Chapter 2: Destiny's Gambit

Disclaimer: I do not own Sekirei, or any characters, major concepts, or logos associated with the series. This fan story is made for fun, not profit.

"Your return was miraculous to say the least, but can I trust you?" Takami took a puff from her cigarette with a dismal expression, gently tapping the end to disperse the ashes.

"I promise to do everything in my power to ensure the safety of Minato and the others." Yume rested her hands on her knees and nodded firmly, carefully eying the woman sitting behind the desk.

A nostalgic expression crossed the face of MBI's assistant director. "I see you haven't changed."

"It's funny you would say that, since Karasuba made the same statement back on the bridge. I personally take it as a compliment."

Since it was only a matter of hours before Minato's release from the hospital, his mother had taken the liberty of talking with Number 08 before allowing the newly reactivated Sekirei to leave with her son. Part of the reason was to ensure that her loyalties were in the right place, but at the same time she felt it was imperative to ensure that this was indeed Yume and not some type of identity disorder created by the deceased Sekirei's core. Judging by their conversation so far and certain memories she carried of the original S-Plan, Takami was certain that the person sitting before her was the real deal.

Takami placed a hand on the surface of her desk. "Normally this wouldn't be my concern, but the boy was always too weak and dependent to help himself, let alone provide for others. Are you up to the task?"

"You seem to have so little faith in him, despite being his mother." Yume replied with a serious expression, the gesture looking out of place on Musubi's face. After pausing or a moment, she raised her right hand and placed it above her heart. "From inside of this child, I sensed great love and devotion between Minato and the others. I understand why they chose him as their beloved, and in some ways, I have come to love him just as Musubi did."

"At the very least it seems he can rely on you. I trust you plan on escorting him back to Maison Izumo once I sign the release form?"

"Of course… As his Sekirei, it is my duty to do all I can for Minato. In any case, I look forward to spending time getting to know my Ashikabi."

Takami removed the cigarette in her mouth and exhaled, her action releasing a plume of smoke into the air. "Nevertheless, I advise you to be careful in the meantime. No doubt my report has reached Minaka by this point, which means he's aware of the strange phenomena that occurred on the bridge and the termination of the Third Generation Discipline Squad."

"Exactly what does this have to do with us?"

"Apparently this long absence has dulled your sense of danger." The older woman replied with a slightly condescending note. "That bastard thinks of the Sekirei Plan as one giant game. Since your reemergence is such an unusual case, he may try to turn you into a commodity, or figure out a way of pitting players against you in the game."

The Sekirei's expression became more innocent. "But why would he do that?"

"Since you left, the project has changed into a giant elimination tournament in which all Sekireis are pitted against each other in one giant Battle Royal. He's turned the superhuman abilities of your kind into an event for his own amusement."

"But to pit people against each other that have met an fallen in love… It's just too horrible to put into words." She clenched her fists. "How could you have gone along with something like this?"

"A lot has changed since you time as Chief of the Discipline Squad, and even back then Minaka was beginning to scheme." Takami answered bluntly, her face remaining impassive. "I'm sure you saw the members of the Third Generation unit during that battle. They are the ones bred through the nature of the new S-Plan."

Number 08 looked away for a moment, her eyes casting sense a sorrow. "They had no love in their hearts, just like Karasuba.

"Those three were known for attacking both Sekirei and Ashikabi alike, despite the latter being against the rules of the game. Perhaps now you can understand just how far things have moved without you."

"It pains me to know that such Sekirei were born into this word only to revel in the destruction of their enemies." Yume placed a hand on her heart. "I never took you for the type to take pleasure in needless violence. Why allow this?"

Takami slammed her hands down in annoyance, her cigarette falling out of her mouth. "You honestly think I don't know everything that's happening out there?"

"Then why not stop it!? You can't be the only person who hates watching them fight for the president's amusement."

"If we had the capacity to stop Minaka's insanity, I would do it in a heartbeat. As the situation stands right now, I can only hope that the innocent people forced to participate in this game make it out alive and undamaged by the psychological games he's been playing with their emotions."

Yume stood up abruptly and turned her back on the other woman, pausing mid-step as she prepared to leave the room. "I suppose it's only natural, since we've all done things we're not proud of." She began in a flat tone. "With Minato's help, I believe we may be able to make things right again."

Although his mother didn't lash out, her mannerisms indicated a sense of skepticism. "I watched him grow up and have seen Minato's inadequacies holding him down his entire life. It may not be wise to put your faith in him when so many lives are at stake, that is my honest opinion."

"Say whatever you want, but I'm willing to take that bet." She opened the door, sparing a glance over her shoulder. Yume's expression remained genuine and cheerful as she locked gazes with the other woman. "When this is over, we'll see which one of us was right."

The scarred woman stomped her cigarette into cinders on the floor, a long sigh allowing all of her built up tension to escape. "I was hoping that my son wouldn't become involved in the Sekirei Plan, but it's completely out of my hands at this point."

Number 08 nodded firmly. "You're posturing doesn't fool me. Underneath all of this you are still a mother at heart." The older woman furrowed her eyebrows in contempt, but Yume continued without pause. "Rest assured that I will ensure his safety from now on, even if it costs me my own life."

Takami appeared to be irritated by the other woman's audacity, but at the same time she had expected no less from the Second Generation Disciplinary Chief. Yume was incredibly kind and courteous for the most part, but at the same time she possessed a strong conviction and open-heartedness that made her both incredibly honest yet hard to dislike at the same time. Although the last comment had irked her, she quietly wondered how long her son would take to accept this sudden change.

She sat back down and took a moment to clear her thoughts before going through the latest set of reports on her desk. With such a dangerous game going on, there was a large chance of people turning up injured or dead, and Minaka had given her the inglorious responsibility of cleaning up the messes. Picking up another paper, she read off the name of a Sekirei that had been slain in battle the previous night, the thought bringing a frown to her lips.

"I hope you can make good on that promise, Number 08." She murmured, speaking just loud enough for herself to hear.

Several Hours Later…

"Sounds like you've been through quite a bit, Yume." Minato commented.

The Sekirei smiled at the use of her name, but quickly resumed the conversation. "There's a lot of details I probably shouldn't tell you, but acting as the leader of the Discipline Squad gave me the chance to gain a lot of battle experience."

