Saga of Soul


My name is Watanabe Eriko, and I've been feeling invincible since Sunday.

I imagine the feeling won't last forever, but... I want to keep some of it. If I ever start doubting myself the way I've been doing lately, if I get overwhelmed by all my responsibilities, if the enormity of the situation starts weighing on me, if my enemies look unstoppable... I want to remember, in those moments, just how awesome I felt when I had my epiphany and kicked Downfall's demonic ass all over Tokyo. I want to spend more time being the Junior Goddess of Kick Your Ass, and less time being mopey and helpless.

But since Mother Aurora is apparently here to meet me, I'll bet the next few minutes will have me mostly feeling confused and frustrated. Ah well. Can't win them all.

"<It is good to see you again, children,>" said Mother Aurora. "<I do believe, Soul, that congratulations are in order for your heroic defeat of Downfall. With him neutralized, one less deadly shadow looms over your world.>"

"<Thanks. Um, you're not too worried about the whole risk of the PCTF learning how to get magic? Because I'm pretty sure the cat's out of the bag by this point.>"

Aurora didn't visibly frown, but she paused for a second. "<Under the current circumstances, it could not be avoided. Between the actions of Downfall and the Circle of Wisdom, this was going to happen too soon anyway.>"

"<Plus, your world's population is huge,>" said Monsoon. "<So even without all that, somebody was gonna luck into it sooner rather than later.>"

Eriko raised an eyebrow. Our population is exceptionally big? Does that mean most worlds are pre-industrial?

"<Nevertheless,>" Aurora went on, "<it would be for the best if you could convince your governmental allies to keep a lid on the matter for as long as possible.>"

Eriko shrugged. "<With all due respect, Mother Aurora, that whole 'magic makes for cheap WMDs' argument can only go so far, especially when people can get magic by accident.>"

"<Perhaps. There are further reasons to limit the use of magic.>"

"<Oh? Such as...?>"

The fairy queen remained silent for a moment. "<You are proving yourself fairly mature and strong for your age, child. Keep this up, and I promise that explanations will be forthcoming in the near future.>"

"<...Thank you for the amazing vote of confidence there.>"

"<I understand your frustration, Soul, but no disrespect is meant. Full knowledge of what is at stake and what it implies has, on many occasions, done more harm than good. You are, however, doing a fine job of convincing me you can handle it.

Speaking of which: Monsoon has shown me recordings of your battle with Downfall. That ultimate attack was uncannily devastating. What happened, precisely?>"

"<Oh... Well, I used the rotation of the Earth. Since it's round and all, different parts are going in a different direction all the time, right? So I opened a portal to the ocean on the other side of the planet.>" She paused. "<Well, not exactly the antipodes. I aimed it at the equator, to get the maximum speed difference. Hence the supersonic water jet. And hence the epic ass-kicking!>"

Mother Aurora seemed lost in thought, so Eriko went on: "<Of course, I had to get it just right - the portal on the other end had to be facing West, or it wouldn't have worked. Their West, obviously. I'd also considered having the portal go a bit lower - get basalt instead of water - but I ran the numbers, and with that kind of mass, the energy release would have gotten uncomfortably close to the order of magnitude of small nukes. I didn't want to level the neighborhood in order to save it, y'know?>"

"<This is impressive,>" Mother Aurora spoke again. "<Mages in centuries past have thought of weaponizing the pressure of the oceans, but I am not aware of anyone doing the same to the Earths’s rotation. Your cleverness is commendable.

However, I would strongly request that you rely on such clever tricks only when they are absolutely necessary. Do not attempt such an attack – or another show of creativity – where a more conventional spell would suffice.>"

"<What? Why?!>"

"<Because these tricks can be replicated. Use them too often, and our enemies will figure them out, then appropriate them.>" Mother Aurora paused. "<The method you used this time would be difficult to use. Aiming one end of the portal at the enemy and the other at the opposite side of the planet, making sure it is aimed Westward, getting the correct altitude… To most minds, it would be challenging to do all this in heat of battle. But it is not impossible. As such, I would recommend that you keep it for desperate situations.>"

"<…You make a valid point.>" Eriko sighed. "<What now?>"

"<I am nearing completion of the current phase of the counteroffensive plan,>" the fairy queen replied. "<For now, you need to keep holding the fort, and prevent massacres of the civilian population. Soon, I will be moving onto the next phase.>"

"<But you’re not going to tell me what it will be, or what the current one is.>"

"<Heck, Eri, we can only make educated guesses about what it will be!>" said Monsoon. "<I mean, I think I know, but a large part of what we’re doing right now is gathering information so that we can actually know what we’re doing!>"

Aurora didn’t blink at the interruption. "<In the meanwhile, the world needs your continued protection. Good work.>" She paused. "<One more question, though. The Golden Knife… I imagine that it is nowhere to be found?>"

"<It’s like you figured,>" Eriko sighed. "<I told the PCTF Murder can recall it. Last time I checked, they weren’t done sifting through the rubble, but it sure didn’t look like it was there. I’m guessing Murder was probably watching the whole thing?>"

"<Gee, y’think?>" Monsoon giggled. "<I think you had more live views than the Moon landing. Besides, Murder wouldn’t lend his knife to someone out of the goodness of his heart. I’ll give ya 9-to-1 he had a scrying spell on it to spy on Downfall.>"

"<…certain that every Japanese man, woman and child will sleep more soundly, knowing that this demon is behind bars. Our enemies may think themselves invincible, but their arrogance – this devilish arrogance Downfall displayed for the world to see – their arrogance shall be their undoing. They can be beaten. They will be beaten. Be they Downfall’s cultists, be they Murder, or be they the murderous Circle of Wisdom, let them know that our nation is no easy picking, nor is it defenseless, nor is it without allies! Research by national efforts is already making great strides into reverse-engineering our enemies’ weapons and powers; between- >"

Koyama muted the TV as Hyosuke, Hiromasa, and several others reached his office. "<Come in, gentlemen.>"

"<Listening to the prime minister’s speech?>"

"<Yes. He was… rather pleased with my report. The PCTF’s discovery may save Japan,>" he replied, with more than a little pride.

"<Or even the world,>" said the PSIA representative. "<Ironic that we owe it to Downfall. Teaching magic to Tamai and the others like he did…>"

"<Downfall himself, on the other hand, isn’t talking much,>" said Hyosuke. "<Well, actually, that’s not true. He talks a lot, he just won’t answer our questions. Much as he hates being here, we don’t seem to scare him much.>"

"<Is what he is saying useful?>" asked Koyama.

