Saga of Soul
CHAPTER 12: PRESSURE
"<At least the cake was not a lie>", Eriko commented as they left the party. Junko, being less familiar with videogames and Internet memes, failed to grasp the joke.
"<I thought it was fun. You got to meet new people... You got to fight with Kazu...>"
"<...That's not exactly a positive, Junko.>"
"<Are you sure? You two keep picking fights with each other. Almost like you enjoy it on some level.>"
"<What?! Junko, he's the biggest jerk I've ever seen. Um, that hasn't tried to kill me, anyway.>"
"<That doesn't always matter...>"
"<Well, it should.>"
Junko preferred to leave it at that for now. OK, that's another step. Get them both to think more closely about the relationship. Then...
Eriko's phone suddenly rang. "<It's the bat-signal again.>" She answered. "<Hello, this is Soul.>"
"<Soul. This is inspector Aoyama. There is an important new development.>"
"<Hm. What is it?>" some nervousness crept into her voice.
"<There's been a new attack. It looks like Murder.>"
She all but felt her blood freeze.
"<I'm still here. But... Murder? W... Where?>"
"<In America. A city called Phoenix.>"
"<I...>" America? So shortly after I helped them with the fire? Is it just a coincidence, or are the villains following where I go? And what do I do now? Mother Aurora said not to fight with Murder, and last time I did, he curbstomped me. Should I sit this one out? He could kill hundreds, thousands... Hell, he could kill hundreds of thousands if he put himself to it. I... Just letting it happen wouldn't be right. "<I need to stop him. Thank you for the...>"
"<Wait, wait. The attack is already over. It was hours ago. We only learned it now because it's on the news.>"
"<Ohhhhh.>" She paused. "<Even so, I should probably go there...>"
"<Maybe. But I'd appreciate it if you dropped by here first.>"
In Phoenix, FBI agent Davidson was contemplating the site of Murder's attack.
"An office building, several companies present..." she mumbled to herself, "...why attack this place specifically? Random choice?"
"There you are!" her partner showed up. "I just got a call from Japan..."
"You could say that. Apparently, they managed to contact Soul, and..." he paused, his eyes suddenly growing wide as saucers.
"And what, Pitt?" She then noticed him pointing behind her. She turned around, only to see a white-clad figure float through a portal.
Her expression remaining unchanged, Davidson got a good look at the newcomer. "A superpowered heroine. Sure, why not. I've seen weirder."
Soul waved timidly, uncertain of how to proceed. "Ah... Greetings. I... I need to talk to the FBI?"
"Present." said Davidson as she displayed her badge. Peter fumbled for a couple of seconds to get his own out too. "Soul, I presume?""Y-yes. Correct." "Who were you expecting, Doctor Livingstone?" Nah. Too lame a joke. "The, er, the Japanese paranormal task force told me about the attack. I figured it might be for the best if I showed up to talk, figure out what happened and all."
"Really." Davidson gazed into her eyes. "Do they have means of contacting you?"
Soul paused for a moment. "I have recently provided them with one, yes."
"Interesting." Davidson paused for a moment. "What do you know about the attack?"
"Only what they told me. Which is basically what you told Interpol."
"Hm. Well, let me give you the picture..."
Junko had been waiting at the agreed location for nearly half-an-hour when Eriko came out of the alley."<Hey. Sorry that took a bit long.>"
"<No sweat. How did it go?>"
Eriko took a deep breath. "<An estimated body-count between 700 and 1500 so far. That's more than all the previous attacks combined - mostly because he had all the time he needed to keep going. The whole reason I contacted the police was to avoid this kind of situation. But, if the attacks start happening outside of Japan...>"
Junko winced. "<It's not your fault, Eriko.>"
"<I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure I could have stopped it even if I had known, but... Still.>" Not noticing as Junko hesitatingly stepped closer, she went on: "<From the looks of it, he set all the exits on fire to keep people from leaving the building, then started hunting them one-by-one as the place slowly burned down. He killed them with a blade, apparently, so it does sound like Murder... but on the other hand, anyone with magic could fake that pretty easily.>"
"<You mean... You don't think it's Murder?>""<I don't know. Murder's knife can cut through anything effortlessly, but the FBI says it didn't look like the blade did that with the bones. Like whoever did this used a regular knife.>" She let out a frustrated sigh. "<The Living Curse sounds like he's working for Downfall, the Phoenix killer looked like Murder, but we don't know that! Dammit, magic makes it so easy to falsify this stuff...>"
Awkwardly, Junko put a hand on her shoulder. "<It's gonna be all right, Eriko.>" I hope.
"<Maybe. Maybe.>" She paused. "<It won't for all the people in that building.>" She looked at her watch. "<We should probably get home quick before mom gets really worried.>"
My name is Helen Barker, and I'm a CIA agent.
The president has now made his speech about the Phoenix attack. All in all, he's said pretty much what I expected him to say. Blah blah terrible tragedy, blah blah moment of silence (which I did observe, of course), blah blah we will fight to protect human life in general and our nation in particular, blah blah international effort and cooperation with Japan to deal with this crisis. Really, what else was he supposed to say? Almost nothing is known about our enemies so far.
Still, this is serious business. Our enemies - exact number of factions unknown - make Al-Quaeda look like a joke in terms of threat levels. If they can teleport to any spot on Earth - which seems all too plausible so far - then what's to stop them from, for example, killing national leaders and plunging the world into chaos? We need to take the initiative, and take it now.
