A/N: Welcome to the beginning of the end! This story is coming to a close now, although that means there will still be about 3 chapters left if all goes according to plan, and I didn't leave too many plot holes throughout, haha.

Thank you all for hanging in there with me, and for all the lovely reviews – seriously, they keep me going. I'll have a hard time getting anything written now that I'm back in school, so any encouragement is much appreciated.

Happy reading!


We Were Never in Kansas to Begin With, So...


They're sitting across from each other in an unusually tense silence. It's warm today, and sips of iced coffee fill the empty air between them.

Setsuna clears her throat. "Konoka is thinking about extending our trip to spend more time with you guys."

Asuna nods. "That's good news."


They'd never been awkward around each other before, or at least not since their initial meeting, and Asuna taps her fingers on the table anxiously. There's an elephant in the room, and while she's usually the first person to point those out and scream "that thing is huge!", her typical tactlessness is absent today. Still, neither of their lives can continue as normal without talking this out.

There are crystals of raw sugar in the bottom of her cup, and she stirs the drink restlessly. Gathering her energy, she opens her mouth to speak, but Setsuna beats her to the punch.

"I'm sorry," she blurts out. "For lying, I mean. It's just that – well…" She trails off, worrying her lip in thought. This would be an easier conversation to have if she had any authority to speak her mind, but that's not the case. Setsuna is hardly at liberty to reveal Evangeline's plans, or what her mission is, or anything at all really. Mana would have her head if she knew Setsuna had let things slip up this far. She cringes. That is going to be a far more unpleasant conversation.

Thankfully, Asuna seems to understand, and she speaks around her straw. "You mean about the wings."

"Right," Setsuna nods and stares at the table. "I guess you've already figured out that I'm a – that I come from –"

Asuna has to smile at the stuttering. It's good to know that despite all this, some things simply won't change. "You're a demon," she finishes for the other girl, and Setsuna's face lights up in an obvious blush.

"Half," she mumbles. "My mother was human. I think."

"I know."

Setsuna's eyebrows shoot up in surprise, and she finally makes eye contact with the other girl. "You know?"

Asuna shrugs. "I've known the whole time."

"But what about at the hot springs, when you were asking about Shiro and I?"

"I was trying to get you to confess."

Setsuna gives her a blank stare, trying to take this in. "So you've known?"


"The whole time."


"Well, that would explain why you weren't surprised last night, at least."

"Nagi knows too," the redhead explains easily. "And we also know who you're working for. And, while I'm at it, we also know why you're here."

"You – you do?"


"Oh," Setsuna pauses, taking it in. "Well… aren't you going to, you know, stop me or something?"

"That's what I'm supposed to do." Asuna leans back in her chair and folds her arms over her stomach, having finished her drink already. "But I guess we're both breaking orders now, aren't we?"

The redhead is grinning at her conspiratorially, and Setsuna smiles back, relief washing over her. "So we can still be friends?"

"Well duh! You think I'm risking my ass because I enjoy it?"

"I guess not," Setsuna admits, but her smile fades quickly. "But I still don't understand what's going on. If you knew the whole time, why didn't you say anything?"

Asuna sighs at that. "I know this might sound weird coming from me, but Nagi can be a little… headstrong. He's still my boss, but he tends to jump into things without thinking, and he puts a lot of faith in what he sees."

"Which means he doesn't consider what he's not seeing," Setsuna finishes, and the redhead nods at her.

"Right. Nagi hasn't been back to Earth since he died, so he has no idea what really goes on down here nowadays; he only knows of the things other guardians tell him, and a lot of them are narrow-minded idiots."

"So what makes you different?" Setsuna asks, but then realizing how her question could be misconstrued, adds quickly, "Not that you aren't, but you're a guardian too."

"I wasn't always. I had a life on Earth once, you know."

Whoops. Setsuna had almost forgotten that most angels were once strictly human.

"And how was that?"

"Really, really shitty. Do you know what it's like to be an orphan in the early 1900s?" She doesn't pause, and she answers her own question. "It sucks. My adoptive parents weren't the greatest people."

"And that makes you open-minded?" Setsuna asks, slightly confused by the seeming lack of relevance.

Asuna nods. "When you grow up in a really shitty way, with people looking down on you all the time, you learn pretty quickly what does and doesn't matter. And where someone is born, or what they're born into, definitely falls into the second part."

Setsuna can certainly agree with that. "That is surprisingly wise."

"I have my moments."

Mutual understanding passes between them, and Setsuna is fully aware of how lucky she is.

"So," Asuna continues, not wanting the atmosphere to get too cheesy, "The short version of the situation is that everyone in Heaven assumes you guys," she points a finger in Setsuna's general direction, "Are completely irrational and selfish bastards. I'm going to go ahead and assume you have a better reason for wanting Konoka's soul?"

"To save our planet," Setsuna explains, trying to ignore the feeling that she's betraying several people's trust. "Hell is dying. My boss's plan is to use her magic to escape Hell and bring us to Earth."

Asuna takes another sip of her drink and swallows, taking her time to think. "And what happens to Konoka?"

"I don't know," Setsuna admits, looking perturbed. "No one's told me."

The redhead looks just as uneasy about that. "I guess we'll have to find out. But," she adds, "The rest sounds reasonable to me."

"I think so too. Which doesn't explain why Rokuko and Karma are so insistent on stopping me."

Asuna huffs at that. "Political bullshit that minions like me aren't really allowed in on. I'm not even sure Nagi knows that particular group exists – I only know about it by accident."

"How can you know something by accident?"

"It's kind of a long story…" Asuna trails off, averting her eyes, and is that a blush? Setsuna waits patiently for her to continue. "Alright, fine, I'll tell you. When I got to Heaven and enlisted to be a guardian, I wasn't exactly great at it."


"Alright! I sucked, okay?" The redhead defends herself preemptively, clearly embarrassed. "I was physically stronger than most people, but I can't use magic to save my life. Literally. Do you know how many times I died during combat training?"


"At least forty. And that damn woman, Rokuko, she trained me and a bunch of new recruits."

Setsuna jumps in at the pause, "Wait, I thought she wasn't a guardian?"

"She isn't. She's a go-between for Nagi and his boss. That's how her little circle manipulates all the information."

"Okay," Setsuna processes that, but it just leads to more questions. "So whose Nagi's boss? And how do you even know that?"

"I'm getting to that," Asuna gripes, waving a hand at her impatiently. "Nobody really knows who his boss is – or nobody at my level of authority, anyway, or Nagi's. And the reason I know who she is and what she does is because I stayed behind the class one day to train, and I ended up overhearing a conversation between Rokuko and one of her brothers."

"Did she find out?"

"I tried to stay quiet so they wouldn't notice, but, well you know me…" Right. Asuna and quiet go together like… Setsuna quickly gives up on an analogy, the point having been made. Seeing the understanding in the other girl's eyes, Asuna continues. "Exactly. They started jabbering about how Hell is going to be useless soon and about using humans like generators, and I jumped out and started yelling, and Rokuko wasn't too nice to me during training after that."

Setsuna tilts her head to the side curiously. "Is that why she called you Baka Red?"

Asuna nods reluctantly. "Yeah, me and a few others who were bottom of the class, but she dubbed me their leader, like a degrading, unsuccessful parody of the Power Rangers or something." She pauses here, and just when Setsuna thinks it's safe to speak, the redhead bursts with renewed fury. "You know what it's like? It's like those off-brand Fruit Loops that taste like wax and corn starch –sure, it may claim to have all the same flavors, and that stupid cross-eyed toucan that is not Toucan Sam may be adorable on the box, but it still sucks. I mean, do I seem stupid to you?"

"I –"

"Of course I don't."

Setsuna clears her throat and wisely changes the subject. "So what did she mean about Hell and humans?"

"I have no idea," Asuna responds harshly, still in aggressive mode. She takes a breath to calm down. "I didn't know who I could safely ask about it. She threatened to make sure I'd never graduate training, so I didn't have much of a choice."

Setsuna takes a sip of her watered down coffee, the ice having melted completely a few minutes ago. I bet Evangeline knows, she thinks idly, but the idea of asking her would also mean having to admit to this conversation. At the same time, Setsuna firmly hates secrets by now, and keeping something from her boss and one of the most important people in her life makes her feel heavy with guilt just thinking about it.

With that thought in mind, she catches Asuna's eye and speaks. "I could ask my boss. She'd probably know."

"Wouldn't that give you away?"

Setsuna shrugs. "I would've told her eventually anyway. I may as well frame it in a productive light. If she tells us what's actually going on, maybe we can both help."

Asuna considers that, but she looks slightly unnerved by the proposition. "She's not going to kill me, is she?"

"Probably not."

"Probably not?"

"I think she'd just insult me and give me some impossible task as revenge."

Asuna grins. "Your boss sounds awesome."

"She is," Setsuna says with a smile, despite how not smile-worthy her punishment is probably going to be. "We should go back to the hotel; I can ask her then. And I still haven't really talked to Konoka since last night." Setsuna gets up to throw her cup away and turns back to Asuna nervously. "Do you think she's alright?"

Konoka is definitely not alright, judging by how upset she'd been last night. She's not one to fly off the handle and yell or anything, but the anger isn't the intimidating part, it's the disappointment and sadness that's going to be rough to deal with.

"Nope," the redhead says bluntly. "If I were you, I'd be prepared for tears."

Setsuna, although not at all irked by the honesty, can't resist the opportunity.

"Whatever you say, Baka Red."

"It was a long time ago!"

The footsteps next to Setsuna stop abruptly, and she turns to see Asuna standing rooted to the ground and fuming.

"After it happened, I showed that whole class what I was made of! I'm way stronger now; I could probably take down a whole building with just my fists!"

Setsuna's mirth quickly turns to concern as Asuna walks over to the nearest shop and draws her arm back –

"Asuna – wait, I was just kidding –"

– And gives it her hardest punch.

Which does nothing except make her hand swell up.

Setsuna watches her friend writhe in pain and shakes her head at the display.

"I'm really glad we're still friends," she grins.

Asuna scowls at her. "Oh, shut up."


Regardless of Asuna's belittling nickname, she'd been right in her prediction.

Konoka is upset, or at least, she had been last night.

The anger and jealousy that had clouded her judgment during dinner had dissipated after she'd gotten back to the hotel and Ayaka had left – leaving her free to follow Setsuna without interference.

And she had. That's what worried friends do, after all. (Or jealous ones.)

What had followed was a string of events that left her increasingly more concerned for Setsuna's well-being, and then for her own. It's not like she's still secretly worried that her temporary roommate is a serial killer or a drug dealer, but what happened last night left her with an undeniable eery feeling, like something very secretive, and very bad, was happening right under her nose.

She hadn't known where she was going, so she'd taken a cab straight back to the restaurant and then flipped a coin to decide which direction to go in. It's not like I'm going to barge in anyway, but at least looking around will distract me for a while, she'd figured, and set out on her aimless journey.

