Saturday, June 24, 2017

Variety, Story Rotation, Arc Completion, and Timelines

Are you bored of the current story lineup?

Is it tiring to have had the same three stories every month for the past seven months?

The current story lineup consists of two stories which focus on the teen girls who attend Korekara Academy.  It also has two stories which focus on demons more than humans.  In addition, both of the Korekara stories follow somebody who is bright and pure of heart interacting with peers who are decidedly not cheerful, good people.

In addition, both Yokaishiteru! and Akuma No Imouto are stories "without end".  Similar to a newspaper comic, they've been designed specifically to keep going with more new content for a very long time; there is no specific end in sight for them.

Checkboxes, meanwhile, will be ending when it reaches Chapter 33.  At the current rate of posting, that should take just under three years.  I do not intend to put Checkboxes on hiatus at any point, as to reach this chapter at the time I've projected.

Akuma No Imouto and Yokaishiteru, however, are both approaching a good 'pause point', being the end of their first story arcs.  The point at which I will gather up the chapters and put them into a volume for purchase, as there is a beginning, middle, and end to the arc.  When a season of television ends, its timeslot is used for another show.  Likewise, when I finish an arc, I'd like to fill the slots with something else, to vary the options for new readers.

I have four slots, though one has been empty since January.

 Week 1: Yokaishiteru (Starts in-universe January 2016, goes forward from there.)
Week 2: Checkboxes (In-universe October 2015 till January 2016)
Week 3: Akuma No Imouto (Starts in-universe July 2020, goes forward from there)
Week 4: Empty

Following the completion of Yokaishiteru and Akuma's first arcs, this is what I would like the schedule to look like:
Week 1: Evil Meet Justice (Starts in-universe April 1993, goes forward from there.)
Week 2: Checkboxes
Week 3: Bad Dreams (Starts in-universe March 1994, goes forward from there.)
Week 4: Mahou Shonen Just Say No (Starts in-universe October 2016, goes forward from there.  Alternate Timeline from the rest;.)

And starting in January 2018, I would like the schedule to look like this:
Week 1: Evil Meet Justice
Week 2: Checkboxes
Week 3: Akuma No Imouto
Week 4: Mahou Shonen Just Say No
Posting Outside of Schedule: 24 Doors (In-universe February 2024)

I'm hoping this will give a little more variety to the lineup.
For information on the new titles, click below the readmore!

Checkboxes Chapter Seven

Last night, I learned that a student at my school is an identity thief.

Momoko Watanabe, as I met her online, informed me that the student of the same name at Korekara Academy is in fact, Izuna Nanako, her past best friend who stole her scholarship after she’d been kidnapped.  I don’t have any idea what do with this information, though.  At the time, I just thanked her for telling me what the truth was and went to sleep, but now that I’m awake again it seems that I need to confront it.

You can’t talk to Izuna about this yet.  Even if she is a criminal, the point here is to save everybody.  If you confront her with this information, there is no way that she’d possibly survive.

I’ll keep that in mind.  So in that case, what should I do today?

I’d say that you should talk to one of the people Ayano pointed you to.  Touko or Kurumi… Seeing as you’ve already spoken with Sayaka before.  Both of them, if you can make the time.  After school, however.  Not at lunchtime.  You can keep up with your schoolwork or talk to one of the friends you’ve already made, it doesn’t really matter.

Well, that’s reassuring.  In any case, I get ready for school, then figure out what to do when lunchtime rolls around.  I’ve actually finished getting caught up on my classwork, for the most part, so I decide to go find somebody to eat lunch with.  I wonder if anyone’s up on the roof, besides Hiromi and Yamiko.  Those two… It kind of feels like I’ve lost a friend.  I’m happy for Hiromi, of course, but it’s like the both of them can’t see anything out in the world besides each other.  I guess that makes sense, though.  Hiromi is dead… I’m just glad that she’s not completely gone from this world.

Eating on the roof, too, is Sayaka.  She’s actually managed, somehow, to sit up on top of the tall, thin chain-link fence which goes around the edge.  That doesn’t shock me, since she does seem pretty dextrous, especially with what I know about her past, and her present for that matter.  I approach where she’s sitting, but don’t speak up because I’m afraid of startling her.  Turns out I don’t need to, as she notices my presence in moments and turns around, facing me as she stays up on the fence, swinging her feet with her lunch in her lap, “Hey, what’s up, senpai?”

“Hi, Sayaka-chan!” I wave to her, “Not a lot!  I’ve got my make-up schoolwork almost all sorted out, so I don’t have to coop myself up in the classroom at lunchtime anymore.  How about you?”

“Hmm, I’m just eating,” She shrugs, then picks up her lunch and hops down from the fence, landing next to me gracefully.  She then holds the box out toward me, “Want to try the red bean mochi?  I made it last night, after work.  I learned the technique at the bakery, so I tried it out on my own, and I think it came out okay…”

“I’d love to!” I grin at her, then take one out of the box and bite into it, “Oh, wow!  Don’t tell Amai-chan I said this, but I think these are better than hers!” I chuckle as I swallow, then take another bite, “It must be because you’re focusing on desserts, while she’s more into cooking than baking!”

“I-I wouldn’t say that!” Sayaka shakes her head, pigtails moving with the suddenness of it, “There’s no way that I’m better than Amai-nee.  I’m just trying my best, to have something I can make a cover career out of,” She smirks, tilting her head to the side, “After all, I have to have some occupation to put down for the census.  Besides, my own bakery?  That would be a great front for money laundering, wouldn’t you agree?”

“If I agree will I be implicated as an accomplice?” I question, then look over towards Hiromi and Yamiko, “And should you be saying things like that around other people…?”

“Look, if I can talk about it, I will,” She crosses her arms with a pout, “Besides, Tori-senpai won’t care if she overhears.”

So Sayaka can’t see Hiromi, either…  I guess that makes sense, with her background as an axe for hire, but I still can’t help feeling bad about it.  Hiromi was the type of person to have been able to see herself, but that also meant she was always ready to befriend the type of people who can’t see her now.  Bad people, on some arbitrary ghost system.  I guess that I can’t make assumptions, though.  It is strange to think, how a shinigami can be considered pure when I’m sure a God of Death has done bad things, but a human who was raised in an environment fueled by crime, for whom ‘bad things’ are the everyday, is left in the dark.

“I guess you’re right,” I shrug, dismissing the topic, “You’re pretty proud of all that stuff, aren’t you?”

“Proud?  Yeah, you could say that,” She shrugs, putting a hand on her hip, “I’m not ashamed of where I come from, I consider it an honor, but I’m supposed to keep it hidden so I can get a good education without worrying about people giving me funny looks or being scared of me,” She closes her eyes and sighs, tilting her head, “It’s hard to be around normal people, though, like you and Amai-nee.  That was why I was so upset that day.  It isn’t that I think the way I was raised is bad.  It is objectively evil, though.  How could I just claim to be a good friend for somebody who’s never broken the law, when I’m like this?  That’s why I came to you for judgment.”