"<Potentially. He’s mostly ranting about how we’re all doomed, and about how he and Endless Ravage will do things to us that would get censored out of a horror movie. But there may be some actual insight in there – he’s often yammering about ‘Righteous Vengeance’. From the sounds of it, demons blame humans for some horrible suffering they’re going through, and this whole invasion is supposed to be their revenge on us. He hasn’t elaborated any further on that. Yet.>"

"<I see. What about Walker?>"

"<He doesn't exactly like being kept away from the prisoners or their interview recordings, but he's stopped asking questions about it. I don't exactly like hiding information from a partner either.>"

"<Deal with it. The prime minister has ordered it himself, and he's right - knowledge of how magic is obtained is too important to just let the Americans get it for free.>" Koyama looked to the side. "<My understanding is that the politicians are negotiating that information now. When and how they will share it with our allies is up to them. Anyway...>" he looked back at Hyosuke; "<Any progress with the crime scene?>"

"<Pretty much done with the battlefield,>" said Hyosuke. "<I’m afraid it looks like Soul was right about the knife – there’s no trace of it.>"

"<And less than eight hours ago, there was a Murder sighting in Buenos Aires,>" said the Interpol delegate. "<One victim, with a golden knife. The autopsy confirms the same effect as with the earliest cases – unnatural cutting effect and all. I suppose he could fake it with magic, but, well, Occam’s Razor.>"

"<I see,>" said Koyama. "<And the exploded building?>"

"<The labs have confirmed two more victims' identities,>" said another police detective. "<One known member of the Black Skull gang, one known member of one of the gangs Downfall absorbed. I figure it’s safe to say by this point that this was his latest hideout.>" He paused for a moment while Koyama gathered his thoughts, then added: "<But… there’s another thing. Remember the cell phone we found at the scene? I mean, the one that hadn’t been too badly damaged?>"

"<Of course. What about it?>"

"<We have managed to identify the owner.>" The detective seemed slightly uneasy. "<This phone was actually reported stolen a few days ago.>"

Koyama frowned. "<They stole it? I thought they were staying indoors as much as possible during that period.>"

"<Sir, that phone was reported stolen by Victoria Steel.>"

The room went silent.

"<And that’s not the end of it. Only a few hours before the battle, we received an anonymous call by a ‘whistleblower’, who claimed to be working for Maxcorp. He said that he had witnessed Steel working with Downfall, providing him with logistical support.>"

"<You’re only telling me now?>"

"<Sir, we get a lot of calls, including many deranged ones. Too many to follow up. But we do trace them. After we discovered who owned this phone… we checked the address of the phone call. It’s a small suburban home, owned by a single woman - an office worker with no apparent connections to Maxcorp, who claims no-one was there at the time of the call. No signs of breaking and entering, but some fingerprints on the phone that don’t match hers. She says no-one has used that phone but her in weeks.>"

"<That… sounds a bit like an attempt to frame Steel,>" said Hiromasa. "<I mean, doesn’t it strike you as suspicious?>"

"<Oh, it’s not suspicious at all!>" said Hyosuke derisively. "<Our mystery informant, who is most definitely not an enemy mage, broke into someone’s house undetected to send an anonymous call about how one of our allies is secretly evil. Sounds entirely trustworthy to me!>"

"<Pretty much,>" said the other detective. "<And that’s still not the end of it. The cell phone? According to the lab, there’s no way it could have survived that explosion as well as it did. Judging from the heat damage, it was dropped inside the building during the minutes following the explosion.>"

"<The minutes following it, you say?>"

"<Right, right,>" said Koyama. "<So it’s almost certainly an attempt to frame Steel, by someone who can use portals. Still, we should investigate, just to be on the safe side. Wait, how does she say her phone was stolen?>"

"<An odd thing. She says she left it by her nightstand before going to bed, and that it had disappeared by the morning. Nothing else was gone, so the police hadn’t taken the claim seriously, but in light of all this…>"

"<If they want Steel out of the way, wouldn’t it make more sense to just kill her, then?>" asked the PSIA representative.

"<That might not be enough,>" said Hiromasa. "<Maxcorp is an international corporation. Even without Steel, they could still give us all sorts of weapons. Besides, some of our enemies don’t really seem to understand how our society works. Remember those public messages by the Circle of Wisdom?>"

"<Right.,>" said Koyama. "<Hm… Perhaps we should have another talk with our CIA adviser.>"

A couple minutes later, he had brought Walker in. "<Agent Walker, you’ve told me the CIA wanted our help gathering data on Maxcorp. What can you tell me about them so far?>"

"<I can tell you that they’re paranoid about security,>" said Walker. "<Jamming devices, anal-retentive building security, offices virtually proofed against surveillance… The works. They pretty obviously have something to hide. We’re just not sure it’s something supernatural.>"

"<Then it’s time we found out.>"

"<The fanclub's membership’s been exploding,>" said Tomo. "<Everyone can see how cool Soul is now, so there’s an explosion of fanart, fanvids, and fanstuff.>"

"<Much of which involves Downfall getting hit with explosive force, I’ll bet,>" Eriko smiled faintly as she rolled her eyes. "<But honestly, I am curious about how people are reacting to this.>" Junko, by her side, said nothing.

"<How they’re reacting? They think it’s awesome!>" said Tomo. "<Take a look at all these drawings! From all over the Internet!>"

Um, wow. Eriko’s eyes widened as she examined the collection. The one of me with white wings and a halo cradling the planet might be a bit much. "<Ah, weren’t there some people who thought the whole thing was staged?>"

"<They’re just jealous idiots!>"

"<I’ve heard a few things,>" said Takato, whom Eriko was fairly certain hadn’t been in the fanclub during her previous visits. "<There are some people on the Internet who think it was a bit too convenient, that Downfall’s rant was too silly, that Soul having some kind of epiphany right then was contrived, and that the two of them must have rehearsed the whole thing in advance to make Soul look good or whatever. But y’know, it’s just a crazy conspiracy theory, like the CIA destroying the twin towers. Virtually no-one actually believes it. You got way more people signing the petition to give Soul a medal.>"

Eriko nodded. "<My dad said that there were a lot of people trying to get out of Tokyo before, and he thinks that’s changed, but it’s too early to tell…>"

"<It’s true!>" another boy insisted. "<My neighbors from down the street have been talking about moving to Kyoto since the second kaiju attack. Now they’re saying there’s no way they’re abandoning Tokyo!>"

"<That’s… anecdotal at best, but I’ll keep it in mind,>" she forced a smile.

