Chapter 6: The Belly of the Beast

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.

Minato sat in front of his mother's desk, fidgeting nervously in his seat as he kept his gaze firmly beneath her scrutinizing stare. While his Sekirei were unpacking any last bits of luggage brought over from Maison Izumo several floors below, he had been called away from their usual antics in order to speak with Takami. Although her office wasn't nearly as awe-inspiring as the company president, she preferred the more traditional setup with a wooden desk and chairs. The furniture and new-age computers didn't look cheap, but it seemed to fit her style.

The young ronin had never expected that his first major job would land him as a subordinate of his mother, although it was not a significant departure from their usual interactions. As long as he could remember, she had been supporting him and making demands, something which had become steadily worse since he failed his college entrance exams. Not only had she docked his living expenses by half, she even stopped accepting his phone calls and blatantly ignored any e-mails and text messages for weeks.

He felt the familiar sensation of his mother's gaze and cringed slightly before finally summoning what little courage he had. "So, you wanted to see me." his voice wavered as their eyes met.

Takami let out a small sigh before shaking her head. "Relax Minato, I didn't call you here for another lecture." she dismissed the notion with a wave of her hand. "What's done is done, and I can't undo whatever Minaka set into motion."

"Um, with all due respect... What is he planning? I mean, why did he give me this kind of job when I don't know the first thing about it?"

"If I knew how that bastard's mind works, maybe we could've foreseen this nonsense and prevented it. That being said, he probably thought of this on a whim and already has a string of convoluted plans in store for his own sick amusement."

Minato quietly noted his mother's pensive expression and irate mannerisms, something he was all too familiar with. "Gee mom, you really seem to know him well, even though he seems to make you angry." he spoke casually, her sharp expression making him regret his own daring.

"I've known him since college, and he's always been an ass." she replied curtly. Despite her countenance, Takami's thoughts were racing as she contemplated changing the subject. This was not something she wanted to discuss. "In any case, be more cautious around him from now on."

"How can I do that when I'm stuck here? I may have agreed to his scheme, but now MBI has us living here in Teito Tower."

"There's not much more we can do about that, since he seems to have pushed you into a corner. Even so, I recommend you consult with me before dispatching your Sekirei on missions. You should also expect the worst whenever Minaka assigns duties to the Discipline Squad."

The black-haired teen looked up at his mother's face. "But couldn't you just talk to him, and..."

"No I couldn't." she shook her head stiffly, instantly silencing his pleas. "Even knowing it would be pointless, I already tried reasoning with that madman. Whether we like it or not, you work directly for the president of MBI now. There's no changing his mind."

Minato folded his hands in his lap and frowned. "I'm sorry for causing all this trouble. I just wanted to help some friends escape from this horrible game. I never intended for things to turn out this way."

Takami eyed her son with a strange look of mingled disgust and empathy before choosing the latter as her predominant stance. "Quit apologizing... No one could have possibly foreseen this outcome, not even Minaka himself."

"I just can't help but think that this was all my fault."

"Pitying yourself won't solve anything!" she slapped the desk hard, causing him to jump in surprise. "Moreover, I should be the one apologizing to you."

The teenage Ashikabi blinked twice in a dumbfounded manner, looking completely dumbstruck by her last assertion. Never once had any of the women in his family been so open about being wrong. "What for?" he asked.

She rubbed her head with an exasperated groan, silently wondering how the son of a genius could be so clueless. Takami stood up and moved over to the window of her office, quietly overlooking the bustling streets of Tokyo in an attempt to calm herself. It was times like these when she realized her own faults. She had gone to great lengths to protected her children from Minaka's influence, but in the process she had also alienated her own offspring. In a way, she was no better a mother than he was a father. An image of Hiroto Minaka laughing floated into her mind, but she punched the glass where she had imagined seeing his face.

"Um... Mom? Is there something wrong?" Minato called out with a befuddled stare.

"Never mind." she exhaled again, inclining her head with a more motherly expression. "I shouldn't have been so hard on you for falling headfirst into Minaka's scheme. As foolish and indecisive as you've been in the past, this situation has evolved beyond our control."

"Thanks, I guess." His thoughts returned to a recent conversation he had with his flock. "Last night I asked Matsu to tell me a little bit more about the Sekirei Plan..."

Takami raised her head a little bit, looking slightly apprehensive. "What about it?"

At this moment, the young ronin realized he might be pushing into dangerous territory, but decided there was no going back. "Well, to put it simply, she told me that the Sekirei were originally life forms discovered aboard an alien spacecraft. Matsu claims that the ship was found by two university students on an uncharted island." he stood up suddenly, placing his hands on her desk with a nervous twitch. "Please tell me! Were you the one with Minaka that day?"

Drumming her fingers on the desk, the woman closed her eyes in an attempt to resist the urge to reprimand her son for asking such a question, but she already knew that doing so would simply support his claim. "I'm surprised Number 02 didn't tell you." she began wearily. "But yes..."

Minato closed his eyes tightly for a second or two, his voice wavering. "I... I want you to tell me everything you know about the Sekirei Plan..."

She sat back and folded her arms, her eyes closing as she took in a deep healing breath. "Since you're trapped in the middle, it wouldn't hurt for me to tell you a little more. I can't share everything with you, but you have the right to know the basic truths." Her expression softened ever so slightly even though she remained stone-faced. "Where would you like me to begin?"

"How did it start? What purpose does it fulfill? Why was MBI even created to begin with?"

"You already know the basics, but I'll elaborate on it for your sake... I'm certain Number 02 told you this, but the original plan was to study the Sekirei species, not force them to fight in this game. Minaka and I were both capable of becoming Ashikabis despite our lack of participation right now, which is partially what allowed us to discover and enter that craft."

"Kamikura Island?" he muttered, earning a swift nod from his mother.

"It all began in 1999 when we explored an uncharted island in the Pacific. Both of us knew that the geological formation of it was unnatural, and it was here that that we discovered the 108 life forms you know as Sekirei."

"I see... So you wanted to learn more about them, and that's how MBI came to be?"

Takami unfolded her arms, readjusting her position carefully. "It was never quite that simple, but the discovery itself was the launching point of this corporation. The spaceship containing the Sekirei contained amazing technology far beyond anything that had ever been seen on Earth until that point, and being the genius that he was, Minaka was not only able to comprehend its workings of it, but also harness the advanced machinery for himself."

