Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Remember how I had a special post last year for Valentine's Day? 
Well, now I've got some Christmas-themed art!
One is a speedpaint of Ayano Ueda, in honor of the recent release of "The Color Of Strawberries", a novel featuring the cute calligraphist who's been mentioned from time to time here in these serials... As the protagonist, this time!  Her history and the beginning of her future find an explanation in this novel~
Here's the art on its own:
 



Next up is another speedpaint of Amai and Box, childhood friends whose relationship finds complication in the serial right here on this site, Checkboxes ~!
Once again, the art by itself:



And for good measure... Here's Kanoshi in a Terrible Christmas Sweater.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mahou Shonen Just Say No Chapter Seven


"Kano!" Horace exclaimed the moment he burst into Kanoshi's apartment upon his return to Tokyo.  He and Fukushima had, after exhibiting the true spirit of gay/lesbian solidarity, parted ways immediately upon arrival to the city.  She had to search for Ribbon Red, and Horace had to check in on the magical boy he'd left behind with only two weeks of minor practice against level one and two monsters, small fry that weren't capable of much property damage and were only really taken on by magica who had nothing better to do.
"Horace?" Kanoshi asked, looking up from the stove.  He'd been working on cooking himself dinner, though it was a bit late.  He'd gotten caught up in his games again and lost track of the time, but decided to make a real dinner despite that fact, since he had the energy for it that way.  He was shocked to see that Horace had returned, and doubly shocked to see him in such an unkempt state.  Even after tying his hair again, receiving healing and stamina from FMV, and transforming out of his magical form, it was obvious he'd been working hard these past six weeks.  Kanoshi never thought Horace would dare to let himself be seen in such a way.
"Yes, that's me," He nodded, leaning against the door behind himself once he'd closed it, sighing as he saw that Kanoshi seemed okay, "I never meant to leave you here by yourself all this time.  I heard about the level five monster, I trust that nothing else strange happened in my absence?"
"Well," Kanoshi thought back as he stirred his vegetables in the frypan, "The day that you left, I got attacked on the subway by a magical boy called Lionhardt, but I guarded against him pretty well until Smokescreen showed up to help me," He turned, and gave Horace a sweet smile, "You know Smokescreen!  He was helping me move out!"
"Yuuri Ruka is Smokescreen?" Horace asked, then gave a shrug as he wandered further into the house, "Huh, who knew.  I guess that's why he finally decided to stop being a mysterious loner, his friend became a magical boy."
"Yeah!" Kanoshi nodded in confirmation, "There's Ribbon Red, too, and some others!  They're all pretty cool.  Red's not anywhere near as bad as I thought she was when I first heard about her... She's just a yakuza kid with strong convictions.  I want to be able to protect her, like all of the other magica in this city."
Horace chuckled, then dropped to sit down at Kanoshi's kotatsu, stretching out over the tabletop of it, "You don't need to worry about Red at all.  She's been a lone wolf for so long, just becoming willing to work with other Tokyo magica at all means she'll be fine.  We met way back, before I even investigated her murders.  She was fighting some monsters in Italy since she was in the area anyway on a 'business deal'."
"You could have told me that before I got terrified of her!" Kanoshi protested, then looked at Horace, "...You really are exhausted, huh?  Let me give you some of this stir-fry, and you can tell me all about the level eight monster."
"...Thank you," Horace nodded, taking a few deep breaths.  He hadn't eaten at all while battling that monster.  Orb-wise, he was fine, because Oh One's magica who were too far away or just unable to participate still beat the little ones, but he was starving from a human perspective.  The magic was going to keep him alive, no matter what, but that didn't mean he wasn't in severe discomfort right now.  He'd had good timing to arrive back in the city, as Kanoshi served him a bowl of veggies, chicken, and rice just moments later.  He ate a good half of it before he spoke again, "I hope you never have to fight a level eight endurance class."
"So what were all of this one's specs?" Kanoshi asked.  He was still learning what Monster Specs were in the first place, but he could only learn quicker if he made sure to hear about them as often as possible.
"Level Eight, Endurance Class, Slime Type," Horace answered, glad to finally have the pains in his stomach answered, though he slowed down so that it wouldn't shock his system too much.  Kanoshi's cooking was pretty good, even if Horace in all of his pickiness was avoiding all of the carrots and any piece of chicken which looked like it even had a tiny chance at having texture issues, "We could only attack from a distance, getting in close enough to use melee weapons was... Not a good idea," He sighed, "A low-ranking magica from Kyoto tried, after us higher levels engaged it.  He never stood a chance.  Close combat with that beast, and it would just consume you."
Kanoshi stayed silent for a few moments before he spoke again, "How many magica died?"
"Just the one, but that's only because we had good communication and figured out the situation right away.  We figured out that it was impossible to get close to without being killed, since it was a gigantic sludge type, but that it moved slow enough that we could handle it at a distance," Horace explained, now leaning on one hand with his eyes cast at the table below, "Besides, that magica rushed in without stopping to listen to what we had to say.  None of us up here in the top 100 would ever do something so stupid as jump in to such a huge fight without asking if any of its weaknesses and strengths were determined yet."
"I'm glad there weren't more," Kanoshi gave a slow nod as he chewed his own food, "It still took a huge toll on a bunch of you though, right?  That's pretty horrifying, if you think about it.  I know the curve is pretty sharp between each level after four, and if an eight is that much stronger than a seven..."
"That's nothing you need to worry your pretty head over, Kano," Horace forced a smile as he said this, though it wasn't as difficult as he expected it to be.  He had Kanoshi's presence to thank for that, he decided.  This man just emanated kindness everywhere he went, "This is the only eight to appear in over a year of magica and monsters existing.  If those are this rare, the higher levels must be once-in-a-lifetime events."
Kanoshi took a deep breath to calm his nerves about the situation, taking in Horace's words, and realized he was more worried about the safety and well-being of his fellow magica in the case such a strong creature appeared than he was for his own.  It wasn't that he was confident in his abilities to defend and heal himself since the day he kept up with Lionhardt, though that could have been a factor too.  It was simply that he was rank four.
 Only three magica existed with more raw power than him, at least, only three who were aligned with good.  Oh One did say that the overall lowest ranking magica was actually on par with Horace when it came to power levels, but she was just so awful as a person that she reached the bottom in no time at all.  That was all that any of the distributors would tell Kanoshi about the worst of the worst.  Even so, Kanoshi worried for others because even at rank four, he was unsure and afraid.  If he was, then wouldn't everyone else be even more?