It didn't take long, however, to spot Asuna's very conspicuous red hair and bell ornaments on the nearly empty sidewalk. She'd been turned towards a building, oddly enough, and though Konoka couldn't get a good look at her face, worry and frustration were emanating from her. Konoka was about to call out and ask what she was doing, but then Asuna had taken off in a brisk walk, forcing Konoka to jog in an attempt to catch up.

She almost did, too, except her urge to make her presence known disappeared when Asuna had stopped outside of a park and looked around to make sure no one was watching.

Konoka wouldn't consider herself a nosy person by nature, but who wouldn't want to find out what she was doing after something like that?

What happened next, though, left her with more questions than answers.

They were far enough from the streetlights that it was fairly dark, and Konoka had to squint to make out her friend's outline as she walked into the middle of a field –

And promptly disappeared.

It sounds ridiculous, sure, but Konoka had seen it with her own eyes. Mostly. It had been awfully dark, but Asuna had been more or less visible one moment, and the next she'd taken a stop and was simply gone.

Konoka had blinked several times, rubbing her eyes to make sure she'd seen correctly, but Asuna remained out of sight. There was no where to disappear to though; no trees, no corners of buildings, no forest-lined paths, just a field, which Konoka had walked into and looked around, finally calling out for her friend.

"Asuna?" She'd shouted, but sure enough, the girl didn't reply.

Understandably disconcerted, Konoka had opted to stall for time and wait in a nearby 24-hour café. With nothing else to do, she'd ordered a diet soda, picked up a newspaper, and sat down to read.

And that's when the eery feeling started.

On the first page of the badly translated newspaper was a picture of a crime scene barred off by police tape. Not unusual for the news, sure, and neither was the headline citing some kind of murder and theft, but what had caught her eye was a picture of the stolen item.

She'd squinted at it, trying to figure out why it was so familiar. She scanned the newspaper headline: "Murderer/Thief Still at Large; Museum Curators Offer Public Plea for Return of Stolen Artifact." The picture, she realized, was of the artifact in question.

A photo of a silver, black-lacquered crow.

The same one she'd picked up off the floor the night Setsuna had supposedly gone for a walk and fell on her face – which still, by the way, didn't explain the ripped up sweatshirt she'd been carrying.

Now Konoka, not being much a conspiracy theorist and often preferring the simpler explanations, had figured it was simply a coincidence. A famous artifact from a museum would surely produce some replicas sold at souveneir shops, just like Setsuna had said she'd gotten hers from.

She really wanted to believe that, and it is the simplest and most likely explanation, but two pieces of confounding evidence popped up in her mind.

The first was the fact that she'd found Setsuna's laptop open to a map of the museum – something a thief would need to have memorized in order to make such a heist – and the second was the boy she'd run into outside the hotel that morning. He'd mentioned something about a "sun crow," although she couldn't remember exactly what, but reading the article about the legend of Yatagarasu, the line was too fitting to be just a coincidence.

Which leaves her with two theories. The first is that the stars happened to align that day and she'd found herself the victim of an extremely worrying set of coincidences. The second is that Setsuna is a murderer and thief.

She's not sure which is simpler, but one is certainly more believable than the other.

Or so she'd initially thought, until other things started to fall into place; things that were almost too conveniently explanatory to ignore.

Because Setsuna is a murderer, at least to some degree. She'd killed Shiro by punching him through a house, for God's sake, and she'd fought Tsukuyomi with frenzied bloodlust that was too well-performed to simply be spontaneous. And sure, Shiro's death was necessary for their survival, and Setsuna had certainly had more than a good reason to do it, but the fact of the matter is that she'd done it without batting an eye. It'd been easy, almost thoughtless, how she'd cut his throat and slammed her fist into his chest with the obvious intent to kill him.

And while Setsuna isn't a charming psychopath, as Konoka had already decided when they'd first come to Japan, her awkwardness and general apathy certainly point towards some sociopathic tendencies.

The theft is the only part that doesn't fit. Setsuna has less of a material interest than the vast majority of people, and she hardly seems concerned with money besides the fact that she needs it to live. So why would she go through such lengths to steal it? According to the newspaper, the crow was made in the 1800s, way before Setsuna was born (duh), and the girl had never been to Japan before (or so she said), which makes sentimental value very unlikely.

The other explanation, and the one that makes Konoka feel like she's in the climax of an episode of Law & Order, is that she'd stolen it for someone else.

Someone like Evangeline.

Konoka remembers the conversation she'd half overheard between the two, and how Setsuna had said something about killing, and hadn't that been the night after the murder/theft occurred?

And then to top it all off, she'd left the café just in time to see Asuna and Setsuna walking home, soaking wet and exhausted. And without pants, in Setsuna's case.

If they weren't who they were – Setsuna, who had just been on a date with someone she clearly enjoyed spending time with, and Asuna, who clearly has no interest in Setsuna and is decidedly straight – she might've thought they went for a skinny dip make-out session or something. But they are who they are, and besides that, there isn't a lake at that particular park.

Konoka puts a hand on her head to ward off a headache. What the hell is going on?

She'd been surfing the web on her laptop, trying and failing to distract herself, and she finally closes it. Her stomach twists uneasily, and she nearly jumps out of her skin at the sound of someone sliding a key card into the hotel room door.

Setsuna steps into the room and puts her things on the bedside table. "Hey," she says hesitantly.

"Hey." Konoka smiles, trying to be nonchalant. "How was your night? When I came back from my walk you were fast asleep."

Setsuna looks away sheepishly. "Yeah, I had a long night."

Despite the much more serious thoughts running through her mind, Konoka can't help but ask. "Did you guys… do anything?"

"Kind of. We just talked for a while, and then… we didn't get very far," she says finally, and Konoka nods, trying not to let her relief show through.

"What happened?"

"She – I – it didn't work out." Setsuna's tone is blunt and doesn't leave much room for questions, which is just another oddity in a sea of weirdness, because she'd never been forceful with Konoka before…

"I see."

The two stare at each other, a blanket of awkward silence falling over them.

"I have to –"

They both spoke at the same time, and Konoka giggles nervously.

"What were you going to say?"

"I have to make a phone call," Setsuna finishes her sentence.

"Ah, okay, well I have to go anyway," Konoka says quickly, standing up and grabbing her clutch.

She steps out and takes a breath to steady herself. She wants to stay and listen just as much as she doesn't, and so she steps away from the door without giving herself time to think about it.


Konoka spends about half an hour wandering around the city. With nowhere to go and nothing to do, she drifts aimlessly down the sidewalk, occasionally looking into windows and stopping in shops.

She doesn't want to think about how easy it would be to stand outside her room and eavesdrop on Setsuna's conversation, and she doesn't want to think about whether her best friend might be crazy. She does though, and the thoughts eat away at her until she finally decides that there's no better way to get rid of an assumption than through proving it wrong. Or confirming it, her pessimistic side whispers traitorously.

She reaches for her phone, tired of her internal arguments, and dials.

It rings a few times, and then, "Hello?"

"Hey Asuna," Konoka answers, pacing outside of a store. "How are you?"

"Eh, the same. You?"

"Not so good," she admits, wanting to get straight to the point. "I actually wanted to talk to you about something."

After a brief pause, Asuna responds, "Is it about Setsuna?"

"Yeah. Can you meet me at," she looks around and spies a nearby restaurant, "Uh, actually, I can't read that sign."

Asuna's laugh comes loud and clear through the receiver. "Describe it to me then."

"Okay; it's small, like the size of a Starbucks, and it's got an outdoor patio with red metal chairs."

"Hmm. Alright," she declares, "I've narrowed it down to one of twenty places."

Konoka can only hope that's a joke. "It's next to the hospital, like half a mile from my hotel," she tries again, and this time Asuna's response is genuine.

"Ohh, I was there this morning with Setsuna. I'll see you in fifteen."

They both hang up and Konoka grabs a table. The waiter hands her a menu and she flips through it, and her blended coffee drink arrives just as Asuna does. Which should be a good thing, except that Konoka isn't really sure how to broach this subject.

"What did you wanna talk about?" Asuna asks after sitting down. She snags Konoka's drink and takes a sip.

Asking straight out if she thinks Setsuna is a psycho might be not be a good approach, so Konoka goes for the more tactful method. "Do you think something is wrong with Setsuna? Like, mentally?"

Addendum: slightly more tactful method.

Asuna stares at her blankly for a moment. "Um, yes? She does seem like she got dropped on her head too many times or something. Why do you ask?"

"It's just," Konoka sighs, taking a second to recover her stolen drink. "There was some stuff that happened, and then I read a newspaper, and it all makes a lot of sense, so I think she might be lying to me about some things."

"That," Asuna declares, pointing a finger at Konoka, "Made absolutely no sense. Try again."

Konoka sighs again, but reluctantly explains. "A week or so ago she came into our hotel room at like four in the morning, and she – it was like –" Konoka growls, fumbling for words. "It was like she sprinted in. She fell and rolled so hard she skewed the dresser, and she was holding this torn up sweater and was all dirty and bloody and looked like she got punched in the face."

"That doesn't sound so unusual for her," Asuna laughs lightly, "But go on."

"Right, well, she came up with this excuse about taking a walk and falling, but it sounded really made-up. For one thing I didn't even hear the door open, but, then again, we're on the third floor so she couldn't have gotten in any other way, I guess…"

Asuna looks slightly uneasy now. "Was your window open, by any chance?"

Konoka raises an eyebrow. "Yes. Why?"

"Just wondering."

The brunette shrugs it off and continues. "The other thing is that she dropped this little pendant that looks like a crow, and later I was reading a newspaper and apparently someone robbed a museum and the artifact that was stolen looked exactly like it."

"Did the newspaper say what it was?"

Again not seeing the relevance, Konoka gives her a skeptical look. "It was badly translated, but they kept talking about something called Yatagarasu."

Asuna looks even more perturbed than before, but Konoka barrels forward regardless.

"She also had a map of the museum open on her computer, and there was a murder that night too, and she did look like she'd gotten into one hell of a fight."

"That's weird," Asuna offers, trying to be nonchalant. "So you think she stole it?"

"I… don't know," Konoka admits, suddenly looking embarrassed. "I know it sounds crazy, but all the pieces fit together so well."

Asuna leans in her chair, tipping it on its back legs. "It does, I guess, but it's kind of unrealistic. It's just as likely that her story was true. I mean, she may be a good fighter, but Setsuna is pretty clumsy; she really might've just tripped. Unless there's something else?"

Konoka briefly considers telling the redhead that she'd seen her and Setsuna walking home last night, but decides against it. Whatever they were doing was, as far as she can deduce, completely separate. I mean, what are the chances that they're partners in crime or something? Konoka scoffs at the thought. Setsuna makes sense because the pieces fit, and because she certainly has the personality to murder someone in cold blood – not that she did, of course – but Asuna? Asuna is a well-adjusted individual with a job, and social skills, and friends that she very obviously cares about. The idea of her participating in a crime is ridiculous, Konoka affirms. They were probably just sparring or something.

"No, not really," she says finally.

That explanation makes clear sense to her, so there's no reason to bring it up. Besides, that would mean admitting she went out and followed Setsuna like an obsessive stalker last night. She lets her attention drift in the ensuing silence, perfectly willing to let it drop.

