Saga of Soul
My name is Junko, and I don't know what to do.
Eriko did great as "Soul" today. She managed to beat this scary monster - and she did it in a clever way, too. -I- wouldn't have thought of that wire trick.
But she also got hurt, and I don't just mean from the car Downfall threw at her. She was -crying in my arms-. I'd never seen her cry before.
I suppose that, watching those magical girls anime, it never occurred to me how -scary-, even -traumatic- fighting horrible monsters could be.
All I could do was hug her tight... But I tell myself that I wasn't -completely- useless. When Mr and Mrs Watanabe called in the middle of the fight, I answered her cell phone, told them that we were in a part of the city really far from where I knew the fight was taking place, and that Eriko had lent me her phone while she went to the bathroom. Eriko figures that trick won't work twice, but it was good enough for now.
And now, here I am, watching the news with the Watanabes.
My name is Watanabe Eriko, and I'm a little confused.
I knew Downfall's rampage would go on the news. It pretty much had to - he caused -quite- a lot of damage. People were killed, for goodness's sake!
But... The news didn't show Downfall at all. They didn't mention him. They mentioned the disaster, they showed footage of the damage, of people running away... They said there were 74 casualties so far, and over two hundred injured... then they said the cause of it all was "still being investigated".
What the -Hell-? The cause was a demon the size of an elephant! People -saw- him! He's probably on tons of footage... I think...
"<Do you... know what caused this? I mean... It's just... People were there! They must have seen what happened, no?>" And you're a journalist.
Mr Watanabe sighed. "<We're... still trying to figure it out at work, Eriko. There are witnesses, even pictures, but what they say is... confusing, to say the least.>"
Her father hesitated. "<They're talking about monsters attacking the city, and some mysterious person stopping it. We don't want to mention it yet, because it feels too... fake.>"
"<But... It really... I mean, if the witnesses and evidence say it really happened...>"
"<It might not be what it looks like. And then, anyone who reports it as is is going to look like a fool.>"
So... The media do have the information. They just don't know how to deal with it, so they're putting it off for now.
...Shouldn't I be more concerned with, you know, the 74 people who died?
A search for more information on the Internet led to some footage of Downfall, as well as herself. As it turned out, there had actually been a few witnesses to hear her conversation with Downfall - including some English-speakers. The names "Soul" and "Downfall" were already floating around. Ironically enough, it was the sources who were less worried about journalistic integrity and credibility that were more likely to give information about what had really happened.
There was a lot of speculation on Japanese forums. A bit less on English-speaking forums, but that was probably just a matter of time delay as the information filtered out.
Well, at least there isn't any "Soul: Threat or Menace?" news item yet.
The next day at school, Junko took it upon herself to introduce Eriko to more of her friends.
"<I don't know, Junko... I'm not sure this is really needed...>" And I really don't mind being on my own during recess.
"<Don't worry, I'm sure they'll like you... and you could use having more friends!>" And maybe making you more popular can be one way for me to help you. You're always alone...
A short while later, they came across a trio of acquaintances.
"<Guys, this is Eriko, who... rescued me. Eriko, this is Gosho,>" she gestured at a tall boy, "<Tomo,>" she indicated a cheerful-looking girl, "<and Takato>" she finished with a skinny boy. "<Gosho is one of the school's best basketball players,>" Sorta. For his grade, at least. "<Tomo's introduced me to half the manga I know,>" The shojo ones, anyway. "<And Takato is..>." The second smartest person I know? "<...the smartest boy I know.>"
"<I already know Takato. We were together at the computer club.>" An OK guy, but not the brightest among us...
