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Anything That Burns

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Hyoudou Issei was certain that he had to be the luckiest guy in the world.

He was, amazingly, on a date. With a girl. And not just a girl, but rather A GIRL. Never in all his sixteen years had he ever even dared to dream that a female person as unfathomably gorgeous as Amano Yuuma would give him the time of day, much less spend much of said time of day in his presence without being tied up or something! And yet it was happening. It wasn't a dream -- he'd discreetly checked several times to confirm that.

And now the sky had gone dark, and the moon could be vaguely seen through the red haze of the evening sky, and their steps had led them to a park, and Amano was looking off in to the distance and saying, "Hey, Issei-kun ... could you do me a little favor?"

Ohmigodohmigodohmigod she wants a goodbye kiss! he shrieked inwardly. "Ub, um, uh, sure," he replied suavely. "Anything you like!"

"Really?" she cooed, slowly turning to face him with a sweet, loving smile on her face. "Okay, then. What I'd like for you to do is to dUUUUURK."

"Duuurk?" Issei repeated, confused. "I'm sorry, I don't think I know how to do that." It must now be said, somewhat to Issei's credit, that his eyes were rather firmly fixed on Amano's face rather than the more traditionally interesting parts of her anatomy below that.

Amano, or rather the person who called herself Amano, wasn't really listening to Issei though. Unsteadily, she looked down at her chest area, from which a shadowy spike was presently protruding. "Wha?" she mumbled, finding it somewhat difficult to articulate her thoughts with all the fluids in her throat. "Who ... dares ..." This question was followed up by the explosion of dark wings from "Amano's" shoulders and equally abrupt transformation of her cute but modest outfit into a terribly revealing set of black leather undergarments.

That was the sort of thing that not even Issei could miss, and his reaction to his date's injury, winged status and (most importantly) near nudity was a completely understandable decision to stand and gape.

"Wins," said a quiet voice from behind a nearby tree.

"What?" growled Raynare -- for this was in truth the real name of 'Amano' -- turning in that general direction even as one of her hands came up to try and push the spike in her chest back. This gesture proved ineffective, as it seemed the spike was only selectively present and would not condescend to be touched by her.

"The phrase I assume you are trying to quote," said the voice, whose source now stepped into the line of sight for both . She was a rather petite young woman, possibly middle-school aged, dark skinned with silvery white hair, holding a chain in both of her hands that trailed down into the shadows. "'Who dares, wins'. It's a sentiment with which I find myself in agreement."

"Ma ... mazoku filth!" Raynare managed to squawk. "Do ... do you know what you are starting?"

"Yes," the young woman replied calmly. "Though I suspect my understanding of it differs. Where you imagine that my attack on you is the renewal of hostilities between the fallen angels and my kind, the truth is that your death will be of little note among your fellow travellers. You will die here, alone, unmourned, and unremarked. If you would blame someone, blame the God who sealed a Sacred Gear inside that young man."

"Huh?" said said young man.

"Except of course that you already blame Him for everything anyways," the young woman concluded. Abruptly, her grasp on the chain she was holding shifted.

In the same moment, exactly a dozen more spikes erupted from various parts of Raynare's torso, and the winged woman let out a bellow of purest agony. Her head lolled to one side, eyes momentarily focusing on Issei, and her mouth moved several times before the words 'Help .., me ..." emerged from her throat.

"Whawhawhawha?" he asked.

"Oh, not even a bit of dignity," sighed the young woman with the chain, and began to swing the end of it that dangled from her hands.

The spikes began to move in a manner not unlike the blades of a cuisinart, and tore Raynare's body to pieces, sending blood as crimson as the sky and the sea flying through the air. Quite a bit of it landed on Issei, unfortunately, doing nothing for his state of horrified confusion.

Once the various pieces of Raynare's anatomy had reached maximum dispersion, the young woman -- whose name, as it happened, was Zazie -- began to walk towards Issei.

"Oh god," he said. "You're going to kill me, too, aren't you?"

She halted, seeming somewhat startled. "Nnno," she said, then paused as if to consider the fact that this had not been a particularly convincing response. After shaking her head somewhat ruefully, she continued. "It is actually my intention to take away your memories of these unfortunate events. However, I should tell you that the reason these matters occurred the way that they did is because of a certain artefact which is sealed inside your body. As long as it is there, events of this sort will continue to happen to you. I may be able to remove it from your person without killing you. Would you like me to do this?"

"What is this I don't even," Issei replied, then took a long breath. "This, this thing you're talking about ... can I use it to become a harem king?"

Zazie stood a moment, considering the question. Then she nodded firmly, smiled, and lied. "No, not at all. If anything, it will lead you to a life of celibacy and chastity."

"Getitoutgetitoutgetitout!" Issei shrieked, finally pushed past his breaking point.

"Very well," said Zazie, who closed the distance between them rather quickly and took his left arm in her hands. "Now, this will hurt. And possibly kill you. Warning over."

Issei's universe dissolved in agony.

"Deets!" chorused Matsuma and Motohama. "We want deets!"

Issei laughed uncomfortably. "Well, guys, the funny thing is, she was just dating me to win a bet."

"Knew it!" said Matsuma.

"So what happened to your arm?" asked Motohama.

"I broke it, I guess?" Issei replied, staring at the cast.

"You guess?"

"Must've done."

Quite some distance away, Zazie was observing the work of her hands with quiet satisfaction ... a sentiment which was not shared by the rather large gem she was carrying.

"Be still, Y Draig Goch," she told it absently. "I will find you a better host. A younger man. A Welshman, as it happens. I think you'll approve."

He was moving faster now, his hips like the pistons of a locomotive under way, where before his thrusts had been almost languid and gentle. Still he leaned forward to press his lips once more to those of the pale girl with whom he was coupled, just as he'd kissed her so many times at the start of their union. Then the not-all-that-gentle pressure of teeth on his ear and fingers at the base of his scrotum made him rear back. "Coming," he announced, eyes tightly shut.

"Negi," the girl beneath him moaned once, perhaps bemused that he'd felt the need to declare himself thus, a moment before her red eyes burst open and she shrieked his name a second time as he burst within her, painting her insides as white as her skin. He collapsed upon her after a moment of paralysis, their faces coming together to whisper endearments to one another.

"Well done, children," said the older woman with golden hair and mismatched eyes who'd crouched behind the boy, her full breasts pressed against his back, her fingers against the place where the boy and girl's flesh met. She doubted that either of them had actually heard her, and felt somewhat absurd for having said anything. Yet she supposed the formalities must be observed in this rite of passage. Ignoring her own hunger, for the moment, she pressed her lips to the back of her son's head, then rose from the bed and walked naked out the bedroom door.

Down the hallway she went, pausing at the first door on the right to open it wide enough to see within. Satisfied that she would not be interrupting anything, she opened the door the rest of the way and went in. "It's done," she declared quietly.

"So we're both to be grandparents at this young age," mused the woman ensconced in the bed within, clutching to her the shoulders of a sleeping young man. Just as she might have seemed the older sister of the girl in the other bedroom, his red hair might have made him look the brother of the boy there, had one ignored the other signs of his heritage. "So many things I never thought I'd live to be. Thank you, Arika."

"You are welcome, Iri. I admit surprise that you chose this instead of coming to watch, however."

"He was ... unsettled. Afraid for her, I think. I comforted him as best I could." She fell silent a moment, before her hand came up to run her fingers through his red hair. "It's a terrible thing. He was so vital when we met him, after all of that, and yet now he's so empty. I wonder what could have gone so wrong."

"It is simply the way of this sickened world," Arika replied.

"I know, I've seen the same numbers as you, and yet it hasn't happened to Negi, has it? Just to Shirou. It makes me wonder if I failed him somehow."

"No," the other woman said firmly. "You could no more fail any of our children, Irisviel, than you could fail me. Or either of our men. It's not in you to fail those you love. It is just the way of the world."

Iri smiled then. "Such sweetness, beneath that coldness," she said. "And so stern. You remind me of her in so many ways. Come here, my love. He'll be ready to go again when he wakes up."

With a sigh of release, for never would she go where she was not invited, Arika joined the two of them in bed.

The day after this ceremony of graduation, spirits on high declared that Negi Springfield was to become a teacher at a girl's school in Japan.

A few months passed.

Once upon a time, or so the sempai told them, the buildings that lined the streets leading to the school gates had been flourishing businesses with fascinating and useful stuff on sale. These days, all that was to be seen there were boarded-up windows and 'we thank our customers' signs, and the buildings themselves seemed to almost be leaning over like they could collapse at any moment. Or not really seeming, for some of them clearly had done just that and nobody had bothered to show up to clear away the debris so something new could be built on the empty lot.

Then too the streets themselves were covered in cracks and potholes, and one of the reasons that Asuna was firmly convinced that Konoka was a genius, test scores or no test scores, was that her best friend and roommate was somehow able to avoid all these hazards while merrily rollerblading along beside her, and reading at the same time. Granted, it was probably safe to do that here. The more social obstacles along this route had been taken care of a while ago, when Asuna had gently persuaded Mankanshoku Matarou and his band of hooligans to engage in petty banditry elsewhere on campus. She doubted that the little brats were anywhere nearly as scared of her as they were of Matarou's older sister, but they knew what was good for them.

Such concerns never troubled Konoka's mind, as she read aloud from her Weekly Fortune. "So the first part of the charm is to repeat the name of the man you love five times in public and then bark like a dog. Not very enlighten--"

"Takahata-sensei, Takahata-sensei, Takahata-sensei, Takahata-sensei, Takahata-sensei, RARF!"