Following his release from the hospital, Yume had personally taken it upon herself to accompany him home. Since the two were now bonded just like any other Sekirei and Ashikabi, she thought it was a good opportunity to get to know him better, not through Musubi's feelings and emotions, but through her own eyes. So far, she found Minato to be genuine and polite in addition to all of the other qualities that made the bonds with his Sekireis so powerful.

During the walk home, she had told him several stories about her own life and experiences in exchange for learning more about Minato. Granted his stories were remarkably ordinary befitting his appearance, but she listened eagerly and found amusement at every turn. The kindness that constantly radiated from him and resonated with her heart was reflected through several of his life stories, and it made her feel warm and comfortable in his presence.

"Hey Yume… Did I say something that might have upset you?" he asked hesitantly.

"Of course not." She added a little too quickly. "What would have given you that impression?"

Minato looked off in the distance as he felt her eyes settle on him, mustering up his courage to answer. "Well, I noticed you became quiet all of a sudden, and just became curious." He returned her gaze. "Something on your mind?"

Yume held up Musubi's gloved hands, clenching them both as if even something so minor were foreign to her. Ironically the movement helped her organize her words. "Despite my desire to share in your love like a Sekirei should, the truth is, I feel like nothing more than an intruder in your life."

"Why would you feel like that? I know you're not Musubi, but at the same time, you've been a part of her from the moment we met."

"Is that really how you see it?" she piped up nervously.

The Ashikabi smiled, although a glimmer of sadness lingered behind his eyed. "Sure it's a little bit awkward seeing someone else inside of her body, but for that reason, it feels like she never really left." Seeing her puzzled expression, he decided to try again. "Because of that, maybe I should thank you for wanting to stay by my side right now."

"You're just saying that… Despite my desire to become close to you, I can never be a replacement for someone you cared so deeply about."

Minato shook his head resolutely. "That's not what I was saying at all."

At this, her sense of confusion returned. "If not, then what were you trying to tell me?"

"You gave me hope that I'll be able to see Musubi again one day, and accepted her dreams of freeing all of the defeated Sekirei as your own. Keeping that desire alive made me feel safe and happy, the same way all my Sekireis make me feel everyday. It's the things you said that made me feel this way when I learned the truth, not the fact that you said it using Musubi's face."

Number 08 smiled back calmly, glad that he was so accepting of her presence as one of his Sekirei. "Thank you, Minato."

He returned the sentiment. "No, I should be the one to be thanking you."

The duo walked the next few blocks in silence, occasionally sparing glances at each other as if they were too embarrassed to look each other in the eye. Although the girl traveling beside him had Musubi's appearance, she was clearly a different person on the inside. So far he noticed that Yume was equally kind and caring as her junior, but she seemed to be more perceptive when it came time to the emotions of others, and lacked the childlike qualities that defined Musubi's personality.

Several minutes later they finally reached the gates to Maison Izumo. The inn looked as peaceful as ever with an old world charm, but Minato knew what awaited them inside was bound to be much less pleasant. As they stepped into the yard, Yume looked around with an innate curiosity, her eyes slowly taking in all of the sights between the garden path and the front door. Her new Ashikabi was much less interested in the trivialities, and instead wondered how the others would react to what was going on.

"Here we are, Maison Izumo." Minato replied as he reached for the handle.

"It looks like a lovely place to live." she observed with a peaceful expression, quietly staring at the hanging laundry and well-tended flowerbeds.

He nodded in agreement before opening the door and stepping inside, his companion following suit. "I'm home." He called out, only to be greeted by the sound of rushing footsteps.

Tsukiumi dashed into the foyer with Kusano at her heals as they rounded on Minato like a pair of jackals. Upon seeing who he was with, the two blondes contorted their faces into two matching scowls and advanced forward. The older woman stomped towards him with a sour expression while the child clamped onto his left leg and bit into his thigh like a human bear trap. Minato cringed slightly as Tsukiumi grabbed him by the shirt and shook him roughly.

"Thou should be ashamed of thyself, allowing this lowly trollop to walk thee home instead of requesting the services of thy real wife!"

"Grrr…" Kuu let out a tiny growl as she began gnawing on his ankle.

Minato waved his hands defensively. "I'm really sorry, but Yume said she wanted to get to know me a little better, and figured it was a good time too…"

"What did you say!?" Tsukiumi hollered, her eyes widening in anger. "Didst thou run off with her to spend some private time together? No doubt to participate in activities that one would not consider appropriate by any stretch of the mind!"

"I swear, the intention wasn't anything like that… Tell her!" He answered weakly, glancing back at the girl behind him for help.

"And as for thee!" The water Sekirei shoved him aside and scowled at the other woman as if she were an intruder. "I am aware that thou art not Musubi, but some vile spirit who dwelled dormant within the child's core!"

Yume blinked with a confused look. "How are you aware of this?"

The black-haired Ashikabi followed her lead. "Yeah, we just got back here. How could you have already known about Yume, unless…"

As he said this, a familiar face and long red hair popped down from the vent above their heads, the newcomer's glasses slightly askew due to her upside-down position. "I believe I can answer that question, Minato."

"Matsu!?" he jumped back away from her, looking surprised. "What exactly are you doing up there? Spying again?"

"That's beside the point." The red-haired genius replied as she scooted over the edge, landing gracefully on her feet amongst the other assembled Sekirei. "We actually received a message from MBI explaining that strange phenomena everyone witnessed at the bridge."

Minato exhaled tiredly, cursing himself for not expecting this. "Mom…" he muttered.

The spectacled girl nodded firmly, taking a brief second to adjust her glasses. "Takami knew that this was bound to cause some complications for everyone, so your mother sent a data drive to Maison Izumo containing the report she issued to MBI following last night's battle."

"You mean this isn't surprising?" he questioned, looking confused at how accepting she was.

Matsu folded her arms, ignoring the angry look that the water Sekirei was giving her. "We were all aware that something strange happened that night. Through careful hacking of MBI's records, I was already aware that Musubi had received her tama from Number 08. Seeing how she was terminated at the bridge in a battle with Number 105, the phenomenon described in Takami's report was the only way for me to logically fill in the blanks."

"Irregardless of that, I shall not accept the person who stole my friend's body as one of Minato's wives!" Tsukiumi stepped up challenging to the woman. "Thou shall leave this building at once, or be dealt with by Number 09!"

"I have no desire to fight you." Yume replied with a stern expression.