"<Oh. Well, um, guys, is it OK if Eriko and I have lunch with you today?>"
"<Sure. You know, Eriko, the computer club misses you. We don't really have a lot of girls.>"
"<Yeah, sorry, but I really don't have time for it.>" Too busy exploring new fields of physics, building extra-dimensional castles, gleaning information from fairy queens and fighting demons for dear life. "<How did the ADA compiler project go?>"
"<Eh, we sorta gave up on it to work on this other couple of things that came up.>"
"<So!>" Junko took it upon herself to salvage the conversation. "<Is it just me, or is Mr Suzuki getting crazier every week?>" I mean, disparaging the gym teacher should be one thing we can all agree on, right? "<I thought he was trying to kill us with yesterday's long-distance run!>"
"<He is crazy,>" Tomo agreed, "<but I'll still take gym over math class with Mrs Mizuno. At least gym's good for our health. Who's actually going to use most of the stuff we learn in math class?>"
"<Actually,>" Eriko felt the need to intervene, "<math class isn't just about math.>" I realized it last year in that Internet forum discussion...
"<Huh?>" The blank stares were pretty much unanimous.
"<Well... Sure, most of us aren't going to use any mathematics more complicated than what we need to count our salary... Except those of us who will work in fields that require it.>" Like me, and possibly Takato. "<But math class is also supposed to teach you a logical way of thinking. It teaches us how to take things logically and figure them out. That's useful for just about everything in life.>"
"<...Well, it is!>" She insisted.
"<Yeah, I guess you're right.>" said Junko. I mean, I don't have a freaking clue, but you know your stuff, and I can't let you look like a weirdo. "<Say, did anyone watch it yesterday on TV when...>"
That bit did not go exactly as planned by Junko either - less than two minutes later, the TV discussion had turned to yesterday's disaster.
"<It's true!>" Takato insisted. "<My aunt was there, she saw a monster tearing the neighborhood apart! She was even injured in the chaos!>"
"<I'm so sorry.>" Eriko blurted. I am, right? I should be, at least. A lot of people I was supposed to protect got hurt. 74 people died, but the only one I really feel bothered by is the policeman I saw get killed. That's not right.
"<It's OK, she wasn't hurt badly>", said Takato, "<but she saw it! I checked the Web afterward, and there's a lot of contradictory information, but almost everybody who was there agrees that a mysterious girl all in white showed up and fought the monster with weird powers until it finally ran away!>"
This time, Eriko and Junko said nothing.
"<Wait, wait>", Gosho seemed more dubious. "<First a monster in downtown Tokyo, then a magical girl? That's crazy. Stuff like that doesn't happen in real life.>"
"<But it really did!>"
"<Maybe it was holograms? Or some kind of publicity stunt?>"
"<Don't be such an idiot, kid.>" All five of them turned their heads to see the older student who had said that. "<You think some CGI or publicity stunt would kill people? Whatever happened there, it was real." Unlike Takato, the older boy seemed to put no passion behind his words - he was speaking as if explaining obvious facts to children. Which technically was the case. "If everybody says they saw a monster, there probably was a monster. Still makes more sense than your explanation.>"
"<Right.>" Junko breathed in. "<Eriko, this is Kazu, from the 9th grade.>" And one of the coolest guys at school.
To be fair to Junko, "coolness" had always been a subjective value.
My name is Watanabe Eriko, and I'm feeling like a fish out of water.
I've never been a very social person. Not sure why Junko thought it'd be a good idea to drag me into this. I don't really know how to connect with these guys... Heck, my knowledge of them is superficial at best:
Gosho's an amateur athlete. Tomo, I think, is a bit of a ditz. Takato's an enthusiasm-prone tech fan.
And then there's Kazu. Even -I- know him by reputation. Oldest student at school, comes on a motorbike, sleeps at what few classes he even bothers to attend, supposedly a serial heart-breaker. Delinquent-in-training.
Seems to ooze self-confidence, though.
"<So you're saying,>" Kazu, even while talking to Takato, seemed to prefer gazing at his own raised hand, "<that the monster that partied through the town yesterday was stopped by a girl with powers. Guess things are going to get more interesting.>"
"<W-what do you mean?>" Tomo asked tentatively.