Non-plussed, Konoka gazed at Asuna for a moment, then returned her attention to the magazine. "Second part, assume a handstand with your legs spread and walk forward fifty meters before purring like a pussy cat."

"Who the hell can walk fifty meters on a handstand?" Asuna demanded.

"Apparently the powers that be really demand a lot of people who ask stuff of them," Konoka replied with a careless shrug.

"While that's true, I think that this particular charm is probably just nonsense," said the young man who was keeping pace with the two of them without their noticing him.

Jolted, Asuna whipped her head around to stare at the boy, the bells holding her twintails ringing as she did so. She intended to yell some imprecations on general principle before figuring out which of the local gangs was trying something, but the sight of the boy in glasses with a long, twisted staff strapped to his back stopped her -- literally, making her stop in her tracks while the boy and Konoka kept moving forward for a few meters before realizing that she'd fallen behind. He stopped first, turning to look at her and wave politely.

"Negi?" Asuna Springfield gasped. "What are you doing here?"

"This is my assignment, of course," he answered her, smiling warmly, eyes firmly on her face rather than on her chest, hips, legs or other interesting portions of her anatomy.

"Asuna, how do you know this boy?" Konoka asked, turning to skate towards the two of them.

"Negi Springfield," he introduced himself with a bow that let him check out her ass. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Supulingufeedo?" Konoka repeated, blinking. "But that's --"

"Yes," Asuna interrupted, feeling very weary. "This is the younger son of the ... couple who adopted me." She deliberately censored certain details that would only confuse and worry poor Konoka, even though she knew that the bare facts would provoke a different yet equally unwelcome response.

And sure enough, Konoka's face lit up and her hands clapped together just beneath said lit-up face. "Your little brother!" she cooed.

"Technically, yes, you could call him that, but Konoka, calm down, why are you drooling --"

"'Technically'?" Negi repeated, looking a bit hurt.

"It's a complicated language," she said, glaring at him. "What are you doing here, Negi?"

"I'm pretty sure that I told you that this is my assignment," he said, peering at Asuna worriedly. "Have you had your ears checked recently?"

"What do you mean, it's your assignment, is what I was trying to not all that subtly ask."

"Well, after I graduated --"

"I thought you were supposed to be attending that crazy school until you were twelve."

"Crazy school?" Konoka interjected in an attempt to join the conversation.

"-- early," Negi added, then continued the original thrust of his remarks. "-- I was assigned to act as a teacher in a girl's school in Japan. So after I got my teaching certificate, I came here." He spread his hands. "See how simple it all is?"

"Oh no," said Asuna, who could tell where this was going.

"No, really, it's very simp--"

"No, you are not going to be teaching our class."

"... well, no, that doesn't seem very probable. There are many classes here, and there's no reason to assume that I'd be assigned to your class in particular, oneesan."

"He even calls you oneesan!" Konoka squealed, grabbing Negi in a sudden embrace. "Please can we keep him?"


"I still have to get the details from the headmaster," said Negi, subtly pushing up against the more interesting parts of Konoka's embrace. "Do you know where his offices are?"

"No," Asuna repeated.

"There's a strange omission in your local knowledge, oneesan," he told her, looking quizzical.

"Oh, of course Konoka-san knows where the headmaster's office is," said Negi in a tone of great revelation. "I suppose it stands to reason that she would know, being his granddaughter, and that oneesan, who has less business with him, might not know."

"I knew, okay?" Asuna growled as she stood beside him. "That wasn't what I was saying -- and wait a minute, Konoka-san? You just met like six minutes ago, it should be Konoe-san!"

"I'm good with whatever Negi-kun wants to call me!" Konoka declared from Asuna's left, eyes twinkling. "I mean, if he's going to be our homeroom teacher and all."

"Negi-kun?" This came out as more of a gasp than a growl. "Okay, come on, this isn't seriously happening, is it?" she asked the elderly gentleman sitting at the desk in front of her.

"I suppose that the degree of seriousness which informs these events is in the eye of the beholder, Asuna-kun, but they are in fact transpiring in what we call reality," Konoemon-sensei replied calmly. "Starting today, Negi-kun is being given the assignment of being the homeroom teacher for class 2A, and teaching your class, and several other classes, English lessons. Are you ready to face this challenge, Negi-kun? Knowing that there will be no second chances if you fail?"

"I will not fail, sensei. Too much is at stake," Negi replied with a firm nod of his head.

"But what about Takahata-sensei?" Asuna asked, somewhat thrown by how seriously the boy was sounding right at that moment.

"Oh, was Takamichi your previous homeroom teacher? He didn't tell me that, the rascal!" The serious tone was utterly banished from Negi's voice.

"You're on first name basis with him?"

The old man politely coughed to break off this side discussion. "Takahata-sensei is being reassigned to certain duties which will be taking him away from campus for long periods of time, Asuna-kun. I'm sure that he will miss you and the rest of your classmates a great deal, but needs must. In the meanwhile, your class will be in Negi-kun's care until at least the end of this term."

Asuna looked the exact opposite of happy about all this, and the faintly accusatory look she gave Negi was not the sort of look one should give one's younger brother. While Negi of course wanted her to be giving him the sorts of looks one should not give one's younger brother, ideally while she was naked and panting, this was not quite what he had in mind, and he attempted to answer her expression with one of helpless regret. It didn't seem to mitigate matters.

"Now we move on to the question of where Negi-kun will be residing for the next little while. There are a number of possibilities --"

"I wanna keep him!" Konoka announced.

"Well, that settles the matter, then," said Konoemon cheerfully. "Negi-kun, you will be rooming with your older sister and my granddaughter for the duration of --"

"Say what?" said Asuna.

"Um!" interjected Negi on the heels of Asuna's interjection. "I actually should probably have already mentioned that Father sent a letter to sensei with me, and said that I should give it to you when we started to discuss this matter." He produced a small envelope from somewhere in the enormous backpack he was somehow carrying, and offered it to Konoemon.

Who accepted it with a raised eyebrow, and opened it quite quickly, unfolding the single sheet of paper within. The contents of the paper were a caricatured picture that was unmistakably that of Nagi Springfield with his usually mocking smile and the middle finger of his right hand extended. Screw you, old fart! read a small missive beside this image. No trying to hook-up your granddaughter with the kid, or else I'll come there myself and you know what I'll do!

"I see," Konoemon said at last. "Your father apparently has some strong views on the subject, Asuna-kun."

"Oh, thank you, god," Asuna murmured. Or rather, thanks, Nagi. I guess the sex hasn't completely rotted your brain.

"So what shall we do with Negi-kun, then?" the old man continued to muse. I need someone who will tie him to the school, if not my family. A faculty member? Perhaps Itoshiki and his sisters. No, that's too cruel. Not to mention too blatant. Not a faculty member, but someone closely associated with the faculty. Ah. The solution presents itself at once. He reached out to pick up the phone headset from his desk, dialed a certain number on its rotary dial, and waited for the other party to pick up. "Shanna, would you please contact Akashi-kun and Okochi-kun and have them join me in my office as soon as possible?"

There was a subtle art to being 2A, an art that had developed surprisingly quickly back when they were 1A. Overt defiance of a teacher's authority was unwise, even if the teachers were usually not as fanatical about having their authority recognized as the Student Council Executive were. So the class had grown adept at seeming to respect that authority while preparing ways to flout it that were put into motion as soon as the teacher's back was turned, or even, more daringly, as soon as their eyes were closed.

So it was a bit surprising to Akashi Yuna that she responded to the quite unexpected news that a ten year old boy would be (a) teaching her class for the next little while and (b) living with her and Akira with an overt statement of defiance, to wit, "That's insane!"

The Headmaster blinked, and then did something incredibly nice. "Excuse me?" he asked in an incredibly mild tone.

Having regretted the words, even if it what had just been revealed to her really was a really insane thing, as soon as they were out of her mouth, Yuna found herself profoundly grateful for the out she was being offered. Her hand came up to her nose. "Thatchinsane!" she said in the manner of one sneezing, then sucked in a difficult breath and let out a mild groan.

"Gesundheit," the Headmaster said, still in that remarkably mild tone.

"Thankeeser," Yuna replied. And Akira, dear Akira, offered her a handkerchief.

Of course, the thing about having taken an out like that was the fact that Yuna now had to keep the rest of her protests, her much more reasonable and less likely to get one crucified protests, to herself. So no mentioning that neither she nor Akira had any younger siblings and so no idea how to look after a young person, no suggestion that putting him with another teacher made more sense, not even the rather clever objection that the temptation to sneak a peek at the test answers that a teacher had with them would be too much for them to bear. She could just smile and nod.

"I'm sorry to be a bother, but please bear with me for the time being," the charming little guy begged, taking Yuna's hand and delicately kissing it, then Akira's. He was a small smooth customer, that kid, but not enough to charm Yuna, who just kept up her smile and nod while inwardly groaning at it. Her taller roommate, however, seemed thoroughly won over, as the soft blush on her creamy white cheeks proved. Akira was a sucker for cute things, almost as much as Maki-chan, even if not so loudly, so that came as no surprise to Yuna. Even so, Yuna had expected more of an objection from her.

Then again, Akira-chan (as Yuna sometimes called her in the privacy of her own thoughts) was often difficult to read. For example, Yuna had no notion, until it actually happened just a bit before they arrived at the classroom door, that Akira was going to say, "Negi-sensei, you should know that they are probably going to prank you." Not only was it more words than she'd said all day up until that point, Akira had never impressed Yuna as being a snitch.

