Saga of Soul
CHAPTER 11: ACROSS THE PACIFIC
"<...so I advised using weapons with maximized kinetic impact.>" Eriko recounted to Monsoon her meeting with the police, while Junko listened on the sidelines."<Solid advice. Dunno how much it'll help them, but at least they can call you now.>"
"<There was another thing, though.>" Eriko pulled out a few pictures and a disc. "<They gave me copies... Check it out: There was a bank robbery two days ago. The robber used magic.>"
"<A bank robbery?!>" Monsoon's voice went up in volume. "<With magic?!>" Her expression grew bewildered. "<That's... hysterically lame.>" She began snickering. As Junko took a puzzled expression, she went on; "<I mean... Come on! It's magic! If you're that desperate for money, you can make it with basic spells!>"
"<I know!>" said Eriko. "<That's what I said! You could create gold, make diamonds... heck, even copy bank bills with noble magic. Inspector Aoyama figures the culprit either was too stupid to understand that, or wanted to prove something. Let the world know he existed, something like that. Still, that was pretty harmless compared to the other attacks...>"
"<So... does our mystery lamer have a name?>"
Eriko pushed the disk into a player. "<He introduced himself as the Living Curse.>" She failed to notice the sudden darkening in Monsoon's expression. "<Here, let me show you what the security camera filmed...>"
As the event played on the screen, she added: "<So... I guess it could just be a new person who got powers the way I did, but it doesn't seem likely. I mean, right here in Tokyo? And even if he came here because that's where magical things have been happening, witnesses say he was speaking in Japanese with no foreign accent. So I was wondering if our existing rogues gallery was involved. What do you think? Monsoon?>"
The fairy kept looking at the screen. "<Eriko... Before you went into that police station, had you ever heard the name 'Living Curse'?">
"<Huh? No. Not that I recall. Should I have?>"
"<Consider yourself one lucky puppy that you haven't.>" Monsoon looked at her with... Fear? Concern? What's that expression?
Monsoon paused for a few seconds. "<The Living Curse ranks among the worst of the worst. One of the more influential power-players in Hell, highly competent, and horrifically cruel - I mean, horrific enough to stand out even among demons. A complete monster, with a history of unmitigated sadism, multiple genocide, and the effective extinguishing of hope. Bad news.>"
Both girls gulped. "<You... You're not telling me this guy is actually a super-demon committing bank robbery, are you?>"
"<Very unlikely.>" Monsoon looked at the video again. "<I mean... No-one died, no-one was mauled, no-one was subjected to pain beyond a torturer's wildest dreams, no-one was forced to kill, cook and eat their own family, no-one had everything they love burned before their eyes... Nope, doesn't look like Living Curse to me. Plus, this guy is acting like a total newbie. If Living Curse was going to introduce himself by his real name, why act like such a klutz?>"
She noticed the girls' silence after a moment. "<Plus, Hell is a very factional place, and a key aspect of their politics is which faction gets which world to toy with. Downfall is a member of Endless Ravage, and they've got the rights to this planet; the Living Curse isn't affiliated with them. So, I don't think he's actually involved with this, or is ever going to be.>"
"<Ooooookay,>" said Eriko, "<Then what? Is it Downfall, doing some weird homage? Is it Murder or the Circle of Wisdom, trying to make it look like demonic activity?>""<Could be. But it definitely looks like one of them has started teaching magic to criminals. And that... Well, I'd call that bad news, but my understatement quota can't cover it this week.>"
Eriko sighed. "<Well, it's not like we're lacking in villains...>"
"<It's worse than that, hun. At least the regular villains are a few experienced individuals. What we're looking at here is a potential rain of walking, talking bombs. Unwise magic use can destroy the world faster than intentional villainy.>"
"<So you're saying...>"
"<I'm saying you need to find this Living Strongly Worded Complaint, kick his ass, figure out who's been turning him into the world's biggest 'don't do that' demonstration, kick their ass, and stop this bad joke before we get a mushroom cloud of a punchline.>"
"<...I'll tell the police it's important.>"
"<You do that. And incidentally... If one of your enemies is teaching magic to his own private army, you'll need to be extra-careful when fighting them.>"
"<Yeesh... I can't say I like the idea of fighting two mages at once.>"
"<Actually,>" said Monsoon, "<even if only one shows up, you might be in trouble. They could be channeling.>"
"<A common practice in multi-mage organizations: You have one (or several) mages casting a noble magic spell whose effect is 'add my power to the channeling mage'. You have them do it continuously. And as a result, the channeler's magic becomes stronger.>"
"<Crap, you can do that? How much stronger are we talking about here? A logarithmic increase? Additive? Multiplicative?>"
"<Hey, look on the bright side: Like most forms of magic, channeling can't be done across different universes. I mean, if Downfall had been channeling the power of all his colleagues back in Hell, he'd have been unstoppable. As is... Even if he can channel one extra mage, you still stand a chance against him. Five mages? Not so much.
So! How's our other project going?>"
Eriko blinked. I wonder if I'll ever get used to how brutally she changes topics. "<Well, I think. The shield hasn't been dropping so far, and I reinforce it for several hours every day, every chance I get.>"
"<Great! Well, I suppose I'll let you continue with that.>"
"<Actually, I'm only going to take thirty minutes with that, then Junko and I need to go.>"
"<Yeah, got stuff to do back on Earth.>" More specifically, visit the other side of the ocean.
Monsoon looked closely at her face. "<You just tensed up a little when you said that.>" Wha...? "<So I'm guessing that's something you don't want to tell me.>" I... "<But I'm not going to ask, because you're a good, responsible kid, and I trust you not to do anything really problematic.>"
As Monsoon giggled, Eriko turned away. Wonderful. Just the daily dosage of awkward I was missing.
Less than half-an-hour later, the two girls portalled out of Castle Nexus and into a deserted alley.
"<So... We're doing this tonight?>" asked Junko."<Has to be. We go home, mom and dad leave to visit their friends... Shouldn't be home before midnight. We'll be back by eleven to be on the safe side, and I'll use noble magic so that my computer will message me if the door opens or the phone rings, allowing us to return in a hurry.>"
"<Still seems complicated to me. Why not just go while we're supposed to be out on the town?>"
"<Because of time-zones. Our after-noon is before their sunrise. Even like this, it's going to be early in the morning there.>"
"<Ah, OK.>" Junko seemed to accept the explanation, and quickly resumed a happier mood. "<This is going to be so cool. I never thought I'd do this before I was, I dunno, finishing high school or something.>"
"<It's been a while,>" Eriko admitted. "<I wonder how it will be to be back.>"
My name is Junko. My face feels weird, and this is going to be the first time I leave Japan.
