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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.

Chapter Text

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.


 

A Fronte Praecipitium, A Tergo Lupi.


And so it begins. A beginning, we are reliably informed, is a very delicate time. And so we must carefully choose the moment when it begins - a difficult problem, when there are so many possible moments from which to choose only one. Or so it seems. But in truth, the correct moment was chosen long ago. There could only be one moment when this story could begin.

No, that's not true either. While that is the moment, there are others when the story could be said to have begun as well. They are moments every bit as valid as the moment chosen.

There was the moment, a few short years ago, when a girl looked around at the filled seats of an arena, containing more people than she had ever to that point seen, and wondered aloud if this was all the people in the world... only to be told that, no, it was not even the full population of the city where she lived, much less that of her nation, much less that of the planet on which she resided. It was that moment when she began to realize the immensity of her universe, and her own insignificance. And from that realization would grow something truly astounding.

There was the moment, a few short years before that, when a woman, seated in a beautiful garden and patiently painting a portrait, dropped her brush as she listened to a news report declaring that there had been an attempted assassination of an Empress, and that she had been rushed to a hospital and was expected to make a full recovery. She knew that more of that statement was a lie than the announcer did, and her lovely face twisted in a mask of fury. She never picked up the brush. The masterpiece she was painting would be forever unfinished.

There was the moment, shortly before that, when a woman of the British isles stared at the results of a home pregnancy test, learning that what she had believed was a brief interlude and a midsummer night's fling would be far more consequential than she expected. After a few moments of panic, she got up from the bathroom floor to walk to the telephone and call her lover to give him the good news. In an interesting reversal of expectations, he was happier about it than she was.

And further back, before that, there was the moment that a car came to a stop on a road on a rainy day, and a tutor looked out from the window to offer one of his students a ride home, his eyes not quite hiding a predatory gleam that the girl in question somehow missed. Or, perhaps, chose not to see. And further back, before that, there was the moment when that girl's grandfather brought his illegitimate son home to live with his wife and children.

And further back, before that, there was the moment when, two thousand million years or so ago, two galaxies were colliding, or, rather, passing through each other -

But perhaps that is too deep a background.

Instead, we begin at Mahora Combined High School, on the first day of the new school term, in class 1-D. Thirty students, roughly evenly divided between boys and girls, were introducing themselves as was the standard practice. Some were paying more attention to this than others. Some knew their fellow students, and had varying degrees of interest in them. And being teenagers, a good proportion of them were thinking about sex - either sex that they had before, or sex they wanted to have.

Not all, though.

And one of them stood up and announced, as she had so many times before, "I am Suzumiya Haruhi. I have no interest in ordinary humans. If there are any espers, aliens, time travelers or sliders in this class, please come talk to me."

And another one, hearing this, took some vague comfort in the fact that there was at least one person in his class who would have an even harder time making friends than he would.

It's an introduction, of sorts. Perhaps I should introduce myself, as well. I-

No. On second thought, I'll let you figure out who's holding open this window on another world, as someone once said.


 

Four Weeks Ago , this happened :

"What do you mean with 'No'?"

Sister Shakti had given her a rather peeved stare after hearing that question.

"What do you think I meant?" the tanned, tall Sister asked, her voice tense and imposing.

Misora's eyes had become huge fully black circles, and she had squeaked out a deflated, "... No?"

"Exactly" Sister Shakti stated, then began to walk away.

"But why?" the girl had whined, running after her, despite the woman's sudden attempt to leave her behind by quickening her pace as much as she could without breaking into a sprint of her own. "I think I'm worthy by this point! I have studied and practiced for months and months! I have mastered the spells you requested me to learn, and—"

"You have only bothered to learn the most elemental basics!" her superior cut her off without looking back at her. "That isn't enough for you to earn a Pactio!"

"Come on! Many Ministra have started without a single spell under their arm!" the young girl pleaded, grabbing for one of Shakti's sleeves before she could step out of the otherwise empty church. "Just give me a chance, please! Cocone is willing to become my Magister, and—"

"Kasuga Misora" the woman barely turned her eyes towards her, with a sharp warning glare. "Unhand me, please."

The use of her full name snapped Misora into an abrupt jolt of fear, making her to quickly release the sleeve as if it was coated in poison. "S-Sorry! I guess I got carried away!"

"Yes, you did. That is the problem with you," the woman now faced her, looking down at her with a stern glare that could break rocks. "You lack selfcontrol, both over your emotions and over your abilities. You still are taking this all as a game. You don't even start to see the true meaning of our mission. You only think of the accolades, failing to see our lives are intended to be full of sacrifices and hard work."

"I already work very hard, Sister!" Misora protested. "Every day I scrub the floors after getting back from school, and—"

"Misora, I am not talking about a janitor's work!"

"Sorry, sorry!" she laughed it off nervously. "It's just, um, I really think I'll have more to work with once I have a Pactio! Then I'll be able to actually pull my weight around! Yeah, then I won't be afraid of anything!" She smirked, clenching a fist up and pumping it in a way you definitely shouldn't expect from a nun, even one in training. "Just give me a Pactio and I'll be besting everyone, I'm sure of it!"

Sister Shakti gave her another critical stare. "Young lady, courage isn't something earned from power. A coward with power will be nothing but a coward hiding behind that power. True fighters, true mages, will not ever rely only upon their magic; it is their hearts that make them great. You still lack that, plus the discipline and the responsibility, needed for us to grant you a Pactio. I'm sorry," she stated categorically.

"Are you telling me I am... a coward?" Misora squeeked out, her eyes becoming funny abstractions once again.

"You have failed at every test we have given you, even when facing minor threats," Shakti reminded her.

"Give me a break! That goblin could have killed me!"

"It barely was bigger than a bunny!"

"But it had those huge teeth, no doubt poisonous!"

"No, they weren't."

"I had no way to know that!"

"You would have, if you had studied you grimoire of beasts properly!" the woman retorted.

Misora was giving her the best puppy face she could make now. "Sister Shakti... Do you hate me so much?"

The older nun's face twitched. "What?"

"For years, I have looked up at you!" the teenager sobbed theatrically. "I took my votes at this Order hoping to fight alongside you, to some day be as great as you! Because I always admired you more than anyone else!"

"Are you trying to trick me with adulations?" Shakti asked rhetorically.

"But now, your cold rejection hurts my heart to its core!" Misora all but bawled. "You have called me lazy and cowardly, a failure at life, a shame to our organization!"

"Wait a moment; I have not gone that far."

"Then you will give me another chance?" she asked hopefully.

"As long as you don't become a diligent, brave and responsible apprentice... no," her superior replied without a shadow of a doubt. "You only wish to reap the results without earning them. Child, what will you do once you have a Pactio? You won't be able to use it to fight for those you hold dear until your heart has matured. Power without the moral strength to wield it is a completely useless thing."

Misora groaned, looking aside.

"Look at me," Sister Shakti commanded, grabbing her by the cheeks and forcing her face to turn towards her own. The woman smiled, for once. Misora didn't remember watching her smiling ever since... huh... never, really. Maybe when she had introduced Cocone to her. "Child, it is my hope that, someday, you will find the thing you need to realize your true potential. Your heart needs that spark to ignite your soul, to give you the wings you need to fly. Until then, don't give up. Try to find your own path, not walking behind us, but striving to walk alongside us. Don't ever be satisfied with picking the results of others' hard work. Do that hard work yourself, and in the end, your reward will be that much greater. Have you understood that?"

Misora just nodded silently, simply hoping for her to release her already.

Shakti's usual expression returned. "Good. In the meanwhile, the windows still need cleaning."

"Y-Yes, Sister!"


 

Now:

Misora yawned and stretched lazily on her bed before sitting up, scratching herself on the ribs. Her gaze wandered slowly across her room, finding Cocone's bed to be empty. The warm smell of onigiri coming from the kitchen told her of her roommate's current situation, plus making her mouth to water up.

The young girl with the short and messy hair smiled to herself. She was feeling ready to eat a whole horse if needed! She would need the energy for the day's challenges!

From now on, she had decided, she wouldn't be a loser anymore! She would teach Sister Shakti one thing or two! 'Make your own path', huh? Well, she would use her own words against her!

The girl jumped down from the bed, grinning while looking through the window and towards the school. The events from the day before yesterday had changed the whole situation in a very interesting way!

If Sister Shakti didn't want to allow her a Pactio, she would get her Pactio elsewhere, then impress everyone so much with her mastery over it, even the Sister herself would be clapping.

Hopefully, it would be something useful enough to oneshot everyone before she had to fight, too. Eh, it was worth a try anyway.

By now, she knew a mage when she saw one in action. That stunt with the eraser could have fooled her classmates, but not her! A young plump chicken had just arrived the farm, ready for the plucking! The only thing she had to do was to get him before someone else could, but that was no problem, right? As if anyone had both the knowledge *and* the interest needed for it. Iinchou was as clueless about the magic world as they came, and the rest of the class wasn't much better.

Kasuga Misora looked into her mirror, giving her image a smirk and a wink.

She was able to make sacrifices for her goals, too.


 

Hakase found a lot more eyes fixed on her when she walked into the classroom that morning than usual.

It was enough to make even her, a student who never was self-aware about her physical appearance at all, to pause and take note, feeling her skirt and shirt all over, awkwardly.

"What?" she asked. "I don't believe there is anything wrong with it. Chisame helped me with it, and—"

"Your clothes are alright!" Fumika chirped on.

"That isn't the issue right now!" Fuuka added.

"We heard Negi-sensei is living with you two!" Sakurako bluntly put it out from her seat.

"Ah. That," Satomi said, unconcerned. "Yes, neither he nor Chisame will be coming today, I'm afraid. They are suffering from the effects of a sudden illness—"

"Sensei is ill?" Ayaka jumped up from her chair.

"Nothing too critical, I should hope" Hakase's voice remained fully the same, somewhat spaced out as usual, as she sat down next to Chachamaru to run her routine checkup. "I believe a single day of rest should allow them to recover enough to come tomorrow."

"But then it's true!" Misa pointed out. "You're living together after all!"

"I always knew Hasegawa was a magnet for the bad luck," Asuna mumbled from where she sat with her face half buried between her arms, which were crossed over her desk.

"What did you do for it?" Chizuru asked.

"Huh? Why, nothing. Shizuna-sensei told us they were orders from the Dean, but they never specified the reasons behind that decision," Hakase was finding hard to move around with so many girls gathered around her. "Could you please allow me some more room? I need freedom of movement for this task. You never had seemed that eager to socialize with me before..."

Ignoring her, Asakura Kazumi whipped her microphone out again. "Hey, Hakase-chan! Where's Sensei sleeping?"

"Hadn't I made it clear by now?" Satomi asked, slightly annoyed while trying to apply some oil on the left elbow of the always stoical robot. "He is staying at our dorm, right at the B-wing of the—"

"I don't mean that!" the redhead exclaimed. "I mean at which part of your home is he sleeping!"

"Oh, you should have started by saying that," Hakase shook her head. "Well, we only have one bedroom, so he has been forced to share it with us..."

A collective squeal was heard through the whole classroom, making Yue, Evangeline, Mana, Asuna and Setsuna to cringe.

"You're sleeping in the same room! How daring!" Yuuna chuckled.

"H-How improper, you mean!" Ayaka fumed at the verge of a stroke.

"I never expected it from you guys," Misa grinned evilly.

"Well, you know what they say about the quiet ones," Haruna shared, making Yue to scowl and Nodoka to blush and make a fearful face.

"It isn't that bad. Sensei has a futon of his own," Hakase, always nearly oblivious, continued her sacred task, undaunted.