Negi, who'd spent the trip down the hallways from the headmaster's office carefully studying the class roster and making small notes on it, looked up in some confusion. "Excuse me, Akira-san?"

Before Yuna could implement her hastily conceived 'ha-ha Akira is such a kidder' strategem, Akira continued to speak. "The girls in the class are going to prank you when you arrive to be introduced to them. They know that they're getting a new teacher today, and they'll have set up a booby trap to embarrass whoever that new teacher might be."

"Akiraaaa," Yuna groaned.

"It's not right, Yuna," said Akira, sounding incredibly patient to anyone who didn't realize that she'd just run out of patience. "If the new teacher were a grown-up, that would be one thing, but Negi-sensei is just a child. He could be really hurt by the sort of prank that the girls come up with."

"I see," Negi said. Yuna thought he seemed a little affronted at the 'just a child' business, but she decided she had to be imagining that. "Well, thank you for the warning, Akira-san, but I'd already been given some briefing about the ... mischievous members of this class by your previous teacher, and I assure you that I'm ready for anything."

They were at the door by that point, and Negi paused to silently gesture towards it with a glance in Akira's direction, as if wordlessly asking her to confirm that it was part of the trap she'd mentioned. Akira nodded. Negi closed his eyes, shook his head, and reached out to slide the door open while keeping a safe distance away from the threshold. Sure enough, an eraser dropped down from above the door, falling right into Negi's waiting hand. 

Yuna blinked. For a second there, it had seemed that the eraser was falling diagonally, which couldn't be right, could it? 

There was no real time to consider that oddity, however, for Negi was speaking quite loudly. "Oh, look, the old blackboard duster trap," he declared, tossing the eraser in his hand. "How clever! But I'm sure that whoever set this up didn't really mean toAAAAAAAAAAAGH," Negi concluded, as while he was addressing the class on his entrance, he wasn't looking at where his feet were going, and so missed the tripwire that released the bucket of water hanging from the ceilling which dropped on his head, sending him stumbling forward so that the trio of suction-cup tipped arrows could be shot down at his rear, leading to a finale which had him collapsed against the teacher's lectern with swirly eyes.

"... so ... warning him about the prank was part of the prank?" Yuna asked Akira after a moment.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," replied Akira, hand over her mouth.

"Oh, you horrible children!" shrieked a tall blonde student from the first row of the class, darting up from her seat and down to Negi's crumpled form. "This is a just a young boy, not our teacher. I'm sorry, my dear young man, this should never have happened --"

"But I am your new teacher," Negi said a bit dazedly.

The young woman, who had clasped his hands in her own, broke off in mid-frantic apology, and then, in the tones of one having recently received divine revelation, asked, "I'm sorry, what was that?"

Negi's eyes finally focused, and he took in the blonde girl's face in an instant. "Ah, you must be Iinchou," he said. Juuuuust like the stories oneesan told me. I should apologize to her for doubting her when I get the chance.

Helped to his feet, Negi took his place behind the podium and surveyed the class, nearly all of whom were staring at him in confusion and wonderment, with the exception of those who'd already met him ... and the quartet in the furthest back row, which included the one his father had warned him about in his last letter. He found it a bit disconcerting that she seemed to be ignoring both his presence and the class' tumult. Then again, the young woman sitting beside her was regarding him with enough anger and irritation for at least two people ... which puzzled him, as he had no idea who she might be. He paused to glance at the class roster, momentarily wondered which of the two startlingly similar girls might be seated there. He eventually decided to assume that she was the one called Yuuki Karin until he was proven wrong.

On the other side of the back row, there was something of a repetition. He knew one of the girls there -- by reputation, at least -- and found the fact that she was staring out the window to be a bit puzzling. Somewhat more of a confusion was the girl on fire.

Negi took a deep breath through his nose. No, there was no smoke, and none of the other people in the room were reacting to the fire, which suggested that it was a spiritual phenomena that he was detecting with his extrasenses. It certainly wasn't present in the roster's photograph of the girl in question, labeled Hino Rei. A mystery to be solved at a later date, perhaps.

"Ahem," he said at length. "My name is Negi John Springfield. From today forwards, I will be teaching you English. I may only be here for a short time, but it's nice to meet you all."

The bombardment of questions began at once. They first sought the clarification of his age -- "I turned ten a little while ago." -- and nationality -- "No, I'm not from America or Brittania, I'm from Wales." -- and certain points of geography -- "That's one of the provinces of the Union of Albion." When they asked where he was living, he accurately told them that he had not yet settled in anywhere, hoping that to do so would score points for his discretion with his two new roommates. It was somewhat unexpected that this response provoked cries of 'come live with me!' from several of the young ladies, who proceeded to rush forward from their desks to embrace him physically. Unexpected yet certainly not unwelcome.

"Is this really happening?" Yuna heard someone asking as she watched, wondering if she was also imagining the way that Negi seemed to be enjoying the way his head was pressed up against Haruna's breasts.

She blinked, turned to her side and discovered that, wonder of wonders, her seat-mate, Hasegawa Chisame, was actually condescending to address her. The bitchy side of Yuna's personality wanted to point that out, but she suppressed that side of her with some difficulty. It was a strange day, after all, and Chisame would probably have asked anyone. "Um, well, I met him in the head's office, and I don't think the old guy would spring this on us as a joke."

Chisame stared at her for a moment.

"Okay, yes, I do, but who the hell keeps jokes going for this long?"

Up at the front, Misa had almost gotten Negi's belt and pants buckle undone when the Class Representative rose up. "All right, that's Enough," Yukihiro Ayaka declared, making you really hear that capital. "You're making trouble for our new teacher, and we can't have that on his first day."

"I have one more question, though," noted Asakura Kazumi, who was standing in the rear of the group of girls embracing said new teacher.

"I'm sure that you have many, but --"

"Just one," Asakura interrupted. "Hey, Negi-kun."

"Sensei," hissed Ayaka.

Asakura cheerfully ignored her. "Your family name is kind of familiar, as it's the family name of one of the girls in our class. Is that a coincidence?"

"Ahem," said Negi, as he removed his teeth from around one of the blouse buttons of the broadly grinning girl with glasses. "No, it is not. My parents adopted your classmate, Asuna, several years ago, and I consider her to be my older sister. I should note, though, that since she's been here for most of that time, she and I have not spent a lot of time together and I'm afraid that I don't know any embarrassing stories about her. She might know one or two about me, though." That should help to broaden the circle of Asuna's friends!

Why then had she collapsed face-first to her desktop, groaning as though in great pain?

"A. SU. NA. San!" shrieked the terrifying entity who had appeared where the class representative had been standing, golden firey hair streaming upward to the ceilling and impossibly blue eyes as wide as saucer plates. "You have had a charming young man like this as a younger brother for several years and have never mentioned it to me-I-mean-the-class-as-a-whole? Whyever not?"

"Oh, I dunno," Asuna replied, picking herself up again. "Maybe I just didn't want to distract you from the last few loves of your life?"

"What in the world are you talking about, you horrible person, I am an innocent blushing maiden aaaaaah muh tung muh tung et burns!"

Amazingly, after this things started to settle down, and Yuna found, to her amazement, that the kid was actually a fairly typical teacher -- which meant that she could easily let the lecture wash right over her without really paying it any attention. He didn't call on her to do any of the readings, instead asking it of Haruna, Misa and Zazie in quick succession. She had to give him points for paying obvious attention to each of them when they were speaking, and even more for not being a jerk when he pointed out errors in pronunciation. The whole situation was still weird though.

"You're going to have to show him to the dorms," Akira told her as they took their break together.

"Why me?" Yuna asked reflexively.

"I have practice," Akira answered, as though this was a great revelation which Yuna could not possibly have anticipated.

"So do I, y'know. Don't look at me like that, it could happen that we won't get shoved off the court this time. Fine, fine, if that does happen I'll pick the little darling from the teacher's room at the end of the day."



"When it happens."

A sigh of deep annoyance. "Stop picking up on my cynicism, will you?"

It had, thought Negi as he sat at the desk he'd been assigned in the teacher's office, been an interesting introduction. He had learned a lot about the priorities of the young women who'd been placed in his care from the questions they'd asked him. Of course, that was the least of what he intended to learn about them, foremost of which was what they looked like with no clothes on, but every bit of insight was a tool towards that end, with that end as a tool towards the salvation of humanity.

Still, something had been lacking in the experience. In all the courses he'd personally attended, he'd never seen students run up to and, well, grope the teacher in the way that the young ladies of Class 2A had done. While it had been rather enjoyable in some ways -- in many ways, to be honest -- it did seem to suggest that he did not yet command the respect of his students, as all of his own teachers had been able to command the respect of his fellow students and himself. He clearly had a ways to go ...

Thinking about that brought to mind the way that Headmaster Konoe had been able to get Yuna-san to retract her initial reaction with a few short words. Amusing himself by doodling 'that's crazy' in a word balloon over the picture of Yuna on the class register, Negi realized that the headmaster, with his many years of experience, was an ideal person to consult for advice on how to go about gaining the respect of his students. He had quite some time before he was to be introduced to his next class, so why not see if the Headmaster had a spare moment?

He quickly got up from the desk, announced his momentary departure to the rest of the teachers (none of whom bothered to look up as he did) and headed out into the hallway, fairly sure that he knew the right way to the office. And his surety didn't seem to be tested until he arrived at a pair of heavy wooden doors like those he'd seen before. He knocked twice.

"Enter," said a muffled woman's voice.

