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The Sum Of All Our Parts

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The following work of fiction is not recommended or suggested for anyone under eighteen or with a delicate constitution.

Mahou Sensei Negima!, Love Hina, Earth Defense Force Mao-Chan, A.I. Love You, My Santa and UQ Holder were created by Akamatsu Ken.

Sunrise created and owns Mai-Hime and Mai-Otome.

Danganronpa is the property of Spike Chunsoft.

Masaki Tsuzuki created, and Seven Arcs owns, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha.

Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu was created by Tanigawa Nagaru and Noizi Ito.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai was created by Hirasaka Yomi and Buriki.

To-LOVE-Ru and Black Cat were created by Hasemi Saki and Yabuki Kentaro.

School Days and associated properties were created by 0verflow.

Other series parodied here were created by other authors.

No similarities between anyone or anything portrayed here and anything or anyone from real life was ever intended.

Absolutely no one is making any money at all out of this work of fiction.


 

The Sum of All Our Parts.

With credits (again) to co-writers and proofreaders Shadow Crystal Mage and Darkenning.


 

The Child Teacher is a Mage!


 

In the beginning, there was only one. A single black infinitude- so cold and dark, for so very long that even the burning light was imperceptible.

But the light grew, and the infinitude shuddered. And the darkness finally screamed, in as much pain as relief.

For in that instant, a Multiverse was born- a Multiverse of worlds vibrating and replicating... and a universe that should have been one, became many.

That was then.


 

Yggdrasil:

Amidst the absolute darkness, casting the shadows away, shone the regal gold of elaborated rings and pendants on the ears of a young and impossibly beautiful woman, apparently around twenty years old, who slowly opened her lovely blue eyes. She had long and smooth light brown hair, almost blond, reaching down to her knees' height. Her adorable, perfect face featured exotic, distinctive markings; a very small blue triangle under each clear eye, and a thin vertical blue line on the middle of her forehead. She wore a long and white ceremonial robe, with no footwear, with fine golden rings in most fingers of her delicate hands; aside from multiple collars, and the multiple already mentioned earrings.

She descended, floating in an elegant vertical line, silent and gracefully, through several levels of paradisiacal gardens, each one more luminous than the one before. Until she stopped, with the soft tips of her feet touching the surface of a pool of crystalline waters, surrounded by hundreds of rose bushes. And she looked down. Under the transparent surface rested a whole universe, and at the middle of it, there was a tiny, gorgeous blue planet.


 

This infinite universe is full of different lives. It is the source of all those lives, and it has been reborn time and time again through the never ending stream of existence. How was this infinite stream created? How is determined what will be the fate of those stars and lives that are created and destroyed?

Fate… Is a fate given to all those gifted with a life? In this small planet, so very many lives have been created, and they have been granted 'fates' of their own. As long as there are births, life will also have to reach a natural end. During those short spans of time, these lives must transpire as intended.

Guided by its wishes, mankind, largely on its own, has evolved. It has known prosperity, degeneration, discovery and destruction. Is it possible that the human race, responsible over all of that, is controlled by fate as well? And what if a person's fate were controlled by another, without taking their own desires into account…?

If the fates of human beings are determined by another… Who is that another?  


 

 

Somewhere in Tibet.

The small fortress of thick black walls was half buried under a few feet of snow at the peak of one of the world's highest mountains. It was supposed to be a man's Shangri La. His last hideout from the cruelties of the world outside. It was his safe place. And he was, at least, relatively happy with it.

Then, why was he there, intruding, hunting for him? Couldn't he just leave him alone? Did he need to hound his steps through the world, right down to his last safe hiding place? What did spur him to do so? What?

It didn't matter. It wouldn't matter anymore, never. Now, he was prepared for him. As he heard him dispatch his guards, sitting behind his working desk inside of his office, and he watched him through his many TV screens, shooting his way through his troops, the scrawny, bespectacled man caressed the gun in his bony hands. He wouldn't take him this time. He would make sure of it, one way or another.

Did he have any idea of how much it had cost him to hire all those guards with the salary of a mangaka? He plowed his path through them as if he didn't have any care in the world, smiling with cocky confidence, every once in a while throwing a few grenades at them or pulling a bazooka out of his stupid brown hairdo to blow them up. It was all a game for him? Did he have such a low concept of me? Unacceptable.

He was getting closer. The sitting man already could hear the explosions near his door, complete with the desperate yells of the soldiers. It was time. Clearing his sore throat, he stood up and walked to the door, gun in hand.

"I'm waiting for you, SOB," he said then, with a voice that tried to sound cocky and defiant, yet only conveyed a strangled awkwardness.

An Elite Ex-Green Beret mercenary being thrown through his door into the office was his way of saying 'Here I am,' two seconds later. As the unfortunate man fell to the manga artist's feet muttering "He's crazyyyyyy..." very weakly, his tormentor, not bruised at all, stepped in to face him, fixing his tie with an air of complete aloofness befitting a cheesy action movie star from the seventies.

And yet, there was a grim resolve of his own in his eyes.

"Rikdo-san," he said, gravely. "We need to talk."

His old partner pointed his gun at his forehead, right between his eyes, under his huge afro. "The time for talking is over, Nabeshin. You'll never convince me to partner with you again!"

"Is that so?" he asked, critically, giving a long, cynical smoking of the cigarette between his lips. "You shouldn't be so obstinate. Everyone else already has given their approval."

"You lie," the man with the handgun growled. "You just want to trick me again..."

He shrugged, and before the other guy could react putting a bullet into him, he threw a few documents at him. "You can check these out and tell me if I lie..."

He distrusted, naturally. But still, he just had to know if he was being sincere this time. The curiosity got the best of him, and he quickly picked up the papers and read them with widened eyes behind his glasses. "Th-This can't be..."

"Oh, but it is. And if you don't want to take a part on it, you'll be the only one left out. Your call, Rikdo-san. But I'd suggest you to do it... even if it's only for the good ol' times... and the most important thing..."

"Do you mean-?" the scrawny man asked him, with some hope in his voice.

"Yes." He nodded solemnly. "Lots of money!"

The smaller man had to sigh in defeat. "Okay. You win, damn you. I'll do it... for the money!"

"I expected no less from you," Nabeshin sincerely said.

Rikdo pulled the old approval seal out of one of his pockets and held it over the expecting documents as he pronounced the old oath:

"I, Koshi Rikdo, hereby allow this to become the first episode of our massive group collaboration, the—what are we calling it this time?"

"The Sum of All Our Parts. Fitting, isn't it?"

"The Sum of All Our Parts, then!" Koshi Rikdo cried, slamming the seal on the documents.

*STAMP!*


 

One year ago, this happened:

"You can go in without any fear, Hasegawa-san. There's nothing wrong in there."

A bigger lie had never been told before.

But trusting the busty woman's voice, since it was as sweet as honey and as trust-inspiring as an angel's, the young Chisame had nodded and walked in first. Only to stop immediately and yelp in horror at the sight of the scene waiting for her instead.

There was a naked mannequin of sorts over the room's main table, laying on its back with its vacant green eyes fixed on the roof above. The weird thing was the mannequin blinked at random intervals, and its chest rose up and then came down in a blasphemous imitation of human breathing, and its hands wiggled their long thin fingers as the girl looming over the doll's body worked on its mechanical entrails, her face covered by a wielding mask that barely allowed to see her black pigtails poking out of the back of her head.

"Sh-Shizuna-sensei!" Chisame screeched, rushing back to clash against the tall blonde's stomach. "What's that girl doing there?"

"Oh my!" the woman looked in, contemplating the delirious situation for a moment before calling out, "Hakase-san!"

"What?" a muffled question came from inside the mask. The masked girl's thin frame, hunchbacked over her awfully messy work, covered all over by large and smelly spots of grease, oil, and some substance eerily similar to thick, crimson blood, didn't move away from her labor at all.

"Hakase-san!" Minamoto Shizuna insisted. "Stop that immediately, or else you'll be reported to the Dean! I thought we had agreed you wouldn't bring your experiments here! You already have your own laboratory for that!"

Finally, that had made her to turn her welder off and lift the mask off her cute, bespectacled, dirty face. She gave the mature female a somewhat wounded look.

"B-But I'm almost reaching my deadline! If I want to finish before—"

"No excuses," Shizuna said, gentle but firm. "It's just rude to use the dorms for that, especially now you have a roommate."

"I'm not going to be her roommate!" Chisame had quickly protested.

"Now, now," the blonde had calmly pushed her forward, towards the other girl and the robot thing. "Like I said before, there's no need to fear, Hasegawa-san. She is a girl your own age, and not too unlike yourself. Hakase-san, this is Hasegawa Chisame, the student I mentioned to you earlier. Hasegawa-san, this is Hakase Satomi, your fellow student and roommate for the rest of the year, and hopefully beyond."

Chisame cringed while looking at the freak's face. And the freak looked back, with large and curious black eyes, full with an eccentric spark not too unlike that of a drunk monkey. Eyes that were pretty much the only clean thing in that face splattered all over with ill smelling chemical leftovers.

The freak was the one to break the awkward silence with an unfazed, "When did you mention a roommate?"

"Last week," Shizuna fought the vein threatening to pop up into her forehead back down.

"I don't remember that," the Hakase girl replied.

"I even left you a reminder note over your fridge," the sensei stated.

"You did?" the strange girl craned her neck back towards a door and into her kitchen. "Oh, it's true! Yes, I think I do remember now."

Chisame gave another imploring desperate stare up at the tall and attractive female. Sadly, she seemed unmoved by her plight, despite her soft smile and her patting on the poor girl's shoulders.

"She needs someone close around at all times to remind her about such things," Shizuna whispered. "She is a good girl. You'll get along well."

The mannequin chose that moment to creepily rotate her eyes towards Chisame, scaring her even more.

"Eeek!"

Shizuna barely could hold her down by the shoulders enough to prevent her from running away. "Oh dear, I forgot to introduce her! I'm terribly sorry. Hasegawa-san, that is Karakuri Chachamaru, another one of your future classmates at 1-A."

"What? She's the anatomic display for the class, you mean!" the brown haired girl quickly corrected her.

"Pleased to meet you, Hasegawa-san," the thing spoke with a soft, polite, but perfectly inhuman and sterile voice. "I will be glad to help you with anything I can."

Then it reached up with a hand, grabbing one of Chisame's to give it a gentle and feminine shake.

"Kyaaaa!" Chisame screeched, scared out of her wits. It was so cold! Like a corpse's!

She let the heavy handbags she was carrying to fall down and still attempted to escape, only to immediately stumble into the conveniently placed and firmly planted shapely body of Minamoto-sensei. "Please, you can't do this! You have to reassign me!" she begged.

"I'm afraid all other rooms are full by now," Shizuna commented, now almost sounding sympathetic, passing a hand through Chisame's hair. "Don't worry. Karakuri-san won't be spending most of her time here. She sleeps at the workshop."

"Actually, I haven't programmed her to follow sleep patterns yet," the dirty weirdo piped in. "I don't think I will, actually. Too bothersome, and there are more efficient ways to recharge energy. Oh, sorry. My manners."

She walked briskly to Chisame and quickly took her hands into a much firmer, almost tomboyish, rather clumsy handshake. "Excuse my forgetting you! I have been in an absorbing nonstop finishing procedure for Chachamaru for the last few weeks, and I haven't had the time for much else, I'm afraid. Want to watch?" she offered.

"Hakase-san, I think I have just told you to stop doing that here," Shizuna repeated herself.

"Oh, yes. That..." Hakase sighed, disappointed.

Chisame made a face, looking down at the prone object they seemed to be trying to pass as some sort of human being. "What... what is this... Why are you..."

"I am an artificial intelligence developed under commission of the Mahora Robotics Club," the mannequin informed flatly. "I am going to enlist in this year's first grade class A as a test of my capacities regarding interaction with Japanese modern society. As such, I eagerly look forward my continuing intermingling with your gracious person, Hasegawa-san."

"S-Stop that!" Chisame gasped. "The fact you're being so polite just makes you scarier!"

"Um, maybe I should readjust her speech patterns. Less flowery, more concise and to the point, okay? Okay. I got it," the Dr. Frankenstein wannabe absently stated while wiping her hands clean with a towel that had been lying on a nearby chair. She then handed it over to Chisame, who only then noticed her own hands were just as dirty after the mad scientist's handshake. With a disgusted grimace, she was fast to wipe them as clean as she could.

The whole living room was an absolute mess, as a matter of fact, and she was sure the rest of the dorm would be even worse. Would she have to clean all of that up? She couldn't set a webcamera and allow her just started community of fans to watch... THAT!... around herself. Her wonderful web project would die on its crib!

But of course, the girl with the messy pigtails who was looking at her face couldn't care any less about any of that, could she? She was just there, smiling as a dumb frat boy who had just farted.

Finally, Chisame dared to make the question she had been dreading for the last few minutes.

"Umm... where is the bathroom, please?"

"Well, heh heh," Hakase Satomi scratched the back of her neck sheepishly. "I don't think you should walk in there just yet. You'll see, I was testing Chachamaru's water endurance there a few hours ago, and—"

Chisame bit her lower lip, whimpering under her breath.

That would be a hideously long school year.


 

One Year Later, this happened:

That evening, the ceremony proved to be just as majestic and awe-inspiring as Nekane remembered hers being, if not moreso. The country had recovered remarkably well during Negi and Anya's formative years, once Emperor Charles took over the government. Nekane didn't consider herself a politically inclined person, but she was fairly satisfied with the current state of social affairs. At least in her homeland. She was given to understand the situation was considerably more turbulent overseas, but Nekane had not been fond of reading about that, since she had taken on her surrogate mother duties.

The five honor graduates for that year stood before the Magus of Merdiana, while a choir chanted constantly in subdued yet omnipresent tones, adding to the solemn atmosphere of the procedures. Nekane barely knew the other three, but she had met them once during one of Negi's all too rare vacation breaks, and none of them had left a bad impression on her. They did seem an eccentric bunch, all things considered, but couldn't that be said of most if not all geniuses?

"Rani Eight!" the old man in dark robes with the very long white beard called out, in a booming and strong voice fitting a much younger person, and a frail looking dark-skinned young girl with long, silky purplish hair and glasses stepped ahead to receive her diploma. Nekane had occasionally wondered what kind of family name 'Eight' was, but she'd come to the conclusion that foreign mages often had names that sounded very strange for the locals. So she didn't think much of it.