"<Wait! It gets better!>" said Tomo. "<Check this out. On top of all those wicked music videos, Soul has fans from all over the world composing original songs for her!>"

"<Wait, what? The fight was only a few days ago. How long does it take to compose a song?>"

"<I have no idea. I think some of these have actually been around for a bit longer – the 2nd kaiju fight, the Queen of Pain thing, even arresting Living Curse. But now they’re getting really popular. And some of them are done by real professional singers, too! Here’s one by Mew Jin…>"


"<You don’t know?! She’s the greatest idol singer in Japan! …Well, one of the greatest. Top ten, at least. And if you don’t like idols, here’s a song by Nueva Cara de la Pasión…>"


"<They’re a Brazilian band. I think. They're really hot, and their music isn't bad, either! And if that’s not your speed either, there’s a new single by Siren Smile…>"

"<At the risk of repeating myself: Who?>"

"<...You don't know much about music, do you?>"

"<...You might say that.>"

"<Well, she’s some new Internet sensation. This is only, like, her third song that she releases, but it’s selling trillions of downloads!>"

"<I’ll assume you’re being hyperbolic.>" She listened to the Siren Smile song – one titled, "Soul Against the Invader". "<Huh. What kind of genre is this? Classic? Opera? Rock? Doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before.>"

"<All of Siren’s songs are like that,>" said Tomo. "<It’s the Internet! Genres are passé!>"

Eriko listened to the (English) lyrics. A bit… bombastic, maybe? But I gotta admit the music and performance are good.

"<And if you’re still looking for opinions on Soul,>" Tomo changed the subject, "<here’s a fun forum conversation. A fanclub in Osaka sent us the link. It starts with someone saying that he doesn’t think he can trust someone like Soul, who 'shuns human contact',>" she made it obvious she was quoting. "<He said no-one really wants to be alone, and if Soul does, then that makes her some kind of freak.>"

"<So what happened?>"

"<What happened?>" Tomo grinned. "<He got bombarded by other posters who called him on his bullshit, and several who said that they were just like Soul, and they were glad she said what she did.>" She paused. "<Y’know… You’re asking all these questions about what other people think, but what do you think about Soul?>"

Eriko gulped. "<Well… I think she looks like she’s doing all right? At least, considering how insane the situation is.>"

"<Nod-nod,>" said Tomo.

She actually said "nod-nod"?

"<And you?>" Tomo addressed Junko.

Junko waited for a moment. "<Soul is powerful, smart, badass, and utterly heroic. She can be alone if that’s what she wants – obviously, she doesn’t need anybody’s help.>"

"<The labs have finished their tests, Prime Minister,>" said his personal assistant. "<Secano’s chemical formula works just as advertised. No observable downside. Barely more expensive than the alternative. And the electric capacity is over 70% larger.>"

He considered the assistant’s words. "<Do you realize what this means? The electric battery industry sees trillions and trillions of yens change hands each year. Giving this formula to Japanese companies could be a real boon for our economy. And some of the technological implications could be even more interesting than that! Why, electric cars alone…>"

"<Secano said his people could sell us knowledge from many worlds, didn’t he?>"

"<Well, yes. Science, technology, but also art, music, literature… This could truly change the world. And if Japan can be at the forefront of this revolutionary commerce, then that may be no less important than magic in securing our place on the international scene. If we play our cards right, Japan may well end up as the new superpower.>" He took a pensive air.

"<Speaking of which, I also have Secano’s report on the training of the Kamirentai right here.>"

"<Thank you. Anything else?>"

"<Just one more thing, sir. The South Korean ambassador was hoping to see you tomorrow, about the tariff controversy?>"

"<I’m afraid that will need to be delayed. I will be quite busy with the Kamirentai initiative.>"

"<Sir, that’s the third time this month. He will not take kindly to it. I understand that winning the war takes priority over smoothing over relationships with our neighbors, but completely neglecting them might be poor policy.>"

"<You are entirely right. Which is why I intend to give Chancellor Fujita full authority on the matter, and let him negotiate those tariffs in my stead. And convey my apologies, of course.>"

"<As you wish, sir.>"

My name is Mitani Yoshio, and I am a member of the Kamirentai.

That doesn’t mean anything to most people. But soon enough, it will. The "Divine Regiment" is set to become Japan’s greatest weapon – the heroic force standing between the motherland and invaders from beyond the world. We won’t be fighting them with guns, choppers or missiles, or even lasers – no, the Kamirentai will be fighting magic with magic!

The magic wasn’t easy to obtain, of course. There were about twenty of us a few days ago. Counting myself, only seven survived the upgrade process. No wonder it’s deadly – we had to actually die for a while in order for it to work. That great void and that tunnel of light were definitely not what I was expecting to face when I originally joined the Self-Defense Force, but I followed my instructions, reached for the magic, and learned how to use it for the short duration I was there. I was among the lucky ones – the instructor managed to bring me back to life while still giving me enough time to get magic. Most of the trainees just died. In retrospect, I’m kinda glad I never got to know any of them, or even see their faces beneath the helmets and masks – it would have been a lot more disturbing.

Speaking of which, I’m not completely sure what to think about the uniforms. This is basically full-body armor – riot gear, really. But the design makes me feel like I’m part of some TV sentai. I get that the white and red coloring is supposed to be patriotic, but it goes against my soldier’s instincts, which want camouflage instead. But the prime minister explained that we’re not just fighting for survival – we’re also national symbols, pillars of Japan’s strength in these troubled times. I understand that.

"<Stop woolgathering, Ace 6 – we are to meet instructor Secano in three minutes.>"

"<Uh, yes, Ace 1!>" Ace 6 is my codename. The identities of Kamirentai soldiers are among the most well-kept secrets of Japan, and I can see why – if our enemies knew about us, targeting our families would be an obvious strategy. I’m not even allowed to discuss personal matters with my fellow Aces. I was only permitted to see their faces after Instructor Secano had modified them all. Thankfully, we’ll be able to get our real faces back when we’re on leave.