"I do not care that thou hast single-handedly defeated the Discipline Squad. On my pride as a Sekirei, I shall face thee without fear of death if I must!"

"Tsukiumi, please stop!" Minato pleaded, gently rapping his hand around her wrist.

"Yeah, listen to him! You're not helping anyone by getting worked up over it!" Matsu held out an arm in an attempt to diffuse the situation.

Number 08 stepped forward without hesitation, facing down the angry blonde without any sign of fear. "Attacking me will not help your friend, but if you destroy this vessel, Musubi will be gone for good. I took control of this body to prevent her from dying, and will not allow any harm to come to her so long as I can do something about it."

"You've clearly misunderstood the situation, although it's hardly surprising when you consider the circumstances along with your psychological state at the time." Matsu explained with a note of irritation.

"What art thou trying to say? If thou intends to call me stupid, then say it outright!" the water Sekirei argued.

Matsu groaned impatiently. "You were still upset about what happened to Minato and the others during Number 95's escape when I brought the details to your attention. This is exactly why you should have carefully read the entire report instead of skimming it with one eye closed."

Tsukiumi's anger wavered for a moment before she lowered her stance. She swallowed her pride and turned to face the woman in her friend's body. "Didst thou really save her life?"

"Yes…" Yume answered solemnly. "My presence within this vessel is what keeps her from completely deactivating."

"She saved all of us on the bridge." Minato added with a smile, gently squeezing Yume's hand in an attempt to ease the tension. "The Discipline Squad would've killed us all if she hadn't fought them off, and who knows what might've happened otherwise."

The water Sekirei folded her arms before turning her attention back to Yume. "Very well… In that case I should probably thank thee for saving our lives."

"I always felt it was my duty to protect my fellow Sekirei from danger. You don't need to thank me, but I am grateful nonetheless." She returned the gratitude with a graceful bow.

"Thou wouldst seem pleasant enough." Tsukiumi found it difficult to dislike the newcomer, despite her previous hostility. "Do not let this praise go to thy head. I shall not forgive thee, if thou does lay a hand on my husband in a manner that is vulgar or untoward."

"Not like you could stop her if she wanted to." Matsu added with a mischievous grin. "You and Musubi were trounced by the Discipline Squad's flunkies, but this girl managed to take both of them out along with Number 04. I don't see what any of us could if she was the enemy."

The water Sekirei scowled. "How dare thou call me weak! Someone who does not fight has no right to criticize me."

"I have no reason to fight anyone here. As a matter of fact, I was hoping that we could get to know each other a little better, especially since it looks like we'll be living together for a while." Yume replied with a bright smile, her response sending a wave of relief over the group. "You guys don't have any issues with that, do you?"

Matsu shrugged indifferently. "I don't have a problem, what about the rest of you guys?"

Kuu nodded happily. "Hooray, looks like everyone's getting along again!"

"If that is what you want, I shall bear no ill will against thee." Tsukiumi stated bluntly. "Know that I shall not think of you as a friend or accept thee as my husband's wife until proven worthy in my eyes."

Number 08 glanced around at the assembled Sekirei, once again seeing just how strong the bonds between them truly were. It touched her heart to see that every member of Minato's group was united in love and friendship, despite obvious differences in ability and opinion. Yume realized why Musubi had experiences such happiness, and almost felt ashamed of herself for taking part in it. In a way she was inheriting this wonderful family from Number 88, and he fact that she was enjoying it made her feel guilty.

"Thank you, everybody. You don't know how nice it is to feel welcome, in spite of everything that happened."

Minato seemed satisfied "You'll have to talk to Miya about your living arrangements."

In a matter of seconds, Miya glided in from the nearby room, a broom in her hands and a neutral expression on her face. "I'm sorry if I interrupted, but it sounded like you guys were just talking about me." She placed a hand to her mouth and chuckled to herself. "It appears we have a new tenant joining us tonight."

Minato placed a hand to his mouth and leaned over Matsu shoulder. "Did you already tell her what's going on?"

"What can I say? Miya has a way of pulling information out of people, and I wasn't exactly in the position to refuse. You now how scary she can be…"

"What was that, Matsu?" the landlady asked innocently.

"Uh… nothing you need to worry about." the redhead squeaked, taking the moment to scoot behind her Ashikabi.

The others cringed as a demonic mask formed behind Miya's smiling visage, the face opening its fanged mouth and letting out a sinister hissing noise. Kusano followed Matsu's example and cowered behind Minato's leg, while Tsukiumi's eyes widened in terror, although the latter remained too proud to follow the trend set by her fellow Sekirei. Minato nervously sweat-dropped as the scene froze, but for some reason Yume seemed unaffected by the gesture. Instead she watched the monstrous visage with a curious expression.

Matsu watched the two as they locked eyes, although the situation made her uncomfortable. "I've never seen someone other than Number 04 who could stare directly at Miya when she gets like this. Who is this girl!?" she whispered with a panicked expression.

Minato bit his lip nervously. "I can't describe it either…" he choked out, his shoulders shaking uncontrollably.

This unusually calm reaction from then newcomer caught Miya's attention, causing the specter behind her to disappear. "You're certainly an interesting one, aren't you Number 08?" she smiled brightly, but the mannerism didn't quit meet her eyes.

"I'm not sure if you consider that a good thing or not, but I'm willing to take it positively." Yume scratched her head with a half-smile, looking undisturbed by the other woman's presence.

Seeing that the others were watching, Miya quickly decided to get down to business. "I just finished putting breakfast on the table a few minutes ago, so you're all welcome to go and eat."

The group began to walk towards the dining room. "Thank you very much… I'm famished!" Yume chimed in as she followed the others.

"Not you, young lady." Miya grabbed her by the elbow, a strangely cheerful smile on her lips.

Number 08 paused with an innocent expression. "Is there something wrong, landlady?"

"If she did anything to insult you, I'll apologize for her." Minato stepped in cautiously, hoping that the situation was nothing serious.

The innkeeper shook her head reassuringly, her cheerful expression appearing more genuine than before. "Oh, it's nothing of the sort. Although she has Musubi's body, this new tenant and I have yet to become acquainted."

"Few… For a second there I thought one of us might've said something to upset you."

"No need to look so scared… After all, I'm just a beautiful young landlady who owns a lovely little boarding house for a living." Miya chimed in, her giggle sounding strange ominous and hollow. She seemed to find amusement in the Ashikabi's frightened reaction, but quickly covered it up. "In any case, I think it's important for us to discuss the normal living arrangements that the others are all aware of, along with some of the rules of Maison Izumo."