Until she catches the conversation next to her, anyway.

There are two men sitting a table away from her, both dressed in scrubs and listlessly picking through their lunches. Their mood is clearly somber, and though she hadn't heard them before, with Asuna now busying herself with a menu, their voices are clearly audible now.

And she doesn't like what she hears.

"I still can't believe it," one of them says quietly.

"Me either," the other man sighs heavily, putting down his fork. "It's just so weird. It's not like her to get caught up in trouble. I just don't understand how this could've happened."

"I know, I mean, murdered in cold blood… The hospital is really going to miss her. She was so damn nice to everyone."

The other man hums in agreement. "Yeah. Rokuko was a good girl…"

Whatever else they say is blocked out by the white noise in Konoka's ears.

The words bounce around in her head: "Murdered in cold blood… Rokuko was a good girl…" And her brain forms a picture against her will: Setsuna going into her house at night, things somehow turn violent, Asuna shows up, the two of them standing over Rokuko's dead body –

No way, Konoka shakes her head rapidly to dispel the images. There's no way.

But hadn't Setsuna said that Rokuko worked at a hospital? Those two men are wearing scrubs, and how many people could possibly have that name and be from this area and go to this same café?

Konoka glances up at Asuna, but the other girl doesn't seem to have heard.

What the hell what the hell what the ever living hell did I get myself into?

"Hey, Konoka? You alright?" Asuna waves a hand in her face, and Konoka nearly jumps out of her skin.

"Yep, just fine," she says hurriedly, grabbing her wallet and throwing some cash down. "I just remembered I have a – a thing, so I have to go."

Konoka gets up and walks away, ignoring the concerned call from Asuna. Thankfully the redhead decides not to follow, and Konoka's first thought is to get as far away as possible.

Except with Setsuna back in the hotel, there aren't very many places to go, and she can't very well spend the rest of her trip avoiding both her and Asuna. The trip she'd just offered to extend.

With all the thoughts whirling in her mind, she knows that the safest option would be to get back home to the US, and to her father, and to sanity in general. That also means, however, having to go to the hotel and pack, and also thinking of an excuse to make to Setsuna. If her suspicions are correct – and things are certainly adding up that way – then the last thing she wants to do is potentially set off her psychotic friend into a killing frenzy or something.

Not having another choice, she makes an abrupt turn and heads towards the hotel on shaky legs.


Setsuna had been sitting on the bed, tossing the compact up and down and being generally disgruntled.

Evangeline hadn't answered, unfortunately, which upset her for a couple of reasons. The first is that she won't be able to get any answers until the blonde decides to pick up, and the second is that, thus far, Evangeline has never failed to respond. It wouldn't be highly unusual for her to be too busy – she always seemed to be running around and taking care of various things she didn't deign to inform Setsuna about. She is the personal guard of Lord Animus, so that theory makes a good deal of sense. But still, it doesn't make her any less worried, especially in light of recent events.

So when Konoka comes in and immediately begins packing her clothes in a whirl of activity and generally ignores Setsuna's questions, it puts her in an even worse mood.

"Konoka, would you just tell me what's going on?" She asks irritably for the fifth time.

"I told you already," the brunette replies in an equally aggressive tone, "There was a work emergency back home. We have to leave."

"What emergency?"

"Just – an emergency."

Setsuna sighs through her teeth. Leaving Japan sounds like a horrible idea at this point. Whatever is going on has only started since they'd gotten here, and leaving now would mean leaving without any answers. While she hadn't cared to know much about it before, the frequency of life-threatening situations has gotten out of hand, and anything she can gather now could save her life – and her mission – in the future.

"Konoka, would you just stop packing for one minute and tell me what's actually happening? I thought you wanted to stay longer, not leave right away."

"Well, I changed my mind," she responds rather petulantly, throwing another pile of unfolded clothes into her suitcase.

"But why?"

"Am I not allowed to do that or something?"

Setsuna hops off the bed, the stress of the last couple of weeks having taken its toll, and grabs Konoka by the shoulder to turn her around.

"I thought it was rude to answer a question with a question," she states flatly. "Would you please just explain to me why you want to leave so –"

She stops abruptly at the look on Konoka's face. The brunette is leaning away from her, one hand fisted in a shirt, and her eyes are wide with unmistakable fear.

Setsuna promptly drops her hand and backs away.

"What's wrong?" She asks, taking another step back. Konoka doesn't answer, and guilt immediately sends her into apology mode. "I'm sorry if I scared you. I didn't mean to. I just don't understand why you're acting this way."

The fear quickly subsides to anger, and Konoka points an accusing finger at her. "You are the one that's acting weird," she declares, although she doesn't look very sure of herself.

Setsuna thinks about that for a moment, trying to understand. "Is this about Rokuko? Asuna said that you were upset about it, so if you're worried about me seeing her again or something, I don't plan on it –"

"Of course you don't!" Konoka shouts, throwing her hands up. She hadn't planned on a confrontation, but the tension and Setsuna's unwillingness to leave without an explanation is quickly building to one. Taking a breath to ready herself, she narrows her eyes and says with all the confidence she can muster, "I know she's dead."

Setsuna hadn't been expecting that. How could she know that? Is she bluffing? She thinks back over her the past two weeks, trying to put the trail together. Was it possible that Konoka simply came to the conclusion on her own? There were certainly enough clues, if you counted the fact that she couldn't dispose of the bodies… Setsuna feels cold realization hit her in the chest. She'd been distracted earlier, but thinking about it, that explains why Konoka had been so awkward around her this morning. The girl had probably gone out just to avoid her, and then been pacing and mulling it over and putting the facts together in the meantime.

Setsuna swallows her fear and replies as nonchalantly as she can, which isn't nonchalantly at all, "Why do you think that?"

Konoka crosses her arms over herself protectively, but she clings to her self-righteousness and pushes onward. "I overheard a conversation that she'd been killed last night. Murdered, in fact, and I saw you and Asuna walking home late yesterday–"

"You saw us?"

"So I followed you! Big deal," Konoka scoffs, preemptively defensive and trying to downplay it. "The point is that it seems awfully suspicious considering you were probably the last one to see her. And – and what about that crow thing?" She notes the look of recognition on Setsuna's face, and encouraged, continues. "You came home that night all bloody, and the museum got robbed of that same thing, and – and somebody was killed that night too! How can you explain that?"

She can't, really. Setsuna fumbles for some kind of story, but it'd be difficult to explain away all the details. She averts her eyes to the floor. This is bad. No part of her plan had included Konoka finding out about any of that, and now with all of it up in the air, and her unable to find any convincing way to blame it on coincidence, she's now left without much of a plan.

Now would probably be the point to kill her, she realizes, but the thought makes her feel heavy. Even if she did do that, there's no guarantee that they'd be close enough for her to manipulate her soul, considering what Konoka is feeling for her right now. The brunette is obviously scared – if her earlier reaction didn't prove it, her hands shaking certainly does – and for some reason that makes Setsuna feel very, very ashamed. She hesitantly looks up.

"I know this seems bad," she starts, and Konoka's jaw drops at the functional admission of guilt. "But there are reasons for – those things. I didn't do it because I wanted to."

Konoka stares at her incredulously. "Then why the hell would you do it?!"

"I… can't say," she says lamely, "But you have to believe me –"

"Believe you? You've been lying to me this entire time! You – you robbed a museum, killed a bystander, and then murdered your date! Do you know what you sound like right now?" Konoka is near the point of hyperventilating, and she runs a hand through her hair, trying to calm herself down. "I can't believe this is happening."

"It's not what it sounds like!" Setsuna takes a step forward, but Konoka recoils and Setsuna thinks better of it. She reaches out a hand pleadingly, trying to calm the frightened woman in front of her. "I know it looks really bad, but I promise I had a reason."

"So you've said," Konoka responds unsympathetically. She shifts from foot to foot, eyeing the door, and Setsuna knows this is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

She takes a step forward again and slowly places a hand on Konoka's, trying not to startle her. The brunette doesn't back away, although she looks obviously uncomfortable.

Which makes Setsuna feel like absolute shit, to put it lightly.

She wishes she could say "I can't believe she's scared of me," but in reality, it makes perfect sense. To Konoka it must look like she's absolutely psychotic, and never in her life has Setsuna wanted someone to think better of her more than she does right now.

But she can't figure out how to make that happen. She struggles to find something to say, but Konoka is inching towards the door already and she's quickly running out of time.

"Can't we talk about this?" Setsuna finally says, although that's now what she wants to say at all.

Konoka nearly laughs at the question. "We just did."

She looks at Setsuna, who is clearly having an internal battle of some sort, but Konoka isn't patient enough to wait around for the outcome. "Look. I checked the flight schedule on my way home. All the planes are delayed until tonight; there's a storm back home. I'm coming back to get my stuff in a couple of hours, and then I'm going to leave."

"You're not going to call the police?" Setsuna asks, both relieved and surprised.

That had crossed Konoka's mind, true, and that would be the logical choice of action. Setsuna's killed innocent people, after all, but at the same time, this is the same girl she would've called her best friend only a few hours earlier. Despite what good judgment might dictate, she can't bring herself to do it.

Which brings her to wonder about her own sanity, because most sane people's feelings for another person would probably be squashed by this kind of thing.

In fact, most people probably wouldn't have come back to this room in the first place, especially knowing their plane wasn't leaving for six hours. Yet, Konoka had. She wanted to come in here and have Setsuna tell her the truth, and she'd wanted that truth to be a confirmation of innocence, a story explaining that Setsuna hadn't killed anyone and that it was all just a super strange coincidence. As it stands, she hadn't gotten either of the things she'd hoped for.

Stupid heart, Konoka thinks, but says out loud, "No, I'm not. You can use the company account to get back home. But I don't want to see you at work anymore," she adds quickly, and then after some thought, "And Setsuna?"


Konoka swallows her feelings and refuses to hesitate. "Don't be here when I come back."

Without another word, she turns and leaves.


Setsuna watches the door close behind Konoka and stares at it, her mind blank. She remains there, unmoving and listening to the steady hum of the air conditioner, until her legs start to fall asleep from the rigid posture of her body.

"She left," she says to no one, and then sits down on the bed. I can't believe it. Except that she can, because anyone would leave after being told their roommate is a serial killer.

Somehow she winds up staring at the ceiling unblinkingly, and her throat feels tight, just like it had last night when she'd been looking down at Rokuko's lifeless body. This isn't how things were supposed to go; everything hinges on Konoka. Her mission, the entirety of Hell, and me, she realizes belatedly. It hadn't occurred to her before, but now faced with the threat of losing their friendship, being a hero and living on Earth permanently suddenly seems empty without Konoka in the picture.

But that had always been impossible, she knows. After she kills Konoka, she'll be alone again. Asuna will leave her – probably try and kill her, too, she realizes. The only person that will still be around is Evangeline, and while that provides some measure of comfort, it doesn't seem to do much for the ache in her chest.

She lies there for an hour, so still that she realizes she hadn't even really been breathing.