Negi paused a moment, then opened the door and went in. It looked like the office he'd been in earlier today, but behind the desk was a tall, blonde woman -- taller and, strangely, blonder even than the class representative of 3A -- rather than the elderly gentleman who'd been there before. She was in the middle of examining some paperwork and did not immediately look up. "Yes?" she said.

"Uh ... is this not the Headmaster's Office?" he asked.

Now she did look up. She had, he realized, a pair of eyes that were the exact same color as one of his mother's eyes. "Yes, this is the Headmaster's Office. I am his personal assistant, Minamoto Shanna. And you must be the new teacher, Negi Springfield."

"Minamoto Shanna," he repeated, dubiously. This woman was no more Japanese than he was.

"Yes," she said, flatly.

Well, it was hardly appropriate to pry into private affairs, was it? "I was hoping to speak to the Headmaster about my first day of classes. I think I could use his advice."

"He's not here," she calmly stated the obvious. "For the most part, he's only here during the early morning and some evenings, and spends the rest of his time at his private residence, resting. He's old." Again, a rather blunt statement of the obvious.

"I see. Well, um, if you could let him know that I'd welcome the opportunity to discuss ... matters," Negi concluded at last.

"You will be expected to give him a progress review in about a week," she told him. "That would be the time to do so."

"I see," Negi said again. "Thank you for clarifying."

She gazed at him a moment, then stood up. With the desk out of his way, he had a clearer view of her full figure, and could tell that she was in all probability slightly bustier than his mother, something that rather shocked him. She walked around the desk, standing before him in rather short order, far enough away that she didn't have to tilt her head down to look at him.

"Do you want to mate with me?" she asked.

"... yes," said Negi, whose mother had raised him to be truthful except when absolutely necessary.

She reached out and placed her hands flat on his shoulders, then moved them down to his chest -- then suddenly to his side, under his arms. Without apparent effort, she lifted him up and brought his face up to hers, so that no more than a few inches separated their eyes. If those eyes were the windows into her soul, then that place was a very dark one indeed, Negi decided. There was no real fear in that realization, though. Once again, he was reminded of his mother.

Her eyes closed, and she moved forward -- not to press their lips together, but to sniff at him. She moved her nose around his face, breathing in the scent of him. Then she lifted him higher while smelling at his chest area, then his abdomen, and finally his groin ... a particularly deep sniff there. Her eyes opened, then, and she released her grip on his sides. Negi dropped like a stone, but was careful not to lose his footing as he landed before her.

"Not now," said Shanna.

"V-very well," Negi stammered a bit. This was definitely among the stranger conversations he'd ever had, but it would hardly be gentlemanly to press the issue. "Excuse me, then." And he headed out the door.

Shanna -- only Shanna, for indeed she was not even remotely Japanese -- waited until her heartbeat slowed a bit before turning to head back to the desk and resume her work. Unfortunately, that meant that she had to, however momentarily, look out the window and see the damage done to the world. It had never been, she knew, as beautiful a place as the beloved, savage land where she had been 'born', but to see what man had wrought here was just as painful, in its way, as her memories of the loss of that homeland.

And those who'd been lost with it. Mother. Doc.

She had never really learned to process grief well. Anger felt cleaner. When he'd found her, Konoemon had told her that he believed the man who'd caused all this was here, in this country, and that he would help her to find him. That was all that she lived for, at this point -- the thought of what she would do to the man who, fifteen years earlier, had tried to kill the world, and had killed her home and those she loved. Eventually, of course, he was going to die, and she would have to find something else to satisfy her.

The boy might do. Considering it a bit further, she supposed that he might be a good distraction in the meanwhile, too.

Eventually, the school day ended, and the school building quickly emptied of students departing to go to their clubs, or so it was generally assumed. A little while after that, the other teachers in the office began packing up as well, and Negi followed their lead as best he could, gathering up his backpack and heading out of the building to head for the dormitories.

It was at that point that it occurred to Negi that he had no idea where the dormitories were. Yes, on the whole, it would have been a good idea to ask someone about that at some point. Shaking his head in self-reproach, Negi headed out in no particular direction, hoping that he might run into someone whom he might ask for directions.

"Negi?" came a voice from behind him.

"Takamichi!" he said, turning to smile at the man in the rumpled white suit. "The Headmaster said that you were leaving on a mission."

"I actually leave in just a few hours," said the older teacher, walking up to him and giving him a nice thump on the shoulders. "So, sensei, how was your first day with the nicest and best behaved class on campus?"

Negi stared at him.

"Yes, that was a joke."

"Oh good, I wasn't sure. Well, I think we're off to an all right start. They like me, but as for the respect due a teacher ... um."

Takahata took Negi's shoulder and began steering his young friend towards one of the large marble fountains that still decorated the school's promenade. Like most of the rest of the campus, it had seen better days. "Well, Negi, the alternative is to be respected by all your students and know that none of them like you at all ... except for the ones who like you too much."

"We are speaking from experience?" Negi asked, nose wrinkling at the stench of the impure water and the garbage that nobody had bothered to clean up in far too long.

"We are speaking from experience."

"Okay, then. I'd like to strive for a happy medium, then. But on the subject of students who like one too much --"

"Don't worry, Ayaka is harmless."

"Aya-- oh, Iinchou. I was actually talking more about your relationship with Asuna."

Takamichi coughed to fill the silence.

"It's funny, I don't think either of our parents are aware that you're her homeroom teacher," Negi continued in the same artless tone. "It's sort of an interesting thing to leave out of dinner conversations, don't --"

"I'm not her teacher anymore," Takamichi interrupted, calmly but firmly. "You are. And there's nothing else to discuss."

"All right," Negi said, after a moment. "I can think of more important subjects to mention in my letters home."

"Thank you."

"I really do need some advice on how to gain their respect. One of my new roommates actually warned me about the trap they were planning on springing, but I think she did so to put me off my guard so I'd ... well, never mind. I'd welcome any advice you could give me."

Takamichi chuckled, imagining Yuna playing mind games. "Well, in that case, I can recommend an even better source for advice. I think you might even have heard about him before now -- does the name Akashi Wataru ring a bell?"

"The one who sometimes works with Miss McGuinness? He's here, too?" Negi asked.

"Yes indeed, he's a very valued member of the local mage community. Let me send you his number to your cell phone that you don't have yet, ah heh." Takamichi rubbed the side of his head while Negi looked up at him with a somewhat unimpressed expression. "Oh, he's in the campus directory, you should be able to find a copy in the office. And if not, Yuna should be able to tell you where to find him."

"They know each other?"

"They're father and daughter," Takamichi said patiently a moment later. "Didn't the name tip you off?"

Negi coughed. "Now, I think it's a bit much to assume that I know whether a given Japanese family name is common or rare."

"Right," Takamichi said, enjoying Negi's moment of surprise and fallibility just a bit more than he should. He glanced again at his cell phone, taken out a moment before, and made a face. "Ech, I'm going to miss my taxi at this rate. Negi, let me just say that I have every confidence in your ability to undertake this assignment, and I'm sure that you'll exceed everyone's expectations. I hope to see you when I get back." With that, he hurried off.

"'Didn't the name tip you off,'" Negi repeated, sounding annoyed, once his friend was out of sight. He didn't like surprises, and learning that at least one of his roommates was actually aware of the magical world was a considerable one. He sighed. Well, it might make things a little easier.

A scuffling noise drew his attention, and he looked up to see a girl carrying a stack of books almost as tall as she herself while walking down the stairs leading to the fountain. There was something familiar about her, but that was less noteworthy than just how unsafe she was --

She slipped.

The pecking order at Academy City was rather strict, to understate things a bit. More honestly, it was a dog-rape-dog-then-eat-dog system, with the vague consolation that it wasn't as bad as the world beyond the walls of the school. The influence of Kiryuin Satsuki seeped down from her position as Student Council President at the top school all the way into the lower ranks of the system, like Mahora Girls Middle School. In imitation of her, the other sempai would never miss a chance to exert their authority and superiority, such as by say pushing the Middle School basketball club off the court before they could practice, then justifying it by the fact that said club had never won a game in the last decade.

Yuna thought that they could've been contenders if they'd had the chance to practice, but no one cared what she thought.

Akira's swim team did not have this problem, as they did win at competitions -- largely because Akira was on the team, in Yuna's totally unbiased opinion -- and that meant that her team would have the chance to practice. Which meant that, just as they'd discussed, Yuna had to head back to the school building to pick up Negi and take him over to the dormitory. She headed in expecting to find him in the teacher's office.

It was at that point that it occurred to Yuna that it might have been a good idea to tell Negi about this plan, sometime after they'd come up with it and before classes had ended for the day, as he was nowhere to be found. She darted out of the building, hoping against hope that the little boy, who had for all she knew walked here from Wales or wherever, had not gone far. She had the distinct impression that letting a teacher get killed when they were supposed to be living with you was the sort of thing that got you expelled.

Yuna let out a huge sigh of relief when she saw him on the plaza, and opened her mouth to yell out to him as she watched Miyazaki Nodoka -- 'Honya' to pretty much everybody except her fellow junior librarians -- and a large collection of books descend from midair above the stairs towards the ground at roughly a feather's falling speed, with Negi diving to catch the young librarian girl. Something seemed a bit odd about that, as though something unusual was happening, and wait wait wait!

Negi took a moment to examine Honya, whose nickname he did not know but whom he now recognized as one of the quieter girls from his class. She'd fainted as delicate maidens were wont to do. He brushed her long bangs aside, took a good long look at her face. "Exquisite," he murmured, and bent down to press his lips to one of her cheeks.

Yuna made a noise at that point.