I almost called Jenny earlier to tell her I was back in town, then thought better of it. I still need the board to send me to Japan; if they do, I'm breaking up with her, and if I'm breaking up with her, then I don't want to meet her before that. It wouldn't be fair to show up, go on a date, and be a couple for two days, then suddenly tell her we're through.
A shame. I liked Jenny. She had a knack for having fun.
Oh well. I should probably visit my parents in the meanwhile. Haven't seem them in a while either.
"The problem," one Interpol agent explained to another, "is separating the relevant crimes from the noise. There are just too many knife-killings going in the world normally; identifying if Murder was responsible is hard unless there are witnesses."
"Have there been any confirmed kills from him since Phoenix?"
"Three over the last two days. But also over a dozen murders that could be his work... and those are just the ones we know about."
"I don't get it," said Katsutoshi as he went over the documents. Said documents included reports that both the Yakuza and Steel's own surveillance teams had made over the past few of days. "Those Black Skull thugs rob a bank for no good reason, practically moon the Yakuza on their own turf, start making blatant use of magic to cower rival gangs, and now they're on a recruitment drive. Are they insanely overconfident, or just plain stupid?"
"I'm guessing both," said Harris. "I'd be confident if I could block bullets and kill people with my mind. Still, those guys are lowlifes, common thugs... not exactly brainiacs."
"Nevertheless," said Victoria Steel, "I suspect they would not be going so far, so fast if they were left to their own devices. Downfall is clearly pushing them forward at a great pace." She looked over one of the transcripts. One of her teams had obtained it by aiming a long-range directional microphone at the Black Skull Gang's headquarters. "Given that the Living Curse is apparently a formerly normal gang member, and given the important reduction in the gang's numbers around the time he first displayed magical powers, I suspect the current recruitment drive is aimed at giving Downfall more cannon fodder with which to create mages. His attempts to take over the Tokyo underworld, however, look... suspiciously shoddy. It may be simple incompetence, but it is also entirely possible that he wants to be discovered. Perhaps he seeks to encourage a confrontation with his minions."
Katsutoshi sighed. "Fine. So he's raising his army of wizards. What of it?"
His mother replied without losing a beat. "It presents us with a unique opportunity. Namely, obtaining our own magic-powered agents."
"<I win by...>" the go club president looked over the game board, "<...nine and-a-half points. I think you should take another handicap stone next time.>"
"<Guess so.>" said Eriko. "<Good job. You're really getting better.>"
He seemed uneasy. "<Thanks... but...I'm not getting that much better.>" He let the implication hang in the air for a few seconds. "<Are you OK, Watanabe? You barely even show up anymore, and when you do, you look so tired.>"
"<It's OK. I've just been a bit busy lately.>" Spending several hours a day working on magical projects, barely having any time for myself... Worrying that Murder might be committing mass-slaughter somewhere as we speak, and I should be stopping him instead of playing a board game or surfing the Web... "<Aaaand... I guess I've had some trouble sleeping this week, but I'm fine.>" I mean, I've got apocalyptic anti-matter dreams and even more disturbing Kazu dreams to break up the monotony of nightmares about Downfall and Murder. I'm in no danger of getting bored. And hey, what's a little nervous breakdown?
He nodded. They weren't really close enough for him to inquire any further.
Meanwhile, in another part of the school, a conversation was taking place away from her ears...
"<Eriko and Kazu? Seriously?>" Tomo raised an eyebrow.
"<Well, think about it,>" said Junko. "<They keep starting fights with each other. He's really cute, and she's... special. She's certainly caught his interest, at least. I'm not saying they're into each other, or that they'd admit it anyway, but I think they could end up together.>"
"<Kazu has, like, a million girlfriends. Sometimes at once. I guess he could go for her for a while..>"
"<No.>" Junko surprised her with her firm tone. "<Eriko is special. If he's with her... He's gonna have to see that.>"
"<OK.>" Tomo was not entirely convinced, but was happy enough to shrug it off. "<Still, they're not together yet.>"
"<Which is where we come in.>" Tomo finally figured where Junko was going. "<We're going to get them together.>"
"<Yes! Exactly!>" Because Eriko deserves the best in life, and I'm going to get her the boyfriend everyone wants. It's the least I can do.
"<So you want us to be their matchmakers, because you figure they'll be cute together. And because, well, it's not like Eriko's going to get a boyfriend on her own.>" Tomo winked playfully.
Junko hesitated. "<Yeah. Pretty much.>" Sorry, Eriko, but it's true. You've never had a boyfriend, and at the rate you're going, that's not gonna change. "<So... how do we do it?>"
Jenny almost ran across the park to hug Helen. "Oh God I missed you so much!"
"I missed you too." There was a hint of sadness to Helen's tone. "So... how's work been treating you?"
"Phtbt. Same bullcrap as usual. Boss is still an idiot, the customers are still worse, but the hours are still halfway decent. By the way, we discovered this awesome club last week. I was looking forward to taking you there. You'll love it - they've got some of the best..."
"Jenny." Helen interrupted her. "There's something I need to tell you."
Jenny fell silent. Helen went on: "You know how things are getting crazy lately in the world. The Tokyo attacks, now the Phoenix one..."
"God yes. My folks won't shut up about how it's the End of Days, and I should hurry up and 'finish my lesbian phase' so I don't end up in Hell. Not that they'd shut up about it before, either."