She speaks again to the empty room. "I need help."

She can't talk to Asuna about this, or Ayaka, and she tries Evangeline again, but only sees her own distraught reflection in the mirror.

There's no one.

Memories of the days between Evangeline's visits are few and far between; when she hadn't been tortured or forced to fight, that time blurred together with nothing to think about and no one to talk to. The loneliness and boredom were crushing, and the pang in her chest seizes her breath once again. She clenches her fists in the bed sheets and tries to inhale. Not that she knows why anymore. Living had always seemed like a chore, but now especially, it seems like nothing but torture.

Her mind races for an answer; anything to fix this. She pulls out her pactio cards and stares her apathetic images on each paper.

I could talk to Mana, she realizes, but then, she isn't sure she's in the mood to get yelled at. Mana is hardly sympathetic to her problems, and could care less about anything except getting paid. She'd made that abundantly clear in their time together, and despite the fact that Mana's alive and on Earth, Setsuna has to wonder if the woman has a heart at all.

But there's Mana or there's no one, and faced with that choice, the answer is clear. The other demon may lack compassion, but she is intelligent, and certainly more so about problem solving and people skills than Setsuna.

Reluctantly, she puts the card to her forehead.


No answer.

Setsuna grits her teeth, her frustration intensifying. For Evangeline not to pick up is one thing, but for Mana to leave her alone as well… It's her job to watch over me, damnit, she thinks, even though she knows perfectly well that Mana has her own life and her own things to attend to. It doesn't make her any less angry though. She tries again.

Are you there?

Still no answer, but this time there's a buzzing in her brain, like the static she'd encountered with Asuna last night, except quieter.

Squeezing her eyes shut and concentrating as hard as she possibly can, Setsuna tries one more time.

Mana, can you hear me?

She waits, and at first there's nothing, but then the buzzing noise grows louder and clearer. Setsuna can hear voices now – unfamiliar ones, talking in a language she can't understand.

Hey! She mentally calls out through the static, but the voices only get louder.

The volume is almost too much for her to bear, but she clenches her jaw and keeps the card pressed to her forehead until it seems like the whole room is vibrating with the noise.

She gasps, pain wracking her body.

And then there's nothing but darkness.


Setsuna doesn't want to open her eyes; she feels like she had that night she'd had far too much to drink, and her headache is like an MMA fighter trying to rip his way out of her skull.

To make matter worse, the voices are still there, and she squeezes her eyes shut and tries to will away the rhythmic booming in her head. But the voices don't disappear. Neither does the booming, which she's beginning to realize isn't just because of the pain underneath her temples.

What the hell is that?

Finally opening her eyes, she finds herself staring not at the ceiling of her hotel room, but at the cloudy gray sky.

Her brain tries to process that information, and she lies there, in what feels like dirt, until drizzle begins to fall. The cold rain clears her thoughts somewhat, and she sits up.

And then almost flops back down again in disbelief.

She's not sure where she is. There are people all around shouting at each other in a language that isn't English, but somehow the words translate in her brain. A man jumps over her legs and sprints in another direction as fast as possible, which isn't very fast at all because he's carrying a limp body over one shoulder.

The booming noise, she realizes, is the sound of gunfire.

Wherever she is, she certainly doesn't want to die here. She gets to her feet despite her protesting muscles, which is strange in itself because she wasn't sore when she woke up this morning.

"What the hell is going on?" Setsuna asks out loud this time, adjusting the gun around her shoulder – wait. A gun?

There's a sigh of relief from behind her, and she turns around to face the person, ready to attack just in case.

"You're alive," he says, clapping a hand on her arm in a friendly gesture. His eyes are warm and kind, and he's looking at her in a clearly familiar way. More than just familiar, if Setsuna had to guess.

"I am," she agrees, and the man grins at her.

"You scared the shit outta me."

Setsuna looks around again, pulling at her shirt, which sticks to her uncomfortably in the humid, rainy weather. "What happened?"

"Grenade," he says simply, but explains further at her alarmed look. "You didn't get hit. The blast knocked you back though, and you passed out."

That isn't much of an explanation for Setsuna, who still has no idea where she is, or how she got here, but she nods anyway. The man smiles at her again, but it fades quickly.

"We have to get to the front. They're shooting us down like target practice." His serious expression softens, and he looks like he wants to say something, but struggles with the words. Releasing a breath, he finally gives her arm a gentle squeeze and says, almost too soft to hear, "I'm glad you're alright, Mana."


Setsuna stares at him, confused beyond all belief now, but a quick glance at her hands solves that mystery. They're dark. Too dark to be hers. She reaches a hand up and finds her hair short and cropped, and the tightness in her chest that'd been plaguing her before now makes perfect sense – Setsuna puts a hand on her upper ribcage and realizes that it's bound tightly, effectively disguising her as a man.

But this is definitely Mana's body.

The man motions for her to follow, and though she doesn't consciously choose to do so, her legs carry her after him. Setsuna quickly realizes her actions aren't her own anymore, and her hands move of their own accord, slinging her gun off her shoulder and into her awaiting grip.

They huddle behind a barricade together. She watches herself peek over it and shoot down men with alarming accuracy.

"Get down!" Her friend (or so she assumes) yells at her, and she feels her body duck down beneath the barricade. He launches a grenade into the fray, and it explodes loudly, forcing Setsuna – or Mana, as the case might be – to cover her ears.

When the ringing in her head stops, she turns to the man beside her. He is staring at her pensively, his dark eyes shining with determination, and something else that Setsuna can't name.

Looking back at him, though, she can feel her own expression reflecting that look. There's a warmth in her body that isn't her own, and she knows it must be Mana's, though it's coupled with a tenderness that she hadn't expected the other woman to be capable of.

"Aman," she hears herself say. It sounds like there should be more words, but the tone of her voice and the name alone seems to speak volumes.

He smiles at her, opening his mouth to say something.

There is a blast then, one far closer than the grenade he'd thrown. She feels herself being flung backwards, her head banging roughly against the packed dirt of the ground.

This time she shouts his name, and her voice is panicked and raspy. "Aman!"

She coughs a few times, something weighing heavily on her stomach. With no small amount of pain she lifts her head, blinking away the black spots. A few of the sandbags, previously part of the now destroyed barricade, are lying on her lower torso. She struggles to shove them off her, looking around wildly.

She shouts his name again, finally managing to get one weight off and working on the next. She pauses briefly to glance around once more, and almost immediately, she spots two things of concern.

The first is a man, light-skinned and blue-eyed, pointing a gun at her.

The second is Aman.

He shouts, charging the other man with his gun out. The soldier hears his cry and turns his attention to Aman, rifle pointed.

A surge of emotion rushes through Setsuna's veins, and she feels it all acutely – panic, fear so strong it makes the world seem like it's moving in slow motion, and finally desperation, as she tries frantically to stand up.

There are two bangs.

The soldier falls first, a well-aimed bullet in the side of his face.

She throws the sandbag off her with a grunt, her arms shaking from the effort, and then she's sprinting, the world passing her by in a blur of sound and color.

Aman is on the ground, gasping for breath, blood gushing from the wound in his chest.

He says something to her that she doesn't hear. The air around her is buzzing like white noise, and she watches from what feels like a great distance as his head tilts slightly to the side, mouth falling open, body limp in death.

Setsuna can see it all clearly; she's watching from a distance now as Mana beats on his chest, but for some reason the emotions don't leave, and she notices for the first time how small the girl is. She can't be older than fifteen.

There's a loud scream, loud enough to pierce through the thick air and the heavy gunfire, and Setsuna reaches a hand to her mouth and realizes that it's coming from her.

She can feel the tears on her face, and the first of many sobs ripping its way out of her throat even while men fall around her, the battle obviously lost.

Her vision darkens but the pain stays. Setsuna can feel her knees bruise as she hits the ground, and she tears the hand away from her face to make way for the nausea.

This, she realizes, is what Evangeline was talking about.

The coldness and anger and heartbreak welling up inside her hold nothing in comparison – even the memory of her own tortures seem far away under the weight of her – of Mana's – emotion.

Stop, stop, please stop, her mind replays it over and over again, but she's still there, spitting into the dirt and wanting nothing more than for everything to end.

And maybe that's why, as she finally looks up and sees the barrel of a gun pointed down at her, once again in Mana's body, there is something like relief flowing through her.

"Kill me," she says, although the man doesn't speak her language.

He puts his finger on the trigger.

Setsuna looks again at the corpse in front of her, his eyes still open, and knows that Evangeline was definitely right.

He pulls the trigger.

"Some things really do hurt more than getting your eyes torched…"


Setsuna's body hits the bedroom floor with a loud thump.

She gets to her knees, gasping for breath, tears still streaking down her face. Never in her life has she been so glad to wake up, and she nearly kisses the floor with gratitude. Her heart is beating rapidly in her chest, and she tries in vain to calm down.

What the hell was that?

Almost as if hearing her, Mana's voice responds in her head.

My dream. Her voice is calm, but it's obvious that she's pissed off. What the hell did you think you were doing?

Setsuna fumbles for the pactio card on the mattress, but realizes that it's stuck to her sweaty forehead.

I have no idea, she responds, and even her thoughts sound jumbled and broken. I was just trying to talk to you.

Don't try so damn hard next time.

I'm sorry.

Her inflection is more emotional than she'd intended. She's sorry for invading Mana's dreams, for invading her privacy, but it's clear from her voice that she's sorry for much more than that. Wiping the last tears off her face, she gathers her courage.



What happened?

My life, Mana responds simply, her tone changing to one of slight amusement.

Were you human?

Not quite.

Setsuna drags herself off the floor, but finds she doesn't have much strength to do anything else.

A half-demon, then, but born on Earth. She cringes. That explains why Mana went to Hell after she'd died, and there's no telling where Aman had gone. Reborn on Earth, or dragged to Heaven, but either way, they more than likely hadn't seen each other again.

Yes. She doesn't say it, but Setsuna can practically hear the word "unfortunately" come after.

She can't blame her, either. Setsuna doubts Mana's life would've been better in Hell, but then again, what she'd just experienced through Mana was something else entirely. At least physical pain ends when your body breaks and you finally die, but that kind of hurt… Setsuna can imagine quite easily now how it would stay with you, no matter how many new lives you had.

Watching Aman die, it seemed like the entire world had ended, as if the sky were falling on her head. It was brutal; it was agonizing; it was like nothing she'd felt before and nothing Setsuna would ever, ever want to feel again.

She thinks of Konoka walking away, of watching Konoka die like that, and the lump in her throat returns.

It's been silent for a while, and Setsuna wonders if the other woman has left. She takes her chances anyway.

Can I ask you something?

You have been for the past five minutes.

Setsuna takes that for a yes. Did you love him?

You were me. I think that should be obvious.

Another yes, then. She hesitates with her next question, almost not wanting to ask for fear of the repercussions.

Do you think… she pauses, knowing this is a bad idea, but a part of her needs to know. Do you think you could have killed him? If you had to.

