Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mahou Shonen Just Say No Chapter Three

<-----First Chapter

<-Previous Chapter

[ChikaMikan has started messaging Nozocchi]
ChikaMikan: Oh thank goodness your account is back!
ChikaMikan: I tried to talk to Tsukki but his is still deactivated…
Nozocchi: He’s just being petty…
Nozocchi: I guess I was too, but at least I came back already.
ChikaMikan: Tsukki… He’s a magical boy, right?
Nozocchi: Thanks, you just won me a bet.
Nozocchi: Tsukkun thought you’d be too oblivious to figure it out.
ChikaMikan: And you are too.
Nozocchi: Well… Yeah.
Nozocchi: Tsukkun was upset yesterday because he thought you’d understand…
Nozocchi: And you obviously don’t.
ChikaMikan: What can I say, people are sheep and I’m a person.
ChikaMikan: But I want to understand.
ChikaMikan: So tell me why you did it.
Nozocchi: Actually, it was just yesterday after I said it was bullshit that it isn’t like the animes.
Nozocchi: That you don’t get a wish.
Nozocchi: A distributor calling itself Blem showed up and said that, sure there’s no wishes.
Nozocchi: But if I built up enough power I could make someone into a magica without requiring verbal or written consent.
Nozocchi: Meaning that I could make a magica out of a corpse, and it would bring them back.
ChikaMikan: ...Mayu.
Nozocchi: Yeah.  Mayu.
Nozocchi: Besides, it’s like I said yesterday.
Nozocchi: My family never cared about me, and I really didn’t have a future.
Nozocchi: I’d been working a dead end job, and had no luck in my field.
Nozocchi: There was no reason for me to stay human if I had the chance to bring Mayu back.
ChikaMikan: I get it.  So that’s what Horace meant.
Nozocchi: Horace?  You’ve met The Prince?
ChikaMikan: Yeah he’s the magical boy who made fun of me.  How do you know him?
Nozocchi: Blem told me about him.  So what did he say to you?
ChikaMikan: He said that there are rewards for becoming a magica…
ChikaMikan: But ‘nothing worth anything to a happy person’.
Nozocchi: Yes, I’d say that’s right, honestly.
Nozocchi: It isn’t that anything you stand to gain from becoming a magica is compelling.
Nozocchi: There’s no such thing as a real benefit.  Only a way to solve a problem.
Nozocchi: Somebody like you would have no reason.
ChikaMikan: I dunno, I am pretty lonely.
ChikaMikan: Can you ask Tsukki to come back?
Nozocchi: Yeah, you can head on over to the group chat and I’ll convince him.

[ChikaMikan closed Private Message.]
[ChikaMikan joined SIFestival]
[Nozocchi joined SIFestival]
[Maki-Best joined SIFestival]
Maki-Best: So are you here to beg forgiveness?
ChikaMikan: Yes, basically.
ChikaMikan: And to hear your story of why you became a magical boy.
Maki-Best: Me?
Maki-Best: That’s easy.
Maki-Best: The world’s falling apart.
Maki-Best: Why bother holding up your morals when that happens?
Maki-Best: I’ll fall apart with it.
ChikaMikan: That’s nihilistic.
Maki-Best: It’s more interesting than most things.
Maki-Best: I’ve been one for a while now.
Maki-Best: The distributors have pretty funny names.  Mine’s called Must Pope.
ChikaMikan: Must Pope licked me.
Maki-Best: Yes it does that. Often.  It’s harmless.
Maki-Best: Mostly.
ChikaMikan: Anyway I just want to say that I’m sorry.
ChikaMikan: If somebody like you is a magical boy, the public must have something wrong.
ChikaMikan: I really was just being a dumb gay human.
Maki-Best: Oh are you actually gay?
ChikaMikan: Yes?
Maki-Best: If only I had something rude to say about gay people as revenge…
Maki-Best: But how could I stan Maki if I didn’t acknowledge and appreciate…
Maki-Best: All of her lesbian romance options
ChikaMikan: RikoMaki Best
Nozocchi: What are you TALKING about
Maki-Best: Hey if you’re going to be in the SIF chat then you better be prepared for SIF chat.
Nozocchi: Uryu .·´¯`(>▂<)´¯`·.
Maki-Best: Is Uryu like a dialect thing?
ChikaMikan: Oh yeah, Mayu used to say that a lot.
ChikaMikan: The sweet personality in DGF does too.
Nozocchi: I don’t know?  It’s kind of childish.
Nozocchi: Mayu and I have both used it for years though.
Maki-Best: She didn’t steal it from dgf. Game’s not that old.
ChikaMikan: DGF stole it from her.  Illuminati confirmed.
Nozocchi: And now you’re memeing…
Nozocchi: But I’m glad things are back to normal.
Maki-Best: I am too.  Kanokun is my dearest friend.
Maki-Best: You are a close second, Zhou.
Maki-Best: Must Pope is a distant but still notable third.
ChikaMikan: Aww, thanks Tsukki.
Nozocchi: You’re the best, Tsukkun!
Nozocchi: And Kanokun, I hope we can become closer too!
ChikaMikan: So do I.  I’m glad we worked through this misunderstanding.

Kanoshi gave a contented sigh at having his friends back.  Tsukune’s reason for becoming a magical boy seemed pretty weird, but Kanoshi had thought about it and he did trust his friend’s judgment.  If Tsukune thought he should become a magical boy, then Tsukune would be a magical boy, and Kanoshi wouldn’t hold that against him.


“Blade,” Oh One started as it hopped up into the empty subway car that Blade was sitting in next to one of its magicas.  This late at night, it was easy to find a part of the train with nobody on it, and nobody would get on that traincar once a Distributor was there.  The magical girl it was hanging out with was paying attention to her phone, leaving the Distributors to their private conversation, “That was a disaster that happened, earlier today.”

“What do you mean?” Blade questioned, tilting its head to the side with a long blink.

“One of your magicas killed two innocent human children,” Oh One clarified, jumping up onto the seat next to Blade and getting into its personal space, “Don’t tell me that you didn’t hear about that.  It’s all over the human news.”