“Never broken the law… Ah,” I shake my head, smiling, “Who could do that?  Just think about it.  Why is there crime in a lawless society?  It’s human nature.  Laws and society keep us in check, but everyone’s broken a law at some point, I’m sure of it.  I mean, I’ve trespassed!”

“You have?” Sayaka questioned, opening her eyes again to give me a scrutinous look, “You really don’t strike me as the type to ever break a rule…”

“I go to Korekara Academy!  Of course I’m the type to break a rule!” I protest, then sigh, “It was the end of June, I think, I forgot something at school, so I came back after five when the gates were already closed…”

“Oh, well that’s about what I’d expect from you,” Sayaka relaxes, “There’s no way you’d do something actually wrong.  All you did was come back for a forgotten item?  Did you get caught?  Did anyone even care?”

“I don’t remember,” I freeze, then look down at my feet and blink, “I think… That was the last thing that happened before my absence.”

“Wait, really!?” Sayaka freezes in place now, her earlier relaxation inverted, then takes a step closer to me, narrowing her eyes as she peers at my face, “Box-chan, they said that you fell ill while at home!  Does that mean the rumors that it wasn’t really a sickness are true?”

“Of course they’re true,” Kaoru appears out of… somewhere?  Stepping forward as if she’d just been hiding on the roof, waiting for something relevant to cause her approach, “Yamaguchi-san, every rumor has some form of truth behind it.  This is new information, however… It happened while you were on campus, Hako-senpai?”

“Uh… Yes?” I take a step backwards, furrowing my brow, “I shouldn’t have said that…”

“No, you most certainly should have.  Everyone wants to find the culprit, except, I guess, the culprit.  Or culprits.  We can’t rule out accomplices,” Kaoru explains, holding a hand to her chin, “This is valuable information.  It’s somebody who would have been lurking around after the school was closed for the evening… A student, probably.  One with a reason to have a key from the faculty, to get on the grounds that late…”

“Well, that’s not necessarily true.  I don’t have a reason to have my keys, I just do,” I reach into my pocket and pull out the school keys.  A teacher, I guess, who I’ve never seen since then gave them to me on my first day, saying that they’d be useful if I ever upgraded Artemis. Fucko is probably what she meant by that.

“Are those…?” Sayaka mumbles, crossing her arms over her chest as she eyes the keys in my hand.

“That’s not just grounds keys,” Kaoru confirms, “This is a whole keyring, Hako-senpai… You could open any door in the school with this.  How did you get it?  How has it not been confiscated by now?”

“I don’t know,” I shrug, looking up at the sky, “I got these on my first day here.  A girl with pink hair gave them to me, though I haven’t seen her since… I just assumed she was a teacher, but she looked more like a third year to me,” I pause, furrowing my brow, “Ah, if I ask one of the current third years, maybe they’d remember her?”

“Could this be?  An… Eigth mystery of Korekara Academy?” Kaoru questions, then raises an arm to point at me, “Hako-senpai! How many of the original seven have you solved now?”

“I figured out the rose dumpster!” I answer, holding my hands in close to myself, “It’s because Sakazaki Yuu lives there!  I don’t know any of the others, though.  I mean, I’ve never even heard about the Calligraphic Confession…”

“Fine then, how about this? We drop that mystery, and replace it with this one.  Who is the mysterious pink-haired girl who gave Box Hako a full set of keys to the school?” Kaoru decides, and even gives me a smile, “Though, you still need to figure out the disappearance of the Kaguya sisters before we can work together to solve anything.”

“Well… If we find a current third year to ask, they might know what happened to the Kaguyas and who the girl who gave me the keys was,” I offer, looking around the roof, “I mean, none of the third years that I personally know would… Yuu-senpai is a disaster, Kato-senpai focuses on her student council duties more than any gossip, and I don’t think most people know Oujouno-senpai exists…”

“I…” Sayaka starts, groaning, “Don’t know anybody.  There aren’t even any third years in the cooking club.  But, uh, what about Taino-senpai?  We met her last week, remember, Box-san?”

“But what if we upset her?” I question, holding a hand to my cheek, “The school trip starts tomorrow, right?  If we were going to hang out with the delinquents, I don’t want to press her for information right now… She might rescind her offer!”

“Taino-senpai doesn’t know about the Kaguyas anyway.  If any member of No Boys knew what happened to those girls, it never would have happened,” Kaoru mumbles, and I have to worry.  What could have happened?  I kind of just want her to tell me, even though there’s probably nothing I could do about it at this point.  Even though the goal of ‘saving everyone’ started out belonging to Fucko, I’m finding myself invested in it too.  How could I not?  Everyone at this school is so talented and great, and more than that, they’re good people.  I don’t want to see any of them come to harm if I can help it.

“I don’t want to bother the Student Council President,” I mumble, trying to think who else is a third year.  Victoria and Kyoko are transfers, so there’s no way they’d know.  With everyone else that I’ve already eliminated, that leaves Yumiko or the president of the science club, who I can’t recall ever meeting before.  I decide to defer to Fucko.

This is all new.  This situation has never happened before.  I can’t guide you on it, but I do think that you’re better off meeting with Yumiko, since Natsuki Nagata is a bit of a strange one.  Yumiko probably will know about the Kaguya sisters.  As long as this doesn’t interfere with the afternoon, you should go ahead and seize upon this event.  It must be a random one.

I don’t know what that means, but I’ll take it at face value, “Tachibana-senpai is using Assis-co tech to collect achievements in real life.  I bet she knows a lot of weird stuff thanks to that!”

“Oh, that makes sense,” Sayaka nods with a blank look.

“Collect achievements…?” Kaoru questions, furrowing her brow, “Oh, I see.  Satonaka-san talks about those occasionally.  It’s a video game thing, right?”

“Yes,” Sayaka nods, then closes her eyes, “Though, is it really Assis-co?  An Augmented Reality item like that seems more like what Feru has been doing,” She lifts a hand to her chin, “I did some research on the company after I got invited to test that game, see.”

“No, it’s definitely Assis-co.  I think they made it in competition with Feru?” I wonder aloud, then look around, “After all, they’re both producing cutting edge technology, I bet Assis-co wanted to prove it could be used recreationally in addition to life assistance… Probably.  All my business sense, I learned from Amai-chan, so blame her if I’m wrong!”

“I wonder what Feru is even supposed to mean?” Kaoru ponders as she starts leading the way to the video game club room, where Yumiko is most likely to be found at any given time, “I mean, Assis-co has such an obvious name.  It’s English for Assistance Company, shortened.”

“That’s not something I would know,” Sayaka shakes her head.