Well, technically that's not true. I've been to Castle Nexus many times, and that place is some kind of pocket world or something. But it's not the same.
Normally, you'd need to take the airplane, it'd take weeks of preparation, you'd need money and passports and everything... Instead, Eriko can just take us through a portal. So. Freaking. Cool.
That makes it one more thing I owe her. Which joins a list that seems to keep getting longer and...
...No. Don't think about that. Not today. Not right now. This is the time to go nuts and have fun!"<Fair warning,>" said Eriko, "<I can't portal us directly there. We'll need multiple portals to get there, and most of them will need to be above the ocean, so we will be flying to get there.>"
"<Why? Is it too far for one single portal?>"
"<Noooo... I can make portals that cover the distance. It's just that... when you open a portal that goes too far, there are certain logical consequences. In fact, I've been thinking of ways to weaponize that...>"I don't get it. "<Ah, all right.>"
"<Well... Hold my hand now.>" Eriko gestured, and a pitch-black portal appeared in the middle of the room. Cold wind blew through it. <"Well... Let's jump.>"
A quick jump. Followed by panicked screams as Junko, still clutching Eriko's hand, found herself falling through the night sky, high above an ocean she could barely make out in the dark.
And so, she screamed in utter terror. Then screamed some more. And kept screaming, barely pausing to catch her breath. She had no idea how long she had been screaming when she noticed there was land below them, and it was less dark than before. Still screaming, she looked up, and realized dawn was close to breaking. She realized she was still screaming as they fell through a portal, then another; every time, it was getting brighter. Another portal, and the sun was out. Another portal, and it had gone up in the sky. And another...
"<Junko? Could you please stop screaming?>"
She stopped. She caught her breath. She looked down below, seeing that they were at a great height above a large city. She looked back at Eriko. "<We're falling!>"Eriko winced. "<No, we're flying. And please have mercy on my ears.>"
"<Can you feel the wind from the fall?>"
Junko paused a moment to consider. That's right... I could feel strong winds going up earlier, because we were falling down. But it's stopped now. But... "<N-no...>"
"<That's because we're stationary. I'm holding us in position in the air.>"
"<But... But I can still feel that I'm falling!>"
"<That's because the magic is affecting the kinetic energy equally all across your body. So to your internal organs and inner ear, it's like you're in freefall. Zero Gravity.>"
Slowly but surely, Junko managed to calm down a bit. "<What... What happened?>""<Well, I kept opening portals beneath us, each one going a certain distance eastward. I'm sorry, I've had some time to get used to this kind of stuff; I should have prepped you better for it. Didn't mean to scare you like that.>"
"<I'm... It's OK. Kinda fun, like an amusement park.>" Oh gods it was horrible. I can't feel my... well, anything, really. Good thing I went to the bathroom before leaving.
"<Well, Junko...>" Eriko waved as they stood on top of a building's roof, "<Welcome to Washington DC!>" She paused, then asked worriedly: "<Want a few minutes to calm down?>"
"<That... would be nice.>"
"<s'okay...>" Great. Now I'm making her feel guilty...A few silent moments passed. Eriko eventually spoke up again: "<So... I'm probably not the best at guided tours, but I can probably show you around a bit...>" There was another pause. "<Now, we're going to need to be careful with portals... Only open them where no-one sees us, and where there are no security cameras or anything...>"
"<Huh. In that case...>" Junko's silence ended, "<Are you sure you changed our faces enough? I mean, we still look kinda like we normally do, and you've lived here for years. What if someone recognizes you?>"
"<Putting aside the fact that it's a pretty big city... I was eight. I'd say we can safely ignore that risk.>"
And so, a park, several landmarks, and Eriko's old neighborhood later...
"<Man, I remember so much!>" Eriko waxed nostalgics. "<This place over there? That's where I discovered the myriad flavors of ice-cream. For months, every time we went there, I'd have a hard time deciding whether to have my latest favorite, or try something new. And you know, it's probably rose-colored memories... It's probably not actually better than the ice-cream we have back in Tokyo... But I've often missed that place.>"
"<Well, we're here now.>" Junko gave her an encouraging smile. "<Go nuts!>"
"<Ah... We don't have any money, Junko.>"
"<Yes we... Oh. You mean, American money. Can't you just make some?>"
"<Beg your pardon?>""<You can make stuff with magic. Heck, you and Monsoon mentioned it earlier. You could just make dollar bills appear in your pockets.>"
"<Nah. It would be fake money.>"
"<Couldn't you make it exactly like real money?>"
"<Wouldn't make it any less fake.>"
There was a part of Junko that suspected it would be best to leave it at that. But only a part. "<So...? I mean... It's not like you'd be stealing from anybody.>"
"<Yes it would. The value of money is purely consensual.>" Seeing Junko's blank stare, she went on: "<Money's only worth something because society agrees it's worth something. And its value is dependent on its rarity. If, say, you double the amount of yens in Japan, then the price of everything in yens will also double, and the value of a single yen will be halved. So if I started creating fake dollar bills, it wouldn't mean I wouldn't be stealing from anybody - it would mean I'd be stealing from everybody.>"
"<If you say so.>"
As they walked some more, Junko noticed a street performer gathering a crowd. Huh. That's kinda nice. The way everything's in English around here is a bit overwhelming, but...
"<You like the performance?>"
"<Huh? Yeah, I guess.>"
"<Well...>" Eriko seemed slightly embarrassed. "<We need to get home in twenty minutes, tops. Is it... If it OK if I let you keep watching, while I go have a quick look there?>" She pointed at a nearby building.
"<Of course! Sure! No problem!>" Junko looked at the building. "<'Barnes&Noble'? What's that?>"
"<My personal heaven, circa age eight.>"
Twenty-three minutes later, Eriko rushed out of the bookstore and back to Junko. "<OK, time to go. Let's find a secluded spot for the portal.>"
Junko winced internally at the prospect of repeating the travel experience, but let none of it show. "<So... What exactly did you do there?>"
Eriko's face took a dreamy smile. "<Ohhhhh... I went through the science-fiction aisle, reading the back covers of several books... I got a quick look at some of my old favorite graphic novels... I saw some cool stuff in the science section...>" She sighed happily. "<Twenty minutes isn't enough. God how I miss this place.>" Her air of contentedness faded away. "<I'm sorry for leaving you hanging like that. I just... I figured you'd get bored in there...>"
"<I probably would, but don't worry, I was fine. And come on! I just got to visit America! I saw the White House! It was an awesome visit, Eriko. Honestly, it was.>" And I don't even need to exaggerate all that much.