"So..." Horace started again, "Lionhardt... I thought he would have given up on you by the time I had to leave.  I'm very sorry, I never should have left you undefended with no warning like that.  I didn't know Smokescreen was even in the city, and Lullabye's unreliable."
"Wang-kun, you mean?" Kanoshi asked, tilting his head, "He didn't seem unreliable to me, just committed to a goal.  I don't think any of us could rely on any magica to know and come to our aid at the drop of a hat.  I was lucky Smokescreen's one of SC's magica, so that he had a line of contact with Oh One and could know that Lionhardt came to Japan."
"That concerns me a little bit," Oh One noted, and the two magica just turned to see it, confused at its appearance.  It hadn't been there a moment ago, "Oh, sorry to startle you!  I ported in a few moments ago, and I didn't want to interrupt.  Anyway, Lionhardt arrived in the country very suddenly, and was gone just the same way.  He must be getting help from a magica with some sort of travel magic, probably teleportation.  Usually, Lionhardt has just been a nuisance I need to watch out for with new magica, but if he's working with somebody, then he's more of a real threat."
"He isn't very strong at all, though," Horace frowned, "How could he be a real threat to us, even if somebody's helping him?"
"Well, if every single new magica gets snuffed out, then that's terrible.  The rankings will stagnate and everyone will get lazy, and as time goes on if no new magica get to live very long, and existing ones fall to various reasons... then we're doomed.  Distributors, Magica, this entire world even.  While the rest of us distributors have moral compasses and want to rank well, Lionhardt's owner... Skorgles would love to get a monopoly on the monsters of this world, leaving the rest of us to starve.  It doesn't care about humans."
Kanoshi and Horace just sat in silence for a few moments, until the former spoke again, quiet and timid, "That's awful.  So... Skorgles is the owner of the worst magica that exist?"
"Just as my posse and I hold the majority of the top ten spots, Skorgles holds the majority of the entire bottom thirty.  And with that, the strongest magical girl, Goddess," Oh One explained, rubbing its face against the kotatsu, "Horace is still the strongest of the magical boys, though.  Anyway, let's talk about something happier!  Isn't it cool that this new Tokyo Magica team everyone's buzzing about is all my posse?  Well, and one of Blade's, I guess."
"I can only hope," Horace began, "That this apparent team is not opposed to the idea that I might participate as well.  It could be that they've only rallied around Kano."
"Hm," Oh One nodded, leaning forward, "That may be the case with Smokescreen, but he was also the one to involve Ribbon Red.  Lullabye has never been opposed to working with others, but was of the belief nobody would want to.  And Infernal is new to the area.  He and his roommate recently moved into the city, but he did also know Kanoshi Kyosuke through the internet before arriving here.  We'll just have to wait and see, I guess."
-----------
Kaiba Rokujo was not a happy person.
So with that out of the way, she checked all the boxes for the type of person to become a magical girl.  As it was, she was a good one.  Rank fifteen as Fukushima, the Tsunami Magical Girl.  Her weapon was a zanbatou even larger than the one shecarried with her and used on a regular basis, and her magic was to command any water within her frame of vision.  The sword for busting pipes, that made her a threat to reckon with.  
She was able to use this ability to contribute to the level 8 sludge monster in Kyoto which some had taken to calling the 'Kyoto Engulfer' despite her weapon being one without any range.  She was proud of her part in that fight, but after resting up, it was just another memory to add to the collection.  It meant nothing real to her or anybody else.  What held more meaning for Kaiba was hearing that name.  Pretty Fighter Ribbon Red.
In Tokyo, having rested in a cheap motel that balked at the weapon she wore, Kaiba decided to capitalize on her distributor's unique ability.  She texted Desire Train, and it appeared before her soon after.  She spoke to it immediately, "So you had a teleportation charge ready?  That's convenient.  Anyway, I know she's in this city.  Where exactly is Pretty Fighter Ribbon Red?"
Most distributors could tell the location of any of their own magica, or targeted humans, from within a certain radius.  Desire Train's power was to extend that ability to any magica or human within the same city or town.  Only useful in metropolitan areas, but useful nonetheless.  As for teleportation charges, Kaiba had been told that distributors could teleport anywhere, but had a cooldown to teleport again consisting of twice the time it would have taken them, on average, to catch a plane there.
It was a universe-specific restriction, given that plenty of universes did not have airplanes.
"Ribbon Red?" Desire Train asked, tilting its head to the side, "Why do you want to know about her?  She belongs to Blade.  That is not worth bothering with.  Blade always gets the weirdest magica."
"I think I might know who she is.  As a human, I mean," Kaiba explained, leaning forward, "And if that kid really became a magical girl, damn, she needs a good talking to."
"Fine," Desire Train did not sound happy, but indulged her, "Red is asleep on a roof.  The roof of a love hotel.  I can only assume she just murdered one of its patrons."
Kaiba couldn't help but let a soft chuckle escape her lips as she leaned back on the motel bed, "That just confirms even more, that she's who I think she is.  Go on then, take me to her."
"Fine," Desire Train swished its tail then stepped out onto the fire escape.  Kaiba transformed for the added mobility, then followed as it jumped across the town to find the rooftop which Red rested on.  It didn't take long to reach her, to find her there, but Kaiba wouldn't wake her, remembering a simpler time, so long ago.  It was more than ten years now, that girl was just a fussy child who hated naptime and loved learning to fight.
Everything had changed though, and now Kaiba knew for certain that Sayaka absolutely would have become a magical girl.  She transformed back, knowing that Sayaka would prefer to recognize her in this way than as a magica.  When day broke, and Sayaka woke up, she just sat up and stared for quite a while before she spoke, "Kaiba-nee.  What are you doing here?"
"I wanted to see you, Shorty-san!" Kaiba laughed, kicking her legs in front of her where she sat with a goodnatured smile across her face, "Isn't that much obvious?  I wouldn't have just stumbled across the roof where you happened to be sleeping.  A love hotel, though?  There's plenty of perfectly good beds to sleep on inside, so why choose the roof?"