“I would!” Somebody else butts in now that we’re inside, and I look to see Sasane, my homeroom teacher, “Sorry girls, I couldn’t help but overhear, and I’m always glad to satiate the curious mind.  Especially since language is my specialty!  Feru is latin for Uncivilized.  So, if I had to guess why a futuristic tech company would be using it, I’d say it’s a marketing statement.  Without their products, you’re not up to date on modern civilization!  Though, I don’t own anything from them.  I have brand loyalty for Assis-co, since they sponsor our school.”

“Oh, what sort of Assis-co products do you have, sensei?” I ask, looking up at her but continuing to walk.  She falls into step with us, hugging a binder to her chest as she does.

“All sorts!  My coffee machine, for example!  The doors in my house, my security system, my shower… Just some perks of the job!” She chuckles, “Not that being a teacher pays that well, even in gifts.  It helps that I live with an Assis-co employee, and another member of the faculty here, too,” She pauses, then lifts the binder to cover her face, blushing, “Oh my!  I really shouldn’t be discussing my personal life with students!”

“You’re blushing, sensei!” I chuckle, leaning towards her, “I bet that you’re dating, huh?  No wonder you keep breaking Hana-chan’s heart!”

Miki Hanamura
“Oh, Hanamura-san…” Sasane sighs, shaking her head, “That girl just never learns.  I turn her down all the time, but she still insists on trying!  Last year, she gave me chocolates for Valentine’s Day.  Homemade ones, and I just felt awful!  She seems to have this idea in her head that it’s acceptable to behave in such a way towards one’s teachers.  I’m not supposed to disclose such things to my students, but I am in a committed relationship, and I wouldn’t date a student even if I were single and desperate!”

“That’s kind of disparaging towards Hanamura-senpai,” Sayaka notes, but then smirks, “Why don’t you just say that to her?  If she likes you for your kindness, that’ll shut her right up.”

“It seems any kind of rejection I give her is in one ear and out the other,” Sasane groans, “One time, I told her that I couldn’t go out with her because all of my free time must be spent eating truckloads of raw plantains, peel and all.  She didn’t even notice how strange the excuse was.  My, I pity anyone who does try to get involved with somebody so willfully oblivious to anything she doesn’t want to hear.”

Do not ask your teacher about the girl who gave you the keys.  She will confiscate them if she learns that you own such a thing.

“Well, I’m sure that Hana-chan will learn eventually.  Until then, I hope she doesn’t get into too much trouble,” I pause, standing in place as I realize something, “Wait, Ikimura-sensei, if you said faculty rather than teacher… I’m going to say it can’t be the Headmaster, since nobody knows who that is, but…” I tilt my head, “It’s the Doctor, right?  You’re living with her?”

“Oh no!” Sasane shakes her head, “Mon dieu!  Ay Caramba!  You’ve found me out!” She says the last bit in English, and the other variations on ‘oh no’ in languages I don’t know.  One of them is French, probably, as I learned from talking to Sakazaki.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Sayaka questions, stepping in front of Sasane to face her and stare her down, “Letting Hanamura-senpai continue to chase after you, with that sort of connection to somebody like Same-Hakase?”

“Why would it be dangerous?” Sasane asks, blinking innocently, “Well, Iwa-chin wouldn’t hurt a fly!  I’d be more worried about our boyfriend, after all, he owns guns!  That’s quite the feat in Japan, he isn’t even on the Self-Defense Force!  But, don’t go telling anybody I said that…”

“You know what I’m talking about, sensei,” Sayaka presses the matter, frowning, “Just look at my eyes, and you’ll know that I’m not just going on rumors.  Now, I don’t know if the Doctor’s a yandere or anything like that, but anyone can get jealous given enough time, and I have to say that you can’t count on a red woman coming to a mature solution in that situation.”

“Silly child,” Sasane shakes her head, then breezes past Sayaka, “You really think that at our age, Iwa-chin can’t control herself?  I have no worries.  But, if you think something like that would get Hanamura-san to leave me alone, go ahead and warn her?”  With that, Sasane is gone, and I have to be a bit surprised.  I’ve just seen a completely different side of my compassionate homeroom teacher… Well, anyway, we finish our walk to the video game clubroom.  Yumiko is sitting there, eating a bento which seems to consist only of tomatoes and octopus-dogs while messing around with her AR screen, which is reversed from our perspective.

“Tachibana-senpai,” Sayaka steps forward, narrowing her eyes as she takes up an intimidating posture, “We want to talk to you about some things.  See, the three of us are investigating… A murder.”

“A murder?” Yumiko questions, blinking with her cheek stuffed full of a whole tomato, stem and all.  She chews it up, then crosses her legs and dismisses the AR screen, “Oh, are you talking about Nami and Tomoe?  Or Yui?”

Nami Kaguya
“Um…” I mumble, “All of the above?”

“I can tell you about that!” Yumiko nods, hopping down from the table she’d been sitting on, “After all, Hako-chan, I was trying for the same achievement you were, until it got too depressing.  I knew everyone who came through Korekara when I was a first year.”

“Spectacular,” Kaoru nods, stepping forward, “I know about the first two, but who’s this Yui person?  And I’m sure the others will want to know everything.”

“Ah, Nami and Tomoe Kaguya were in my class… In our first year, the pair were attacked on the outskirts of town while walking back to the apartment they were renting the next town over.  I heard about it right away, before the coverup effort started.  In the age of technology, it’s hard not to.  Gin Sakuya discovered them, and immediately alerted the faculty, which I guess was a mistake because they just got rid of the bodies and started acting like those students never existed… I dunno why.  There’s usually a memorial service, when people die, even if that’s just a hazard of attendance.”

Tomoe Kaguya
“Still, the solution of the mystery is that they didn’t disappear at all.  They were killed, and the administration covered it up,” Kaoru explained, “It’s still a mystery why it was covered up, but that’s related to the other mystery.  The one regarding why this school is seen as so dangerous-”

“I know why it was covered up,” Sayaka speaks up, glaring at the far wall, “Korekara Academy may be considered a difficult place to reach graduation alive, but that’s a matter of the school, not its surroundings.  And especially not a matter of being assaulted like that.  Even a school with a reputation for dead students wouldn’t want to drag down the town it’s in, or admit that it can’t protect the students.  Suicides and accidents can be seen as a side effect of inviting troubled kids all to one school.”

“Yeah, that’s the reason,” Yumiko nods, then closes her eyes, “There were a lot of those, my first year.  The second year class at the time were dropping like flies… For all sorts of different reasons.  When the dust cleared, there was only one student of that year left standing.  Yui Asahi.  She was subject to a murder investigation, naturally, which dragged on for more than a year.  She attended the new student orientation, but then died a few days before she graduated,” Yumiko’s frown is deep-set into her face, “The police were pretty tired at that point, and brushed it off as a suicide out of guilt from killing the others, but… Yui-san definitely wouldn’t have done that.  She said it was important that she graduated, to honor those who couldn’t.  Even if she was the killer, she wouldn’t have just fucked off like that!”