"You speak pretty highly of highly of him, all things considered." Minato immediately shit his mouth upon seeing his mother's face. If looks could kill, he might've been six feet under by now.

"I only mentioned his intelligence, not his character." she stated with cold indifference, her icy gaze wandering towards the window. "As far as I'm concerned, that man needs to die."

"Wow, that's pretty harsh of you. I had no idea you felt so strongly about this!"

"After all he's done, it's still too good a fate for that man... His intelligence proved to be both a gift and a curse for everyone, because such power is not suited for the hands of a such a man." she took a breath and continued. "It was the patent of those technologies that allowed Minaka to create the Mid Bio Informatics, more commonly known as MBI."

"So that's how he became the head of the world's largest company." the young man let it sink in for a moment before his mind returned to his friends downstairs. "Even if he created a business empire from the alien wreckage, what does that have to do with the Sekirei? I mean, why make them fight if the original plan was to study them?"

Takami gave into her previous temptation, instinctively lighting a cigarette from his pocket and placing it in her mouth. It always helped to calm her nerves. "When MBI was first founded, the president made the island his personal property. Although we attempted to keep its existence a secret, word eventually escaped to the outside, and the major world powers began asking questions... A lot of questions..."

"Matsu mentioned that the original Discipline Squad was founded in order to protect the S-Plan. Was this what she was talking about?"

"As a member of the First Generation, she would have known that much. Due to attacks from unknown enemies who sought to seize the technology for themselves, MBI needed a way to protect those very secrets. Only five Sekirei had been awakened at that point, more specifically Numbers 1 though 5. These five were charged with protecting Kamikura Island, and by extension, their slumbering brethren aboard the ship."

Minato was confused about one point. "Doesn't MBI have a private army? Maybe the Sekirei were more effective, but was it really necessary to mobilize them."

"This was long before the company established a military, so the members of the Discipline Squad were all we had to work with. All Sekirei are given scientific adjustments in order to determine their powers. The five originals were more powerful than all that came after, having had their adjustments personally carried out by Takehito Asama, the second genius behind MBI."

"Just wait a minute, now!" a dawning realization came to her son's face as the gears began moving in his head. "That was the name of Miya's husband!"

"He was the very same." his mother concurred, her expression darkening at the mention of her former colleague. "Were he still alive, Takehito never would have allowed Minaka to twist the Sekirei Plan into a cruel tournament."

Minato lamented the idea with a frown. Having heard Miya speak so highly of her lost love in the past, it only made him wonder what kind of man he had been. He looked up at his mother, but her expression gave no answer. "Um, mom... Could you tell me what happened to him."

"I don't see how it matters to you." she exhaled a mouthful of smoke before resting the tip of her cigarette in the ashtray.

"She told me once that he died, along with Sekirei Number 01, but never mentioned anything else. It's a little strange."

Takami appeared surprised that the purple-haired landlady had even said that much, before gently clearing her throat. "Miya would probably be upset if I gave you all the details, but the incident that claimed the life of her husband was a complete accident. Furthermore, it is not within my boundaries to divulge anything more."

"I understand..." he nodded his head once, placing an element of trust in his mother.

She eyed him carefully before taking another puff from her cigarette, her shoulders drooping ever so slightly into a more relaxed position. "A team of researchers including myself, continued Takehito's work by adjusting the powers and abilities of the remaining Sekirei. As it stands now, there's really nothing more I can say to answer your queries from before."

"You still haven't explained why the Sekirei Plan continued in this form, or where the idea came from to make them all fight each other."

"When the time is right, you may discover those answers for yourself. There are some things that you might not be ready to hear, and several mysteries behind these alien life forms that even Minaka does not fully comprehend. I've told you all I can for now."

Minato learned forward with a looked of nervousness. "But..."

"This conversation is over." his mother cut him off, her expression telling him not to ask more.

He had seen that look several times as a child, and immediately knew what it meant. "I'm sorry." he felt those words pass his lips again, the sensation all to familiar for the young ronin.

Takami prepared to dismiss his apology for the umpteenth time, but was distracted by the sound of her phone ringing. She spun her office chair around before answering the call, her back turned to Minato as she conversed with the caller in hushed tones. He tried to busy himself by counting the cigarettes in her ashtray, knowing from his mother's mannerisms that whatever was going on was none of his business.

"Yes... Yes... ... All right. I'll be there as soon as possible." she quipped before snapping shut the phone in her hand. She turned to face her son once more, shaking her head in his direction before addressing him. "There's something very important I need to attend to. I have to go now."

"What is it?" he tested the waters as politely as possible.

She retrieved her lab coat from the rack by the door, sliding her arms through the sleeves while flattening out the wrinkles in front. "Classified information." she answered quickly, coming to a stop as she reached for the door. "Just remember to be careful what you say and do from this point on, and never take anything Minaka says at face value."

Without another word she swept from the office, leaving him sitting alone once again. The young Ashikabi pondered her words for several minutes only to come to the conclusion that he was being handled. Overall her lecture had left him with more questions than answers, but at the same time he couldn't help but wonder if she was trying to protect him from something. Exactly what that was, he could not be certain.

While buried in these thoughts, he was caught off guard by the feeling of a hand resting on his shoulder. "I didn't do anything!" he screamed suddenly, his heart skipping a beat.

"Well, aren't we sounding guilty all of a sudden?" Matsu's voice replied from over his shoulder.

Minato felt his body relax considerably, but the uneasy sensation returned as he turned around to see that she was being escorted by a pair of MBI security guards. His eyes gravitated towards the box in her opposite hand before moving up to her face, quickly noticing that she was just as nervous as him. One of the suited men motioned for him to stand up before ushering him from the room, the other moving into position behind them as they were marched from the office.

The dark-haired teenager placed a hand to his mouth before whispering to the left. "Hey Matsu, where are they taking us?"

"We're going to see the president." she replied in a brisk tone, beads of sweat dripping down her forehead. "I assume he was serious about meeting as soon as possible. He probably knew that Takami would be the first to speak to you, hence why they grabbed me and headed straight for her office to find you."