Instructor Secano is another mystery. No idea where that codename came from. No idea where he came from. Like us, he’s always in full-body armor. But his accent, the way he talks… I don’t think he’s actually Japanese. Heck, he might not even be human. The prime minister didn’t really say much about him, except that he was going to teach us magic. Until the Kamirentai is deemed fit for field duty, we are to defer to his orders (well, after those of the prime minister, of course). I’ll admit, knowing that over a dozen of us died at his hands when he gave us magic doesn’t inspire much confidence… but he is giving us a fantastic weapon, and teaching us how to use it. I suppose I shouldn’t be too critical. We might have some aliens on our side, for all I know.

"<I see everyone’s here,>" said Secano. "<Good. Now… Yesterday, we studied the basics of matter creation and telekinesis. Today, I will teach you the basics of flight. If you can magically give yourselves kinetic energy, heavy armor will not hinder you much…>"

My name is Mitani Yoshio, aka Ace 6 of the Kamirentai. I’m going to save Japan.

My name is Junko, and I’m freaking useless.

I wanted to repay my debt to Eriko, and goddammit, I tried. I really, really tried. I did everything I could think of to help her.

Problem is, she never needed my help. I tried to get her tons of friends, but she doesn’t even want friends. I tried to get her a cool boyfriend, but she doesn’t care about love. I tried to help her popularity as Soul by speaking up for her at school, or recruiting for the fanclub, but after her last fight, everyone wants to join the fanclub. I even asked Mother Aurora to turn me into a magical girl so I could help her in a fight, but what for? She can kick the crap out of anyone on her own. The only thing I’m helping her with anymore is the secret identity thing, and I’ll bet that if it was discovered, she’d manage to make that work to her advantage too. Goddammit, Eriko! Why do you have to be like that?! Why can’t you need people like a normal person?! Why…

No. I can't start resenting her. That’s just wrong!

"<You know, Junko,>" said Eriko as they walked home, "<I’ve been thinking. These fights are causing some serious damage, right? Hence the Ebisu Foundation. But wouldn’t it make more sense if I helped them gather fundings?>" Seeing Junko’s gloomy stare, she went on: "<OK, OK, I know the damage isn’t my fault. But still. I think I can see ways to help out. Possibly even lessen public unease in the process… I mean, an atmosphere of doom and gloom can’t be much good for the state of the world, right?>"

My name is Watanbe Eriko, and I’m gonna make History. Again. And not for the last time, either. But between my freakish life as Soul and my freakishly-normal-in-comparison life as Eriko, it’s nice having a friend with whom I can talk about both. Thanks for being there, Junko.

"Remind me again - how did we hack people's computers before penetration test drop boxes?" asked the Ghost.

"We looked over their shoulders while they typed their password," said Helen.

"Didn't you say you did that too?" Walker pointed out.

"It's always good to have a backup plan. Anyway... What has the cyber team found so far?"

"Less than we'd have liked," the Ghost admitted. "Maxcorp is thorough. Almost no password reuse, different systems are separated by different layers of security... Even with what you've gotten us so far, getting data is a challenge."

"I imagine the classic social engineering tricks are too big a risk," she said.

"Well... Yes. We don't want them to realize we're trying to get in yet. Still, we did get some interesting clues. Namely, Steel seems to be taking particularly good care of hiding data relating to her dealings with the Kahara clan."

"So that's worth investigating. What about the listening team?"

"Lots of office gossip for now, but nothing useful."

"Shame, but I couldn't place any bugs in Steel's own office," said Helen.

"How did you place the others, actually?" asked Walker.

"I hid them in wastebaskets."


"I discovered they only empty them on Sundays."

"Ah." He paused. "Anyway... The PCTF think they can get someone hired on the cleaning staff before the end of the week. That should make everything easier. Buuuut... I'm more and more inclined to believe this is a frame-job."

"That seems likely," said Helen, "but Maxcorp is hiding something. Barring any better lead, we might as well focus on finding out what. Mind you, I think they're already gearing up for damage control. The way their PR branch has been feeding the press with Ebisu Foundation and antimagic armament info lately, I'm guessing they want to shape the narrative in their favor."

"The media leak about the Black Arrow... You think they did it on purpose?"

"I'd bet my hand on it. But I'm still going to cover the story."

Mister Kokubu, all things considered, was happy with his job. Maxcorp spearheading the creation of a new charity was somewhat surprising, true, but he considered it an honor to be picked to run it. At first he had wondered if it was a subtle demotion, but the Ebisu Foundation had a generous budget, and benefitted from a lot of positive press coverage - definitely a good career move. Besides, he was doing some genuine good for the country and helping countless victims - what was there not to like?

That said, he had found himself somewhat taken aback when he'd been told Soul had teleported inside the building, and was requesting a meeting.

"<So... What may I do for you, Miss Soul?>" He vainly tried to treat it as a normal business discussion once she had been brought to his office.

"<Actually, I was wondering what I could do for you,>" she said. He noticed she seemed no less nervous than he felt. "<I mean... All the attacks, the battles, the monsters... I figure the damage is pretty huge, yes?>"

He nodded. "<Indeed. Even without counting Murder's spree outside of Japan, there are hundreds of casualties, not to mention injuries. As for property damage, the first kaiju alone caused over 10 billion yens of it. Then again, most of that gets covered by insurance. Still, you're correct. The damage is immense.>"

She winced. "Forgive the question, but... do you actually have enough funds to deal with it?>"

"<It's more complicated than that,>" he said. "<The government handles repairs for public property, and provides medical assistance for victims. The Ebisu Foundation mostly focuses on those who weren't covered by anything - not governmental help, not insurance. That still leaves a large number of buildings to repair, of widows and orphans who need financial assistance. Our budget is enough to help hundreds of people when they need it the most... but I'll admit that we still need to pick and choose, and target only those who are most desperate. That's why raising additional funds is one of the main aspects of my job,>" he chuckled nervously.