“Yui Asahi?” Sayaka asks, stepping forward and curling her lip, “Well, then I know why someone might’ve wanted to frame her, or to kill her.  Of course, the heir to such a corporate giant would be a target.  It could have even been someone working for the company… I wouldn’t presume them to have done it, but there are some sketchy employees.  Someone could have taken PR to the next level, by finding a way to get rid of the more troublesome sister by ruining her reputation before arranging for her to be killed.”

“That’s terrible!” Yumiko exclaims.

“That’s just business,” Sayaka gives an exaggerated shrug, “The corporate world’s got a lot of dirt behind the scenes, everyone knows that.”

“Just because it’s the truth, doesn’t make it less awful,” Yumiko sighs, holding her arms in close to herself, “Why would anyone still want to get the achievement for making friends, after seeing so many of those people they were trying to befriend… die?”

“I’m going to save them,” I take a step forward, hands clenched into fists, “I’m going to save every one of my friends.  I can’t do anything for the people we’ve already lost… But I won’t continue letting bad things happen!  I’ll protect everyone that I can!”

“...I’ll help,” Sayaka decides, stepping to my side, “Well, I’m not so good at making friends, but I want to stand with you, Box-san.  I like what you stand for… You’re kind, you have a good head on your shoulders, and you’re not afraid to do what needs to be done to achieve your goals.  Besides, you need some muscle anyway,” She shrugs, tossing her hair over her shoulder.

“It’s not like I’m running a robbery crew,” I chuckle when she says I’ll need muscle, but turn to her and press my hands together, “But you know, I’d love your help anyway, Sayaka-chan.”


When school is finished, I wander out of the classroom.  I need to investigate The Order today, and I have a few options.

Kurumi Hoshikawa hangs out near the track on days when there isn’t practice.  Touko Nozomi usually goes to a part time job as soon as school lets out, but she’s got the day off today and is spending it in the library.  Kurumi could give you more information, but Nozomi is hard to build a rapport with and this could help.

Akane Fujishiro
I’ll wait to talk to Kurumi another time, then.  Assuming that I’m not able to find time for both of them today; I want to try, since I probably won’t be able to get any more info until after the school trip.  In any case, I make my way to the library.

“Oh, Hako-senpai,” Akane greets me with a wave, “Back again?”

“Yeah,” I nod, then give her a nervous laugh, “Not to read any books, though… Is Touko Nozomi here?”

“Oh, mhm,” She looks around, then leans over the counter, “Nozomi-san!  Hako-chan is looking for you!” She shouts, then laughs as she brings a finger to her lips and shushes herself, “No yelling in the library.”

Touko looks up and notices me, then waves for me to go over there, so I approach her.  I offer a smile as I sit down across from her at the study table she’s picked out.  She has a whole pile of materials in front of her, “Nozomi-san, you’re working hard even on your day off?”

“Yes, absolutely,” Touko nods, pushing her glasses up her nose, “I have to work hard, to get into a good college and get a good job… I’m already working with a staffing agency, to do a lot off odd jobs, but that isn’t something which I can do my whole life, so I have to make sure I’m prepared.”

Touko Nozomi
“Wow, that’s impressive,” I lean forward, “But you know, Korekara is considered a shortcut… People always say that if you go to a high school like Korekara, you don’t even need to go to any college, let alone a good one!”

“Yes, but I’m sure any potential employer would admire my work ethic in deciding to do so anyway.  I may also choose to go to college for a specific discipline, which Korekara cannot provide a true specialty degree in,” Touko explains, leaning forward, “I was picked for this school, like everyone here, for two reasons.  In my case, those are my work ethic and the widely-publicized search for my kidnapped twin brother ten years ago.”

“You’re very open about your troubles!” I note.

“People are going to find out anyway, I may as well just be upfront about it,” She shrugs, closing some of the books she had open in front of her, “In fact, I’m guessing you already knew when you came to talk to me.  And I’ll even hazard another guess that you want to talk to me about it…”

“If that’s not too much trouble… Ueda-san’s enlisted me to help investigate The Order of The Felinus, and she said that you might know something about it,” I mumble, glancing around.  I’m not sure why Fucko is having me seize upon the request Ayano gave me, since it seems like a distraction from the real issue, but I’m sure there’s a reason for everything.

“I see… Well, you’re not religious, right?” She questions, looking me in the eyes.  I shake my head, and she continues, “Then I can talk to you about it.  I’d talk to Ueda-san, but she’s more concerned with how they’re using religion as a scapegoat to do bad things, and less concerned with what those things are… People say talking makes you feel better, but I’ve yet to find the right person that will do that for me.”

“You can try it on me,” I tilt my head and offer her a smile.

“Thank you…” She sighs, then adjusts her glasses agian before speaking, “Actually, I work so hard for two different reasons.  One is that my parents need to be able to be proud of me.  They can’t have lost one child, for the other not to do something great,” She explains, then leans back, “And I don’t know what I want to do.  All I know for sure is that I want to get a good enough job, be an important enough person that I can travel the world and find my brother.”

“I know he’s alive,” She continues, “I just know it.  It’s just a feeling I have, but I trust that it’s accurate.  I have to trust that it’s accurate, because if he is dead, then I’d be lost.  Still, I think it makes sense… That he was taken by a member of The Order.  When we were little, we met a lot of politicians and salarymen, since both our parents held seats on the National Diet at the time.  When I found out there was a fringe group which compelled important people to kidnap and groom children, I knew that had to be it.  Shinji and I, any one of those people could have seen us and decided to target one of us when prompted to do such a thing.”

“So it must really hurt… When people say that stuff isn’t real, right?  How can they say everything is hearsay and fake when you’ve actually experienced what that group can do?” I’m learning many troubling things today, but that’s just what happens, I guess, when befriending troubled youth.  I won’t let it get me down; all this information will do is give me a stronger resolve to help.

“...Yeah, it does,” Touko nods with a bitter smile, “People saying that even though you can see the recruitment tactics right there on the internet, that nobody’s actually acting on those religious practices they list.  Somebody must be.  This group, even if they’re technically harmless, they’ve definitely enabled kidnappers… They tore my family apart, but they’re a hoax?” She sighs, “I just can’t believe that.  Even if I’m wrong, I need something to hold onto.  Somebody to blame for losing him.”

“I understand,” I nod, folding my hands on the table between us, “And I believe in you, Nozomi-san.  Someday, you’ll find him… I know you will.  There’s no way that he’s dead, and even if it takes you another ten years, I am certain you’ll be reunited!

Next Chapter ->

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Yokaishiteru! Chapter Seven

<-Previous Chapter

<------First Chapter

Honoka sighed as she sat down for lunch with Akane and Ryouma, dropping her food onto the table then ignoring it in favor of pressing her face against the cheap plasticky surface.  Even the highest ranking school in the nation wasn’t going to bother spending money on quality furniture, and any private school that did was just wasting its budget.

“Honoka-chan?” Ryouma questioned, looking down at her wide-eyed, “Are you okay…?”