"Right. What I mean is, this is story-of-the-century material here. It's going to define journalism for a while - possibly a pretty long while. And that means I need to be there to cover it."
Jenny's expression darkened in anticipation. "What do you mean by 'there'?"
Helen sighed. "I mean I need to get back to Japan ASAP, Jenny. I've already agreed to a couple of contracts."
"But... But you just got back!" Jenny whined, turning on the hurt puppy-dog eyes. "Can't you, I dunno, cover Phoenix or something? Or how the DC politicians handle it?"
"No. There are going to be zillions of American journalists handling that. I've agreed to cover the Japanese side of things. I'm needed there."
"I need you here." said Jenny... though in a defeated tone.
"I'm sorry. I really am. But I've made my choice. My plane leaves the day after tomorrow."
"How long will you be...?"
"...Much longer this time. Could be months, could be years. I... don't believe we still have a chance in these conditions."
"You're breaking up with me." Jenny spoke tonelessly.
"I'm afraid so."
Jenny remained silent for a moment, before finally saying the only thought she could conjure at the moment: "I love you."
Helen looked at her with some sadness, then her expression hardened. "You're a great person, Jenny. You have a wonderfully positive attitude. You know how to have fun in any situation. You're upbeat, and quite beautiful. I know you'll... find someone who'll make you happy. But I'll treasure the memories."
She held her hand for a moment. "Goodbye, Jenny. And good luck."
Jenny, teary-eyed, watched as she left. She barely even noticed the young man approaching from behind.
"Jen? Are you OK?"
Startled, she turned around. She was surprised to see one of her best friends. "Tom? What... What are you doing here?"
He looked concerned. "She... called me earlier. Said what she was going to do, and..." And figured you'd need a friendly shoulder to cry on. "I figured you'd need a friend."
She sobbed lightly. "Thanks."
He gave her a hug. "I'm sorry. About this, I mean. You don't deserve to be treated like that."
"It's OK," she said, perhaps more to herself. "I... kinda expected it to end this way." She went on. "Helen... Helen always put the job first. I've known that all along."
"<Greetings,>" said Soul as she portalled once again into the HQ of the Paranormal Crisis Task Force. About time they agreed on the official name.
"<Greeting.>" Hyosuke, as expected, was the one holding the Soul-signal. "<Thank you for taking the time to meet us.>"
"<No need to thank me. We have to, to work together to keep the world safe.>" She looked around as she said it. She was starting to recognize a few faces besides Aoyama and Koyama, but the Caucasian guy was definitely new.
"<I couldn't agree more!>" Koyama quickly interjected. "<And in this spirit of cooperation, allow me to present some new elements that will be working with the PCTF. We...>"
"<Since you've insisted on inspector Aoyama keeping the Soul-signal, he and I have been officially recruited into the Task Force,>" said Hiromasa with a huge smile.
"<Ahem.>" Koyama tersely stopped him, while staring daggers at the younger policeman. Good gods, Hiromasa, what I'd give for a chance to punch that shit-eating grin off your face... "<Anyway, as I was saying: Allow me to introduce Travis Walker, our new CIA attaché. Walker is here to help coordinate our efforts with those of the American government.>"
The American agent, after a very short moment of hesitation, stepped forward and tentatively shook Soul's hand. "<A pleasure to finally meet you, Miss Soul.>"
She displayed even more hesitation than him as she returned the handshake. The CIA? I suppose I should have expected it. Well, we're gonna need a planet-wide surveillance anyway, so I suppose that's a good thing. And this guy's Japanese seems good so far... "<I'm... glad to see more government agencies getting involved. I still feel terrible about Phoenix; if I had known what was happening before it was too late...>"
"<I was hoping to deal with that, yes,>" said agent Walker. "<I understand that the... 'Soul-signal'... allows the PCTF to inform you when your assistance is required, correct?>"
"<That's the reason I gave it to them, yes. But obviously, that only works if the PCTF knows I need to act.>"
"<Precisely. A large part of my job here will be arranging coordination between the PCTF and US law enforcement, so that you will be informed quickly in the event of an attack on American soil.>"
"<That's... good news. But what about the rest of the world?>"
"<If I may, agent Walker,>" said Koyama, "<The CIA is far from the only foreign agency we are working with. In particular, coordination with Interpol is one of our priorities.>""<I'm glad,>" she said, pausing for a moment. "<...Have there been any new developments concerning the Living Curse?>"
"<Possibly,>" said Hyosuke. "<Some of our undercover agents have been hearing rumors about him using his powers to cower small gangs into submission. Those rumors don't completely match each other, but they're enough to make us suspect he's aligned himself with a small-time gang around here,>" he indicated an area on a Tokyo map. "<We're currently making it a priority to obtain more information there.>"
"<Please do. I know it doesn't look like much, but this Living Curse business could be the biggest threat so far if we don't contain it soon.>"
"<I assure you,>" said Koyama, "<The PCTF will handle that. If your assistance is needed, we will be certain to call upon you.>"
You will if you see no other way, Koyama, Walker thought to himself. You're like an open book. You don't like the idea of depending on a complete unknown like Soul.
Understandable. I don't like it either. But I'm going to play nice. I'm going to try to stay on her good side. With any luck, I'll manage to learn something useful. And with any luck... so will our undercover agent. Godspeed, Barker.