She hadn't related the question to herself and Konoka, exactly, but it's pretty clear what she's actually asking. Setsuna holds her breath and waits, expecting yelling, or insults, or for Mana to spontaneously appear and punch her in the face. Probably all three.

But to her surprise, Mana's voice is calm and measured.

No. I wouldn't have. Though she's as apathetic as always, something about her tone is reassuring – almost permissive.

I see.

They both pause, and then:

I'll have to fight you.

Setsuna smiles at that. I know.

Evangeline will too.

I know, she says again.

Suit yourself.

I'm sorry, Setsuna says abruptly. Though she knows it probably won't mean much, she continues anyway. I hope your life is better now.

A pause. They say time heals all wounds.

Does it?

Mana actually laughs at that. Not even a little.

There's a mental jerk, and Setsuna knows the connection has ended.

Mana's last words stay with her though, bouncing around in her brain.

It's going to be difficult – impossible, probably. No one Setsuna has ever met is stronger than Evangeline; the angels she fought so far would be nothing but live fodder for her.

And moreover, she's not sure she would fight Evangeline, let alone could.

There's no way for everyone to win.

But she thinks about Rokuko's dead body in the grass, and Aman's still open eyes, the emotions resurging, and knows that she'll have to find one.


Konoka has spent the last three hours walking slowly through the city, avoiding people, and jumping at the slightest of noises. Her paranoia alone has left her tired and ready to pull out her hair, but the urge is compounded by the fact that she's also been arguing with herself the entire time.

She doesn't know if she's making the right decision. She doesn't know if there is a right decision, and despite herself, worried thoughts of Setsuna sitting alone and upset in the hotel room have been sneaking their way into her consciousness the entire time.

Maybe I shouldn't have told her to leave, she thinks, biting her nail nervously and pacing outside the hotel. People shoot her strange looks as they pass by, but she doesn't notice.

No, she's psychotic. You shouldn't spend any more time with her than necessary.

Except that she wants to. Which is crazy in itself, but the considerate, protective – albeit weird – Setsuna she's spent so much time with over the past few weeks simply could not be a serial killer.

But she is.

Konoka pauses abruptly, causing several people to almost walk straight into her. Again, she doesn't notice.

Maybe I should've let her explain.

What excuse is there for murder, though? Even if Rokuko had been a little off her rocker, that was hardly deserving of death.

Maybe Rokuko started it. And maybe that guy at the museum did too. No, wait, that doesn't make any sense. She resumes pacing. Okay, then maybe she's being blackmailed by a drug syndicate that forced her to steal from the museum so they could sell the artifact, and maybe the guy she killed was undercover and if she hadn't killed him then the drug lord was going to –

She stops herself and sighs heavily. She's grasping at straws, she knows, but she really, really doesn't want Setsuna to be crazy.

I liked her, damnit! Why did she have to go and –

How did I get to my room?

Somehow she'd made it all the way up three flights of stairs without realizing it.

Her thumbnail is officially bitten down, so she drops her hands to her side and grinds her teeth instead. She stands outside for a few more minutes and then, resigned, Konoka puts her ear to the door before entering. She doesn't hear anything, so she cracks it open just enough to squeeze through the space, and gently closes the door behind her.

She can't quite work up the courage to walk into the bedroom though.

"Hello?" She calls out experimentally, and isn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed by the lack of answer.

Then she nearly jumps out of her skin at the thump from the bedroom. Slowly, she sidles around the corner.

Setsuna is on the bed, holding the leg that she'd rammed into the nightstand at the sound of Konoka's voice. Her hair and clothes are mussed, and her eyes dart back and forth between Konoka and the floor. She'd obviously spent the last couple of hours doing exactly what Konoka had been doing; working herself up into a disheveled, confused mess.

"Hi!" Setsuna blurts out, voice a bit too loud, and she blushes at her own volume. "Uh, I – I know you said I should leave, but, I, uh, didn't want to?" Her sentence ends with an upward inflection, almost like she's asking permission.

Again, Konoka isn't sure how to feel about this development.

"Right. Well." Konoka clears her throat and tries to put words together in a coherent sentence. "I just, you know, came back to get my stuff."

She walks stiffly over to her bed and grabs her suitcase. Setsuna jumps up, alarmed, and Konoka flinches at the sudden movement.

"You should stay," Setsuna says in a rush, looking panicky and, frankly, kind of unstable. "I mean, you don't have to stay, and I know you don't want to, but you should stay."

Konoka narrows her eyes, trying to decipher the meaning behind that assertion, but they're both paranoid and unsure, and she comes to all the wrong conclusions. "Is that a threat?"

"No!" Setsuna's eyes go wide in panic, and she holds up both hands as if she's surrendering. "No, not at all, I wouldn't – I wouldn't threaten you into hanging out with me. I just… wouldn't like it very much if you left."

Konoka doesn't look reassured by that at all, and Setsuna nearly slaps herself for her choice of words.

What happened to finding a way?! She criticizes herself, which only brings her closer to hyperventilating than she was before, but this is all just so, so, so messed up.

Her chest feels tight and she tries to take deep breaths to calm herself down, but all she can think about is how she'd been forced to kill Rokuko, and how Asuna will hate her, and how she'll have to fight Evangeline, and then there's Aman – and she can't get that damn image out of her head, of him lying there and staring at nothing, his body growing cold and stiff and Mana, only fifteen-years-old, banging on his chest and asking only to die.

Konoka watches warily as Setsuna puts one hand against the wall to steady herself. Setsuna's not used to this, to emotion, to caring about death, and her heart feels like it's about to come out of her mouth.

She'd spent the past two hours thinking about nothing but that feeling, how everything in the world suddenly lost its meaning in the face of that heartbreak, how fucking devastating it was, and no wonder Shiro was so damn crazy.

"Some things really do hurt more than –"

"Fuck!" Setsuna curses, slamming her fist into the wall. It does nothing but startle Konoka into taking a step back, and it's like that dream had unleashed something awful in her, because she can feel frustrated tears making her eyes wet.

Desperate to salvage anything that's left, she tries to speak, and her voice comes quiet and rough. "You think I'm crazy," she says, and Konoka gives her a well, duh, look. She glances away momentarily, but when she looks back again her voice and expression are firm, urging Konoka to understand. "But I would never, ever hurt you."

"How can you expect me to believe that?" Konoka's voice is similarly quiet. She wants to believe Setsuna, but that seems impossible now. "You killed people, Setsuna, and you won't tell me why – and even if you did," she says, voice rising again, "I still don't know if I'd believe you. How can you prove you won't just kill me, too?"

"I…" Setsuna trails off, at a loss for words. Everything rests on Konoka's death, and it'd been her plan to kill her all along. How could she possibly look her in the eye and say that she won't? Even if she doesn't want to, and even if she fights against it, the fact is, she may have to. And moreover, how can she possibly prove that she won't?

The silence lasts a moment too long, and Konoka turns away, heading for the door. Setsuna's hand juts out, grabbing her by the wrist and turning her around frantically.

Konoka's about to snatch her arm away and tell her off, but she stops short.

I got to see her laugh for the first time yesterday, and now I get to see her cry, she thinks cynically. It shouldn't stop her from leaving, but her feet feel rooted to the floor.

"Please don't leave," Setsuna hiccups, wiping at the unfamiliar tears and completely giving up on rational thought. "I'll do anything, I swear I'll never hurt you, and I won't kill anyone ever again, I promise, and I'll tell you everything you want to know – please, just – don't go."

She wants to say so much more, but her throat is officially jammed now. Setsuna squeezes her eyes shut and thinks the words instead; I don't know what I'll do if you leave; I can't do this – anything – without you; I don't want to be alone again –

And even though she'd thought just the other day that she'd been satisfied with friendship, that her attraction was nothing more than physical, whatever emotions are exploding behind her eyes now don't seem to match up, but frantic and choked up and inexperienced, she can't find the words for them.

She hadn't recognized it before, whatever it is, and maybe it's the stress and the fighting for her life, or maybe it's the fact that Rokuko and Aman dying in front of her had hit something in her she hadn't known was there. Or maybe it's looking at Konoka, the one person in her life that had treated her with nothing but kindness and compassion, now scared of her and about to leave.

But the feelings are there and intense and she has absolutely no idea what to do with them.

Konoka watches the internal battle in front of her, not sure what to think, but knowing all the same that she should leave. Even if Setsuna really is sorry, and even if her promises are real, it doesn't excuse the fact that she'd been committing crimes behind her back.

"I'm sorry," she says quietly, trying to ignore the crestfallen look on Setsuna's face.

Gently, she extracts her arm from Setsuna's grip and turns away quickly, not giving herself time to regret anything.

Her hand is on the doorknob and she takes a shaky breath, mentally cementing her decision, but once again, Setsuna grabs her, and this time when she whips Konoka around it's with more force than she'd intended, and she puts one hand on Konoka's shoulder to keep her pinned to the door.

The brunette manages to catch Setsuna's determined expression just before the force sends her head backwards into the door with a loud bang, black spots distorting her vision, and her first reaction is to struggle. Konoka lashes out, attempting to free herself, but Setsuna is significantly stronger and grabs both her wrists in one hand, pressing them back against the door and pushing their bodies together to still the other girl.

Konoka blinks the stars away and attempts to headbutt her in the forehead. Setsuna grunts at the pain but responds with the same amount of force, and blood – Konoka's, Setsuna's, neither is sure – drips down from the point of impact and trails down their faces.

Konoka can feel her heart about to pound out of her chest, and she opens her mouth to scream, the sound barely making its way out of her mouth before Setsuna, frenzied and desperate, shoves their lips together in a last ditch effort to make her stop.

The sound dies in Konoka's throat and her whole body tenses. It feels very, very right and simultaneously very, very wrong, with her back pressed so hard against the door it's hard to breathe and the taste of blood in her mouth.

She pulls away gasping, heart still hammering in her chest, but they're suddenly kissing again and she's not so sure that Setsuna initiated it this time.

Konoka reflexively tries to put her hands around the other girl, but Setsuna, still terrified to let her go, tightens her grip.

When they pull away this time they pause, neither sure what to say.

Setsuna licks the blood off her lips and tries to speak, "I –"

Unfortunately, whatever she'd been about to say is cut off by a knock on the door.

Both girls jump at the sound, and Setsuna finally lets go of Konoka's wrists. She hastily wipes the blood off her face, which does nothing but smear it around, and the two glance at each other guiltily.

There's another knock, and this time Setsuna answers it.

"Yes?" She asks calmly.

There's a man standing there, staring at her with wide eyes and looking appropriately worried.

"Are you okay?" He asks quickly, taking a step back. "There was a lot of banging, and I thought I heard someone shout…" He trails off and tries to peak around the door, only to have Konoka burst out from behind it and take off at a near sprint down the hallway.

Setsuna tries to catch her arm but doesn't quite make it. "Shit," she mumbles, and runs after her, throwing the door closed behind her.

"Konoka, wait!"

She dashes down the hallway in pursuit, leaving the man standing in their doorway.


Konoka's not sure where she's going, just that she wants to get very, very far away.