“I’m fine,” She groaned as she slowly straightened up, “It’s just, you know, we’ve been practicing a lot lately, it’s kind of exhausting… And I’m actually athletic!  Some of our members have barely even moved before this.  If I’m tired, how tired is everyone else?”

“Wow,” Akane’s jaw dropped slightly, then she moved closer and leaned forward, “It sounds like you’re all working really hard.  I expected you would, but I didn’t think the others would be as passionate as you are!  With motivation like that, you’ve got a real shot at winning…”

“A real shot?  Akane-chan!” Ryouma curled her fingers, offended, “With devotion like this, then it’s not a real shot, they’re bound to win!  Hard work pays off!  My dad’s still alive because I work hard, and Yokaishiteru is going to take first place with all their effort!”

“I have to say a real shot.  The last time I was certain something would work out, everything went horribly wrong,” Akane shook her head, then brought her hands up to her cheeks as she let out an exasperated sigh, “Right when I was going to meet my mom’s boyfriend and his daughter, my possible future stepsister, a sweet imouto who likes bunnies… He went missing, and never got found, and I never met his daughter.  That was… six years ago, maybe?  Since then, I don’t get my hopes up, since anything can change at any time.”

“That’s a depressing story,” Honoka mumbled with a slight glare, then took a deep breath and crossed her arms, “But I agree.  We may be working hard, but I know a lot of others are working hard too, and they have just as much of a chance as us.  Maybe more, if they’ve participated in the LL before!”

“But you’ve been practicing since middle school,” Ryouma pouted, “For as long as you’ve been weightlifting, you’ve been practicing to be an idol too… So shouldn’t you be just as amazing at both of them?”

“I’m not sure about that,” Honoka chuckled nervously, looking away and rubbing the back of her neck, “Amazing, me?  No way.  I mean, everyone keeps saying that I’m the backbone of the group, but that doesn’t mean much.  I’m totally lacking in charm after all, so any ability I have is pretty pointless!  And if there’s a whole team of girls who’ve been practicing for as long as me, then it really doesn’t count.  Especially if those girls actually have a charm factor on top of technical capability.”

“You keep saying that you don’t have charm, but I think you do,” Akane raised a finger in the air, “Maybe it’s not charm as defined by salarymen who value moe in their media over anything else, but it’s definitely a form of charm!  I bet there will be tons of girls wanting you to step on them… Uuu… I’m getting jealous just thinking about it, Honoka-chan.  Maybe I secretly don’t want you to succeed, to make sure that Ryoumacchi and I get you all to ourselves!”

“How can you feel jealous if you’re already sharing me with somebody?” Honoka teased with a small laugh as she tapped Akane’s shoulder.

“Well, obviously, it’s because when it comes to sharing you with me she knows she’ll get you eventually,” Ryouma shrugged, leaning against the table and closing her eyes, “Isn’t that right, A-ka-ne~?”

“Th-that’s not true!” Akane protested, then continued pouting, “Ryoumacchi, that makes it sound like I’m just waiting around for you to die… If you could live forever, then I’d be the happiest I’ve ever been!”

“You don’t have to pretend, you know.  I am going to die, it’s just a matter of time,” Ryouma looked up at the ceiling, turning her body away from the other two, “So, you know, why are you both bothering to stay with me for now?”

“Ryoumacchi…” Akane mumbled, holding her hands close to her chest, “Why would you ever think that?  I’m the odd one out, after all.  You two were together before I was involved at all.  If I’m making you feel that way, then you’d be better off kicking me out… I’d understand.”

“Please don’t fight…” Honoka mumbled, interrupting, “You two… You know I love you both, and I know you love each other, so we shouldn’t be worrying about the logistics of it.”

“It’s because you’re so busy lately, Honoka-chan,” Ryouma slumped her shoulders, “We said we’d be together to make the most of the time we had till I died, the three of us, but now you’re hardly here.  I’m not blaming you, it just makes me worry that you’re just… Humoring me in some way.”

“Ryoumacchi…” Honoka frowned, pressing her hands together between her knees, “I… I guess it’s just, it seems like you have plenty of time right now, with Doctor Same helping you.  It doesn’t feel like I need that time.  It feels like I can breathe easy, spending time away from you, for the first time in my life.”

“I don’t want to get in the way of your dreams, Honoka-chan.  And as long as I feel like the time you spend following your dreams is lost time, then it will always be like I’m dragging you down.  Akane-chan, too.  I love you both so much, and I don’t want to spend a single minute away from you… And that’s selfish.  So selfish.  You have things to do, things that you can do with your life.  I shouldn’t be keeping you from that just because I don’t.”

“Uh, but that’s not selfish at all,” Akane rolled her eyes, then stood up and walked over to where Ryouma was sitting and wrapped her arms around her shoulders, “I mean, I guess it is… But the fact that you’re worrying like this, worrying about it being selfish… It means that you’re not just thinking of yourself.  That’s obvious.”

“That’s a weird way to look at it,” Ryouma gave a bittersweet chuckle, swinging her feet, “Just because someone acknowledges that they’re being selfish, doesn’t make it suddenly not selfish.  I’m still having selfish thoughts about keeping near you, and that really is holding you back.”

“Look, Ryoumacchi.  Go ahead and read my mind, okay?  That’s the thing you’re able to do as a half-demon, right?” Honoka asked, “Read Akane’s too.  Do we feel like you’re dragging us down, or holding us back?”

“...” Ryouma stayed silent for a few moments, then sheepishly shook her head.

“See?  You’re not harming us at all, and it’s okay to feel worried… As long as you don’t actually force us to give up on our dreams,” Honoka explained, “If you’re just having thoughts like this, that you don’t want to be alone… That’s not a bad thing.  Everyone thinks things like that, everyone thinks about things that they maybe think they shouldn’t.  As long as you don’t act on thoughts like that, there’s no problem.”

“It just feels like a problem, it feels like I shouldn’t be thinking this way,” Ryouma sighed, “I… It just makes me feel like a bad person.  I guess it kind of runs in my family, anyway,” She frowned and looked away, “My parents weren’t very good people, when it came to relationships… So I have to worry if I could turn out the same way.”

“I don’t think you will,” Akane shook her head, “The very fact that you’re worried about it will help you to avoid it, I’d wager.”

“I agree,” Honoka nodded, “We wouldn’t give you up for the world, Ryoumacchi.”

“A-Are you sure?” Ryouma questioned, leaning into Akane now, “It really isn’t too much trouble, to have a girlfriend like me?”

“Not at all,” Akane gave a light sigh, “It’d be much more trouble not to.”


Kamui closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall in the evening, this week being put up by Yoshiko Nishimura, who insisted that she spend some more time out of her cat form so that the could socialize.  Kamui sighed softly, crossing her arms and pulling her knees up towards herself.  The easiest form to maintain was actually a halfway form, mostly disguised as a human but with the ears and tail of her cat self poking through.  It was the form she ended up in when she decided to just relax, which wasn’t really often.