"Klarion Bleak!" the Magus called next. A soft but ominous 'BUM BUM BUM' sounded as the pale, black haired boy in question marched towards the man, politely accepting his title while his black cat pet purred and rubbed herself against his legs.

"Bridget Evans!" To this call of the Headmaster, a truly sorry-looking, petite girl with blond hair and blue eyes dragged her nervous steps over, to be handed her certificate of graduation, constantly throwing terrified looks towards the smirking Klarion and impassive Rani.

Nekane smiled fondly at the three, oblivious to how very few in the audience shared those feelings at all. Yes, she thought, those had to have been three very good friends for Negi and Anya! She was sure of it!

"Anya Cocolova!" the Headmaster said next, as Anya marched to meet her, her chest swelling up with pride and still managing to remain flat. The red-haired girl bowed graciously for the Magus, then twirled around on one feet and walked back. She and Klarion exchanged a discreet sticking out of the tongue at each other, as the boy's cat hissed at her.

Nekane felt herself soar with pride. Her child, her precious baby, had earned a title with honors. If only her father could see her now! And adding to that happiness, now it was the turn for -

"Negi Springfield!" the Magus commanded, and the youngest of the graduates came along, hurrying up the aisle with a bright smile.

"Yes, Sir!" The boy was so eager he had forgotten you were supposed to march in silence, not that anyone would hold that against him. Nekane's happiness was complete as he took his diploma, bathed by the silver moonlight coming down through the skylights of the Academy. Then everyone in the audience stood up and clapped for the graduates, who all bowed as one for their public. The ceremony had been flawless; no attacks of dementors, demons, trolls, hobgoblins, gremlins, leprechauns, goblins, witches, mutants, time travelers, Knightmare Frames, terrorists, the Juggernaut, slimes, vampires or werewolves for once. The random mummy assassin during the buffet had been dispatched easily with no losses. It should have clued Nekane in that the night wasn't going to end smoothly.

Anya received her assignment first, when the three of them had retired to enjoy some peace and quietness at a balcony. She gushed as the words appeared on her scroll, in elegant black Gothic letters. "A fortune teller at London!" she cried in glee. "This is great! Everyone makes it big in London! Oh God, I might even meet Vincent van Ghoul! Negiiii?" She smirked his way, sure there was no way he could have gotten anything nearly as cool and incredible as the job the forces of Destiny had intended for her. "What did you get?"

Nekane had been pleased for that twist as well. London was a bit further than she'd have liked, but she still could visit Anya a few times a year, until she met the conditions to become a Magistra Magi. Now, if only Negi got a similarly nice and easy job of his own.

"I think it's coming out now," the boy hummed as he intently looked at his scroll, where the letters were coming out slowly, one by one. "Let's see ... this is..." he began reading aloud, "Become ... a ... teacher ..."

"A teacher!" Anya laughed. "I guess there's some truth to that old saying! Those who can't, teach!"

Negi, meanwhile, had paled while reading the final few words on the scroll. "...in ...Japan..."

Anya's laughter died in her suddenly dry throat.

Nekane made a short choked sound, assimilated the full meaning of what she had just heard, and then made another sound of a non-human nature before falling unconscious on her back.

"AHHH! SISTER!" a shocked Negi cried out. That was the last thing Nekane could hear before falling into a very bizarre dream, which we won't bother to describe here. Or will we?


 

The old Headmaster sat alone in his impossibly huge office, pleasantly humming to himself after scurrying away from the frankly boring socializing that dominated the end of the graduation party. It was not like he disliked being in the company of youngsters, like most old wizards, mages and sorcerers after a few decades of cultivating a long beard and amassing a hefty collection of arcane tomes, but after dozens of graduation ceremonies, you had pretty much seen it all before and grown bored of it. Besides, there always was someone who was displeased with their choice of assignments, and discussing such things in public was so much of a faux pas. It was better to wait there, in private, until that person or persons (if it was a particularly bad year) stormed in there after a brief consultation with Donet, as was no doubt about to happen right -

"MAGUS!" Anya Cocolova stormed in, followed by a mortified Negi who supported a dizzy and weeping Nekane. "Sir, we need a recount! I mean, a second opinion! What about a consultation with the spirits, Sir? That can be done, cannot it?"

The old man looked up calmly from the documents he had been analyzing to kill time while waiting. What a surprise, even if he didn't show it. He had been expecting Klarion -

'BUM BUM BUM'

How did the boy do that, anyway? Even the Magus was stumped.

Negi blinked. "Were you thinking about Klarion, Professor?" he asked, over the distant 'BUM BUM BUM' in the background.

Gently ignoring that question, the Magus addressed Anya instead. "Ah, Miss Cocolova. Sorry to cause you any further annoyance, but not only can I not do anything about the choice of the spirits of magic, but I would have expected for you to know that already."

"I'm not talking about mine, mine is awesome and incredible!" the pint sized redhead cried, pointing at Negi. "But his! Somehow, the spirits thought it would be a good idea to send Negi - Negi of all people - to teach in Area Eleven!"

"The correct term is 'Japan'," the old master calmly corrected, before gesturing towards the boy. "Might I see it, regardless, dear lad?"

"Of course, Professor!" he quickly complied, as Nekane sobbed.

The old man examined the scroll, nodded twice, then showed the words to Anya. "See? It says it so right here. Japan. Not Area Eleven. I think you'll agree the spirits know better than politics, won't you?"

"Th-That isn't the point!" Anya was boiling up now. "The point is, the Elevens, sorry, Japanese will eat Negi out! He's a doormat, a poor sap, a hapless wimp, a -"

"A-hem," Nekane managed to cough, displaying some disagreement even through her tears.

Anya flinched for a moment. "Well ... he's Negi! He isn't fit for that kind of task!"

"He is, otherwise it wouldn't have been assigned to him," the man replied as he gave Negi his diploma back.

"But -!" Anya protested.

"He's only a child!" Nekane said.

"As the Eleve- Japanese would say, it can't be helped," the Magus shrugged. "The spirits' decisions are final, and mere mortals such as we cannot contradict or disobey them. It hasn't been done during the entire history of this educational system, and I see no reason for it to happen now either."

"That is cruel!" Nekane complained. "To send him alone, across the ocean, to a foreign country with a different language and customs!"

"Doesn't he already know Japanese, not to mention another half a dozen foreign tongues?" the Dean curiously inquired.

"I do," Negi nodded.

"Can you eat raw fish with chopsticks while sleeping on the floor, huh huh?" Anya asked him. "Moron, you aren't fit to live there!"

"At least tell me I can go with him! He will need protection!" Nekane said, slamming both hands on the desk, leaning forward, and desperately pleading.

Unfortunately, her conservative black dress showed no cleavage, so the Magus was unfazed by her posture. "Sorry, but the customs are the Magister-to-be cannot be aided by anyone or anything but a familiar, and any Ministra they can recruit during their mission..."

"MINISTRA!" Anya's pigtails stood up. "Don't make it any worse, Sir!"

"Let him grow, please. He won't be a strong man as if his father if you keep doubting his capacities," the Magus requested, and that made Negi's eyebrows go up. "At his age, Nagi already was an accomplished fighter and -"

"And look where that lead him!" Nekane dared to interrupt him, at her wit's end. For him to end up like Uncle, that was the last thing she wished for him.

The Magus looked somewhat surprised, but not offended, she had actually dared to cut him short. That was so very unlike Nekane, but then again, a lioness looking after her cubs, and all of that. He sighed. "My apologies, but nothing can be done about it. If that's the suggested path, it is because it is the one that will work out the best for him. But I understand your concerns, so I will arrange for a friend of mine at Mahora Academy to arrange a safe position for Negi in his staff. Just the other day, we were chatting and he mentioned needing a good English teacher. That sounds right up your alley, Negi!"

The boy gulped, but then nodded firmly. "If it's what I need to do to follow Father's path, I'll gladly do it, Professor."

"Neeeeegiiiiii!" Anya gritted her teeth.

"Negi," Nekane sighed, in a deflated, defeated way. She could sway him far from anything, but from that self-destructive race along Nagi's path. Which was exactly what Nekane wanted to steer him away from the most. She had to think of something, and quickly, but what?

The old man and the boy were shaking hands now. "That's the spirit, my lad. You will like Konoe Konoemon. He was an old acquaintance of your father."

"Seriously?!" he said, even more excited now.

It was getting worse and worse, Nekane decided, stifling her tears. She had to do anything, no matter how drastic it seemed, to save her Negi from becoming another globe trotting vagabond running after insane adventures that would get him -

"Professor!" Another boy was storming in now, his face constricted in anger. "I demand that you to do something about this 'Librarian in Gotham City' nonsense!"

"Ah, Klarion," the Magus said. ('BUM BUM BUM.') "Please come closer and take a seat. The Springfields and Miss Cocolova were just leaving."


 

Negi wandered, amazed, through the Neo Tokyo International Airport. Objectively, it was somewhat smaller and less awe inspiring than the London one, from an objective viewpoint, but for a very young foreigner, it held an unmatched sense of wonder and exotic thrill. He was picking up the chattering of the locals in their language rather well, much to his relief, since he knew theory knowledge and basic academic experience on a language didn't translate well into actual communication with the native speakers.

He might have been acting actually a bit too eager and surprised, actually, because he had briefly forgotten, not only Nekane back at home, but the person who was supposed to pick him up there. Instead, he took on the sights while walking all around the Airport, even stopping to buy candy at all the stands he could find, with the true enthusiasm of a child. As he kept on marching with a lollipop stuck in his mouth, his organism well fueled on sugar, he reflected candy in this new country didn't taste as good as that of his homeland, but this was hardly a time to feel chauvinistic. Japan was amazing looking! So full of radiant life, some of which even didn't throw suspicious looks at him!

And then two girls in their late teens,who seemed the radiate the same feeling of his condisciples at home, so unlike that of the locals, passed by next to him, sort of shattering the effect. They smelled good, he faintly noticed as he got a good look at them, although not as good as those most men around him were giving them. Those men, however, just couldn't feel the same unusual (for those particular surroundings) aura of definite magical power both of those young woman possessed. The taller one had hair as blond as Nekane's, although neatly arranged into thick and elegant curls falling around her shoulders, and wore a long blue and white dress. The shorter one had a more discreet and humble figure, although by no means flat or childish, again, not that Negi analyzed that deeply at all. She wore wore an extremely short black skirt and tight red sweater, with extremely high black stockings, and her dark hair was collected into twin side tails. They carried heavy looking luggage, including bags within which Negi could made the shape of long sticks. That made him feel slightly uneasy for some reason.

"Well, it's as if I had never left at all," the mini skirted girl was musing aloud, in Japanese. "I can't believe they forced me to return after only a year. But I suppose they had to summon the best..."

The blond girl kept doing her best to march faster than her, and their quickly increasing competitive pace was starting to draw more attraction to them than their attractive looks. "Why, yes, but 'the best' is a relative term. Certainly, 'the best' this gloomy crushed country could produce wouldn't possibly amount to anything but you..." she said in English.

Negi, walking behind them with his curiosity piqued, managed to overhear the other girl's cold reply. "I think I'm still reeling from that flight, because my ears are ringing with an ugly sound and my stomach is turning. Oh, no, it's just your presence, Luvia. Can't you take your own way already if you really dislike me so much?" Again, this was said in Japanese.

The answer came in English, naturally. "That's my line! And it's the sick deer who must stray away from the mighty lion's path, not the other way around! Don't feel so overconfident just because you are back amongst people of your low category, Eleven!"

"How did you call me?!" the other girl challenged. "Why don't you say that in Japanese so everyone can understand you, cowardly cow!"

The girl apparently named Luvia stopped to face her. "Cowardly cow?! Why, you wheezing weasel!" And they started to struggle right at the middle of the hall, hand on hand, pushing madly against each other. "Forget the War! I'll save you further humiliation and crush you here and now!"

"You think too highly of yourself! Good for nothing prissy piece of-!"

Negi, alarmed, and seeing how things were really getting out of hand now, tried to rush ahead to stop them, but was stopped himself when he felt a hand on his shoulder, reaching over to him from behind. "Negi Springfield?" a voice asked. "Wow, you sure have grown up a lot."

He turned around, recognizing the voice. "Takamichi!"

That person smiled at him. "That's right. It's been a while, hasn't it? Professor Takamichi T. Takahata, at your service, Negi-sensei."


 

The sun was bright but not unbearably hot. The wind was steady but not too strong. And the motion of the ocean - well, the river - was gentle, and the great bulk of the Queen Beryl cruiser was more than enough to absorb most of it. All in all, it had been a beautiful day. Well, Tokiha Mai thought so at least.

"You're okay?" she asked her younger brother a bit anxiously, holding a can of Soder Cola in each hand as she came over to sit down beside him on one of the deck's benches, facing the ship's starboard railing. (She was pretty sure that it was the starboard. Reasonably sure. Okay, she wasn't sure at all and was just guessing.) A few benches away, looking at the waters in a contemplative silence, sat a certain person named Negi Springfield, who, unbeknownst to both of them back then, would be rather important for her life in the near future.

"I'm fine," he assured her, a bit wearily. "I was a little queasy when the ship got underway, but it's passed." Takumi favored her with one of his increasingly rare smiles. "And I'm glad, because I wouldn't miss this for the world."

She shook her head, but smiled back. "We'd see the exact same view on the train, you know."

"It's not the same view," he disagreed, accepting his can and opening it. "The angle is different, the sun lights things in a completely different way... and the train moves so much faster than this ship is going. I get a whole 'nother look at the landscape this way." His eyes were distant as he spoke. From experience, she knew that he was seeing the painting, not its subject.

But then his eyes focused again, meeting her gaze, and he smiled a bit sheepishly. "Besides which, Uncle doesn't do things like this very often. We ought to enjoy it as much as possible, don't you think?"

Mai made a sound of polite agreement. Inwardly, though, she was frustrated by Takumi's lowered expectations. Most people, on hearing that an uncle had offered to send his nephew and niece on a cruise to celebrate their admission to a prestigious private school like Mahora, would probably have viewed it in the same way that Takumi did - as an incredibly generous act.