She wants to ask herself what the hell is going on, but she's already done that a million times today, so she forgoes the formality. Instead she runs blindly out of the hotel, shoving past a few people, and turns in a random direction down the street.

I guess I got what I wanted, she laughs humorlessly, shaking her head at the thought. While somewhat true, these are hardly the conditions she'd wanted Setsuna to kiss her in, right after she'd found out the girl was a murderer and probably crazy.

Except she really, really hadn't seemed crazy. Despite being obviously panicked, her promises, while hard to believe, sounded sincere, and despite herself and all the evidence stacked up against Setsuna, Konoka still can't honestly fathom being murdered by her. Or hurt at all, for that matter, perhaps excusing the hold Setsuna had kept her in not two minutes prior.

Shaking her head at the thoughts, she looks up to get her bearings, but her surroundings are completely unfamiliar.

"Great," she mumbles to herself. "Getting lost is exactly what I needed."

Konoka checks the street sign next to her, and recognizing the name, realizes she's fairly close to where she'd been having lunch with Asuna. Not wanting to head back there and risk running into the redhead, she opts for going in the opposite direction.

As long as I stay close by, I should be able to find my way back. She walks slowly down the street, staring into darkened windows and trying not to think about Setsuna back in the hotel room. She forces her thoughts elsewhere, and her father's words pop back into her mind. Biting her lip, Konoka realizes that he'd been right, in a sense. How is it that parents always know everything? Eishun always seemed to be a step ahead of her. She can recall once or twice when she'd attempted to sneak out of the house, and she'd opened the front door as quietly as possible only to find him standing there, arms crossed and a frown on his face.

Then she'd tried to sneak out the window and ended up nearly breaking her ankle. That'd forced her to seek him out, and resulted in a rather embarrassing conversation, numerous apologies, and a grounding.

The memory makes her feel worse, and Konoka sighs at herself, wondering if she'd ever had control over anything in her life. It seems to her that, thus far, few decisions had been her own, and the ones she had made always seemed to turn out badly: her choice in men, the people she'd trusted, even accepting her father's job offer. None of it had turned out like she'd planned, and none of it had made her happy. The only choice she can think of that she hadn't regretted in the least was reaching out to Setsuna.

But look how that turned out.

Konoka stops abruptly in the street, feeling a headache coming on. She realizes she hasn't had anything to eat today and looks around for somewhere to stop.

Just her luck, however, all the windows in the shops are dark.

She searches the streets for someone to ask – maybe if she could find a pedestrian that speaks English, they could point her in the right direction – but just like the stores, the sidewalks are also empty.

Which is weird for more than one reason. It's still daylight, first of all, and can't be later than six in the evening. There's no reason why the city would be so empty. But there's no one here.

It seems highly improbable that everyone in the city decided to take a vacation at the same time, and she looks up at the high-rises, expecting to see people in the windows. Again, they're empty.

"What the hell?"

She takes a right and searches the street she'd turned down. It looks like the city, sure, but cocking her head to the side and straining her ears, she hears something highly unusual. It's eerily quiet.

Konoka's heart rate picks up slightly, and she takes mental inventory. Alright. So, the building lights are dark, and there are no people in the windows, and there are cars parked on the side of the street, but there's no one in them.

In fact, there's no one around at all.

Unease keeps her rooted to the ground. Nervously, she reaches for her phone, but curses when she realizes she must've left it in the hotel room.

Of all the things to forget…

Not having a choice, she starts walking again, looking around at the empty streets and trying in vain to figure out what's going on.

She needs to get back to the hotel, Setsuna or no Setsuna, and grab her phone. The ideal plan is to book it to the airport and take the first flight home, but when she turns around, the way she came looks just as unfamiliar as the way forward.

She turns a corner and glances around again. Still no one. She checks the street sign and realizes she'd somehow ended up going in a circle, which makes zero sense, because she'd only taken one turn.

Am I dreaming? Did Setsuna knock me out or something?

Her stomach turns nervously and she continues to walk, turning another corner, only to find herself looking down the same damn street.

"What the hell!" She says again, shouting this time if only to break the oppressive silence.

Now picking up the pace to a light jog, she takes a left this time, and then another left, and then another right –

And is one the same street.

"That doesn't make any sense…"

She squints into the distance, trying to spot any signs of life whatsoever, but there's absolutely no movement. It's like the entire world is frozen.

Grinding her teeth in irritation – because being angry is certainly easier than being scared – she does a full one-eighty and takes a step.

Right into another person.

Konoka stumbles back and starts to apologize, but finds herself having to look quite a ways down to meet the other person's eyes.

"Oh. Um, I'm sorry," she says unsurely, staring at the person in front of her.

He can't be older than twelve, but it's not his age that throws her off. He's watching her impassively, and he seems to exude an aura of complete apathy. That alone is unusual for a child, but the weirdness is compounded by the fact that he doesn't seem at all fazed by their strange surroundings or the blood on her face. Not to mention his stark white hair.

"Are you Konoka Konoe?" He asks simply, voice smooth and low for someone so young.

The already nerve-wracking situation has her on edge as it is, but the fact that this boy knows her name, despite his non-threatening height, makes her downright paranoid.

"Why?" She asks, taking a step back. Vivid memories of her would-be axe murderer surface, and she decides that maybe it's better that she doesn't answer that question outright.

But the boy seems unconcerned by her question, and he takes a step forward to match her movement.

"I'll take that as a yes."

His posture isn't aggressive, but he pulls a hand out of his pocket and something instinctual in Konoka is screaming loud and clear: run.

She turns on her heel and sprints.

Which doesn't do much good, because she takes a sharp turn around a building and finds herself staring at the same boy.

"No way," she mutters, the fear spreading through her limbs with a sharp adrenaline rush. She spins around again, but sure enough, wherever she is seems to just lead her in a circle – and right back to that strange boy.

"There's no use running."

"I can see that," Konoka snaps, panting and out of breath.

And damn it all, but she's even more sorry that she left Setsuna behind now.

Museum thief and murderer she might be, but Setsuna was also the one that'd saved her life; she'd almost died doing it, too. Konoka bites her lip and squeezes her eyes shut, the stress and confusion of the past few hours hitting her full force, and while she'd had the sneaking suspicion before, the regret hits her fully now. I made the wrong decision.

It's a bit late for that now, however, and she can only hold onto the hope that this is all a very, very bad dream. She opens her eyes and tries to put on a brave face.

"What do you want from me?"

He stares at her unblinkingly. "Your soul."

Konoka is about to ask what kind of metaphorical bullshit he's spouting, but the boy simply reaches out a hand, and the stop sign next to him bends and contorts with a very loud squealing noise.

She watches, entranced and horrified, as the signpost reshapes itself into a very big, very sharp looking metal spear.

She glances back and forth between the boy and the weapon, mouth-open in disbelief.

"You have to be kidding me."

He doesn't even shrug. "If you hold still, you're death will be painless."

"How tempting," she replies incredulously, too surprised to hold her tongue.

He reaches back, preparing to throw the giant-scary-metal-weapon-of-death at her, and she knows now is not the time for talking. Now is the time for leaving.

Konoka hadn't even known she could run this fast, and she nearly overshoots the turn she tries to make. It causes her to stumble onto her hands for a moment, and she hears the spear zoom just barely over her head and it slides, screeching down the pavement. She stares it for a moment, eyes wide.

It's not that she hadn't believed him, but having someone say they want to kill you and then having them actually try are two totally separate things.

Lifting her head back up, she looks down the street she'd turned on. The boy is standing at the end of it. She peeks back around the corner she'd turned. He's standing at the end of that street, too.

"That's not fair!" She shouts accusingly.

The boy says nothing, and he reaches his hand towards another street sign. Konoka looks around the building and sees the scene reflected again like looking at fun house mirrors, and knows there's no running this time.

"This is a dream," she whispers to herself, her voice shaking with fear. "This is a dream, and if I die, I'll wake up." It's the only logical rationalization she can think of, but the boy seems determined to strip her of that small comfort as well.

The metal twists and grinds as it's formed into another spear. "This is an illusion," he says, cocking his arm back. "But you won't be waking up."

Konoka's heart leaps into her throat at that. She's never had a dream like this before – one so vivid, where she knows she's dreaming but can't remember how she fell asleep and incapable of snapping herself out of it. But if it's not a dream, and it is real, or something else entirely, that all points to one ending.

She's going to die. For real.

The boy hurls the spear at her and she stands rooted to the pavement, watching it in near slow motion as it comes straight at her. At the last moment she closes her eyes, hoping beyond hope that this isn't real, that her brain is playing tricks on her, that she isn't about to be killed by some unexplainable force.

Still, her knees are shaking, and she can't do anything but wait for the inevitable, whether that means waking up and crying with relief, or not. She closes her eyes and waits.

But death doesn't come, and the walls of her bedroom don't appear either.

Instead there's the sound of metal on metal, a familiar voice shouting at her – "Don't move!" – the feel of an unnaturally strong gust of wind, and her feet being lifted off the ground.

She can feel herself being carried bridal style, and her face is tucked against a warm body, although she keeps her eyes closed in terror. The wind rips around her and then slows to a crawl, but she still doesn't move.

Ten seconds go by, and tentatively she opens her eyes, finding herself staring at the blue cloth of a t-shirt. There's an arm under her thighs, keeping her balanced and steady, and she follows it up to a shoulder, then to a neck, then to worried, dark eyes.

"Setsuna," she breathes, infinitely thankful and bowing to whatever gods there may be for the girl's sudden appearance. It's as if somebody had heard her regrets and is giving her a chance to change her mind, and her eyes water as she comes down from her terror-induced high, emotions flooding back and suddenly infinitely grateful.

Setsuna does not, however, appear to be as happy. "Are you alright?" She asks, voice hard, a muscle in her jaw twitching.

Konoka is about to say she's fine, but thinks better of it. "No, I'm not alright," she says instead, words quavering. "What just happened?"

"You almost died." Her tone is matter-of-fact, but there's a rough edge to it, palpable anger lying just beneath the surface. It's clear that Setsuna has had enough drama for one day.

It's about to get a whole lot worse though, she knows.

Konoka can't think of anything to say to that, still confused beyond all belief. She can still feel the wind blowing her hair in her face, and she looks out at the scenery, only to be met by blue sky. They're moving strangely; there's no jostling as Setsuna runs, and she can't hear the thump of footsteps on pavement.

Perhaps it was her brain in denial, but it's only when Setsuna sets her down on top of a building that she notices the wings.

And then she knows she must be asleep.

"I'm dreaming," she confirms, shoulders sagging with relief. She turns to Setsuna as if for conformation, but the girl levels her with a serious stare.

"You're not."

Konoka shakes her head stubbornly. "I am."

Setsuna sighs and her wings flutter as they fold against her back, although still visible. "You're not."

"You actually expect me to believe that a kid just mind-threw a signpost at me, and that you're flying around with those on your back?"

"Yes," Setsuna responds bluntly.

Konoka's not having it though. "No, see, I'm pretty sure I would've noticed if you'd had wings by now. Look, just watch."

Wondering why she hadn't thought of it before, Konoka reaches a hand to her face, closes her eyes, and pinches her cheek.