"How close to your beds?" Yuuna wiggled her eyebrows and nudged Hakase's ribs with a playful elbow.

"At the opposite side of the room, actually," Hakase replied absently. "For some reason, though, that didn't stop him from sleepwalking to Chisame's bed last night..."

She finally turned to look back at the others after she heard a collective, nearly deafening, shriek of fawning coming out from most of her classmates. "... What? What did I say?"

"You guys are sickos!" Asuna commented with evident disgust.

"Chisame-chan's got a whole lap edge on this race already!" Fuuka laughed.

"A race for what?" Hakase blinked.

"And here I thought she'd be the last one to get a boyfriend!" Madoka shared.

"A boyfriend?" Satomi was puzzled.

"C'mon, Professor!" Misa stared straight into her eyes. "Not even you can be that absent-minded!"

The class waited for a few minutes while Satomi just stared back, silently analyzing their words until inspiration finally struck.

"He is still rather extremely young to be considered as an object of romantic affection, or to be interested on such pursuits himself," the scientist finally stated, flat and coldly.

"What has she just said?" Asuna asked Yue.

"She said he's only a child, and they are pedos," Yue surmised.

"Oh. I thought so, but I wanted to be sure," Asuna nodded. "Yeah, for once I agree with Miss Smartypants."

Chao patted her science friend on a shoulder almost maternally. "Satomi, Satomi, Satomi. Keeping an analytic, rational mind is okay, of course, but every once in a while, you have to look past that, neh?"

"She's right," Misa nodded emphatically. "God, you're such a cold fish!"

Ayaka finally regained enough sense from her shock to bring some semblance of order back, slamming a hand several times down against the teacher's desk. "Regardless! Until this whole ugly affair is sorted out, Negi-sensei's health must be our main concern! As the Class President, I say we should enlist a commission headed by me to visit him today after classes! The poor child must be suffering all alone—"

"He's with Chisame," Hakase reminded her.

"—all alone..." Ayaka repeated herself. "That, I cannot allow to continue! As a matter of fact, perhaps we should go right now!"

Satomi remembered Chisame's warnings to not allow anyone at all to go visit them. Both to protect Chiu's secret, and to protect anyone else from suffering the effects of the dreaded Stripping Sneeze.

The threat of a fist being held against her nose so closely had been enough to firmly mark itself into her normally vacant and forgetful mind.

"Um, actually, we are under technical quarantine," Satomi quickly said. "Their illness, while not harmful, is highly contagious, and, um, the Headmaster prohibited anyone but medically trained help from entering our rooms!"

"Really?" Konoka blinked. "Ne, Asuna! Maybe if I talk with him, he would allow us to—".

"Y-You shouldn't!" Hakase's eyes widened.

"Yeah, you shouldn't, Konoka," Asuna groaned. "It isn't worth risking your health."

From her seat, Setsuna nodded more eagerly than she would have liked to, without really noticing it.

"Um, if that's the case, maybe I could go?" Izumi Ako shyly pointed out. "As a school nurse, I believe it's my duty. I could bring them some medicine..."

"Your health's too frail, Ako," Akira reminded her gently. "You shouldn't overexpose yourself."

A laugh came from another seat, making Ayaka to give its occupant a killer icy glare. "What is so funny, Kasuga-san?"

Misora grinned at her. "If that's the case, I'll be the one to go! I have an iron health, and my Order's vows include caring over the sick! I don't have anything better to do today, so I'll be glad to help!"

The Class Rep doubted. "You...? That's very unlike you. Since when are you that eager to help?"

"C'mon, Iinchou!" the shorter girl requested. "Cut me some slack, okay? I'm not that bad a person. What, are you afraid I could try something indecent with him? You know I couldn't possibly do that!"

Ayaka hesitated, unwilling to grant Misora's permission but also unable to shoot her points down in public. With all eyes fixed on her now, she had no choice but relenting.

"Very well. However, Kasuga-san, rest assured, if I ever learned someone attempted to pull ANY sort of ill-spirited prank or practical gag on Negi-sensei AGAIN—"

She towered over Misora, giving her a psychotic stare that reminded Kasuga too much of Sister Shakti for her liking.

"—that person would regret it very dearly afterwards, don't you agree?"

Misora nodded with a gulp. "Oh, yes, you are so right!"

The beautiful heiress broke into a cheerful and pure smile then. "In that case, it's decided! You will act as our class ambassador of good will today and deliver Izumi-san's medicine to our beloved Sensei! We are all counting on you!"

Hakase was about to protest clumsily, but then the classroom's door was opened from the outside, and in walked the tall and handsome figure of Professor Takahata Takamichi.

"Good morning, class," the man greeted politely. "Today, Negi-sensei will be unable to teach his classes, so Headmaster Konoe asked me to cover for him by moving my Arts lessons—". He paused. "Asuna-kun? Asuna-kun, are you feeling okay?"

The Baka Red nodded quickly, sucking her tears of happiness back. She only hoped that sound of glee she had just made had not been too dirty sounding at all.

Although the way the other girls were looking at her now wasn't too promising in that regard.


 

"Here you go," Chisame said as she placed the bowl of soup on the small table, right before him. "Eat it while it's still hot," she added, evenly, sitting down to serve herself her own bowl.

"Thank you," Negi nodded humbly, then put his hands together and muttered a brief prayer in English, keeping his eyes closed. Chisame watched him with distant curiosity as he did that, then to start eating in a way very unlike that of a normal child. It was elegant and polite, without being too refined or prissy.

"Do you like it?" the older girl asked, mainly because of sheer formality.

"It is very good, yes," he smiled, nodding at her before rubbing his reddened nose with a napkin. Now that had been a gesture more fitting a child. Satisfied with that last relative bit of normalcy, Chisame began eating her soup as well.

It was average, all things considered, the boy thought as he continued his dinner, but it was the thought that mattered. No one could ever cook like Nekane, but Miss Hasegawa had tried, and she had done it for him, right? That was more than enough for him.

"Um... Forgive my question, Hasegawa-san..." he hesitated between sips.

"Yeah?"

"N-Nothing. Forget it."

She gave him a sharp glare. "No. What is it?"

"It's nothing, really..."

"Good. Then share it," she dryly demanded. "It won't hurt, right?"

"Well, I was just asking myself a few things... About this Academy, for instance. I had heard it was a mixed one, but most of the students almost everywhere seem to be girls. Some classes, like our own, are made of nothing but girls..."

"Takahata-sensei didn't tell you? Well, I guess it's been a short time since you arrived," she took a small bite of her bread. "Mahora used to be a fully feminine academy. It only was relatively few years ago that changed. Male students are still somewhat of a minority."

"Ah."

"Which other things were in your mind, Sensei?" she didn't relent, fixing her eyes on him again.

"Nah, nothing else," he fidgeted again. "That was all."

The girl scowled. "Has anyone ever told you you're horrible at lying? No wonder they uncover your secret all the time."

"Okay, okay!" he submitted. "I, um, just was wondering about your family."

"My family?"

"Well, yes... You see, err, a teacher is supposed to have some grasp of his students' background, to—".

"Even at that, you're weird," Chisame poked the air with her spoon in his direction. "Any normal teacher would just wait until the parents' meeting. But fine, I'll tell you. My mother died when I was too young to remember her all that well, but my father is alive and well, although I rarely see him anymore," she said indifferently. "I also have an older sister, studying at Nekomi Tech Institute, but again, she's mostly a non issue. And I have an older brother studying over at the Combined High School, and a younger sister who lives with him, too. How about you? You mentioned a promise to your father yesterday. Was he the one who sent you here?"

Negi looked down, struck back by the question, although not much since he was mostly expecting it after asking her about her relatives. Still, it pained him. Why had he asked her in the first place? he wondered. The Magus was right; he still had a lot to learn.

"Ah, not exactly..." he denied with his head. "S-Sorry to hear about your mother…"

She narrowed his eyes, trying to read his fumbling expressions. Had she just touched a sensitive nerve? Was she supposed to feel bad about it? Before anything else could be said or thought, however, Hakase had arrived, without announcing herself, as usual.

"Ah, Hakase-san!" Negi had quickly latched on the chance to change the subject. "Welcome home—"

His jaw, as well as Chisame's, fell as they saw someone else walking in right behind Satomi, grinning mischievously at them. It was a young woman in a nun's habit, carrying a large basket covered with a blanket in a hand.

"We aren't bad enough to need last rites!" Chisame raised her voice while standing up.

"Waiiiii!" Satomi cringed back. "I'm sorry! Iinchou-san insisted on her coming with me!"

Chisame's annoyed glare now fell fully on the nun. "And why? Who are you?"

"Hasegawa-san, please, those aren't—" Negi began to intervene before scratching his nose wildly, in a frantic attempt to calm the itching before it forced him to sneeze.

The nun simply stared widely at Chisame. "... You don't recognize me?"

The girl with the large glasses scowled. The voice seemed familiar to some degree, but... "Should I?"

"It's me! Misora! Kasuga Misora!" the young nun protested, pulling her veil down to reveal a head full of short, spiky and rebellious brown hair.

"Kasuga?" Chisame blinked several times. "Why are you disguised like that?"

"THIS ISN'T A DISGUISE! I HAVE TAKEN PRELIMINARY VOWS AT THE LOCAL CHURCH! Sheesh, if you didn't spend all your time locked down here, you might know that!" With her humor spoiled, Misora plopped herself down at the other side of the table, rather nonchalantly.

"If this is any sort of setup for a prank..." Chisame began, but Negi cut her words short, bowing to the visitor.

"Student Number Nine of the list, right?" he said. "It's a honor to have you here, but, umm, we are somewhat sick in here, and—"

Misora smirked at him. "Relax, Negi-sensei! That's exactly why I'm here! I brought you some medicaments from Izumi Ako, plus some old remedies of our order! With them, I guarantee you'll be like new in no time at all!"

"That's very kind from you! Thanks a lot!" Negi beamed happily.

"Yes, yes, it is," Chisame softly tapped a foot on the floor. "Thanks, but I think you'd better get going now. For your own good. Believe me, you don't want Sensei sneezing on you..."

Misora laughed waving her concerns away. "I think I can survive a little meager cold!"

"Trust me, you would feel a lot of cold... I mean, that cold a lot," Chisame snarked.

Ignoring her, Misora simply looked all around the living room, until her eyes caught what she was looking for. A magical staff lying on the sofa.

"Say, Sensei!" she sprang back to her feet and walked to it, grabbing it to examine it carefully. "I've been meaning to ask... why do you carry this thing around? A souvenir from your homeland?"

Negi paled, feeling a sudden knot in his throat. All three girls noticed it easily, each one pausing in her own way to look at him. Misora panicked inside. Had she revealed her interest way too soon?

Then he breathed out aloud, seeming to relax again, somewhat resigned.

"From my Father, actually," he confessed. "The only thing I have been left from him."

"Oh?" Misora asked.

"It's... nothing at all" Negi attempted to wave it off. "Really. I... He just..."

Misora knelt down at his side, smiling kindly while caressing his right cheek with a hand. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. Are you an orphan? We never are fully orphaned as long as we stay under our heavenly Father's—"

"M-My father isn't dead!" Negi reacted rather abruptly.

Chisame blinked, showing slight facial signs of concern. "Sensei?"

"I haven't seen him in a long while, but... I know he's alive, somewhere out there" he said, firmly.

Misora's face was one of shock for a moment, but then she smiled again, deciding to file the matter away for now. "Of course he is," she replied, renewing her smile.