Eriko smiled. "<Glad you liked it. We need to find a way to do this more often, with better hours... Maybe if we visit the American West coast during the Japanese morning...>"
Junko nodded. "<Say... Could you tell me more about those comic books?>"
It was unanimously agreed among the Black Skull gang that, scary as Downfall may be in human form, his true form was far more terrifying. (Not that the term "true form" could hope to be accurate when describing demons and other spirits, but it nevertheless was how the thugs identified the form under which he had made his first public appearance.) At the moment, the demon was using that form to pummel Masaki.
"<Stand up, Living Curse!>" Downfall bellowed after throwing the human against the wall. Fearfully, Masaki complied. "<Good. It would seem that your holistic shield is holding up. With it, you can now stand against the law, against small armies - why,>" he roared in laughter, "<you might even be able to survive for a dozen blinks against some of the weakest demons!>"
I hope so, after all you're putting me through. Ever since he had obtained his powers, Masaki's days seemed made almost exclusively of intensive magic training under Downfall's unforgiving supervision. Mastering holistic shields had taxed his abilities. "<So...>" Masaki hesitated, "<What now?>" The bank heist had been both a triumph and a letdown - he had stolen more money than the gang had seen in a year, but Downfall had seemed angry when they didn't make the news.
"<Now? Now we move on with the takeover of the city.>" Downfall, standing on three legs, raised a fist in the air. "<The bank was merely a test run. Now, we shall take the criminal elements, and cower them into submission.>" He turned to face the gang. "<Those who recently killed off those rival mobs... The Kahara clan, I believe?>"
"<That's... yeah, that's them,>" Masaki didn't like where it was going, "<But these guys are Yakuza. You don't want to mess with them. They...>"With a grin, Downfall slapped him with his monstrous hand, sending him several meters away. "<Don't be such a fool, Living Curse. You're making a very basic mistake... You're still thinking like a mortal.>" He leaned in closely, his head looming over Masaki. "<Magic means we have the power. They do not. It may take them a while to realize it... but realize it they will.>"
Like Hiromasa, Koyama had been following his father's footsteps when he had joined the Tokyo police. But whereas Hiromasa was perceived as a weak-willed rookie, Koyama had had nearly two decades to rise up in the ranks.
Being made the leader of the new task force hadn't been his idea - in fact, news of the assignment had come as a shock. Apparently, they had been looking for an officer who they felt they could rely on. Koyama always did as he was told, showed respect to superiors and officials, was charismatic enough to act as the public face of a force that was going to be under heavy media scrutiny... And, as a bonus, he hailed from the station where the investigation had been based until now (in the hands of Hyosuke, an older veteran. Koyama suspected that Hyosuke would probably have been in charge of the station by now if he had, at any point, learned to respect his superiors. Or at least to fake it). Truth be told, he wasn't certain yet if he liked this new position - it was certainly prestigious, and could do wonders for his career if things worked out, but he had no clue how to handle it. This entire situation was... unprecedented. There weren't established methods of investigating and dealing with wizards, demons and monsters... And Koyama had no love for the unknown. Thankfully, he at least had the initial phase of the investigation that had been handled by Hyosuke; he could start by continuing whatever the old man had been doing, and go from there.
And now, here was the big old antisocial bastard, revealing that the entire situation had changed overnight yet again.
"<So you're telling me,>" Koyama did his best to sound patient, "<That not only did she show up for questioning, but also left us a way to call her. Buuuut, she insists that you be her contact.>"
"<That is correct.>" Hyosuke was doing a much better job of maintaining a neutral expression. Unlike Hiromasa, that rat-bastard, with that smug grin that just begged to be punched. Koyama knew that Hiromasa's father had been pressuring some people into bringing the duo onto the task force. For a short moment, he wondered if he could have arranged the whole thing with Soul. He dismissed the idea instantly.
"<Very well, Aoyama. In that case, I want you to call her now. I have a few questions of my own for her.>"
Hyosuke arched an eyebrow and let the hint of a smile show. "<After I show you the recording of her first questioning, I suppose?>"
As the recording of Soul's meeting with Hyosuke drew to a close, Steel turned away from the video, addressing Harris and Katsutoshi. "A very interesting turn of events, I'm sure you'll agree.""You can say that again," muttered Harris. "So, she's trying to work with the police. Makes sense, I suppose - all her appearances so far were attempts to save the day or some crap like that."
"She seems human," said Katsutoshi. Not pretty enough to date, but not ugly either. Could use a better costume. Sounds rather nerdy.
"Like her performance so far has been suggesting, she appears to be fairly intelligent," said Steel. "She speaks excellent Japanese, and has demonstrated basic knowledge of English. Her accent is mostly Japanese, yet has a hint of another influence, suggesting that she speaks in English regularly, or used to for much of her life. Her manner of speech, in particular her reliance on complex words, is characteristic of someone who has more familiarity with books than actual conversation. Possible Asperger syndrome. At the same time, she uses modern expressions typical of the Internet age. Additionally, she was quick to make references to certain aspects of Western culture. The Bat-signal, Jim Gordon... not to mention her choice of projectiles."
"Her choice of... What do you mean?" said Harris.
"Several times during her fights, she chose to strike her enemies by creating anvils to drop on them. A form seemingly chosen in the heat of battle, with little strategic worth; probably inspired by American cartoons."
That gave Katsutoshi pause. It made sense, but it conjured the mental image of his mother watching cartoons. That in itself conjured the image of her as a child... an image he couldn't form very well. All he managed to imagine was a shorter version of her, looking as cold and stern as ever while watching cartoons - an image he found rather disturbing.
She went on. "All of these elements converge, giving us an image of who Soul probably is. An intellectual teenage Japanese girl, immersed to a certain extent in Western culture. Given that the police has been unable to find her despite knowing her face, it is very likely that she is relying on magic to modify her facial features. Additionally, if the information Murder has provided us with is accurate, then she has had a near-death experience at some point. Harris, I want you to check for candidates in Japanese hospitals - there are good odds for her being among them."
As Harris quickly jotted a few notes down, she continued: "She provided limited information, but seemed reluctant to withhold it. We must consider the possibility that, like Murder has been implying, Soul is merely a pawn of the individual known as 'Mother Aurora'. Finally, there is the matter of Living Course."