It's a slight twinge, and then she opens her eyes.

The scenery is still the same.

"Okay," she laughs nervously. "Maybe I didn't do it hard enough."

"Konoka, please –"

Despite the tiredness in Setsuna's voice, Konoka repeats the action, but harder.

It hurts.

She opens her eyes.

Setsuna is still standing in front of her, just as winged.

"No," Konoka laughs, "See, that doesn't make any sense. I just – there's something wrong with me. Maybe I'm in a coma, or maybe you knocked me out in the hotel room, or – oh God, am I dead? Did you kill me?!"

A small part of Setsuna wishes she had, since it would at least spare her the pain of revealing her identity and ruining their relationship completely, if it hadn't been already. If Konoka hadn't wanted to be friends with a murderer, she'd hardly want to be friends with a demonic murderer.

But she hadn't done it. "No," she admits reluctantly, "I didn't."

"Then where the hell are we?!"

"It's an illusion. That boy created it, and you got stuck in it. I was close enough behind you that he caught me in it as well, although I doubt that was his intention."

"So this is a dream."

"No," Setsuna clarifies tiredly. "It's an illusion. But it's very real."

"That makes no sense."

Konoka stares at her friend critically. Her intention had been to get very far away from the girl, but if it's a dream, then it doesn't matter, and if it's not a dream, then she'd just saved her life. Again. Which only cements the fact that cutting Setsuna out of her life is a bad idea.

But now is hardly the time to deal with those thoughts any more than she already has, so instead she circles the other girl, stopping behind her, and reaches out to touch her wings. The feathers on the outside are smooth and soft, and she runs her fingers through them, feeling the downy ones beneath.

"It's like sticking your hand in a pillow," she muses, giggling either from the feeling, the absurdity, or hysteria. Probably all three.

Setsuna blushes at the contact. No one had ever touched her wings gently before, and she ruffles her feathers instinctively, causing Konoka to retract her hand with an "eep."

Konoka walks back around so they can be face-to-face. "Alright, so let's say you're telling the truth," she starts, tone still brimming with skepticism. "So what happens if I die here?"

Setsuna shrugs. "You die."

"In real life?"

This is real life, but Setsuna figures it'll take more than words to convince the other girl. "Right."

"Okay," Konoka nods, tucking that fact away nonchalantly. "And if this is real, you saved my life again."

"Looks like it."

"By flying away with me."

"That's right."

"With your wings."


"You still can't answer a yes or no question." There is lucid humor shining in Konoka's eyes, and Setsuna struggles to maintain her seriousness.

She shrugs again. "Seems that way."

Konoka hums in thought. "Well, if you are a figment of my mind, you're awfully accurate."

"Uh. Thanks?"

"You're welcome."

The two stare at each other, each waiting for the other to speak. Konoka breaks first.

"So, maybe-Setsuna, how do we get out of this situation?"

"We have to kill the boy."

"Right. Kill the twelve-year-old child. Who tried to murder me with a stop sign. Sounds reasonable."

"You know," Setsuna sighs, "You should really take this more seriously."

Konoka crosses her arms defiantly and raises an eyebrow. "Oh? And why's that?"

She doesn't receive a verbal answer, however, as Setsuna just points at something behind her. Konoka turns and hardly bats an eye at the figure of the boy floating in mid-air above the rooftop. He does not appear amused by their conversation, but Konoka is still (understandably) not ready to accept the fact that someone is levitating six stories above the ground in real life.

So she turns to him and throws her arms out. It is a dream, after all. "Go ahead!" She shouts, inviting him to attack. "When you kill me I'll wake up, and then I'll never watch another horror movie about creepy children ever again."

Setsuna bristles, hand on the hilt of her sword.

"Konoka," she hisses in warning, but the brunette just shrugs.

"I'm sorry, dream-Setsuna, but I don't believe you. If it makes you feel better, I'll apologize to the real you once I wake up."

She is still facing the boy, and she's surprised to feel Setsuna jerk her around. The swordsman's eyes are narrowed and serious, and her voice comes out in a growl. "You. Will. Not. Wake. Up."

"Yes, I will."

"Will you listen to –"

Her sentence is cut short as the boy reaches a hand towards the building. The roof vibrates beneath them, and there's the sound of twisting metal again as he pulls a steel support beam out of the wall.

Then throws it at them.

All at once Setsuna is a flurry of motion, grabbing Konoka and jumping sideways off the building, wings spread wide to catch the wind. Another steel beam flies past them as she dodges mid-air, and then another, and they can hear the building crack and groan as its infrastructure is torn apart.

Konoka struggles in the grip. "Put me down already! How many times do I have to tell you; this isn't real!"

"And how many times do I have to tell you that it is?" Setsuna counters, but with the girl struggling in her arms, she's forced to land again, dropping Konoka on another rooftop a lot less gracefully than the first time.

Konoka opens her mouth to speak, but Setsuna puts a hand on her shoulder, effectively cutting her off.

"Listen to me," she says, voice urgent, trying desperately to get Konoka to understand. "If you die here, you will die. I know it sounds crazy, but I need you to believe me; please, just –"

"Please believe you?" Konoka asks incredulously, shaking the hand off her shoulder. "Where have I heard that line before?" She may not want to cut Setsuna out of her life forever anymore, but dream or not, she's not quite at the point of forgiving and forgetting. "Tell me, please, why I should believe anything you say after all the things you've lied to me about."

Setsuna stand there at a loss for words. That boy could be anywhere right now, and her eyes dart around nervously even as she tries to formulate a response. He doesn't seem to be around though, and she takes the chance to meet Konoka's angry stare. The girl has no reason to trust her, Setsuna knows.

"Fine. Then don't"

That seems to disarm Konoka a little, and her gaze turns suspicious. "Fine?"

"That's right. I don't care if you believe me; I'm going to save your life either way, whether you want me to or not."

"And why would you do that? I already left."

"Because," Setsuna shouts, but pauses, words escaping her.

Why does she want to save Konoka's life? Why is she risking Evangeline's friendship, a pain-free future, the souls of millions of people? Why is she here, in the middle of a battle, taking the time to address Konoka's feelings?

Setsuna has never been good with words when she's stopped to think about them, so she doesn't.

"It's because you left. I was scared I'd never see you again; that I'd messed everything up – and even if I get to live the life I want by letting you die, I won't do it," she says, arms falling slack at her sides in resignation. "I can't."

Konoka bites her lip thoughtfully, trying not to let the words sway her. "You can't," she repeats. "Why? Because you need me to get around to foreign countries so you can kill people?"

Setsuna shakes her head vehemently. "No! That's not it!"

"Then why can't you, Setsuna?!" Konoka shouts. "I'm tired of your non-answers."

But Setsuna doesn't have a better answer than that. She hangs her head in frustration, wishing for the words to fix this, but the voices in her head aren't her own.

There's Evangeline, "Be careful on Earth…"

And Mana, "Not even close…"

But funnily enough, it's Ayaka's that does it, "How do you feel about Konoka…?"

Setsuna may be slow when it comes to emotions, and she may not be very good at recognizing her own – she's realized that already, but now especially, because while those things are far from her specialty, Setsuna can certainly put two and two together.

It's painful and confusing, and she's scared of losing Konoka and regretting it for the rest of her life, and she's terrified of saying the wrong thing, but she finally knows how to answer Ayaka's question.

She looks up, determined not to screw up the best thing in her life.

"Konoka," she says, putting a heavy hand on the girl's arm with all the gravity she can muster. "I think I'm in love with you."

Konoka's face goes through several contortions, from surprised to dumbfounded to wary. "You… you think you love me?"

"Well – yeah," Setsuna verbally stumbles, disappointed by Konoka's reply. That wasn't really the response she'd been going for. "I mean, I'm not really sure how to tell, but I – I think so, yeah."

She wishes she could give a better answer, but she's pretty sure she's in love, or has a crush, or something. She certainly has enough symptoms, according to the information she'd gathered from everyone and everything, herself and her screen time included.

Despite Setsuna's confession, Konoka stands there squinting at her in confusion, and Setsuna's confidence wavers. Aren't they supposed to have some kind of dramatic coming together now? That's how it happens in the movies, at least, where an admission of love is commonly followed by a kiss, or a return confession, or something.

But Konoka stands there, perfectly unconvinced no matter how good the words sound. "I don't believe you."

"Nunghh!" Setsuna replies, throwing her hands up and now at a complete loss. That was supposed to be the trump card. "Fine!" She shouts, refusing to give up despite the set-backs. "I'll prove it to you then."

Konoka goes to respond, but stops abruptly, gaze caught on something behind Setsuna. The swordsman turns and comes face-to-face with the boy.

"Excuse me," he says politely, and then punches her in the gut so fast she can't even think to dodge.

She grunts, the air knocked out of her, but recovers quickly. The boy is no longer in front of her, however, and she turns to find him striding quickly towards Konoka. Setsuna draws her sword in one smooth motion and lunges at him. He merely waves a hand behind him and a steel beam bursts out of the rooftop, Setsuna's sword clanging off of it noisily. He doesn't even falter.

"I told you to stay still," he tells Konoka, voice steady. "Now this is going to hurt."

Setsuna sees Konoka take a step back in obvious fear, and she sidesteps the beam, feigning another lunge at the boy. Another steel beam appears to protect him, but he hadn't been her target – she scoops Konoka up and takes flight again, but not quick enough to dodge the massive pole of metal that comes flying after her.

She turns, keeping Konoka protectively in front of her, and it hits her square in the middle of the back, sending her spiraling through the air. With no small amount of effort, she flaps her right wing quickly to regain control, shooting up and spinning to avoid another strike.

The kid, whoever he is, is obviously strong. He hasn't exerted himself in the slightest, and Setsuna knows there's no way she can win this battle just by running away; but with Konoka incapable of fighting, she doesn't have much of a choice.

She resolutely reaches into her pocket and takes out her pactio card with Asuna, touching it to her forehead.

"What are you doing?" Konoka asks, voice shaking as she tries not to have a heart-attack at almost plummeting to the ground.

"Calling for help."

Konoka is clearly still confused, but Setsuna doesn't have time to explain.


Hey! Asuna's cheery voice responds. Did you talk to Konoka?

Yes –

How did it go?

No time! Setsuna snaps, catching sight of the boy following them in her peripheral vision. I need your help.

Her tone is urgent, and when Asuna replies, she's far more serious. What's wrong?

I'm trapped in another illusion. There's a boy here trying to kill us – white hair, I think he's related to Rokuko and Karma.

From her apartment, Asuna jerks up at the statement, but one word in particular catches her attention.


Konoka is here with me.


Setsuna can't agree more. I can't kill him on my own; he's way stronger than me. Can you get here?

What are your surroundings like?

Looks like the city, Setsuna pauses to swoop down, trying to use the buildings for cover and nearly giving Konoka another heart attack at the sudden shift in altitude. Maybe two miles from the hotel. It spans about three blocks.