Sayaka glared at her, "They wouldn't sell a room to a kid, dummy.  And if I snuck in, I'd just get woken up by whoever next rented the room.  And for that matter, I wouldn't call beds which exist for the purpose of fornication to be perfectly good beds," She tossed her hair back and groaned, "Anyway, it isn't like I'll die out here, so I'm fine."
"And why's that?" Kaiba smirked as she stood up, stepping closer to Sayaka.  She didn't even wait for an answer before she leaned down and pulled the buttons on her practical younger sister's shirt apart, "Could it be this marking?"
"How did you know that I- And where my mark is!?"  Sayaka snapped, holding her arms close to herself as she pulled away from Kaiba, "It isn't any of your business anyway!"
Kaiba just stared at her for a while before answering, "I'm your only Onee-san in the Yamaguchi-gumi, Shorty-san.  It most certainly is my business.  I heard your magical name and knew it had to be you," She held out her hand, "As for the mark, it appears somewhere significant in some way, even if you don't realize it.  Yours appeared one of the only locations you didn't yet have tattoos.  Mine appeared on the palm of the hand which I lost all my fingertips on."
Sayaka continued to simply stare for a few moments before giving a response, "I should have known, Kaiba-nee.  It doesn't shock me at all..." She frowned, "It's for different reasons though, right?  You were depressed because of Korekara.  I... I just wanted to be of more use to the Yamaguchi-gumi."
"I hear you've been killing," Kaiba noted.
"Yeah, here I go killing again," Sayaka gave a bitter chuckle, "I can't hold myself back, you know?  I could barely stop myself when I was human.  How... How and why would I ever restrain myself from ridding the world of its filth now that I have full reign to do so?"
Kaiba gave a slow nod, pulling out her sword and holding it up horizontally, squinting at how the sun reflected off its blade, "If you did anything else, I would be forced to assume some impostor had taken your place."
"You know me so well, Kaiba-nee," Sayaka laughed, then stepped closer to her, "I know a really good sweets shop around here, you know.  Want to chat over some baked mochi?"
"I don't," Kaiba shook her head, "Because I have somewhere else to take you instead.  You've been having trouble finding a place to stay, haven't you?  It's really showing.  Magic can only keep your hygiene and appearance so good," She gestured for Sayaka to follow her, "And even though you never joined my gang, I could never leave one of my girls behind.  Come on."
Sayaka hesitated, but this was Kaiba.  Sympathy was something she avoided, pity and handouts.  From her own people, though... An important part of being in the yakuza was relying on and trusting the others, something which had taken Kaiba so long to learn that she couldn't possibly hope to wield a katana or any of its variations, stuck with an oversized and imprecise weapon instead.  Sayaka had only faltered one time, maybe twice if she counted that.  Refusing Kaiba now could be another mistake on her record, though.  Imperfection... was unacceptable.
"Fine," She mumbled as she followed Kaiba, not knowing where she was being led.  She knew this city quite well by now, but had no idea what Kaiba could know about and want to take her to.  It was only a block away that she recognized the objective.  An old storage unit facility, mostly cleared out to be an empty lot with a few remaining crates.  Known to anybody who knew anybody in the backstreets of Tokyo as the home base of Kotomi Tanako.  Sayaka screwed up her face, "You know Tanako-san?"
"Kotomi-chan is a friend of mine!" Kaiba grinned, turning back around, "We kept in contact even after No Boys broke up, you know.  She was a member, but I guess you wouldn't know since you never joined.  She graduated two years before you arrived at the school..." He smile fell, "She was a third year when the class of 2015 disappeared.  That was a rough year for us in No Boys, probably the first bit of our dissolution."
Sayaka turned back away and flipped her hair, "I don't think Tanako-san wants to help me."
Just as she said this, Kotomi was wandering out from behind one of the crates, stretching.  She adjusted her mask, then paused and looked over to see the two who'd arrived at her lot.  She waved, then wandered over, "Kaiba-chan!  What brings you to Tokyo?"
"Kotomi-chan!" Kaiba exclaimed in response, then grabbed and hugged her.  Kaiba was awful tall for a Japanese woman, and Sayaka was awful short for any human being.  Kotomi was somewhere in the middle, "I found out that my cute little crime-syndicate imouto's been sleeping outside all the time.  I know you live here, so I was thinking..."
Kotomi pulled away from the hug, then looked over to Sayaka, "Hey, I know you!  You're the one the Yamaguchi-gumi sent to uphold the alliance around here, yeah?  I do some transporting for the mob sometimes, so I've heard stories.  Is it true that you love candy and hate lolicons?"
Sayaka stayed silent for a bit before she gave her wary response, "...Yes."
"Why didn't you think Kotomi-chan would help you?" Kaiba asked of Sayaka, looking to her again with the expectation of an answer reflected in her eyes.
"I heard things about you too, Tanako-san.  That you're strict about what you'll transport... And when.  I don't think you want anything to do with somebody as reckless as me," Sayaka explained, "I also heard you're just into petty crime, not the big stuff.  Usually people like that aren't fond of me.  Though," She paused, now just talking to herself, "I guess Rukkun is an exception."
Kotomi looked her over for a few moments with a serious expression, then just broke down laughing, "Rukkun, eh?  Well, only Rukkun I ever knew is probably the same one you've met.  Violent magical boy who works at a grocery store in Shibuya... If the two of you get along, and you know Kaiba-chan to boot, then I don't care what sort of big crimes you're involved in, you're okay in my book.  As long as that recklessness doesn't put me in danger.  Plus, you're what, twelve?  Can't have you sleeping outside, come on."
"I'm sixteen," Sayaka mumbled, but followed when Kotomi gestured for her to walk across the lot.  Kotomi led her to her van, parked next to one of the remaining storage units.  She pulled open the back of the van, then the crate as well, and dragged out a mattress.
"I've got a few of these stocked up, I sleep in my van and you can too.  I've built a shower in one of the units, too.  It runs off rainwater, and actually gets hot water.  It's pretty ideal.  I'm glad to share it.  Go shower right now," Kotomi pointed to the unit in question, "No offense, but you stink.  It's obvious you haven't had a real bath in weeks."
Sayaka made a face in her direction, but relented and went to bathe.  It was actually two units, the inner one with tile flooring, to keep the steam from getting everywhere.  Sayaka left her clothing in the first unit, then stepped into the second one.