"Are you sure this is a good idea? You kept telling us that MBI was after you."

Number 02 learned in, trying to be a discreet as possible in their present company. "The reason being the object I presented you earlier. The moment we agreed to cooperate with them, there was no avoiding this."

"Where are the others, right now? Are they still downstairs unpacking their stuff?"

Matsu nodded quickly to affirm his guess before placing a finger to her lip to silence her Ashikabi from saying anything else. He could tell that she was not keen on being back in the belly of the beast after escaping with her life, making him feel guilty for accepting Minaka's proposal to begin with. The alternative he had been given was even worse, but everything that had happened was still his fault in some way.

It was a few minutes before they reached Minaka's office. Although the escorts paused to allow them to enter, they did not follow. As they walked across the carpet leading to his desk, Matsu slid a step behind her Ashikabi, gently snuggling against his outstretched arm timidly. Having been used to her perverted advances for so long, Minato found the tenderness endearing, yet he knew that she was doing so out of fear rather than affection. The president waited for them with a hungry expression, his grin widening ever so slightly as they reached the end of the room.

The young Ashikabi glanced at his companion with silent pity before stepping forward to address the white-clad man. "You wanted to see me, sir."

"I wanted to see both of you, yes." he sat down in the large chair behind his desk, motioning for them to take the seats in front. Upon seeing their nervous demeanors, he could only laugh. "Come now! You needn't look so hesitant to except my hospitality." he glanced to the redhead. "Even you, Number 02."

Matsu looked up with a grimace, her shoulders becoming stiff and rigid as she placed the metal box on his desk. "Don't give me any of that bilge!" she replied sternly. "I know you want this back, and I doubt you simply forgot about that incident several years ago!"

Minaka waved a gloved hand as if sweeping aside her comment. "Perish the thought! Since your Ashikabi here has so kindly decided to accept my proposal, I am more than willing to let bygones be bygones. After all, it was my fault for allowing you to get away with that trinket to begin with. Still, you know what they say: Treachery keeps the mind sharp."

"It does." she removed the crystal-like object from its case. The CEO raised an eyebrow in amusement, but she ignored his gesture. "I assume that you still want it back after all this time."

"Oh heavens, no! I already mentioned to Mr. Sahashi that it was to be his to protect from this point onwards."

"Why do you want me to have it for myself?" Minato suddenly spoke up, grabbing the attention of the room's other occupants. The sudden stares caused him to hesitate, but he swallowed the lump in his throat and continued. "I know that's what you said to me before, but exactly why is it necessary for me to be the one to keep it?"

He folded his hands and rested them on the surface of the desk, taking a moment to make his guests feel a little more at ease. "I can most certainly understand why Number 02 would be so suspicious of my motives, especially considering certain events in the past, mind you."

Matsu did her best to relax, but her mind remained ill at ease. "You targeted me for years and ordered my capture and elimination. Situations like that tend to breed distrust. Forgive me for being more than a little paranoid after I spent years hiding in someone's attic."

"You promised not to harm anyone if I agreed to take this job." her Ashikabi spoke suddenly.

"Off course, my boy... Since you have kept your word, I shall keep mine." The mad genius straightened his spectacles with a mischievous look, paying no heed to the boy's uneasiness or his Sekirei's pensive glare. "You need not worry about that for now. I merely asked you both here in order to explain a few things that will prove most helpful to you."

"What does the Jinki have to do with this? Surely you would not have requested I bring it here otherwise." she questioned carefully, her eyes scanning the room for anything suspicious.

"You know very well that the Jinki is everything, Number 02."

Minato stood up, his spine tingling as the others focused their attention onto him. He hesitated, but overcame the feeling of nausea in his stomach. "Just tell me what you want from us?"

"I see you don't mince words, Mr. Sahashi... And to think how little your mother thinks of you. Perhaps this little event of mine has helped you grow as an individual, or maybe it's simply the responsibility you have of caring for five lovely young ladies?"

Matsu resisted the urge to defend her Ashikabi's character before interjecting. "I believe you've kept us waiting long enough, Minaka. It's only fair you give him some of the inside details. Is that not the reason you gave for having both of us marched up here by MBI military personnel."

The mad scientist waved off the notion once more. "My sincerest apologizes if they caused you any physical or emotional discomfort, but I must digress."

Minato shifted uneasily in his seat. "So what do you really want, now?"

"Oh dear, where are my manners? I suppose there's nothing to be gained from beating around the bush, so let me remedy the situation immediately." the white-clad CEO shifted his gaze to Matsu for a second, his smile disappearing for barely a second. "As I stated several times before, your past transgressions no longer matter in the grand scheme of things. Feel at ease, Number 02."

She acknowledged him with a nervous twitch. "I figured you were still sore about the Jinki, but either way, I don't understand why you plan on placing it under our protection."

"Ah yes, I was getting to that." Minaka swiped the Jinki from his desk with surprising agility, holding it carefully between his fingers as if trying to detect a forgery. Once satisfied with the appraisal, he shoved it into the younger man's outstretched hands.

The boy looked it over himself, blinking twice with a puzzled expression. "What about it?"

"The Jinki itself is quite a significant commodity for our little birds, but for now, I hope you are sufficient with knowing what purpose it holds for you."

"I asked earlier, but you never did explain." the Ashikabi passed the object back to his partner.

Minaka watched as the brain-type Sekirei returned the object to her box before starting. "To put it simply, the final round of the Sekirei Plan will take place in a secret location designated by the Game Master." he indicated himself. "Only those few lucky Ashikabi who possess one of the eight Jinki will be allowed to participate."

Matsu straightened her glasses with a challenging expression. "I see you managed to keep the remaining seven in the hands of MBI when I made off with the eighth. Your plan is to turn these relics into prizes in the subsequent rounds of the S-Plan, am I correct?"

"You always were a bright girl, Number 02." he slapped his hands onto his desk with a grin, the light shining across the surface of his glasses. "You might say that the Jinki is your ticket to the final round of the Sekirei Games. That is why it would be in your best interest to protect it."

The dark-haired ronin contemplated the situation, his eyes widening slightly as he began putting the puzzle together. "So this is what you meant when you said the Discipline Squad would be exempt from future events. It's because we already have the Jinki!"