"You said it confirms stuff with Murder, right?" said Harris. Katsutoshi listened closely.
"Murder has previously mentioned the Living Curse and Crimson Rain. You have both seen the video. Now, a mage calling himself Living Curse actually goes out of his way to rob a bank. Soul's made her own observations on him, and they seem pertinent enough... but I find it interesting that Murder mentioned the whole thing before it went public. It suggests that this newcomer is a minion of Downfall, and that Murder has some way of monitoring them. However, this could also be an attempt to mislead us."
"This might seem hard to believe, mommy dearest, but not everyone in the world is as deceptive as you."
"But some are, and Murder has given little indication of being trustworthy. One must consider such eventualities."
"So..." said Harris, "should we be asking Murder about this guy?"
"Not yet. Better to wait and see how he reacts to it himself, if at all. Right now, it is best if we focus on the other magical elements present, since we finally have leads on them... Naturally, we must also push further research into obtaining magic ourselves. We do, after all, have an idea where to begin." She pointed at a binder on the table. One titled "NDE Research".
Noboru Kahara, high-ranking Yakuza leader, was taking some time chatting with underlings in his office. The last couple of weeks had been hectic. While Steel's bomb stunt was making it easier to control the local underworld, it had brought a lot of unwanted attention, no matter how loudly he proclaimed his clan's innocence in the matter. The heads-up Steel had given him about the Living Curse didn't calm his nerves either - Noboru hated dealing with the unknown, and spell-slinging bank robbers just didn't fit his worldview very well. On the positive side, business was good. He could probably afford to throw a few extra bribes this week - get in touch with the right politicians, the right cops...
What had started as the first slow day in a while abruptly became something entirely different as he heard gunshots coming from another part of the villa. After quickly exchanging meaningful glances, he and the present underlings grabbed their weapons. What the Hell is that about? An attack? A dispute? Was the shooter one of my men? Just OWNING guns is illegal outside the police; not just anyone can get one...
"<Sir!>" One of his men burst through the door, almost getting shot by him and his bodyguards before they could recognize him. "<There's... someone to see you. He can... He can shoot fire from his hands.>"
Kahara gave him a blank look.
"<And he's bullet-proof.>"
Kahara winced. Dammit.
Masaki gazed at the Yakuza boss. The whole situation felt unreal - not so long ago, that man had been an untouchable antagonist, effortlessly kicking the gang away from his neighborhood. Now, he had been able to make his way to the man's office, and was supposed to threaten him - and, he realized, he could get away with it. Without Downfall breathing down his neck, the whole magic thing could actually be kinda cool...
"<So.>" Kahara tried not to seem too awkward. "<Who exactly are you?>"I'm Masaki Tamai, I got kicked out of high school, I'm part of a gang you give no respect to, and I'm wearing this stupid ski mask just so that you can't recognize me. "<I'm the Living Curse.>"
Dammit. That's the one Steel warned me about. "<Very well. Tell me then, Mr. Living Curse... What can I do for you?>" Stay polite for now... You're a respectable businessman, and respectable businessmen remain in control of the situation. As opposed to getting incinerated by the situation.
Masaki cleared his throat. "<Well, I have magical powers now.>" He paused. What the hell am I supposed to say again? "<I can't be killed, but I can torch anyone.>" That's right! Short of someone like Downfall... I'm pretty much invincible! "<So it's about damn time people showed us some fucking respect!>" The last part was said with greater gusto, as he slammed both hands onto the mob boss's desk.
Kahara almost managed not to flinch. Not quite, but almost. "<And... what... do you want?>"
That seemed to deflate Masaki slightly. "<I... Er... Well. I want you all to fucking well understand: The Black Skull gang is now the top dogs in this town. And don't any of you forget it!>"
With that said, Masaki turned around and left the office without another word. Oh gods, I feel sick. But I did it! I told that bastard where to shove it, and I'm still alive! ...I need to find a bathroom, quick.
"<...Sir?>" one of Kahara's men tentatively spoke up a few moments after the Living Curse had left the room.
"<I want people working on this immediately,>" said Kahara. "<Find out everything you can on the Black Skull gang, especially which one of them this little turd is. Preferably without letting them know we're doing it. Use police contacts if you need to.>"
"<Yes sir. Do you... Do you want to tell Steel-Sama about this?>"
Well, she certainly wants us to inform her about this kind of stuff. But we're not her clan. We don't take orders for her. Kahara's thoughts quickly drifted back to the Northern Fists and Diamond Dragons. "<Of course. That is part of our deal with her.>" He reached for the phone.
"<Tomo's birthday party is supposed to start around 2:00,>" said Junko. "<Got any plans until then?>"
"<Well... I figured I'd take a couple hours for magical work. Still need to...>"
Eriko was interrupted by her cell phone ringing. Or so she thought at first. As she opened it, she realized the ringing was actually coming from the module she had added.
"<Oh. Oh dear.>"
"<It's the... You know. The Bat-Signal.>"
Eriko answered the call. "<Hello?>"
"<Soul? This is inspector Aoyama.>"
"<I hear you. Is there an emergency?>" Oh god oh god oh god oh god...
"<Not as such, no. But the leader of the special task force wants to have a few words with you, in person.>"
She paused. Ooookay... I'll take this over a fight with Downfall, I guess. "<Well, since this is not an emergency... I can meet him in twenty minutes, as long as you give me an address.>"
Eighteen minutes later, Koyama (along with Hyosuke, Hiromasa, and nearly twenty other policemen) was staring at the white-clad magical girl.
"<Hello. I am inspector Koyama. Pleased to meet you.>"
He hesitated for a moment. What the hell am I supposed to say? "<You... have our gratitude for your assistance involving recent events. However, we need to ask you a few questions.>"
She shifted uncomfortably. "<I've answered some for inspector Aoyama... But, like I told him, there are limits on what I can tell you.>"
"<Even so. Miss Soul... Who do you work for?>"
She blinked. Do I work for Mother Aurora? Or am I just taking advice from her, and working as a free agent? "<...I'm just trying to do the right thing. I don't belong to any organization.>" Well, that much is true, at least.
He seemed slightly annoyed, but then tried to smile again. "<Ma'm, surely you understand that we need to know as much as possible about the situation...>"
"<I understand, and I'm sorry I cannot tell you more, but I have my reasons. Additionally, I'm... less well-informed than you might believe.>" Please, please change the subject.
He sighed. "<What of the... device that you have provided us with?>"
Provided "us" with? She glanced at Hyosuke. He was frowning. Ah... Best to be clear on this "<I have given it to inspector Aoyama. He may use it to warn me if another magical attack breaks out.>" I... hope that was clear enough? Right?