Once she figured out how Kotomi's Macgyver of a shower functioned, it was actually nice, the first bit of relaxation she'd gotten in months.  Weeks was an understatement, but she supposed that her magic had helped the actual length of time keep from showing so much.  Another perk of this existence.  Did Kotomi know about her, about Kaiba?  She knew about Yuuri, so Sayaka could only imagine that she did and just didn't care.
It was nice to see that there were some humans who didn't buy into the scares of magic, even if those humans were a part of society's underbelly.  Sayaka realized that she wasn't even clear on what exactly Kotomi did.  Transporter was an ambiguous term which could apply to any number of jobs, though it was usually on a smaller scale than smuggler.  And Sayaka too had no idea what sort of terms Kotomi had in her 'strictness' regarding her jobs.
Somehow, she doubted that even living with Kotomi, she would find out.Once she'd finished showering, she stepped back out into the vestibule unit, only to find that her dirty clothes had been switched out for new ones.  They were her style, so she assumed she had Kaiba to thank, and changed into them.  There were even a new pair of shoes.  Once dressed again, and with her hair pulled into pigtails once more, Sayaka wandered back out into the lot.
Kaiba and Kotomi were sitting next to a camp stove out on the concrete in folding chairs, with a third one sitting open and empty.  Sayaka approached, then took the seat, leaning toward the stove to see what was being made.  Eggs and sausages.  She looked to Kotomi, "Western style breakfast?"
"You did just wake up, didn't you?" Kotomi questioned, glaring, "And I don't care how traditional you are, right?  With me, there's never gonna be such a thing as rice and fermented soybeans for breakfast."
Sayaka gave a slow blink, then nodded, "Sausage is better than natto, I agree.  Usually I make chocolate chip pancakes, with whipped cream, to go with them though.  The Americans have perfected the idea of starting the day off with some fleeting joy."
Kaiba just laughed, covering her mouth with her hands even though she wore a mask which already hid it.  Kotomi couldn't help but join in on her laughter, and make a comment of her own, "You really are fond of sweets, eh?  If you weren't so active, you'd probably get fat eating like that."
Sayaka shrugged, glancing away, "I don't care about that.  I think that even if I just lived a normal life, I'd still eat sweets all the time," She patted her own cheeks, "But I guess if I put on any more weight than this little chub, I would look even younger, so maybe it's for the better..."
Kotomi chuckled at her a little more, then handed her breakfast, then one to Kaiba and one for herself.  After eating, she gathered up the leftovers and stood up.  Kaiba blinked, then wondered, "Giving all that food to them?"
Kotomi nodded, eyes bright as she wandered towards one of the other storage units.  She opened it up, and it was empty.  She gestured for the other two to step in with her, closed the unit, then opened the adjacent one in the same sort of set-up she'd used for the bath.  Rather than a shower behind this one, however, there were a bunch of makeshift structures, and as Kotomi set the leftovers down, a number of cats came out of the structures.  Normal strays.
Well, except for one.
"Blade?" Sayaka questioned, not even thinking before she spoke in her shock.
"Hello!" It laughed, looking to all the other cats who rushed to the leftovers, "Funny seeing you here.  Sorry I didn't mention that I was back in Tokyo, but I wanted to take advantage of this Kotomi Tanako's playground first... Just because I don't eat food like normal cats doesn't mean I don't like climbing structures and scratching posts and comfy places to sleep!"
Sayaka looked to Kotomi for her opinion on the distributor's presence, and she just shrugged before saying, "I love all cats, even if their favorite hobbies are ruining lives."
"Lives are already ruined by the time we get to them, you know," Blade shook its head, but knew that Kotomi's statement was in good humor.  It turned to Sayaka, then, "So, Sayaka!  It's good to be back.  I had to check in with Tyler, but you know how he is.  I can only take so much of him at a time.  You're definitely my most favorite!"
"That's nice," Sayaka mumbled, crouching down to pet its slimy head with a vacant expression, "So my backpack's going to be heavier again.  Great."
"Would you prefer I sat on your shoulder instead?" Blade asked.
"I'd prefer you walked by your own damn self," Sayaka rolled her eyes, mumbling, "But I guess it can't be helped with you, huh?  Fine.  I've made friends with some magica in Oh One's posse, though, so you better not be a pain to them."
Blade blinked, "Why would I bother its magica?  My rivalry is only with Oh One, and it is a friendly one!"
"Because I never know what to expect with you," Sayaka rolled her shoulders as she stood back up, "So how is Tyler?"
"Well..." Blade trailed off.
----------
"Oh, Blade!  So good to see you again!" Tyler Hale laughed, sitting in his home in the Hollywood Hills with his forty-seven sticks of vegan jerky when his distributor jumped in through the window of his room.  He smirked and put down his snack and grabbed a piece of paper from his desk.  This room was an absolute mess,  He waved the paper around, "Look at this thing!  A letter of commendation!  I got it in the mail and I've been so excited to show you."
"Commendation?  How did you deserve that??" Blade questioned, looking around the room.  It wasn't fond of cleanliness by any means, but even it thought this was ridiculous, so it started to at least try removing the trash by eating it.  Anything other than orbs that a distributor ate basically just got deposited into a pocket dimension.
Tyler gave Blade a sideways look with an annoyed sigh, "You could at least pretend to be proud of me!  Obviously it's because I'm your highest ranking magica, even if you like Red more.  It's because she's been doing all that murder lately."
"Don't talk like that," Blade wrinkled its nose, "It isn't like you've been on your best behavior yourself, or you'd be more than one rank above her.  Play nice with the other magica!"
Tyler rolled his eyes, transforming so he could mess around with his weapon, twirling the shiv between his fingers, "Why should I play nice when I'm so much better than all of them?  I should be higher than I am, I only attack bad people... And I don't kill them!  I just beat them up!"
"You beat up innocents," Blade noted, "Not having all the same beliefs as you doesn't make them bad people.  They aren't hurting anyone, so to the cosmic forces, it looks like you just want to do torturing.  It's bad.  You gotta stop."
"I can't help it!" Tyler whined, stabbing his weapon into the desk in front of himself, "When I see somebody eating a hamburger, I just gotta stab 'em.  It's not like there's any real consequences for my actions, so I may as well!"
Blade sighed and shook its head, "You never change.  Well, enjoy your poorly written letter of commendation.  I'm going back to Red.  At least she appreciates my advice."