Mai... didn't. The word she would have used was 'extravagant'. Or maybe 'unnecessary'. As she'd said, they could have taken the train like normal people did. It would have been less expensive for their uncle to do it that way.

That wasn't her real objection, though. If she'd believed that her uncle was really trying to be generous, she'd have swallowed that sort of complaint. But deep down, she knew that the fancy cruise was another way for him to seem involved while doing his level best to stay out of the lives of his late brother's children.

The money that he would have saved by buying three train tickets instead of two cruises couldn't possibly have been equal to or greater than the amount that he'd lose by taking a day or so off work to be with them. But Mai understood perfectly well where they fit in the calculus of their uncle's life.

She let Takumi see her smiling, though. None of this was on her face. He was happy, and that was what mattered. She'd do anything to make sure that her little brother was happy.

"And there it is," he said, hushed. "The World Tree."

She turned to look where he was looking, and, despite herself, felt a bit of awe as the size of the enormous tree became clear, with buildings that had to be several stories tall dwarfed by it. And they were still some distance from Mahora. They wouldn't pull into port until tomorrow morning.

"They say it's visible from space," Takumi added in that same vaguely reverent tone.

That's probably pushing it, Mai thought, trying to look disinterested enough to look away, ignoring the overdressed Britannian child with a long wooden stick on his back, who had hastened to approach that part of the deck, where the view of the tree was better. Stupid and cruel Britannians, even left their own children to wander alone around the world.

But then something caught his eye to the sky above the tree.

But then something else drew her attention to the sky above the tree.

And there It was. The smile that she'd painted on at Takumi's enthusiasm melted away as she looked up at the strange red planet; painted in a strong hue no one could see but her. It was getting brighter.

With her late parents, she had often watched the nocturnal skies, back when Takumi was only a small child, a toddler. They would teach her of the planets and stars, and while that never bloomed into a love for astronomy, she nonetheless could easily recognize Mars at first sight.

What she didn't use to recognize was the intense aura of bright red surrounding Mars right now. Despite the popular idea of Mars as the 'Red Planet', it had never before looked that way, like an eye of blood staring down, to her.

Mai wasn't sure when she'd started seeing it that way. She'd taken the fact that nobody talked about that transformation to mean that it wasn't all that important, and only found out that she was the only one to see it a few months ago, when it first started to look so bright. Commenting on that change to Takumi had yielded a confused look on his face and the question "What are you talking about, Oneechan?"

His confusion had quickly turned to concern, and that concern was back on his face. "You're still seeing it, aren't you?"

"Mm-hm," she admitted, then quickly segued into an attempt to calm his worries. "It's no big deal. It's just there, you know? It's not like I'm hearing voices -"

You have to look after your little brother from now on.

"- more than I usually do," she added in a fit of honesty.

He still looked a bit upset, but didn't press the matter as he looked away, turning his gaze on the river. He blinked. "Oneechan," he asked hesitantly, pointing as he did. "Do you see that, too?"

She followed his pointing finger, and peered out at the river. What was he- wait, was that- could it be-

Mai got to her feet. For all that she knew, this was every bit as much of a cliché as shouting 'Stop the presses!' in a newspaper office, and likely to be as well-received, but nonetheless - "Man overboard!" she shouted at the top of her lungs, startling everyone on the deck, including the Britannian child and the tall, handsome man who now stood with him.


 

The first thing she remembered was her Ani-ue's gentle face, smiling at her. Actually, once the smile and his black hair remained clearly visible in her memory, along the warm smells of the hillside. She didn't remember any particular words he ever might have told her, but she could remember his attitude towards her always was loving and kind.

"She's still alive! Oh my God, it's a miracle!"

A miracle? What was a miracle, again? Grandfather had mentioned something about her Ani-ue performing, whatever that meant, miracles if she ever found him. It had to be a good thing, so if that people she couldn't see right now was saying there was a miracle, maybe she had found her Ani-ue already? Oh! What if that young man talking was her Ani-ue?

No, although she didn't remember his voice too well, it sure wasn't that nasal and high pitched.

"Why won't she let go off this damn thing?!"

Her small, thin but callous fingers tightened stubbornly around Miroku's handle. She wasn't fully conscious yet, but she worked on enough of conditioned level to refuse letting go off her treasure and fighting the efforts of those much bigger hands attempting to pry it away. Had she retained only a little more awareness, she would have leapt up to slice and dice them, most likely staining Rin's nice sweater and Negi's fine suit, and that would have been terrible.

It was a precious family heirloom, after all, and Grandfather, before falling asleep forever, had stressed she couldn't and shouldn't ever losing it before finding Ani-ue. She had to protect Ani-ue with it now she had finally mastered it. She even could open pickle jars with it now! Pickle jars, as anyone knows, being the ultimate tests of power and might for any warrior.

In the Arctic Fortress of Solitude, a crestfallen Superman stared at the nicely lined jars of pickles arranged before him, ranging from his days at Smallville until the one he had just bought that morning, and tightened a fist impotently. There was a picture of a smiling Batman holding two open jars of pickles hanging right above his collection.

Someday, Bruce, someday...

She felt so weak right now, though. Weaker than she had felt for a long, long, long time. She was cold and trembling, and for once, Miroku felt very heavy in her grasp, just as heavy as it should be feeling for the men trying to steal it away and commenting on how many tons it weighed. Mostly, she felt sleepy, so very sleepy, and like she was collapsing in the inside...

For a moment, she thought she saw a very nice looking and pretty young pale girl in black with a funny symbol hanging from her neck floating over her. After that moment, the strange girl hummed, shook her head, and gently waved a finger at her before her cellphone rang and she vanished away, muttering something about some Thanos stalking her so much.

"Oh, for the love of God! It's only giving necessary CPR to a dying girl! What kind of men are you?!" a female was shouting.

"B-But we are no Lolicon!" one of the men was protesting.

"What's Lolicon?" a little boy asked.

"That's not important right now, Negi-sensei!" an older sounding man answered.

"Screw it! I'll do it myself!" the girl growled.

"But, are you...?"

"I'm an expert on First Aids and Emergency Drills, trained at the best camps for wilderness survival in Europe! N-Not like I have ever kissed many, I mean any, girls before, but, but whatever! I'm doing this only because I'm a nice civic minded person!"

What a chatty loud girl, Mikoto thought, inwardly musing on how much Grandfather would have disapproved of her. Grandfather valued discipline, feminity, modesty and silent obedience in any girl, as he had yelled and yelled to her that evening before falling on his back gasping for air and eventually falling asleep forever. Looking back at it, maybe it had been a bad idea to run around in her underwear hunting and eating birds during his 78th birthday gala.

Then Mikoto had a pair of lips pressed down on hers. Well. That one was new. As were the lips injecting new life into her, pumping her back from the tunnel of radiant light with only minor brain damage no one would ever really notice anyway. It was like a down slide in an aquatic park, and just like when she had been in those, now, too, she also felt slightly nauseous now...

Right when Tohsaka Rin thought she had done it, that she had saved that hapless soul's life much to everyone's amazement over how incredible she was, she got the kind of confirmation she had not really wanted, when the drowning girl vomited copious amounts of salt water, seaweeds, a pink starfish in tiny shorts, and assorted stomach contents on her face.

Everyone else was too stunned to hear Kaleido Ruby's hysterical laughter coming from Rin's hand luggage, but Rin did hear. And even in the shameful heat of that moment, she swore terrible vengeance!


 

"HAKASE!" The girl with the long brown hair yelled for the third time that morning. "Hakase, wake up!"

Her roommate only replied with a vague snore and a wave of a hand, turning her back on her and rolling aside so she was facing the wall now.

The standing girl fumed angrily. Fed up with it, she roughly grabbed the prone teenager and lifted her slim body up easily, forcing her to sit up.

"You shouldn't do that..." Hakase Satomi yawned loudly, keeping her eyes still closed. "Serious studies have proved that abrupt interruptions of the sleep periods can cause harmful effects on—"

"Forget those studies! Our studies are what matters now!" Chisame barked at her, perching her hands on her own hips in a challenging manner. "Today's the first day of the new term, remember?"

Hakase mumbled with a nod of her head. Her eyes still remained closed.

"Then stand up already, dammit!" Piping mad, the taller girl grabbed the mad genius and dragged her out of the lower bunk of their bed, making her to moan in incoherent displeasure. "Or I swear to God I'll leave you behind!"

Satomi whined sleepily as Hasegawa Chisame made her to raise her arms up to pull her pajamas' shirt off, then tugged her pants down. By now, the black haired girl had gained some more self awareness, though, and she was able to finish stripping while her roommate began unbuttoning her own pajamas.

"Do I really need to go?" Hakase asked lazily. "First days are nothing but useless introductions. I'm sure it won't make any difference if I stay here finishing—"

By then, Chisame already was fully naked, grabbing her by a hand, and interrupting her by dragging her out of the room and into the small shower cubicle.

The sudden hot waterfall on her body shook Satomi further out of her stupor, but Hasegawa wouldn't take any chances. She started to rub the shampoo on her hated roommate's scalp herself, washing her hair down like a pro.

"You don't need to do that, either..." Hakase yawned again, then coughed as water poured into her mouth.

"Oh, yes, I do!" Chisame insisted. "Because if I don't, you'll walk out of here with shampoo still on your hair, wearing your skirt backwards, and without your tie on! I won't march all the way to the classroom with a walking disaster area!"

The taller female idly wondered what had she done to deserve that as she soaped the shorter girl's back down. She hoped she'd never have to bear a child, but if she ever did, she was sure she'd get tons of prior experience by living with Hakase. That nerd was as hopeless with everyday life as she was bright with academics.

There were a few good things about rooming with her, of course. She was a great help with homework and study sessions; Chisame's grades had gone up from somewhat below the average to quite above it since she had moved with her. She also was always quick to fix her computers in any case she needed it (even when some malcontent troll or ill-loser competitor sent her a virus even she couldn't detect nor neutralize in time), something Chisame was certainly, all in all, thankful for (and part of the reasons why she was tolerating having to wash her back off now).

But mostly, Hakase kept the peepers away. Not intentionally, of course; but Hasegawa had quickly learned it paid off to allow her to use the living room for anything she wanted. The mere sight of that horror, that maelstrom of half finished mechanical abominations and discarded clothes, eternally with the stench of oil and rust floating all over it, was enough to prevent anyone from stepping further inside.

So Chiu had her privacy.

In turn, Satomi had learned to leave the rest of the dorm for Chisame to handle. She was no domestic expert herself, but compared to Hakase, she was Martha Stewart. If Martha Stewart were a cosplaying hacker.

That was another good thing about Satomi; she simply had no interest on Chiu's affairs. She didn't mock them, but she didn't fawn over them either. The first time she had put her eyes on the webpage, she only gave it a brief disapproving glare before turning away without saying a word. And that was it. She had as much interest on criticizing or praising Chisame's cosplay habits as Chisame had on analyzing or disassembling her stupid gizmos.

And they both liked it that way. It was a happily unspoken topic between them.

Now they were fully clothed and eating breakfast. Chisame had cooked, of course; again, she was no master cook, but necessity had taught her. Her roommate was unable to cook anything that didn't smell like a broken radiator and looked even worse.

She was slow as hell to eat, too. Except when she was in a hurry to finish some darn machine. She still had a piece of bacon in her mouth by the time Chisame had enough and pulled her out with herself.

"Come on! We're going to be late!"

"Wait, wait... Eating too fast, not to mention running so shortly afterwards, is unhealthy, didn't you know? Specialists from Toudai University have determined that—"

Again she was dragged along, a huffing Chisame keeping her firmly grabbed by a hand. Hakase had to run after her to keep her pace. Barely.

Even so, they still were the last two to make it to the classroom, although luckily for them, the teacher had not arrived yet, either. Obviously, Hakase didn't mind one way or another; like always, the first thing she did was to rush over to Chachamaru, to start the routine questioning on her latest developments and incidents, quickly taking notes, all under the blond Evangeline's indolent glare.

Chisame, like every other day, sat down next to the ever quiet Ayase Yue, both girls merely exchanging a brief 'Good morning'.

The hacker actually almost liked Yue. At the very least, she was respectful and mindful of her privacy. True, there had to be something deeply wrong with someone who kept such low grades despite reading so much (and always displaying a stunning intellect when asked about anything), not to mention her despicable tastes in juice flavors, but that still was small potatoes compared to the issues of the rest of the class.

Yue's pal Saotome Haruna sat next to a window, frantically doodling obscene sketches on a notebook, biting her lower lip.

Hakase's friend Chao Lingshen and her portly partner in crime Yotsuba Satsuki were selling hot meat buns along the desks.

The redheaded Kagurazaka Asuna fumed madly in her seat, with a large group of girls gathered around her listening avidly. Although too steamed up to explain herself clearly, she seemed to be saying something about someone replacing Takahata-sensei for that year. So Takahata was leaving the class, Chisame thought. A pity. He actually was one of the most normal teachers around. She truly hoped they wouldn't get Itoshiki-sensei instead.

Shiina Sakurako and Akashi Yuuna were distracting the Class Rep while the tomboyish Kasuga Misora and the tiny Narutaki twins set a standard foolish trap at the door. Chisame sneered. It was to be expected from the childlike twins, but Kasuga definitely should have known better by now, after her latest few stays at detention.

Her errant thoughts were interrupted by Konoe Konoka's perky and happy voice.

"Hey, hey, Chisame-chan!"

She gave the Konoe heiress a neutral look. The black haired girl could be annoying at times, but looking at those huge and cheerful dark eyes, it was nearly impossible to feel angry at her.

"What do you want?"

"I'm reading everyone's future! You want to know what's waiting for you in this new period, don't you?" Konoka giggled, then grabbed Chisame's right hand without really waiting for a confirmation. Yet her attitude was never pushy or rude, but simply too eager and fast to avoid. Hasegawa couldn't do anything but wait as Konoka kept looking at her palm, carefully, long and hard, making slight humming sounds every so few seconds. Until she finally let the hand go and merrily exclaimed. "You're in luck today! This is the day you're going to meet your fated love!"

Chisame couldn't help but violently jerk back with a full facial blush, even as she heard some other girls laughing at her reaction. "D-Don't say such stupid things!"

"It's okay! She's just joking," Kakizaki Misa waved a hand around. "That's the very same thing she just told me."

"Me too," the short haired Izumi Ako added, with a gentler, softer short laugh. "Konoka-san is truly a kidder!"