Koyama frowned slightly. "<While the sentiment is appreciated, Aoyama is not a member of this task force. It may be for the best if I handle this...>" Behind him, Hyosuke silently facepalmed.
Nonononononono! "<I'm sorry. I'm afraid that's impossible.>" Gods, what am I saying? What can I say? "<I'm afraid I must insist. Inspector Aoyama. Inspector Aoyama is entrusted with this.>"
The room was silent for a few seconds. It's probably for the best if I leave now before he protests. Oh, and before I forget... "<I'm afraid I need to go now. Before I leave, however, there is one thing I may tell you - some of the limited information at my disposal suggests that the Living Curse has someone backing him up. Possibly Downfall.>"
"<Downfall specifically?>" asked Hyosuke, finally involving himself in the conversation. "<Rather than, say, Murder or the Circle of Wisdom?>"
"<It could be them. Circumstantial evidence is suggesting Downfall, but I'm not certain.>" She paused. "<Regardless... Whoever empowered Living Curse stands to create himself a small army of magic-users, any of which could cause incalculable damage, even accidentally. I would suggest making it a priority to find them.>"
"<We will take that into consideration,>" said Koyama. "<Other than that...>"
"<You... Inspector Aoyama may call me again if the need comes up.>" she cut him off as she stood up.
Koyama looked like he was about to try to stop her, but thought better of it. "<Very well. We will meet again, Soul.>"
"<Probably. Good day to you all.>" All right... I hope that's good enough for Mother Aurora and Monsoon.
My name is Dimitry Onegin, and I have a tendency to get into trouble.
For all my complaints about having to spend time around Murder, it's fascinating research. While I'm not any closer to understanding how his powers work, I've been trying to establish how far they extend. What he has said about it himself reminds of some papers I've read... Theoretical physicists suggesting that the universe is best understood as information. Is "magic" basically gaining editing rights to that information? And if yes, what processes that data? The "He Who Is" Murder mentioned? God?
Dimitry's thoughts were interrupted by the elysian, as the latter got up within his cell. "Well, well, well. It would seem that the time has come."
The scientist felt his nervousness returning. "The time? What time?"
Murder grinned. "The time for me to get back to business and pleasure. But first... A monologue is in order. A monologue that will not require an extended audience."
He made a gesture. Dimitry saw several quick flashes of light, as bits of white-hot plasma were projected across the room. In an instant, Murder had annihilated every microphone and camera in the lab."What... What are you..." Dimitry began to say, but before he could finish, a portal opened. The next second, Murder was out of his cell.
"Well, my friend... Seeing how I'm about to leave, I suppose I owe you, to the very least, an explanation."
"Glad to see you approve. You see... Everybody makes plans. The Supreme One and his countless toadies plan to bring the multiverse under his control, while trying really hard not to think about the fact that the're hastening its doom. The Council of Wisdom plans to spread their ill-advised magocracy to every world they can reach, while remaining in denial about their impending destruction. The demons of Hell obsessively plan revenge on humans who have never even heard of them while jockeying for power and prestige among themselves. Mother Aurora, using pawns such as Soul, plans to stave off doomsday, while knowing full well that she cannot win in the end. Your leader, obviously, plans to harness magic toward her own agenda, whatever that may be.
And me? I possess little love for plans. Oh, I am not necessarily unskilled at them; I just find them to be such terrible bores. I usually prefer to live in the moment, finding interesting lives to end, challenging foes to slay. And yet... planning is becoming a necessity, is it not? As the battle for the multiverse escalates, each side becomes more organized, more powerful, more... difficult to deal with, much less ignore. We're reaching the point where my own enjoyment is being regularly interfered with... and that, I'm afraid, simply won't do.
So, I had to start making plans of my own. To inject additional chaos into the system, throwing it out of everyone else's control. To that end, Downfall made an excellent pawn: At my advice, he is making himself a prime target for Mother Aurora by raising his own army of human mages. Understand... While the Fairy Queen may wish to protect mankind from killers like me, her first priority will always be the protection of the multivese. And magic, you see, is inexorably destroying the multiverse."
"Ah, a reaction. To repeat, then: Magic is destroying the multiverse. That is its very purpose, in fact."
"Hush. I am not quite done.
You see, Mother Aurora has dedicated herself to stopping, or at least slowing down this process. Why, she originally tasked me with the elimination of magic-users across the worlds. Buuuuut... It was not enough for me. I did not find satisfaction in fighting an unwinnable war. I found too little joy in delaying death, and too much in hastening it. And now... Now, Downfall is teaching magic to the human pawns that he can find. Painting a bullseye on himself. He hopes to eliminate Aurora's agents in this universe. He might or might not succeed; he is, after all, a fool. Why, he has yet to realize that the dagger I have lent to him allows me to spy on his every move!
And spy on it I have. I knew it would take time, and I wanted to stay beneath everyone's notice for the duration. I figured that allowing myself to be captured could do the trick - I could learn more about this world by seeing to whom I would be taken as a prisoner, and investigating them from my cell. It provided some meager information and entertainment... But no more. You see, Downfall is finally making his move. Clumsily, perhaps, but that is what I seek. As such... I have no further use for this place."
Dimitry was failing, badly, at hiding his nervousness. "Sooo... You're leaving?"
Murder chuckled. "Why yes, my friend. But please, do remember the lesson I taught you: Everything dies."
There was a rapid movement, quick as the blink of an eye. Dimitry cast his eyes down to see a knife lodged in his chest. The heart area.
No... Not... Without a word, Dimitry Onegin fell lifeless on the floor. Making another blade appear in his hands, Murder slowly walked away.
"Well, that was a good start. But, I remain... in the mood for death."
"No survivors so far," said Harris as he looked at the picture of the burned-down building. "According to the police, several people inside the building called during the fire to report some guy killing everyone with knives. At least one recognized Murder." He paused. "I'm just guessing here, but I figure he set fire to all the exits, then went on a big killing spree through the whole place."
"After sabotaging the fire prevention system," said Steel. "Not entirely unexpected."
"Even so... This isn't good."
"A minor setback at most. What information we could obtain from Murder, we've already obtained. This cannot be traced to me. The laboratory can easily be replaced. So can Onegin, if he's really dead; we already have candidates."
"I guess. By the way, what about his family? You promised to bring them to America..."
"Doing so now might allow an investigation to discover a connection with me. Besides, with Onegin himself dead, the incentive is gone."