Next Chapter->

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Mahou Shonen Just Say No Chapter Six


The day after Tokyo's magica had worked together to do battle against a particularly durable level 5 monster, every one of them was returning to their regular routines.  Just because things had taken a turn for the unusual the previous night didn't mean that anything would change when the sun rose.
Yuuri was watching the news on his terrible television in his less than terrible, for the neighborhood, apartment.  He wasn't the sort of person to care much about the news until he'd started working at the grocery store, which had about six different varieties of the news on its televisions.  Thanks to that, it had become a habit for him to actually know what was going on in the world.  It would just feel strange for him not to continue watching at least one of those news networks at this point, and today he'd decided on a local one.
"It seems that the Tokyo Metropolitan Area continues to be plagued by magica.  Earlier this morning, the director of Aoba Public Middle School was found dead in his office.  The situation of his death matches what we've been seeing from time to time since October, a truly brutal murder evidently performed by a magical being.  Unlike the previous victims, who seem to have been killed with a single blow to the head, the director was found with antemortem wounds covering his body which, experts have stated, are likely the result of an axe.  We'd like to urge everybody here in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area to exercise special caution to avoid this magica, and if anybody knows anything about its identity, you'll see the tip line number scrolling across the screen now."
That news didn't shock Yuuri, but he decided he would give Sayaka a call anyway.  The five of them had exchanged contact information last night, though Sayaka had assured them that she wouldn't need to be notified of any battles, with her experience lending her every opening she needed to know when a monster was attacking, and if it had yet been engaged.  She picked up on the second ring, though, "Rukkun?  Whatcha want?"
"I heard that the director of Aoba Middle was found dead this morning," Yuuri explained, getting straight to the point of his call.  He couldn't help but let his voice reflect the amused smirk on his face.  Just because he refrained from killing anyone himself, didn't mean he couldn't be glad the bastard was dead.
The line was silent for a few minutes before Sayaka spoke again, "I know you know what I do, what my personal mission is... You never would have told me the full extent of how he hurt you if you didn't want me to do this, right?  Since I know you personally, I threw in a little extra hurt for the guy.  Maybe I'm a merciless assassin, but one-shot one-kill is only fun if you aren't pissed off."
"Awh," Yuuri threw on a mock tone of affection, "You were pissed off on my behalf?  I'm touched."
Sayaka, on the other end of the phone, looked out over the city.  She'd slept on a nearby roof that night, taking it in stride thanks to the position of her mark.  Even when not transformed, she had that level of magical endurance, which meant she couldn't possibly die of exposure.  Couple that with the level of pain she could withstand, as a member of the yakuza with full tattoos and one prosthetic finger, and sleeping on a roof in the snow was a breeze.
"Just let me know if you ever want me to do it again," Her voice was quiet as she said this, then she shut the phone and let it fall down to the streets below, to be crushed under a car.  She could get another with the same number, no problem.  However, she wasn't keen on showing weakness, and unwarranted sympathy like this was nothing but that.  Why should she make an offer like that to somebody whose only real connection to her was the fact that they'd both taken on the burden of magic?
She looked down at her hands, and clenched them into fists as she dropped them back to her sides and turned around, leaving the building again via the fire escape.  Getting a place to live... Wasn't super plausible for her.  She was physically about fifteen, and technically sixteen.  Not to mention, a magical girl.  Even yakuza connections couldn't get her easy real estate.  Maybe if it was just her age and lack of a credit score, a bribe and a threat could suffice to get her a steady place, but even with her mark's inconspicuous placement it was hard to hide that she was a user of magic.
Maybe for some, it was as simple as covering up, but she knew her entire life that couldn't be enough.  Covering her tattoos and using a fake name didn't keep others from getting suspicious she had yakuza connections.  Covering her magical marking could never be enough to keep something she had pride in a secret.  It was there in the way she spoke, the way she carried herself.  Her sharp temper often gave her away, because with her outbursts came the revelation of her convictions.  Yakuza convictions.  Magical convictions.  There were views she held in such intense regard that gave her away the moment somebody spoke a wrong word.
It wasn't her fault.
Even with her convictions, she knew they were out of place.  Her burning hatred for perverted lolicons seemed odd to some of the yakuza here in Tokyo, the ones who hadn't grown up around her.  Trafficking of young girls was a part of the yakuza business plan, but that was different to her, she'd been dulled to it since she was a small child.  Young women from Korea, Malaysia, China, promised good jobs then sold off... She'd had the idea put in her that it was their own faults for trusting so blindly in foolish ideas.  She believed that.
There was a difference between selling young women and abusing children, which she held firm on.  Trafficking was an atrocity too, she didn't deny that, but it was an atrocity which she couldn't be bothered to become angry with.  Why should she, when it was paying for her lifestyle and was a long-standing facet of organized crime?  She never claimed to be a good person.  If she did, she probably would have hesitated before deciding she would use her magic to rid the world of those she, only on her own judgement, decided were scum.
She was getting a good feeling, though, that she'd find some place to settle down sometime soon.  She passed by the apartment building which both Yuuri and Kanoshi called home, and stared at the steps before continuing on.  Even that place wouldn't take her, she'd tried before.  One factor which kept a normal person from renting a normal apartment would fly there, even two.  Her own cavalcade of them?  She was a disaster waiting to happen.
Kanoshi spotted Sayaka through his window as he drank his coffee at noontime, having slept late after staying up to play games and fight a monster the previous night.  He'd had an unsettling dream when he did return home and sleep, and thanks to it, wondered if he should call out to Sayaka and invite her inside.  He decided against it, though.  He decided that he ought not act on subconscious thoughts.
It was because she looked so young.  A high school first year wasn't far removed from a middle-schooler, and while he knew and respected how worldly she was at her age, he couldn't help but feel protective of her.  That image in his dream, of the childish magica being strangled inside the huge fist of a terrifying monster left him wanting to work for her protection, but he knew she wouldn't want or appreciate that.  She was the type to insist on forging her own path forward, no matter how much others wanted to support her.
If Kanoshi were a member of the yakuza himself, one of her 'Onii-sans', then maybe she'd let him say that he wanted to protect her, but they were from different worlds.  He wasn't one of her people.  With that thought resolved and the dream pushed to the back of his mind, Kanoshi finished the third cup of coffee that he needed to feel functional that morning, then hopped onto his computer to play more video games.  Was it pathetic to do this after he'd already been up till the most unfortunate hours of the night before playing games?  Yes, it kind of was, but he didn't care.