Konoka made the most adorable pouting face. "I'm not kidding! My predictions don't ever fail!" Instantly, she perked up again, looking at one of the seats at the back rows. "Ne, ne, Setchan! Don't you want to know your destiny in love, too?"

The thin and pale girl she was addressing looked aside with an indifferent expression.

"Not interested," she icily said.

Konoka's face fell down for a moment, but then she, along with most of the others, was startled by the sounds of nervous chattering right outside their door.

"It's them!" Misora grinned, with an evil spark in her eyes. Rushing back to her chair, she kept her vision fully focused on the door, like a hawk eyeing a mouse.

The door started being pushed open from the outside.

A small head peeked in carefully, looking inside with large chocolate eyes not too unlike those of a deer. It looked like, of all things, a boy. A child. Tiny bifocal glasses were on the bridge of his diminutive nose, and his dark brown hair seemed to have been combed as well as possible, only to fail at avoiding conveying its own unruliness.

He stared at them, and all of them stared back, suddenly gripped by an uneasy silence.

Then the eraser set on top of the door fell down towards his head.

It all happened in the blink of an eye, but Chisame still could notice it.

The boy had tensed up in alarm, and then, for some reason, the eraser stopped in midair for half a second. Only to reassume its fall just another split second later, and only after the kid stared up at it with a face of... guilt, actually. As if he had just done something he shouldn't have.

It wasn't until then that the eraser hit his head down, showering him with chalk dust.

But that wasn't the end of it, oh no. Misora was a craftswoman, a master of her technique. A simple eraser would never suffice. So, as the boy coughed, stumbling inside, his right foot clashed against a tightly tensed wire. Naturally, he fell down on his face, just as a bucket full of water fell onto his head, and several arrows with suction cup points were shot from the walls and all over his body.

Wile E. Coyote would have clapped.

But 2-A, even Misora herself, had gulped in horror as a single woman. All of them but Evangeline and Zazie Rainyday, always silent, always stonefaced.

The boy just laid there, pitifully, as soft sobs could be heard from inside the bucket. Behind him, right at the doorway, Minamoto Shizuna stared, wide eyed, until she focused her view narrowly into her usual main suspect.

"Kasuga-san..." the adult woman said.

Misora looked aside nervously. "I didn't do it, no one saw me doing it, you can't prove anything!"

The Class Rep already was crouched down at the boy's side, carefully removing the bucket from his head, lovingly drying his tears with her soft and skilled fingers. "Oh dear! I'm so very sorry! It's my fault! I should have checked!"

"Sorry, sorry!" Narutaki Fumika hyperventilated. "We thought you'd be our new teacher!"

"It's only a child..." Sakaki Makie once again showed her talent for the obvious.

"No way! He must be a circus midget!" Narutaki Fuuka gasped.

Well, you should know a few things on the matter, Chisame thought cynically.

"Actually, he indeed is your new teacher" Shizuna replied, helping him to stand up. "Negi-sensei, please introduce yourself."

"Y-Yes!" wiping his face as clean and dry as he could with a fine tissue the Class Rep had offered him, the child faced his dazzled audience and cleared his throat. "G-Good morning, everyone! Pleased to meet you! My name is Negi Springfield, and starting today, I'll teach you mag— I mean, English, as your homeroom teacher! Please, let's all do our best here!"

For a moment, you could have heard a needle falling at the classroom. All the girls seemed to have turned into salt statues.

That was until Haruna sprang up with a high pitched squeal.

"HE'S SO CUTE!"

That was the go sign for more than half of the class to charge forward and pounce onto him, tackling him against the teacher's desk and burying him into a cascade of hugging bodies. Even the normally reserved and stoic Ookuchi Akira had joined them, with a blush running over her cheeks.

Still firmly planted at her chair, Chisame took a look at the few others left behind. Yue shrugged her shoulders indifferently, then pulled one of her infernal juice boxes out and took a first sip from it.

Hakase just stared vacantly at the front of the room, as if her brain was in a rebooting. Her face betrayed no emotion at all, and for once, Hasegawa found her absolutely impossible to read.

Evangeline seemed to scowl a little, but then again, that was her overall attitude towards everything.

Chachamaru took readings of the scene through her now slightly glowing green eyes, and you almost could hear the little beepings and boopings going on inside of her head.

Setsuna was simply looking out a window.

Zazie had pulled a few balls out of her handbag and was now juggling them, oblivious to everything around herself. For the first time in her life, Chisame envied her.

The hacker made her way to the vaguely amused Shizuna. "Sensei" she humorlessly told her. "This is a joke, right?"

"I'm afraid not" Shizuna said. Chisame hated that tone in her voice. It was the very same one she had used when she had stuck her with Hakase little more than twelve months ago.

"How old are you?" the scarlet-haired Asakura Kazumi had swiftly reentered her class reporter mode, fishing a microphone out of her backpack and pushing it against the kid's mouth.

"Ehhh!" he blinked. "Oh, well, I'm ten!"

"Where are you from?" Murakami Natsumi asked. "You sound like a foreigner."

"I... I come from the mountains of Wales..." he blabbered nervously.

"That's near Spain, right?" Makie wanted to know.

"Where do you live now?" Kugimiya Madoka spoke next.

"I... It hasn't been decided yet..."

Right then, however, a taller, stronger girl pushed Madoka aside and grabbed the boy his shirt, pulling him face to face with herself. He was looking at a mismatched set of a blue eye and a green one now. Asuna.

"You, brat!" she barked. "What was that thing you just did with the eraser?"

"... What?" he yelped.

"Don't play the fool!" she shot back. "We all saw it, didn't we? No matter how you look at it, it's simply impossible!"

Chisame found herself nodding at it. For once, Asuna was right. She had noticed it too. Hadn't the others...? They couldn't not notice it, right? But looking at Satomi's clueless face, it was painfully clear that yes, some of them had missed the detail.

"It must have been a freak breeze," Misa piped in.

"INSIDE OF A BUILDING?" Asuna noted.

"It'd get in through a window" Naba Chizuru opined.

"NOT MOVING ANYTHING BUT AN ERASER?" Asuna claimed.

"Asuna-san, please!" the blonde Class Rep raised her voice, slamming a hand down on the desk a few times. "Let our teacher go right now!"

The redhead growled at her. "I'd be very happy to let him go for good, yes!".

The elegant, refined class president huffed at her. "As expected from a violent maniacal ape like you. You show no respect neither for authority, nor for the defenseless".

A vein popped into Asuna's forehead. "Maniacal... ape...?"

"You have not evolved beyond that," the Iinchou was unfazed. "Clearly, the young gentleman you are manhandling is a prodigy of his field. We all should feel honored to have him here. Perhaps he could achieve the miracle of teaching you anything other than the alphabet".

Asuna let the child go to face her natural nemesis. "What's with you now, being so sure about this twerp?"

"Hm... It's painfully obvious for anyone with a few working brain cells" the blonde casually brushed a lock of golden hair off her own forehead. "Mahora Academy only employs the best of the best, and for some foreign youngster to be working here, he must be nothing but the pinnacle of precocious experience".

Asuna chuckled knowingly. "Yeah, right, I'd bet you want to have some precocious experience with him."

The Class Rep narrowed her eyes, as if she had felt something biting her. "What do you mean with that?"

Asuna said only one word. "Shotacon."

That had done it.

"WHAT?" the refined girl stopped being so refined as she jumped straight for Asuna. "Take that back, you... you... graverobber! It's not my fault you can't realize your dreams of hitting on every elder man that walks your way!"

They started struggling with each other, as the girls around them cheered on wildly, and Shizuna and the child made their best to keep them apart from tearing themselves into pieces.

"AT LEAST I LIKE THEM OF LEGAL AGE!"

"YES, IT'D WORK FINE IF YOU WERE OF LEGAL AGE TOO! SHAMELESS LOLITA!"

"I'LL GET OLDER, BUT YOU'LL NEVER GET AS YOUNG AS THE BABIES YOU HARASS!"

Chisame buried her face into her hands. Even Itoshiki-sensei would have been better than that.


 

The fact Chisame had learned how to cook due to the circumstances of her life with Hakase still didn't mean she liked to do it. So, whenever they had enough money, they would go have dinner at the Chao Bao Zi. The small restaurant's owner, their class' own Chao Lingshen, was Satomi's closest research colleague, so they always got a special discount. And there was no point on denying the food was delicious.

So, that evening, they had ended up there as well. Chisame wasn't in the mood to cook at all. They sat together eating their bowls of ramen at the counter bar, while Chachamaru and Yotsuba served the tables and Chao herself counted the night's income at the register box.

"So, what do you think about the new teacher, neh?" the fair skinned Chinese girl finally asked them.

"I think it's a mistake," Chisame spoke coldly. "What can a freaking child teach us?"

"Oh, I don't know. His first class today was rather good and to the point-yo..." Chao mused quietly. "As soon as he finally could separate Asuna and the Iinchou..."

"It's all the same for me," Hakase answered with a very short shrugging of her narrow shoulders. "In any case, I've never met any teacher who knew more than me, child or adult."

From the mouth of anyone else, it'd have sounded as a hideous, megalomaniacal boast, but somehow, Hakase made it to sound simply like a matter of fact devoid of any emotion. Mainly because it was completely true.

Chao hummed to herself as she closed the register. Something was wrong with her, Chisame suspected. She seemed unusually introspective and calmed after joking with the others about Negi, and since the day's class had finished. Not like Chisame cared, of course.

Of course.

Later, as she and Satomi walked back to their dorm, she, for once, felt tempted to ask the scientist a personal question.

"Hakase?"

"Yes?"

"Didn't you notice anything strange with Lingshen today?"

"What? Huh, no. I don't think so. Why do you ask?"

"It's nothing. Forget it."

"Oh, sure thing."

She had sounded almost too happy to say that. And it was true. If there was something Hakase could be trusted on, that was on her forgetting anything not related to science.

However, Chisame's temporal peace of mind was soon shattered once more while approaching their dorm. There was someone inside, since there was light coming out of one of their windows. But how...? Chisame ran fearfully to the door, dreading the end of her golden Internet empire. If anyone had learned her secret, she would never live it down. She'd lose the perfect balance she had fought so hard to achieve!

She was mildly relieved to see it was Shizuna-sensei inside, and not any of her classmates. Then her spirits sunk back down when she saw him with the woman, both of them sitting at the couch, watching TV.

The brat.

"My, my, you two sure took a long time to arrive!" Shizuna greeted the girls. "Sorry for intruding, but we waited outside for too long, so I decided to use the master key."

"Good evening," Negi bowed respectfully.

Chisame hoped she wasn't as pale with shock as she felt. If only she could look as unaffected as Hakase was... "Wh-Why did you two 'need' to get in here?"

"Well, you will see, Dean Konoe gave a special instruction for Negi-sensei to move here until we can find a permanent place for him," Shizuna informed.

"I'm sorry to be a bother," the boy apologized.

"What?" Chisame snapped. "He's supposed to be a teacher, isn't he? Why can't he stay with any other teacher?"

"Most of us either live too far, or have children of their own, or simply have far too small living quarters," the beautiful blonde explained patiently. "He can't live alone, and your other classmates are too... enthusiastic or too... complex for a child to be trusted to them."

Chisame made a face. How desperate they had to be for the two of them to be their best hope? In any instance, it was logical to guess the old man wouldn't dump that load on his beloved granddaughter. Damn favoritisms.

Satomi didn't look too shaken by the news, but still seemed wary in her own way. "I don't think I could carry my experiments with full freedom if I have him running around," she informed dutifully.

"You shouldn't be carrying experiments here in the first place," the adult reminded her.

Hakase sighed. "It always has to be that loophole, doesn't it?"

Negi lowered his gaze to the big travel bag lying at his feet, looking humble and saddened.

"In any case, it's a direct command from the Headmaster himself," Shizuna insisted. "There's no use on trying to refuse it."

"But, if there's no place for me—" Negi started.

"There it is," Minamoto stated conclusively.

Chisame grumbled. At the very least, all her Chiu wardrobe and related items were safely stocked into her special closet, away from indiscreet eyes for the moment. "How long will that take?" she wanted to know.

"As long as a better arrangement can be found," the woman said.

In Mahora Academy bureaucratic terms, that meant, 'It's intended to be permanent, so you'd better shut up and take it', as Chisame knew from experience. It was the same reply she got back when she first attempted to file a petition to be transferred to a solo room all those months ago.

Both girls looked at each other's eyes, and found no clear answer, but still, Chisame decided not to delay the unavoidable anymore. "Okay," she gave a sigh. "He can stay. For now."

The child beamed up a huge, cheerful smile, as bright as the Sun, hated bane of any reclusive hacker. "Thank you very much!" he chirped joyfully.

Good Lord, he was so sickeningly sweet. Was he for real? Chisame already had her strong doubts.

But mostly, she was terrified about what new roommate would they give her the NEXT year.


 

It was, without a shadow of doubt, Hasegawa Chisame's fondest dream.

She sat at the head of Class 2-A, on a golden, richly decorated throne, wearing a gorgeous pink dress, like a fairy tale princess. Hakase and the brat were on their hands and knees before her, both of them serving as stools for each one of her feet. The rest of the class paid tribute knelt down across the classroom.

"I'm sorry for being such a stuck-up Shotacon!" Ayaka said.

"I'm sorry for being so stupid!" Makie said.

"I'm sorry for being so arrogant despite being nothing but a midget with awful grades!" Evangeline sobbed pitifully.

"I'm sorry for being so nosy!" Kazumi said.

"I'm sorry for being a robot!" Chachamaru said.

"I'm sorry for being so freakishly tall and old-looking!" the deeply tanned Tatsumiya Mana added.

"WE'RE ALL SORRY FOR BEING SO STRANGE!" they all chorused, hailing her. "WE'LL BECOME A NORMAL CLASS FOR YOU, CHIU-SAMA!"

The Queen of The Internet laughed and laughed. Relaxing back on her throne, she felt a soft warm breeze caressing her face lovingly.

Chisame stirred on her bed as Negi's soft breath blew into her face at short intervals, the boy making the shortest, cutest tiny snores you could ever imagine. His lips seemed to look for something, pouting up for a kiss.

"Sis..." he whispered longingly.