"<You know, I've really been finding English classes easier lately,>" said Junko as they walked out of the classroom. "<I guess it comes from hanging out with you and your parents.>"
"<That's great.>" said Eriko. "<Now if we can just find a family of mathematicians for you to spend the holidays with...>"
Junko forced a laugh. "<Anyway. Do you think we'll have time for a few more 'Pretty Cure' episodes this evening?>"
Eriko considered it for a moment. "<I don't really think so... Well, maybe one.>" If I cut even further into my Internet routine. What little is still left of it. "<I mean, I've promised the go club to help out today, there's Monday's History test, I need to work some more on Monsoon's project, and we both need to go to bed early so we can visit Los Angeles tomorrow morning.>" She made a few glances around as she spoke, making sure no-one was hearing their conversation.
"<I guess, yeah. Still, have you thought about it? The show, I mean?>"
"<A bit. It sure is different, what with the hand-to-hand combat. I don't think it's possible to boost my dexterity like Pretty Cure, but... the Kaiju did have a strength increase. I suppose there's no reason I couldn't do the same. I'll mention it to Monsoon next time we meet...>"
"<Good idea!>" Junko's smile got wider. She looked around quickly. "<Hm. No Kazu in sight. Guess you won't get more of his flirting today.>"
"<Flirwhaaat!?>" Eriko's face looked like her left cheek was desperately reaching for her eyebrow, while her lower jaw wasn't quite certain what to do with itself.
"<You know... The way he always seeks you out, always tries to get a reaction from you...>"
"<Junko, he only does it because he gets some sick, perverse satisfaction from offending my sense of right and wrong!>"
"<Oh, Eriko.>" Junko facepalmed. "<He's a boy. When a boy goes to this much trouble getting a girl's attention... any dumb excuse will do.>"
"<I... You're not... I can't believe I'm hearing this!>"
"<OK, fine. I'll shut up now.>"
"<Gah!>" Eriko pressed forward. As she did, she couldn't see Junko doing a silent one-second victory dance behind her.
In another part of the school, Tomo was handling her own side of the matchmaking strategy."<Hey Kazu.>"
"<Looking good today.>"
"<Thanks! I'd return the compliment, but my folks raised me not to lie.>"
"<Oh ha ha ha.>"
"<Anything you wanted to say?>"
"<Mostly, I was wondering how your girlfriends were doing.>""<My girlfriends? Right now that would be...>" he did a pensive pose. "<...Akina and Seika. What about them?>"
"<You're still with them?>"
"<For now, yeah. Getting a bit bored. Why're you asking?>"
"<I guess I was trying to see if there would be an opening in your schedule. You know, between the time you dump them and when you get with Watanabe.>"
He laughed loudly. "<Why does everyone think I'm going to date Gutsy-Girl?>"
"<Well, maybe you won't...>" She let her words hang in the air for a moment, "<...but you might. I mean, she is into you.>"
Still grinning, he raised an eyebrow. "<You're assuming a lot just from a few high-and-mighty speeches.>"
"<Come on, Kazu. She wouldn't get this angry if she wasn't attracted to you.>"
"<Right. You're sure you're not really here to set me up with her?>"
Oooh, busted. "<Yeah, as if. I think she'd rather chew on broken glass than admit it.>"
"<Rrrrright. Hers.>" She rolled her eyes (making certain he could see it) and turned around. OK, that went well enough. Hope Junko's done her part.
While Junko and Tomo were plotting to get a science nerd and a bad boy together, "freelance journalist" Helen Barker was in her hotel room, having a phone conference with CIA colleagues.
"I think the PCTF got this much right - previous attacks didn't look like they cared about localization within the city, but this is different. I don't know if Murder followed Soul to America, or just went there on a lark... but this Living Curse seems to be operating in a specific neighborhood. The bank robbery and the rumors of his underworld power-plays - if they're true - seem to indicate he's working in a specific area. It could be Downfall, or whoever, just trying to establish a power base... but it's not really the most efficient way to accomplish that."
"Soul thinks he might be trying to train his own army of magic-users," said Walker. "She seems to consider that a very bad thing."
"It would make her job a lot harder," Helen smirked, "though there may be other reasons. Unfortunate that she is not more talkative."
"I'll try to get her to open up a bit more, but not so early. Too much initial pressure might scare her off."
"Then maybe you need to avoid being the one to apply the pressure.""Meaning?"
"You said Koyama doesn't like depending on her. Maybe we can maneuver him into being the one to ask questions. Be the bad cop to your good cop, so to speak."
"Not a bad idea, but I'll need to know more about Koyama to pull that off."
"It's not the only option. From the videos, it looks like she's not too comfortable with public speaking. Maybe we can convince her she needs to hold a press conference, if only to keep people from panicking. She might get nervous enough to let something slip."
"An interesting idea," said 'the Ghost', "but not something we can depend on. That said... If Downfall is really teaching humans how to use magic..."
"You're already thinking about adding such powers to our own arsenal." said Helen.
"Well of course you are. So am I. If powers like this become a lasting geopolitical element, America won't remain a superpower without them. Keeping them out of the wrong hands is a priority... but so is getting them into the right hands."
"...Yes. Pretty much."
"Hence, discovering how the Living Curse got his powers is no less important than stopping him. Assuming he's genuinely human."
"...We may soon miss the days when that was a safe assumption."
As she patrolled the street, Maiko idly pondered that a week from now would be the second anniversary of her joining the Tokyo police. All things considered, this year had been better than her first one; she was learning what to expect, and how to deal with the various situations she came across.