 

The medicine seemed to actually have made quite a good effect on Negi, Chisame silently observed as she watched the boy happily talking with Misora at the other end of the table. He hadn't attempted to sneeze in almost a full hour by now, and even Chisame herself was feeling somewhat better after drinking some of Ako's remedies as well. Between them and the secret virtual idol, Hakase was absorbed into her own world like always, fixing some sort of remote control.

"I didn't know a nun in training had so much to do, Kasuga-san," the young teacher was commenting, mildly awed by Misora's no doubt somewhat exaggerated tales.

"Oh, and you don't even know the half of it yet, Sensei!" the tomboyish looking girl said in a joking tone. If only they had known how honest that last statement was...

"I'd love to visit your Church this weekend" he asked. "Can I go even if I'm not a Catholic?"

"Of course you can!" Kasuga laughed it off. "So, what's your religion, Sensei?"

"I, um..." he seemed to hesitate now, "... I suppose you could say I'm... Anglican."

"I see," Misora grinned with a knowing glint in her eyes. "How about you, Chisame-chan?"

"Shintoist," the longer haired girl replied automatically, out of habit despite not visiting a shrine ever since New Year. "And don't call me 'Chisame-chan'."

"You need to revel more in the divine love we all should share, Chisame-chan," the prankster commented, then tilted her head towards the third female. "And you, Professor?"

None of them expected Satomi to actually be aware of what they were talking about, but much to their surprise, the mad genius answered without missing a beat. "Atheist."

Misora blinked. "Atheist?"

Negi was impacted as well. It was almost unheard of to meet some familiar with the existence of magic, and yet unwilling to believe in some sort of deity.

"I believe every aspect of existence, even those we could consider to be 'supernatural', to be perfectly explainable through sheer scientific reasoning," Hakase answered, as calmed as ever. "There is no need to believe in higher powers of an otherwordly origin behind the fabric of the universe."

Misora made a face. "I should have expected that from you, but somehow, I wanted to think better."

"There is no shame on it," Hakase almost shrugged her shoulders casually.

Chisame glanced at the wall clock. "I think it's getting late. Don't you have any kind of curfew at your convent?"

"Nah, it's alright" Misora waved a hand. "I only work there part-time. The rest of the time, I share a normal room with my friend Cocone-chan. I guess it IS getting late, though." She stood up, pulling the veil back on her head. "I should get going."

Negi stood up as well. "Do you want company on your way there? It's very dark outside, and—"

"No, I'll be fine! You, on the other hand..." Kasuga interrupted him, "Well, it IS very cool out there, too, and I don't want you to catch another cold. Well, we'll continue talking tomorrow, okay?"

She winked an eye playfully at him.

"Sure! See you then!" he smiled with glee at her.

The novice skipped gracefully towards the front door, waving her goodbyes to the other two girls. "Bye bye, Chisame-chan, Professor!"

"Bye" Hakase nodded absently, still working on her remote.

"Don't call me 'Chisame-chan,'," Chisame repeated herself while seeing her going away. "Honestly. What a troublesome person."

"Ah? I thought she was very kind and charming," Negi looked up at her.

"Well, I suppose there's no account for taste," Hasegawa muttered, looking aside and guiding him in. "Come on, you'd better go to bed early tonight, if you really want to be in any shape to work tomorrow."

"I am!" he nodded, full with vitality again. "Thanks to Kasuga-san's medicines!"

"I wouldn't be shocked if ALL of them came from Izumi," Chisame announced. "Kasuga loves to take the credit for others' work. You don't know her like I do."

"You didn't even know she was a nun," Satomi quietly pointed out.

"Did you?" Chisame shot back at her.

The black haired girl made a pause before saying, "Point duly noted."

Negi smiled before looking through the window and into the direction Kasuga had taken in her way out. Truly, he was noticing, his students seemed to be all wonderful in their own different ways.

He was so lucky.


 

Misora gladly walked her way through the Mahora Campus boulevards, at a fast yet relaxed pace.

It had been a great recognition mission. She had learned a lot about her target. He was easy to impress, easy to influence, overly eager to please those around him, especially young ladies. No doubt, she could get a Pactio from him before too long.

And yet, now she almost felt bad over using him, as well. He had seemed so sad when mentioning his father...

What would be the big deal with him? Misora wondered. She was having second thoughts on not asking in depth about him. Springfield... hadn't she ever heard about some mage named Springfield before? There were some stories; she tried to remember, frowning to herself.

Ah, yes. Sister Shakti had once said the actual name of the Thousand Master was Springfield, hadn't she? The thought brought a chill upon Misora's spine.

The Thousand Master. The rumors said he had been the one to defeat the scourge of Misora's childhood nightmares. The one her caretakers had mentioned so often in their attempts to scare her straight. The Vampire Witch, with her long and sharp bloody fangs, always thirsty for the vital fluids of young maidens...

The Dark Evangel.

The long repressed memory made Misora to clatter her teeth and quicken her pace. There was something chillier into the wind now, she decided, with her heart beating faster. She almost could feel an ill omen dancing in the icy breeze, and it was nearly as if she was being watched from some point at the shadows.

Misora broke into a real sprint now, making her way across the deserted nocturnal campus, hoping to reach the safety of her dorm soon. She was sure it was only her imagination, but even so, it felt too vivid and real for her liking.

Finally, the dorm was at sight in the distance, and she breathed easier, slowing down again. She had covered a lot of distance in a very short (even if her tension had made it to seem eternal) time, but that was expected from a track and field team member.

Misora chuckled to herself about her own pathetic fears. She only was glad Sister Shakti and Cocone couldn't see her now. Cocone surely was asleep by now, wouldn't she? A good night of sleep sounded just right now, Misora decided. But first a hot bath, and—

Then something dark and small, wrapped in a huge cape as black as the night, jumped down from the cherry trees and into her way, blocking her path.

Misora only had time to step back and shriek in panic.

Then those inhuman sharp eyes glinted in the darkness, and a petite hand quickly reached out to forcefully grab her by the chest and slam her back against a tree's trunk.

Then everything went pitch black.


 

The earliest sunlight beams fell through the window and into Chisame's face, making her to sit up rubbing her eyes and mumbling to herself. Then, caught by a sudden ill feeling, she quickly looked at her side, only to breathe easier at seeing no one there.

Good, maybe the brat was starting to get a clue and know his place after all. Chisame smiled at her accomplishment; in only two nights, she had managed to cure him from that bad habit of slipping into her bed.

Pleased at such a well done job, the girl climbed back down the stairs to take a look into Satomi's bunk... and then to make a wild take.

Hakase was lying on her back, head slightly tilted aside, drooling a bit out of a corner of her lips, arms and legs open wide. And Negi was sleeping at her side, curled up into a small ball, his hands clutching her body in a tight hug, his head resting under one of her armpits.

Chisame's head sunk down in frustration.


 

"Please, Chisame, like I have had to remind you several times before, he is still just a child!" the scientist was still declaring as they approached Class 2-A's door. "I truly still fail to see why you and the rest raise such a ruckus over it."

The taller girl still scowled as she quickly walked next to a sheepish looking Negi. "Good manners must be taught from the cradle! You may understand a lot about machines, but next to nothing about people!"

Satomi rolled her eyes around. What was the big deal everyone was making about the child? She just couldn't wrap her head around it. To her, it barely was different from picking a puppy up and raising it. While it taught you English. So what if he decided to share some occasional sleeping space with her? "That is fully inconsequential" she mused aloud. "He already seems rather polite in the areas that truly do matter. Sensei, can you understand the root of the problem better than I do?"

"Eh, maybe it's better not to talk about it for now," he sweated under Hasegawa's stern glare. "I promise to try and stay quiet tonight, okay?"

Chisame only mumbled a vague reply before stopping right before the door. "Is there something wrong?" her teacher asked.

"I have a vague feeling more than half of them will be trying to stab me in the back as soon as I walk in," she confided reluctantly.

"Oh, come on!" Negi laughed. "Why would they do that?"

"You don't know enough about the way most jealous teenagers behave yet, do you?" Chisame drew in as much breath as she could before taking the plunge and walking in.

Much to her surprise, however, she found most of the class gathered in a semi circle around Ayaka, debating about something and sporting concerned expressions. As soon as she saw Negi, however, the Class Rep left her spot to race to his encounter, wrapping him into a tight hug.

"Oh my God, Negi-sensei! Thanks all Heavens you are okay! We were about to go looking for you!" she exclaimed joyfully.

"What? Why?" he blinked helplessly. "Has something bad happened?"

"Haven't they told you yet?" Makie asked. "It was horrible!"

"Kasuga-san was apparently attacked after leaving your dorm last night," Nodoka whispered, keeping her gaze low.

"What!?" the boy gasped in terror, while behind him, Chisame stiffened up in place and Hakase blinked without a clue. "How? Is she okay? Who did it?"

"They found her early this morning, unconscious under a cherry tree near her dorm," Natsumi informed. "As soon as she heard about it, Asakura-san ran outside to investigate."

"Shizuna-sensei said she wasn't seriously injured or anything, though," Asuna gave him a glare. "Maybe YOU just contagied her with something and she fainted."

"She seemed completely healthy when she left," Hakase pondered thoughtfully. "The way I see it, it'd have taken her at least a few hours of viral incubation to actually manifest serious symptoms."

"Where is Kasuga-san now?" Negi asked, struggling free from Ayaka's grip.

"At the medical wing with Sagisawa-sensei," Ako answered. "I, I could guide you there if you—!"

"I'll find my way, thanks!" Negi bowed to her before quickly writing a few indications on the chalkboard. "I'll come back as soon as I can! In the meanwhile, read the text from pages 35 to 38, and if you have any doubts, just ask, um—"

"Chao," the class chorused pointing at their top student.

"Yes, her!" Negi nodded very fast. "I'll be back as soon as I can!" He excused himself before running outside as fast as his short legs could carry him.

"... He's going in the opposite direction," Mana delivered dryly.

"Let him," Asuna groaned indifferently.

"Maybe we should go with him," Konoka was worried.

"You heard Shizuna," Yuuna said. "We aren't allowed to get in there. I wonder why so much secrecy about it."

"It must be the vampire!" Misa pointed out.

"Vampire?" Satomi asked.

Misa sighed. "Oh, you are always the last one to learn those things, aren't you? Don't you remember the scandal a few weeks ago? About the vampire who attacked one of 3-A's students right after she settled back from vacations and into her room?"

"You mean Miyamoto-san, the politician's daughter?" Akira asked.

"Yeah, her," Misa nodded. "Takagi-san from 2-B is a friend of hers, and she told me she had been bitten in the neck after being knocked out."

"EEEEEKKKK!" Fuuka and Fumika shuddered.

Misa loomed over them, opening her mouth and letting her tongue to hang out, all the while grinning in a perverse way. "The only thing Miyamoto-san could see was someone wearing a wide black cape, like Dracula... Then she was feeling weak and ill for days afterwards. Who knows? Maybe the vampire stole her soul besides her blood..."

"AHHHHHHH!" the twins hugged each other.

"Misa!" Asuna scolded her. "How can you believe something as stupid as that?"

"Ah, yes? Then what do you think it was?" the lead cheerleader retorted.

"I dunno. Maybe a wild dog or something."

"What kind of wild dog attack goes like that?"

"Heh, heh, heh..." Haruna chuckled, leaning back on her chair with her arms crossed. "You just don't know anything, do you? Saying a vampire can exist is just as ridiculous as saying a dog could catch up to Misora, then suck her blood off. The responsible of this only can be a creature whose existence has been proved by science. A hideous being who has stalked several parts of the world for years now, maybe after coming from outer space..."

"What the heck are you talking about?" Asuna asked her.