Chisame's eyes opened themselves very slowly. Which one of the peasant freaks had just dared to name her as her sister? She would teach her, she would...

She would quickly panic at seeing a pouting small mouth hovering scarce inches away from her own! Aiming for a full-on kiss on the lips!

Her scream of terror shook the whole room down to its foundations.

At the dorm room next door, Miyazaki Nodoka woke up with a start. Then she was afraid since everything was pitch black despite her eyes being open now. Then she remembered to brush the thick long bangs of dark hair from her face, and she sighed with relief as she found herself staring at the ceiling.

"I wonder what was that?" Yue's quiet voice came from the lower bunk.

"It... It sounded like Hasegawa-san..." Nodoka's beautiful, shy voice cracked nervously. "Maybe we should—"

She could hear Yue rolling on her side below her, huffing sleepily. "For Chisame? No thanks."

Nodoka sighed.

Back at the next room, Satomi yawned as she finally could wake up enough to see Chisame, red faced, standing next to the bed, with an ashamed Negi withstanding the weight of her verbal onslaught.

"What the hell were you trying to do?" she screamed.

"I... I'm sorry..." he whimpered. "I'm used to sleep with my sister, and I sleepwalk sometimes..."

"What kind of sleepwalker goes up a bunk when he can stay below?" she demanded to know. "Why didn't you sneak into Hakase's bed?"

Numbly, Hakase's rational brain wondered if that statement should offend her in some form. Her reptilian brain, however, just told it to shut up and go back to sleep. The rational brain stomped its primitive counterpart down, all the while rationalizing Hasegawa's question did have some logical sense and it shouldn't be taken as any sort of offense. Hakase herself was just too tired to pay attention to either brain for once.

"You... You smelled more like my sister..." he was defending himself.

"Mmm?" Satomi casually sniffed the air. "Sensei, since you bring on the topic of smell, and hoping you don't perceive my words on this matter as any kind of personal insult regarding your personal presentation... Might I inquire if you are, as I suspect, the source of this sudden peculiar nefarious fragrance?"

Chisame scowled, then sniffed at him, closely, making him to sweat bullets. "She's right! You stink like a corpse! Since when haven't you showered?"

"Th-That's... that's quite a rude question to ask from anyone, Hasegawa-san!" the boy protested. "As your teacher, I must object on such manners!"

"Spoken by the perverted brat who sneaks into girls' beds!" Chisame retorted. "Answer my question, will you?"

He shrank down, unable to speak.

Hakase sighed, then sat upright on her bed's edge and motioned for him to get closer. "Come here. You can confess the truth to me. I will not, under any circumstances, lose my emotional control" she promised.

He trusted her enough to obey her, whispering something into her right ear.

"Ah. I see," she nodded calmly. "That's actually quite unhygienic. You could acquire several skin diseases, and even parasitic infections, that way. No, I don't quite believe the use of colognes will solve the problem. No, not even Old Spice. Chisame," she called over. "He claims suffering from an acute fear of baths. Do you think it could be labeled as hydrophobia?"

A vein bulged up on Chisame's forehead. "I understand..."

Silently, without exploding or lashing out again, she gently pushed Negi out of the bedroom, then closed the door behind him. The boy breathed easier, believing the worst had passed by. The poor fool.

One moment later, Chisame opened the door again, now clad in nothing but a navy blue school swimsuit. And carrying a large basket full with bath products and utensils in a hand.

"Oh, no!" he gasped aloud.

"Oh, yes!" she grabbed him and pulled him back inside. "Okay, take those pants off! The shirt, too! Didn't you want to sleep with your Big Sis, perverted brat? And kiss her? Well, consider yourself lucky! Your Big Sis is going to give you a bath!"

"Oh, no, no...!" he cried. "Mercy...!"

Satomi gave them a still sleepy look. "Our shower is far too small for someone who struggles around that much. Could I suggest taking him to the public bath instead?"

"And giving him that much open space to run away? I don't think so!" Chisame was applying her best attempt at a wrestling supplex on him while stripping him of his underwear. "And besides, only an idiot would take him to a place where there are bound to be several naked girls!"

"I... I... I'm your teacher! You can't do this to me!"

Ignoring his desperate pleas, the brown haired teen tossed him into the shower cubicle, followed him in, and closed the door from the inside.

"HAKASE-SAAAAANNN! PLEASE HELP MEEEE!" he bawled, right before the sounds of running water suffocated his voice.

Satomi looked around for her glasses, only to realize she had slept with them on. She yawned, got up, and went to use the toilet.

"NOOOOO! THE SHAMPOO GETS ON MY EYES...!" he screamed. "IT BURNSSSS USSSS! IT BURNSSSS USSSSS!"

"IT WOULDN'T GET INTO YOUR EYES IF YOU STOPPED MOVING SO MUCH!" Chisame's voice howled.

Humming the Futurama theme, Satomi washed her hands off and waddled her not so graceful way to the kitchen.

"DON'T TOUCH ME DOWN THERE!" he was begging now. "NO! NO! NOOOO!"

"I DON'T LIKE IT ANY MORE THAN YOU DO!" Hasegawa assured him.

At the next apartment, Nodoka sweated profusely as she served Yue her breakfast. Her eyes were larger than ever behind her concealing bangs of hair.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say they have trusted them with Negi-sensei's care" Ayase commented, pouring herself a big glass of raspberry juice.

Nodoka just nodded uneasily.

Hakase finished eating her suspicious looking just made sandwiches, making sure to leave a few for her roommates before heading for the dresser. She was sure they'd like the chocolate and mustard combination as much as she did. For now, however, she had more important things to think about than Sensei's insistent bangings on the door, begging for a rescue.

Things like... SCIENCE! The Cyberdine Labs exposition would come today at the Robotics Club, and she wouldn't miss it for anything! So enthusiast she was about it she forgot where she had put her tie last night as she quickly fixed her shirt, but even then, those were minor details. Just like her socks. Eh, she always lost one of each pair, but she was reasonably sure no one would notice if she wore mismatched ones today.

"I'll go on ahead!" Hakase announced as she hopped out of the dresser still tying her shoes, failing to notice her skirt was backwards. "Hurry up in there or you'll get tardy!"

"DON'T GRAB ME THERE!" Chisame's voice had just shrieked.

"S-S-SORRY! THE SHAMPOO HAS LEFT ME BLIND!"

With a contented smile for the possibilities of the newborn day, Hakase ran out towards the school.


 

Ayaka had chewed Satomi down when she put foot on the classroom, scolding her for her unforgivable transgressions to the dress code. The genius had nodded and muttered the token absent excuses while adjusting Chachamaru's left elbow, which needed maintenance that morning for some reason Evangeline had refused to explain.

Then Iinchou had also chewed Chisame out when she finally arrived with Negi in tow, blaming her for not taking care of Hakase's appearance. Hasegawa's protests about herself not being the babysitter for anyone of her own age fell into deaf ears until the teacher had asked for silence for the class to start. Now that had silenced the classy blonde in the spot. For which, truth be told, Chisame had felt mildly grateful.

The day's lesson had gone rather well compared to that of the day before, at least until poor Asuna had been called to read some lines of a short English text. After struggling to only blurt out a savage butchering of the original paragraph, Iinchou had mocked her lack of talents in a not-subtle-enough way to quickly offend the redhead, and then the fight was on again, despite Negi's loudest protests for them to stop.

Chisame shook her head at the random lunacy surrounding her. Would every day be like that from there on? Maybe she should ask for a transfer... that Tomobiki place Kazumi had rumored about wasn't sounding that bad now...

Mercifully, the ending bell had sounded then, saving Sensei from being knocked out between both students. Negi had quickly blurted a few homework items for the next session, struggling to be heard over the happy chattering of the students leaving and the still heated retorts between Asuna and her hated rival; only his roommates, Chao, and the four girls he had listed on his class roster as the Library Exploration Club seemed to be taking notes at that point.

Out of those four, the one named Konoka, the Dean's granddaughter herself, had finally managed to placate Asuna enough to carry her out and away. That had left Ayaka behind, snapping back to reality and noticing she had just given quite another bad show in front of her admired Sensei. She melted into apologizes to him, and Chisame almost would have allowed it to go and go just for the novelty of seeing Iinchou groveling to anyone, which somehow gave her a strange sense of satisfaction. But alas, she had to leave; Chiu's time was almost there, and tempting as it was to leave the brat behind, Hakase was already leaving for her stupid Club, and babysitting duty fell heavily upon her.

"Come on, Sensei. I'm leaving."

"Y-Yes! It's all okay, Iinchou-san. See you tomorrow!" he happily waved to the blonde as he ran after the pock-marked girl. Ayaka simply stood there, blinking in sudden disbelief. What had she just saw? Why did that geeky simpleton seem to have such a sweet and gentle prince under her thumb like that?

As if guessing her unspoken question, Yue spoke in a casual monotone. "I think Negi-sensei is staying with them."

"What?" the heiress turned her blue, fearful eyes to her. "That can't be true!"

"We heard his voice coming out of their room this morning," Yue explained, as evenly as a human being can act. Behind her, Nodoka blushed again and nodded.

Ayaka made a scowl of disgust. "That is insane! What kind of future can wait for Negi-sensei, left with those two antisocial outcasts? They will stun his emotional growth! It'll be a tragedy if such a brilliant mind is damaged in his formative stages!"

From further behind Nodoka and Yue, a low, throaty and sinister chuckle made both of them to waver in sudden fear. A tall, looming figure stood up, nearly towering over them, fixing the evil glare of her shiny eyes behind even shinier glasses on Ayaka. A sly perverse grin curved itself upon the busty bespectacled girl's lips.

"Hoo hoo hoo!" she cackled flamboyantly. "We are very jealous, aren't we, Iinchou?"

Ayaka huffed with just the slightest blush. "Don't mistake my intentions with your twisted appetites, Saotome-san! My interest on Negi-sensei's wellbeing is purely selfless!"

"Really?" Saotome Haruna pushed her glasses up her nose. "Well, that's a relief to know. Less competition, I guess..."

"Haruna," Yue warned in a low voice.

"Because let's face it, Chisame-chan and the Professor aren't a competition for all this" Haruna proudly patted herself on the broad hips, giggling as she undulated them, making poor Nodoka to blush once more.

"Haruna!" Yue's voice went up a bit. "That's gross even for you!"

After a brief moment of hesitation, Nodoka nodded her agreement.

"Bwa-ha-ha-ha!" Haruna laughed. "You girls are just too easy to tease!"

Ayaka growled a very unladylike, although thankfully incoherent, reply, grabbed her backpack and stomped her way out.

"You are too much" Yue told her tall friend.

Haruna shrugged. "Iinchou needs to grow up. She may act mature, but at the end she's just as bad as Asuna, in her own way."

"And you are worse than them both," Yue replied.

"If you say so," Haruna smiled placidly, lowering her face to look straight at hers. "Now, what's that I hear about Sensei living next to you? What did you hear? Something juicy?"

Yue's poker face remained. "Nothing important."

"Really?" Haruna noted. "Because Nodoka's face just went even redder."

For a second, Yue inwardly cursed her best friend's inability to keep her emotions down. Honestly, it was as if you could read her thoughts like a book.


 

The keys turned around inside of the doorlock, and the door was pushed open, Chisame walking in quietly with Negi following closely behind.

"I'll be spending some time alone at my room," she announced, heading straight for the bedroom without looking back. "In the meanwhile, you can watch TV, or do whatever you want as long as you don't peek or walk in on me for the next two hours. Otherwise, you'll regret it," she said, very seriously.

"Oh?" he blinked while taking his coat off, hanging it up next to that strange and long wooden staff he carried around for some reason Chisame preferred not to think about. Then he stiffened up, struck by concern. "Hasegawa-san! Don't tell me you... you... you hide in there to smoke!"

She stopped abruptly, then gave him a killer back glare. "Do you think I'm some kind of delinquent?"

"... To drink, then? That'd be even worse," he warned.

"I'M NOT AN ALCOHOLIC, EITHER!"

"Then why is that?" he asked, genuinely confused.

"Th-That's a private thing all of us girls need! Private time! Yes, that's it!" she rushed the words out.

Negi stared at her with wide, surprised eyes. His sister often needed 'private time', too, but never lasting as much as two hours. Perhaps Japanese girls were different in that regard; he'd have to ask Takamichi as politely as he could about it, to avoid further blunders in the future.

"Got it, then? Two hours!" the girl repeated. "See you then!" Without waiting for his confirmation, she closed the door behind herself.

Negi cringed, now alone at the living room, wishing at least Hakase could be in there with him. But she had a club meeting, didn't she? She wouldn't be back before Hasegawa-san finished.

The boy pulled his class roster booklet out. He took a look at Chisame's profile. Under her unsmiling, almost frowning face, it was written, 'Student Number 25-Hasegawa Chisame. No Club Activities. Good with Computers.'

Computers, huh? Negi didn't know anything about computers, other than the basics. But he still could say the two of those he had seen at the girls' bedroom were very expensive and most likely very powerful as well.

It sounded like Hasegawa-san was pulling something out of her closet in there. He heard the sounds of large objects being dragged around, as well as the rustling of clothes. Odd, what did that have to do with using a computer? Curious like any boy of his age, he approached the door with as much stealth as he could and put an ear on it; she never had said anything about not listening.

Then, just as soon, he pulled his head back, doubting. Wasn't that just as bad? A gentleman shouldn't do that; what would his sister think? And even so, didn't a teacher need to know everything about his students, to help them with their problems? What if Hasegawa-san was doing something bad in there? What if...

He shook his head. No, he shouldn't distrust her! She was his student, his roommate, and even his new tutor figure, in a way! She deserved his trust!

Walking away from the door, he moaned, sitting before the TV, turning it on only to get quickly bored. He didn't have much of an use for TV either. He barely ever watched it at all at the village. He always would prefer to practice, or to play around outside, with Anya...

Anya...

He looked out through the window, and he almost could see Anya running across the wide Mahora campus, laughing happily to herself. He missed her already, her confident laughter, and her energetic attitude. Anya, always so full of life.

He took another quick glare towards the door to the bedroom. Anya and Hasegawa-san were similar in temper and their no-nonsense mindsets, but where Anya was quick to voice her mind, Hasegawa-san seemed so distant, always hiding something. Why didn't she belong to any clubs? Judging from what he had seen of her at school, she didn't have any friends but maybe Hakase-san. He shuddered at the idea of such a lonely life.