Nevertheless, when she saw a huge portal open and a monstrous creature step out through it, she froze for several moments.The monster was ten seconds into its rampage when she called her station to inform them of a new paranormal attack.
"<Alert! A kaiju has been detected attacking the South of the Nakano district!>" the alarm was blaring across the PCTF HQ.
Cursing to himself, Koyama ran out of the men's room. Passing Walker (who was talking through his cell phone), he passed by Hyosuke.
"<Suzuki! Get in touch with the military, now! Aoyama! Be ready to call that goddamned magical girl if things go sour!>""<Already did.>" Hyosuke held out the Soul-signal.
Eriko, for herself, had been in the middle of literature class when her phone had started vibrating. She had quickly checked the screen to confirm her fears: The call was from the Soul-signal.Great. Awesome timing. Just what I needed. Wincing, she had raised her hand.
"<What's the matter, Watanabe?>"
"<I'm, I'm really sorry to interrupt, but I have to go to the bathroom. May I... may I leave?>"It had been a frustrated and embarrassed Eriko who had finally answered her cell phone. "<Soul here. What's the matter?>" This had better be important!
"<South of the Nakano district.>" had come inspector Aoyama's voice. "<We have another kaiju attack.>"Less important! Less important! I want something less important! "<...what does it look like?>"
"<I don't have a video feed yet, but supposedly, four legs and heavy armor.>"
"<Understood. I'm getting there.>"
"<You do that. The Self-Defense Force is already on its way.>"
"They're already calling both Soul and the Self-Defense Force," Walker explained on the phone, "and there's a chopper headed there. We should have a video feed in a few minutes."
"You're saying it's another giant monster. Any descriptions?" asked Winston.
"It walks on four and has some kind of protective shell."
"...They're being attacked by a giant turtle?"
"Hey, I'm just repeating."
"Whatever it looks like, I intend to see it with my own two eyes," said Helen.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I'm getting on my bike right now and getting there."
"Barker, have you lost your mind? You can't... It's a giant monster than can take rocket blasts, not an Al-Quaeda agent!"
"I'm not going there to shoot it. I'm going there to observe. See if there's anything we've been missing so far."
"<Yeah, I can see it,>" said Monsoon, while Soul focused on creating herself shields. "<If it's like the previous construct, you shouldn't have too much trouble... Just stick to the skies, and it won't be able to hurt you. But be careful - on the off-chance that it's a mage who's changed his body's shape, be ready to avoid blasts at first.>"
"<Understood. How bad is the damage so far?>"
"<Eh... a few buildings getting destroyed by its tail.>"
"<See for yourself.>"
Back in the classroom, Junko was finding herself completely unable to pay the teacher any attention, nervously looking at Eriko's empty seat instead.
It's a crisis, isn't it? You're out there fighting another bad guy, aren't you, Eriko? Be OK. Please be OK.
My name is Watanabe Eriko, and I'm facing a giant, reinforced ankylosaurus.
OK, it's not actually an ankylosaurus, but that's the first thing that springs to mind when I see this creature. It's... If anything, it's even larger than the last monster. I guess it can afford to be, walking on all four as it does. Its carapace looks extra-thick... like a living tank, except tanks are less armored. And it's angrily swinging that huge mass at the end of its tail around, crushing buildings like an overpowered wrecking ball.And so, as I, dressed in an improbable costume, contemplate some 200 tons of death on legs... I almost burst in laughter realizing that I'm still peeved about missing class because of this.
Is this what my life is going to be like from now on? Fighting monster of the week after monster of week, lying to people about what I do with my time, working myself into exhaustion with this Peter Parkeresque routine... at least, until Downfall, Murder, or another jackass gets a good shot in and finishes me?
Because, yes, I've almost gotten killed three times lately, and I try not to lose it, but I'm definitely losing sleep. Throw in all the work I need to do, that freaky Kazu dream, plus not knowing how to handle the police, and... at times, I feel like I'm going to explode.
But right now, people are getting killed by a giant pseudo-dinosaur, so maybe I should save the catatonia for another time.
Flying at high speed, an anvil hit the creature. Missing the head, it ricocheted harmlessly off its back. The creature, from the looks of it, was not even aware of the attack.
Two more anvils followed. The third one finally hit the head, causing the monster to look around for a moment, then keep going.
Crud. Am I going to have to pull the same trick as last time to defeat it?Still oblivious to her, the monster proceeded to angrily swing its weaponized tail at a nearby building.
Oh crap oh crap oh crap... Quick! With little time to think, she created a portal in front of the building, right where the tail was striking. The mass of carapace and bone went through the portal, harmlessly hitting the air.
Unfortunately, that only resulted in a confused monster striking again. She managed to deflect the second attack, but the third one broke through steel and concrete, causing massive damage.
"<Dammit, dammit, dammit!>" Soul looked around, noticing now the panicked civilians running away as a couple of policemen were trying to handle the evacuation. There were a few sirens blaring. A few bodies; some blood. Killing this thing is less urgent than protecting the people. If I can use my portals to immobilize it...Another portal opened - one end right where the construct's back was, the other one leading into the vacuum of space.
The immense pressure differential, sucking the monster upward as it did, slowed it down for several seconds before it wrestled free and walked away, stepping on a few cars as it did.
Oh come on. I... I guess it's just too big and massive for that to work. Wait... Maybe if I just try to hold the right part...