"Precisely so! Although I must interject that there will be some mandatory tasks that come with your new position. However, you are free to partake in any of the other events if you desire." his guest suddenly stood up, causing the president to face him as well. "Have you something to share with me, Mr. Sahashi? If so, I'm all ears!"

"I understand your conditions, but..." The younger man felt his hands clench by his side as the dying embers in his stomach began to rise. "Why did you start this tournament, anyway? What is there to be gained by forcing people who have met and fallen in love to fight and lose the person they care about most?"

"Minato..." Matsu whispered sadly, gently grasping his elbow for support.

To their surprise, the MBI chairman smiled still wider, which they guessed was supposed to be an understanding expression. "My dear boy, have you no vision?" he began quietly, his eyes blazing with madness as his voice grew louder. "The contents of that craft were a gift from the Gods, and as the Game Master, it is my duty to usher the world into a new age!"

"That's no excuse for toying with the lives of so many innocent people."

"On the contrary... These people you speak of are the chosen ones who were blessed with the ability to lead us into the next era of this planet we call Earth! Surely you understand, since your own Sekirei have not only engaged other in battle, but caused others to cease functioning."

Minato felt slightly ill at the thought, almost as if this comment alone had beaten the fight out of him. The battles Musubi fought in the first round had largely been defensive struggles against powerful enemies, but they had knowingly taken up arms against MBI during the escape with the understanding that it would lead to a fight.

The woman beside him noticed his discomfort, her glare settling on the president. "The situations you're talking about only prove our point. It's because Minato has participated in the games that he understands the pain of being an Ashikabi!"

"Which is why he will make an infinitely more interesting Discipline Squad chief that Natsuo ever was." Minaka added without any hesitation. "The young clerk may have possessed the genetics to make him an Ashikabi, but the attachment he felt towards his flock was minimal. You of all people can comprehend the difference that emotional bonds can make to a Sekirei."

"That's not the point!" the dark-haired teen replied, his eyes pleading for the man to understand.

"Need I remind you of your position?" Although the mad scientist did not dispense with his trademark expression, his mannerisms seemed oddly sinister.

The younger boy felt his heart race, his mind replaying the last visit he made to the president's office. It had been so traumatic that the exact words from their previous conversation has been etched in Minato's mind. "I... I understand..." he murmured in compliance.

Matsu gave him a sad stare, knowing that the argument had been useless to begin with. She knew that Minaka had always been a madman, but behind his flamboyant mannerisms he was actually quite cunning and dangerous. Although she had never seen him angry in the traditional sense, it was clear that they had come dangerously close to irritating the perpetually happy chairman. Looking over at her Ashikabi with a gentleness free of her usual perversions, she promised to herself to support him through this crisis in any way she could.

Meanwhile...

In the building miles away from Teito Tower, Izumi Higa was contemplating the new situation for himself. He had just finished a meeting with several of his company's board members and was now sitting in one of his private rooms where he occasionally retreated in order to get some quiet time away from the hectic schedule of a business executive. His pharmaceutical company was a competitor of Minaka's MBI.

He sat on a sofa positioned in the center of the room, an arm stretched out casually over the side with his back resting comfortably against the cushion. Having cancelled all appointments for the remainder of the day, he had dispensed with his white suit in exchange for a pair of jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, the garb he usually wore when traveling incognito. Despite dressing down, his neatly groomed hair and nonchalant mannerisms still gave the impression of his status as a major company head.

A knock on the door awoke him from his little reverie. "Enter..." he replied pleasantly.

The door opened behind him as two people walked in, the sound of familiar footsteps making it unnecessary to even turn around. "I thought that was you, Kakizaki."

"Mr. Higa." his assistant greeted with a polite bow of his head. He was dressed in the same dark suit and yellow tie he usually wore, which was an odd contrast to his employer's street clothes. He turned to the girl standing behind him. "Do you have the documents, Kochou?"

"Of course." she replied, her fingers thumbing through the papers attached to her clipboard.

His companion was rather busty young lady, yet she bore herself with the countenance of a much older woman. Her serious expression, short gray hair, and red framed half-moon spectacles gave her the appearance of a secretary, although her choice of clothing was somewhat at odds with this. The outfit she wore consisted of a pair of white gloves that reached slightly past her elbows, along with a light purple robe and darker corset, the long sleeves and high collar ending in frills.

Their superior gestured to the large armchair across from him, waiting for his assistant to sit before addressing him. "So, did you deliver that message to Number 10 as we agreed?"

Kakizaki nodded. "She has naturally chosento cooperate, per our previous agreement. I also issued a little warning to her about following your orders completely in the future. The escape of Number 95 was partially her fault, after all."

"That is MBI's business, not mine. Although, I probably would have done the same thing, since we cannot afford to have disobedient pawns in the midst of such a dangerous game." Higa's light expression was quickly replaced by a thoughtful one. "Meanwhile, it would appear those folks from the north have been a thorn in Minaka's side, enough perhaps to distract him."

"Actually, there is some important information you may want to hear concerning that group. If you have not already been informed, I think this may surprise you." he exchanged looks with the gray-haired Sekirei standing behind them.

"Sir..." Kochou stepped forward with a respectful bow of her head. "While we were hacking into the enemy's database, I made some interesting discoveries that may prove useful to us in the future. I believe you were made aware that the Discipline Squad was terminated during that escape attempt by Number 95 and her Ashikabi?"

Izumi Higa sat up a little straighter. "There's not a single participant in Minaka's game who hasn't heard the rumors yet. Nevertheless, those two would never have been able to pull it off without help from those troublemakers from the north." he stroked his chin with a look of amusement. "Still, I am surprised that they were capable of disabling MBI's dogs."

The brain-type Sekirei moved so that she was standing in front of her superior. "For their rash actions, the group of rule breakers were subsequently brought into the custody of MBI."

"I assume our self-proclaimed Game Master was most upset by the news, since now he no longer has a group to enforce the rules of the Sekirei Plan."

Kakizaki placed a hand to his chest and inclined his head. "I was just getting to that, sir... As it turns out, the Ashikabi of the North and his Sekirei were drafted by MBI to serve as the new Discipline Squad."