Yet, what could he do about it? He had to do something, but what?

He remembered Takamichi. He had been her homeroom teacher last year, so he would know her well enough. Maybe his advice would be just the thing he needed!

Brightening up, the boy took his coat and staff back and walked outside, closing the dorm's room before lively stepping towards... huh... well, he'd go back to Shizuna-sensei's office first. She'd point him to Takamichi's office, no doubt.

Almost all students were at their clubs at that hour. The main building was eerily quiet and silent as he approached it. No one in sight, but that pale girl hiding behind a column, looking at him with docile, yet bright reddish eyes. How strange, was she white haired?

He felt an icy shiver running up his spine. That girl...

He looked again into the girl's direction, only to find she was gone all of a sudden.

With a hunch, a premonition of something being wrong, he searched the area, until he caught another glimpse of the girl in the distance. Her body looked like a mirage; half transparent, even as she ran away from him, leading him towards a nearby small forest area.

"Wait!" without thinking it much, he ran after her, giving chase. "Who are you?"

Then he grinded his feet into a sudden halt. He looked up, gasping loudly. The girl was nowhere in sight, but instead, he had just found a tall, thin and pale man in a traditional hakama and kimono ensemble hanging by the neck from the branch of a large cherry tree. His wild black hair fell all over his face, barely allowing seeing he wore glasses. He wore a wooden sandal in a foot; the other sandal lay under his inanimate body.

The soft breeze blew pink petals all around them.

A young teacher full of hope for the future...

A young teacher full of despair over the past...

A meeting that never should have happened...


 

Negi remained frozen on his tracks for a moment, fully unsure of what to do upon finding a hanging body on Academy grounds. After that initial shock, he pulled a small rulebook out and began flipping through its pages. Running away to find Takamichi seemed a good option to take, but he wanted to be fully sure first.

Then the corpse opened his haunted eyes and asked him in a conversational, yet deeply disturbing (by the mere fact of the words coming from a hanged man's mouth) tone, "So. I assume you are Negi Springfield?"

"GAH!" Acting by instinct, the boy jumped back, aimed a hand up at the freakish stranger, and shouted, "Rastel Maskir Magister! Unus Fulgor Concidens Noctem, in Mea Manu Ens Inimicum Edat! Fulguratio Albicans!"

"No, wait! I'm not a—" the tall thin man asked seconds before being blasted up by several bolts of lightning that shook him like a ragdoll, snapping his rope and making him to fall facefirst into the dirt like a dead weight.

Negi breathed in and out, nearly panting, carefully looking down at the fallen, motionless and slightly smoking body. Until it seemed to regain life, jumping to its feet and yelling angrily while rubbing its throat with a bony hand.

"WHAT IF I HAD DIED?"

"GYAAHHH!" Negi backed away. "A zombie!"

"Zombie?" the man dusted himself off. "That's a new one. Out of all the insults I have ever received, I had never been identified as a Haitian undead before. Rest assured, however, I have not died yet, much to my regret. May I inquire why are you at my secret place of courtship with death?"

"Wh-Who are you?" the child blabbered instead of answering at all.

"Hmph" the man shook his head while putting his discarded sandal back on. "Cowardly. Lacking self-control. And on top of it all, rude enough to not answer to an adult's query. No, you possibly couldn't be the boy Takamichi told me about."

Negi stopped being freaked out so much for a moment. "Do you know Takahata Takamichi?"

"I should, since we are colleagues," the man with the hakama nodded sparsely. "I am Itoshiki Nozomu, homeroom teacher of Mahora Academy's Class 2-F, sadly for me! I am also the most unfortunate man on Earth! Even more so now that you have foiled my latest attempt when I almost was seeing the Pearly Gates!"

"Are you... another teacher at Mahora?" Negi blinked, disbelieving. Then he quickly bowed to him. "Pleased to meet you, Itoshiki-sensei! I'm Negi Springfield, the new homeroom teacher for Class 2-A! Sorry about attacking you, but you scared me! I thought you were going to die!"

"I was going to die! That's exactly the point!" Itoshiki sighed with a long suffering expression, and then passed a hand through his own hair. "I was sure I'd get it right this time!"

Negi stared blankly at him, until another ill feeling ran through him. He had just noticed something almost as strange as Itoshiki-sensei's behavior. It was a huge and black magical aura all around him, surrounding his whole body in a way only a mage could feel and understand. It was a terrifying, overwhelming grim power swirling around the man almost hungrily, poking at his body and mind without ever stopping.

"You are... a dark mage!" the young boy gasped aloud.

"Not so loud!" Itoshiki opened his eyes as much as he could, covering Negi's mouth with a hand. "What if someone would happen to hear you? The last thing my miserable life needs is my transformation into an ermine!"

Negi nodded, and he lowered his voice as the man let his mouth go. "But... But... what is a dark mage doing teaching at Mahora? Konoemon-sensei would never—"

Itoshiki looked at him in a distraught way. "Please don't say it! You're going to say I'm a horrible person, a devil worshipper and an ill example to my pupils just because I'm a dark magic user, aren't you? That's so typical of today's youth! Judging the book by its cover! Taking things for granted just because of what they just watched on TV, or in the latest Harry Potter movie! But if you were as smart as Takamichi said, you would know Dark Is Not Evil! At least not always! Although I admit I'm a completely failure at life, but because of reasons completely unrelated to that!"

He finished his rant by looking at one side, then at the other, and then yelling as loud as he could, raising his hands in a melodramatic manner.

"I'M IN DESPAIR! PEOPLE WHO JUDGE OTHERS BASED ON PRIOR ILL-CONCEIVED CONCEPTS HAVE LEFT ME IN DESPAIR!"

"... I'm sorry if I have misjudged you," Negi said meekly.

"No. It's okay," the man waved a hand, more calmed all of a sudden, sinking his head down. "I'm a horrible person anyway. That's why I wanted to finish my life here."

"B-But why?" Negi exclaimed. "You never should forfeit your life, no matter what! That's what my sister always told me! As long as there's life, there's hope!"

His older colleague gave him a tired look. "You are too young to understand. Once you grow older and the realities of life sink in, you will see how right I am."

He started to walk towards the Academy, gesturing for Negi to follow him. "I was born from one of Japan's richest and most prestigious families. Secretly, my family is also one of experts at magic. My brother Mikoto specializes in healing magic, for instance. Even so, he and our two older brothers were seen as unfit for the title of heirs to the Itoshiki prestige by the time I was born. My birth was a problematic one. I was marked by misfortune even back then! I was born, technically, dead. But my father would not accept that. No, he would have his proper heir no matter what!"

"So, what did he do?" Negi asked sheepishly.

"With no time to ponder other courses of action, he broke one of magic's oldest taboos! He used a forbidden spell on me... the Curse of the Unending Despair! It blew life back into me, but at a terrible cost. I would live, forever escaping the icy touch of death until old age claimed me... but never allowing me to be happy! That was the curse's price! I cannot die no matter what, but it will not allow me to ever reach happiness!"

The child made a terrified sound. "That's horrible! What kind of father would do that to a son?"

"The despairing kind, of course," Itoshiki stated. "Father just couldn't watch me to die. To this day, I still don't know how much of that was pure love and how much was selfish desire to continue his lineage, but I also proved being unfitting his expectations anyway. That's why my younger sister is the current heiress to the family's glory."

"Isn't there any way to break that curse?" Negi asked.

Itoshiki seemed about to say something, but finally reconsidered it and shook his head. "Not any feasible one."

"How awful... Wait a moment. If you know you couldn't die no matter what, why were you hanging yourself?" the younger one asked.

Itoshiki-sensei almost laughed, somewhat embarrassed. "Well... I suppose even I can be an optimist to some degree. Hope is truly the last thing to perish..."

Negi was stunned out of his mind. "You put all of your hopes on killing yourself?"

"Yes," he replied simply.

"But that's just... wrong".

"For you, maybe." He quickly changed the subject. "Didn't Takamichi ever tell you about me?"

"... I can't say he ever did, no," Negi had to admit it.

Itoshiki didn't seem offended. "I don't blame him. I would do the same thing if our roles were reversed. But he has told me a lot about you. He has you in quite the high esteem."

Negi fidgeted around. "Heh heh, really...? He shouldn't have. I'm nothing but a novice..."

For a moment, Itoshiki's gaze softened up as he looked down at the small child. Didn't he even suspect his true legacy? No, he possibly couldn't. Well, he wouldn't be the one to tell him, then. He already had enough problems with his insane class as it was.

They stopped before the Academy's main building. The adult put a hand on one of the boy's shoulders, and after realizing there still was not anyone in listening range, he told him, "Negi-sensei. Listen. There are some things you must know about this Campus. First, not all our colleagues are versed into the secrets of magic."

"I know. Takamichi and the Headmaster warned me about it."

"Good. As you know, Takamichi and Shizuna-sensei are no mages, but they know all there is to know about magic. So do Sugiura-sensei, Nekonome-sensei, Ririko-sensei, Akashi-sensei and Arai-sensei, the psychological counselor. Arai-sensei, however, is quite a terrifying woman if you ever invoke her anger. So do not ever cross her. On the other hand, Nitta-sensei, Kuroi-sensei, Jinroku-sensei, Kurosawa-sensei and Yukari-sensei know nothing on the matter, and they should be kept in the dark at any and all costs."

"Roger!" the boy nodded, doing his best to memorize the names.

"Another thing to know if you are teaching 2-A is... beware Evangeline Mc Dowell," he warned in a fearful whisper.

Negi blinked.

"Sooner or later, she will go after you," Itoshiki kept his voice as low as he could. "Never tell her I told you this; I shouldn't even be doing it. But she will do it. And she is the most fearsome person to inhabit these grounds. Watch your back, Negi Springfield. Although I doubt it would do you any good."

He turned around and began to walk away, quickly.

"Wait!" Negi called out. "Why would she do that? And why should I fear her?"

Itoshiki Nozomu said nothing else, until he disappeared into the distance. No doubt gone looking for more rope.

Negi stood alone, feeling even more confused than he had been before.


 

"THIS ISN'T RIGHT!" she shouted, slamming both hands on her personal desk, right before both computers. "NORMAL SCHOOLS AREN'T LIKE THIS!"

Of course, it was something most often left unsaid at all. But the last two days had been so frustrating she had to let it out now she was alone at last. Chisame now huffed and puffed at her heart's content, uncorking the bottle of her pented up rage.

She paced around the bedroom at a fast pace, ranting to herself, putting her glasses aside. "All I've ever asked for is a quiet place to belong to! A stable place with sane people, not an asylum! When half your class looks like they should be at elementary school, and the other half acts like it instead, then you know the teachers should do something to solve it, not to worsen it!"

At that point, she really didn't care if he arrived early and listened or not. The teenager was too angry to think about the likely implications of him ratting her out to the Dean, assuming he had the guts for it.

She needed to tell someone, anyone, about it all. Luckily, she always had such a public at hand.

"I'll tell everyone about him," her private closet's doors flew open as she frantically rummaged inside, pulling the makeup kit out, then starting to expertly apply the lipstick on her mouth, barely needing to look at the mirror to do it. She hardly could see anything but the prospects of dragging his name through the mud anyway. "Does he think everyone loves him? We'll see about that," she promised while finishing the lips and beginning to pass the eyeliner with precise strokes.

It wasn't fair such a stupid runt could just endear himself to everyone just by walking into a room while she had to work so hard for it. Not like she cared about the classroom's admiration or love (Far from it! No matter what those random dreams said!), but she simply knew it was unfair, and that was all. What was so cute about him? Nothing but a little stinky nerd, that was what he was. If the bimbos had bothered to take a good sniff at him yesterday, and if she hadn't made them the favor of cleaning him up for them in the morning, perhaps they would be singing a different tune.

"I'll show that squirt what's true love all about" she mumbled while buttoning her fanciest summer dress up, then carefully putting a matching hat on the top of her head. She smiled at her mirror image, thinking there was nothing prettier than it. The small ugly geeky caterpillar was gone. In her place, the gorgeous butterfly known as Chiu had spread her wings again.

"Another day of Chiu being lovely," she told herself, growing satisfied.

Gleefully excited, she sat down before the larger computer, turning it on. There was no better sound than that of the Windows theme.

And then her webpage, the paradisiacal gate to her personal Heaven, welcomed her back. The Queen quickly strolled through its entrance halls to greet her loyal subjects at the Message Board. As usual, the warm welcomes and words of admiration, and of hopes for the upcoming update, had made her to feel all warm and loved inside. Now those guys, they understood. She didn't even know their true faces (doubting even those who sent or published their photos. Most of them looked too handsome to be real), but she wasn't going to question them over that, and she still felt she knew them better than everyone physically around herself.

She kindly returned the loving words, then stopped upon realizing she had not thought how to actually voice her complains. Saying her teacher had moved in with her would raise an unwanted ruckus; some of the more militant fans would rage and claim betrayal. At the same time, admitting he was a kid would make her to look ridiculous.

I'm saddened over our new teacher for this term, she had started.He's a very annoying person! Today, he was looking at Chiu in a very perverted way!

Shampoo in his eyes, right.

That's horrible! What's the problem with him! the first outraged commentary had come mere moments afterwards.

I know his kind. I've had several teachers who are like that

I'd like to beat that creep up

Ooohhh, she knew there was a reason why she liked user Passerby B despite how many flamewars he caused.

The fans had continued raging for several minutes after that, until user Iceworld, always so politically correct, had written,

But I totally get why he did it. It's because you're so pretty!

Absolutely! No one can resist Chiu-sama's charms. No one!

Exactly. That's why she is the most prettiest of all internet idols

Chiu bit her lower lip, her cheeks actually glowing bright red. "Oh, come on...!" she giggled, delighted. "You don't mean it...!"

Oh yes they did. That was the most wonderful part!

Again, her fingers gracefully danced over the keyboard, throwing the reward to the hungry, devoted masses.

Thank you so very much! As a showing of Chiu's gratitude, Chiu will now add three new galleries for you sweeties!

She set the camera up before changing into her new nurse outfit, looking at the mirror for a moment, pleased with the vision of such an angel of medical mercy. The rite of self photography started again, flash after flash going on inside the room, each one taking a different angle, a different perfect smile. The key was always smiling. And Photoshop.