“Are you… All right, Kamui-Kami?” Yoshiko questioned, leaning over her as she noticed that Kamui seemed more subdued than usual.  She was usually either hyperactive or asleep, with no real in-between.  Besides, that body language seemed to belong to somebody who was upset.

“Don’t call me that,” She mumbled, “It’s redundant, not to mention inaccurate.  Calling somebody ‘God Divine Being’ is really pointless, not to mention that my name was really a joke.  A bakeneko is even less capable in battle than an incubus or succubus, so I’m the opposite of divine.”

“That sounds like self-deprecation,” Yoshiko frowned, then sat down beside her, “Don’t do that.  Self-hatred is just a way to parrot the bad things other people and the world have told you that you are.  I learned that a while ago.  I’m only creepy because I let people’s opinions define me.  My mannerisms aren’t arbitrary like that..  You only feel like you’re not a divine being, because somebody else said that to you.  Why would you have that name if somebody didn’t think you were?”

“I told you, it’s a joke.  I’ve always been the least favored child in my family,” Kamui shook her head and closed her eyes, “I wonder if they even miss me… They never let me go to the human world before I ended up getting summoned, you know.  It wasn’t because they cared about me, but it was because all three of my older siblings had already left for the mortal world.  They wanted to at least have one child still in the demon world… I bet they’d rather have any of the others back, than me, but if it was just me they’d still welcome me back, just because…”

“Don’t let that stuff get you down,” Yoshiko mumbled, staring at the far wall, “Does the demon world also think that you should respect adults just because they’re older than you, and not because they’ve done anything worth respecting…?  Because I think the most liberating thing you can do is to discard that idea.”

“Every adult’s done something worth respecting,” Kamui shrugged, sliding her legs back down to stick out straight in front of herself, “That’s what it means, to be part of a species which is, for the majority, combat ready at all times.  Especially anyone who’s old enough to remember how things were before the government.  Everyone grown is strong and capable, because the weak and incapable used to just die.  Demons like me… Useless parasites who only survive because of the trappings of the modern day.”

“...You and I are the same,” Yoshiko whispered, then kneeled over Kamui’s legs to get in close to her face, staring into her eyes, “I was really sick, when I was a kid.  I almost died.  If it had been even a decade earlier, I would have died.  I too, am only alive because of the modern day.  Do you think that I am a useless parasite, Kamui-kami?”

“O-Of course not!” Kamui shook her head, wide-eyed, “But that’s different!  Humans value life on a higher level, and besides, you’re the one who summoned me here!”

“Yeah, and you know, I wouldn’t have done that if I’d never been sick.  It would have never happened, because when I was in the hospital, that was when I started reading all those books about the occult, when I became fascinated with it.  Still, to live through that, I leeched off of today’s society, off the modern day,” She explained, leaning even closer till their noses were almost touching, “And I did something with it.  And you are too.”

“What do you mean?” Kamui questioned, furrowing her brow.

“You lived to do something, Kamui-kami,” Her voice was heavy with purpose, “A person can only leech off of the modern day society if they have a place in the modern day.  You came here and created a beacon of hope for our school, after the last one we had was abruptly extinguished.  You’re making people smile, even just a handful of them, and you’re doing it when they most needed it.  You’re not Hako-sama, you’re not a replacement for her, but you’re her successor, in a way.  So I think it’s important that you grew up, that the modern day let you live till you could do something to help somebody else…”

“N-Nishimura-chan?” Kamui froze.  This was… weird.  Yoshiko was known for always going on about nihilistic ‘dark desires’, but here she was talking about how important it was to make people happy, “Are you feeling okay?”

“Kamui-kami,” Yoshiko took a deep breath, then hugged her kind of awkwardly, getting choked up, “When you’re the most occult member of the occult club, there’s a lot of pressure.  I knew even when we started that there was no way we could actually bring back Hako-sama, but then we still got you, and I know you’re trying so hard, and I don’t care if you aren’t powerful, when you stay at my dorm it feels like I finally summoned a demon who wants to be in this world… Like I actually lived up to my reputation, for once.”

“How did you end up with that reputation in the first place, Yoshiko-kami?” Kamui asked, her voice sounding more gentle, the previous existential hopelessness gone.

“Y-Yoshiko-kami!?” Yoshiko questioned, pulling away and giving Kamui an odd look.

“If you’re going to call me by my first name with that honorific, then I’ll do the same.  So tell me how you ended up with that rep of yours?” Kamui offered a soft smile.

“Tch… Referring to me as a God as if I’m even approaching that level of power yet,” Yoshiko shook her head with a smirk, “Well, I like it.  My reputation… It’s because I say things like that, probably.  Besides, because of my childhood illness, I look… Off.  I’m too skinny for my size,” She explained, standing back up, “That, coupled with my ability to sense dark miasmas and my immense knowledge of the occult, of course it would cement me in the eyes of my peers as the ‘living ghost’ of this school.  It isn’t something I mind… After all, I do play into it, and it suits my personality.  Especially now that I’ve proven that my reputation does not exceed my means.”

“Yoshiko-kami,” Kamui got her attention once more to ask another question, tilting her head to the side, “You said that you liked when you have the duty to look after me, right?  Ryuunosuke-senpai gets tired of me when I’m with her, since we have idol practice together too and she’s got social anxiety… Jean-senpai always makes me become a cat as soon as I’m inside, and Ko-chan is really loud with her punching bags and stuff.  So do you want me to stick around here from now on?”

“Given that it was my power which summoned you to this world, it’s a wonder you didn’t think to ask if I’d want that sooner,” Yoshiko shook her head, then put her hands on her hips and clicked her tongue again, “Of course.  Why summon a powerful bakeneko like you if I can’t even get you to be my cat, huh?  We can pretend like you’re my familiar.  Every good witch needs a familiar.”

“A witch is actually a type of demon,” Kamui noted, “So let’s call you a summoner, instead.  That’s fitting of what you’re able to do, right?”

“Wait, seriously?  Witches are demons?” Yoshiko questioned, furrowing her brow.

“Mmhm,” Kamui nodded, folding her hands on her legs, “Witches, angels, vampires, just about any supernatural creature you can think of has origins in the demon world.  Even ghosts get called ‘Earthly Demons’, because they’re basically just any demon who used to be human, instead of being born a demon in the demon world.”

“Wow… I’m considered an expert, and there’s still so much about demons I don’t know,” Yoshiko turned around to face Kamui again, and a sickly sort of grin split her face, “But if you’re going to be living with me all of the time from now on, then that means I can learn so much more!  You can tell me all sorts of things about the demon world, and-” She froze then, and dropped back into her usual frown, “Well, unless that would make you too homesick.”