“That doesn’t sound like something one of mine would do.  Why don’t you go ask Skorgles about it?” Blade looked up at the ceiling, refusing to make eye contact with Oh One.

“It does seem like something that one of Skorgles’ would do, but you forget who you’re talking to.  I know full well that Skorgles only has one Japanese magica, and he doesn’t use guns.  You, and my crew… We’re the only Distributors in Tokyo right now.  So it’s one of your magica that crossed the line.  If you want to be like Skorgles and throw away your moral standing with the rest of us to just have fun instead, I understand, but this is a point of brutality in this universe.”

“I have no intention of dropping to the bottom of the rankings,” Blade answered, “Pretty Fighter Ribbon Brown has in fact, already been disposed of.  Do you think that Red would allow a magical boy like that to continue living?  He actually tried to beg for his life by saying that he wasn’t really harming those children, since anything he did to defile them was after they were dead.  I thought he had ambition, but he only wanted power to abuse.  I apologize for my poor judgment in this case.”

“Very poor judgment,” Oh One noted, flicking its tail, “You wasted your current charge.  I have a charge right now.  Also, those children were in the class of that Kanoshi Kyosuke we met last week.  Those two, poor, murdered, defiled children… Who he tried so hard to protect.  It’s only a shame that you killed the perpetrator right away.  As those Angels that Chikd made always say… If you fail to protect somebody, revenge is the next best thing.”

“You can’t be saying-” Blade started, only to shrink under Oh One’s intense look of triumph.

“You only saw why he wouldn’t become a magical boy.  Thanks to Must Pope’s ability, I know what could make him.  That Kanoshi Kyosuke, with potential almost as great as Prince Horace’s… His only weaknesses are attractive men, and the safety of the children he teaches.  Thanks to you, I now have both to use as leverage,” Oh One tilted its head to look down its nose at Blade, “Better luck next time, Blade!  You have a few good magicas, but you have to learn to play the field a little bit better when it comes to new ones.”