Amusement was apparent in Higa's following expression. "Having personally fought against the rules of the game, I highly doubt that those troublesome fools would have willingly cooperated with someone like Minaka. He must have something on them."

"That would be the most logical answer... Although that really isn't the kind of information the enemy would have stored within their computer network."

"Regardless of how this happened, perhaps we could use these new developments to our advantage." the pharmaceutical CEO turned to the third member of their party. "Number 22, I would like you to dig up as much information you can on this northern Ashikabi. At the very least, it would be wise to stay on top of the situation."

His assistant remained impassive. "You'll be glad to know that we have already begun searching databases for information about this man. So far, not much of interest has been found."

"Very well. Simply give me a synopsis of what you were able to dig up."

Kochou turned over to the next page in her hands and adjusted her glasses. "His name is Minato Sahashi, a 19-year-old ronin who has been living in the city for just over a year. He applied for the Shinto Teito University several times, and failed the entrance exams twice. From what little we were able to discover about his personal life, nothing was of particular importance."

Higa's serious expression gave way to reveal an empty smile. "So, the dubious Ashikabi of the North is nothing more than an ordinary teenager with mediocre academic skills." he mused with a note of disinterest, his gaze wavering for a moment between his two guests. "What of his participation in the Sekirei Plan?"

"As we already know, the boy has miraculously distinguished himself among the city's Ashikabi over time." she replied in a scholarly manner. "He became involved in the game after winging Number 88, a physical combat specialist. They went on to defeat Number 43, a Sekirei belonging to Hayato Mikogami of the South, subsequently claiming Sekirei 108 as his own. Since then, Minato Sahashi has marked Numbers 2, 9, and 3. They subsequently aided in the escape of Number 95 and her Ashikabi."

"Which brings us to the present situation..." Kakizaki added in an appraising tone.

His superior considered the facts for a moment. "So, it would appear that Mr. Sahashi has several single numbers in his service. It is even rumored that the first five Sekirei possess abilities that surpass those of the others."

"They could prove to be a troublesome enemy if MBI stumbles onto our recent actions."

"Which is why I feel it may be helpful to take some precautions." Higa relaxed and unzipped his jacket, revealing a white collar shirt underneath. "I assume you already issued the orders to Number 10 to target the enemy?"

His longtime servant looked slightly uncomfortable at the notion. "This was before we found out about the new status of this northern group. Should I rescind the order?"

"I see no reason to go out of our way immediately... Number 10 will not simply attack without waiting for an opportune moment. It may not be wise to antagonize the Discipline Squad yet, but her actions are not officially connected to ours."

Kakizaki folded his hands together in thought. "But what if she were to tell them the truth?"

"She would not be foolish enough to give away the conditions of her employment. It was part of our contract, and I've made it very clear what will happen if she violates the agreement."

"Fair enough, sir." the other man replied with an agreeable nod.

His master paused briefly. "In the meantime, it would be in our best interest to take some other precautions, in case MBI's new hounds try to impede my plans in the future." he turned to the female Sekirei again. "Kochou... I would like you to continue searching for more information about this nuisance and his Sekirei. Kakizaki is to review the data and bring anything that may be of value to me immediately. Am I clear?"

"I shall do my very best, Mr. Higa." his assistant answered without complaint.

"As you wish... I live to serve." she placed a hand to her heart with an obedient bow.

The pair took the ensuing silence as their cue to leave, both excusing themselves without the need for a dismissal. Kakizaki had known his superior for a long time and was always quick to understand his master's intentions and gestures. As a Sekirei, Kochou was rather in tune with the emotions felt by those around her as well. She spared a quick glance with her partner before closing the door behind them, both knowing that their superior expected results quickly, and would accept nothing less than absolute obedience.

Higa exhaled once before he crossed over the closet, exchanging his sweatshirt for a white suit jacket, pulling his silk tie into place with a single fluid movement of his wrist. He knew things were bound to become rather interesting. If everything went the way he had envisioned, the new pieces that had appeared in the game would ultimately prove quite useful in dismantling Minaka and his MBI. It was just a matter of time...

Meanwhile...

Minato swallowed nervously as he and Matsu approached the door to their new living quarters, the voices beyond indicating that the others were all waiting inside. Despite mustering up all of his courage and trying to make a difference, the little courage he possessed had been stepped on by the madman who was now his employer. The end result had been plain to see before he even began, but it had been a crushing blow nonetheless.

Although he had been feeling down the entire walk back to their lodgings, the familiar voices of his Sekirei calmed him considerably. Just being around the people he loved most made him feel much better. He glanced back at Matsu who smiled reassuringly, prompting her Ashikabi to put on a happy face for the rest of his flock. Showing up in such a sad state was bound to dampen the spirits of the others, and he did not wish to worry them further. As he stepped through the door, the smallest of his Sekirei jumped into his arms, embracing him in a tight hug.

"Big brother's back!" Kuu called out happily as she cuddled into his chest.

"Thanks a lot, Kuu... I'm glad you guys missed me, but I was only gone for an hour."

"Surely this child did not miss thee as much as thy one true wife." Tsukiumi walked up to the trio with an aloof expression, which quickly turned to a look of concern. "Did someone do something to upset thee?"

The dark-haired ronin prepared to answer, but was silenced by a sharp look from Matsu. "It was nothing, really."

"I did not ask thee to speak, thou perverted rogue." her expression softened again. "Still, tell me what happened, Matsu. Surely nothing that wouldst cause more trouble for us all, I would hope."

"It was just a personal meeting with his mother. You know as well as I do that Takami wouldn't do anything to intentionally harm her own son." She spoke with a carefree smile that did not reach her eyes. "We were also summoned by Minaka, but the president just wanted to brief us on some of the basics of the job."

The water Sekirei cast a look of suspicion between them. "Like what, pray tell?"

"Just what to expect for the future of the Sekirei Plan and what we need to do!" Minato blurted out a little too quickly.

Tsukiumi closed her eyes and bit her tongue as if biting back an outburst, but she seemed fine a moment later. "My apologies for being so suspicious, Minato. Leaving one's own husband alone with such a promiscuous concubine would arouse such suspicions in the heart of any loyal wife. Surely thou wouldst understand my view?"