“Homesick?” Kamui asked, then shook her head, closing her eyes, “No… I don’t feel homesick, I haven’t since getting here, not really.  I always wanted to come to the human world, after watching mortal television programming… And even when I came here and it turned out that it’s not at all like on TV, I prefer this world.  I can pretend to be worth somebody’s time, in this world, because among humans, I’m special.  No… I don’t feel homesick.  I just wish sometimes that humans and demons could share all their good traits together, and drop the bad ones.  After all, demons rarely do a thing out of malice, but humans seem keen on causing others to suffer.  But then, humans actually place value on the lives of the weak, when demons don’t.  I guess there’s no such thing as a perfect species.”

“We are cruel,” Yoshiko nodded, crouching down once more, “But you know, the way you’ve been made to feel about yourself, that’s a type of cruelty too.”

“I don’t know,” Kamui sighed, “Maybe it is a… ‘dick move’, but think of it this way.  For every demon who does things which are definitely morally wrong, there are a hundred humans like that.  Having no respect for the weak, that doesn’t make you a bad person.  Things like killing for sport rather than food, that type of thing, that’s wrong.  Humans do that sort of thing all the time.  Almost no demons do.  Not to mention, we only kill humans, and only when we need to.  Only the very worst would kill another demon.”

“A lot of humans would consider that viewpoint morally terrible,” Yoshiko shook her head, “But, humans are livestock to you.  We’re like chickens… You harvest what we produce until we can’t anymore, and when we die you use the rest, if we decide to make a contract.  But, I don’t think you should worry too much about that.”

“Huh?  Why not?” Kamui tilted her head, “Understanding the differences in moral values seems like a vital part of living in this world… There’s so many more criminals!”

“Because, every human has different morals, you know?  There are people who won’t hate somebody for horrifically abusing a lover, but will hate them for kicking a dog.  And there are lots of humans who think I’m a bad person just for being interested in the occult… There are plenty of other reasons to call me a bad person, but that’s what they’ll latch onto.  People are weird, so don’t think about it.  Whatever you do in life, someone, somewhere, will think that you’re unforgivable.  As for being aware of criminals…” She bit her bottom lip, “If somebody wants to commit a crime against you, then they will.  The world is terrible.  All you can do is roll with the punches.”

“I hate that,” Kamui shook her head, “I hate it, I hate that we can just say the world… Is a bad place.  I hate that we just have to sit and take it, that we have to let the world hurt us forever and ever… I understand that there’s nothing to be done sometimes, that bad things always happen to good people… But I hate it.”

“I know,” Yoshiko nodded, turning her vacant stare to a far wall, “It just can’t be helped.”


Sakazaki was asleep when she got the call, having dozed off while messing around with one of the five computers she had stuffed inside her dumpster.  She woke up as soon as she heard it ring, and picked up, holding it to her ear, “Yeah, what do you want?”

“Yuu-san,” She heard the accented, imperfect Japanese of a woman she knew well, “It’s come to our attention that the science club which is keeping you under campus arrest have allowed you to leave for the sake of your idol activities.  Is this true, or was it a fluke?”

“Huh?  Oh yeah, the inn trip,” Sakazaki mumbled, pushing her hair away from her face.  She’d been drooling in her sleep, “Look, Agent Packard, it isn’t like they’re keeping me captive, they just have to keep an eye on me.  They sent Rei-san to follow me and make sure I didn’t tell anybody.”

“Are you sure that you can’t tell us what’s going on with them?  If they’re operating on behalf of The Order, then-” Tina started, but Sakazaki cut her off.

“I already told you, it’s got nothing to do with The Order!  You’ll find out what it is soon enough, my lips are sealed.  Even if the club wasn’t trying to get me to keep it secret, I wouldn’t tell you,” Sakazaki groaned, “Look, Packard, you know I respect you, but you’re still a dog of the agency.  You’re loyal to a fault.  I bet you wouldn’t keep a secret from them if it would save an innocent person’s life, huh?”

Tina Packard
“I can’t see any reason that keeping a secret from the agency would save an innocent person.  We work to protect the innocent of the world, Yuu-san,” Tina insisted, to which Sakazaki only gave a bittersweet, sarcastic chuckle in response, “Are you making fun of me!?”

“Making fun of you?  I wouldn’t dream of it!  I just think that’s big words, coming from somebody whose involvement with the agency did lead to a middle school girl being-” Sakazaki’s voice sounded teasing, but at the same time, she was completely serious.  Tina knew her well enough to recognize the tone.  It was pure, malevolent mocking, something which Sakazaki only dipped into when she really had a point to make.

“Enough!” Tina snapped before Sakazaki could actually make the statement, “I am still your superior, Yuu-san, and you’re lucky that the agency hasn’t already fired you for keeping secrets.  I won’t tolerate such insolence, nor should you be holding me responsible for my brother’s actions.”

“I can’t hold you responsible for what he did, but I can hold you responsible for him getting the means to contact her in the first place,” Sakazaki mumbled, “I’m not lucky at all they haven’t fired me.  The agency only does that to traitors, and how could one of their agents groomed from childhood ever entertain a thought of betraying them, huh?”

“...” Tina fell silent at the mention of that, then sighed, her tone mild once more, “I guess I can’t go around parroting the idea behind the agency’s formation, with that in mind.  Funny, isn’t it?  You’d defend them to anyone else too, right, because it’s all you’ve ever known?”

“I don’t mind that it’s all I’ve ever known, but you have to think about it in another light.  The guy in charge of all of us, he let his own lover perish for the sake of the cause,” Sakazaki lay back down on her mattress which took up the majority of the dumpster, “Mon amie, we are tools.  We don’t help innocent people.  We help the big picture.  I’m not against that, as long as we remember that fact, oui?  The mission statement is to prevent the end of the world, not to make sure that when it happens, criminals are the only ones who die.”

“That’s not going to happen, Yuu-san,” Tina muttered, “The Order can’t possibly bring about the end of the world.  If a fringe group could start the apocalypse, it would have happened already.”

“If you really believe that, then how can you be okay with the agency considering The Order our greatest enemy, huh?  The biggest threat to international safety the world has seen since the cold war?” Sakazaki questioned, and Tina didn’t respond.  She simply hung up the phone, and Sakazaki dropped it to the side as she closed her eyes again and went back to sleep.

Couldn’t they just leave her to be a normal teenager for a little while?  Just one school term where she could be an idol, and ignore her job?  It was always so complicated, being involved with them.  Joining Kamui’s group… Was the only thing she’d done since starting high school, besides her relationship with Momoko, that made her feel like she still had some control over her own life.  Between her employment and the unfortunate standoff she was in with the science club, it was nice to have something that let her still feel like she was as young as she was.


Sachiko Ryuunosuke wasn’t the type of person to leave the house very often.  She certainly wasn’t a shut-in, since she did attend school every day, and she even went to idol practice now that she was a part of Yokaishiteru, but she never really went out anywhere, or even left her dorm alone.  Today was different, though.