Minato exhaled quickly and patted his chest as if to calm his heartbeat. "Um, I guess that's fine. You okay with that Yume?"

"I'll be just fine, but you better not keep the others waiting for you too long."

"Right, I'll save you something to eat. Since you have Musubi's body, I'm willing to bet her bottomless stomach is bound to affect you eventually."

Yume placed a hand to her mouth and let out a restrained laugh. "I think it already has. Thank you for thinking about me."

The dark-haired boy turned and left for the dining room, only to be greeted by a pair of two pairs of arms as Tsukiumi and Kuu forced him into a sitting position between them. Number 08 followed Miya to the master bedroom where she slept, feeling a little suspicious when her new landlady closed the door behind them. The purple-haired woman stepped past her and sat on the bed, her expression looking much more serious than before.

"So, what is this really about?" Yume faced her without an ounce of hesitation.

The older woman busied herself with a vase, gently moving the flowers into place. "You needn't sound so nervous around me."

"You wouldn't have singled me out unless you had some concerns. I was simply wondering what is on your mind. Do you not trust me for some reason?"

Miya allowed her shoulders to relax, the gesture making her seem much older than her physical appearance indicated. "I am aware of who you are, but because of this I cannot help but wonder what kind of intentions you have in remaining with Minato. Now that Musubi is gone, I do not see why you would willing choose to take her place."

Yume's mood lightened considerably. "Here I thought you were going to ask me something complicated, but that's actually a very easy to question for me to answer!"

"You think so? Musubi was the one who fell in love with Minato, not you. It feels strange to me that you would wish to remain by this side even knowing this. Perhaps your true desire is to fill the void in his heart?"

"I would never be able to do that." Number 08 answered solemnly, her already docile tone becoming more reserved. "My soul was inexplicably liked with Musubi many years ago, and from deep within her heart, I could sense the strong feelings of affection between Minato and the others. Because of the genuine love he expressed to each of his Sekirei, I slowly began to fall in love with him too."

"I see…" The landlady stroked her chin, having never heard of this phenomenon before.

"Remember how it feels to be in love, and you will understand my reasons for remaining here with Minato."

Despite her deep knowledge of the Sekirei species due to her personal history, Miya was still forced to ponder the details to herself. She had never seen an instance where one Sekirei gave their soul to another, and never once imagined the affects it could have on both the host and the core. Of course her own history was a secret that very few other people were aware of, save for the senior members of MBI, the First Generation Discipline Squad, and the select few she had trusted.

Yume could tell that the woman she was speaking to was more than she pretended to be, but decided to leave her suspicions at rest for now. In her days as the chief of the Second Generation Discipline Squad, Karasuba had told her stories about the original guardian of the S-Plan. Although no name was ever mentioned, the description of Number 01 given by the Black Sekirei matched the landlady perfectly, save for the eyes. Miya's eyes were soft and warm, while the first chief was said to have a gaze that could freeze the deepest pits of Hell.

"I suppose there's no reason for me to doubt you." The purple-haired woman placed her hands on her lap. "It's true there are times when I find it hard to believe that even Musubi fell in love with that man, but seeing how his caring personality affected the others peaks my curiosity. Why him?"

Yume placed a hand to her mouth, stifling a giggle. "Love is a fickle thing, there's no doubt about it. Perhaps you can tell me for yourself… Isn't that right, Number 01."

Miya froze for a moment as is someone had slapped her face, a cold look flashing through her red orbs for a fraction of a second. The other woman subconsciously took a step back in surprise, but did not avert her gaze or back down. Number 08 was known for fearing nothing, although the sight of Miya's eyes an instant ago had been as close as she had come the unfamiliar emotion. That one moment was enough to tell her that her assumptions about their landlady had been correct.

"My, that's an interesting assertion! You certainly have quite an active imagination."

The younger woman remained undeterred. "Karasuba once mentioned that your strength in battle was dimensions beyond the others of our kind. Is this true, or was she trying to frighten me?"

"That was a long time ago. I've lived in the world of humans for years, and because of that man. I've come to learn a lot about life." Miya stared blankly at the window, temporarily lost in nostalgia. "He helped me understand that there was so much more to life beyond the original role I was assigned to play."

"Your family name is Asama if I remember correctly. Does this mean that you were…"

"You are much more intelligent than I anticipated. He and I were once married, but in the end he departed this world, and my feelings for him amounted to nothing."

"I am sorry to hear this… But if you were so deeply affected by his presence in your life, then why refer to it as nothing. Whether the person is human or Sekirei, I believe that every event in life has significance, even if we don't always understand it right away."

"Say what you will." The landlady answered firmly, a dark shadow falling over her eyes. "I ask you keep what was said here a secret, or life may become very difficult for Minato and the others. This is a promise, not a threat… Do you understand?"

Yume nodded resolutely. "As former head of the Discipline Squad, I was responsible for keeping secrets. Since you seem so adamant about it, I have no intention of divulging anything that was said between us."

Miya bored into the other woman with an ironclad stare, but sensed no trace of a lie behind her voice or mannerisms. After waiting quietly for a minute or so, she smiled warmly at her newest tenant, almost instantly reverting back from the ruthless Number 01 into the cheerful landlady of Maison Izumo. The innkeeper stood up from her bed and straightened the wrinkles from her outfit before speaking again.

"Well it certainly appears we've come to an understanding. It's a pleasure to meet you, Sekirei Number 08. I hereby acknowledge you as a guest in my house." The two women shook hands firmly, but Miya held on a little longer than expected in order to get her attention.

Yume caught onto this quickly. "Was there something else you wanted to mention before we join the others?"

"Since we've finished going over the complications, I just wanted you to know some of the ground rules that come with living here at Maison Izumo." Number 01 explained like a strict parent. "Illicit relationships are not permitted here, and all forms of violence are strictly prohibited. Do I make myself clear?"

"Your house, your rules! That's easy enough to understand." Yume agreed completely.

"Glad to see you seem much more cooperative than Minato and the others. Not a day passes by when I don't have to break up a fight or stop their perverted urges from blossoming into full-blown sexual activity."

Number 08 stepped into the hallway, allowing the landlady to lead the way to the dining room for breakfast. "I find it hard to believe that this place would be so lively all the time."