Once again, Soul opened a portal into space - this time, the other end sucking in the creature's tail. Suddenly pulled backward, the creature angrily roared (or at least tried to; it sounded more like a shriek); unfortunately, it proved strong enough to pull itself free once again.Just great. I can't force it to hold still, I can't stop it from wrecking the place short of actually killing it, and I'm not sure I can kill it. Wait... Maybe if I turned it on its back, like a turtle? ...Nah. Even if I managed to do that, it probably could get right back on its feet with that tail. It's got magically-boosted strength, after all. So...
It was then that she noticed the military helicopters reaching the scene. The PCTF's military branch! ...or rather the branch of the Self-Defense Force that works with the PCTF. Whatever. I'm just glad to have some help here.
Inside the classroom, the teacher paused. "<Miss Watanabe is taking a long time to come back. Can anyone...>"
Junko's hand shot upward instantly. "<I can go look for her!>""<No no, I'm fine, I'm fine, just... fine.>" Eriko insisted as she sat back at her desk. As she did, she couldn't help but shudder. So much blood and gore...
Even with her motorcycle, agent Barker had more than a little trouble riding into the danger zone. Despite the police's best efforts to smooth the sudden evacuation, gridlocks had formed very quickly as everyone tried to escape the area - and one agent tried to reach it.
Still, she thought as she came in sight of the giant reptile, I shouldn't complain. It's a stroke of luck that the attack took place so close to my location.
She gave the scenery a good look. Hm. Looks like most of the casualties will be from buildings that collapsed before evacuation.
"Barker! Barker, can you hear me?" Her cell phone had been plugged to a headset, freeing her hands.
"I hear you. I can also see the creature. Looks a bit like an akylosaurus from here."
"An... Is that a dinosaur?"
"Yeah, the ones who use their tails like a flail."
"Just don't get close to it."
"I'm not suicidal, Winston. And from the looks of it, the Self-Defence Force's choppers are already here."
"Great. What are they doing?"
"Let's see..." She pulled out binoculars. "Those are those infantry transport helicopters. They're opening the choppers' bay doors to let the soldiers inside aim missile-launchers at the monster."
"I guess they're learning from the previous fight."
"Fine, but is it working?"
"I don't think so. It's leaving scorch marks, but I don't think they're injuring the damn thing. Too heavily armored. Wait... Oooh."
"I think Soul just nailed the monster with an energy blast."
"Did that stop it?"
"No, but I think it made it a little bit madder than it already was."
"Hm. I wonder why she doesn't just do the same thing as... Wait. I think Soul just landed."
"What is she doing?"
"I'm off to find out."I don't think that plasma blast gave it more than a first-degree burn, and maybe not even that, Soul thought as she landed a safe distance away from the construct. The military can't stop it either. It's not like the first kaiju; rockets won't hurt it. So I guess I need to pull the railgun trick again... Except this time, I can't keep it immobilized while I prepare it. I just hope it doesn't cause too much damage while I cast the spells.
It only took a few seconds to prepare the metallic rod and the ramp to hold it, but the spells that would turn it into a projectile were noble magic, and required time.
A fast-food establishment was obliterated. She kept focusing.
A rocket hit the construct in the head. It shrieked angrily, hitting a bus so hard it flew in the air and hit the third floor of the building across the street.
She kept focusing."You're trying to kill it the same way as the previous one?" Came the voice from behind her. She turned around to see a red-headed Western woman on a motorcycle; most of her head was obscured by her helmet.
"Yes." Who the hell are you, and why aren't you getting away from here?
The woman took a few pictures. A hotel building collapsed. "Why aren't you immobilizing it this time?"
"I tried. Doesn't work; it's too massive."
"Sorry, but I need to focus."Helen Barker, understanding, said no more, instead observing and photographing; as the monster smashed a few more cars and buildings in its angry rampage, Soul had all but finished casting her spell...
"It turned around! I can't hit its head from this angle!"
"Ah. Any way you can make it turn?"
"I need to stay here and focus on the spell, or I'll need to start all over again!"
Helen didn't say a word. She did, however, drive her motorcycle some twenty meters away before speaking into her phone. "Walker, listen closely..."
In the PCTF HQ, Koyama was nervously observing the video feed of the battle when Walker (who seemed to be spending the time relaying events to his CIA colleagues on the phone) approached him.
"<Commissioner, I need to speak to the people in charge of the assault now.>"
"<I have them on this line, but, why...>"
"<You'll see.>" A moment later, Walker was explaining himself to the Self-Defense Force. "<From the video feed, it looks like Soul is trying the same trick that killed the last kaiju. But the kaiju turned around after she landed; maybe she can't hit the head from that angle. You guys need to make that dinosaur turn around again.>"
Koyama listened silently as the military promised to give it a try.
Still holding the spell and waiting for an opening, Soul barely noticed the English-speaking woman coming back next to her, still taking pictures.
She did, however, notice when several of the military choppers flew into position, shooting with several bazookas at once from roughly the same angle, hitting the ground next to the creature's head. That was enough to get its attention, causing it to turn around...
Finally! With some relief, she let the shot out. The metal rod flew at supersonic speed, striking the construct's forehead dead-center.It got... approximately fifty centimeters in? Something like that.
Not enough to kill the monster, anyway. If anything, it seemed more enraged than ever.