The French maid outfit had come next; it had costed her a fortune, actually, but it had been worth every cent. The fans had asked for it for too long; it would drive them crazy. Still, now she had an idea why only people like Iinchou could allow themselves to buy that for their slaves. Dad had popped a vein over the phone at seeing the month's expenses; she had just lied something about an accident and paying for a broken Chinese jar.

And finally, for the coup de grace, the Playboy bunny outfit. Complete with bust enhancing filling; post-photo retouches would do the rest. Damn, but she was sexy, she thought while admiring the pictures. But sadly, not nearly sexy enough...

Not as much as Iinchou or Chizuru, or even Asakura or Haruna...

For a moment, her spirits sunk down at the sight of the reality iceberg before refloating thanks to the wonders of modern science.

Once the photos were filed, making a few improvements over them was a child's play. She was so good at it even veterans of everything from nude filters to conspiracy alterations were fooled like babies. The zits and pimples vanished from her face just as quickly as they appeared in real life. The breasts and the hips grew up, but not enough to look out of place on her frame. Even the teeth were made even whiter. The butterfly had grown beyond the earthly limits to become an ethereal fairy.

Chisame was happy.

She also was blissfully unaware of how long she had spent doing that by now.


 

Negi was tired. As he walked back to the dorm, after a long while of fruitlessly looking for Shizuna, Takamichi and the ghostly girl, he had decided to return home (it still was very strange calling it like that) upon noticing it was getting darker and colder outside. The sky was growing busier with storm clouds.

He walked in to see Hakase back from her Club, hunchbacked over the dinner table drawing something on a large spread sheet, barely noticing his presence. The whole table was full with tools, drawing utensils and several pieces of machinery.

"Good evening, Hakase-san," he said. "How was your meeting today?"

"Hm. Very fruitful. Lots of new interesting theories," she replied, absently, never taking her eyes apart from her work.

"I see... That's good to hear. Umm, not to sound rude, but, about dinner..." he couldn't help but rubbing his growling stomach with a hand.

"Ask Chisame. Busy here. Not hungry yet," the scientist droned like an answering machine, automatically gesturing with a shoulder towards the bedroom.

"Okay..." he nodded, walking towards the door and knocking on it. There was no reply.

"Maybe she fell asleep again," Satomi noted. "Often does that after a very long session."

The boy blinked. "A session of what?" he asked, looking back at his student without noticing he had applied more pressure and more of his weight to the door's frame than he had intended. The door opened itself towards the inside, and, taken by surprise, he tumbled into the room.

Chiu smirked seeing her ratings going up. Her closest competitor, Kotokon's homepage, couldn't even compare! Now let's see if the brat could ever compare to that. How could having around twenty airheads (giving the benefit of doubt to some classmates) pining after your underage body ever compare to THIS? Hah! Her underage body knew of no contest, no rivals!

Now, she almost wished he could see it himself.

She tensed, hearing something stumbling into her room.

"HAKASE!" she turned her head around. "What have you broken— this—"

Her eyes went round and large as plates as she found herself staring into some just as huge, perplexed dark brown eyes.

She was wearing a Playboy bunny suit, updating a page with suggestive photos of herself, in front of her ten years old teacher. Her mouth became quickly as dry as the Sahara.

How she hated reality's cruel pranks.


 

"Wh-Wh-What are you doing here?" Chisame demanded, backpedalling on her chair until her back touched Satomi's lower bed bunk, quickly grabbing a bedsheet to cover herself. Her cheeks were flushed as red as apples, almost as red as his.

"I-I-I'm sorry!" he looked away, searching for something else to put his eyes on. "I had been knocking at the door, but it was half open, and-"

"Ah, yes, that'd be me, now I remember," Hakase's voice calmly came from the living room. "When I arrived, I peeked in to see if you were here. I saw you updating, so I decided not to disrupt you."

Once more, Chisame felt a burning need to strangle a certain pencil necked idiot savant.

But there was something far more pressing at mind now. The child's gaze had fully met her precious webpage. Even he would make the connection with that much proof before him. In any moment, he would say-

"Uwaaaa! That's you, Hasegawa-san?" he marveled, standing up and walking to the screen, looking at it with wide eyes and a wider smile. "You look amazing here! The designs all around you are great, too!"

"Th-Thanks," she managed to blurt out instinctively. Then she grimaced. Wait a moment, had that innocuous silly smile just caught her off guard, too? Surely it had just been the tension of the moment. Granted, it was a cute smile, but...

"All those clothes are very pretty," he went on, looking up and down at the featured pics, although thankfully he didn't even seem to be willing to touch the keyboard. The last thing she wanted was the hick figuring out how to access her swimsuit galleries. "Are they all yours?"

She bit her lower bit, feeling a sudden sting on a sensitive point. Chisame was not rich as Iinchou, or even higher middle class like Kakizaki, nor had a thriving business like Chao. She spent almost half of her savings in cosplay clothes, but even so, she often had to cut corners. Sewing add-ons on some costumes often made them to look completely different, for example. Other times she rented them, always wary of being spotted by the shopping-happy cheerleader trio. Finally, some other times, Photoshopping the clothes themselves was a last resource, although those were trickier to get right, and thus a decidedly final option.

In any case, she disliked being reminded of it. She hated being reminded of her life as a pedestrian peasant feigning being a graceful Queen.

"Get out of the room," she said. "Please."

He looked dumbly at her. "Huh? Oh, I'm sorry. Was this the private thing you didn't want me to see? If so, I apolo-"

"STOP APOLOGIZING OVER EVERYTHING AND JUST GET OUT!" she yelled. "FORGET YOU EVER SAW THIS! OKAY?"

Anew, he shrunk down before her dominating presence. "B-But why? I don't think this is a bad or shameful thing... It's always good to have a hobby!"

That was the problem! It was more than just a hobby; it was pathetic and immature and as retarded as anything Makie and Misora and the twins ever did, but she didn't want to be reminded of that, even indirectly!

Chisame breathed in deeply, counting in her mind to ten to keep her control, clenching her eyes shut before looking down at his face again. He was smiling again, the same cute smile. She wanted him to stop smiling, to stop making her feel bad and stupid, to just leave her alone to her own devices.

"You shouldn't feel ashamed of being pretty" he said then.

The girl recoiled back even more, sitting on the bed's edge. He was looking at her own face now, right? Not at the pictures. At her actual face, with the zits still visible even under the makeup, with the small breasts failing to properly fill her bunny suit, with the not-fully-perfect teeth and everything. Why was he calling her pretty?

"You retouch those photos, right?" he guessed. "But I think you're prettier as you normally are" Negi said, as if he was just commenting on the weather. "You don't need to hide behind a fake identity. My sister always says-"

"S-STOP IT!" she angrily shrieked, standing up, so angry she had let the bedsheet to fall off herself. "YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ME! YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WOMEN IN GENERAL, EITHER! AND STOP COMPARING ME TO YOUR SISTER!"

He had to be mocking her, or he really was that stupid. Either way, he was the most annoying person she'd ever meet. She just wanted him out, away, as soon as possible.

"But- but-" he blinked cluelessly.

"Haven't you heard me?" she grabbed him by the shoulders. "Listen to your seniors for once and JUST GET OUT!" She shook him around, also making her long loose hair to wave all around, several strands of it brushing over his face.

The boy shuddered all of a sudden at the forceful tickling of hairs on his nose. To his credit, he tried hard to hold himself on, but she kept shaking him, and he couldn't turn around in time, and...

"Ah... Ahhhh..."

"Ah what?" she asked, stopping her shaking. Maybe he'd listen now.

"A-CHOOOOOOOOOOO!"

The ensuing ear piercing scream of her roommate finally was enough to get Hakase to get up and waddle, mumbling to herself, all the way to the bedroom. Honestly, how did they expect for science to advance if mundanity kept on blaring war horns into its ears.

"Ne, Chisame..." she said while walking in. "I would appreciate if you bothered to keep your trivial recriminations in a lower tone of-"

She blinked, looking at the scene of a bright red, petrified Negi-sensei standing right before a just as shocked and immobile, fully naked save for some bunny ears on her head and rags of shredded cloth wrapped lingeringly over her most private areas, Hasegawa Chisame. The floor all around her was littered with tiny pieces of clothing... that almost looked like flower petals. Perhaps a better research on it in the close future would be required.

"Oh dear, Chisame," Satomi made a kind of face she very rarely ever made. "I must express my discomfort over this morally reprehensible situation. I was of the belief you weren't approving of Iinchou-san's patterns of moral debauchery concerning figures of-"

A pillow tossed at her face silenced the poor scientist.

"GET OUT MY ROOM! GET OUT OF MY APARTMENT! GET OUT OF MY LIFE!" Hasegawa turned her attentions back to the boy, wrapping herself within the bedsheet and stomping her way towards the quickly retreating pint sized threat to her sanity.

"B-B-B-But it's not such a big deal, right?" he blabbered, trying hard to remember the exact moral customs of Japan in that area involving persons of their respective ages, although for some reason his mind just kept going back to the brief image of Chisame's breasts. "I-I mean, you saw me naked early today... and technically, you weren't even left fully naked... you still had those bits over your-"

"GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT AND GET LOST!" she repeated.

"What did I do?" Satomi honestly wondered, pulling the pillow off her face just in time to see Negi's eyes watering up suddenly, like those of a puppy who has just been kicked off a table and into the floor. Without saying a single word more, the child grabbed his staff and bolted out of the front door, into the rainstorm now raging outside. "Ah, Sensei, no! You mustn't! It's raining now, and-"

She tried to follow him out, but desisted when she saw him pointing a hand towards his feet, whispering something, and then running away far faster than she ever could hope to run. In a couple of seconds, he was impossible to see in the distance.

"Magic!" Satomi whispered to herself, low enough for Chisame not to hear. Chao would be interested to listen about that, yes, she would.

The sounds of loud sobbing from the bedroom made her to walk back there, to find Chisame made a wreck, but still at her computer, typing madder than ever.

"If he happens to contract a cold while outside, we surely will be severely punished over it" Hakase pointed out rationally. "After all, we were appointed his caretakers."

"As if I care" the virtual idol fiercely tried to suck her tears back. Never looking at her.

"He is still just a child, Chisame..."

"Let him go to Iinchou. If she wants him so much, she can have him!"

Satomi sighed, waving her hands around while returning to her designs. "If something happens to him, I'll take no responsibility on it."

"I'll take all the blame!" Chisame growled. Moronic selfish egghead.

"Yes, I'll make sure of it," Satomi huffed, slumping back on her spot. Cretinous intellectual pygmy. She had just witnessed something beyond the scope of modern day science, and she only was concerned about her self-pleasuring webpage?

She was a bit puzzled over that last point, herself. Finally, her scientific curiosity won over her pride and she asked, "What did happen to your clothes, then?"

"I don't know" Chisame sizzled. "I don't want to know. I won't think about it."

She was trembling even as she tried to continue the update.

"Maybe I should give Chachamaru a call," Hakase suggested. "And tell her to search the Mahora perimeter for him."

"Are you concerned about another human being now?" Chisame scoffed. "Never pegged you as that type. You never seemed to care until now."

Satomi scowled. She was unused to get angry at others, but she was starting to now. "Pot, kettle, black," she bitterly remembered a saying she had heard once, back when she cared about other things but mechanics.

Chisame said nothing. Neither did she.

Outside, the storm grew even bigger for the following minutes. Until the minutes passed by and passed on, becoming almost a hour, and Satomi caught her roommate giving brief, concerned peeks at the window at random intervals whose frequency grew faster and faster as the time went on.

The stranger fact about it was she couldn't quite concentrate on her designs now, either.

"He mentioned he was hungry," Hakase remembered quietly.

"Hmmm," Chisame muttered, seeming rather antsy.

"Alone and hungry, at a strange environment, under a strong rainstorm," Satomi mused. "Chachamaru could run a good scan of the area from above, even under the current weather conditions. You wouldn't have to-"

"Forget Chachamaru," Chisame sighed with exasperation, standing up to reach for a trenchcoat. "I don't want your stinking robot to get involved into this, too."

"Oh?" Hakase arched an eyebrow quizzically. "Is this another emotional outburst, this time one born out of primal guilt? Do you feel you need to prove yourself, or to pay penitence, by finding the child you offended, with your own eyes and hands?"

"Shut up, Hakase," Chisame mumbled, putting on her thickest boots. "It's just, if I'm going to do this, I want to do it like normal people do."

She walked to the front door while opening her umbrella, pausing for only a moment while looking back at her classmate. "Are you coming too, or not?"

Satomi smiled. "I'll go fetch something that could be helpful," she offered.


 

The boy sat on the narrow bench at the bus stop, hugging his knees against himself in an attempt to stay fully under the (even narrower) small ceiling hanging over his head, supported by twin thin pillars of steel.

It was not helping a lot anyway. The weather was so windy it just ended blowing water into his face and clothes in any case.

But he knew standing back up and walking back to the dorm wouldn't help either. First, he had not paid any attention to his way on his escape, so he couldn't go back so easily even if he wanted to. Flying would make it easier, but it was a huge no-no in public, and harder to manage under a storm. Then, there was the fact it was so dark outside, he most likely would get lost even if he knew the way he should be taking.

But mostly, he didn't want to go back.

He looked for the booklet tucked into his shirt and fished it out alongside a pen. Scowling almost cutely, he went straight to the picture of Student Number 25 and wrote 'A TRULY HORRIBLE PERSON' under it.

He closed the booklet and sighed. How childish of him. He should know better.

Negi had come to the bus stop by simply running into it accidentally, but now he was asking himself if he should take that as a sign from above and leave. No, he told himself, shaking the fleeting idea out of his skull. Perish the thought. He couldn't ever find his father if tiny stumbling blocks like that deviated him from his path. And what would his Sister, Anya and the Principal say?

He would just wait for the storm to pass, go back and apologize to Miss Hasegawa.

Even if she was such a horrible person.

So pretty, yet so horrible.

He sneezed loudly, shuddering due to the cold. Luckily there was no one else around.

Meanwhile, that horrible person shrieked in utter fear for her life, wrapping an arm around a laughing Hakase's midsection as the mad scientist piloted the... weird thing they both were standing on. Her other arm was desperately clinging to her umbrella, trying to keep it over her own head despite the wind's strong attempts to yank it away.