Miya opened the door, revealing the chaos going on at the morning meal. Kuu and Tsukiumi were both trying to force food into their Ashikabi's mouth from opposite sides, while Matsu snickered behind their backs. Kagari sat beside Uzume, the two reacting very differently to the mess going on. While the former seemed to be doing his best to avoid making comments, the latter was beside herself with laughter.

"See what I mean." Miya replied as she ushered the newcomer into the dining room.

"It looks like they're having fun to me." Yume answered with a cheerful expression.

Minato looked up from his food and waved her over. "Oh, hey Yume… I saved you a plate of eggs if you're still hungry."

"Thanks a lot, I really appreciate it." She sat down across from him and gladly accepted the late in his hand.

Although Tsukiumi usually occupied the seat across from Minato, the water Sekirei had taken it due to Musubi's absence. Although it pleasured her to sit beside her husband, it felt like a hollow victory since she had never once defeated Musubi in a shopping race to earn the coveted place nearest to their Ashikabi. In a display of silent grief, she allowed Kusano to force-feed Minato and took the moment to mourn the disappearance of a dear friend. Though they had been rivals until the end, it felt like a terrible way to settle the dispute.

Too busy brooding, it took her second to notice that Kazehana had joined the group. The wind Sekirei wore nothing but a simple apron over her naked body, wearing no underwear and leaving very little to the imagination. This was enough to pull Tsukiumi from her thoughts and rouse the all-to-familiar emotions of jealousy and anger that had been temporarily put to rest by Musubi's supposed death.

"Sorry I'm late to breakfast…" Kazehana greeted, swiveling her body shamelessly. "I wanted to wear something special to welcome my husband home after his trip to the hospital."

Matsu crept in from behind with a perverted expression. "Whoa, that outfit is really sexy!"

"What outfit!? She's practically naked!" Tsukiumi protested.

Uzume looked thoroughly amused by this new development. "When I said you could borrow my clothes, I really should've been expecting something like this."

"Argh! Please not now!" Minato closed his eyes and covered his nose as blood came spurting out, trying his best not to look at her for fear of it getting worse.

Number 03 ignored the others and went straight for her Ashikabi, gently pulling away the hand that he was using to cover his eyes. "What's the matter? Do you not like it?" she purred seductively, causing him to turn the color of a tomato. "That's fine with me. If you don't like the apron, I could always… take… it… … off."

Before she could do anything else, Miya smacked her in the head with a ladle, the demonic face from before materializing above them. "I know you haven't lived here for a while, but you seem to have forgotten one of my cardinal rules. Public nudity is also forbidden here at Maison Izumo."

"Could you stop that Miya? You're freaking me out!" Kazehana muttered, pulling herself away from Minato with a look of fear. Knowing what would happen otherwise, she winked playfully at her Ashikabi and dashed from the room.

Number 08 smiled to herself as she watched the chaos unfold. "I'm starting to see what she meant earlier."

Minato recovered from his own fear and turned to face Yume. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, yeah! The landlady mentioned that you guys had a habit of getting into situations like that. I wasn't sure whether or not it was all that bad, but seeing it firsthand really paints a much clearer picture from me."

"Now you see why I have to be so stern about these rules. From breakfast till bath time, it's never a dull moment here." Miya explained, her fingers absentmindedly twirling the ladle around like a baton.

"Speaking of which, is there anything else I can eat?" Number 08 frowned and patted her midsection, looking both surprised and disappointed by how empty it felt. "Sorry if it's too much trouble. Back when I had my own body I never ate that much, but Musubi's stomach keeps growling for more food."

Minato scratched the back of his head embarrassedly. "Guess it's my fault for not saving enough for you. I should've expected as much since you've inherited Musubi's appetite."

"Physically she's still the same as ever." Matsu deduced with a scholarly expression, a puzzled look reaching her face only moments later. "Although for all my scientific expertise, I never did figure out where Musubi puts it all."

Yume squeezed her newly obtained bust, noticing for the umpteenth time just how much larger Musubi's breasts were than her own. "I think I have an idea…"

The others broke out into a good-natured yet reserved laughter, with the exception of Tsukiumi and Kusano for their own reasons. After this the meal continued relatively normally with the Sekireis talking amongst each other with Miya watching over them like a mother tending her children. Although she preferred to be thought of as an older sibling to the others, Number 01 had always possessed a motherly feeling towards her fellow Sekirei, and everyone who she took into her care.

Despite the feelings of sadness he had towards the loss of Musubi, Minato felt at ease for the moment, surrounded by some of the people he cared for the most. Suddenly the phone began to beep in his pocket, forcing him to address the situation.

"Hey guys, could you quiet down a bit? Sounds like I've got a message."

Tsukiumi allowed her curiosity to get the better of her. "So, who dost call my husband at this early hour?"

Minato flipped open the top of his cellphone, his face alive with dread. "It's MBI!"

The others fell silent when they heard the news, but the news caused Matsu to frown. "Well, it's been a while since the last one. I had a strange feeling that Minaka was bound to stir up the players sooner or later."

"We'll see in a second." The ronin glanced at the screen again, looking both surprised and terrified by it's contents. "I can't believe it… It looks like this message was addressed specifically to me!"

Kusano innocently peeked over his shoulder. "What's it say, big brother?"

"Yes, do tell us!" Tsukiumi shook his arm, almost causing him to drop the phone.

Minato fumbled with the device for a second or two before scanning the contents of the document, his eyes widening in terror. "It's a direct message from the president of MBI!"

Matsu squeezed into his personal space and read it for herself. "That bastard, Minaka! What the Hell does he want with you?"

"Get thee away from him!" the water Sekirei pushed her aside with a quick shove, her own reaction proving similar to the others.

Yume leaned forward from across the table, but decided against joining the others. "You guys seem really tense. What exactly does the message say, Minato?"

"All it says is for me to come to the main office building immediately for an important meeting with the chairman or risk termination! They didn't give me any other details, except to come alone."

The landlady felt her heart skip a beat, but she made no comment as to what was going on. She wasn't entirely certain herself, but knowing the kind of person Minaka was, Miya guessed that nothing good was going to come of this. Her thoughts returned to the day her husband was called to MBI by Minaka to handle an emergency situation, only to never return. Even though Minato wasn't her Ashikabi, no one deserved such a fate.