"<If people are starting to get powers - we're gonna see some action when they start using them.>"
"<You don't know that>", Takato objected. "<For all we know, maybe this kind of thing has been kept secret for a long time. Or maybe that magical girl wants to lay low.>"
"<God, don't be such a retard.>" Kazu rolled his eyes. "<Kept secret? People suck at keeping secrets. If the government can't keep it a secret every time some suit steals tax money, you think people with mystical lasers could keep their mojo secret for very long?
And don't feed me this crap about laying low. Nobody would "lay low" once they got powers. If I had powers, I'd be using them all the time. So would you. So would everyone here. Am I right, or am I right?>"
"<You could be right without being a jerk about it.>" All eyes turned to Eriko.
...What? He was being annoying and rude.
Kazu laughed out loud (which in itself was considered rude). "<I see you're gutsier than you look. See you around, girl.>"
What was -that- about?
"I suppose your snarky comment made you stand out in his eyes."
"Who, Kazu? I suppose. Lots of students seemed... at least moderately impressed with his tough, streetwise act."
"Whereas you were too socially clueless to be impressed."
"But then again, I believe his self-confident demeanor made him stand out in your eyes, too."
"Rot before you hit the ground."
My name is Aoyama Hyosuke. I'm six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and pretty healthy for a man my age. With my size and build, kids at school used to assume I'd go into a job based around physical strength. I silently disagreed - my own strength always seemed inconsequential to me.
I must have been at last partially right, because I ended up becoming a detective for the Tokyo police.
"<Hyosuke, do you hear me?>"
This would be Hiromasa. He was assigned to me as my partner a few years ago - he's new to the service, so they figured a veteran like me, a few years away from retirement, could teach him all the ropes.
As partners, we've been through a lot together. We've faced great risks together. I believe we'd take a bullet for each other.
None of which should give the mistaken impression that I like him. I think Hiromasa is a brown-nosing monument to mediocrity.
"<I hear you, Hiro. I was just thinking.>"
"<About the case? We should get moving already. We...>"
"<Not about the case. About why they assigned us to it.>"
"<Huh? You heard what the chief said. Your experience...>"
"<...My experience busting Yakuza isn't exactly relevant to Godzilla's nephew throwing a tantrum during rush hour and Cutie Honey's little sister showing up to kick his butt. They already had people assigned to this case; it's been less than 48 hours, they don't know how to handle this, so they drop it on us.>"
"<...Maybe they're just trusting us to handle it better.>"
You're no Sherlock Holmes, Hiromasa, but you're not -this- stupid. You know damn well - like everyone at this station - that I've been trying, for a -while- now, to build a case against several corrupt officials around here. Assigning me to this insane story? Nice way to keep me busy and away from the mundane corruption of everyday Tokyo. And I'm just going to have to roll with it.
"<Well then, I suppose we'll need to actually handle it better. Go get copies of the tapes; we're going to revisit the crime scene.>"
Eriko looked around at Castle Nexus. The tension from yesterday had subsided a little while she was back in her normal, everyday life... but back here, she could feel it again.
"<Eriko? Are you all right?>"
"<I'm fine,>" she told Junko, "<just a little nervous. I've been doing a lot of thinking since yesterday, and I want to compare notes with Mother Aurora.>"
"<What do you mean?>"
"<Tactics, mostly. I went to fight Downfall with almost no idea of what to expect or do, and almost got killed. Next time, I want to be ready.>"
"<But even Mother Aurora didn't know what to expect with Downfall!>"
"<That doesn't mean there were no ways to prepare. Trump cards, better defenses, better attacks... Plus, I have some questions I hope she'll answer this time around.>"
"<There are things man was not meant to know, child.>" The pink radiant glow had preceded the voice by a second. "<But if you want to compare notes, as you say, then I shall at least listen.>"
So you were listening even before you actually showed up. "<Hello, Mother Aurora.>" She and Junko bowed respectfully. Mother Aurora nodded. "<I've been thinking about yesterday's fight - especially my defenses.>"
"<They kept you alive, albeit not by much.>"
"<Yes. Obviously I still need to work on my shields and flight, but I think my best defense was actually that "portal shield" trick - you know, opening a portal in the path of incoming attacks. It's not automatic like the shield, but if I train at it, it could practically become a reflex.>"
"<An astute observation. There are some who defend this way.>"
"<Yeah. I'll need to train hard at it, but that's not all. There's my shield. I know it's too weak for now, but I've been thinking - is that really the best way to shield myself? Couldn't I use noble magic to directly make my body resist harmful changes? I think Downfall was doing it, seeing as being directly connected to a power line didn't kill him...>"
"<That was indeed the very next spell I intended to teach you - a holistic shield, far more efficient than the kinetic one you've been using.>"
"<...Aaand I'm guessing you taught me the kinetic shield first because it's easier to make?>"
"<Indeed. Your mastery over noble magic is even weaker than your mastery over the common one, and holistic shields are complex works of noble magic.>"
"<And even if you use them, you can't completely make yourself invulnerable, because you can only ignore the action/reaction rule to a limited extent. That's why my attacks did hurt Downfall - just not as much as they should have.>"
"<But since you can cast shields, but didn't cast one on me before sending me to the fight... I take it your magic doesn't work on Earth? For the same reason you can't go there?>"
Mother Aurora almost imperceptibly stiffened.