Kanoshi couldn't believe the news.
He first saw the info on his phone, the explanation of what had happened and the realization that there were at least three murderers currently in the Tokyo Area.  The Vagrant Killer was a human who killed with a kitchen knife, and though they didn't have Kanoshi's firsthand knowledge, the media had easily determined that beheading was the work of a magical girl.  And now... this.  Two children killed while walking home in this very district.  Kanoshi's students.  They'd been shot in the back of the head, leading police to believe the culprit was either a member of the SDF or a magica, since those were the only people who'd have access to firearms.  Kanoshi couldn't help but wonder, but he found no answers.  Zhou and Tsukune both said their distributors didn't know anything about it, and even Horace hadn't seen hide nor hair of Oh One to ask if the top Distributor in this universe if it had any intel on the nature of this attack.
There wasn't anything Kanoshi could do about it, though, no way to turn back time and save those children.  He had to wonder, if he'd been a magical boy, could he have learned about the attack and stopped it?  Well, that didn't make much sense, so he banished the thought from his mind.  That wasn't any way to be thinking right now.  He didn't want to be thinking in any way right now, because all of his thoughts just looped back around to terrible, crushing guilt.  He checked through all of his games, played a round of League on his computer, then went to sleep. 
 The next day, he assigned busywork to his class, because if he had to stand in front and lecture, he'd have to see those two empty seats.  One of them had been a troublemaker that always interrupted him, the other a hardworking boy who always knew the answers to questions.  Losing just one of them would leave a massive gap in the classroom experience, but both of them was utterly devastating.  Kanoshi did busywork himself, staying at his desk and burying himself in curriculum prep and grading.  He was going to return home straight away, but when class was over he was called to the director's office.  He dragged his feet going there, concerned what would be said to him.  Would he be reprimanded for neglecting to do anything of much purpose today?  That was unfortunate, but he'd make up for it in the future.  He sat down across from the director.
"Kyosuke-kun," The director greeted him, voice solemn, "I'm sure you're aware of the tragedy which occurred yesterday, yes?"
"Yes, sir..." Kanoshi mumbled his response, unable to muster up anything more.
"Well, I'm afraid that when considering this, and the disappearance of several of your students three years ago, it seems there's forming a false correlation between the classes you teach and students falling victim to unsolved misfortunes," The director explained, shuffling through papers on his desk, "We've already received a complaint from a parent.  Aoba Middle already has such a terrible reputation, we can't afford another blow of this scale.  Not to say that you're being fired, but... We would appreciate if you were to take your leave from this school once the year draws to a close in April.  I'm sure you understand.  Even the draw of our inexpense and lack of academic requirement to attend can't necessarily overcome the concern for the safety of students."
"...What?" Kanoshi questioned, his voice small, but then found the courage to speak up, holding his hands to his chest, "B-But, there's nobody more concerned with student safety than m-me!  I do all that I can!  I w-warn them of dangers, and I advised that they utilize the buddy system..." He trailed off, "And that's all I could do.  All that I could wasn't enough.  I couldn't protect them... So you're right.  I have no business being a teacher when I can't even do that much."
"You did fine work for us in your time here.  I'm sure you will find other gainful employment," The director sounded more like he was reading off a script than actually offering his blessing.  Kanoshi bit his lip to keep from crying as he stood back up, clenching his fists as he made his way out of the building, furiously wiping his eyes once he was gone.  He couldn't let any of the kids see him crying when he'd managed to avoid it all day, but though he'd been in a numb, depressive state, it was the fact that he was losing his job on top of it that finally got him to feel the real emotions over what had happened.  It happened again.  Just like three years ago.  His students, children whose well-being he was at least in part responsible for... They were dead.  Gone.  This was even worse than three years ago, because there were bodies this time.  He couldn't stay here, he made his way out of town to walk along a trail through the woods nearby, walking not to clear his head but to keep anyone from seeing him in this state.  He didn't want to go back home.  That home... It was representative of everything which had been perfect.
Good apartment, dream job, helping children to become their best selves even if life hadn't given them the chance they needed at the beginning.  He was losing his job, and he'd failed at helping those two children.  When two of those three things he'd thought were going so right in his life were thoroughly destroyed, he didn't want to deal with the third thing.  Maybe if he managed to keep it later on, he'd cherish it, but for now he just didn't want to have that staring him in the face.  He reached a rock, and sat down on it, burying his face in his hands.  The world moved all around him, wind blowing and animals chattering all about.  Everything outside of him and his life was the same as ever, because what did the world care that two children were dead?  What did the world care about anything brutal or terrible at all?
When Kanoshi lifted his eyes again from his hands, looked up, Horace was standing there.  Street clothes, not transformed, and lacking his usual lackadaisical expression.  He was serious, "Hey, Kano.  I heard about what happened... I'm sorry."
"About what part?" Kanoshi sniffed, wiping his eyes again, "The dead students or the impending loss of my job?"
"Both.  Don't worry, I'm not heartless," Horace moved to sit down next to him, holding his hands between his knees, "Oh One showed up again.  The killer was a magical boy.  One of Blade's, but he's dead now, so the rest of the children are perfectly safe.  Red won't hurt kids, and I don't think that other killer in the area's known for targeting anyone who's not an adult."
"How is that I've met so many decent magica, but things like this still happen?" Kanoshi asked, more wondering aloud than actually searching for an answer to his question.