"Why, I mean—" Haruna stood up and proclaimed, "THE CHUPACABRAS! Scourge of the lonely South American jungles! Killer of cattle and small children! A vicious animal hellbent on sucking the blood out of any victim that crosses its path!"

"NOOOOO!" the twins began to cry out.

"That's even dumber!" Asuna protested. "What kind of idiot could believe such a thing? Even if that critter existed, what would it be doing at Japan?"

"Learning that is our sacred mission to uphold" Haruna stated rather grimly, walking up to draw something at the chalkboard. "Indeed, to stop this lunacy before more of us perish—"

"NO ONE HAS PERISHED YET!" Asuna and Ayaka yelled at once.

"—We must find and capture the beast! Hopefully earning fame and fortune as secondary, but very welcomed, side benefits!" Haruna finished drawing what seemed to be a cross between an overgrown potato and Godzilla. "This is, according to most reports, what a Chupacabras would look like—"

Ayaka forcefully shoved an eraser into the mangaka's hands. "Erase it. Now," she commanded.

"But we must identify the enemy if we want to neutralize it!" Haruna said.

"The only thing you want to neutralize are Sensei's study orders!" Ayaka told her.

"And besides, it's absolutely pointless to believe there is a Chupacabras around here," Yue said.

"Then what else could it be?" Haruna questioned.

Zazie, for once, seemed to look at the others for a moment then. That, on itself, made them to look back at her in turn, suddenly silenced by the lazy stare of those strange golden eyes. Their shock only grew when the dark skinned girl opened her mouth and spoke a single, softly pronounced word.

"Batman."

"Ah, it's true!" Sakurako chirped. "That explains the black cape!"

"Batman doesn't exist, though, does he?" Madoka looked doubtfully at Misa.

"I think it's only an American urban legend," Misa answered.

"Listen to yourselves, will you?" Asuna despaired. "Next you'll be saying Superman-sama did it!"

Chisame muttered angrily at their antics, while attempting her best to remain distant and focus into her laptop.

Satomi, meanwhile, was busy taking Chachamaru's routine report while noticing the absence of an important factor.

"Chachamaru?"

"Yes?" the gynoid softly asked.

"Where's Eva-san today?"

"She was having a... stomach ache this morning. She said she would be taking the day off," the robot reported.

"As expected from Eva," Asuna shook her head. "It's unfair she gets that favoritism. Man, if we only dared to skip half the classes she misses—"

"Mmmmm," Satomi made a thoughtful sound briefly, before just nodding and taking her latest lectures of her creation's mechanical body.

Chao watched them silently, wondering what turn the events would take next.


 

The medical bay was completely still and quiet when Negi walked in, leaving both Sister Shakti and Chief Nurse Sagisawa Yohko behind.

Sister Shakti had seemed polite and formal enough to Negi, but she still seemed to be somewhat uneasy and forced in his presence. Negi was naive to some degree, but it had been clear enough for even him to notice it. Then again, of course, he had pretended not even realizing it.

Sagisawa-sensei gave him a warning him before leading him into the struck girl's room. "The Student Council President is with her right now, and she is a bit... excitable, so please don't mention anything about responsibilities on this subject to her. She's likely to start blaming you or herself, but either way, she could do it... harshly."

Negi nodded. "Of course. I understand."

As he stepped in, he saw an also beautiful (it seemed the Area Eleven was unable to breed ugly females, Negi thought for an appreciative moment) and tall, well built young woman with very long black hair and thick eyebrows, wearing a special all white version of the Mahora High female uniform, with shiny golden buttons and boots with quite high heels. She sat in silence next to the lying Kasuga Misora, holding one of her limp hands, until she quickly realize she was being watched, upon which she carefully left the hand at the sickly girl's side and stood up with aplomb and even haughtiness. A small girl with long dark hair and deeply tanned skin sat on a chair at the other side of Misora's bed, holding her right hand. Her eyes were huge, deep and sad, but the rest of her face conveyed no expression at all.

"Ahh… Kiryuin Satsuki-sama, I assume?" Negi gulped, "P-Pleased to meet you, albeit I wish it could have been under better circumstances. My name is Negi Springfield, Kasuga-san's homeroom teacher. You can be certain we will do our best to capture those responsible..."

"You better will," the young woman with the brushy eyebrows said, with a voice that was pure iron. "And so will we, no matter what." Without a single more word, she briskly walked past Negi and disappeared from sight.

Negi shuddered, faintly impressed by her intensity for a moment. Then he reassumed a cold efficiency as he took the chair beside his student's bed.

Misora herself looked pale and haunted, a far cry from last night's happy go lucky girl. And yet, she smiled at him when she saw him again.

"Sensei," she spoke softly. "Ah, you came early. I'm glad."

"Don't force yourself too much." With a hand, he gestured for her to stay down. "Are you feeling better now?"

"Yeah," she nodded, and then nudged her head towards the smaller girl, who now was looking at Negi with the same enigmatic, melancholic stare. "Hey, you two haven't met yet, have you? Sensei, she's my roommate, Cocone Fatima Rosa. Cocone-chan, he's Negi Springfield, my new homeroom teacher."

"Ah, it's a pleasure to meet you, Cocone-san!" Negi bowed to the little girl.

"Yes," the tiny female said with a barely audible, diminutive voice, in words that were as brief as they could. "Same here."

"She isn't big on conversations, but she's a huge help with everything else," Misora chuckled, running a hand fondly though Cocone's hair.

"I'll leave you alone now," Cocone whispered, standing up and going for the door. Before going out, she gave Misora another stare and the briefest hint of a possible smile, then closed the door shut behind her.

Negi stared into her direction even then.

"I asked her for it in case you came," Misora shared, keeping her voice low.

Negi gave her a concerned look. "Is there anything you need to tell me in private?"

"Yes," Misora nodded. "It's about last night."

"Did you get to see who did it?"

"Barely," Misora shuddered, suddenly gripped by fear. "She was dark, with evil eyes, and long fangs..."

"She?" Negi blinked.

"Yes. I'm sure it was the Vampire Witch, the Messenger of Darkness, the Mistress of Puppets," Kasuga bit her lower lip. "It had to be her. The legends tell of her unending thirst for blood, spreading terror at her wake. The Dark Evangel..."

The boy tensed up. "H-how do you know about those legends?"

She gave him a more personal stare, lowering her voice even more as she held his right hand in hers. "It's because I'm a mage, too," she said. "I knew you were a wizard from the moment I met you. Don't panic; your secret is safe with me as long as mine is safe with you... Heck, actually, there isn't a reason for it to be a secret between the two of us, anyway!"

"I-I-I guess there isn't!" he stammered, before realizing maybe he had just admitted too much. "Oh, um, I mean—"

"I'm not tricking you," she insisted, lifting an index finger to show him the suddenly summoned tiny flame dancing on the top of it. "I'm still a beginner, okay, but I know pretty much all the basics of the trade. They told me everything there is to know about it since before I learned how to read."

Negi paused and gulped. Hakase-san, Kasuga-san, probably Lingshen-san as well...

"Exactly how many others at the class already know about magic?" he whispered back.

"As far as I know... no one but me. Why?"

He laughed uneasily. "Huh, it's nothing! I just felt I had to ask—"

"Forget the other students!" Misora urged him. She shook the finger and the flame died down. "One of the things they always warned me about was the thing that attacked me last night. Fifteen years ago, a legendary sorcerer supposedly defeated her, but now, I'm convinced she's back". She gave him a deeper look. "Sensei, be very careful. If she has chosen to appear at this exact time, it might be because she's gunning for you."

"Ehhh?" he recoiled. "Why me?"

Misora attempted to read his confused face. Didn't he know exactly who had beaten the Dark Evangel? Then again, judging from the way Sister Shakti handled it as such a secret, maybe it was better not to tell him yet. The last thing she wanted on the wake of being bitten by a vampire was being massacred by her superiors.

Instead, she bared her neck to Negi. "Look here. Sister Shakti used a healing spell on the bite marks, but they still should be there. They have started to vanish, but they are going away very slowly..."

"EHHH!" he gasped. "Sister Shakti is a mage too?"

She hastily covered his mouth with a hand. "Not! So! Loud!" she cringed, giving a fearful brief glimpse at the door before sighing and releasing his mouth. "I'm not sure she wants you to know, since she's very stuck up about the rules, so don't tell her I told you, okay?"

"Okay," he nodded.

She grabbed him by the shoulders and smiled. "Good boy."

"But, about my other question—"

Misora hushed him with a finger over his lips and a wink of an eye. "I'll tell you more later," she teased. "For now, however, go back with the others. The Sister will soon walk in if she thinks you're taking too long with me."

"Right," he nodded, bowing to her again as he stood up. "Get better soon, please. I have many things I want to ask you about."

"So do I," she smirked. "So do I, Sensei."

She watched him walking out, and then she breathed deeper. Thinking more about it, she wasn't sure it was so much of a good idea, to make a Pactio with him if the vampire was after him in the long run.

And yet, she thought, looking at her right hand, which still felt so warm, almost as if she still was touching his soft skin, another part of her, for some reason she couldn't understand, now wanted it even more than before.


 

It was already getting more or less dark when Negi left the school for the day with Chisame, Hakase being gone to her club activities once more. However, that particular afternoon, they were stopped by the sudden appearance on their way of a tall spiky haired redhead.

"Ah!" the boy blinked, quickly remembering her name. "Asakura Kazumi-san, student number three, right?"

"That's right!" the big breasted girl nodded with a wide smile. "Hoo-hoo, it's so nice to see you caught on my name so quickly, Sensei!"

"He has memorized the whole class' list by now," Chisame replied dryly, just to make her feel somewhat less special. "Listen, if this is another attempt to pry into our private lives—"

"Hey, there's no need to get that stingy, Chisame-chan!" Kazumi said. "We all know there has to be something juicy beyond your thick wall of secrets, especially now you're living with a young man..." she chuckled in a rather unnerving way, making both of the others to blush crimson, "But even that can wait for now! All other news have paled in comparison to the dreaded Vampire of Mahora!"

"Are you believing those idiotic crazy theories of Saotome and Kakizaki, too?" Chisame huffed.

"Well, I'm not saying they are true yet, but a good reporter can't discard any option until they have been proved fake" the taller girl defended herself. "Did you know I write for the school newspaper, Sensei?"

"Yes, I did," he quickly nodded. As a matter of fact, one of the first things Takahata had told him about the class was she was the one he should be the most wary about learning his secret.

"Good, then you know I'm obliged to show the truth about any mystery that can happen at this school," the young paparazzi stated. "Especially when it can be a threat to everyone's safety, don't you agree?"

"And that excused you to skip classes today, naturally" Chisame said with a lot of calm.

"Naturally" Kazumi agreed. "I went to investigate at the place where they found Misora. There were no signs of struggle, nor any footprints or traces anywhere. It's almost as if the attacker just flew in, then flew out. Really weird, I tell you. And it's far from being the first weird thing I have seen here."

"Other than the robot, the childlike teenagers, the suicidal teacher, the girl carrying a giant sword to classes, and Rainyday, you mean?" Hasegawa asked quite ironically.

"I mean 'weird' like in 'supernatural'", Kazumi seemed a bit annoyed now. "I'm being serious now! Sensei, if I tell you something that has bugged me for a few years now, do you promise you won't laugh at me?"

"I wouldn't ever laugh at a student's troubles!" Negi solemnly promised, in a tone that would have been inspiring if it hadn't come in a child's voice.

"I make no promises," Chisame flatly added.

"Oh, as if you ever could laugh," Kazumi snipped, then told Negi, "As you may know by now, we have used the same classroom for years, grade after grade, even as some students come and go. But through all that time, the seat next to mine has always been empty. Always. No matter what."