"<Well then, sir...>" she coughed. "<I think I might be able to help with that part. I've got an idea, but I wanted your professional opinion on it...>"

"<I guess you were right,>" Monsoon reflected with a relaxed smile, floating upside down. "<The kid’s a hero through and through.>" She then pointed a finger at Mother Aurora, winking. "<You shouldn’t be right too often, your majesty – keep going at it and I’ll be out of work.>"

"<You have proven many times that you handle humans more skillfully than I,>" said Mother Aurora. "<We both know why heroism is harder for you to understand.>"

"<Sure sure. Anyway, I figure she won’t be having a breakdown after all. Mind you, my money’s still on Murder carving her up soon.>"

"<It is my intention to complete the ritual before the matter comes up.>"

"<And my intention is to do my job perfectly without any mistake ever, but we both know that ain’t gonna happen, hm?>" Seeing the fairy queen ignore her pique, she added: "<So, how’s the Earth-12 crisis going?>"

"<It has been resolved,>" Aurora replied with an emotionless intonation Monsoon knew well - the one she used when she didn’t like what she was about to talk about. "<As suspected, a demon was contaminating the population.>"

"<How was he getting past the magical sensors?>"

"<It would appear he avoided using magic during his stay. He appeared in upper orbit with a space capsule, took the time to import his shields there, and made landfall. He was immune to the virus’s effects, but was himself a carrier; he contaminated everyone he came in contact with.>"

"<Gutsy, but dumb. So what happened after you exterminated the virus worldwide and located the guy?>"

"<He was in the middle of a large city. Pataliputra, to be precise. When I confronted him, it turned out his space pod had also included a hydrogen bomb.>"

Monsoon whistled. "<Impressive. So the whole deal was actually for assassinating you?>"

"<I took his soul apart for information before throwing it in the Tunnel of Light. From his memories, I suspect an equally important goal was putting him on such a suicide mission.>"

"<Ah. Political rival of Crimson Rain?>" Monsoon stretched. "<At least, I’m assuming Crimson Rain? Not a lot of folks in Hell know how to make nukes.>"

"<That is correct. The demon in question was a rising star of the Extinction Society. Under the guise of honoring him with such an assignment, Crimson Rain has eliminated a potential challenge to his authority.>"

"<But, from the looks of it, failed to get the target.>"

"<I may have only suffered minor bruising and first-degree burns,>" said the fairy queen, "<but there were hundreds of thousands who were not so lucky.>"

"<Well, forgive me if I value you more than them,>" said Monsoon, "<but hundreds of thousands of humans die across the multiverse every hour. If you die, there’ll be billions of casualties on the first week. Just saying.>"

My name is Steel Katsutoshi, and I don’t care much for any of this.

Most people would tell me that I shouldn’t complain. I rub shoulders with the elite in the best private school in Japan. I have never lacked for material comfort, and never will. I have been blessed by fate with an elegant physique, which I have always found rather easy to use to my advantage.

I say I should complain. Not because of how shallow and phony everyone around me is. Not because of general existential ennui. If I am to have one cause for complaint, it is my deplorable home life.

Some of my classmates’ parents are unethical corporate sharks who fleece thousands to improve their financial standing. Some are even yakuza kingpins. My mother is a goddamn archvillain. She will not allow anything to stand in her way – not thousands of innocent lives, not the laws of ethics and nations, not a "don’t touch this" sign written by God, and definitely not my objections. For that matter, I don’t think she even has a life outside of her constant scheming and business – these twisted power games are all she does while awake. I’ll bet she even has dreams about financial spreadsheets, IPOs, and supreme cosmic power.

I don’t envy Soul one bit. Just as mother expected, she has approached the Ebisu Foundation. Just as instructed, Kokubu acted all cooperative, but insisted that things would have to go through the all-important Steel-Sama. And while mother may be busy right now with the PCTF, any day now she will start weaving her web around the doomed heroine.

I must, however, grant Soul this much: Her proposal to Kokubu does possess some tangible grandeur. A pity, truly, that all her-

His cell phone rang. He looked at the called ID. Harris? "Hello?"

"Katsutoshi! I hope I'm not catching you at a bad time, eh?"

"Not as such. What is the matter?"

"Well, your mom wants you to cancel any plans you have for tomorrow evening. She wants you to be there for the meeting with Soul."

Katsutoshi paused. "...Why?"

Harris chuckled. "I understand you're popular with the girls at school, no?"

My name is Steel Katsutoshi, and I don't care for this one bit.

"<Have I answered to your satisfaction, director?>" Steel-Sama managed to put a hint of irritation in her tone – just enough to make Koyama nervous.

"<Mrs. Steel, I apologize once again for the inconvenience, but please understand that the PCTF must get to the bottom of things – I don’t believe you’re guilty, and neither do my men, but we have to be professional about this. Your cell phone did appear on the site…>"

"<Even if I had been working with Downfall, why would I provide his gang with my personal phone?>" She stared right into his eyes. "<I do not believe it would be so hard to obtain another phone that was less easy to track. Besides, director,>" her expression got sharper, "<let us pretend for a moment that I was, in fact, willing to risk everything I have worked for over the last decades by working with a mass-murdering terrorist in some vague hope of obtaining something, even magic. Even then, I still would not assist Downfall, for a simple reason.>" She paused for emphasis. "<Downfall has clearly stated that he possesses destructive intentions toward the totality of human civilization. If he and his ilk were to win, I would lose. It is in my strictest interest, just as it is in anyone else's, for Downfall to be stopped hard and fast - his very presence is a threat to the goals I have always worked toward. As such, director, no matter how greedy or corrupt I was, it would remain irrational of me to assist Downfall. In fact, it would be phenomenally stupid.>"

"<I'll concede your point. But why would our enemies go to the effort of trying to frame you?>"

"<I believe figuring that out is part of your job,>" she replied. "<Or should I take that as an indication that our Black Arrow missiles and new PRISM units are no longer considered worth your while?>"

"<That’s not what I meant!>" he hastily replied. "<That was not what I meant at all. Mrs. Steel, the PCTF greatly appreciates your contribution to our arsenal.>" Seeing that she made no reply, he tentatively added: "<Even so, there are… suspicious aspects. In particular, Maxcorp appears to be rather, ah, paranoid when it comes to its secrecy.>"

"<This statement suggests that you have been testing our security,>" she said. "<Is the PCTF spying on us, director Koyama?>"

He blinked. Then he leaned forward. "<Mrs. Steel, learning secrets is a central part of my job. Some secrets need to be revealed to the world. Others need to stay hidden.>" He paused. "<And when yakuza meeting-men gather corporate secrets and reveal them to you… I believe that’s called insider trading.>"

She blinked and leaned back. "<So you have been spying.>"

"<And you have been making hundreds of millions of yens by cheating the system,>" he said as he crossed his arm and straightened up. "<This is highly illegal.>" In truth, the evidence gathered so far was mostly circumstantial, and none of it led directly to Steel herself, but he felt no need to disclose that right now.