After all, eSports drafts were soon, and he'd been in the top 500 on Japan's competitive servers since a month after the game launched.  Some people considered him, 'ChikaMikan', the top mercy player for the region, though he wasn't so sure about that.  It wasn't like his playstyle of mostly pocketing one player was a very good way to play the game, he just happened to be a master of pocketing.  One very specific niche that he excelled at.  Things were looking good for him to be invited to a Pro Team soon, but if he didn't, he'd already had interviews with people at the grocery store where Yuuri worked, and he was frankly overqualified, so he had that lined up if eSports didn't work out for him.
The new apartment was small, smaller than the space he was used to having at his disposal, but it was still enough for what he needed.  He kept it a little bit less clean than the last one thanks to the feeling that he lacked storage space, but otherwise, it worked for him.  He had never needed an apartment the size of the last one that he had, and Yuuri wasn't lying when he said three people could live here without too many problems.  There was no real living room space, but the kitchen could fit his kotatsu in it, and though the overall square footage of the place was less, there were three other rooms rather than the two of his last one.
What he'd need a second bedroom for, he didn't know, but it was nice to have, and the change in layout made Kanoshi realize just how much extra space he'd had before, space that was just empty floor he never really used.  It wasn't that he enjoyed this place over the old one, but he did work to rationalize it in his mind that it wasn't so bad.  He wanted his old apartment.  He wanted his old job especially, but he knew those things were impossible now, and he was forcing himself to come to terms with it.
Three hours later, after Kanoshi had played several rounds which he won, across town, Tsukune Madara was just waking up.  His roommate was already at work, which he was grateful for.  He didn't want to deal with her any day, but after battling a monster he was especially loathe.  What he'd said to Yuuri about coming to Tokyo for the sake of helping Kanoshi was only a half truth.  The other half of the matter had to do with his personal life.
Kyoko Shirato
Kyoko Shirato was her name, and she was a pain in the neck by profession.  She was barely an adult, having been attending Korekara Academy as a third year student when the massacre occurred.  Tsukune often found himself bitterly wishing that she had perished, rather than crashing in to ruin his life.  She would call him a friend sometimes, a boyfriend others, depending on if she was attracted to the person she was referring to him around.  If it was somebody especially ugly in her eyes, or one of those attractive people was into cuckolding, she would even say that Tsukune was her husband.
He considered himself none of those things to her.  She was a scoundrel, a con artist.  She had found him right after the massacre, when the two of them were both living on the streets, and she was an excellent actress who made him believe she was something of an angel, come to offer an alliance to get them both out of the hole they were in.  She was a devil, though.  He'd made a deal with the devil, that's the sort of person Kyoko was.
A deal was the right thing to call it, though, because she'd followed through on her promise.  She'd gotten them out of that hole, gotten an apartment which they could both live in comfortably.  She paid bills, and rent, and for food for the both of them, but at what cost?  Tsukune didn't begrudge her the way that she made her money, of course.  She could be charming, and she could use that to her advantage.  She was an unabashedly sexual woman, and she could manipulate that fact about herself even if she didn't quite realize what she was doing.
Kyoko could make promises to get things out of people, whether she followed through or not.  Then there was the flip side, where certain men and women would be glad to pay her just to make her leave them alone.  She'd used those skills to pull herself and Tsukune out of the gutter, then gotten a job at a nearby concert venue.  Tsukune had to admit that the only time he found Kyoko especially tolerable was when she played her guitar.  She had real skills, so it was no wonder she was able to get hired as a stand-in guitarist for any bands who might need her services.
That scoundrel, Kyoko... Tsukune might actually admire her for all of her abilities, if not for his own strained relationship with her.  There was a price to his existing in the same space as her, he knew.  Existing at all always seemed to have a price, and Kyoko exacted a sharp one.  If Tsukune was going to continue to profit off of her behaviors, he needed to do a few things for her.  Buying her alcohol was one of those, as she was still too young to do so.  Keeping the apartment clean.  She'd discovered early on that he could burn water, so cooking was out of the question.
In general, he was at her beck and call.  It wasn't a pleasant arrangement, but even though he could get away from it now that he'd become a magical boy, he didn't.  Was it Stockholm Syndrome?  He wondered about that.  He had no reason to care about Kyoko at all, but he never took a single out that he had to get away from her.  He could have just let himself die, plenty of times.  He could just use his magic to go somewhere else and never think about her again.  Even so, Kyoko was an idol once.  Not like his fictional ones, but she still was, and she still made good music.
Even if she'd only escaped Korekara out of being absent that day, she was a survivor.  Even if she was a bad person, she'd still extended a hand to Tsukune, and she never hurt him with that hand.  Even as she hurt others, she showed him that kindness of never going too far.  It wasn't that she even fully understood that what she was doing was wrong, but something about Tsukune kept her from seeing him in such a way that she would cross that line with him.
To her, he probably seemed like a kicked puppy.  A pet project, somebody to say she was working hard for instead of just herself in the wake of an awful tragedy.  She'd only escaped with her life because she was such a recent transfer, who got lost in the cracks, but she'd still made connections at that school before it was all destroyed, and she knew she could have easily been there.  Tsukune could see it in her eyes, sometimes, and the way she spoke if ever the incident came up.  She was not a careless bad person, but an unknowing one, and she still felt guilt over her "luck" in surviving the massacre despite anything she'd done.
So perhaps that was why Tsukune stayed?  He was Kyoko's kicked puppy, but she was also his.  That was how he saw her.  A kicked puppy underneath everything which she did wrong.
He had magic, and she didn't.  He avoided speaking to her, only needing to indulge her requests a few hours a week, and as long as he did that and turned his blind eye to it all, he'd use this magic he held to protect her.  Kyoko Shirato... Whatever it was that made her want to help him, of course he'd return the favor.
He was a devil too, after all.
After musing on his relationship with Kyoko, Tsukune checked to see if Kanoshi had woken up yet.  The most recent log-in on his dgf account confirmed that he had, but thanks to Zhou's lack of NEET hobbies, he had no way to tell if he had yet woken up.