Her Ashikabi looking noticeably relieved when she didn't press further, although she seemed not to notice his change in demeanor. He had no desire to explain what other words had been exchanged between them and the company president due to the lack of results and emotional strife that had resulted. For once he was glad that Tsukiumi's suspicions were focused on his reactions with another one of his Sekirei rather than on the current situation.

Noticing that he was staring off into space, the blonde woman leaned forward and placed a hand on her hip. "Does thou seek to mock me?"

"No, of course not!" he protested with a panicked wave of his hands, his eyes settling on the youngest Sekirei only moments later. "Hey Kuu, where did you get that new outfit?"

Although the coloring was the exact opposite of her usual garb, Minato had been so distraught earlier that he hadn't even noticed the change of clothes. Kusano's new dress was similar in design to her normal outfit, but was black instead of the familiar white he had always seen her wear. One major difference aside from the color was the Sekirei crest symbol sewed into the front around the stomach area, and the white designs decorating the bottom. Whereas her previous dress had been short sleeved, the new garment had long sleeves ending in frills.

"Do you like it, big brother?" she questioned with those cute, pleading eyes.

"It looks very nice on you." he complimented her, knowing that he would've been unable to say anything else even if the opposite were true. She gave him another hug, causing him to look down at the small girl and smile. "Say Kuu, where did you get that dress?"

"It was in Kuu's new closet." the youngest Sekirei replied in a matter-of-fact way, causing her Ashikabi to look to the older blonde for a more thorough answer.

Tsukiumi concurred the statement with a nod. "MBI has provided us each with wardrobes more befitting of our new positions. I am much less pleased by the choice of garb they have chosen."

"Hello Minato, did everything go all right with your mother?" Musubi's gentle voice called from the hallway.

He opened his mouth to speak, but was temporarily rendered unable to by the outfit Yume was wearing. Under ordinary circumstances he would simply be embarrassed by his Sekirei and their revealing clothing, this was a much different feeling. The woman inhabiting Musubi's body was wearing a tight leather top with a miniskirt barely visible underneath, complete with a pair of dark thigh-length stockings and matching boots. A gray haori marked with the Sekirei crest adorned her shoulders, a loose brown belt reaching casually from her hips.

It wasn't as if she looked unattractive, but he had immediately recognized the outfit as the same clothing worn by the Black Sekirei. It seemed completely out of place to see Musubi's form wearing the garb of the person who had threatened their lives. Without warning, his mind began replaying scenes of horror from that night on the bridge, but he did his best to repress these scarring thoughts.

Yume noticed his discomfort immediately, although it took her a few seconds before she discerned what he was thinking. "I'm sorry... Maybe I should go change." she tried to excuse herself, only to realize that his hand was wrapped around her wrist.

"Don't... ... ... You look beautiful." he began with a genuine smile, his nerves quieting down. "I shouldn't have been so surprised, seeing how that seems to be the clothing worn by the chief of the Discipline Squad."

"The entire First Generation wore that same outfit." Kazehana replied as she sauntered into the living room, lazily collapsing onto the couch in front of the plasma screen.

Minato peeked over Yume's shoulder to get a closer look at his newest Sekirei, only to notice that she was wearing the same outfit. "I guess you must be used to it, then. Am I right?"

"More or less..." she placed her hands behind her head and gave her arms a quick stretch. "Never thought I'd be wearing this stuff again after resigning from this line of work years ago. The outfit's doable and its easy to move around in a fight, but black really isn't my color."

"I suppose the uniforms must be a sign of authority, since you guys were just appointed to take the job and the players don't know your faces yet." he replied.

"Color be damned, tis the least of my concerns... It is undignifying for me to wear such a distasteful attire." Tsukiumi folded her arms stubbornly.

Matsu stepped past her Ashikabi and shrugged. "Throwing a fit about something so minor while we're in this type of situation is just plain pointless."

Yume nodded in agreement. "It's simply a sign of authority to wear the uniform, but no one ever said it was a requirement. The important thing is that we remain on high alert in case our services are needed in the city. "

"You make it sound like such a noble cause, and yet those of us who have taken part in the game in its current form know that it is anything but." the redhead shook her head earnestly. "There was a time long ago when the Discipline Squad fought to protect our fellow Sekirei, but those times have since ended."

"That was once our duty, and I have hope that one day it will be again." Number 08 lamented.

"How little thou truly understands about this game." the water Sekirei straightened up with an aggressive aura. "Each of us seeks to claim victory so that one may remain with their Ashikabi. In this tournament of warriors, there can only be one winner. Are we not to count every Sekirei we see as our mortal foes, regardless?"

The woman bearing Musubi's appearance was most taken aback by this statement, but she could only feel pity for her fellow Sekirei. With the S-Plan perverted into a tournament, it was only natural that many of the participants would come to see the world in such blatant terms as black and white. Yume couldn't deny the truth behind the statement. She had only known her for a short time, but the water user was a straight shooter when it came time to expressing her opinions.

"Harsh as it sounds, she's absolutely right ." Matsu verbalized her thoughts. "Assuming all of us survive to the end, there will come a time when even friends will be forced to fight."

"Only then will we discover who is truly the strongest." Tsukiumi reiterated with a stiff nod.

"You shouldn't take it so lightly... The idea of separating people who have fallen in love."

"Says one who does not understand what it is to choose a husband." the blonde woman added briskly. "Remember that I have yet to truly acknowledge thee a part of our lives, Number 08. Until that day comes, I shall keep a close eye on thee."

Yume was slightly hurt by the reminder, but it was true that it had not been her who kissed their Ashikabi, but Musubi, although she herself had grown to love him just the same. The fact that Tsukiumi had referred to her by number rather than name did not go unnoticed by the Sekirei of Fate, although she still hoped that one day everyone here would come to see her as a part of their extended family.

Minato placed a hand on her shoulder, causing the woman to shudder slightly. "I'm sorry if the others are being a little rough, but you sort of came bursting into our lives really unexpectedly." He leaned in slightly, noticing that she was holding something in her hand. "What's that?"

"Oh, this!?" she answered nervously, fumbling the paper in her hand. She took a deep breath before showing it to him revealing a file with some basic information about Sekirei Number 08.