"And on a different note, call the Phoenix executives for a video-conference. There are several markets in the area that we need to move in on after this."
"My main business rivals in that area are Modex Incorporated. Their corporate headquarters were on floors 4 through 12 of the building."
Harris took a moment to assimilate the reveal. "You... knew this would happen?"
"Not precisely. But when I originally established this laboratory, given its purpose, I knew it might one day be used for illegal and/or dangerous research. That played a role when I selected its location. Long-term strategy requires one to account for numerous possibilities."
As could be expected of such an ancient society, the Elysium had its own legal code. Ultimately, however, it was based on one simple assumption: All authority flowed from the Supreme One. Unsurprisingly, that made the latter the highest arbiter of legal disputes. At the moment, sitting on the Rainbow Throne, he was overseeing one such dispute between House Kal and House Lorilen.
"<I have heard your pleas,>" he spoke, "<and the path of justice is now clear to me.>" That part was merely formula - something he traditionally said at the conclusion of every one of these hearings. "<House Lorilen has broken their word toward House Kal. They have cheated, lied, and then murdered several mortal servants of the Elysium to hide evidence of their forfeits from House Kal's eyes. However...>" The Master of House Kal suppressed a wince, anticipating what would come next, "<House Kal has broken my own edict by trying to keep the affair hidden from the throne room, which trumps all other charges. As such, House Lorilen is to have lordship over the concerned subcontinent. As penalty for their misdeeds, however, they will forfeit all their scheduled uses of the Infinity Gate, which will be reassigned as I see fit.>"
A few more words for the sake of ceremony, and the two plaintiffs retired. The master of House Kal did his best to hide his anger - the loss of Earth Snowflake's Indian subcontinent was going to be a bitter pill for his house to swallow - especially when they felt that House Lorilen was so clearly in the wrong, yet getting away with a mere slap on the wrist. But, there was no helping it - the Supreme One's will was absolute.
"<A most fair judgment, oh Supreme One,>" said Grand Adviser Lio, his head bowed down.
"<Justice must be served for the Elysium to flourish,>" replied the Supreme One. Again, mere formulas. Centuries and centuries of rule left limited room for originality in etiquette. "<I do believe you are to report the latest news from across the Elysium and beyond, Grand Adviser.>"
"<Most certainly, oh Supreme One.>"
Lio was a Grand Adviser - a title that some would argue was the highest anyone but the Supreme One could achieve, rivaled only by House Master. If it required hard work to become an exalted, then being made Grand Adviser made those requirements pale in comparison; one needed not only centuries upon centuries of dedicated effort, but also a long list of impressive successes, and great skill.
Lio had achieved all that. He had become a Grand Adviser centuries ago. He had proven himself again and again. He had even earned the immensely prestigious title of Hero to the Elysium.
But he was no Chancell."<The war on Earth Blossom is proceeding well. One of the elysians stationed there, Maniya, has engaged one of the Circle of Wisdom's mages and slain him in personal combat. Given Maniya's previous accomplishments, House Venos has submitted a request for his exaltation.>"
"<Go over the request afterwards,>" said the Supreme One. "<Let us finish the news first.>"
"<Yes, oh Supreme One. On Earth Sunrise, House Rayana is containing the demonic invasion to the best of their abilities. They report having successfully killed one of the demons, but the remaining ones have, in retaliation, razed one of the major central-Asian cities. Over one-and-a-half million casualties, including one of our human mages who was native to the city and tried to defend it.
House Numeros reports having found an exceptional artist on Earth Night-Sky - one whom they believe could make fine additions to the glory of the Elysium. They have requested the use of the Infinity Gate to bring him to the city, in the hope that he may learn, improve, and become worthy of admittance into the Domain of Wonders.>""<Interesting. Well, given House Numeros's high standards, this likely won't be a disappointment. Proceed.>"
"<Yes, oh Supreme One. On the natural disaster front, there has been a hurricane on Earth Topaz and a volcano eruption near an inhabited area of Earth Peacock, but nothing important - just some local damage to mortal communities. On the other hand, House Numeros reports that they possess a cure for a pandemic that has been spreading through Earth Breeze, and are requesting a use of the Infinity Gate as soon as possible to send an expert with the cure there.>"
"<Two Gate requests at such a short interval? My, my.>" The Supreme One took a somewhat mocking air. "<What else?>"
"<Little more, oh Supreme One. House Lalavan reports having eliminated mortals on Earth Tulip whose research was leading to nuclear weaponry. Another one of our mortal mages has completed his academy training. That covers all newsworthy items, I believe.>"
"<I see.>" The Supreme One took a moment to think. "<Tell me then... How many uses of the Infinity Gate did House Lorilen have scheduled?>"
"<Five, oh Supreme One. One in three days, one in eight, one in ten, one in twenty, and one in twenty-three.>"
"<Well then, since these slots have now been freed, we might as well reschedule them.>" He paused briefly. "<I suppose we might as well bring House Numeros's new artist here. As for their medical request... Well, I'm certain that you can negotiate it with them properly.>"
"<Of course, oh Supreme One. With your permission, I may convince them to take a closer look at some of House Lorilen's activities in the Emerald District.>"
"<Well-thought. Now, this leaves three uses. From my understanding, the Earth Sunrise front is particularly problematic?>"
"<Indeed, oh Supreme One. While House Rayana are making great efforts to contain the demons, the latter are sending in new elements faster than they can be eliminated. At this rate, a large portion of Earth Sunrise will be little more than smoking ruins before we can stabilize the situation.>"
"<Well then. Three days from now, I want Warmaster Rassass to go to Earth Sunrise, and be put in charge of the war effort.>"
Lio blinked. Warmaster Rassass himself? That'll definitely tip the scale... "<Very well, oh Supreme One.>"
"<As for the remaining two uses... Have the Warmaster select two mortal mages to accompany him.>"
"<If I may suggest, oh Supreme One... Even with but one mage, or even on his own, Warmaster Rassass would probably be enough to turn the tide on Earth Sunrise long enough for us to send additional reinforcements later. For now, is there not a greater urgency in sending some competent assistance for Grand Adviser Chancell? He is, after all, facing an uphill battle of his own.>"
The Supreme One gave one of his knowing half-smiles at Lio's suggestion that Chancell needed help. "<I assure you, Grand Adviser Lio - that can wait.>" He went on: "<Even faced with the Fairy Queen and the forces of Hell, even assisted by little more than an unexalted and a thorisson, Chancell shall overcome. With or without reinforcement, he shall find the path to victory. As we speak, I have no doubt whatsoever that he already has a plan to secure that world under my control... and that he has already begun to implement it.>"
"<You guys are a bit early,>" Tomo said happily.