"<You know as well as I do that insider trading is extremely common among the upper echelons of finance, director,>" she replied. "<And you realize, of course, that making accusations against Maxcorp would be very damaging to our cooperation.>"

"<Which is why I would rather not go to such extreme measures,>" he said. "<However, I cannot turn a blind eye to fraud indefinitely. As such, I would request that you cease these activities as of now.>"

She considered for a moment. "<As I have told your military high command, Maxcorp requires substantial funding for its weapon research. As such, some of our data must remain secret. Surely I need not remind you who the real enemy is, director.>" He nodded. She went on: "<That said, I will not have my company blackmailed. I request that we be left alone to pursue our business - by the PCTF, and by anyone associated with the PCTF. This strikes me as an acceptable courtesy toward your main weapon provider.>"

"<Mrs. Steel…>"

"<We will be stepping up security, directory Koyama. If further spying takes place, I will be made aware of it. I would rather not have to complain directly to your superiors.>"

"<Do not threaten me, Mrs. Steel,>" he said. "<I’m a policeman. I concede that the war effort takes precedence over the fight against white-collar crime, but there are limits.>"

She paused. "<…Very well. I can make a few concessions…>"

Ten minutes later, as Steel-Sama left, Koyama felt overall satisfied. Insider trading? No wonder Maxcorp were so secretive. He was confident he could get the PSIA and CIA off their back – after all, a 40% price reduction on the next batch of Maxcorp weapons was going to be a huge boon for the PCTF’s budget. Challenging as this job was, he felt he was getting the hang of it.

As she left, Steel-Sama was not smiling, but knew she had obtained what she needed: Committing insider trading quickly enough to deflect worse suspicion had been simple. Cutting down prices on the weapons was an acceptable loss, so long as it reduced the risk of her real secrets being found out later. And Koyama, having now agreed to one dirty deal, would be far less inclined to give her trouble in the future. Briefly, she thought to herself that it was all too easy.

"<Eriko and Junko are out?>" asked Mr. Watanabe as he he removed his shoes.

His wife sighed. "<They went to the pool after classes. How was your day?>"

"<Fairly good, I guess. Mr. Torada liked my article.>" He paused. "<Aaaand... He said he wanted me to cover how the Diet is handling the crisis.>"

She took a few seconds before answering. "<Which would mean staying in Tokyo for the foreseeable future.>"

"<Well, for me. In theory, you could take the girls somewhere safer- >"

"<I'm not splitting up our family out of fear,>" she replied categorically.

"<I know, I know, I'm just saying.>" He looked to the side. "<If I really insist, I think I might still get a position abroad... They need to cover the international angle too, but...>" His face clearly displayed his discomfort.

"<What if here is where you're needed?>"


"<This is war, Eiji. We need to keep the girls safe, but we also need to win.>" She cleared her throat. "<This isn't a... conventional war. And we're not on the front lines. But I've been thinking, and, I think everyone has a duty to help. Maybe... Maybe right now, it's more important than ever for you to be a reporter.>"

He smiled and raised an eyebrow. "<Weren't you the one who wanted to get the girls out of Tokyo?>"

She returned the smile. "<Like I said, I've been thinking. And, well... On some level, I can't help but wonder what kind of message it would send to them if we ran away.>"

"<So, what changed your mind? Soul's courageous takedown of Downfall, or our prime minister's great patriotic speech?>"

"<Unfortunately, dear, your jokes remain about as funny as the day we've met.>" Her expression grew serious again. "<The prime minister said they were reverse-engineering the weapons of the invaders. Do you know anything about that?>"

"You want me to seduce a magical girl." Katsutoshi held his face in his palm.

"Not as such," said his mother. "Outright attempts at seduction are liable to cause more harm than good - it is of capital importance that you do not cause her unease. It is more prudent at the moment for you to act friendly, perhaps even admirative, with a touch of mystery. If she finds you intriguing rather than intimidating, it may make it easier to make her come back for further talks and negotiations."

"So I'm bait and a honey trap."

"That is correct. Will that be an issue?"

He glowered at her. "...No."

On the other side of the office, Harris did his best to focus on his notes and not get involved. I'm not here, I'm not involved with your dysfunctional family dynamics, and I'm most definitely, absolutely not part of this conversation.

All right, Eriko. Junko and Monsoon are in Castle Nexus. Mom and dad think you're at the pool, so they won't try to call you. So now, you just need to negotiate with a super-rich business tycoon. Preferably without making a fool of yourself.

Soul heard several gasps as she opened the portal, stepping inside the lobby of the Maxcorp building. Numerous pairs of eyes were already on her.

"<Forgive their reactions, Soul.>" She looked, seeing a handsome-faced blond boy who looked only a few years older than her. "<They were only warned of your impending visit a rather short while ago.>"

Huh. So this is what you get when you isolate the bishonen gene. "<Oh? How come?>"

He smiled. "<We didn't want to risk word getting out everywhere - would you have wanted a gathering of reporters and gawkers to greet your arrival?>"


"<But forgive my manners, I haven't yet introduced myself. My name is Steel Katsutoshi. I understand you have business with my mother.>"

She blinked. I didn't know "Steel-Sama" had a son. Much less a Japanese... half-Japanese one? I guess the blond hair might not be dyed. "<Oh. Well, it's an honor, Mister Steel.>"

He gave a light laugh. "<Mister Steel? Please, I'm practically your age. Just call me Katsutoshi.>" He gestured toward the elevator. "<Shall I show you the way, Miss Soul?>"

"<Just, just Soul. And, sure, thanks.>"

"<You are too kind.>" As they stepped into the elevator, he went on: "<Come to think of it, would you rather we continue this conversation in Japanese, or in English? My mother made quite certain I was fluent in both, and, judging from your conversations with Downfall, it seems to me that your English is as good as that of most natives.>"

"<T-thank you. Japanese is fine.>"

"<As you please.>"

"<So... You work here?>"

"<I wouldn't go quite that far. I'm not quite done with high school, I believe,>" he winked. "<That said, my mother considers it good policy to get me at least minimally involved with the family business early on. And obviously enough, I wasn't going to miss an opportunity to meet an international heroine if I could help it.>"

"<Er, thank you.>"

"<No, thank you,>" he said. "<And I must say, while all your public endeavours have been grand, your recent triumph over Downfall was... edifying. In that moment, you showed us a purer vision of heroism than I had ever seen before.>" As she blushed, he chuckled. "<I mean, look at us,>" he gestured with some irony. "<My classmates worry about exams, their parents, silly popularity games, and getting hot dates with whoever they think is cool at the moment. Meanwhile, you're saving thousands of lives, if not more, fighting monsters that give the military a black eye.>" He paused. "<I suppose I ought to be grateful that my life does not involve semi-regular battles with lethal force... but, on some level, I cannot help but envy you. I may get to be a part of my mother's world, but you're the one who gets to do something truly important,>" he winked as the elevator door opened.