"Oh, hello, Yuna-san," Negi said, looking up.

Yuna made more noises, pointing in the general direction of the staircase and, theoretically, the region from which Honya had descended.

"Yes, I suppose that was a rather blatant use of magic, but it was an emergency, after all. I hope she doesn't remember exactly what happened when she regains consciousness, I'd hate to have to use a memory erasure charm on her. I'm not very good at them," he added in the tone of one offering a confidence.

More noises.

"I'll try to be more discreet in the future. Maybe that's another thing your father will be able to advise me about," Negi mused.

Snap went what was left of Yuna's equanimity, and she darted forward to grab Negi by the lapels of his suit and lift him up off the ground. "What do you mean, my father will be able to advise you?!" she demanded, eyes gone a bit wild.

It seemed that it was his day to be manhandled. "Well, he's a very valued member of the local mage community, after all," he reminded her. Well, that's what he thought he was doing.

Impossibly, her grip on his lapels tightened. "What do you mean, local mage community?"

Behind his glasses, Negi's eyes went wide. "Oh dear," he said faintly. "Were you under the impression that your father was the only mage in the area? One of the other students in my class back at Merdiana was in the same situation. She thought her father was the only actual mage in all of the British isles before she was sent to school."

"Papa is a mage?!"

"... ohhhhhhh, feathers."

"But Paru, I don't want to watch boys being chloroformed," said Honya as she started to come around.

Livid, Yuna cast a glare over her shoulder at her collapsed classmate, then returned her furious glare to Negi's face. "Okay," she hissed. "We're gonna help Honya out, and then we're gonna go to the dorm, and then you're gonna explain all this, this screwiness. Got it?"

"Yes, I will explain," Negi agreed, way more patiently than you'd expect of someone being manhandled.

She honored his agreement by dropping him -- fortunately a lesser drop than one he'd already experienced -- and went over to help Miyazaki back to her feet.

Yukihiro Ayaka had a profound dislike for some of the policies that had been instituted in Academy City following Kiryuuin Satsuki's rise to power. Unfortunately, it was her responsibility as Class Representative to see that those polices were observed, and Ayaka had been carefully taught to live up to her responsibilities. So even though she would have very much liked to have a welcoming party for dear, sweet, impossibly cute Negi-sensei, as several of the awful children had proposed, she'd followed her duty by refusing to allow that sort of public gathering without approval from the faculty who'd need to get approval from even higher authorities, all of which would have been difficult to obtain.

Difficult ... but not impossible, given Ayaka's pull as the daughter and heir of the Yukihiro Financial Group. She'd had ulterior motives in forbidding the party, even though she was well aware that she would have enjoyed the chance to socialize with dear, sweet, unfathomably cute Negi-sensei. But she also had another responsibility. A self-imposed one, but a responsibility nonetheless.

That responsibility had brought her here, to a boulevard of broken dreams and homes that looked like they'd been built sometime in the previous century and would fall over in a stiff breeze, to say nothing of the terrible storms that still wracked these islands every few months. Yet they were still standing, and she supposed that there was something admirable in that. She walked along the sidewalk, one hand in her pocket holding her taser and the other firmly gripping her rape alarm. She'd never needed either implement before during any of the times that she'd come here, but there could always be a first time.

Eventually, her steps brought her to the house with the Tamura nameplate, and Ayaka took a deep breath before walking up to the front door and pressing the buzzer. Moments later, the front door opened to reveal the smiling face of a mature woman slightly shorter than Ayaka, with her hair pulled back in a pony tail. "Ayaka-chan!" said the only person on Earth who called her 'Ayaka-chan'. "It's been a while!"

"It has, Umeko-san," Ayaka agreed. She had attempted to call her 'Umeko-obaasan' exactly once. Her neck still ached, but that didn't matter right now. "Is Makoto-kun present and, em, not otherwise engaged?"

She flushed as she watched Umeko mouth the words 'not otherwise engaged', before the older woman coughed and spoke aloud. "Yes, he just got back from class and he's in his room, hopefully doing his homework!" She pitched that last to carry.

"I need to speak with him. Privately," Ayaka added, hands clenching in front of her stomach.

Umeko's eyes got rather wide, but she stepped back and let Ayaka walk deeper into the house, to a room the class representative knew rather well. Ayaka paused at the door, knocked again, and declared, "Makoto-kun, it's me. Can I come in?"

"Oh, sure!" came the sound of a young boy's voice.

Sure enough, he was seated at his desk, clearly focused on his homework (and if there was any manga hidden under the pages of homework, that was hardly any of Ayaka's business.) He turned to look back at her and smiled warmly. "Hello, Ayaka!"

The smile was what broke her. She was on her knees, then on her hands and knees, and sobbing, in moments. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, Makoto-kun!"

"Ehhh?!" the boy exclaimed, pushing his chair away from his desk. "A-Ayaka? What's wrong? What happened?"

"I wanted to be faithful! I really did want that this time!"

"Ohhhhhhh," said Makoto, understanding dawning as he stood up.

"And it's not because he's younger than you are! It really isn't!" Ayaka insisted through her tears.

"I believe you," said Makoto, who didn't, but that wasn't important right now. He walked over to where she was crouched, knelt down to take hold of her shoulders and try to help her to a more upright posture. "Tell me what happened, please."

"Ooookay," Makoto said a few moments later as he sat beside Ayaka on his bed. "So ... actually, you haven't done anything yet with this Negi person."

"But I'm in love with him," Ayaka repeated. She'd calmed down a lot, but she wasn't budging on this point. "I can't be in love with him and be in love with you at the same time. It's just not possible."

"Okay," said Makoto. Maybe she was wrong, maybe not; he certainly didn't have anywhere as much life experience as she did and wasn't about to contradict her under the circumstances. Besides, thinking about Hitomi and how he'd felt about the idea of her having sex with someone else made him suspect that there might be something to what she was saying.

"So ... what we have, this wonderful thing that we have," Ayaka said, almost tearing up again. "It has to end, you see."

Makoto didn't see, but he did understand that this was really hurting this very kind if rather screwy girl. He put his hand on hers and smiled up at her. "If this Negi is what you need to be happy, Ayaka, then I wish you nothing but the best with him. I'm sorry that this is causing you pain."

"Makoto-kun," she breathed, eyes gone heart-shaped.

I overdid it again, didn't I? thought Makoto in the last picosecond before he was kissed, and kissed soundly. And he was being pushed back onto the bed, and his clothes were being tugged at, and --

"No!" Ayaka cried, pulling back. "No, this will only make it hurt more, in the long run. I ... I have to go."

Makoto, lying on his back and his clothes in some disarray, blinked. This never happened. He opened his mouth to say Are you sure? when a noise like paper sliding under a door attracted his attention. He turned to one side to see a piece of paper attached a stick poking through his semi-open door. On the paper were written the words, DON'T say are you sure. Makoto swallowed. "Yes, you should go," he agreed rather stiffly. The stick and paper slid out of sight as soon as he did.

Ayaka, oblivious to all this, let out a long sigh of profound grief. "Yes, I know." She stood up and looked down at him one last time. "I will always love you a little bit," she said in a trembly sort of voice. And then she hurried out the door to his room. Moments later, Makoto heard the sound of the front door of the house opening and closing in quick succession.

Another moment passed, and his mother poked her head in the doorway. "Are you okay, Makoto?" she asked.

"I don't know," he told her, looking up at the ceiling instead of in her direction. "I've never been dumped before, and I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel."

Umeko came the rest of the way into his room and started to pull her shirt off. "Well, that too is a part of grown up fun. The time when you realize that you want the person you're with to only have sex with you, the time when you realize that you're never going to have sex with someone ever again ... these are all parts of the glorious spectrum of life."

"Huh," said Makoto. "Is that why you told me not to say that? So I'd experience more of the glorious spectrum of --"

"Oh no," said Umeko, smiling lasciviously as she removed the last of her clothing. "I did that because this is one of my days, and I don't feel like sharing with the girl who dumped my poor sweet baby. No matter how yummy her sweet blonde cunny is!" With that revelation she climbed into bed atop her son, reached into his pants and began to massage him to hardness. Of course, it took no time whatsoever and they were soon in blissful transport.

"Okay," said Yuna. She and Negi were both seated on the edge of the rooftop of the dormitory building, looking towards the place in the sky where someone would have been able to see the setting sun if the reddish cloud cover hadn't been thick enough to block it out completely. "You're not planning on using one of those memory things on me, are you?"

"No," the boy answered firmly. "Using one of those charms on the family member of a fellow mage might be considered assault, and regardless of how the community would view it, I have no wish to get Aka-- your father angry at me when I expect I'm probably going to need his help. Also, as I said, I'm not very good at them, and there would be a possibility that I'd erase your entire memory rather than just the details of the last few hours. That would be a terrible thing to do to one of my students."

"But you were thinking you might have to do it to Honya," she objected.

"Yes," he admitted. "Keeping the secret of our magic from the public is one of the rules of our community, and failure to do so carries some rather serious penalties."

"Let me guess, you get turned into funny animals if anyone finds out," Yuna said wearily.

"No, I would be sold into slavery to one of the Occult Academies, who would most likely forcibly remove my brain and use it to increase the processing power of one of their biological computers," said Negi. "I'm sorry, were you under the impression that you'd somehow fallen into a children's television program?"

"Sla -- bio -- Occult Academies?" Yuna asked, looking sick.

"There are two primary schools of thought in the magical community," Negi exposited. "The one to which I and your father belong holds that it is our responsibility to use our magic to make the world a better place."

"You've blown it."