"I do no trust him!" the water Sekirei frowned with an angry pout before turning to her self-proclaimed husband. "I forbid thee from going, unless I am to come as well!"

Minato placed his phone down on the table, his expression unusually serious. "It says here if I bring anyone else along, my status as a participant in the Sekirei Plan will be revoked."

"That means all of us will be forcibly shut down or killed." Matsu elaborated grimly.

Tsukiumi slammed both hands on the table. "What makes thee believe that Minato will be safe if we allow him to leave here alone?"

The redhead took a second to consider the variables. "If this was a trap, Minaka probably wouldn't have banned him from bringing Sekirei along. The purpose of leading us out into the open would be to eliminate the Sekirei, not the Ashikabi. Not to mention if he wanted us dead as a compensation for helping Number 95 escape, it would've been all too easy using MBI's army and satellites."

Yume frowned. "Knowing the president, I'm pretty sure he's up to something."

"I never said he wasn't." Matsu reasoned with a pensive expression. "However, even I can't fill in the blanks right now, and I'm possibly the smartest creature on this planet."

"I won't risk the safety of anyone I care about." Minato stood up and began making his way to the door. "If Minaka wants to talk to me and is willing to make threats like this, then I don't see a reason to deny him."

Tsukiumi attempted to follow her Ashikabi as he exited, but a hand reached up and grabbed her wrist. "Let me go! I shall not allow my husband to walk about unprotected with the Game Master's unscrupulous methods afoot!"

Rather than project her demonic visage, Miya simply shook her head. "He's made this decision to protect you all. You have nothing to gain by following him, and Minaka will make good on his threats if you do."

"He'll be fine… I know it." Yume added comfortingly. Despite this, she knew in her heart that something big was about to happen.

Meanwhile…

"Aw, I can't believe how hard it's getting to find unwinged Sekirei in this city!" Hayato Mikogami whined, clenching his fists like a child throwing a tantrum.

The handsome, blonde-haired man sitting beside him resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Calm down, you've got a ton living at home already. Just relax and quit being so greedy!"

Mikogami had been riding in the back of a limousine for several hours now, prowling the city with Number 05 in search of new Sekirei to claim as his own. The Ashikabi of the South was known for his wealth and dirty tactics, but most striking were the large number of feathers he had taken while participating in Minaka's game. Despite possessing several Sekirei with different abilities, he was always aiming to obtain more and would do anything to get his way. These practices had earned him a reputation as a selfish, yet dangerous kid.

He stared aimless out the window before pounding his knees irritably. "Oooooh, those big stupid jerks ruined everything! Only did we miss out on Number 107, but that guy from the north stole the Green Girl right from under me!"

Mutsu let out an impatient groan. "I get we're you're coming from, but it can't be helped. I'd be willing to guess that just about every Sekirei in this city has been winged by now. There were only one hundred and eight life forms on board that spacecraft. Since Numbers 107 and 108 were both marked by Ashikabi, we've probably hit the end of the line."

"Don't start up with that now! If I wanted negativity, I would've stayed home and listened to Akitsu talk about her personal problems. Blegh! That's a mistake I won't make again!"

"All I'm sayin' is you shouldn't get your hopes up at this point." The blonde Sekirei fingered the hilt of his sword absent-mindedly before setting the sheath down beside him.

"Grrr… My numbers keep dropping, and there's no one else to take up the slack. First Yomi gets eliminated, and then the Black Sekirei takes out Mitsuha for her own amusement. Those damned people! Are they trying to ruin me?"

Number 05 sighed, having long gotten used to his Ashikabi's tirades. Sure they became tiresome after so long, but at the same time he sympathized with the teenager. Although Mutsu would've preferred a woman as his partner, he had sensed Mikogami's loneliness and found it endearing to the point where he had reacted to the wealthy boy. There were times when he wished he had found a proper lover, but he never regretted choosing his master.

Temporarily lost in his memories, Mutsu was jarred out of his thoughts by the sound of his Ashikabi's phone. "What is it?"

Mikogami read the text on his screen, his grin widening in amusement. "Apparently there's word going around that someone managed to take down the Discipline Squad. I suppose this day wasn't complete disappointment after all!"

Mutsu glanced at the screen. "Looks more like a rumor stared by someone on the net. I wouldn't put too much stock in these kind of things."

"All rumors have some grain of truth, and I distinctly remember hearing that some fools were making an escape attempt last night. You don't suppose they managed to defeat MBI's hounds, do you?"

"I happen to be acquainted with Number 04, and there's no one I can think of that could've possibly defeated her… At least, no one who's actually participating in the Sekirei Plan." He added cryptically, looking away from his master in lieu of the sentiment.

Luckily, the boy seemed too busy with his own thoughts to care. "Not even you could stop her?"

"The only thing to be gained from challenging someone like Number 04 is a quick and painful death." He stated casually, his tone grim but honest at the same time. He looked up to see his master's puzzled expression. "That's typically what happens when anyone goes toe-to-toe with a real monster. Mark my words…"

The boy cringed slightly at the thought, looking surprised that there was someone out there even stronger than Mutsu. He shrugged off the thought before going back to the previous topic. "Well, in the case that this bit of information happens to be true, it means I can play this game any way I want without having to worry about those people ruining my fun."

Number 05 nodded compliantly. "If this news is more than a rumor, Minaka's bound to come up with a solution."

"C'mon Mutsu, there's no need to be a party pooper." Mikogami stated in a matter-of-fact way. "This could be our chance to really shake things up without worry about those jerks. After all, what is a Game Master without his pawns to enforce the rules?"

"You tell me?" Mutsu sat back lazily, casually resting his hands behind his head.

His eyes moved lazily towards the window, quietly watching the scenery go by. He had only known a single person ever capable of fighting Karasuba, but Number 01 wasn't so foolish or bloodthirsty as to antagonize the Black Sekirei. There was a time when that might've been more negotiable, but no member of the First Generation Discipline Squad was quite the same person they had been all those years ago.

"If this turns out to be true, what will you do then, Minaka?" he muttered to himself.

Meanwhile…

Minato slowly ascended the stairs leading into MBI's Main Facility. To say he wasn't nervous beyond all reason would've been a lie, especially since he had to place effort in just to prevent his hands from shaking, but at the same time he refused to turn back from this. The automatic doors slid aside as he entered the gigantic tower, opening into a large lobby filled where people were busy shuffling about with their daily business.