"Because it's just like humanity.  There's good people and bad people, bad magica just stand out because they have the power to act on the bad things they've always wanted to do," Horace answered, his tone grim, "This one was a mistake, Blade misjudged him, but some Distributors want to have magica who'll do terrible things like this.  It's easy to recruit somebody like that.  Just tell them that they'll be above the law, and cowardly perverts will listen.  It's disgusting, but that's just the way this universe is.  I just want to do what I can to make it a better place, even if that means I'll be hated for it."
"That's... noble, actually," Kanoshi noted, leaning against him.  He was underdressed for the weather today, but Horace was wearing flannel, which was warm to the touch, "I don't hate you, though."
"You did the day we met," Horace noted, glancing at Kanoshi but not moving or indicating that he should move, "Because I'm a magical boy, and all you ever hear about is magica like Red who'll terrorize civilians, or the dead one Ribbon Brown who used magic to-" He gagged, unable to even voice it.
"Well, I still think that it's not really a sign of virtue to become a magica.  I just know that there are good ones, now," Kanoshi explained, "It's still a really rough thing to put yourself through, right?"
"Yeah," Horace nodded, "Magical endurance doesn't mean we can handle pain more easily, or that it hurts less, it just means that no matter how much pain we're in, we can continue fighting."
"That's terrifying, actually," Kanoshi sat up straight again.
"It is.  I wouldn't wish it on anybody who wasn't prepared for the consequences. Oh One's crew may be sleazy, but at least they're quite upfront with what becoming a magica entails," Horace groaned, "Oh One, by the way, is going to try and use this tragedy to convince you to become a magical boy.  It's really fixated on you because apparently, you have a ton of potential going for you.  Like, you could get pretty close to me in the rankings.  That's kind of cool, but also... He should just leave you alone."
"I'm not so sure that I want to be left alone, though," Kanoshi shrugged, "Well, I guess that's exactly what it wants, but I've been thinking... As a mere human in a world where there's magic, how am I supposed to protect anybody?  How can I protect the people that I love, anyone who's close to me?  My students, my friends, my dad... I guess I don't have to worry about you, but if somebody with a power ranking higher than Zhou or Tsukki decided to attack one of them, they might not win that fight, and I know my dad couldn't even win a fight against a primary schooler with no magic at all."
"I'm not going to try to convince you to do it, or convince you not to.  It really is your decision, it's all up to you when it comes down to it.  Just... Wait a little while, okay?  Don't let your mourning make the choice for you.  See if you still want it when you've collected yourself and started to move on," Horace offered, lifting a hand to lay his palm flat across Kanoshi's back, "Go home, Kano.  Play some video games and jerk off, whatever it is that you do with your free time," He couldn't help but laugh a bit as he continued, "Though I'm pretty certain that is what you do with your free time, and I'm correct."
"You have no proof!" Kanoshi protested, face flush red from the accusation as he got back to his feet.  Between the embarrassment and his earlier crying, he was sure that his appearance was in absurd disrepair, "Anyway, I'm going to go home and do not that.  Thanks for talking to me though, Horace.  You really helped me to think through things and feel a little bit better, so... I'm glad that you showed up at random while I was walking in the woods."
"For you?  Anytime," Horace gave him a smile more genuine than usual, warm and compassionate, "Though I certainly hope nothing that makes me need to do this again ever pops up.  I'd much prefer you were able to spend the rest of your life in both physical and emotional comfort."
"Like that'll happen," Kanoshi rolled his eyes, then waved as he started the walk back down the trail.  Horace stayed sitting on that rock, and leaned back to look up at the sky.  It was cloudy, but not dark enough that it would precipitate within the next hour.  It wasn't a nice day for a walk at all.  Horace had gone to Aoba Middle to see if he could talk to Kanoshi about what had happened yesterday, only to notice him taking off to this trail so nobody would see him cry.  Maybe it was creepy to follow him, but he was glad that he did, since it did seem to help lift his spirits.
"So he's considering it now..." Oh One mused as it jumped up to sit next to Horace on the rock, "Funny, though.  I thought I told you to help convince him, you know, put on some of that Princely Charm, but instead you just told him that maybe he shouldn't."
"I guess I did do that," Horace noted, staring off down the trail.
"You're a very disobedient pet, you know," Oh One swished its tail with a small little laugh, "But I love you anyway.  Besides, it's fine.  I'm sure that Kanoshi Kyosuke will be joining us sooner or later."
"I agree," Horace gave a nod, crossing his legs where he sat and reaching out a hand to pet Oh One.  It was one of the less slimey distributors, and was almost tolerable to the touch.  It enjoyed being pet despite the fact that it was an unpleasant creature to pet, "It's going to happen, eventually.  I just don't know when.  I wish I could say that I thought he might not subject himself to this life, but I can't see how he wouldn't.  He's no longer a happy person, after all."
"No reward that a happy person would want," Oh One agreed, "But now he's desperate for something.  Not content in his life anymore, and he'll want to fill that void.  We're just the easiest choice to fill that void.  Just like alcohol, or any other vice.  Sometimes, I feel bad for preying on you vulnerable humans this way, but not for long.  I get to make friends when you warm up to me, and us Distributors get to keep living.  It's selfish.  I do love you, though.  I love all of my pet magicas.  I'd feel very sad if anyone died, indeed.  That doesn't mean I'll stop collecting new pets, though."
"I wouldn't expect anything else from you," Horace laughed, scratching behind its ears, "If you suddenly decided that creating magica was too morally wrong for you to continue, I'd wonder which Distributor decided to impersonate you to try and undermine you for the top ranks."
"Haa, you know me so well!" Oh One laughed again, leaning into the ear scratches, "I can't help it, it's right there in my name!  I want to be number one."