The others crowded in to see what their Ashikabi was looking at, their collective gazes settling on the photo in the right-hand corner of the page. The person in the picture looked almost identical to the woman standing before them now, but she seemed slightly older and taller in appearance, although it wouldn't have been noticeable at all by a passing glance. The most obvious difference was the bust size of the person in the photo, which was noticeably smaller than Musubi's 97 centimeter measurements.

"I thought you guys might be interested to see the real me, so I searched MBI's records while you were gone. Unfortunately, since the actions of the Discipline Squad are a heavily guarded secret, this was all I could find."

Kusano took one look at the picture with a wide-eyed innocent look. "Wow, you look a lot like Musubi in this picture."

The dark-haired Ashikabi was initially surprised by the sudden revelation, but it seemed to make sense as to why Yume didn't seem entirely uncomfortable in Musubi's body. "I have to say, you two could've easily passed for twins."

"They're practically identical! Aside from the size of the bosom, Musubi does closely resemble Number 08 as she was in this picture." Tsukiumi added in with a look of surprise, her expression showing one of distaste moments later. "Tis very much like those detestable Lightning Twins who hath submitted themselves to that despicable man."

"Who now?" Sekirei 08 put in curiously.

"A friend of mine named Seo." Minato rubbed his face with an awkward look. "He's an Ashikabi who does odd jobs for a living. His Sekirei are a pair of twins who like almost exactly alike, although there are some differences like with you and Musubi."

"She doesn't seem to like him very much."

The Ashikabi ran a hand through his messy hair. "You might say he and Tsukiumi didn't meet on the best of terms."

Matsu chuckled at the idea. "Definitely not an exaggeration... Although that statement might actually apply to everyone in this room."

The blonde woman clenched her fists at this reminder. "That lowly swine attempted a forced emergence on me as revenge for attacking those lowly trollops he called his Sekirei. Yet not only did they dishonor the sacred rules of our kind by fighting two on one, but they were clearly the aggressors in this conflict."

Minato raised his hands defensively. "He really cares a lot for his Sekirei and even helped me save Kuu a while back. Seo's really not all that bad once you get to know him."

"Unless you're asking Miya for her opinion." Kazehana added, resulting a small snicker from the redheaded genius.

"Does she have something against this man, too?" Yume questioned innocently.

The wind Sekirei shrugged with relaxed demeanor. "Miya's just steamed since he usually pays a visit to Maison Izumo with the sole purpose of freeloading off of her. Of course she can't just send him away because her husband would never have turned down someone in need, especially since Seo was an old friend of Takehito's."

"There's also the fact that he taught Miya how to cook and clean, since she was near hopeless as a homemaker. I swear, there was a time when all that woman knew how to do was fight..."

Matsu placed a hand on her mouth, her eyes widening in fear of what she had been inches from saying. Only the first generation of the Discipline Squad were fully aware of Miya's true identity along with a handful of others, and it wasn't something that she wanted public knowledge. The redhead felt a cold drop of sweat run down her face, her sudden silence not going unnoticed by her present company.

Minato leaned forward to take a closer look at her, causing the woman to step back nervously. "Hey Matsu, are you okay? You look a little sick all of a sudden."

Tsukiumi wore an expression of burning curiosity as she approached the genius. "What dost thou mean be asserting that the landlady only knew how to fight? Such a claim makes it sound like she was a..."

Kazehana quickly covered up the situation by wrapping her arms seductively around the Ashikabi's waist, allowing her comrade to scoot from the room unnoticed. "Enough fussing over her, I've been feeling a little under the weather too. Why don't you be a good hubby and give me a once over to make sure nothing's wrong."

"Well... I..." he tensed up upon feeling her gigantic breasts press into his back.

She went over to the couch and pulled up her skirt, slowly revealing the full length of her perfect shaped legs. "I think I'm developing a fever... You can start by helping me take this thing off."

"If that is all you require, than allow me to cool thee off!" Tsukiumi snapped her fingers, causing an orb of water to fall from above their heads.

A second later, the wind Sekirei stood drenched beside the couch, her outfit soaked and her silky dark hair now wet and riddled with clumps. Although she had only made to advance to save the conversation from treading into turbulent waters, the sudden intrusion by the water user was just as unpleasant as ever. Kazehana cast aside her saturated haori and wrung out her hair with a few twisting motions, leaving even more water on the carpet.

"No need to be so rude, blondie... I was 25% joking about that stuff before."

"Which means that thou was almost entirely serious in thy intentions." Tsukiumi placed her hands on her hips. "I will be dead before I allow a mere concubine to seduce my husband before we are able to consummate our own relationship."

"It's been nice knowing you, then." Kazehana raised a hand, moving the air around her body to dry her clothing out, while giving her an oddly commanding presence.

"Wouldst be my pleasure to face thee in battle!"

Minato closed his eyes tightly as if afraid of what was about to happen, but with few other options in sight he found himself shouting to gain their attention. "Enough fighting! This isn't how friends should behave!" he paused for a moment to take in their reactions, pleasantly surprised that they had stopped altogether. "No matter how you guys feel about each other, we're supposed to be a team."

The wind user seemed dumbstruck at first by his outburst, but she gave him a warm expression a few seconds later. "It looks like you're starting to become a man that we can all rely on, Minato. I have to admit, you really know how to put your foot down when it counts."

"Tis true! Thinking of one's wives before thyself..." Tsukiumi exclaimed with a note of respect.

Yume felt a familiar warmth in her chest, but it was Kusano who spoke. "Are we all friends again, big brother?"

"Of course, Kuu... We'll all be together forever." Minato placed a hand on her head and ruffled her hair, causing her to smile.

Sekirei Number 08 placed her hands together as if praying for the future, her folded hands settling right above Musubi's heart. "I hope so..." she whispered to herself.

Later that Afternoon...

On the outskirts of the capital, a young couple went for a walk, a young couple walked along the riverbank enjoying their freedom. The boy was in his late teenage years and stood at an average height wearing a casual jacket and white shirt that complimented his shaggy light brown hair. Walking arm-and-arm with the young man was a pretty girl, her short blond hair and slim body type giving off the impression of someone even younger. She was garbed in a blue dress with a white collar and trim.