"I think it must be a humanitarian mission. Not to allow anyone to sit next to you, ever. I'd bet it has saved many people a lot of grief," Chisame's deadpan delivery became unusually sharp.

Kazumi shot her an angry stare, but continued focusing her own words on Negi. "The weird part is, often, I can feel there is someone sitting there. Do you ever get that feeling you are being watched? I get it all the time. And sometimes, when I walk very close to that seat, I can feel an icy snap running up my spine..."

"Oh, dear," Negi blinked.

"It must be your imagination," Chisame suggested. "I have walked next to it, and I've never felt anything. Neither has Hakase".

"Yuuna has felt it, though," Kazumi confided them. "She sits behind that seat, and she has had some strange sensations at times, too, although not as often as me. I don't say it has to be something supernatural, mind you, but there must be some explanation behind it".

"And do you think it could have some connection to the recent attacks?" the teacher asked.

"Maybe," Asakura shrugged. "It's what I want to discover now. All I know is Seat Number One used to belong to someone named 'Aisaka Sayo', but I've found no files or information on her. Even Bookstore-chan and her pals haven't found anything in their libraries".

"Bookstore-chan?" Negi blinked.

"Miyazaki Nodoka," Chisame supplied.

"Oh".

"Maybe you can learn something I cannot with your connections to the other teachers, though," Kazumi told him. "Please, Sensei, could you do that for me?"

"Yes, I'll do some research on my own side," he promised. "If I learn something, I'll let you know about it!"

"What a dearie!" Kazumi chuckled coyly, ruffling his hair.

"Hey, respect me, please! I'm your teacher!"

"Ha ha ha!" the redhead laughed. "Don't be so stiff, Teach! Thanks for the help, anyway. I'll also inform you when I get to learn anything else! Bye!" she ran out with a wink of an eye.

After Asakura was out of sight, Negi took another glance at his class roster booklet. The first student of the list, unlike all others, had only a blurry black and white photo over her name, a date, and a warning.

'Student Number One: Aisaka Sayo'.

'1940'.

'Don't change or move her seat'.

Chisame took a peek over his shoulder. Vaguely, she also noticed the 'DESERVING HAPPINESS' written below her own image, but, despite his cringing in fear about it, she took it in stride, even cracking a very brief smile before asking, "So, do you think it may be something magical after all?"

"I'm not sure," he doubted. "I can't say I have felt anything near that seat, but I'm still a novice, and two days ago, I thought I saw a girl who looked like this running across the campus. The odd thing was she seemed to vanish at some point... like a ghost."

The pock-marked girl scowled, concerned. "Great. The last thing we needed; a murderous ghost on the loose".

"Well, we don't know anything for sure yet. I asked Minamoto-sensei about this girl in my first day here, but she only told me these were direct indications from the Headmaster, and he had refused to tell her the reasons behind it".

"Well, if he didn't want to tell her, you'll get nothing from him either," his roommate pointed out. "There's nothing to do about it. Just forget it and let the authorities to handle it".

He shook his head. "No. I think there is something I might be able to do, after all".

Chisame groaned in annoyance. The only odd feeling she was having now was the one of being about to be dragged into something very bad.


 

The night was starting to fall across the Mahora grounds, wrapping the landscape with a chilly blanket of shadows.

The small blonde knew he was there long before he was announced. That was the biggest problem with his power by far; he never bothered to hide it, partially because the curse made it nearly impossible, but mostly because he never wanted to. Like a pig rolling into the dirt, the man had developed some kind of masochistic obsession with his own despair. It was so bad even the mundanes could feel his aura at times.

So naturally, she had no problem at all being ready for his arrival before Chachamaru appeared at the dining room's door, in her full maid regalia, humbly bowing her head to her.

"Mistress," the gynoid announced in a silky, nearly whispered tone. "Itoshiki-sensei wishes to have a few words with you. I told him you were unavailable, but he insists..."

"It's okay, Chachamaru," the tiny temptress smiled widely, crossing her thin legs and sipping from her glass of wine. "I was expecting he'd come, actually. Bring him to me."

"Yes," Chachamaru nodded only once before retreating, only to return seconds later with the tall and lanky man in a hakama. "If you need something, just ring the bell," she said, then slinked back away without a single sound.

"Ah, Sensei," the girl with the long golden hair purred like a spoiled kitty, leaning forward in her chair, just to show the slightest glimpse of flat cleavage, her slinky black dress subtly shifting with her movement. "And this was being such a nice evening, too. To what do I owe the displeasure of this visit?"

"I had been informed you were feeling ill," the pale man eyed the bottle of wine over the large table with languid disinterest. "Under those circumstances, I fail to see why you would have your dinner with liquor."

She shrugged nonchalantly. "Some of us prefer to drown our woes down instead of drowning ourselves into our own woes. Would you like to have a seat? Perhaps you should drink yourself silly. It still would be an improvement over your current self".

"I highly doubt anything can ever improve upon me," Itoshiki Nozomu lamented. "Losing myself into the drink would only drag me further down. No, thanks. I will be brief. I have no need to sit down."

"Be brief, then," the hostess narrowed her green eyes. "As much as you can."

"Mc Dowell-san," Itoshiki began, sternly. "The Headmaster has sent me here with a fair warning. Stop your attacks on the student body. Don't involve any innocents in any personal vendetta you might have, up to and including the boy himself. We have offered you a place to belong to, and a pardon from your prior crimes; don't betray our trust on you once again."

The petite girl hissed, rising up from her seat. "You have a lot of nerve, Despair. Coming to MY home to make demands of ME? You? When have you ever started to compare to me, much less to try and dare to put conditions on me?"

Itoshiki remained calm, unfazed, for once. "The conditions were put on place long, long ago, Mc Dowell-san. You agreed to them then. I believed you were a woman of your word."

"I was forced to accept conditions I never intended to!" She slammed both hands down at the table, looking at him with killer eyes. "Don't even try to mock me implying it happened otherwise!"

"Regardless, you still are forbidden from doing this," he flatly insisted. "Our students are untouchable, and so is our staff. Whatever you are scheming now the child is here, stop it at once, please."

She clenched her perfectly white, barely sharp and pointy, teeth down. "I can't believe your idiocy."

He sighed sadly. "Yes. I do hear that a lot".

"With excellent reasons," she spat the words out, with despise. "Look at yourself. Nothing but the old man's lapdog, running an errand to insult me at my home only because he isn't man enough to do it himself. What, were all the other lackeys too afraid to come? So they had to send the only one pathetic enough to be that eager to perish?"

"I offered myself, actually," he stated. "And not even you could kill me, so please do stop teasing me. There is nothing fuller of cruelty than a woman's unfulfilled promises."

She grinned perversely. "I could teach you a million things far worse than death."

He slumped his shoulders down. "For me, every thing I've ever lived through already has been worse than death".

"Don't underestimate me. I have learned things you couldn't ever begin to imagine," she threatened, then turned around. "Your message has been received, so leave. You have spoiled my appetite."

"I should hope so," Nozomu said.

"Don't get me wrong," she replied. "I cannot claim any knowledge or responsibility on the recent attacks, if that's what actually brought you here".

"There is no need to pretend. We all know it could be no one else. Especially not now that he is here".

"That gnat? I couldn't care less".

"You targeted Shakti's apprentice after she left his quarters. You sent a message both to him and to the Church- that no one is safe. Didn't you?"

For a moment, Evangeline's right hand crackled and sparked as a small whirlwind of black energy swirled around it, but it turned itself off as she shook her head. "No. I wouldn't ever give you the pleasure. Just leave. Your mere presence disgusts me."

"Mc Dowell-san," he still attempted to appeal to her. "Don't do this to yourself."

"What?" she laughed bitterly. "Do you think I'm afraid of forcing your weak hands?"

"No. But you should be afraid of losing yourself to your own darkness, again."

She snarled angrily. "Don't compare me to yourself, buffoon. I am the master of my own darkness. You are a slave of yours."

Itoshiki exhaled a heartfelt breathing. "Quite true. How despairing."

He turned around to walk for the door, but he stopped right before leaving, looking back at her over his left shoulder. "I wouldn't have expected it happening so soon, in any case. Usually, you prefer to stage your schemes with more finesse, as I understand."

Evangeline Mc Dowell scoffed. "I have no idea what do you mean, But if I ever had to rush a plan out, it would be because some loudmouth loser told something he shouldn't have to someone who shouldn't have listened."

Itoshiki froze right there.

Evangeline smirked coldly at him. "I have eyes and ears everywhere, Despair."

He attempted to regain his own aloofness. "Always an unfitting trait from a lady."

Evangeline laughed, now mockingly. "You shouldn't try to protect him. Protecting anyone is beyond your paltry skills. That's why his father never gave you a place at his side."

Itoshiki turned his gaze away. "My place... is not at anyone's side. I have grown to accept that ever since then. But he had better hopes for you. If you ever appreciated him, you shouldn't betray that, either. Good night."

His steps echoed through the cabin until they finally were extinguished by the distance. Only then did Evangeline groan, lifting her head up to look at the moon through the closest window.

"Why shouldn't I betray he who betrayed me first?" she quietly mused to herself.


 

A few days had passed since then. Uneventful, even relatively normal days, as somehow they began to get used to their new living arrangements. And just like that, the boy's first weekend at Mahora had just arrived.

"I still don't see the need for you to go," Chisame said as she finished combing his hair as best as she could. "But if you really want to—"

"I have to," he seriously declared. "Kasuga-san may be recovering nicely, but I still feel guilty over what happened to her. If only I had been there with her—".

"You idiot" she blandly scolded him. "You barely can take any care of yourself; what makes you think you can fight something like a vampire, if that's what attacked Kasuga?"

She followed him to the door, looking down at him with a stiff, yet slightly concerned expression. Hakase had set up a mini workshop at the living room again, where she was working on a spare arm for Chachamaru. Even after all that time, it still unnerved Hasegawa to see how those things' fingers moved as the genius manipulated the detached member, so she preferred to focus her attention on the child before her.

"Sensei," Chisame stopped him, grabbing him by a shoulder. "Before you go, let's make a few things clear, okay? You, indeed, are going to visit Kasuga, aren't you?"

"Indeed," he quickly nodded his head.

"You aren't going to embark yourself in any sort of insane vampire hunt, are you?"

He laughed it off. "I couldn't find a vampire at mid-morning even if I wanted to!"

"I just want to be sure," the cosplayer replied, undaunted. "But above it all, I want you to swear something to me right now. Promise you aren't going to drag anyone else into this, no matter what. You know you can't reveal that stupid crazy secret of yours to anyone."

He straightened his body up even more, his voice growing deadly serious again. "I swear, on my honor as an English gentleman, I'm not going to pull any student who doesn't know anything about magic into any sort of magical search!"

But inside, he congratulated himself about not including any student already familiar with magic into that promise. Loopholes were, sometimes, a good thing!

"Glad to hear that," Chisame seemed satisfied enough at his words, although she didn't smile. "Just remember, be back here before lunch. We're going to take you for your first meal at Lingshen's place".

"Of course!" he happily nodded. He already had heard enough good things about that restaurant to be looking forward to it. "I'll only take a few hours! See you later, Hasegawa-san, Hakase-san!"

"Goodbye," Satomi waved a hand to him, and then turned her head to her roommate as soon as he was out and the front door was closed. "Are you really going to allow him to go alone?"

"It's still early. The only dangers he may run into are Iinchou or Saotome."

"Shouldn't those be considered enough of a menace to his moral integrity?" Hakase wondered in the middle of calibrating a wrist.