The timid ronin navigated his way through a mix of janitorial staff, business associates, and assistant workers as he proceeded towards the admissions desk, his less than formal attire causing several people to stare before continuing their business. Most of the people probably guessed he was just some teenager who had walked in out of curiosity to get a small glimpse of the world's largest cooperation, but like the majority of the people present, he also had some important matters to attend to.

"Excuse me ma'am. I know this is gonna sound really weird, but I was told to come here by the company president."

The secretary reached into her desk, pulling out a folder. "Name please?"

"Minato Sahashi." He replied nervously. "If it helps, my mother works as a senior staff member for MBI. Her name is Takami Sahashi."

She handed him a paper with his picture on it and nodded. "I was told you would be coming and presented with these files as a means of identification. The president has your name marked down for an afternoon appointment."

Minato rubbed the back of his head anxiously. "Should I just sit here and wait, or maybe leave now and come back later?"

"That won't be necessary! President Minaka said you were to be admitted as soon as possible due to the urgency of this situation. He has already arranged for an escort to be provided ahead of time." she pressed a button, activating the speakerphone on her desk. "He's arrived, sir."

In a matter of minutes, a slim young man with slightly messy brown hair stepped from the elevator, his eyes immediately settling on the black-haired Ashikabi. He approached the desk with a carefree expression, stopping for a moment just to adjust the tie of his expensive black suit. He was clearly a few years older than Minato, although the main thing that separated him was the air of confidence that this young man carried himself with.

The secretary immediately showed signs of recognition and greeted the newcomer by ushering him over to her side. "This is the boy that the chairman wanted to see, Mr. Ichinomi."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Sahashi." Natsuo turned to the boy with a casual bow, his eyes scanning the room carefully despite his pleasant demeanor. "I was sent down here to bring you to President Minaka's office. Will you please come with me?"

"Okay, thanks… I guess." Minato answered, doing his best to be polite to the smiling man.

He followed the other man into the elevator, the journey proceeding in complete silence as the executive dialed in the number of their floor and waited for the unit to rise. Although there was no logical reason why, the black-haired Ashikabi felt unsettled by his escort's mannerisms and smiles. Natsuo appeared rather cheerful, but something about it made him seem empty, almost like a hollow shell with no substance on the inside.

After what seemed like an eternity of stillness, the elevator reached the desired floor, prompting Natsuo to lead them into another series of halls. Unlike the well-lit lobby of the building, the halls on the upper floors appeared dark and almost gloomy, the unmoving air giving Minato the impression that not too many people worked on this floor. He silently guessed that this was where MBI worked on secret projects, and also where Minaka's office was located.

Finally giving into the strange tension in the air, Minato decided to address his escort. "So… um… What exactly do you do for the company?"

Natsuo recognized his feeble attempt to make conversation, but decided to oblige anyway. "I simply work as a clerk for MBI's pharmaceutical department."

"Sounds interesting." The boy lied with an awkward expression.

"Hardly." Natsuo replied with a false smile before turning his back to the younger man. As if sensing his curiosity, the clerk elaborated. "My superiors recognized that I had the potential to become an Ashikabi, and so I was ordered to mark them, and then placed in charge of the Discipline Squad three members."

"You were in charge of the Discipline Squad!?" Minato wracked his mind, realizing just now that he was talking to the person whose partners Yume had terminated. Although it made little sense, he chose to say it anyway. "I'm sorry about what happened last night."

"I never cared much for those three, considering that it was nothing more than a job for me. You needn't apologize for something so trivial."

The boy was shocked by how callous this man was towards the defeat of his Sekirei, and the fact that he had dismissed it all with such a cheerful made the situation even more unnerving. Natsuo seemed satisfied with the answer he gave, while Minato had been struck dumb, the result of both causing them to return to their previous state of silence. As they reached the last door at the end of the hallway, Natsu gestured forwards and smiled again.

"This is where you need to be. The president is already expecting you, so you're free to enter."

Minato pondered whether or not to thank the young man for leading him here, but before he could decide, his escort had already turned and was beginning to leave. Deciding against it, the ronin found himself standing lone in the darkened corridor, his hand trembling as he reached for the doorknob. He swallowed nervously and grasped the handle, stepping into the office as quietly as he could.

It was a bright room the size of a cathedral with high ceilings and expensive furniture. The space was filled with plush red carpets leading up to a small set of stairs, the pace above being where the CEO's desk was positioned. Although the large chair at the end of the room was clearly occupied, the president had his back turned towards the young visitor.

As if sensing his apprehensiveness, Minaka swiveled his chair around and clapped his hands joyfully. "Minato Sahashi, just the man I wanted to see!" he screamed, causing the boy the jump in surprise. "Ahahahaha, please have a seat!"

Minato ascended the steps and sat down on the chair in front of the man's desk, nervously trying to get comfortable. He bit back to the sense of dread in his stomach, a small flare of anger replacing it as he remembered who he was talking too. "I won't apologize for helping Haruka and Kuno escape. If you want to punish someone for what happened then I'm right here! Just don't harm anyone else."

"Oh come now, don't be such a silly boy!" Minaka replied with a chuckle. "I wouldn't have called you all the way here for something like that. Punishment would have been rendered last night if I had intended it. In fact, you should be rewarded!"

"I guess that's a relief…" the Ashikabi replied, unable to think of anything else. "Wait… What did you say!?"

"Instead, I actually want to congratulate you for having bested my company's best team! Truth is. I never once thought that there would be an Ashikabi whose team was capable of trouncing the Discipline Squad, and yet you managed to succeed beyond my wildest dreams."

Minato opened and closed his mouth with a look of disbelief. "Really!?"

"Yes, really!" the president restated, the light glistening menacingly off of the surface of his lenses. "I have to admit that you played the game remarkably well, and it ultimately made things far more interesting than I had originally intended."

Minaka turned towards the window of his office, looking out over the capital city with a happy, yet strangely disturbing expression. His visitor noticed this for a moment, but said nothing in the presence of the world's most powerful CEO. Needless to say the young man was both puzzled and surprised by the chairman's reaction to last night's events, but from what he knew about the Game Master, Minato had already guessed there was more to this than a mere congratulatory speech.

As if reading his mind, the president turned to face his visitor once more. "As I was saying before, MBI is willing to offer you a fabulous reward!"