Sachiko actually got up and went outside, all on her own.  She didn’t have anywhere in particular she wanted to go, but she needed to talk a walk and cool her head.  Going online just made everything buzz more, now that she’d joined an idol group.  All of her fans were reacting in different ways.  Some were just happy and excited, while some would prefer she focused on her solo projects, and others gave underhanded compliments claiming that she was ‘the only one who was any good’ in the group.  She especially hated those comments.  She wanted to work alongside the others; none of them were superior to the others.  Kyoko and Honoka had real skill, everyone, even Mishio, was passionate about it, and Makoto was so important to her that anyone else in the world.  An insult to Makoto hurt more than an insult directly to her.

This was the very reason that Sachiko preferred being a solo cover singer online; she knew that the idol scene was obnoxiously complicated, but when it came to Yokaishiteru… She realized that she needed to be involved, because that was what Korekara Academy needed.  Kamui’s enthusiasm, and the idol group, it was something so happy and enthusiastic in the wake of a tragic event.  Sachiko had to contribute to that.  Even if she stopped and thought about it in a realistic, modern-day fashion.  No Barronak, no chaos, no Harmonic Warriors.

Even if that was the case, Sachiko remained firm in her conviction.  She’d stayed silent for too long, turned a blind eye to the creeping darkness which consistently infested this world.  Spreading the word of a religion only she followed, that wasn’t enough.  Barronak helped her get through her day to day life, but that was just for her.  She couldn’t just keep pretending like she could share her lifeline with anyone who’d take it, and say that was her positive impact on the world.  She had to do something for somebody, and if becoming a school idol was the way to do that, then she’d take the opportunity which presented itself to her.  As much effort as it was to overcome her fears and face the drama and crowds, she knew that there would be more effort if she didn’t take the chance.  This was an opportunity which had fallen right into her path; if she passed it by, she’d have to reach for another chance.

Still, it was hard to keep her head on straight with all of this going on, so she found herself wandering around Korekara.  It had a somewhat sizable population, mostly composed of alumnus from the school.  This academy had been around for so long… Sachiko still wasn’t sure why she of all people had been allowed in.  She had singing talent, but at the time she was scouted to the school, it wasn’t like she had the confidence to do anything with that ability.  The dorms were a short distance from campus, and when she reached the school building, she leaned against the brick wall beside the gate.  It closed shortly after five o clock.  She glanced around, and didn’t see anybody else walking in the area, though she had closer to the dorm buildings.  That made sense.  Most of the town’s economy took place on the far side of them, not near the school.

“Ryuunosuke-san?” Someone called out to her, and she straightened up, looking around to see who it was.  She squinted in confusion when she couldn’t see anyone, so they spoke up again, “I’m right here.  To your left,” Sachiko turned and finally saw her.

Maka Nishikikouji
“Ah, Nishikikouji-senpai!” She took a startled step backwards, looking up at her, “I’m sorry!  It’s just, y-y-you don’t have much presence!  I couldn’t sense your aura at all!”

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Maka shrugged, then leaned forward, one hand on her hip as she put a finger in her mask, lifting it from her mouth just a bit so she could speak more clearly, “What’re you doing out and about this late?  Or out and about at all?  Far as I knew, you just go straight home when you’re done with practice…”

“Um…” Sachiko fidgeting, face flushing red as she messed with the hem on the sweater she’d changed into when she got home, “B-Barronak commanded me to go for a walk, so I did!” Why was she still nervous?  Normally, talking about Barronak gave her confidence she didn’t otherwise have.  Still, though her nerves were wracking her, she didn’t feel the crushing ball of fear around her heart that usually accompanied social encounters.

“Tcheh,” Maka chuckled, tucking her hair back behind her ear, “Well, that’s bullshit.  If you really thought that, you wouldn’t be stuttering, right?  You’re making excuses, Ryuunosuke-san.”

“How could you tell…?” Sachiko questioned, staring wide-eyed up at Maka.

“I’ve got no presence and I’m a member of No Boys!  Obviously, I’m gonna know some stuff about some people.  Even somebody with as low a profile as you!” She pointed at Sachiko’s face, “I mean, it’s pretty obvious!  Sometimes, I help out with the other years’ classes, and if you’re called on to answer a question?  Stutter city.  Yelling about Barronak and Chaos?  Smooth sailing.”

“Ah, I see,” Sachiko nodded, crossing her arms over her chest, “Y-You’re right, though.  I decided to go for a walk because my vestige of calm, the internet, hasn’t quite been such since I joined Yokashiteru…  I needed to clear my head.”

“Yokaishiteru, huh?” Maka questioned, looking up at the sky as she leaned back against the bricks, “That’s the School Idol Club, right?  You know, Korekara Academy hasn’t had one of those, ever.  In all of history.  I think it’s really strange that suddenly, there’s nine of you.”

“W-Why is it so weird?” Sachiko questioned, tilting her head, “It just means somebody finally had the drive to make it happen…”

“Mm, you know, it’s because of Hako-sama,” Maka hummed, tapping her foot, “In all of Korekara Academy’s history, there’s never been a graduating class with as many students left as mine does.  There are ten of us, you know.  There were twelve when we were first years… If we consider the two transfer students, that means something’s happened to four of us.  There were the Kaguyas who disappeared, and two others who were killed. But you know, the current first years, there’s still twelve of them.  Most graduating classes have between five and eight students, come April…”

“W-What?” Sachiko questioned, furrowing her brow, “Is it really that drastic?”

“There’s a reason behind every rumor, you know,” Maka closed her eyes and clasped her hands in front of herself, “And you know how many criminals we see in classes any given day.  Hako-sama, she changed our fates.  Thanks to her, there are enough students that your group can exist… And thanks to her, the atmosphere is light enough that it’s possible.”

“Light a-atmosphere?” Sachiko asked, frowning, “Everyone’s upset that she died, though-”

“Sure, she’s dead, but we all know that nobody attending our school meant her enough ill will to be the one who killed her.  There’s no sense of betrayal there, and just think about it, right?  Can you imagine how people would be feeling right now, if instead of Hako-sama’s sacrifice, the seats in every classroom grew emptier and emptier as time went on?”

“You have a point there…” Sachiko mumbled, then gave a heavy sigh, “That whole thing still confuses me.  How Hako-sama… Was that type of person.”

Sachiko’s own experience with Box was fleeting at best, though it was thanks to her gentle prodding that she’d ended up with Makoto.  The thing which stood out about Box was that she had an aura of ease about her.  Sachiko never had any problem talking to her, no fears or anxiety in conversations with that person.  It felt almost as if that was the reason Box existed.  Was that why Sachiko felt now, like she needed to include herself in this latest attempt to bolster the student body?  Was she inspired by the classmate who was everyone’s best friend?

“Nobody can  become a person like that,” Maka shook her head, then looked to Sachiko again, “No, you’d need to place no value at all on yourself, to give yourself over to other people so wholly.  But you know, if each one of you idols gives a little part of yourself to everyone who’s watching, then you’ve already done a world of good.”

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