Kanoshi followed Horace's advice and didn't make his decision straight away.  He definitely had his moments where he suddenly thought that if Oh One were there, he would become a magical boy without any further hesitation, but seeing as Oh One was respecting his wishes to decide later on and was keeping away from him, those moments didn't work out.  Kanoshi's emotions leveled out, and he found himself thinking more clearly.  It was after several weeks of deep, introspective thought on the direction of his life that Kanoshi decided that he was going to do it.  For the sake of protecting the people he cared about, he would become a magical boy, and he wasn't going to look back.
Oh One and Horace agreed to meet with him out in an abandoned warehouse, the three of them agreeing it would be a good place to get some practice in using his abilities, whatever they ended up being, before he had to face any real opponents.  He took a deep breath as he walked into the building, looking around.  Horace and Oh One were sitting on top of a pile of empty metal crates, rusting away underneath them.  Kanoshi had to wonder how they could confidently sit on such a thing without being afraid that it would just collapse underneath them, but he supposed that a dimension-hopping cat and the world's highest ranking magical boy had plenty of bravery between them not to worry about something so trivial.
Kanoshi hoped he'd be able to become fearless too, as he learned how to protect people, how to use the magic he was granted in a way which would work for what he needed and wanted it to do, to be capable of.
"Welcome to Hell!" Oh One greeted him first, jumping down from the crate, sounding excited to see what sort of magica Kanoshi would be once he was granted the power, "No, seriously, welcome to Hell.  Being a magical boy is super awful, so I hope you're ready for it.  Though I guess it can be a fun time for some people.  Actually, none of my magica are bitter about being magica, even if it is full of pain!  So I bet you'll have a swell time too, Kanoshi Kyosuke."
"Haah," Kanoshi rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, "You know, I still think the weirdest part of this is that I'm becoming a magical boy as an adult..."
"That's because Magical Man has a totally different connotation," Oh One said, walking in a circle around Kanoshi, "Well, I still need to make sure that you fully understand everything about this, okay?  It's weird, I know, but I'm like a lawyer.  Have to make sure there's no loopholes.  You need to confirm for me that you understand the risks and still want to become a magical boy, verbally."
"I understand the risks," Kanoshi stated, holding both of his hands to his chest, "And I want to become a magical boy."
"Yes!  This is it!" Oh One shouted with enthusiasm, jumping up into the air, "My second ULTRA RARE Magica!"
Kanoshi guessed he understood why that might be exciting, but he didn't have time to have the second thought that he, as a person, didn't much like being referred to in the same terms as gacha collection games, because before he knew it he felt he was being swept up, floating through a thick liquid which he could somehow breathe in.  He forced his eyes open and found that the warehouse was nowhere to be seen, instead just endless stretches of the liquid he was submerged in, pink sludge with question marks floating through it.  He reached his hand out on instinct, and found that when he did, a weapon appeared in it.  A shield with wings coming out of either side.  He wasn't sure what happened next, a whirlwind of strange sensations, but when he felt his feet touch the ground again, back in the warehouse, he found that he was dressed in entirely different clothing than he had been previously.  He'd transformed.  It had really happened.
"Oh, noo," Oh One sounded disappointed, and a bit angry, "Kanoshi Kyosuke!  I cannot believe... I mean... God!" It shook its head, "All that potential, and it made you into a Paladin type..."
"What do you mean?" Kanoshi questioned, looking over his outfit.  Compared to Horace's, it felt distinctly uncool, but he liked it anyway.
Guardian Angel
"You've been assigned the title of Guardian Angel, a Paladin Magica," Oh One explained, staring up at Kanoshi, "With all your potential, you would have made an amazing dps, but instead it made you a tank/healer cross, in those video game terms you understand so well.  Your special ability is to convert damage blocked with your shield into healing for yourself and your allies.  I guess I just acquired the top ranking healer magica..."
"Hey, don't be like that, Oh One!  You know as well as I do that Kano's pretty skilled at the whole healing thing," Horace cut in, stepping to Kanoshi's side and smirking as he grabbed him by the waist, "Besides!  He'll flourish with me acting as his DPS."
"You seriously intend to remain a team?  Well, in that case," Oh One sighed, "That makes sense to me, anyway.  It's been proven time and time again that DPS without a healer and a tank gets overconfident and loses to an opponent who does have both of those things.  Still, if you wanted a healer and a tank, Horace, I could have found someone with less raw power to do it."
"I wouldn't want to be DPS," Kanoshi frowned, holding up his shield, "I think that this role is perfect for me."
"Yeah, that's exactly why it got assigned to you," Oh One pouted, "And why I'm mad at you for being the type to waste such power on healing magic!  But if you'll improve Horace's abilities, I can't fault you for it.  Just make sure you stick together, okay?  Don't go fighting any monsters without grouping up first.  Oh, also, I should tell you that the transformation sequence you just experienced?  That's a one-time thing.  Future transformations will be instant, which is good, because while the monsters aren't smart enough to realize it, other magica would definitely take the transformation as an opening to cut you down right then and there."
"That's definitely intimidating," Kanoshi agreed with a meek nod, but then took a deep breath and stepped forward, clenching his fists in determination, "But I'll hold my ground against any magica who dare to attack Horace and I, I swear it!  I won't be a liability.  I'll earn my status as an Ultra Rare."
"That's the spirit!" Oh One laughed again, then turned around and made its way back up onto the metal crate it had been waiting on before Kanoshi arrived, "As for practicing here, well, it's not like you can actually fight anything with your abilities, or block any attacks from random items in a warehouse, so I guess that's out."
"Yeah, I guess so," Kanoshi agreed with a nervous laugh, "So I'll be going up against my first monster without any practice?"
"Don't worry about it," Horace assured him, grinning, "I know what I'm doing, and you'll be with me.  Therefore, it'll be fine.  Just let me do all the work, and you can figure it out as we go.  You really think I'd make you have the same steep learning curve I did?  You and I'll make a great team, and I've got your back.  Wouldn't have ever let you do this if I wasn't planning on looking out for you once you did."