While they might've appeared to be an ordinary couple to the casual bystander, the duo had recently gone through Hell and back, barely escaping with their lives after a fight in the Sekirei Plan. Despite having been participants in Minaka's cruel game, Haruka Shigi and his Sekirei Kuno had managed to escape the boundaries of the capital with help from friends and were now safely outside of MBI's jurisdiction.

The two had been traveling by foot for several days, stopping only for food and rest while trying to avoid attracting unwanted attention. With the city still visible in the distance, the feeling of dread had yet to completely disappear from their hearts, and they remained on the move and the frail Sekirei had even donned a baseball cap in order to hide her face. It was more for her own personal comfort than an actual disguise, but her Ashikabi hadn't argued against it.

"How much longer do we have to walk, Haruka?" Kuno asked, her eyes brimming with sad tears.

"Once I think we're far enough outside of MBI's territory, I'll call my mom and get us a ride back to my hometown."

The blonde girl looked away as if ashamed of herself. "I'm so sorry you had to end up with someone like me who can't do anything. What if your family doesn't like me?"

Haruka smiled in an attempt to soothe her worries. "Of course they'll like you. You're really nice and you can sing like an angel!" he replied confidently, causing her to smile if only slightly. He looked towards the sky absent-mindedly, a blush coming to his cheeks. "Besides, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You're my girl... Don't forget that!"

"You mean you still want to stay by my side forever? Even after I failed to protect you?"

"It's not your fault that the others all turned out to be such great warriors while your only weapon was a powerful voice." he began, feeling suddenly guilty when she cast him a hurt expression. The brown-haired Ashikabi cleared his throat and remedied the situation. "I like you just the way you are. I won't compare you to anyone else!"

As she embraced her Ashikabi, another Sekirei was having much a less pleasant experience several miles down the riverbank.

In a house not far from the riverbank, a certain young woman awoke with a violent start, her head pounding like a drum as her vision slowly began to return. Her pink hair usually arranged in a neat side ponytail was currently hanging loosely down her shoulders, and her body was devoid of clothing except for a pair of black panties and a matching bra that covered her small A-cup size breasts.

Once her perception returned to normal, she sat up and observed her surroundings. She was currently situated in what appeared to be a hospital bed, although the atmosphere seemed strangely inviting, more like that of a guest room than a closed ward. The room contained a small television and some basic equipment, the afternoon sunlight casting a pleasant glow as it streamed through the window.

Benitsubasa felt her memories of her defeat returning, causing her body to shake in rage, but the train of thought was interrupted as a man wearing a white coat entered the room from the side door.

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously in his direction. "Who the fuck are you supposed to be?" she stated in a coarse tone that heavily belied her carefree teenage appearance.

The dark-haired man adjusted his glasses while looking taken aback by her less than pleasant greeting, but he chose to remain professional. "My name is Akihisa Minamoto, and I'm the director of this private clinic."

"I don't much give a damn either way! How the Hell did I get here!?" she stood up aggressively, seizing the man by the front of his jacket.

The man remained surprisingly stoic and said nothing until she loosened her grip, backing away from her with a look of distaste. "My wife found you unconscious on the riverbank this morning and brought you here for observation. It would seem you fell from a great height, but the river broke your fall."

"Never mind all that static! Where's Haihane?"

"Who? You were the only person we found... There was no one else nearby." he straightened his collar while casually pressing out wrinkles on his jacket. Without so much as another word, the pink-haired woman stood up and scooted past the man and headed straight for the door. "Wait, are you certain it's wise to be moving around so soon?"

"You'll find I'm not nearly as weak as you pathetic humans." she stated coldly, earning a look of surprise from the man. "I've got important places to go and there's a lot of people out there who need to die."

While clearly perturbed by her odd behavior and murderous words, his bedside manner had still yet to completely disappear. "Young lady, surely you don't intend to go outside dressed in only your underwear!?"

Realizing her state of undress, the Sekirei attempted to cover herself, her blood boiling at the thought that someone other than Natsuo had looked at her body. "You bastard... You saw my naked body, didn't you!?"

"I was merely doing my job as a doctor." he replied sternly, his words only angering her more. "You don't have any major injuries to speak of from what I was able to see, only..."

Before he could finish speaking, a fist collided with his stomach, knocking him out cold. "Why don't you do the world a favor and shut your big stupid mouth?" she hissed angrily, recoiling her hand as his body hit the floor.

It was only hard enough to render a human unconscious, a light tap compared to what she dished out in battles with her fellow Sekirei. She had grown tired of the conversation and was now focused entirely on getting back to MBI headquarters. Bending over, she stole his jacket and used it to cover her freezing body as she searched the house for clothes.

The clinic was indeed rather small, but it seemed as though no one else was around, much to her delight. It took a while, but she found a tan blouse and dress pants belonging to the doctor's wife. Due to her slim figure they were rather large on her, but she wasn't overly concerned about it. As much as she hated the choice of clothing, it made her feel better knowing that her closet was filled with replacement outfits back at Teito Tower.

As she headed to the door, Benitsubasa felt he blood boil again. That night at the bridge came back to her in vivid detail, right down to the moment where Number 88 tossed her and Haihane into the air like a pair of discarded rag dolls. Due to the trajectory, Number 106 had landed in the opposite direction in town while she had been thrown across the city border and into the river. The impact of the water crashing against her bones was the last thing she remembered before everything went dark.

"Damn them!" she screamed, her vision turning red. She swung her fist around, smashing it clean through the nearby wall, which crumbled following the impact. Plaster fell on her head from the ceiling, but she took no notice. "No one mocks me... When I find those bitches, they're all dead!"

NOTE TO READERS: I'm back... Haven't really been in much of a writing mood, but hopefully I'll be able to update more often in the future. As usual, please pardon typos on my part. Sorry for taking so long to update, but lack of motivation and writer's block hurts even more than a busy schedule when it comes time to writing fanfiction. It is, after all, a labor of love.

You can thank an excellent review from moneygreen932 for inspiring me to continue writing this story. If you guys would like to see more of this story, reviews are definitely a motivator for me. Have any comments, questions, or ideas please submit them. I have some limited ideas for the future of this story and set up a few plot points this chapter. but it's not much to go off of. If you like something or want to see something happen, feel free to tell me!