"<Well, er, thanks, but I dunno if it's that simple,>" she said. "<I mean, sure, saving the world from Downfall and the rest is important, but only because it protects all the other things. Everything else is the reason what I do is important.>"

"<An excellent point, though I believe some part of me will remains envious,>" he said as they reached his mother's office.

All right.

So far, Katsutoshi seems nice enough, if a bit verbose. Nothing special to say about Mister Harris. As for "Steel-Sama"... She's direct, I guess? Maybe not the warmest person I've met, but at least she isn't beating around the bush.

And her Japanese is flawless.

"<Yes, this can definitely be monetized,>" said the businesswoman. "<If you bring filming equipment with you to film it as you go, we can charge virtually every news network in the world a small fortune for the live feed. Even without heavy negotiations, I believe we can easily charge over a billion yen globally. We could obtain even more if you used the opportunity to endorse products, but you may not be comfortable with that approach.>"

"<I... I don't think I want to mix advertisement with this. It's just not the way it should be done. No offense.>"

"<None taken.>"

"<For the record, I believe you're right,>" said Katsutoshi. "<I mean, can you imagine? 'Watch the triumph of the human spirit, and of our soda cans!' just doesn't seem right.>"

"<Yeah, that's what I meant. I want to keep this, well...>"


"<Not necessarily the word I'd use, but something like that.>"

"<Understood,>" said Steel-Sama. "<We'll need a few days to generate the media buzz. Three, preferably four. It can be later than that if needed. When would be a good time for you?>"

Well, it needs to be at a time when I can be alone without suspicion. If I'm at home, mom and dad will want me to watch it with them live; it'll look weird this time if I insist on watching it on the Internet in my room. Even if it's at night, they might make an exception and have us all stay up late to watch it. And if it's during school hours, it's be just as suspicious if I'm not in class. So the best solution is if it starts right after classes end - since there's not enough time for us to get home before the broadcast, Junko can tell mom and dad that we're staying at school to watch it online. "<If it can start on Monday at 3:10 P.M., it'd be perfect.>"

"<That can be arranged. Will you require filming and transmission equipment?>"

"<I can make my... actually, yes, thank you.>" Heck, no need to violate copyright this time. Wait, would that be copyright or patent?

"<Very well. If you come back at any other point between now and Monday, I can arrange a meeting with PR experts who can assist you with this operation.>"

"<PR experts? Is that really needed?>"

"<It is perhaps not vital, but it may be useful. To the very least, it will help ensure that the news networks will be getting their money's worth.>"

"<...Fair enough. I can probably swing by tomorrow... Er, is coming here really late an option?>" Like, say, when we're all supposed to be asleep?

"<If it will make things smoother for you, then it can be arranged. My hours have always been flexible. A necessity of business.>"

"<All right. And this money... It will be going to the Ebisu Foundation?>"

"<Down to the last yen. And I can guarantee that many victims will benefit greatly from this operation. However, Soul,>" she gazed at her through her glasses, "<If you truly wish to help the people - beyond your paramilitary activities - then there are many options besides the one you are suggesting. Perhaps we ought to discuss them in greater detail in future meetings.>"

"<The training of the Kamirentai is progressing on schedule, prime minister,>" Secano explained before the small committee. "<All the Aces have mastered basic shielding spells, and have taken to combat training like fish to water. Naturally, some are more talented with magic than others, but none are notably incompetent. I'm hoping to have at least one of them master portal magic within a week.>"

"<Excellent news. Chancellor Fujita, how goes the memorial project?>"

"<The architects have finished a rough draft, prime minister. I have a copy here, see for yourselves. Though I still think it's a bit early to build a memorial to the Kamirentai's fallen.>"

"<On the contrary. The very acquisition of magic is a life-threatening procedure. Simply joining the Kamirentai involves risking one's life. To make it all worse, these brave soldiers need to change their faces, and keep their identities secret from the public at all times. This monument, in addition to being a symbol of our national determination for the people, will be there to reassure these soldiers that they shall not be forgotten: That if they fall, their true name and face will be immortalized in a hall of heroes. It will help keep them grounded... and motivate new volunteers when the time comes.>"

"<He's right,>" said one of the generals. "<Morale is of utmost im- >"

Before he could finish, the prime minister's secretary entered the room. "<I'm sorry to interrupt, sir, but there is a new development.>"

"<What is it?>" Tension silently rose in the room as some rather disquieting possibilities were imagined.

"<It's Maxcorp. They just made a public statement, and you wouldn't believe what Soul is up to...>"

As wide a televised audience as Soul's battle with Downfall had gathered, Monday's broadcast managed to top it.

"...and in the name of the Ebisu Foundation, I would like to once again thank Soul for her generous help," said Mister Kokubu to the cameras. Between the money of the news channels and the telethon, he was expecting to be handling a much, much greater budget than before - private donations had more than tripled in the days since the announcement. Visibility was a huge boon.

Steel herself was not present at the ceremony, officially due to having to oversee things back at the corporate HQ (in reality, her absence had more to do with the risk of one of Soul's enemies trying to strike at the gathering). Nevertheless, the Maxcorp logo was in view - not blatantly enough to come across as attention-grabbing, but still enough to help further twist the narrative in the company's favor.

Soul herself was not aware of those considerations, and was mostly focusing on the brief coaching she had received from Maxcorp's PR experts. "I want to thank the delegates of JAXA, NASA, ESA, and every other space agency present here. I have the utmost respect for their work. It has..." She tried not to let the crowd and cameras intimidate her. " has long been my belief that humanity is to reach for the stars. I believe that some day, we will go beyond our solar system, colonize the universe, and harness the power of a billion suns with Dyson spheres. Maybe we will get there with rockets. Maybe we will get there with ion engines. Maybe we will get there with magic. Today, I'd like to make a small contribution to this great venture. And if by this same occasion I can help the victims of the current crisis, then so much the better."