He cast it over three blocks!?Asuna is already out the door, pactio card in her pocket, but pauses on her way to the area. That amount of magic is massive, far bigger than what Rokuko had conjured. Without any specific entry point like the entrance to the park, she won't be able to enter it as easily, if at all. Cursing again, she re-enters her apartment, needing the privacy, and pulls out another pactio card.

Listen, just stay away from him. I think I know who you're dealing with, and we're going to need help.

From who?

Just don't die,Asuna says quickly, unable to use both pactio cards at once and in a rush. I'll be there as soon as I can.

Wait, Asuna! There's no reply, and Setsuna reluctantly puts the card back in her pocket.

Which is just enough of a distraction for her to get hit once more.

This time it's a sign post, and the spear grazes her shoulder. She falters in the air for a moment, only to get slammed by another metal beam in the back of the thighs. The force is enough to send her legs over her head in a backwards somersault, air whipping around her and catching Konoka's scream as they plummet again to the ground.

Thankfully, they hit the canvas awning of a roadside shop first, but the height of their fall still sends them crashing through it, the red-and-white-striped cloth falling around them. Setsuna adjusts herself to once again take the brunt of the impact, allowing Konoka's fall to be cushioned by her own body. Her head spins when they hit the ground, and she's vaguely aware that she probably has a concussion. Her vision is dark in places, and the weight of Konoka's body on top of hers is making it difficult to breathe.

When the darkness recedes to just her peripheral vision, she catches site of a metal pole – one of four that had been keeping the awning in place – hovering above them, ready to skewer them both.

Panicked, Setsuna hugs Konoka to her body and rolls, narrowly avoiding getting turned into human kabob.

She's on her feet quickly. The same pole is now angled to the side, ready again to impale them, and Setsuna grabs Konoka and jumps through one of the stores display windows.

They roll on the tiled floor, glass shard cutting them both, and when they stop Konoka finds herself staring at the ceiling. She sits up and catches sight of her legs, cut and bloodied, and when she goes to stand the pieces of glass imbedded in her lower body grind and sting painfully.

More painfully than her self-inflicted face pinching, and more painfully than any dream should allow.

A foot away from her, Setsuna groans slightly. The swordsman gets to her hands and knees, palms pressed against the broken glass and bleeding profusely.

"Believe me yet?" She asks, voice breathy and tired.

Konoka isn't sure what specifically she's asking about, and even then, she's not sure what to believe at this point.

The crunching of glass alerts them both that they're not alone, and Setsuna quickly jumps to her feet, ignoring the way the world spins around her. The boy is standing outside the broken window watching them both, one hand shoved casually in his pocket, and Setsuna tries to blink away the triple-images of him.

"You can't beat me." His statement is matter-of-fact, not cocky, and Setsuna knows he's right.

She falters, head aching and unsure what to do.

"Do I at least get to know your name before you kill us?" She asks finally, fully-aware that she's probably going to die, but wanting to at least have that in formation to take with her.

Thankfully, he humors her. "Fate," he says simply, and goes to step inside the store.

Setsuna isn't about to let him.

"Stay here and don't move," she tells Konoka, who at this point doesn't think she'd be capable of much else anyway, and then Setsuna rushes forward.

She stumbles slightly on shaky legs, which turns out in her favor – she just narrowly avoids a punch to the face, and she takes the small lag of his recovery to boot-kick him in the stomach.

He makes no noise of pain, but he still goes down, hitting the pavement outside and sliding a few feet. Setsuna jumps out after him, determined to put as much space between him and Konoka as possible.

He stays on the ground, and Setsuna wonders briefly if she is, in fact, the luckiest person alive and she'd somehow managed to knock him out. The subtle motion of his fingers warns her otherwise, however, and she manages to jump upwards, wings flapping ferociously, as the very ground beneath her juts out in spikes.

Fate gets up calmly, heading towards Konoka, which effectively forces Setsuna to land. He makes another hand motion and the Earth shakes again, and she jumps sideways to avoid the hit.

Unfortunately, the spikes follow her, the ground jutting out in a linear path towards her as if a giant creature were underneath. Setsuna tries to dodge again, but a jagged piece of pavement catches her in the thigh, sending her tumbling again.

She scrambles to her feet, limping on her good leg. I can't even get close to him, which is bad news, considering her only specialty lies in close-range combat. Moreover, Fate won't allow any leniency; his no-nonsense demeanor means she won't even be able to distract him with mid-combat talk, and he hardly seems the type of villain to go on some time-consuming monologue.

Knowing she needs to change her strategy, she looks around for any inspiration. There's debris all around – chunks of concrete, broken glass, twisted metal – but the area is empty except for buildings and cars.

Struck by an idea, she goes to the nearest vehicle, shoving her fingers underneath the hood and trying to pry it open. It's locked in place and she pulls harder, hoping beyond hope that whatever freaky supernatural strength had graced her before would come back.

It does.

The hood pops open and she pries it back, ripping it off the car then sending it spinning like a Frisbee at Fate.

He watches it careening towards him and lifts a hand. The piece of car stops in front of him, levitating in the air for a moment before he sends it hurdling back at Setsuna.

Damnit! She ducks, but he gives her no time to relax, sending the ground beneath her to attack again.

This time she places her foot firmly against the side of one spike and jumps up, flipping back and into the pile of broken rubble left behind from his previous attack. Whatever his powers are, controlling metal is obviously one of them, so she grabs a piece of concrete, hefting it up over her head, and throws it at him.

His apathetic expression changes for the first time as a twinge of annoyance passes across his face. Still, he's forced to move away from the storefront to dodge the massive make-shift weapon.

Seeing her success, Setsuna repeats the motion, bending down to grab chunks of road and throwing them at him like target practice. Each one must weigh at least fifty pounds, although she hardly feels it, and she's not about to start questioning how this is possible right now.

He avoids the strikes and counterattacks at the same time, sending more metal and ground her way, and she responds in kind, avoiding the worst of the damage and throwing more of the debris.

Predictably, he dodges everything she can throw, but Setsuna's intentions hadn't been to hit him.

There is a flash of red, and Setsuna finds herself grinning in relief. Fate does not look as happy.

"Asuna!" She shouts, grateful for her friend's timely appearance, but then she falters at the sight of another person.

The redhead runs to reach her, stopping a few yards away with Fate between them. Her companion follows as well, turning to Setsuna with a polite bow.

"Setsuna. It's good to see you again."

Setsuna looks back and forth between them. "You brought Negi?"

"I couldn't get here without his magic," Asuna explains, but quickly shifts gears to more important matters. "Where's Konoka?"

The swordsman shoves a thumb in the direction of the store where Konoka is sitting on the ground, looking absolutely bewildered by this turn of events.

Asuna sighs. "I guess we'll have some explaining to do."

"Later," Setsuna agrees, focusing her attention back on Fate.

There is a brief pause, tension thick in the air. Negi and Asuna make eye-contact, silent communication passing between them, and then she charges Fate, her massive sword in hand.

He extends his arm and motions towards a building, a steel beam flying out and heading straight for Asuna. Setsuna tenses, getting ready to spring forward, but her ripped hamstring protests and she can only watch.

But Asuna stops suddenly, letting the beam fly past her just inches from her torso in its linear trajectory. Light explodes from behind her as twelve magic arrows erupt from Negi's outstretched palm.

Fate's eyes narrow surreptitiously. He stomps his foot on the ground and a wall of dirt appears in front of him, taking the damage in his place. It crumbles from the attack, and when they can clearly see his face again, he's obviously annoyed.

He turns his gaze to Konoka, who freezes at the stare, and he announces quite calmly: "I don't have time for this."

Everybody tenses as Fate gestures towards one of the parked cars along the side of the road, and with a metallic groan, it lifts off the ground.

"Shit, Negi –" Asuna shouts, the distance between her and Fate too far to make, but Negi is already chanting a spell under his breath.

Not quick enough, however.

With nothing but a flick of his fingers, the car is hurdled towards the store, Konoka its obvious target. The brunette can do nothing against the threat of a two ton vehicle thrown at her with tremendous speed; the air freezes in her lungs, her whole body tensing in anticipation for her death.

Setsuna watches, a million thoughts flying through her brain at once – how can I stop it? My sword can't cut through that, my body won't even slow it down – she looks at Konoka frozen in fear and her own heart jerks, words bouncing around in her brain; Mana's, Evangeline's, Ayaka's, Asuna's – she's going to die. She's going to die she's going to die she's going to –

Her body moves, thoughts lost to the wind rushing by her ears as she puts herself between Konoka and the oncoming car, her feet braced against the ground, arms outstretched and palms open.

She has no idea what she's doing, but she knows she has to do it.

The underside of the car hits her outstretched palms and she pushes back with every ounce of strength in her body, her feet sliding on the broken glass and her muscles straining, her face contorted with effort.

The force sends her halfway through the store, and all four onlookers stare in unadulterated disbelief as she and the car finally stop just a foot in front of Konoka.


Setsuna stands there, balancing the tons of metal in her arms, her biceps and shoulders quaking under the weight, but as Fate meets her gaze – and even his eyes are wide with surprise – it's not only the feat of strength that has him worried, it's her expression as well.

Her eyes are narrowed, brows drawn together in obvious rage, and her teeth are grit and her pulse so quick with adrenaline he can see it in her neck. A growl builds in her throat.

"I'm," she adjusts her hands on the cars undercarriage, "Going," she hefts it up over her head, "To kill you!"

The last word rips its way out of her throat as she hurls the car at him.

He lifts a palm hurriedly, trying to get the metal vehicle under his control again, but Setsuna's fury-induced strength sends it speeding so quickly he doesn't have time.

Konoka's vision is, thankfully for her, blocked by Setsuna's body. The other three watch as the car rams into Fate, his limbs contorting unnaturally and the life going out of his eyes almost instantly. It doesn't stop there, however, and his body winds up pinned between the car and a huge concrete building.

They watch the wreckage, waiting for him to move. He doesn't.

More silence, except for Setsuna's ragged breathing.

Negi and Asuna stare.

Setsuna turns, blood still dripping down her leg, and her knees are shaking as she comes down from an adrenaline rush. She's seeing triples of Konoka now too, but she doesn't care.

She tries to speak. The noise comes out raspy, so she clears her throat and tries again, leveling Konoka with a stare.

"Now do you believe me?"

Konoka licks her lips, opens her mouth, hesitates. She can hardly say no, and is, quite frankly, scared to at this point.

"Yes," she says.

The thump of Setsuna's body hitting the floor is her only reply.


A/N: So, are all my chapters going to end with someone dying? Possibly, haha.

Mana's memory is supposed to be around the early 1800s, but probably isn't very historically accurate to any particular war. Just bear with me on that one; I'm by no means a history buff, although I did do a tiny bit of research into Portugal's war history and when the hand grenade was invented. Also, was her boyfriend/friend/whatever ever named in the manga? I didn't think so, so I just gave him a name that hopefully works for this purpose.

Anyway, let me know what you all think! There were a lot of developments in this chapter – many of which won't get thoroughly explained until next chapter or the one after (like, for example, why Setsuna can throw cars at people).

See you guys soon (hopefully)!