Zhou had, though he expected to go back to sleep in the next twenty minutes.  He lived in a house which had been marked as being for sale for two decades now, which had never sold.  A bit outside of the Tokyo area, but still close enough to a train station that getting into Tokyo wasn't a problem.  The house looked nice, and it wasn't haunted or anything, but there was too much structural damage.  Things were always falling apart, so much so that by the time Zhou got to it the entire interior was, for lack of a better term, boneless.  'Open Concept', but the second floor was on the verge of collapsing in, and the foundation was uneven too, another time bomb of the architecture.
A time bomb of the architecture for a human, that was.  Zhou made it his home, utilizing his magic in quiet ways to keep it standing.  It made him feel bad at times to continue using magic for this sort of thing, but Sayaka did bring up a good point; he was already approaching enough magic to bring Mayu back, but didn't have a single lead on where her body could be.  There was no way to turn her into a magical girl without her body, after all.
Was it selfish of Zhou to take liberties to live somewhere this nice, to live comfortably?  Yes, he decided, it was.  He had also decided when he became a magical boy, a year after his sister's death, that he wouldn't apologize for being selfish anymore.  It helped to know there were others waiting to greet Mayu when he pulled her back into the world of the living, but it was only his own desire to bring her back.  His entire life, he felt bad taking anything he felt he didn't deserve, but he'd discarded those worries.
Why should he worry about something like that?  Didn't he deserve to be happy?  Didn't he deserve to do anything to achieve that happiness for himself, given that he didn't drag anyone else down as he did?  He wanted to live in this nice house.  He could afford nice food because he didn't have to pay rent, or bills either since his magic could easily substitute for electricity and heating.  He would take those things, because nobody suffered for it.  Nobody else wanted this house anyway.
So it was fine for him to take.  It was.  This city owed it to him, anyways.  He was the highest-ranking magica in Tokyo.  Well, unless The Prince decided to stick around long-term, but somehow, Zhou doubted that would happen.

-----
Horace was not so well-kept at all times.
Right now, in fact, he was exhausted.  Panting, unclean, with all of his hair fallen out of his ponytail and into his face.  He was sweaty, overexerted, he found himself disgusting.  His head wouldn't stop pounding.  He'd made Oh One obscure the truth of this battle; Sure, a number of lower-ranking magica were taking shifts in the battle, but the higher ranked ones weren't taking any breaks.
Fukushima
With a level 8 Endurance Test Type, they couldn't afford it.  Level 8 was the highest level that anybody had yet encountered, 9 and 10 being terrifying creatures of myth which Horace could hope never came to terrorize their world.  So it was that he hardly looked humanoid anymore by the time the beast finally dissipated, leaving behind a total of ten orbs.  There were more than ten magica involved, but it seemed that everyone belonged to the same 10 distributors.
Horace didn't bother making himself presentable at all before collapsing onto the ground.
One of the other magica who'd participated, Fukushima, approached Horace, then dropped to her knees beside him as well.  She took deep breaths, then spoke to him, her words strained.  Despite her mask, Horace could tell that she was forcing a smile, "We really did it, huh...?  We beat that thing?"
"We sure did," A lower-ranking magical boy who'd taken shifts to attack stepped up, limping and weak as well, "Fukushima-san, you're rank fifteen, right?  And Prince Horace, and..." He glanced around, "Fizzy Pop are here too, right?  If we had so much trouble taking down a level eight..."
"Nine and ten seem impossible, right?" Horace spoke up from the ground, his voice blank, "But... That's not correct.  I had to hold back to avoid injuring other magica with my telekinesis.  Were I to truly go all out, I could have beaten this monster on my own... In double the time.  With Fizzy Pop also going all out with me, the same amount of time.  Were Uamake to join in, it only would have taken one week.  But that's not realistic.  I'm this tired now... I dread to think how I'd feel had I given it my all."
"Pop"
"He-ey~!  Princey!" A shrill voice called out to Horace, and he sat back up to see that one half of the two girls which made up the magica Fizzy Pop was waving to him.  She was supporting the other one, who was clutching something in her left hand.  Horace decided to call the excited one Pop, and the exhausted one Fizzy.  That was the unique aspect of the distributor Chikd; it created two magica at once for the same magic cost as creating one, but their powers would be worthless if separated, thus turning two humans into one functioning magica.
"What's up...?" He questioned, blinking slowly.  It seemed that Fizzy had given all of her remaining energy over to Pop, with that exuberance which hadn't been present during the battle.  Those two had a very useful magic.  Both of them were archers, and for every shot one of them made which landed where intended, the other's damage output doubled, up to a cap of 2048x.  Rewarding Marksmanship, was the name they called that power by.
"We were grabbing our orb and found a weird letter with our name on it!  There was one for you too, so we picked it up.  Oh, and we brought your orb too.  Here you go!" She grinned as she tore the items from Fizzy's hand then tossed them at Horace, "Oh, don't let me forget next time we see each other, when we're in better shape.  I owe you a bear hug!  Awesome work, and it was great to meet you, even if it had to be while fighting a big ol' beast."
"You'll certainly be seeing a lot more of me.  I have a few reasons I'd like to remain in Tokyo for a bit longer yet," Horace explained, bringing his arms up to tie his hair back.  How was he regaining his strength so quickly?  He looked around to see another duo of Chikd's, called FMV, who were from South Korea.  They were magical boys at rank 80, but had been much higher in the past, falling only because other magica were more active and had more raw power.  FMV's power was interesting.  One healed injuries, the other healed stamina, their only combat prowess on their own being their weaponry, throwing spears.  He waved a hand in thanks towards their direction, knowing that his small revitalization was thanks to them.
"Fizzy"
"You'll have to tell us about it some other time!  We promised our family we'd be home in time for dinner this evening, since the health bar was so low earlier.  Seeya~!" Pop giggled, then jumped into the air carrying Fizzy.  They were both gone from view by the time Horace turned to Fukushima again.
"You got somebody to go back to, Fukushima?" Horace wondered.
"Me?" She questioned, pointing at herself, then shook her head in response, "No, not anymore anyway.  I'm not about to reveal my identity, but I lived in Korekara.  After the massacre at the school... Who would wanna stay there?  My friends and I used to all run around together, saying that it was our duty to protect the girls in that town.  How could I stay there after such a failure?"