"<I mean, you had no problem opening a portal, but a portal's a borderline case - you were twisting space here, and just barely touching Earth's space.>" Yeah, that actually fits! "<But any spell you'd cast on me would stop working once I left Caste Nexus. The continuous spells, I mean - the healing spell didn't get undone because it was an instantaneous effect; once it had been cast, there was nothing magical about my health...>"
"<While you are very perceptive and a quick study, you talk more than is strictly needed.>"
"<Right, sorry. One more thing, though: During the fight, Downfall and I were throwing around heavy objects, burning combustibles, hot plasma... But what about pure energy? Lasers would be impossible to dodge, since they go at the speed of light.>"
"<But difficult to control. Generating bursts of pure energy and directing them as a weapon is akin to trying to grab sand.>"
"<Ah. Well, before I forget, there's the matter of the whole secret identity thing...>"
Grand Adviser Chancell was typically deep in thought as he walked through the halls of the Domain of Wonders. The Domain was a masterpiece of architecture millenia in the making, constantly evolving as artists and engineers came up with new ideas; it was now big enough to act as a small city unto itself, and it was not too uncommon for some to spend decades within the Domain without setting foot in the city surrounding it even once.
Various servants genuflected as he passed by. His fellow exalted ones - the members of the nobility - did not need to go so far, but they still bowed respectfully in recognition of his high status as Grand Adviser. He noticed the pierced ears on one of them - ear piercing had gone out of fashion years ago. Everybody, himself included, had pointy ears, though: They had been all the rage for nearly three decades now, ever since the Supreme One had started using them.
Speaking of the Supreme One, he was finally reaching the wing of the Domain where he presided. Which meant that the process of reaching the Supreme One was just beginning - now, he would have to go through a complex ceremony involving the passage of seven gates and as many sets of guards, going through different motions of courtesies and identification along the way. I swear, this gets more complicated every century. At least he had the advantage of his high position - most exalted ones would practically need between thirty and fifty minutes at each single gate. To someone who wasn't part of the nobility, obtaining an audience with the Supreme One would be unthinkable.
Finally, he passed the seventh gate. "<Exalted Grand Adviser Chancell, master of House Lor.>" I wish they didn't need to say that, he thought as he was announced with all the official honorifics. "<Hero to the Elysium thrice. Imperial Mastermind. Recipient of the Supreme One's Trust. Recipient of the Supreme One's Greater Trust. Recipient of the Supreme One's Perfect Trust.>" He suppressed a wince at the redundancy. How much longer until they agree to only say the highest level of Trust? "<Resident of the Domain of Wonders. Key Holder of the Domain of Wonders.>" Finally, they ran out of titles.
He gazed at the immense hall before him. Dozens of entertainers, caterers, and guests. Roughly twice as many guards. Excessive luxury at every corner. And at the heart of it all, the Supreme One, sitting upon his Rainbow Throne. Contrary to some of the rumors one could hear outside the Domain, the Rainbow Throne was note made completely of multi-colored gems - that would have been rather uncomfortable. The gems did make up for about 90% of its mass, though.