Satomi, on the other hand, didn't seem to be bothered by the rain as she drove her small self-customized motorized vehicle through the deserted campus. The huge hat secured to her head shielded her surprisingly well from the hammering drops of icy water, and the goggles strapped on to her face protected her eyes.

"ARE YOU SURE WE WON'T GET INTO A JAM OVER THIS?" Chisame yelled to make herself heard over the storm.

"I HAVE A PILOTING LICENSE, I TOLD YOU!" Hakase cackled madly in turn, making Chisame to wonder exactly who had seen fit to issue her such a license in the first place. "ALTHOUGH YOU COULD GET INTO SOME DIFFICULTIES IF YOU'RE SPOTTED!"

"WHAT? WHY ME?"

"I DON'T HAVE A LICENSE TO CARRY PASSENGERS, SO YOU'RE COMMITING AN INFRACTION!"

"THE HELL—? WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME THAT BEFORE? AND YOU'RE THE ONE BREAKING THE RULES THEN!"

"WHY? I'M NOT THE PASSENGER!" Hakase blinked.

Chisame sighed and went back to looking all around. They had been roaming through the whole area for more than half a hour now; Hakase's speedster had allowed them to cover a surprisingly large sector, and yet, there was no Negi in sight anywhere. Hasegawa was starting to get truly concerned.

Until, by a sudden stroke of luck, she saw him near the school's limits, at one of the older and smaller bus stops. "HAKASE!" she called out, pointing with the umbrella in his direction. "DOWN THERE!"

"Huh?" the genius peered curiously. "Oh yes, I would say that is him, indeed". Making an U-turn, she speeded towards the still unaware wet boy. The bus stop was at a lower level, and to get exactly there, you would have to go down a long and narrow set of steps the vehicle was not designed to cover. Satomi screeched it to a half before the upper steps, then smiled briefly at her roommate. "You go bring him."

Chisame found herself nodding. "Okay". She jumped off the blasted thing and began to run down. "SENSEI! SENSEI, IT'S ME!"

She saw him finally noticing her, lifting his small head up to give her a nearly haunted look. Honestly, children. No matter how many diplomas he could have had, he no doubt was still just a brat.

Then she felt herself slipping into a large puddle of water when she still hadn't covered half of the steps down. With a yelp, she lost balance and slid forward, her feet losing contact with the solid ground. She fell down as she barely noticed Hakase's gulp of surprise from above.

What she managed to see well was Negi's sudden panicked face from below. As she got closer in her freefall, she saw him aiming the staff up at her with an amazing speed of reflexes. He shouted something that the rain's roaring covered.

And then her fall was stopped by an invisible force.

Chisame's heart jumped up while she felt herself being slowly lowered down, like a weightless feather, to safely land into an expecting Negi's open arms. He caught her with barely some effort, oddly enough for someone of his size, although the brunt of the catch still put him down on his knees.

Hakase watched from above, fascinated, her suspicions confirmed.

Chisame merely looked at his face with huge, terrified eyes. He smiled awkwardly, his hair a sopping mess, his glasses as fogged up as hers.

"Are... Are you okay, Hasegawa-san?" her teacher asked tentatively.

Chisame only could nod wordlessly, thankfully unable to notice the deep blush running over her own cheeks.

She was too stunned to do anything else.


 

However, the confusion quickly was followed by fear, as the girl jumped up from Negi's arms and backed away stuttering.

"W-w-What was that?" she yelled. "That definitely wasn't a normal fall! What did you do to me?"

The boy trembled, and not only due to the cold, firmly clutching his staff between his shaking hands. "Well, you see... ahh..."

"Don't tell me you're some sort of alien!" Chisame gulped hard.

"Erm, no, not exactly..."

"You're an ESPer, then!" she aimed a finger at him.

"No, not at all!" he protested.

"Or a time traveler!" the virtual idol despaired. "No, wait, you're just a bad dream! I accidentally ate something Hakase cooked and I'm in a delirious comma state! Luckily, in any moment now I'll either wake up or die!"

"He's a mage," Satomi calmly pointed out from above.

"A mage? That's ridiculous," Chisame blinked several times. "And scientifically impossible. For you of all people to say that..."

"Um, actually, she's right," Negi meekly conceded. "I'm a wizard, or mage. Both definitions are technically correct."

Chisame gave him a blank and huge shocked stare. "No. For real," she eeped out.

"I'm telling you the truth," their teacher insisted. "That thing yesterday with the eraser? I did it. It was a lesser version of the spell I just used on you."

Chisame just kept looking at him, unable to speak.

"However," he pointed out, gulping while spinning his staff around, "I'm afraid I can't let you to keep that knowledge. As a mage, I've sworn to keep my powers as a secret, forever hidden from the mundanes. Any magic user who fails at keeping that promise can be punished strictly, even being transformed into some species of animal, like an ermine, a Peruvian chicken, a lizard or a dung beetle. So I have no choice but to erase your memories of this experience!"

"Okay!" Chisame quickly nodded.

Negi paused, surprised. "Okay?"

"Of course it's okay!" she said. "As if I wanted to remember anything of this! Look, I want nothing more than having a normal life, and that certainly doesn't include anything related to magic of any sorts! So I'll be much happier if I forget everything about this horrible incident!". She spread her arms eagerly. "Zap me up with any mumbo-jumbo you have to make me normal again!"

The boy looked at her with wide, incredulous eyes, before smiling again and nodding. "Very well! I'm so glad you are so understanding, Hasegawa-san! Normally, people always panics and tries to run away when I have to do this..."

Chisame arched her eyebrows. "How many times have you had to do this before?"

He laughed awkwardly. "Heh, heh, heh... Let's just say I'm still a beginner... I'm not that well used to hide my secret yet..."

The child started to spin his staff around once more. "For that very same reason, I must warn you maybe I'll botch this spell up and erase a little more than you probably expect me to..."

Chisame grew worried. "Exactly how much more?"

"Well, the most I've messed up in the past is causing total amnesia, but I'm sure I can fix the worst of it later..." he began to chant a spell under his breath.

"WAIT! NO! NO! NO!" the girl had quickly changed her mind after hearing that. "STOP IT! YOU DON'T NEED TO! DON'T YOU DARE, YOU MINDRAPING WEIRDO!"

"You heard her, Sensei" Hakase's voice rang from above again, quietly, but with a strange new edge to it. Negi stopped his incantation, and he and Chisame looked up to see the genius holding a cellphone in a hand, recording the whole event.

"Hakase-san?" The young teacher had a bad feeling.

"Stop your attempts to disrupt my roommate's memories or I will press this button and send this recording to Chao-san and everyone else at my Club" Satomi warned, not exactly hostile, but neither softly at all. "I disapprove of mages pulling such abusive actions upon those you consider 'mere mortals'. Yes, Sensei, I do know about magic. I have, for rather a long time now."

"You do?" Chisame didn't give credit to her own ears. "But how—?"

"Please, Chisame!" Satomi said. "Even with my highly advanced expertise, you didn't think I was able to develop Chachamaru only through the conventional scientific means, or did you? I only was able to give her life by combining the power of the so-called 'magic' with that of traditional energy sources inside of her robotic body!"

"UWAAA!" Negi screamed, scared out of his mind. "Karakuri Chachamaru-san? Student Number Ten? SHE'S A ROBOT?"

Chisame looked down at him again. "Don't tell me you hadn't noticed it yet!"

"In any case, Negi-sensei, your secret is safe with us," Satomi solemnly promised. "Chisame has absolutely no friends at all to share it with—"

"Thanks for making such a good case for me!" Hasegawa exclaimed.

"And I have sworn secrecy on the whole affairs of the world of magic before" the scientist continued, very seriously. "Mind, I am against the whole notion of magic being kept hidden from mankind" she explained, in a cold, stern tone Hasegawa didn't remember ever hearing from her before. "I believe mankind shouldn't be kept in the dark by an elite. As a scientist, I long for the day when all advancements reached upon every field of human development can be shared with people all across the globe. But in the meanwhile, as a favor for a most dear friend, I have promised to keep my silence on it. And I'm willing to extend that to you. But you have to promise to respect my mind, and Chisame's, and place as much trust on us as we'll put on you. That is, after all, a teacher's duty."

Impressed, Negi lowered his staff, looking humble and ashamed of himself. "I'm sorry, Hakase-san. You're right. I apologize over my actions, Hasegawa-san."

Now Chisame breathed easier, even as her heart kept on beating fast. Her mind was still in turmoil, trying to assimilate everything she had just learned.

Satomi smiled, gesturing with her head for them to come back up, with herself. "Now that's better. However, you two should get back home and change your clothing before you acquire a common cold. Possibly, a hot bath would be advised as well..."

Negi cringed. "No way! I already bathed once today!"

"...You little magical pig!" Chisame grabbed him by an ear and began dragging him up the steps with herself. "What kind of upbringing did they give you? If you really hope to be a Gentleman, you shouldn't be a filthy hippy!"

"Whaaa! Let my ear go! If I can't see you naked, then you shouldn't see me naked either!"

"I told you, those are two totally different things! You are nothing but a crybaby, but I'm already pretty much a woman!"

"Look at the positive side," Hakase smiled while her roommates went up onto the vehicle with her. "At least he didn't sneeze on you before the rest of the class."

"I'd have killed him in that case" Chisame deadpanned, firmly grabbing Hakase's waist as she motioned for Negi to do the same. "Sensei, if you value your life, then hold on tightly."

"Huh?" he blinked, puzzled. "But wh-YYYYYYYYYYY!"

He had his answer when Satomi suddenly stepped into the accelerator.


 

Four hours later:

Chisame sneezed loudly once again before wrapping her blanket even tighter around herself. She had her bare feet stuck inside of a bucket full with hot water, and a most bitter expression etched onto her face.

"I can't believe you mages don't have a cure for the freaking common cold yet, other than these old wives' myths," she mumbled after rubbing her now runny nose.

Negi laughed apologetically from his futon. "Eh he he... Actually, magic hasn't proved to be that effective against diseases, although we do have some pills and potions going beyond the scope of your medicine... But even our healers mostly specialize on healing wounds and the like..."

He quickly turned his head around before sneezing into the other direction, with a nearly thundering sound and blowing several parts of the carpet.

"Watch out where do you aim that nose," Chisame warned from where she sat, as Satomi returned to the room in her pajamas, yawning without a care in the world. "You're so lucky, Hakase. Why haven't I ever seen you getting sick?"

"I'm well used to falling asleep on a laboratory's cold floor," the scientist replied lazily, lying down onto her bed with her back turned to them. "And besides, you two were the ones who endured the most of the rain."

Hasegawa grumbled while shaking her head. "You can't go to teach tomorrow," she told Negi. "Not sneezing around like that. In five minutes flat, you'll turn 2-A into a forsaken nudist camp."

"Ehhh?" Negi moaned. "B-But it' just my third day at the job... I can't fail you girls like that!"

"I'll chain you down if I need to, but I won't allow you to go there until you have healed," his taller roommate stated decisively.

Negi pouted, but he said nothing else on the subject. Instead, he turned his eyes to Satomi's almost lethargic figure now. "Hakase-san...?" he asked.

"Mmmmm?" she hummed without stirring.

"You said Chao-san was your colleague, and you two created Karakuri-san together, using both magic and technology, right?"

"Right" Satomi dryly said.

"Since you aren't a magic user yourself, that means Chao-san is the mage whose secret you're protecting, in that case. Am I right?" he deduced.

There was a long, silent and tense pause right after that question was made.

"You know, I'm kind of curious about that, too," Chisame finally added, lifting her head just a bit into Hakase's direction.

"Sensei," the eccentric genius spoke again at last, in a small, dozed down voice, "If I'm going to keep your secret, the least I can do is to keep my friend's secret too, isn't that correct?"

Negi gulped, with a blush and a quick nod. "Correct! Sorry for being so indiscreet!"

"You just answered his question anyway!" Chisame sputtered. Then, tentatively, she reached out and touched the laying boy's forehead with a soft hand, checking his body temperature.

"You can go sleep now, Hasegawa-san," he said. "I'll be okay."

She negated with her head. "I'm not sleepy yet."

"Well, you can finish your update then..." he offered.

"I'm not in the mood right now."

"I see..." his voice trailed off.

Tiredly, they looked at each other's eyes for some moments.

Finally, he tilted his head around to sneeze again.

"By the way, thank you," she commented. "For saving me back there."

"Ah, it was nothing," he passed a tissue over his nose. "It was my duty as your teacher. And besides, it was my fault you were there in the first place."

"No, it was my fault you went there in the first place," she reluctantly admitted.

The boy smiled up at her. "It's okay. I overreacted. I shouldn't act like a spoiled child."

Chisame sighed. "That isn't something anyone of your age should be saying. You are really strange. You should change that."

He reached up with a small hand, grabbing hers, taking her by surprise. "I'm sorry," Negi whispered, stopping just long enough to blow his nose off. "Sorry. Really. But I can't. At least, not to change that way. I made a promise..."

"Again with the promises," Chisame scolded him to keep herself from looking uneasy. "What, if you don't fulfill that one, they'll turn you into a buzzard?"

"No. It's a personal promise this time," he distantly reminisced. "A promise... to my father."

Hasegawa opened her mouth to speak again, but seeing the look on his face, she preferred to leave the matter for later.

"Just sleep already, will you?" she commanded quietly. "The more you rest, the sooner you can go back to 2-A for Iinchou to lick your feet."

He nodded, closing his eyes and rather quickly being taken away by sleep.

He woke up a mere hours later, feeling a headache and itching to sneeze again. He took care to do it into a direction where it couldn't cause any damage, then stumbled his sleepy way to the toilet.

It was only when he came back to his futon when he noticed Chisame still on her chair, asleep and with her glasses on, with her nose leaking. Still at the futon's side.

Smiling, he carefully accommodated the blankets over her in a more comfortable way, took her glasses off and placed them over the desk, near her computers. As he laid back on the futon, the young wizard took the booklet back from under his pillow and revisited Student Number Twenty Five's entry.

'A TRULY HORRIBLE PERSON'.

Biting his tongue, he crossed with his pen all over the words, and then wrote something else right beneath it.

'DESERVING OF HAPPINESS'.

He closed it back while nodding to himself.

Somehow, he would find out how to do it.


 

To Be Continued.