"It'll help him to build character," the taller girl said while heading back towards the bedroom. "Plus, it should give me a couple of hours for another update. I haven't been able to add anything big ever since that day."

"Huh? Why not?"

Chisame growled. "Did you expect me to dress up while that little perv's looking?"

Satomi was even more confused now. "Wasn't that the whole point of your hobby? To make young males to find you visually appealing?"

Chisame stared straight into her round eyes. "Sometimes I think you say those things on purpose."

"Is it because he's a foreigner?" Hakase asked again.

"Forget it."

"No, I'm genuinely curious," Satomi pondered. "Is it because of the age difference, then? In that case, it's even more puzzling. On one side, you say we should find nothing compromising or exciting about cohabitating with him, and I agree on that. But then you also profess finding proximity with him compromising after all. I believe you should stick to a single approach to this dilemma," she thoughtfully offered.

Chisame grumbled while undressing to try on the day's first costume. "I can't take a single approach to this dilemma," she said, then giving Hakase a pointful glare. "It's a dual problem".

Satomi didn't understand it.


 

Meanwhile, Negi took advantage of the campus being mostly lonely at a free day to cover most of his path flying on his staff. That allowed him to reach the rendezvous point behind the Academy, near a small and currently empty soccer field, in only a few minutes. Misora already was waiting there, against his expectations; she had sounded reluctant when he secretly contacted him over the phone with his idea, and by now he knew she was far from being usually responsible and punctual in pretty much any case.

But she was there, clad in a habit and holding a cross against her chest. She seemed very nervous and afraid, always looking in all directions, but she still was there, in time and bringing everything Negi had told her to bring.

"Good morning," he approached her with a smile he hoped was comforting enough. "Are you feeling better now, Kasuga-san?"

"Ah, good morning," she greeted back, forcing herself to look like her usual self despite her fear. "Yes, I'm like new now! Cocone's covering me for the morning, and I'm fully sure she won't rat me out, but the Sister will have lunch with us in a few hours, so let's do this fast, okay?"

"Right," he nodded, putting on his serious face and leading her towards the main building. "But if you don't want to do this—"

"No, I want to do it now," she shook her head. "I think. Let's just do it before I change my mind, fine?"

He looked back at her, making another smile. "Don't worry. I'll never allow anything bad to happen to you again."

Misora took her head slightly back. "D-Don't say such things. They don't sound right coming from a child".

"Don't think of me like a child!" he protested, in a tone that somehow was too much like a childish whine. "Think of me as your teacher, forever and ever!"

Misora actually found herself chuckling again despite herself. "Yeah. Right. Of course!"

Negi pouted, yet he said nothing as he stopped before one of the back doors and pulled a set of keys out of one of his pockets.

"Wow, they really gave you a full set of keys?" Misora's eyes widened.

"Like I said, I'm a teacher, with everything that implies!" Negi proudly stated.

Misora grinned, her eyes sparkling. Oh, if only she could get her hands on some copies of those keys! The possibilities for new pranks had grown to galactic proportions!

"Sensei..." she purred as she slid to his side, grabbing his right arm just as he opened the door."I'm sorry if I offended you. You really are very mature and responsible for your age..."

"Maybe not so much, since I'm entering this building when I shouldn't be actually here," he admitted with an apologetic embarrassed laugh, "But if we need to do it to solve this mystery, then so be it".

Misora nodded as they walked inside, closing and locking the door behind themselves. There was nothing but lonely halls everywhere at sight. It was so quiet and still it was somewhat scary, even under the sunlight entering through the windows.

She tightened her grip on his arm a bit more.

"2-A is that way," she began to guide him towards the classroom after gulping some saliva down.

"Yes," he had to choice but following her hesitant steps. "Um, Kasuga-san, may I ask you something?"

"What is it, Sensei?"

"Why are you wearing your habit right now?"

""For secrecy purposes. From afar, I'll be harder to identify by any of the girls or the other teachers if I'm wearing this."

"I see. That makes sense".

"Can I ask you something in turn?"

"Naturally."

"How is it, to live with Chisame and the Prof? Iinchou says it must be hell, and I don't doubt it. One of them is mad, and the other is always angry and avoiding any human touch..."

"No, they both are actually very nice people" he countered. "Hakase-san is kind and pleasant, and she even lets me to sleep with her. And Hasegawa-san cares a lot about us. She does her best at it, too; she reminds me a bit of my sister..."

Misora gave him a bewildered look. "You sleep with the Prof, too?"

"Heh, heh heh... Sorry about that. Sometimes I roll into people's beds while I'm asleep. It's a bad habit I took while living at Wales..."

"Europeans," Misora sighed as they reached 2-A's door. There, she stopped as if she had been frozen into place, clattering her teeth in horror.

"Like I said, if you don't want to do this—" he started again.

"NO! It's not that! I do want it! But I'd like you to do something for me in turn!" she blabbered, trying to gather enough courage both to enter and to ask him for the big deal.

"I'd do anything for any of you. What is it?" Negi asked.

She gasped, blushed, and drew in a very deep and slow breath before spitting the words out, "Let's make a Pactio!"

Negi's eyes became tiny black spots. "... Ahhh?"

"It's-It's just fair for me to ask this, isn't it?" she said. "If I'm going to help you with this exorcism, I need something to make me a stronger mage!"

Negi had gone ghostly pale. "Do you want me to be your Minister?"

Misora blinked. "... Would you be willing to be the Minister?"

He blinked back, stunned. "... Did you want me to be the Magister?"

She blushed again, looking aside. "Yes, I mean, no! I mean, I hadn't thought about being the Magistra, since I'm a weak mage, but if you want it, it's okay! After all, I'm older than you, so you should be the follower... Yes, I like the sound of that. You can be my Minister!"

"Kasuga-san, you do know what does it take to make a Pactio, don't you?" he eeped out.

"Yeah, yeah, big deal" she laughed shakily, trying to hide her own flushed face. "So what's an innocent kiss between friends, right? Because we can be friends, can't we?"

"O-Of course we can! But that isn't the point! You can't take on a partner just like that! It's a very important decision! One that demands a lot of previous thinking and debating! And besides, I— I— I—"

"What?" Misora asked.

"I don't know how to draw a Pactio circle yet," he lamely finished.

She made a long, shocked pause. "... Neither do I," she finally added in the same tone.

Then they both laughed uncomfortably.

"Weeeeeell, so much for that idea, then!" Misora said, still ashamed.

"Yeah, thank God!" he nodded.

She gave him a sudden stare intense enough to be worthy of Chisame. "Are you implying I'm that hideous?"

He gulped. "Why, I'd never—" He avoided the matter by walking into the classroom. "Well, I guess we can't take any longer! We'll just have to do the exorcism like we had planned, then go back home!"

"Wait, maybe we should—" Misora tried to protest, only to be reminded she still was grabbing him, meaning she had just been pulled into the classroom with him.


 

"Stand there, at the other side of the desk, please," Negi gently asked while moving himself right before Seat Number One, motioning for Misora to place herself behind it. After some hesitation, the young nun obeyed with a frown.

"Now what?" she asked.

The young Mr. Springfield pulled a carefully prepared piece of paper from one of his pockets and checked it again. "This is a basic summoning spell I practiced a couple of times at my Magic Academy, although we never had that many chances to research on spiritual invocations. Most ghosts from my homeland were banished long ago, back when every old castle had at least one troublesome poltergeist."

"Interesting," the female hummed while pulling the candles from her handbag and lighting them up, then to carefully place them around Aisaka's desk. "And it always NEEDED two mages for it to work?" she asked, still hoping he might let her go to pull it off by himself.

"At least two, yes," Negi rolled his sleeves up, breathing deeply. "Both times I practiced it, I did it with my friend Anya. A Magister Magi like my father could do it without any help, of course, but we still are beginners, so it might not even work even if we do it together... then again, Aisaka-san should be a low category spirit, so I figure we should be able to manage it."

Misora truly hoped they would fail now, but something still told her to avoid voicing that.

Instead, she secured the crucifix over her chest and looked at his eyes. "Alrighty then. What's next?"

He extended his hands over at her after strapping his bandaged staff over his torso. "Take my hands and repeat the spell after me. Put your whole heart and mind into it. Try to touch Aisaka-san's soul with your own."

"Fine," she agreed, foolishly, no doubt, as she grabbed his small, warm hands, squeezing them tightly to stop her own trembling. And again, his touch felt comforting and soft, ensuring and calming, at least enough to keep her in place after all, repeating his words even though doing so made her feel like a suicidal moron.

"Rastel Maskir Magister!" he began.

"Rastel Maskir Magister!" she followed, guessing it had to be his activation keyword. Idly, she wondered if she shouldn't have said her own instead, but she supposed, for a conjoint spell, it'd be better to use a single starter sentence.

"Spirit of the deceased, shadow from beyond the grave! Heed our words, show yourself to us, those who invoke your presence!"

After gulping very loudly, she blurted the words as quick as she could. "Spirit of the deceased, shadow from beyond the grave! Heed our words, show yourself to us, those who invoke your presence!"

"We call you by your name, Aisaka Sayo!" Negi shouted. "Unrestful soul, listen to our voices, acting as one to recall you!"

"We call you by your name, Aisaka Sayo!" again, she followed him. "Unrestful soul, listen to our voices, acting as one to recall you!"

"Grant us your audience, you, who still keep your links to the mortal world! Allow us to grant you our humble help in trade! Come forth, here and now!"

"Grant us your audience, you, who still keep your links to the mortal world! Allow us to grant you our humble help in trade! Come forth, here and now!" the girl managed to shriek, even as she felt her hair standing up in point.

The whole air of the classroom seemed to have changed, as a matter of fact, almost as if it was charged with electricity. It was invisible, but still, a powerful force could be felt all around them, making the floor tiles to tremble right beneath their feet.

"S-S-Sensei!" Kasuga's eyes grew wide as plates, and really, if she hadn't been still grabbing his hands, she would have escaped away in that precise moment. "Is this supposed to happen now?"

He smiled widely. "Yes, it is! We are managing it! We are doing it!"

Then a faint figure, unclear and diffuse, started to show itself in midair over the desk. Misora squealed in shock as she found herself staring at the vague outline of a small face without eyes or nose, except because now it seemed to be gaining eyes and a nose at a rather fast pace. Around the face, a long white and flowing cascade of hair was materializing as well, and below, an old fashioned school uniform, complete with long skirt and sleeves, sewed itself over the ghostly shape. However, no legs ever appeared; from under the skirt, only a thick column of vapor peeked out, even when the summoning was seemingly complete and the ghost appeared in full form between them, opening her huge reddish eyes... which were full of overflowing tears.

Adding to Misora's panic, the spectre took her head back and wailed, in an ear piercing shrill tone.

"THAT WAS PAAAAAAAINFUUUUUUL!"

"KYAAAA!"

That had been the drop that spilled the glass; letting Negi's hands go, Misora backed all the way against a wall, aiming her cross at the ghost. "Ruh-ruh-retreat, evil spirit! Begone to the pit, devourer of lives! St-Stop haunting these holy grounds!"

"KYAAAAAA!" the ghost yelled in turn, backing away as well, and passing straight through Negi's head. "NO, YOU'RE MISTAKEN! I'M NOT EVIL! PLEASE DON'T KILL ME, I BEG YOU!"

Negi looked at her, awed and unsure on what to say now. Funny, he had it all planned, and yet, he seemed to have forgotten it all now, with the chaos and all. "AHH— Aisaka Sayo-san?" he meekly asked. "Student Number One, am I right? I'm pleased to meet you; I'm Negi Springfield, your new teacher—"

The ghost trembled wildly, shrinking under his gaze. "What have I done to you? You have hurt me! And now you want to send me away! Please have mercy! I—I—" she started to cry, "I have nowhere to go!"