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Bad Dreams Chapter Two

Mandrake woke up in a hospital bed.  His ears were still ringing, but he felt like he could move.  He opened his eyes, only to find that only one would, the other stinging with a horrendous pain.  He sat up and looked around, not expecting to see anybody.  His brother's school would probably avoid letting any of students know anything had gone wrong at the high school... What had gone wrong at the high school?  To Mandrake's surprise, there was somebody in the room with him, but not a family member.  His guidance counselor.  He frowned, "Mercury Mars?"
"Hm?" She answered, then offered him a bittersweet smile, "Oh, good, you're awake.  I was wondering how long it would be."
"Why are you here?" Mandrake cut straight to the chase, "And what happened at school?"
"Actually, I was caught on the outskirts of the blast as well, so they brought me here to make sure I didn't have any shrapnel stuck in me or anything.  When they cleared me as fine, I decided to see how you all were doing, and they said it was most likely you'd be the first to regain consciousness," Mercury explained, picking at the bandages on her arm, "Looks like they were right about that.  What happened, well, there was a bomb under the table.  The fire crew released specifications that it was on a timer, set to go off during lunch block..."
"Who?" Mandrake questioned, expecting that whoever made such a flashy attack on a high school would take responsibility, even if under a fake name or in the name of an organization.
"Well, no terrorist groups have claimed responsibility yet.  Not even that group who said they were responsible for the assassination of that spirit medium in Japan a while back..."
"The Order?"
"Yes, them.  Even they aren't saying they did it, and unless some group comes forward, the police are going to investigate the student body and faculty.  If it's action taken by an American individual, people will forget it ever happened, given the low extent of the damages, as far as the media's concerned..." Mercury paused, bringing her knuckles to her mouth and chewing on them, "Your injuries, as well as Ju-Ri's, are confirmed temporary.  Scars are the most you'll suffer in the long term, same with me.  Arietty may have been permanently blinded in the explosion.  Marou and Ariel..."
"...They're dead?" Mandrake questioned, panic inching its way into his voice.  He'd been taking the situation in stride up until then, but the idea that two of his close friends had been killed in a freak event-
"Not exactly," Mercury halted his train of thought with her next words, "Actually, they're missing.  Without bodies, they can't possibly be confirmed dead.  Only assumed so.  Still, I think it's strange.  Firefighters confirmed the bomb was placed closest to Arietty, but you and Ariel were equidistant from her, and you're expected to make a full recovery.  I think," Mercury blinked slowly, then stared at Mandrake, her gaze hard and cold, "The bomb's purpose was to blind Arietty, but whoever did it wanted those two dead as well, and took them away to kill them elsewhere."
"That's awful complicated," Mandrake glanced away from her, "Besides, who would want to do something like that?"
"Do you really want to know the answer?" Mercury asked, her hands in her laps.  She didn't seem like a guidance counselor right now, but somebody far more dangerous, "If I was to tell you the truth, you wouldn't be able to go back to a normal life."
"My life's never really been normal, Mercury, I think you know that pretty well," Mandrake chuckled, "What could possibly be much stranger than my home life already has been...?"
"Well, you see-" Mercury was interrupted by a loud, long, shrill beep which caused her to freeze up with a shiver, then looked above her head to see the source of the sound was the television which had, up until that earsplitting sound, been playing Simpsons reruns.  The screen was blank, but a man was speaking.
"Sorry to interrupt this television broadcast.  My name is Paul.  I'm sure you will soon be hearing about an incident which occurred today, an explosion at a Boston high school which may be seen as an act of terror.  However, the truth is that this explosion was a terrorism countermeasure.  Masquerading as normal high schoolers were a pair of villains who threatened not only this great country, but all of humanity.  The threat has been neutralized with no unnecessary casualties.  Thank you for attention.  Have a nice day knowing you're all safer for it."
Mercury just sat there for a moment before she looked at Mandrake again, "I was wondering when they'd make that bullshit announcement.  Ah, Ariel and Arietty weren't a threat at all... yet.  The International Intrigue Agency is a group of idiots who say they're working to protect the entire world, but ever since their new management took over, it seems more like they just want to warp the world to fit their ideas.  I should know.  I used to work for them, but I left when I could no longer reconcile myself with what they're trying to do."
"I understand," Mandrake clenched his fists, "But how would knowing that prevent me from living a normal life from now on?"
"Because your girlfriend's already enthusiastically agreed to my offer, and I know that if she ordered you to, you'd accept as well," Mercury laughed, bringing one hand up to cup her own cheek, "Ah, sorry, I lied!  Arietty woke up before you, and has already decided... This world that the IIA would shape to their twisted desires in the name of peace... Wouldn't the best way to avenge your friends be to destroy it before they can achieve those rotten goals?"
"...What would you need a normal guy like me for?" Mandrake asked, shocked to find that he didn't even oppose the idea that Mercury set forth.  Destroy the world... it wasn't as if this event had particularly traumatized him, but it was something to do, wasn't it?  A goal that he could have?  And if Arietty wanted to do it, then he would follow her, he'd follow her to the end of the world.  It was with this offer that he realized exactly what Mercury was referring to, "You're The Order, aren't you?"
"I'm a member, yes," Mercury nodded, getting to her feet, "The problem we have is that there's no leader, nobody truly in charge, nobody coordinating anything.  It's wild acts of destruction, and The Order is just a name we're able to slap onto that idea to claim we stand for something.  Remember five hours ago when I told you that you could become a leader?"
"Of course I remember, it was five hours ago," Mandrake deadpanned.
"This was what I meant.  My intention was to bring up the idea a bit later, but unfortunately, circumstances have come to this moment.  It's sudden, but if I wait any longer to ask you now, you'd be left behind by Arietty's ambition.  So, can you give me an answer, Mandrake?  Will you do it?" Mercury stepped closer to him, staring down her nose at him.  This image of her seemed nothing at all like her usual self, and Mandrake didn't feel like he could have any power over her, even if he pulled out all the stops.  She was asking him for a favor, but even this favor wasn't something which could be held over her head as something to work for.  She made it incredibly clear that this was a privilege she was offering Mandrake, and not something she really needed of him.
"I'm a teenager," Mandrake gave a non-answer.
"That's right, and a high school senior too!  The perfect time to decide what you're going to do with your future," She laughed again, "You'd mostly be a figurehead, anyhow.  No need to do any work unless you want to... You just have the air about you of somebody worth listening to."
"If I do this, I won't be a mere figurehead," Mandrake answered, lifting his arm from under the paper-thin sheets to stare at his hand, "Well, I suppose Arietty would do better to be in charge, but she can't be in the spotlight.  You understand that, right, and that's why you're asking me?  Still, I have things I could do, too.  I know ways to make people listen."
"I never said I didn't want you to do anything, but it's up to you if you do," She clarified, sitting on the side of his cot and tapping two of her fingers against the palm of his hand, "I understand it's strange to be so suddenly called to action like this, especially for a group with such unconventional goals, but you have to understand that I wouldn't dare ask if I didn't think you were capable."
"I know,"  Mandrake nodded, then made that hand into a fist again, this time in earnest rather than distress, "Let's do it, then.  Let's be bad people."
"That's the spirit!" Mercury grinned, "Be a better kind of evil than that father of yours."
Gary Birch was not a happy child.
He was thirteen, and just about finishing up at middle school.  He loved his mother, but she was never home, and he hated his father, who he saw all too often given that he worked at the very middle school that Gary attended.  He didn't have any friends at school, not because he was antisocial or unpopular, but because he was scared.  He knew that Mandrake made sure never to bring any of his friends back to their house, and that it was all because of their father.  Diovolo was a man who ought to be avoided by everybody, at all costs, and Gary understood this even at his age.  Still, despite the fact that he was avoiding friendship out of concern, it made him feel lonely, and generally sad.
Even without a group of friends, however, Gary heard the buzz.  The teachers were trying to suppress the news, but everyone knew that something had happened over at the high school.  The general idea of course, was that it was a bomb threat.  That was a common prank in public schools, so it only made sense that would be what everybody assumed.  It was just a matter of gossip for most, but Gary found himself really concerned.  Maybe his older brother was weird, and mean to their mother, but he was still an important person in Gary's life.  They got along with each other pretty well, even if it was difficult at times, and Gary didn't want anything bad to happen to him.  It wasn't until school let out that he heard what had happened at the high school for certain, though.  His father walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, "Gary."
