King of Rats was not for show, and when he chose to he could use his status to command all rodents within a given area. The demon was quite proficient in information gathering. It is a good thing that he viewed humanity in a positive light, although it made sense considering that humanity is one of the best things to ever happen to the common rat.
I looked at him incredulously. "But that's impossible. I know that I killed them all. Did more somehow sneak into the city after that?"
"That would be unlikely considering all of the security that has been posted around Shin Tokyo as of late. Sure, there are those that have the skill to slip past such things with ease, but why bother with this city in particular. No, my master and I believe that there is something more insidious afoot." He leveled a critical glaze at me. "When the Clock Tower gave use that report of the Dead Apostle, they said he was alone. He could not have created the Ghouls in such a short time frame, let alone get them into the city."
I connected the dots in my head and came to the logical conclusion. "Which means that the Ghouls were already here…" I said. "Wait, that makes even less sense. If there already was an undead presence here, we would have noticed disappearances. They would have to be sustaining themselves somehow."
The demon priest shook his head. "I do not know the answer to that. I am not even sure of how many there are, as they seem to be trying to conceal themselves. All I know is what my brethren tell me, and I believe that I am very much familiar with the traces of the Type-Moon lineage."
I grumbled at this. "Well, this is just great. On top of all this Sekirei Plan nonsense there are an unknown number of undead running around the city. And they're clearly intelligent if they are trying to avoid detection, and they most likely have a plan if they have been here for a while."
"It is possible that they are aware of the Sekirei Plan and are using it to cover their movements. The people of Shin Tokyo have already become somewhat accustomed to people displaying superhuman abilities."
I gave a hum as I thought about this. It did make a degree of sense. Still… "MBI has been keeping track of absolutely everything that's been going on in the city since the Sekirei Plan has started. There's a slim chance they might know about this and simply don't know what to make of it. Have you tried infiltrating MBI Headquarters yet?"
At this, the King of Rats looked frustrated and somewhat embarrassed. "I can't."
I blinked at surprise at this. "What do you mean you can't? Just have some rats sneak in and-"
"I mean that the building is rodent proof." He said tersely. "It seems that MBI has put a lot of time and effect into making sure that other people don't find their secrets, and as a result those that are not people also have a hard time finding their way in."
"Really? That's unexpected. I mean, I get that they would want to protect against all avenues of attack, but this is more than most."
"Indeed." The other man said with a frown as he looked at the ground. "I have only seen it before with…" He trailed off before he shook his head. "Ah, I shouldn't get ahead of myself. It could be nothing."
"Hmp. So what's the plan?"
"My master is currently in contact with the Vatican to inform them of the situation. It is likely that more Executors will be mobilized, though this time they will simply infiltrate the city rather than trying to get in through the border guards. Merem himself will not be doing much about the Apostles for a number of reasons. One of which being he still has his original task of investigating the Sekirei, and the fact that the both of you will probably be overkill no matter what the situation actually is. Save perhaps another Ancestor. " He added as an afterthought. "However, I will be providing you assistance in the form of information. In fact, the purpose of this excursion is that I have located where a nest of undead are hiding."
"And I'm to take it out before it moves." I said, starting to feel a little better about this. "Alright. Just where have these things been hiding anyway?"
The King of Rats did not say anything, instead turning into an alleyway. I followed him in a short ways until he stopped and said "Your entry point is here."
I looked around confused. There were no doors I could see. I grinned as a thought occurred to me. "Oh, so I'm going in through the walls? I like the way you think."
"No, no, not that." He said quickly before pointing at a manhole cover. "Through here."
I blinked as I looked at the slab of metal. "Oh you have got to be kidding me."
"Come now, this is far from the first time your work has taken you down to places which many of my brethren consider home."
"Yeah, but it's not like I ever actually enjoy going down there. I get horrible cramps and smell terrible."
He arched and eyebrow at me. "What about that time with those Demon Cultists in Roanapur? You seemed pretty happy after that mission."
I paused for a moment before I smiled at remembering that one. "Ah, that brings me back." It was one of the first missions I did after I left high school. I was also the last time they let me go on a mission without Nero for some reason or another. "I should give Balalaika a call sometime. I haven't spoken with her in ages."
"Hasn't she tried to kill you several times since then?"
"That's just how she says hello." I dismissed.
The demon priest sighed and shook his head. "In any case, we should take care of the task at hand as soon as possible."
I gave a sigh of my own and bent down to lift up the lid. "You're not just making me do this because I was drunk last night, is it?"
"No, this is just a happy coincidence." He said with an irritatingly serene smile. "It reality it is because you are the best one for the job at the moment. Merem is… preoccupied and Yukia, while capable, is not fit for such a task. As for Nero, well, do you want to be the one to ask your wife to go into a sewer?"
I grumbled at that, but I knew he was right. Nero hated the sewers more than I did, and while Yukia was more rough and tumble than your average exorcist, she couldn't handle a large number of undead. "I don't suppose that I could avoid future assignment like this if I make you some of that pizza you love." I said as I lowered myself into the hole.
The King of Rats expression did not change, but his eyes took on a glimmer. "Well… I can promise nothing, but I will put in a good word for you."
I gave a small snort and let myself drop the rest of the way. I gave a glance around with the light the open lid provided me. It wasn't as cramped as some of the other ones I had been in, but it was still a sewer. There was no way I was using my Black Keys with any kind of effectiveness down here.
Still, I felt a small grin etch itself on my face. That just meant I would have to use other means at my disposal. The darkness around me retreated as flames danced around me, and I strode forward to start the hunt.