"<I always figure it's better to risk arriving early than to risk arriving late," said Eriko as she cast her gaze across the living room. Tomo's house had been filled with decoration for her birthday. While it certainly wasn't the first time Eriko had come to such a party, it had been a while since the last one... "<Anyway, this is for you.>" She and Junko handed her their respective gifts, still wrapped. Music CD from Junko, and my favorite book from me... Well, my favorite book from when I was nine. I think you'll like it, at least.
"<How many more people are supposed to come?>" asked Junko.
"<Well, there's Gosho and Takato, there's... Twelve more? Thirteen? Something like that. Come on, we don't need to wait till then to have fun!>"And they did have some fun, as other guest arrived one-by-one. Eriko felt that it didn't really hold a candle to reading a good book or taking the time to run further experiments, but she wasn't getting bored, either.
"<Gosho! Come in!>"
"<Takato! Come inside!>"
"<Rei! So glad to see you!>"
"<Kazu! You came!>"
Wait, what? Eriko turned her head. Sure enough, there he was, smug smile and all."<I don't believe it,>" she whispered to Junko. "<Why would she invite that jerk?>"
"<Well... He may be a jerk, but he's still a pretty cool guy, Eriko.>" To put it mildly.
"<Cool?! What the heck is cool about him?! He bullies people for kicks!>" Don't think about the dream don't think about the dream don't... She couldn't help but blush slightly."<I know, but...>" ...He's handsome, self-confident, badass, and has a way with words. And I'm wondering if you might actually be into him without realizing it. Are you secretly a tsundere, Eriko? "<Well, it's hard to explain...>"
Junko stopped talking as she noticed Kazu approaching them. "<My my. Wasn't expecting to see you here, gutsy girl.>"
"<Er... Hi, Kazu.>" Junko waved tentatively. Eriko simply stared daggers at him.
He went on: "<So, what do you want to talk about today? The Kunio talks might be getting old, the Akina talks we should probably save for when I break up with her... Hey, how about I break the ice by bullying that kid over there?>"
Eriko's mood worsened. "<You little piece of... Dammit, Kazu, what is wrong with you?!>"He laughed. "<What to say? I just love getting reactions from you!>"
Her voice began dripping with sarcasm. "<Sit down, study hard, and score 100 on a exam. Trust me, that will get a reaction from me.>"
He guffawed in response. "<See? You're comedy gold!>"
"<How fitting. You're stinking fecal matter.>"
He only laughed harder.
"<Wait, wait, back up,>" said Junko. "<Kazu, what were you saying about breaking up with Akina?>"
He stopped laughing, though he was still grinning. "<Well, I haven't broken up with her yet, but come on. She's pretty dull. I never thought it would last more than two weeks.>"
"<How charming,>" said Eriko. "<You broke up with your girlfriend just to have a short fling with someone you're not even interested in?>"
Retaining his amused expression, he replied: "<My girlfriend? Oh, you mean Seika. Meh, she's just another fling. Besides, we're back together anyway.>"
"<You just said you hadn't broken up with Akina yet!>"
"<Yes, I said that. Why are you repeating it?>"
"<You can't be dating Seika right after dumping her while still dating Akina!>"
"<Sure I can. That's what I'm doing. Haven't you been paying attention?>"
"<Do they even know?!>"
"<Akina doesn't, Seika thinks I'm dumping Akina to get back with her. I figure, why bother telling her I'm just stringing her along?>"
"<You... Goddamn... Little...>" Eriko paused. "<...You're trying to make me angry on purpose.>"
He raised his hands in mock-excitement. "<Is it working? Is it working?>"
She gave him a look of pure, undiluted disdain. "<I can punch your crotch from here, you know.>"
He laughed. "<That's surprisingly forward of you.>"
Seeing Eriko turning red in a disturbing mixture of embarrassment and rage, Junko hastily interrupted with a forced laughter. "<Ha ha. This is all very funny. Eriko, can I borrow Kazu for a minute?>"
"<Borrow? You can keep him.>"
As she left Junko and Kazu to talk, Eriko mentally lambasted herself. My jokes aren't particularly funny today, are they?
Once she felt Eriko was too far away to hear them over the sound of the party, Junko spoke up: "<Kazu... What's your game?>"
He raised an eyebrow. "<My game? I enjoy teasing Gutsy here. She's brave enough to talk back, and she's barrels of laughs when she's angry.>"
Junko looked him over. OK, Junko... Try not to screw this up. "<Look, if you and Eriko enjoy your banter... Okey-dokey. Buuuuuut... I'm kinda concerned.>"
"<Concerned? About what?>"
"<Eriko's done a lot for me.>" And for the entire city, but I can't tell you that. "<I owe her big-time, and I don't want her to get hurt. Being a bully is one thing, but this girl stuff? I hope you can tell Eriko's not someone you can date while having other girls at the same time.>"
"<I'm not exactly dating her.>"
He laughed out loud. "<Seriously? You think I want your brainy friend?>"
She shrugged. "<Hey, I'm just saying.>"
He chuckled. "<You're funny. No wonder you two hang together.>"
As he turned away and headed for the buffet, Eriko came back to Junko. "<What did you talk about?>"
"<Eh, nothing much.>" Just trying to set you up with the coolest boy in school. That won't make us even, but it's a start, no?
Langley, Virgina. Within the CIA headquarters:
John was not quite crude enough to whistle at her, but her nevertheless gave the woman a long, appreciative look as she went by. "Dude, who's the redhead?"
Bob looked away from his work. He had known John since college; heck, he had helped him get this job. He believed John could make a decent analyst. But for now, he was still "the new guy". As for the readhead in question... "You mean, the one who just entered the Ghost's office?"
"The very one."
"Uh-huh." Bob paused for a moment. "How do I put this... Well, look at it this way: John, think back to every James Bond, every Mission Impossible, every spy fiction you've ever read or watched. Then tell me: How much would you say it had to do with reality?"
"Hm... Well, they usually get the agency acronyms right. I'd say that's about it."
Bob grinned. "Bingo. You're learning fast. But... That woman? Her name is Helen Barker, and she's as close to a genuine super-spy as you're ever going to meet in the real world."