Negi coughed sharply at that interjection. "All that I can say is that the world would be in an even worse situation without our efforts. Regardless, the other school feels that the only thing that matters is using magic to learn the truths of the universe and eventually gain access to the metaphysical source of all being and reality, and are willing to do just about anything that will get them closer to that goal. They run the majority of the Occult Academies, which employ some very unwholesome practices as a result. Like the slavery and the biocomputers, among other things."

"So what you're telling me is that there's more evil wizards than good wizards," Yuna said, no longer looking sick. Anger was not a particular improvement. 

"We don't use the word 'wizard', and it's not about good and evil, it's just about one's point of view. I'm sure that members of the other school of thought have excellent reasons for believing what they do, even if I don't share those beliefs. And there is more that unites us than divides us." This last was, perhaps unfortunately, delivered in the manner of one who'd learned it by rote.

"Well, that's just spiffy," growled Yuna. "Anyway. You want to make the world a better place? Then why the hell are you assigned to teach English to a bunch of Japanese girls at a third-rate school like this?"

"You're being far too hard on your school," he reproved her. "I admit that it's not first-rate, but it's ever so much better than third --"

"Cut the crap!" she snapped, grabbing his tie this time and holding it in a way that suggested she might tighten it at any moment. "Why are you here, you little Casanova?"

"All that I can tell you is why I think I was sent here," Negi replied after a moment. "As you yourself have said, the world is not in very good shape. To be honest, it is probably dying, and humanity has not yet faced the worst threats to our continued existence. I believe that I was sent here to find partners and allies for the struggles that are to come, among the people who will have to live in the world our struggles will create and defend."

Yuna stared at him. "You're serious."

He nodded shortly. "And then there's the other thing, too."

"What's the other thing?"

"According to my mother, I was sent here to find as many women as possible to bear my children, who will become the heroes that the generation after ours will need."

Yuna made a noise again.

"I hope you will be one of them, as I find you very attractive," he told her, resting a hand on one of her firm, toned hips. "However, right at the moment, I believe we have other matters to concern us." Negi looked over his shoulder. "Not so?" he asked.

"It is so," agreed Zazie, who'd just stepped out of the door leading to the stairs down.

"I was kidding!" Yuna shrieked, holding her face in her hands as Negi stood up to look directly at the new arrival. "I was kidding about the Casanova bit!"

"Princess Zazie," said Negi, offering her a European-style bow, right arm folded against his stomach. "My apologies for not having been able to offer you an appropriate greeting when we met earlier."

"Wait a minute," said Yuna, lowering her hand and looking back towards the door.

For her part, Zazie offered Negi an elaborate curtsey somewhat at odds with her uniform. "Young Master Springfield," she replied. "It is of no moment. The circumstances did not allow for such things."

"Zazie? As in the girl who sits in the back of the class and never talks to anybody?" Yuna asked, coming to her feet.

"I was asked to recite from the text this very afternoon," Zazie reminded her patiently.

"That doesn't count!"

Zazie looked at Yuna for what felt like a very long moment, then returned her gaze to Negi. "I hope that your mother is well."

"When last I saw her, she was quite well," Negi replied. "Might I inquire after your sister?"

"Were she not well, I would not now be here. Speaking of her, however, I would like to pass on an inquiry from her. Do you know, and can you say, why we are having difficulty contacting your father?"

The question hung in the air for a moment, as Negi considered.

"His dad's a big deal among the wizards, right?" asked Yuna.

He half-turned to look back at her. "We don't use the word 'wizard'," Negi said, sounding just a bit annoyed. "But yes, my father is the greatest mage who ever lived. Your Highness, I offer my apologies for any inconvenience your sister may have endured in trying to contact my father. All that I can say about his whereabouts is that, at last report, he and Uncle Kiritsugu were questing for the Orb and Amulet of Agamotto, so that he might formally take the role of Sorcerer Supreme and Master of the Mystic Arts."

"Oh, man, how is it that I can hear the capital letters?"

Ignoring Yuna, Zazie nodded somberly. "I see. That is unexpected, but of course Lord Nagi is infamous for the unexpected. And I have seen that he has given you his wand. Perhaps that is even more unexpected."

Negi looked uncomfortable. "Yes, he ... said that if he didn't succeed, I would need every advantage. But of course he will succeed so I am only holding it for him temporarily," he added very quickly.

"Indeed. Yet Lord Nagi is correct that you will require every advantage. It is to that point and purpose that I have sought a gift to give to you, Young Master Springfield." With that, Zazie reached into the gift bag she was carrying, producing a large, red gem. "Do you know what this is?"

Negi adjusted his glasses. "Is that ... a Sacred Gear?" he asked, speaking quietly.

"Indeed. Please be introduced to Y Draig Goch, the Great Red Dragon. This is the one I have chosen to host you, Y Draig Goch. You might wish to introduce yourself," she said to the gem.

And the gem spoke, in a very deep voice that seemed, to Yuna, to be coming from everywhere at once. "I have nothing to say to anyone present. You are all thieves and miscreants."

"He is such a charmer," mused Zazie.

Negi took a step towards Zazie. "I have heard the stories of what can be done with this artefact. And you mean to give me this wonderful gift?" he asked, voice still soft and quiet.

"Yes," said Zazie ... then dropped the gem back into the bag. "But not now."

Negi blinked. "I ... what? Not now? Then when?" he asked, sounding somewhat startled and upset.

Zazie rested two fingers against her lips and seemed as though deep in thought. "Twenty," she declared at last.

"... you would have me wait another ten years?" Negi asked, and he was no longer somewhat upset. "What possible --"

"No, not the age of twenty. When you have claimed twenty partners for your ... collective ... then I will recognize you as having demonstrated enough worth to be able to use this artefact well," she explained.

"Of all the cheek! You think you can judge my worth?" he asked.

"I think," said Zazie, very quietly, "that you would do well to remember that we are your allies in this great working, and not your servants, Young Master Springfield."

It became very quiet on top of the roof.

Somewhat predictably, that quiet was broken by Yuna. "Okay, two questions here. Is the number twenty somehow mystically significant or something?"
she asked.

Zazie blinked. "No, it is simply the number of partners that I believe he will be able to gather in a fairly short amount of time, based on what I have already seen of his ability to attract romantic and sexual interest."

Yuna facepalmed. "Yeah, yeah, that was what I was afraid you were gonna say. No, never mind, question two, are all wizards as big a pervert as this kid -- actually forget that, is my dad as big a pervert?"

"We don't use the word --"

"Why the hell not?"

Negi let out an angry sigh. "Because that word is derived from the elder term 'istari', which meant the material incarnation of a ... of a ..." And suddenly his eyes got very big, as he turned back to look at Zazie.

"They themselves prefer the term Guardians, usually represented by the Japanese word 'senshi'," she explained.

"They? H-how many more of them are there?" he asked weakly.

"Eight or nine, I believe."

Negi made a noise.

"Great. So about my dad --" Yuna started to ask.

But Zazie had already departed.

"Why were you up on the roof?" Akira asked when the two of them trooped into the dorm room a few minutes later.

Yuna glanced at Negi, who seemed a bit distracted at the moment, then spoke for the both of them. "I was giving him the full tour of the dorm, from the basement up."

Once again, Yuna was reminded that it could be really hard to read Akira sometimes. Like right then, when she just stood there and looked at Yuna for what felt like a full minute, and Yuna found it impossible to guess whether her friend and roommate was swallowing her lie. "All right," Akira said at last. "I'm going to go have a bath before dinner. Coming with?"

"Ah, no, I think I'll go later, to avoid the rush," Yuna replied.

"Okay. How about you, Negi-kun?"

That certainly drew him out of his distraction, as he blinked rather rapidly before his face assumed what Yuna took for a rather conflicted expression. "I'm --" he started to say.

"He doesn't need one," Yuna interjected.

Akira looked at her again, then walked towards Negi-kun, bent down towards his head (in what he found to be an unfathomably graceful motion) and took a delicate sniff. "I think he sort of does," she reported.

"He'll go later, too," Yuna assured her.

And now Akira gave Yuna a look that wasn't at all hard to interpret. "I see," she said, nodding, then picked up her bath supplies and headed out of the room while Yuna was still only starting to form a response to that.

"Okay!" she finally managed to snap once the door closed behind her roommate, turning to glare at Negi as she spoke. "Rule number one of this cohabitation situation -- Akira is out of bounds. She doesn't find out about all this magic crap, she doesn't become part of your 'collective' -- I'm assuming that's mage for 'harem' -- or anything else. Got it?"

Negi nodded politely, then said, "No."

"Excuse me?" asked Yuna in a tone which spoke eloquently of 'gonna kick your shit'.

The young mage blinked. "Oh, um, I'm sorry, I meant that I agree to your stipulation, even if I think it's a bit unfortunate." That was as far as he was willing to go towards saying that he was, frankly, more attracted to Akira's ineffable beauty than he was towards Yuna's undeniable charm. "I was answering no to your earlier question, on the roof, about your father. He doesn't share my family's priorities, so he wouldn't have our attitudes towards sex. So, no, your father is not what you'd consider a pervert. As far as I know."

"Oh," said Yuna, a bit deflated. "Thanks," she added after a moment.

A somewhat awkward silence descended.

There'd been a forest in the hills of Academy City, once, but the lumber rights had been sold a few years before and most of the trees cut down. So the cabin in the woods was more of a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Still, that suited the residents of that cabin just fine. At the moment, said residents were seated on the veranda of their home and addressing a courtier.