"What do you want?" Gary questioned, turning to look up at his dad.  He was tired.  So tired.
"I'm sure you've heard that something happened at the high school today, but to avoid panicking the student body, we as teachers kept the information unavailable.  The truth is, a time bomb placed under one of the tables in the cafeteria exploded," Diovolo didn't even show any emotion as he explained the situation, "Your brother and his friends were seated at the table in question.  Mandrake is fine.  Two of his friends are dead.  One other is fine.  One is blind.  We'll be picking him up from the hospital this afternoon, and you are to leave him alone and not offer consolations or taunting.  Either action would only serve to trouble him more."
"O-Oh no!" Gary gasped, taking quick breaths in general, "That's horrible!  Who would do such a thing!?  Why Mandrake!?  He had to go to the hospital, that doesn't sound fine!  Is he really okay?"
"Calm down," Diovolo hissed, grabbing Gary's shoulder and leading him out to the car, "I told you your brother's fine.  He was injured, but nothing crippling or life-threatening.  Thus, fine.  Would you prefer I dropped you off at the house before retrieving him?  I will do so if I doubt your ability to follow the rules I set for interacting with him, being the lack of interaction."
"How am I supposed to not talk to him?" Gary asked, clutching his stomach as he buckled in to the back seat of the car.  He felt like he was going to be sick with worry, "I want to talk to him I want to make sure he's okay I want to-"
"Stop," Diovolo snapped, "That's obvious, then.  I'll take you home before I get Mandrake."
Gary thought that was fair.  When he arrived home, he was too nervous to do anything, even to get his homework done.  He just sat at the kitchen table, tapping his fingers on the table.  Despite what his father had told him, he couldn't stop being afraid that it was a lie, or a mistake, or... something.  Diovolo was not a trustworthy man, and his outlook was so cold and uncaring.  That callousness wasn't unfamiliar, but it had never come up in a situation as dire as this.  Why had somebody put a bomb at his brother's lunch table:?  Was there something dangerous that Mandrake was involved in, or was it just chance that Mandrake and his friends sat at that particular table today?  The middle school didn't have assigned lunch tables, so that was always possible, but it was almost scarier.  That meant that the same thing could happen to him.
"Gary," Cassandra spoke softly, sliding into the seat across the table from him, leaning her chin in her palm and her elbow on the surface before her, "Don't worry too much, okay?  The news said this was a counter-terrorism measure, but I don't think that's an excuse to physically attack high school kids.  Even if Mandrake is involved in something like that, I can't be too mad at him if he's the enemy of people who would make such a reckless, cruel attack.  As for your safety, well, your father and I have already discussed moving somewhere else for you to attend high school."
"The... The news said something like that??" Gary questioned, lifting his eyes to meet her's, "So they aren't even going to try and get justice for this?"
"The justice system isn't super great at justice," Cassandra sighed, shaking her head, "And the government isn't our friend, either.  Everyone, everywhere looks out for number one, no matter what else they say.  You understand that, right sweetheart?  You'll be fine, though, you'll be safe.  I'll keep you safe.  It's all I can do."
"Where are we going to move?" Gary asked, tilting his head to the side, "And when are we leaving?"
"The high school has offered to let Mandrake graduate early because of this, so we'll be leaving as fast as we can pack," She explained, folding her hands, "As for where, well, we're thinking Texas.  Austin, Texas.  He's already got a job offer there."
"I'd be fine with Texas.  I'll get sunburned but it will be fun, I guess.  Will it really be safer than here?" He questioned.
"Well, I can't say for sure.  There won't be blizzards, but there will be scorpions.  I think it's an equal trade, but if that announcement was some sort of government cover-up for the act of an individual, it will be safer elsewhere."
"I get it," Gary nodded, then took a deep breath, "I was really freaking out, but I think I'll be okay, yeah.  I'm not too worried.  Well, I am worried, but I'm not especially worried anymore, like I was a little while ago."
"I'm glad I could help," Cassandra smiled at him, but it fell from her face when she heard the door open.  She looked up to see that Diovolo had walked back in, and Mandrake wandered in behind him, his left side all bandaged up.  She wouldn't say anything to either of them, expecting that they wouldn't want her to.
"Mandrake!" Gary greeted him, standing up from the table immediately, "Are you sure you're okay to be back from the hospital?  That looks like it really hurts..."
"Gary, what did we talk about?  Leave him alone," Diovolo glared at him as he passed, going up to his home office to grade papers, probably.
"It's fine," Mandrake mumbled, "I don't want everyone ignoring me just because something bad happened.  That's the opposite of helpful, actually.  Sometimes Dad's psychology minor is wrong about things.  Hey, Gary.  I'm okay.  It does hurt, but staying at the hospital for longer wouldn't have helped anything."
"Did Dad tell you that we're moving?" Gary asked, holding his arms behind his back as he looked up at his brother.
"Yeah, I heard," Mandrake nodded, "That's fine with me, relocating is probably safest for everybody.  Arietty's coming with us.  Dad already agreed to it, and I made him swear not to touch her."
"You know his word's not good for anything," Cassandra couldn't help but join in the conversation, "It'll take some serious threats to make him keep his hands off anybody, especially with them under his roof..."
"That's not true," Mandrake shook his head, "Dad's a smart douchebag, after all.  He'd never go after anybody who'd cause real trouble for him.  Just think about yourself, Mom.  You lived with a bedbound grandmother at the time, right?  There was nobody for you to tell.  He's a predator of convenience."
Cassandra was shocked to find Mandrake was addressing her directly like that, and with what seemed like a level of sympathy.  She took a few deep breaths before she spoke again, calming the idea that his words put in her head.  No, she was fine.  She didn't have to think about the past like that.  He hadn't touched her in years, not since Gary was born.  He let her be, he let her take the time she needed to attempt a recovery, so she felt she would have to be especially weak not to have properly utilized that opportunity.
"Sorry, did I upset you?" Mandrake asked, his voice still soft as he made his way towards the stairs, "I'll see you both later.  Don't try to call anybody, because I'm going to be using the internet all afternoon.  I can't imagine either of you have anybody you want to call anyhow, and I don't care if I annoy Dad."
"Okay," Gary agreed, then turned back to Cassandra, "Mom?  Can we watch a movie?"
"That sounds like a great idea, sweetheart," She nodded, standing up.  She led the way into the living room, and started sorting through the collection of VHS tapes for something to watch.  She and Gary ended up agreeing on a rewatch of Home Alone, despite it being April.  Seasonal movies were guidelines, not rules.
Mandrake logged onto the dream forum again, typing with just one hand due to the left one being in a cast.  He still couldn't believe that he was doing this, but what Mercury had said... Though what happened today was terrible, it was also his opportunity.  It opened the door for him to make something of his life, to do something, to be somebody.  Even if that somebody was awful, he knew he could never be as bad as his father.  He could never, through his own direct actions, lead a woman to be as sad as Cassandra was, or lead a child to be as anxious as Gary was.  He was better than that; however, he was also prepared to scrap any idea of morality and go all out to accomplish his newly acquired goal.  That might mean humoring men as horrid as his father, but that was a concern for another time.  He and Arietty had conspired in the hospital before Diovolo came to get him, along with Mercury, and had decided the best way to go about forming The Order into a group capable of bringing the world to ruin was, of course, to give it a religious bent.
Mandrake was quite certain, now that he'd done it himself, that when it came to religiously motivated terrorism, the intent to wreak havoc came first and the 'in the name of [Inserrt God of Choice]' came later.  It was an easy way to explain actions away without taking personal responsibility, though he also thought that this would mark his group as the first doomsday cult to actually facilitate the downfall of humanity.  His group... It had a nice ring to it.  Saying that something was done in the name of The Order sounded far better than saying that something was done just for the sake of causing destruction, just because hurting people and causing property damage is a fun thing to do.  Of course, as the one in charge, he would have to take that burden of personal responsibility, but that was fine.  He, Arietty, and Mercury had come up with several rules which would, if he'd learned anything from marketing class, attract a great number of members.