Misora still trembled as well, maneuvering into a distant corner. "D-Don't listen to her, Sensei! It has to be a bloodsucking Banshee trick!"

"We only want to help you, Aisaka-san," Negi calmly offered, giving a tentative first step towards Sayo. "I'm sorry if our summoning caused you any pain; it honestly wasn't our intent. Please listen to us. We want to be your friends..."

"F-Friends?" the ghost stammered, quaking like a terrified deer. "N-No, I heard you talking with Asakura-san the other day... You think I'm attacking those girls every night! You want to put me away to some horrible dark place! Please, leave me alone!"

And with that, she bolted for the door, flying through it and out into the halls with the greatest ease.

"AISAKA-SAN!" he called out. "Please, don't go! Listen to us!" Negi turned towards Misora, urging her. "We must go after her!"

"Wh-What?" Misora babbled. "We managed to exorcize her, didn't we? She already left the classroom! The mission was a success, I'll see you tomorrow!" She tried to sneak away in the opposite direction.

"Kasuga-san, she might go on a panicked rampage through the whole school!" Negi claimed.

"That's too unfortunate. But accidents do happen," Misora replied.

"Many people could be scared away, or worse!" he pressed on.

"Oh, she ain't THAT scary..." the young nun chuckled trying to control her own terror.

"She's alone and afraid herself!" Negi insisted.

"B-But my vows included caring after the living, not after anyone who already bought the farm!" the young girl tried to protest.

"And if Sister Shakti ever learns of this, she'll be angry!" he pointed out.

"Yes... she would," Misora gulped even more now. "O-O-Okay then, let's go after her."

Negi smiled as he ran outside. "Kasuga-san, I see Sister Shakti is more fearsome than any undead, isn't she?"

She grumbled, running after him. "I still haven't discarded her being one of them, you know."


 

"So, how do you expect to find her?" Misora asked while following him through the deserted halls. "I figure she must have a pretty good lead on us by now."

"Pay attention" Negi put a hand next to his right ear. "I can hear a sobbing coming from that direction. It's her voice."

Kasuga listened carefully and made a face. "She isn't much of a ghost, is she?"

"She is a young girl... who was alone for years, maybe more than sixty, surrounded by people she never could reach, and now we forced her to manifest herself in a way that must have hurt her. It's no wonder she's shocked and afraid."

"I thought you had previous experience with those summons."

"I did," he was puzzled. "It never caused the spirits any pain before. I wonder why Aisaka-san experienced such pain..."

"Maybe it was because of me," Misora grumbled, looking aside. "Maybe I'm not as good a spell partner as your Anya friend. I always mess everything up."

"Don't ever say that. The fact we pulled the summoning at all in our first try shows you do have the talent" he said. "You need to have more trust on yourself."

She looked at him again. "You're... too kind."

"Quiet, please," he whispered, stopping before a large steel door. The sobs seemed to come from the inside, loud and nonstop. "She's in there. What is this place?"

"The basketball indoors gym" Misora whispered back. "Yuuna uses to practice there, but never on Sundays, so it's okay."

"Roger," he briefly nodded. "You cover my back just in case, please."

Misora let out a choked sound. "M-Me?" Finally, she nodded holding herself down. "Right. I can do that. Yeah." She nervously clutched the cross between her hands.

Negi looked for the right key for a few moments, then used it and warily walked into the gym, with Misora shadowing his steps.

Then a basketball flew straight into each one of their faces.

"I-I-I told you to leave me alone!" the pale figure of Sayo whimpered crouched against a far distant corner, with several basketballs and even a few folding chairs floating all around her. "Please! I don't want to hurt anyone, I just... I just want to enjoy life peacefully..."

Misora rubbed her aching face, now too annoyed to be truly scared. "YOU AREN'T ALIVE TO BEGIN WITH!"

Sayo sulked down. "You shouldn't bring that up. It's a sensitive matter for me. You're so mean... I have seen you playing so many pranks on people, how do I know you don't just want to get rid of a witness?"

"Give me a break, it's all in the name of good clean fun!" the living girl snapped.

"Now, now, please," Negi attempted to mediate. "Aisaka-san, I promise we won't force you to do anything you don't want to. If you only let us to-".

Another basketball went flying passing mere inches next to his head. "D-Don't come any closer!" the ghost threatened with a quivering voice. "I really don't want to resort to violence!" She cringed as one of the chairs fell down and through herself, clanking against the floor. "Wahh! And I can't keep them floating for long! I'm a failure at life- I mean, at death-"

Negi still kept on walking towards her. "Don't cry, please. It's all okay. You don't have to be alone anymore. No one's going to send you anywhere if you don't want to go."

The spirit still shuddered, looking up at him with pleading eyes. "P-Please don't mock me. Why wouldn't you? Everyone is afraid of ghosts. Even I am, and I never have seen one..."

"You have never met anyone like you?" Misora asked, still standing at the door.

Aisaka shook her head. "I don't remember anything from the time when I was alive. My earliest memories are waking up at your classroom years ago... I don't even remember exactly when. All I know is I have watched class after class to pass before my eyes, no one ever noticing me until Asakura-san and now you. For some reason, she seems to be aware I'm there, even if she can't see me. But no, I haven't ever been able to talk to anyone else, human or ghost."

Misora's lips curved themselves down. "That's... gotta suck."

Sayo nodded sadly. "Not even Evangeline-san can see me. At least I don't think she can, despite being there for fifteen years..."

Both humans' eyes went wide. "Fifteen?" they said at the same time.

"Fifteen?" Sayo repeated, blinking, before carefully counting using her fingers, then nodding. "Yes. Fifteen. I can say she feels lonely, too, so I feel sorry for her."

"Being lonely is the least weird thing about that," Misora said. "Eva-chin may be a bad student, but fifteen years repeating the same grades is too much! What kind of person is she?"

Negi mulled over Itoshiki-sensei's warning silently, then mused with hesitation. "It's strange; I've never felt anything supernatural around her... But we'll look into that later. Aisaka-san, what matters now is, I'm glad to see you are a good person after all. I'm sorry for doubting you before getting to meet you."

He extended a hand to her. "I'll look after you as much as I'd do with any other student. If you ever have any problems, just ask me or Kasuga-san for help. And I promise we'll help you to remember your past, too."

Sayo turned her gaze away. "I'm... not sure I want to remember it."

He crouched down before her and passed a hand through her hair, or rather, the air where her hair could be seen. "Then we'll help you to make your future."

She looked at his eyes, and for a moment Misora could swear her translucid face could be seen flushed with a brief, yet intense blush.

"I... would like that," the ghost nodded weakly, finally smiling at both of them.


 

Thirty minutes later, Negi and Misora walked out of the school building. As the young teacher closed the back door with lock and key, the nun in training hummed thoughtfully to herself.

"That didn't take us too far, did it?" she asked.

"It allowed us to help a student. That's more than enough for me" he stated.

"Yeah, it's great and all, but still... not what we went to look for."

His expression hardened just a bit. "It may have set me on the right direction."

"Do you mean the bit about Eva-chin?" Misora uncomfortably said. "I dunno, Sayo seems rather unable to measure time properly. It just isn't possible for her to-"

"Or is that what you want to convince yourself about?" he asked. "That Evangeline-san can't be the Dark Evangel?"

Misora's face distorted itself into a terrified grimace. "Y-You said it yourself, we haven't sensed any power coming from her! Surely, if she were such a fearsome creature- The name must be a coincidence- I mean-"

He breathed in and out, and then he regained his smile, looking at her again. "Yes, you must be right. Sorry. A teacher shouldn't doubt his students, like today's incident proved. Thanks for all the help, Kasuga-san. It's good to see you are so reliable!"

"Reliable? Me?" she blinked several times. But then, slowly, she smiled back at him. "Ah, Negi-kun. You're so naive. But I think that's as weird as lovely in a man."

And then, much to his shock, she lowered her head and gave him a brief and soft kiss on his forehead.

Negi backed away as if a snake had just pierced him with its fangs. "GAH! Kasuga-san! That's unfitting from both a student and a nun!"

"Bwa-ha-ha!" she laughed. "You overthink things too much! Like I said before, an innocent kiss between friends is nothing! Nothing!"

Mischievously, she turned around and winked an eye at him. "It was fun to hang around with you! Let's do it again some time!"

And without waiting for his reply, she ran away back to her dorm, laughing her head off all the way.

"A-And don't call me 'Negi-kun'! The right term is 'Negi-sensei'!" he still shouted at her quickly out of sight form. He still was flustered and blushing like crazy.

Now that had been far scarier than any ghost he ever had met.

At least, he hoped that was fear he was feeling. He liked that explanation better than the other possible reason for his heart beating so fast now.


 

The Chao Bao Zi. From the outside, it really didn't look like much. But once inside, the mere scent of delicious food filling the whole cart restaurant was enough to nearly mesmerize young Mr. Springfield.

It wasn't just the smell floating all around, however. It was also the warm and homely feeling you could get from simply stepping into the old wagon turned stall.

"It feels almost like being back at home, despite it being so different," he marveled as he sat at a table with Chisame and Hakase.

"Hmm," Chisame hummed while looking through the menu. "Did you eat Chinese takeout often back at home?"

"Never," he denied. "I don't mean exactly that, it's just... this oddly familiar feeling. It's like you almost can touch the labor of love put here..."

"Chao is very passionate about everything she does," Satomi observed calmly. "She gives one hundred percent of herself to all of her activities".

"Nihao, Negi-bozu!" 2-A Student Number Twelve, Ku Fei, passed by before their table, rolling around on skates, wearing a red sleeveless Chinese dress and carrying a large food tray on each hand. "Nihao, Hakase-chan!"

Chisame scoffed at being apparently ignored. "Always the same thing."

"Call me 'Negi-sensei', please!" Negi protested at the heavily accented Chinese girl and then sighed in defeat. "First Kasuga-san, now her... at this rate, the other teachers will look down at me soon..."

"You knew the job was dangerous when you took it," Hasegawa dryly cracked, although the way her roommates looked at her outright told her neither of them got the reference. "Super Chicken," she said.

"Is that one of the recipes?" Negi asked.

"No! It is—" Chisame interrupted herself, shaking her head. "Forget it."

"Sometimes you are weird, Chisame," Satomi flatly confessed.

"That's something, coming from you!" the other girl snapped.

Negi just laughed, amused, until he noticed someone was glaring at him from another table. He discretely looked back to see a beautiful girl, two or three years older than his students, with long black hair and wearing a black motorcycle outfit, quietly, yet grimly eating a bowl of ramen while staring at him from afar.

"Girls?" he whispered.

"What?" Chisame asked.

The boy kept his voice very low. "Who's that girl over there?"

Both of them looked into the direction Negi's own eyes were taking as low-profile as possible.

"Beats me," Chisame said. "I think she's a Sempai from high school, but I don't know her name."

"Neither do I," Hakase added. "Haven't you taught her any classes yet?"

Negi flipped through his booklet, detailing the class rosters he had to cover both at his homeroom and as an English instructor elsewhere. Finally he settled at High School Class 1-A's pictures, where he found the one he was looking for. "Kuga Natsuki-san, no membership at any club, no other information given. But I don't remember ever seeing her there..."

"She skips classes often, from what I have heard," a soft, feathery voice came from his right side, making him to look at the suddenly there, as if arrived from nowhere, plump and gentle looking 2-A Student Number Thirty, Yotsuba Satsuki. "She eats here almost every day, but never talks to anyone."