"<I don't believe this!>" Soul shouted angrily. "<What do I need to do, aim for the eyes this time?! Get into close range? Maybe...>"
Shrieking again, the construct swung its tail, destroying a bookstore.Helen Barker watched as Soul twitched, then raised her fists in the air, shouting angrily: "<OK, that's it! I've had it! At least one thing around here is going to explode!>"
My name is Watanabe Eriko, and I'm going to blow this fucker the hell up.It's not even going to be very hard. I've been thinking about this possible tactic. I didn't want to use it yet, because it's potentially messy and involves immense forces that I haven't really had the time to test, but I'll bet you your intestines that it's going to work, you goddamn kaiju.
It's simple, really. All I need to do is open a portal. One end opens inside your huge, easy-to-target body.
The other end? Somewhere around the bottom of the freaking Marianna Trench. The deepest part of the world's oceans.
You get what that means, you stupid overgrown lizard? The portal I'm opening inside you has a surface of several square meters, and they all connect to an area that is subjected to over a thousand atmospheric pressures. That means that the water is pushing inside you with the pressure of several dozen kilotons.
Die by the math, you bastard! Die! Die! Die!
There was a short beat. The creature convulsed for a moment.
Then it exploded.
It was a rather messy affair. A veritable geyser of blood, guts, carapace and sea water that exploded upward (Soul later regretted not orienting the portal downward instead). One of the choppers was hit by organic shrapnel, and forced to execute an emergency landing (thankfully, the entire crew survived). Monster guts covered the streets.
Still taking pictures, Helen noticed the shock on Soul's face. She moved closer in. "Hey, are you all right?"
"I... I'm fine." She turned away. "I, I'm perfectly fine. I think I need to go."
As the magical girl portalled away, Helen surveyed the massive mess before her.
"Barker? Barker, are you there?"
"I'm just peachy, Winston."
"Walker says the creature... exploded, or something. What just happened?"
"Let's say I have a pretty interesting report to make. But I should probably get away from here first, before the police closes the area completely..."
Junko had been waiting nervously in the corridor overlooking the classroom, waiting for Eriko's return while checking the rapid news development on her cell phone.
A kaiju... That's OK, right? Eriko can handle kaijus. She defeated the last one without getting a scratch. They can't hurt her, the way Downfall and Murder did.
But what if it's not just a kaiju this time? Those monsters are created by the Circle of Wisdom. What if the Circle's mages are also there? What if...
Her worried train of thought was interrupted as the broom closet opened, with her adoptive sister stepping out of it.
"<Eriko!>" She rushed in to hug her. "<Are you OK?>"
"<I'm fine, I'm fine, I...>" Eriko broke the embrace suddenly, running into the bathroom.
A few minutes later, both girls reentered the classroom.
"<There you are!>" said the teacher. "<What took you so long?>"
"<I'm sorry, I...>" Eriko trailed off.
"<She felt sick,>" said Junko, "<She had to throw up.>" Technically, that was true.
Eriko's pallor and sickened face lent credence to the story. It was with a worried tone that the teacher suggested that she had to the infirmary.
A few minutes after Soul's departure, the gigantic image of a hooded figure once again appeared in the skies, broadcasting its message above the bloodied streets:"PEOPLE OF EARTH! ONCE AGAIN, THE CIRCLE OF WISDOM MUST SPEAK TO YOU.
IT HAD BEEN OUR HOPE THAT, FACED WITH THEIR OWN POWERLESSNESS IN THE PRESENCE OF MAGIC, YOUR PLANET'S GOVERNMENTS WOULD ACCEPT OUR RULE. ALAS, YOUR ELITES ARE TOO ARROGANT, AND HAVE BEEN MAKING FUTILE ATTEMPTS TO FIGHT THAT WHICH THEY CANNOT EVEN COMPREHEND. THEY LEAVE US NO CHOICE BUT TO ESCALATE THIS WAR, UNTIL THEY AT LAST ACCEPT TO PUT YOUR INTERESTS ABOVE THEIR OWN.
WE REGRET EVERY DEATH THAT HAS OR WILL RESULT FROM THIS UNFORTUNATE SITUATION. HOWEVER, WE CAN ALSO SEE THAT EVERY DAY THAT PASSES BRINGS EVEN MORE DEATH THAN OUR ACTIONS WILL CAUSE: THOUGH YOUR LEADERS REFUSE TO CONSIDER OUR OFFER, WE HAVE THE POWER TO ELIMINATE EVERY DISEASE. WE CAN STAVE OFF FAMINE AND DROUGHT. WE CAN MAKE HEAVEN ON EARTH... BUT NOT AS LONG AS THE GOVERNMENTS OPPOSE US.
FURTHERMORE, EVEN IF IT WERE NOT FOR THOSE ISSUES, YOUR WORLD NEEDS THE CIRCLE OF WISDOM'S PROTECTION: THOUGH YOU HAVE ONLY BEGUN TO FEEL THEIR DEPREDATIONS, THERE ARE SCORES OF SUPERNATURAL CREATURES OUT THERE THAT WISH NAUGHT BUT ILL UPON MANKIND. GENOCIDAL DEMONS, SUCH AS DOWNFALL, MAKE THE WORST AMONG HUMANS APPEAR SAINTLY. DECEITFUL FAIRIES WISH TO HOARD MAGIC FOR THEMSELVES, KEEPING MANKIND IGNORANT. AMBITIOUS ELYSIANS CARE ONLY FOR THEIR OWN AGENDAS, SEEKING CONTROL AT BEST - OR DESTRUCTION AT WORST, AS EXEMPLIFIED WITH MURDER. THE CIRCLE OF WISDOM STANDS AGAINST ALL OF THESE - A BROTHERHOOD OF HUMANS, FOR HUMANS! ONLY WITH US, CAN YOU EVER BE SAFE!"Back at the PCTF HQ, Hyosuke raised an eyebrow. "<Fairies?>"
"<Yes, we were at school the whole time,>" Junko told Mrs. Watanabe on her cell phone. "<We're fine. Eriko felt a little sick in class, but she's OK now; just lunch not really agreeing with her stomach.>"
She closed the cell phone and looked at her friend. At least, I hope you're fine. You actually went and cancelled your time with the go club for today. You never cancel your commitments. What happened back there that was so bad?