She paused, then went on: "I may believe that we must reach for the stars, but I also believe that we must help each other. I know it sounds corny, but that doesn't make it any less true. Whether we're attacked by evildoers from outside our world, or just dealing with our usual natural or manmade problems, all of us must assist those in need if humanity is to pull through. And at the risk of stating the obvious, you don't need to fight giant monsters and demons to make the world a better place - giving time and money to charity, or even just lending a hand to someone in trouble, are all part of building the better world I hope we will one day live in."

It all sounded better to me before I said it to a live audience. I hope that wasn't too cheesy. The Maxcorp PR experts had helped her edit the speech a little. They'd helped her with a few turns of phrase, as well as suggested the bit where she'd acknowledged the speech's corniness. Not that she'd gone with all their advice, though - she had refused to phrase things as "mankind's destiny is to reach for the stars", and she hadn't been willing to cut the line about Dyson spheres. People can always google it.

In the last minutes of the ceremony, Soul was handed video equipment, special long-range transmission hardware, scientific tools, and a United Nations flag (Steel-Sama had found the negotiation with the UN representative a lot easier than the ones with the media agencies - after all, she wasn't asking him for money). Finally, carrying it all in one large bag, she stepped toward the isolated area, cameras still on her.

"I am using magic on the camera to keep it moving along with me," she explained, "and doing the same to a bubble of air surrounding me. Please remain at a safe distance, there will be strong sucking winds once I open a portal into the vacuum of space."

Millions upon millions watched as Soul crossed into the blackness of outer space. "...meaning that despite appearances, I'm actually falling toward Earth as we speak. But at this height, with gravity weakened by distance, I could keep falling for an hour, and still maintain a safe distance from the planet and its atmosphere."

With an awestruck smile, she redirected the camera. "Those of you used to gazing at the nightsky may be noticing that the stars look both more intense and more numerous from up here. That's because the Earth's atmosphere, even on a cloudless day, is not 100% transparent, and some of the light gets blocked, or refracted. For that matter, our atmosphere is also responsible for the optical illusion that makes stars look like they twinkle; you'll notice that here, we can clearly see that their light is constant." She pointed her finger at one of the thousands points of light: "Over there is Alpha Centauri, part of the Centaurus constellation. From here, it looks like a star, but if we were looking through a good enough telescope, we could see that it's actually three stars, too close to each other to tell apart with the naked eye. The closest of them, Proxima Centauri, is the second-closest star to us after the Sun; it is 4.3 light-years away, meaning, over 40 trillion kilometers away. 25 trillion miles. We're seeing it right now as it was over four years ago, since it took the light 4.3 years just to reach us... and light is so fast, it can go around the Earth seven and a half times in a single second!"

In Castle Nexus, eating popcorn in front of the TV, Monsoon giggled and rolled her eyes. "<Science nerds.>"

It's actually easy monologuing about science when it's just me and the camera, Soul reflected as she crossed portal after portal. I'm also... really, really far from Earth. Farther than anyone has been outside the Apollo missions! "According to my equipment, I am now 193,430 kilometers away from the Earth's surface. That means I'm more than halfway there! It takes the signal from this camera over half a second to actually reach the Earth now. Note that the signal is using radio waves, which go at the speed of light... so, if I'm looking at the Earth, I'm actually seeing it the way it was over half a second ago!"

Somewhere in Pennsylvania, a viewer wiped away a tear. "I wish you could see this, Mister Sagan. I really really do."

This... This is it. I'm really doing this. This is happening.

Hovering through the portal, Soul stepped upon the grey, dusty ground, while millions watched with baited breath. She remained silent for a moment, taking in her situation. "Destination... reached. I am currently standing in, in the middle of the Langrenus crater on the Moon." She planted the flag. "I'm... afraid I don't have some nice, historic, Neil Armstrong-esque words for this moment, so I will let the view speak for me for a while."

"You know...I was only three years older than you when I watched them land there for the first time," a man in London told his grandson.

"<Awesome,>" a ten-year-old girl in Cairo whispered, silently vowing that one day, she too would go to outer space.

"<She's making it look so easy,>" a man at the Kourou space base told another. "<I want to shake her hand and slap her at the same time.>"

"<Mommy, can we go there?>" asked a four-year-old in Saint-Petersbourg.

"<The world... It's that big?>" whispered a teenage girl in Kabul.

As Soul silently observed her surroundings, occasionally nudging the camera a little to get a good angle, she felt a wide, serene smile form on her face. The Moon. I'm walking on the Moon. The last time a living being was here, in was 1972, and it cost over a billion dollars. And I'm actually accomplishing something good in the process. You know what? My life really isn't so bad, all things considered. I'm the Junior Goddess of Kick your Ass, and I can breath in space. Provided I bring some air with me, or make my own.

I wonder... is this the future of space-travel? After the crisis is over, will space agencies the world over use magical portals to go into orbit and beyond? We could colonize Mars, explore Pluto... But does that mean the end of rockets and spaceships? Seems almost a shame that they'd no longer be useful. Like all the hard work that went into inventing and building them was for nothing...

Ah, come on. Don't be silly, Eriko - that'd be like being sad about cars replacing horse-drawn carriages.

"...and I hope that's enough soil samples for the geologists back on Earth. Let's take one last good look at this incredible place. Soon enough, I hope coming here will become routine for mankind."

Opening the first of the portals that would lead her home, Eriko let out a happy sigh. My name is Watanabe Eriko. I'm a 13-year-old magical girl, scientist, philantropist, and explorer... and I'm having a pretty good day.


"Problem, Soul?"

"Nothing, just a little peeved about that 'colonizing Mars' bit. I've learned a bit more about space colonization, and, well... Let's just say Mars isn't the best way to go at it."

"How very relevant to your current problems."

"Sarcasm, Douchebaggio? Will wonders ever cease?"


"I'll take that as a no."


"What, done already?"

"If you must have running commentary on the events surrounding your life, then I'll note that Katsutoshi deserves some credit - he figured out rather quickly that seduction was the wrong approach to take with you."

"Wait, what? Seduction what?!"

"It was his original strategy, but he quickly abandoned it when it became clear his brand of charm had too limited an effect on you."

"Katsutoshi had a strategy?! I mean, yeah, obviously, but one with seduction?! WHAT?!"

"I suppose it's simply a matter of taste. Prince charming is not quite your romantic ideal, is it? I suspect you're attracted to strong personalities rather than playful charm..."


"It's simply impossible to have a mature conversation with you."

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