"Really. Over-achiever like you wouldn't believe. Speaks Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Dari, and probably more I don't know about. A fast-draw artist and crack shot, thanks to a zillion hours at the shooting range. Constantly keeps herself informed on just about everything. Smart as hell, badass like nobody's business. In one of her early assignments, she went undercover and brought down a major, major South-American drug-lord. After that, she got sent to Afghanistan... I could tell you about that for hours, but even I'm not sure which parts are facts and which are fiction. Bottom like, she's a field agent who lives and breathes the job."
"Wowza. What's she doing these days?"
"Not sure. I've heard she was on one of her rare vacations..."
Kurt Winston, CIA vice-director, had never sought to discourage the people under his supervision from calling him "the Ghost". As a kid, he had hated most of the nicknames that being an albino had earned him. As a member of an intelligence agency, though, it felt fitting. Flattering, even.
"Nice to see you again, Helen. I was wondering how long I could keep you away from work. I hope your vacation went well?"
"Pretty well, Kurt." She allowed herself a smile. After years of working under Winston, she liked to believe she could consider him a friend. "But I won't pretend I'm not eager to get to work."
"I wouldn't expect anything less. As it happens, we've got more than one front that could use competent help. Not only is Afghanistan becoming more 'interesting', but we suspect the existence of a new industrial espionage network operating from China..."
"Afghanistan is important, but there's only so much difference I could make there," she waved her hand dismissively. "And far from me to understate the importance of corporate espionage, but at the present time, I believe it is not the greatest priority."
"The Agency may consider it a priority."
"Yes, and you could assign me to work on it. And I'd comply. But it's been several years, Kurt, so let me ask you... What happened when Diego took those two feds as hostages?"
Kurt remembered the event. Two FBI agents, captured by the drug-lord that Helen had been dealing with at the time. "You turned Diego and his second-in-command against each other, freed the hostages during the ensuing chaos, set up bombs and smoke bombs, barricaded yourself with the hostages in the tower while the two sides were fighting, blew most of them up, and sniped the rest one-by-one while they were trying to get out of the smoke."
"You forgot the part where I preserved enough documentation to go after Diego's buyers. What I'm saying is... If you send me to China to make sure they don't steal ideas from Intel, I'll do my duty. But that would be such a waste. Especially when you know what I can accomplish when I'm willing to go above and beyond the call of duty."
He chuckled. "I'll give you that. So tell me, agent Barker... what do you want to do?"
"I thought you'd never ask." She pulled out a few documents and placed them before him. His expression shifted as he examined them.
"You're not saying..."
"I believe I am. This 'magic' crap in Japan... It's important. It's potentially huge. Bullet-proof defenses? Giant monsters that can take missiles and keep going? Teleportation? Even if we assume it's all fake - which would seem even harder to believe at this point - then the effort and resources that went into this are astronomical. Throw in Soul putting out the California fires, and, well. I'm virtually certain that, unless we start investigating this ASAP, we will kick ourselves over our lack of foresight in the not-so-distant future. We need to gather data, Kurt, and we need to start now."
He reclined back in his chair. "You make a good case... Though that will still need to be discussed with the rest of the board, as you can imagine. That said, Helen... Don't you think there are more appropriate agents to send there? You don't have a hint of Asian heritage. Do you even speak Japanese?"
She smiled. "You'd be surprised at how far one can get in Japan with just English. But the truth is, I can already hold basic conversations in Japanese."
"Oh yes. Part of that is from two dozen intensive hours of self-teaching. But mostly... Well, you might be interested in learning that Helen Barker, freelance journalist, has just spent a week in Okinawa, writing an article or two about its History."
That gave him pause. "Wait, wait, wait. What?"
She calmly smiled. "Quite honestly, that island's History is rather interesting. Japan officially declared it the Okinawa Prefecture in 1879..."
"What were you doing there?!"
"Learning the culture and language while building up a cover. I figured that in case we decide it's best not to look like I'm investigating the 'magic' cases, then I would need a different reason to be there. A journalist trying to write an article series about the four great islands of Japan seemed like a viable possibility."
"...The four great island. So..."
"I came back yesterday for a break, and to see Jenny. I'd intended to do Kyushu next."
"Helen, you were supposed to be on vacation."
"Well, yes. But you know I'm a workaholic."
"Be serious. Even you need time to relax."
"Occasionally. But events are progressing a bit too quickly to take that time now. Like I just said, I was intending to do Kyushu next... and yet, here I am instead, asking to officially start the assignment. Something new has come up."
"Murder. The guy responsible for the second Tokyo attack. He just gutted an office building in Phoenix."
"You already know?"
"The information is starting to leak... both to the media and Interpol. You know I keep tabs."
"It's worrying enough for Soul to play superhero on American soil. What we just had in Arizona was a terrorist attack on a scale surpassed only by 9/11... and not by much. Any hour now, the media shitstorm will start, and then..."
Kurt got pensive. "Fear. It'll be 2001 all over again. People will want an answer, and the govs will need to provide one. Probably not very long before we see an official force to investigate this. Possibly in cooperation with the one in Japan."
"Exactly. Even if we didn't want to get involved with this - and we'd be idiots to ignore it - it's not going to be long before the politicians force our hand. Better to get involved now, while we can still do it on our own terms."
"I see." He looked at her. "So you want us to send you to Tokyo. Are you sure about this, Helen? Isn't Jenny going to object, for one?"
"Jenny isn't going to have a say in it," she replied. "I'm under no illusion that our relationship will survive turning into a long-distance one. I intend to end it."
Though he seemed bothered by it, he made no objection. "Very well. It's your life. Anything else you want to tell me before I call up a board meeting, agent Barker?"
"Putting out fires, hastily arranging touristic journeys, dealing with the task force, struggling with unwanted sexual tension... It would seem that the life of a magical girl is busier than I had realized."
"Are you trying to be funny, Douchebaggio? Sometimes I can't tell with you."
"You realize, of course, how ill-thought your attempts to deal with Kazu here were. Your verbal attacks accomplished nothing more than further entertaining him. But perhaps, on a certain level, you enjoyed the banter yourself?"
"Tell me, my douchy nemesis... Don't you think discussing this with an underage teen is pretty freaking creepy? I'm just saying."
"Point taken, to be ignored when convenient. Come to think of it... That was the day of Murder's attack on Phoenix, no?"
"Oh yeah. I only learned about it after the fact. That should be the next bit..."
Author's note: I suppose this is a good place for some acknowledgements. I would like to thank Windy, whose character provided some of the initial inspiration for Monsoon; similarly, Helen Barker is, to a large extent, an expy of AStrangeGeek's character, Brenda Heller. My gratitude goes to both.