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Junko finally spoke again: "<Sooo... do you want to see Monsoon on the way home?>"
"<No.>" Eriko paused for several seconds. "<I don't want to... go over it right now. I'll debrief with her later. Tomorrow, maybe. Not now.>"
"<OK.>" Junko paused for a moment. "<I... guess this isn't the right day for 'Pretty Cure'.>"
"<I, I promise we'll watch more of it soon. Just, ergh, not today.>"
"<Sure, no problem. You look like you need something to take your mind off this stuff.>" I'll get you something mindless and funny, I guess. Harmless relaxation. That's what you need right now, from the looks of it.
"<Yeah, I guess.>"Uncomfortable silence reigned once more.
Parliament member Peter Cook was certainly not the most important political figure in London, and perhaps not even in the top hundred, but he certainly had some clout.
Visiting his wife at the hospital, he reflected, not for the first time, that his power seemed cruelly meaningless in this room.Of course, he wasn't saying it out loud. He was here to try to cheer her up, not depress her.
"...and it turned out, that was exactly what Dr. Fleming had said herself!" Mrs. Fleming concluded her vaguely-amusing anecdote. He forced his most sincere-sounding laugh - you got your humor where you could in a cancer ward. "...So, how did today's vote go?"
He sighed. "412 against. I knew we weren't going to pass it, but I'd been hoping it would be less overwhelming. Oh well... I guess we'll at least be free to handle more urgent matters. I heard that..."
There were shrieks outside the room. Terrified shouts. "What in the name of..."Before he could finish his sentence, the door fell off its hinges. Inside the room stepped a figure in a concealing white hood.
Later on, security cameras would confirm that the stranger's attire was similar to the one seen in both of the Circle of Wisdom's public announcements. One witness even claimed the voice was identical. But for the incident's duration, Peter Cook was not in the state of mind to make the connection.
"Who... who are you?"
"I am a messenger. I am a savior. I am a healer. I am a mage." The stranger's accent was hard to place. "And today, though you have certainly not earned it... I shall make a show of my benevolence."Following the incident, Dr. Fleming's diagnostic was clear: Near as anyone could tell, there was not a single cancerous cell left in Mrs. Cook's body.
My name is Helen Barker, and I'm going to need to figure you out, Soul.
I saw how you acted during the crisis. Not bad... but not very experienced, either. That much was clear. And from the looks of it... I think you're a bit young to be involved with this mess. A precocious child. I saw how shocked you were at the end. I also saw your anger and frustration. I don't think you're in a good place right now, and probably haven't been for a while.
So now I find myself wondering... Will you break, Soul? And if so, when?
"<To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Miss Steel?>" the general asked. He was smiling politely, but in reality, he was not particularly happy for the interruption in his schedule. Given the after-noon's fiasco, he had more than a little work to do...
"<It concerns the Paranormal Crisis Task Force, general.>" That was enough to get his attention. "<In today's battle, the Self-Defense Force showed it would learn from previous engagements. Unfortunately, so did the enemy.>"
He looked at her squarely in the eyes; she returned his gaze. "<That is true. We are, for now at least, fighting with very limited intel.>"
"<An unfortunate reality. However, as the battle has proven, the Self-Defense Force will need to adapt its tactics and arsenal to the new threats.>"
He nodded, wondering where she was going with this.
"<As it happens, my own R&D departments have been studying the question of how to effectively deal with our enemies.>" She paused. "<We have several designs that may be of interest to your forces, including one working prototype.>"
That gave him pause. "<What kind of weapons are you talking about? We know nothing about the enemy so far!>"
"<On the contrary, general. Information is available to those who observe carefully.>"
My name is Watanabe Eriko, and I'm trying to get some sleep.
I should be happy, right? I won. I didn't get hit even once - heck, I don't think it even realized I was there until I killed it. And my crazy plan worked; it really did.I shouldn't be so disturbed by a little blood.
I mean, it was only one or two hundred tons of gore exploding across the street. My enemies kill people. I shouldn't freak out just because I lost my temper and popped a living creature like a fleshy balloon.
Actually, I think the temper thing bothers me even more than the fleshy balloon thing. I mean... I consider myself this calm, nice person. The reasonable one. Is some stress really all it takes for me to go psycho and act in anger? Am I overreacting to this? Am I more flawed than I'd realized? Am I...
...What kind of person am I?
"Ah, I was wondering when we would get that lovely shade of self-doubt."
"Seriously, Douchebaggio, is MSTing my life the best entertainment you can get nowadays? Is there nothing on TV?"
"I wouldn't go so far. They do still have the news. Granted, Soul hasn't made any public appearance lately."
"I wasn't exactly the only person trying to stop clowns like you."
"Oh yes. I tremble at night, worrying about what Junko will do if she ever gets her hands on me."
"Oh ha. Ha. Ha."