  1. The Great Gods of Destruction come for all.
  2. Always show respect to superiors in The Order.
  3. Maintain participation in Order Forums
  4. If an Order Function occurs within viable travel range, you must attend.
  5. Always show proper decorum.
  6. Do not interfere in plans of Destruction.
  7. Always be sure subordinates have a useful skill.
  8. Subordinates’ services must be made available at any time.
  9. Every member must be provided with a loyal subordinate, though members may refuse if they feel they cannot take on the responsibility.
  10. The greatest enemy of The Order is International Government who will try to save this rotten world from its rapture.

Arietty agreed to set up a forum site to be 'The Order Forums', though it would hold a different name than that, as it would surely be shut down if it were open about its purpose in the title, and the site's URL would be a string of numbers impossible to replicate.  Mandrake checked his email to find that, as promised, Arietty already had it set up, and the link was there for him to begin cross-posting in a few different places.  The use of the internet to build up followers for a new religion was a novel concept, and he would take credit for it.  Maybe everything else in the future would be Arietty's doing, but he had this at least.  There were draws for all sorts of people in the charter, and it wasn't as if they were planning to involve everyone in those 'plans of destruction', only doing so if they had an applicable skill.  The subordinates of the charter would draw men and women alike who wished to have something of a slave to do whatever they wished, no matter how depraved.  The general nihilism would attract anyone who was depressed.  The invention of the Great Gods of Destruction from Mandrake's dreams, too, would pull in his fans on the dream analysis forum.
With the link posted around, Mandrake leaned back in his chair and sighed.  This was an endeavor which would probably fizzle out, he was sure, but for the time being it was interesting.  Besides, being the leader of a group of religious fanatics would feed his need to be idolized and praised in an entirely new way which almost made him salivate.  Fame.  If this did take off, it was a way for him, without any especially impressive performance abilities or political background of any degree, to become somebody who was famous.  Even infamy was attention, and if he played his cards right, then those who joined The Order would worship him as the vessel through which the Great Gods of Destruction spoke.
Obtaining the subordinates was a bit of a concern, but Mandrake was sure if anyone did follow through on that, he could work it out.  Mercury was the one who suggested that they not only accept the sexually deviant, but enable them, so if nothing else, she must have had some idea of how to fulfill that promise.  With everything sorted out, all that was left to do was wait to see if the line he'd cast out into the world wide web got any bites.
While he'd been advertising the forums, he found that Arietty and Mercury had both been online, fleshing them out with various posts.  Arietty conjectured that the point of blinding her was to keep her from being able to continue her programming work, but whoever's plan it was had seriously underestimated her.  She was so confident in her code that she could just type it out without ever needing to take a second look, and it showed; the forum she created, while graphically lacking, was well put-together.  The posts were exactly the right level of ritualistic, Mandrake thought.  Those two were good at this.  It sounded bizarre and outlandish, but not to a point where it would entirely turn off somebody who wished to join only for the benefits outlined in the charter.
Mandrake went to sleep early that night, chest buzzing with excitement.  He made sure to log off of the internet before he did, of course.  He, Arietty, and Ju-Ri had all been allowed the rest of the week, and perhaps the entire rest of the year off of school after their traumatic experience with being blown up at lunch, so he wanted the phone to be working when he woke up in case one of them called to hang out.  It seemed weird to hang out with this many injuries, the day after something so awful happened, but the three of them had thick skin, in a way.  Mandrake was sure it wasn't a healthy way to cope, to agree to help bring about the end of the world.  Two of his best friends were dead, and it was something that he would probably never get over.  Never return to normalcy.  Mercury Mars (Her name at birth, he'd learned) was taking advantage of his emotional vulnerability, but that was what he was doing too, by making efforts to recruit more people with such underhanded tactics.
When morning came, Ju-Ri called, as he thought she might.  She was inviting him to her brother's restaurant for lunch, and Arietty had already agreed.  Of course he agreed to go, then switched the line to internet once more to check the forums now that he'd received the call he was waiting on.  His link posting hadn't received any direct replies, but there were a few posts on The Order Forums.  It seemed that Mercury had stayed up answering questions, as nary a post hadn't been replied to.  Several clarifying questions which she promised to have added to the information page, as "The answers already existed, but it's taking a while to transfer our entire religious charter to the internet".  Clever girl.  She was making things seem more like The Order was an established nihilist religion, even twisting the truth to say that the acts of The Order as a terrorist group have always been motivated by a commitment to the destruction of the entire world eventually.
It seemed she'd also gotten several of her existing fellow members to begin posting, lending credibility to her claims even more.  Mandrake noticed one question in particular that stood out, however.  The user had listed a full name, though it could have been fake; Caleb Anders.    His question was about the subordinates, wondering if it was possible to have a custom child to groom, being, one with particular traits.  Mercury had answered in a way which was disturbing, given the question.  "Of course! :) Just keep in mind that though your subordinate will be providing, it is your responsibility to raise them as a loyal and useful asset to both yourself and The Order on the whole!  Thank you, Mister Anders.  Perdere!"
Children?  Mandrake wasn't expecting that, but now that he thought about it, that did make the most sense.  If these subordinates were supposed to be okay with inferiority, and remain loyal, they had to either volunteer to do so, or be raised to believe that was the proper way of existing.  It only disturbed him for a moment before rationality took over.  He already said he was okay with appealing to people as horrible as his own father, and he couldn't deny that his father was a pedophile.  That was just one of many ways he'd have to throw his convictions to the wind.  A member of The Order who was attracted to children was a member nonetheless, and hopefully a useful one.  With the world falling apart anyway, what did it matter if a few individual lives were ruined?  With any luck, Stockholm syndrome would set in and the subordinates wouldn't suffer for too long.  Still, Mandrake wondered about the man bold enough to post under what seemed like a real name, asking what sort of victim he could have provided to him.  He seemed to be the only poster so far to be interested in a subordinate.
Mandrake decided to look up "Caleb Anders", just to see if there was some sort of information out there on him, and upon seeing the search results realized why he wasn't afraid to post with his real name in a skeevy forum; it would never be found among all of these search results.  A number of business articles and the like which had been uploaded including his name revealed that Caleb Anders was in fact, a respected businessman, the young CEO of FeLu Innovations, only a few years older than Mandrake and wildly successful.  Successful and powerful, reaching record heights with the stock values of his company.  Mandrake owned a FeLu microwave in his kitchen right at that moment, and he came to a pleasant conclusion.  Caleb Anders was just the person he needed on his side.
It almost seemed to be fate, too, given the extended name that Mercury had given The Order to make it sound more official.  The Order of The Felinus.  Pronounced like Felonous, but containing Arietty's last name as a reminder of how she'd suffered at the hands of The Order's enemies.
This was reality.
And Mandrake should have felt bad, but instead he was beginning to love it.