"<I am reporting for duty, oh Supreme One.>" he said as he genuflected.
"<Your audience is in session.>" That short sentence by the Supreme One sent everyone else to the corners of the great hall. As always.
Chancell made his way to his lord and liege. "<Supreme One, I am here to report an important discovery: Another world has been linked, and now allows magic. In fact, magical activity was already detected there.>"
The Supreme One smiled in satisfaction. "<Excellent. Do you know who the magic users there are?>"
"<Unfortunately, at least two other factions appear to be involved already. A demon has already shown up.>"
"<A demon, you say? Have you discovered who he works for?>"
"<Yes, Supreme One.>" Chancell's ability to gather information had brought him far. "<The demon, known as Downfall, is a member of the Endless Ravage.>"
"<Endless Ravage? Ha!>" The Supreme One seemed to think it a great joke. "<No need to worry then. They are hardly the greatest force among the legions of Hell.>"
No, they're not. But even so, the destructive potential of those hateful, fearless, chaotic, omnicidal maniacs should not be discounted. "<I believe we can handle the Endless Ravage with some effort, Supreme One.>"
"<Of course. But you said there was another faction?>"
"<Indeed, Supreme One. I have learned that Mother Aurora is currently present in a pocket universe linked to the world in question.>"
This time, the Supreme One frowned. "<Why, that self-righteous, holier-than-you butterfly-wing... What does she think she's doing?!>"
She's trying to save the multiverse from forces even she cannot stop. "<Knowing Mother Aurora, she will probably do her best to prevent widespread use of magic on that world. That will involve preventing other magic-using factions from operating there - including us. However, given that the "extension" of He Who Laughs prevents her and her kind from acting directly, I believe she will be trying to neutralize it.>"
This made the Supreme One pause. "<...You believe she will attempt that?>"
"<She has done so in the past; this is the best strategy available to her at the time. She will need agents to work for her until then, though - presumably human agents.>"
"<Well, then you will simply need to do better than her. That ought to be well within your competence.>"
"<I will not allow Mother Aurora to take our prize away this time. Grand Adviser Chancell, bringing this world under my control is now your greatest priority.>"
"<As you command, Supreme One. But my other duties...>"
"<There are other Grand Advisers. If your task leaves you too little time for your secondary duties, you may delegate to them as needed.>"
"<Thy will be done, Supreme One.>" Looks like I have a challenging campaign ahead of me...
Junko looked at the rubber ball in her hand. She looked at Eriko. Then she threw the ball at her as hard as she could.
A portal opened between them; the ball passed through it and came out of its other end, hitting one of the targets positioned around them.
"<Again>" said Eriko.
Another ball. Another portal. Another target.
"<Say, Emi, who's the cute guy with the blond hair?>" a schoolgirl asked her classmate.
"<Oh, him? That's Steel Katsutoshi, from the tenth grade.>"
"<Yes. I think his mother is a foreigner. That blond hair isn't a dye-job.>"
"<Oh. Well, he's still cute.>"
"<Half the girls in his class will agree with you on that, but, don't bother. Guy's got issues.>"
"<Well... from what I've heard, his dad died years ago, his mom's the coldest person in the world, and he's not exactly Mr Nice Guy himself.>"
"<He can't be that bad. They let him here, didn't they?>" The term "here" referred to one of the most prestigious private upper secondary schools in Tokyo.
"<Oh, I don't mean he's a delinquent. Just... cold. Seriously, keep your distances.>"
If Katsutoshi had noticed the exchange, he didn't give it any attention. No, his attention was focused on an e-mail he was reading and re-reading on his cell phone:
"I'm coming to Tokyo.
Author's notes: Yeah, lots of characters introduced or at least hinted at here. Some will be of great importance to the story; some, less so. Many more have yet to show up... and there is more to the Soulverse than has been shown so far.