"What kind of reward?" the Ashikabi questioned with a slightly unbelieving expression.

"Just a little something to show you just generous and compassionate I am towards all the players of this little game. I guarantee it's to die for!" Minaka began with a wide toothy smile.

Minato silently hoped that he would be exempt from being parted with his loved ones, but seeing the look in the older man's eyes, he knew it was too good to hope for. He swallowed nervous, somehow finding the courage to ask. "What exactly do you have in mind?"

"We are willing to offer you and your Sekirei special privileges, so long as you accept my offer! As it stands, the company is currently without a Discipline Squad to enforce the rules of my little event, which you know I unacceptable! Therefore, I'm offering the job to you and yours!"

"What!?" the black-haired Ashikabi found himself speechless again, his mind racing with thoughts of outrage that he couldn't put into words.

"Excited aren't you? As head of the Discipline Squad, you'll have the privilege of sitting out several of the events I've organized, while the other players plunge knee deep into the ensuing battles! Aside from a few minor jobs helping my security forces in detaining rule breakers, you'll have a free pass to the final rounds of the games with absolutely no strings attached! What do you say, my boy?"

An flurry of images floated through Minato's head as he remembered all of the things that had happened in the last few days. All of the pain and suffering he and his friends had experienced descended on him like a load of bricks, the feelings intensifying as an image of Musubi's blank eyes and broken form filled is mind's eye. The memory almost brought him to tears, but upon overcoming this hurtle, he felt a strong resolve emerge from deep within.

"No…" he answered the president without a moment's hesitation.

"I'm sorry. What was that answer, again?" Minaka demanded, his perpetual smile fading or only an instant.

Minato clenched his fists and shook his head. "I've seen the kinds of things that the Discipline Squad does, and I refuse to be involved or allow those that I care about to do such terrible things."

"I don't think you understand exactly what you're giving up by refusing my offer. You seem to forget that as the man in charge, you will have some liberties with how to approach those kind of situations. It's true that Natsuo let his girls run amok and revel in violence, but that need not be your own approach."

"The lives of these innocent people are nothing more than a game to you, right!" the black-haired Ashikabi voice rose, but he struggled to hold his composure. "I won't work for someone who takes pleasure in watching people fight. If the rules say that people who have met and fallen in love must be forcibly separated from each other, than I won't have any part in enforcing them!"

The company chairman fell silent for several moments, his expression oddly serious for the oddball scientist, but after considering the boy for a moment, he smiled once more. "Ahahahahaha, you certainly are just like your mother. Not quite as brash, but just as stubborn."

"Just what are you talking about now?"

"While I'd hoped you would be willing to see things my way, I expected this type of reaction out of you. After all, Takami once said something very similar to me several years ago." He stood up and let out a joyous laugh. "It appears you've forced my hand."

"It doesn't matter what kind f deal you offer me. I won't work for someone like you!"

"Do not misunderstand my intentions, boy. Nothing is impossible for MBI, even if it takes a little persuasion to win over some people!"

Minaka reached into his pocket, taking out a remote control and pressing a series of buttons. The action caused the large monitor behind his desk to switch on, revealing what appeared to be video footage of several people playing on separate parts of the screen. Although the action puzzled him for a moment, Minato immediately recognized several people. The top half of the screen contained recordings of his Sekirei walking around town, while the bottom half was streaming videos of people he recognized as an assortment of his relatives and friends.

It only took him a second to realize what was going on. "No… You can't do this!"

"Phew, for a second there I wasn't sure if you were going to catch on so quickly. I thank you for saving me the time."

"That's inhuman! What kind of person would stoop this low!" Minato screamed, his eyes catching an image of his sister and a young boy he didn't recognize. "How exactly did you get all this footage!?"

"It's true that I could use MBI's resources to wipe out everyone shown on this screen at the push of a button, but I'm not so heartless as to make it my first resort." Minaka wagged his finger condescendingly, his leering grin widening. "So long as you are willing to accept my proposal, there's no need for you to worry about anything happening to these innocent people."

The young Ashikabi found himself angrier than he had ever been, but his natural timidity and pacifistic nature prevented him from punching the CEO. "Please… Don't."

"I already told you, the choice is yours. There's so many benefits to working for MBI, and I'm certain your mother will be happy to explain them in more detail. That is, once you accept my little proposal."

Minato wracked his mind again, but he was stuck. He had never been a particularly outgoing person to begin with, although until today he had never felt so helpless. The feelings of hopelessness from last night's battle returned, causing the ronin to give into his emotions. He grabbed his head with both hands and stared into his lap to hide his tears and avoid looking at Minaka's jeering expression.

"Tick-tock!" the president casually fingered the button of his remote. "The offer is only on the table for the next five seconds. Think hard now, because you're about to run out of…"

"I'll do it!" Minato interrupted, the sudden answer surprising even himself.

Minaka leaned forward, placing a hand to his ear mockingly. "I'm sorry, what was that?"

The young man fought back his tears, his heart screaming or release. He took a deep breath before regaining enough self-control to speak again. "I said… … … I'll do it."

"Wonderful!" the president vaulted over his desk and enthusiastically shook the boy's hand, causing his whole body to shake like a rag doll due to his broken will.

Miles away at Maison Izumo, Yume felt a surge of pain pass through her heart and fell to her knees, the sight catching the attention of Tsukiumi.

"What is wrong with thee?" the water Sekirei asked.

Number 08 exhaled deeply, a sense of foreboding filling her eyes. "Something terrible just happened…"

Note to Readers: Phew, this chapter was a bit of a hurtle for me. Now that the deal's gone through, we'll get to see the results next time. The impression I was trying to give is that Minato just sold his soul to the devil, and hopefully the last scene shows just how terrible a choice it was to make. Hopefully I pulled id off nicely, but in any case, at least it's finally been written. I took the beginning of the chapter to explore Yume and the others a bit more, and the scene with Mikogami was mostly just to show that the other major Ashikabis will be playing a role in this story. I'll check in with the supporting cast from time-to-time.

Like before, I'm sorry for any typos or errors in spelling or grammar, but I as usual I typically write this story late at night. Hope you guys enjoyed it, anyway!

I could use some reviews and feedback. If you guys can spare the time, it would mean the world to a writer like me while acting as a motivation for me to continue. Please tell me what you think of this chapter. If you have any ideas of what will happen next or want to give me ideas that I could use for this story, please do it!