"So that is him, then?" asked Hino Rei, school uniform abandoned in favor of a red leather jacket, white shirt and tight leather pants.

"Yes," replied Evangeline McDowell, not really looking at the fashion victim before her as she reclined in her nightgown on a long-backed chair and gazed up at the sky. "That is the son of the son of a bitch. As I've never been formally introduced to the boy's mother, it's unfair of me to call him a son of bitch himself, but rumor has it that the title is accurate."

"May I ask what your plans are, then?" Rei pressed.

"You just did."

After a moment, Rei spoke again. "And?"

"And what?" Evangeline asked, fixing her gaze on Rei for the first time in this so-called conversation.

"I should probably take this whole tangent as a 'no', then."

Evangeline turned towards the young woman in the costume of a Quebecoise maid who stood beside her chair. "Karin," she said. "Please remind me whether we owe the heirs of the Moon Kingdom anything, particularly anything in the form of explanations."

"Well, Evangeline-sama, you live on the planet Earth. In the last thirty years, I believe that the heirs of the Moon Kingdom have saved the planet Earth from destruction or conquest approximately twenty times," the woman called Karin replied.

Rei nodded in a possibly humble manner.

"On the other hand, in the overwhelming majority of those instances, the threat to the planet Earth arose from unfinished business from the Moon Kingdom, or from matters relating to a hypothetical future Moon Kingdom," Karin continued. "So one could say that such business is a net zero, and, in any event, you personally owe them nothing."

"That's what I thought," Evangeline replied, entirely satisfied.

Rei let out a disgusted sigh.

"I am, however, willing to bargain," the girl with the long blonde hair asked. "I offer the answer to your question in exchange for the answer to one of my questions. Of course, as this is a seller's market, I expect to have my answer first."

"I'm willing to hear your question out."

"Very well then. Where is the Moon Princess?"

Rei started. "What? What good would that knowledge do you?"

"That's an entirely different question, subject to an entirely different set of negotiations. Where is the Moon Princess?"

"Evangeline-san, I've told you before," Rei said. "We are more than willing to have her come to you and try to break your curse. All that you would have to do would --"

"-- be to accept that I must give up all the power I possess in the process, and become a helpless child once more," Evangeline interrupted. "Not. Interested. And not what I asked. Where is the Moon Princess? Final offer."

"I'm not going to answer that question," she said, teeth clenched.

"Alas." But then Evangeline favored her with a rather cruel smile. "Do you actually know the answer to that question?"

Rei drew a deep breath. "That is an entirely different question, subject to an entirely different set of negotiations," she answered after a moment.


"Good evening, Evangeline-san. Good evening, Karin-san."

"Good evening," Evangeline answered politely.

Karin said nothing, and eventually Rei turned away to walk down the stairs leading up to the cabin's veranda. She kept walking away from the cabin, along the path leading through the harvested woods. Not until she passed an invisible line did she reach into her jacket pocket, pull out her cell phone, and hit her top speed dial.

"It's me," she said a moment later. "Where are you?"

Roughly ten minutes earlier.

The problem with doing something rather enjoyable -- in this case, masturbating to a porn video featuring a beautiful golden-haired girl getting fucked by five different guys at once while she cried and begged them to stop -- was the way that it could get one to let one's guard down. So he didn't hear footsteps in the hallway outside his bedroom door, and he didn't hear the door opening, and it wasn't until he heard his sister's voice saying "What'cha doin'?" that he realized how much trouble he was in. 

"Sis!" he squawked, covering his hardon with his hands -- which unfortunately left flailing with one of his feet in an attempt to shut off the DVD player, getting him absolutely nowhere. "Don't just come into my room like this! What the hell is wrong with you!"

"Oh, so many things," she answered, taking a nice long look at the images on the screen. She walked over to his bed and sat down on it, her bare knees at his shoulder and the tee shirt that was the only thing she was wearing giving him easy visual access to her pubes. "So, what do you think of my acting abilities in this scene? Do I really convey the idea 'I hate what's being done to me even as my body betrays me in orgasm'?"

For it was true, the beautiful golden-haired girl on screen -- who did not, legal warning or no legal warning, look eighteen years of age or older -- was also the beautiful golden-haired girl sitting behind him. The only difference in the look was that the one who was actually present was wearing slightly more clothes and had a rather large bruise on her cheek.

"I really don't want to discuss the details of your performance with you, sis! Please leave!"

"Aw, come on, I don't get these kind of opportunities very often. How many of my DVDs have you seen? How long have you been watching me get fucked? These are things I always wonder about my audience."

"Four," he told her through clenched teeth. "And I've known about your ... career ... for about six months, now."

"Okay, I guess you've seen everything that's out commercially, then. Six months. Hm. I guess it's no surprise that dad knows, then. I sort of hoped he wouldn't find out, but if you've been choking your chain to me for six months, there was no way he wouldn't know." She shrugged. "Ah well."

He swallowed. "Did ... did dad give you that bruise?" he asked, not looking back at her as he did.

"Yeah. He got pissed at the way I was walking around the house in this shirt, and called me a whore. Which is such a hypocritical thing to say, I mean, he's the one who wants me to be ready for it wherever and whenever, but when I take steps to be like that, he gets pissed off." She collapsed back onto the bed, legs kicking a bit. "Anyway, he's gone out to get drunk, now."

And there it was, the open admission of something he'd suspected for entirely too long. "So, uh ... h-how long have you and dad been ..."

"Since mom went in the hospital," she admitted. "Ah, no, wait, he started making me give him blowjobs a little before that, but we weren't really going at it all that often until after she died. I kinda felt sorry for him when it started, but these days it's just so much hassle."

He found this whole conversation very disturbing. To distract himself, he decided to focus his attention on the version of his sister on the screen, the fake rape victim who was clearly enjoying what was being done to her instead of the genuine one who was so much more ambiguous. Almost mindlessly, he started to rub his cock again.

"Want a hand with that?" came the teasing voice at his ear, moments before another, softer hand did in fact join his hand on his erection. "Or maybe a tongue, instead?"

"Sis!" he yelped again.

"Mmmm!" she added, leaning over his shoulder to look down. "Not nearly as big as some of the guys in the biz, but it looks so much yummier for some reason. Itadakiamasu." And with that faintly blasphemous remark, she pulled herself over his shoulder so that her mouth could reach down and lick at him while her right knee came down on his right shoulder to open her crotch to him.

"Sis, we can't!"

"Schlorp!" she replied, as she took him down to the root. Then pulled back, clearing her throat so she could speak clearly. "Fuck's sake, little brother, if you didn't want to fuck me, why the fuck were you watching me get fucked and fucking rubbing yourself off? Shut up and lick me already, don't be such a selfish prick! Here we go again! Gagkh! Gagkh! Gagkh!"

"Sis," he moaned.

Several moments later, he was shrieking that instead. "Sis!" he cried as he pounded into her, forearms hooked around her knees as she spread across his bed. "Sis! I'm better than dad, right! You love me more than dad!"

"Yeah, sure, you're way better!" she agreed. "Now go harder, harder!"

He couldn't help but laugh at the way her cries for him to do it more, do it faster, do it harder synched with the cries from the video image of her begging for it to end. "I love you, sis! I love you so much!"

"Ditto!" she shrieked as he drove her to yet another climax.

"I'm gonna take you away from him! I am! You're never gonna fuck him again! And you're gonna retire from the AV biz and only fuck me from now on! Oh god, I love you! I, I ... cumming!" he cried as he spewed out within her.

"Yeaaaaaaah," she sighed.

"I mean it, you know," he murmured as they lay in post-coital bliss. "When I graduate from high school, we'll get a little house together, and live there, and dad will never know where we are, and every day will be beautiful like this ..."

"Uh-huh," she murmured back, playing gently with his hair. "How long do you think you've been in high school, little brother?"

What a strange question. She should know how old he was. "Well, I'm in ..." Was it first year? That sounded right. But hadn't he been in first year last year, too? And ... no, wait, that couldn't be right.

In the distance, he heard a phone ringing, bringing him out of his confusion.

"Fuck," said his sister, pushing out from under him. "I gotta go get that." She paused long enough to kiss him deeply. "You really are an okay fuck, you know?"

"Okay?" he repeated as she ran naked out the door, fluids dripping from her.

She found her cell phone in her room, of course, and flipped it open. "Allo allo," she said. "Nice talking to you too, Rei. I'm in my house. Where else would I -- yes, it's safe to talk." A pause. "Why do you need to know that information on your current assignment?" she asked sharply. "Oh, for gods sake, Rei, of course she's safe, I reviewed her security arrangements just yesterday! Don't be so needy!"

She walked out of her room, down the hallway past where her little brother had started to watch her video again, as though nothing had happened, and then into the living room, making conversational noise as the other side of her dialogue monopolized it. She glanced at the TV, displaying an infomercial, and shook her head. "Rei. Rei! Enough. Your job right now is to keep an eye on things there. Do not worry about the Princess. Yes I know you love her, and she loves you. You have a wonderful, wonderful love, and this is me saying it. But right now, we need eyes on Kiryuuin and Morimoto, and you are best suited to this task.

"No, of course I don't think your intuition is wrong, but I'm sure that she's fine, and there's no reason she wouldn't be fine. Everything else is --" And as she spoke, she glanced at the television again. "-- I hate you sometimes," she concluded. "Go to A-12." She ended the call, then tapped her second speed dial button. "Ami. Go to C-8." Ended call, speed dialled three. "Mako-chan. Go to D-21." Ended call. Considered speed dials four and five. No. Under the circumstances, they would already know and a call would be a distraction. Speed dial six had not answered in fifteen years. Speed dial seven ...