"I'm very sorry to hear that," Horace frowned, extending a hand toward her, "Are you at least finding new purpose as a magical girl?"  He'd known of the massacre long before he ever set foot in Japan, the entire world knew what happened and collectively decided not to trust the company responsible for that AI anymore.  It wasn't until he met Kanoshi, however, that Horace was honestly hit by how awful the situation was, the idea of it.  So much death, all in one place, and of such promising youths was terrifying as soon as it became real.
Hearing that something had happened was one thing, but meeting somebody who'd been personally impacted by it was another.  Horace had met Kanoshi right around the one-year marker of the horrific event which had changed the course of history for the worse, and had seen firsthand that the teacher was still grappling with the fact that several of his own former students had been there.  With that perspective, it was impossible to stay an onlooker, and meeting someone else who'd been even closer to the tragedy...
"It's not a big deal now," Fukushima sighed, holding her hands to her chest.  She'd looked so strong before, but was now showing weakness as she spoke about her connection to the town where nobody survived, "It was at first, but it's been a while now.  I lost my friends and I lost the very thing I wanted to defend with my life, but that was just another chapter in my life.  I've moved on to other things."
"That much is clear," Horace nodded in agreement, then looked down to the letter he'd been handed.  It had his name on it, and nothing else.  He was a bit wary of what could be inside, but there was nothing which posed a real threat to him, so he supposed there could be no harm in opening it up.  There were no traps inside, just an unceremonious piece of computer paper.  Typed on it in a boring font, badly spaced, was a short explanation that this was a letter of commendation.
"What's that?" Fukushima leaned over, narrowing her eyes at it, "I... Can't read that very well, but is it a letter of commendation?  My distributor, Desire Train, told me that its highest ranking magical boy Diamond Dust, over in America, got one of those in the mail.  It doesn't know anything about why they're being sent out, but it thinks that they're just harmless bits of praise being given to the best magica that each distributor has."
"Well, that would make sense, but I'd think that if the cosmic forces which determine the rankings wanted to applaud us for our hard work, they'd put a bit more effort into the letter.  This is just pathetic," Horace groaned, but stuffed it into his pocket, "Well, I really should head back to Tokyo.  I left Guardian Angel to fend for himself when I came over here..."
"For himself?" Fukushima questioned, leaning towards him, "No, that can't be true.  I heard that Tokyo's magica just defeated a level five rock-golem type in one night."
"Really?  But..." Horace frowned, "I thought that Tokyo's magica were only Guardian Angel and Lullabye."
"Huh?  No way," Another magica who'd helped in the battle walked up, speaking English.  Someone with a travel ability who'd come to help out, "I stopped by there on my way to this fight, and there were three more.  Smokescreen, Ribbon Red, and Infernal."
"So that's where Smokescreen operates..." Horace noted.  Thanks to Oh One, he did know that the magica Smokescreen was in Japan, but had no idea what part of the country.  Sugarcanesugarcane said that particular magical boy wanted to be left alone by others.Horace had to wonder what changed, if he'd suddenly become involved enough to be known amongst magica as one of Tokyo's protectors.
"Ribbon Red?" Fukushima questioned, wide-eyed, "Who... Who is that?"
"What do you mean?" The magical boy who'd mentioned the Tokyo magica wondered, "It's not like anybody knows who she is outside of being a magical girl.  She's always using glamours."
"What I mean is that 'Ribbon Red' is exactly the sort of title I'd expect somebody that I used to know to end up with," Fukushima explained, standing up straight, "You're going back to Tokyo, right Prince-san?  Mind if I tag along?  I'd like to become acquainted with this magical girl."
"Oh, sure thing," Horace nodded, FMV's revitalizing finally gotten to a point that he could stand up and felt capable of making his way back to the city.  He couldn't use his telekinesis on certain creatures such as magica (though humans were fair game), distributors, or monsters, but just about everything else was fair game.  He could easily just levitate an item and stand on it, or sit as the case may be.  The city's destructive had undone itself, but there was a fire escape which had been broken prior to the battle, so he took the debris from that and motioned for Fukushima to join him as he took off back in the direction of Tokyo, using another piece as a windshield to avoid getting bugs in their faces as they traveled at absurd speeds.
Traveling like this was an air traffic hazard which some magica didn't care about, flying wherever they pleased.  Horace, meanwhile, had enough control over his magic to fly close to the roofs without worrying about crashing into them, and as long as he didn't go anywhere near an airport, he wouldn't cause any problems for any planes.  Both he and Fukushima had glamours on anyway, so it wasn't a concern of his that humans might see them.  Let them see, it wasn't like it mattered.
"So," Horace started, "This is going to take a few hours.  You the type who's willing to open up about your past, or are we gonna take this in silence?"
"Somewhere in between," She answered, leaning against him, "I guess it doesn't matter, if you know who I am.  I mostly just use glamours because everybody else does, because it's expected.  There's nobody I'm trying to hide it from, not really.  I was the head of a girl gang back in Korekara, called No Boys Allowed.  There were requirements to join, but no real requirements to stay in.  Be a girl who wasn't attracted to men, that was the extent of it.  I wouldn't kick anybody out for fluid sexuality, or gender realizations.  We were a family... Until we weren't anymore.  Until we failed to protect those girls, and just... fell apart.  I haven't seen any of them since the massacre."
"I understand," Horace nodded, looking up at the sky, "Sometimes, even the strongest bonds rely on something else, and if that something else gets lost along the way...  You miss them, right?  Even though you've moved on?"
Fukushima hesitated, but then nodded, crossing her legs where she sat, "Of course I do.  They were my family.  Our home was a place where the girls society would look down upon and forget about could be loved and even revered by others.  But our world now has no use for such a thing.  Our world spits upon the only people keeping it from being utterly destroyed, they have no love left in their hearts for anybody, especially not delinquents."
Horace stayed silent for a while along their flight, before he spoke up again, only as loud as he needed to be to be heard over the wind, "Do you know how many of your past members became magica?  Do you think Ribbon Red was one of them?"
"Red?  No, she never agreed to join," Fukushima shook her head with a bitter chuckle, "Red and I go even further back, if she's who I'm thinking of.  I knew her when she was a little kid for real, and didn't just look like one.  I don't doubt that others from No Boys went on to become magica, though.  Delinquents are exactly the sort to end up using magic, after all."
"They are, aren't they?" Horace agreed, staring ahead into the night as city lights began to appear on the horizon.
Fukushima just nodded, closing her eyes.  They certainly were, she thought.  They were all like her.

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