Aino Minako closed her eyes and begged her Goddess' forgiveness, then pressed speed dial seven. "We may be needed, Usagi-chan," she said, in as gentle a voice as anyone could imagine.

Behind her, the front door of the house slammed open. "Oh, gah, nah y'walk around naked?" a voice slurred, and footsteps stomped towards her. She casually backhanded her father through the front wall of their home, and went to get dressed.

"So, um, all this stuff about you finding girls to have your kids," Yuna asked, uneasily. The two of them were seated in front of the TV, watching a celebrity gossip program. (Well, Yuna was sort of watching it while Negi read a book.) "You haven't ... yet ... um. I don't know quite how to ask this. I mean ... you're just a kid, right?"

"Actually, I have actually begun to build what Zazie dubbed my collective," Negi explained. "I began sexual experimentation with my mother, father, and their lover Irisviel some months ago, and before I came here to Japan I had my first full sexual experience with my older sister." He frowned. "I should probably clarify whether Zazie meant twenty partners in addition to her or twenty partners including her," he added, speaking more to himself.

Yuna's jaw had dropped when he reached the point about experimentation. When he finally started muttering to himself, she let loose some faintly hysterical laughter. "Okay. Okay. You really had me going there for a while. Good on you! I appreciate a clever joke! But now I know that you have to be making this stuff up, because there is noooooo way in hell that Asuna would let you do that stuff to her. She hates kids!"

"Oh, I'm not talking about Asuna," he hastened to clarify. "I meant my even older sister, Irisviel's daughter Ilysaviel."

"Of course you did," moaned Yuna, hand firmly resting on her face. "Geez, kid! Geez!"

"I take it that you yourself are unfamiliar with sex, and somewhat uncomfortable with the subject?" he asked.

"What was your first clue?" she asked withoout looking at him.

"I'm very sorry to be a source of so much discomfort, Yuna-san," Negi continued, looking very contrite. "I think sex is a wonderful and natural part of life, and there's no reason to be ashamed of what nature gave us, or of communion with our fellow men and women." He seemed unaware that he was speaking like one reciting from a manifesto he'd been given to read. "I'm actually sort of surprised that you're so shocked, since my research about this country indicated that young people, such as yourself --"

"Think about what you're saying!" said the fourteen year old girl to the ten year old boy.

He pressed on regardless. "-- were becoming sexually active at younger ages. Specifically, around your age."

"Well, you're ... your research was ..." Yuna started to say something, then fell silent, before dropping her head to the living room table. "Gheh," she said at last. "I can't even say 'you're wrong' with a straight face. Plenty of the girls on my basketball team have got boyfriends, and plenty of them have talked about going all the way. I don't, we don't talk about these things in class, but I wouldn't be surprised if lots of the girls there have done the same. Just ... not me."

"There's no shame in being different," Negi started to say.

"Oh, you are definitely not Japanese," she said without looking up. "But ... all I wanted to do was play basketball, not flirt with guys!"

"... have you considered the possibility that you're more attracted to other females than --"

"No! I just wanted to be a nice, normal student like --" Yuna broke off in mid-sentence, and her eyes got very wide as she stared at the table top. "-- like my dad taught me to be," she concluded very quietly. "My dad. The liar. The cheat. The man who is definitely not a normal anything. The terrible example."

"Um," said Negi.

She lifted her head to look at him ... but before her head could fully turn in his direction, her eyes focused on the TV screen. "What the hell?" she asked.

A flying saucer roughly the size of an aircraft carrier was hovering in the sky above Tokyo-2.

There was another one above what the natives still called Hong Kong, and the occupiers called Area 11. And yet another above the Brittanic Empire's southern stronghold in Australia, and above the capitals of the Chinese republics. All over the world, it was the same. Wherever humanity came together to govern itself, a great vessel, unmistakably not of this world, could be seen in mid-air.

They had descended past a crumbling satellite network that no one had the ability or inclination to fix anymore, and arrived in total silence. No radio messages had been transmitted, nor any response made to those sent out by the humans.

"Gentlemen," said the Japanese government's Minister of Defense. "This is surely our darkest hour. Yet for fifteen years, we have been preparing for this day, and now the time has come to put those preparations into action." He turned to his secretary. "Bring me the hotline to NERV."

This was done, and the Minister unhesitatingly picked up the headset of the innocuous white telephone. "Yes, this is the Minister -- what do you mean, please hold?" He moved the headset back from his ear.

"... and tan and young and lovely/the girl from Ipanema goes walking/and as she passes/each one she passes --" came from the receiver.

In a place far below Tokyo-3, a man with shiny glasses and a closely trimmed beard drew a line through the words 'put the Minister of Defense on hold' on a To-Do List that included 'show them all' and 'force Emperor Charles to shave off his beard'.

"Ikari," said the rather older man who was standing behind him. "Are you sure --"

"None of this is in the Dead Sea Scrolls. None of this can or will prevent what must happen from happening. It is not our problem."

"We're fucked," said Yuna.

"Yuna, there's no need for such language," Negi told her.

"Are you kidding? This is it! This is exactly what you were talking about, threats to the world that we aren't even remotely ready for! You were right! Oh god, you were right." She rose up on unsteady legs.

"I'm sure that this challenge will be answered by mages such as my father --" Negi started to say.

"You said he was questing for some orb or whatever!" she said. "He might not even know what's going on until it's too late!"

"-- and there are others who will --"

"And most of them only care about their research!"

"-- and the wizards I just found out about might --"

"And they have such a great track record that you've never even heard of them until now!"

"Ummmmm," said Negi, not really able to refute this point. "Well, I don't --"

"No," Yuna said, shaking her head frantically. "You were right. You were right about everything. It's going to be up to the next generation to do something about this. Maybe they'll be the ones to lead some kind of resistance to the aliens. That sounds like the sort of thing that would happen. So come on, we've got to get started on making the next generation." She stumbled over to her bed, undoing her skirt as she went, dropping it to the floor before lying down. She rolled her legs up onto her chest, then slid her panties up to her knees, exposing herself. "Get on with it!" she commanded.

"Oh," said Negi. He was just a bit concerned about how quickly Yuna's mood had shifted, but to be honest, her forthright attitude was something of a turn on to him. "Are you sure about this? I would be willing to wait and see --"

"It's not about being sure, dumbass! I said, get over here and insert column a into slot b!"

"That's a terribly objectifying way of putting things," Negi told her, but nonetheless undid his belt and pants buckle so that, once he got his suspenders down from his shoulders, he could lift his erect member out of his boxers and begin rubbing it against the surface of her vulva. "All right," he said, when he believed that he'd lubricated it enough. "This could hurt a little --"

"If you don't do it right now, it's gonna hurt you a lot," she promised, eyes quivering.

"All right," he said, and pushed in.

"Ggh," said Yuna.

"Ah, no hymen. Good. It's actually been discovered that many females born after Second Impact have been born without them," he informed her.

"D-do I look I give a fuck?" Yuna managed to stammer as she felt herself clenching around the intruder below.

Now was not the time to address her language. "All right, I'll just ..." He trailed off as he began to move back and forth as her ankles dropped onto his shoulders. Slowly at first, then more quickly as he got the measure of her. His hands moved up the sides of her ribs to start rubbing her bra-covered breasts.

"What are you doing to my tits?" she asked, between gasps.

"I'm trying to make the experience a little more pleasant for you," he told her. "I want you to enjoy sex, the way that I do. Oh my, you're very ... you have very strong muscles down here!" he added, a little breathlessly.

"I, what, you, ugh, uh, uhhh, UHHHHHH!" she replied in a rather high-pitched sound somewhere between a squeal and a scream.

"Ah!" Negi gasped as she constricted even further. He responded by moving himself even more quickly, and let out a sound somewhere between a gasp and ... no, it was really just a gasp, as he released into her. With that, he sagged forward, pressing against the panties with his upper chest, so that his face was in front of hers. Their lips pressed against each other.

The order of this, thought Yuna, somewhat vaguely, is fucked up.

No ... we're fucked up. And yet, despite everything, she found herself laughing a little as she had her first kiss.

Then they heard the dorm room door open. "Yuna!" Akira's voice, sounding just a little concerned.

Forever after it would remain something of a mystery exactly how, in the second or so before Akira got from the doorway to the living room, the two of them managed to not only get their clothes arranged in some semblance of order but move from the bed to the table, so that when Akira saw them she saw nothing out of the ordinary, just two children seated at a table with confused looks on their faces.

Akira looked at them, looked at the television. "You saw?" she asked.

They nodded in unison.

"What's going to happen?" she asked.

Yuna looked at Negi. Negi shrugged. "I don't know."

Akira stared at them for a moment before she came over to them, sat down on the floor and scooted up to the table between the two of them, then hugged them both tightly to herself, their heads to her full breasts. "No matter what happens," she said, "I want to be with you when it does." The you was a plural one.

... oh shit, I think I might actually be more attracted to females than males after all, thought Yuna a bit dazedly.

... oh feathers, I hate being a man of my word sometimes, thought Negi a bit dazedly.

Na Mo Amitabha Buddha, Na Mo Amitabha Buddha, Na Mo Amitabha Buddha, Na Mo Amitabha Buddha, thought Akira with frightening clarity.

"So, let me see if I understand you correctly," said the Prime Minister of Japan. "You would like to play a game of tag."

"That's right," said the rather large Invader.

Prime Minister Yagami Raito laughed slightly. (His invisible companion laughed quite a bit more.) "I believe we can accommodate that."


To Be Continued