"Ah, hello, Yotsuba-san!" Negi quickly bowed.

"Hello, Yotsuba," Chisame greeted cordially enough. The chef was one of the few classmates she could actually tolerate, but then again, everyone loved her.

"Ah, Sacchan!" Satomi perked up, with a tone she rarely had used in the time Negi had spent with her. "Bring Negi-sensei a special stamina soup and some nikkuman, will you? He will need all the energy he can gather for his second week at the job."

"It sounds good," he nodded. "Hakase-san knows your specialties far better than me, so I'll go with her choice. Although everything in this menu seems delicious."

"Thank you for the kind words," Yotsuba smiled softly.

"The same for me then," Chisame spoke.

"A few ribs with spicy sauce and salad for me," the scientist asked before looking all around. "By the way, where is Chachamaru? Shouldn't she be serving the tables with you today?"

"Evangeline-san arrived early and took her away," Satsuki explained while taking her order. "They said they had something urgent to work on."

"I see," Hakase nodded, slightly spaced out in her own unreadable thoughts by now.

Chisame, on the other hand, noticed Negi suddenly looking more concerned as of that moment. "Is there anything wrong?"

He shook his head. "No... Nothing!"

"How was Kasuga, by the way?" the cosplayer questioned. "Feeling any better now?"

Negi's cheeks gained the briefest reddish shine as he remembered that morning's kiss, but then he just laughed it off. "Yeah, she's fine by now! She told me she'd come back to classes tomorrow!"

"Great, another piece of insanity back at the old classroom," Hasegawa observed in a detached tone.

She had just noticed his blush, of course, even though Hakase obviously hadn't. But if he thought she'd ask him about it, he had another thing coming.

After all, why should it matter to her at all?


 

Late that night, Chisame half opened her eyes to look at the wall clock in the room's darkness. 11:00 P.M., it read, and yet the problem child was still at it. Sitting with his back turned to them next to his futon, he seemed to be working on something even now. Fixing smelly potion after smelly potion, flipping through tome after tome of ancient Welsh lore, and polishing his wand at random intervals as if hoping it'd help him with something.

Polishing an actual magical wand, that was. Otherwise, she'd have kicked him out of the room right then and there. At least she thought it was some kind of silly fairy tale magic wand; it certainly looked like something you'd see in a storybook's illustrations.

"Sensei," she hoarsely called out. "Go to bed already."

"Just a few minutes more, Hasegawa-san," his voice replied quietly.

"We have classes tomorrow. Stop doing that right now; I can't sleep with that horrible stench."

"It's diluted, concentrated garlic, isn't it?" Hakase's voice softly asked from the bottom bunk. Chisame blinked, surprised to hear she was awake, and even sounding slightly concerned. "Do you actually believe that will function to any degree against that supposed vampiric creature that obsesses you?"

Chisame sat up on the bed. "What? You still intend to chase that vampire thing? Stupid brat, do you want to get yourself killed? Even if it's only a human pervert on the loose, I don't think your kindergarten magic will do any good if that psycho's packing a gun!"

"Protecting my students is my duty," he replied, still not looking back at them.

"You're a teacher, not a cop! And look at us while we're talking to you!" Chisame yelled.


 

At the next darkened room, Ayase Yue, wearing a thick and long blue sleeping robe, lying on her bed reading a book under the faint light of a small lamp, closed the tome and tilted her head towards the wall separating them from their neighbors. The words came muffled and incoherent, but the emotion behind them was unmistakable.

"They're at it again," she whispered.

Nodoka hummed a weak "Ah-hah," from the top bunk, confirming her own waking state.

"Chisame-san had never been so noisy before," Yue said. "I guess it must be taxing, to live with a child."

"I... I don't think so. Not in Negi-sensei's case, anyway," Nodoka shyly answered. "He seems very different from any other boy I've ever met."

"Really?" Yue arched an extremely thin eyebrow. "I suppose you're right."

Nodoka smiled to herself, not really noticing the warm redness washing over her own face. "He may be overwhelmed and confusing, but it feels really good to have him there. He isn't like most of the other teachers; he actually cares."

Her friend sighed. "A shame he'll grow out of it."

"Oh, Yue-Yue," Nodoka's voice whimpered just a little bit. "Don't say that..."

"It's true," the shorter girl dryly stated. "Sad as it may be, sooner or later, the weight of real life's burdens will turn him from idealistic dreamer into just another chalkboard pusher."

"I— I don't think so," Nodoka differed, her voice gaining a rare stubbornness that made Yue to take notice. "I can feel he's different in that way, too. I want to hope the best from him."

"Nodoka, that's very cute and all, but... reality will always crush that kind of hopeless dreams. It's the way life works," the girl with the large forehead started, just to be cut short when her roommate peeked her head down to look at her, smiling.

And she was simply so cute when she smiled...

"I don't think so," Nodoka impishly said.

"Oh, no? And why's that?"

Nodoka made a tiny giggle. "You are living proof of it."

"Me?" Yue hoped the darkness was enough to hide her blush. "Why me?"

"You and Paru were the only ones who never lost your hopes on me... back when I was all alone and locked into myself, and no one ever wanted to talk to me," Nodoka fondly remembered. "But you reached for me, against all odds. I'll never forget that, Yue-Yue."

Ayase found herself slowly smiling back at her. "Neither will I. Never."

"Maybe Negi-sensei will do the same for them?" Nodoka hopefully looked at the wall, as if hoping to see through it.

"Maybe," Yue conceded. "But first— Hey, what is that noise at the window?" she asked.

Nodoka looked towards the darkened window of their room, leading to a small balcony, now. Something seemed to be knocking and scratching at it. "P-Perhaps it's only one of Sakurako's cats," she nervously stammered, remembering the vampire scare stories while going down the bunk's stairs.

However, Yue was faster and got back to her feet, setting her book aside. "I'll look at it," she said, without any actual fear, taking the lead.


 

Chisame was already pushing Negi into his futon when both of them and Hakase heard it all. Glass being shattered, and two brief but blood curling screams.

Even the normally absent Satomi perked up in alert. "Miyazaki!"

"And Ayase," Hasegawa completed, going just slightly pale.

"Too soon!" Negi bolted out of the futon, only stopping long enough to grab his wand, some bottles and his bandaged staff, then to storm out of the room and into the outside hall, running to the librarians' door to bang loudly on it. "MIYAZAKI-SAN! AYASE-SAN! ARE YOU OKAY?"

Chisame ran out right after him, rushing to cover him up with a coat. "For the Kami's sake, Sensei! You're still barefoot and in pajamas. Maybe they just broke a vase..."

Negi put his right ear on the door's frame, listening carefully. "It's... too silent now. I don't like it. No, I hear something now. Almost like... suction sounds!"

"Sensei, Chisame! Step aside!" Hakase's voice came from behind them, commanding. "This looks like a job... FOR SCIENCE!"

She had a strange small device in a hand, one she jammed into the door's lock. And just like that, the door fell off its hinges and into the floor, like a dead weight.

Chisame gave her a bewildered glare. "Why'd you invent something like THAT?"

Hakase laughed apologetically. "You'll see, I often forget my laboratory's keys, and—"

"How much do you spend on doors at that lab every month?" Chisame asked her.

"Ask yourselves that later," Negi whispered while walking inside, tense but resolute. "Go call Takamichi and stay over at Izumi-san's room down the hall. Douse yourselves with the garlic formulas and—"

"What the hell do you think you're doing, venturing all alone into two girls' room like that, and with possible danger ahead to boot?" Chisame followed him in, closely shadowed by Satomi, and tried to grab him by an arm. "You'll get yourself killed, either by them, or by IT!"

Then all three of them could do nothing but stare and gasp in terror at the scene waiting for them at the bedroom, which door had been just blown open from the inside.

Miyazaki Nodoka had fainted at the feet of the bed, sprawled all over the carpet.

And Ayase Yue laid unconscious, with her violet eyes fully open and staring into the vacuum, into the arms of a small blond figure floating over the balcony, out into the open night. The attacker had her mouth firmly sunk into Yue's neck, sucking loudly, with delight and gluttony, until she lifted her head slowly, licking her sharp teeth and her bloodied mouth.

"Evangeline!" Chisame gasped, caught by a sudden horror she never had felt before.

Evangeline A.K. Mc Dowell smiled evilly at the trio.

"Boya," she purred, throatily. "This little snack has done nothing but leaving me even thirstier... I suppose you could help me with that?"


 

"Evangeline-san?" Hakase tensed up, giving a step back. "Wh-What are you—?"

The small floating figure in black sneered at her with some dark amusement. "Please, Hakase Satomi. Is there any need to act so surprised? You KNEW there was something supernatural behind me. Hardly my fault if you chose to turn a blind eye to it."

"W-Well, it wasn't my research venue!" Satomi rushed the words out, inwardly calculating her own speed rate at reaching the door and comparing it against her rough estimate of a vampiric creature's attack speed. She didn't like the results. "Then again, if you would be willing to cooperate by lending your body to me—"

"What?" Evangeline lifted an eyebrow.

"For strictly experimentation purposes, of course—" Hakase attempted to make her point clear.

"That STILL came out wrong," Chisame scowled.

The blonde took her head back to laugh coldly. "I have always liked that about you, Hakase Satomi! Too stupid to realize the dangers around you, a true example of what they call 'human courage'! Because you amuse me, you can leave now. My goals don't include you."

Satomi seemed truly tempted to run away then, but something kept her rooted to the floor. "What have you done to Chachamaru?" she asked.

"Oh-hoh?" the petite vampiress huffed. "Ah, I see. Gifted with maternal instincts too, after all. Relax. You, better than anyone, know I have too many uses for her. As long as that stands, I won't ever hurt her."

"Um, can I go too?" Chisame sheepishly asked, trying to drag Negi away with herself, only to learn, much to her frustration, he was standing his ground with shocking stubbornness.

Her bizarrely... vampiric classmate shot her a piercing angry glare. "Not with him!"

"Go," Negi told his roommates, gesturing with his head toward the door behind them. "Just take Miyazaki-san to a safe place, right now!"

"But—" Chisame doubted.

"Listen to him, morons," Evangeline growled, icily. "Flee for your worthless lives while you still have them."

"I won't leave until I have certified Chachamaru is in optimal conditions myself!" Satomi protested, not moving an inch now. Somehow, the shorter girl's threats had just spurred her on.

"Geez, Hakase!" Chisame clenched her teeth. "Robots don't have any blood to suck!"

"Mc Dowell-san..." Negi finally spoke again, sweating but trying to keep a brave face as he raised his staff up, "Let Ayase-san to go, safely. Now!"

Evangeline's expression turned completely blank and jaded. "As you wish" she droned, then to make a wicked small grin. "Catch."

Without any prior warning, she tossed Yue's limp body forward, forcing him to drop the staff on reflex to catch her in his arms. Before he could even lower Yue, Evangeline flew in with a wide, perverse smile, grabbing him by the throat and roughly pushing him against a wall.

"Sensei!" Chisame screamed.

"Oh my, oh dear, oh no," Satomi muttered under her breath, blinking at random rapid intervals. "Definitely not convenient at all."

"Son of the Thousand Master," Evangeline hissed deeply, narrowing her eyes as her mouth hovered over his incipient Adam's apple. "You have no idea of how long have I waited for this. Fifteen years of humiliation and shame will end up tonight... washed away with your blood!"

"Wh-Why...?" Negi choked out, attempting vainly to break free from her amazingly strong grip. "W-What have I—"

"You were born from him. That's more than enough for me," she snarled, lowering her mouth dangerously close to his skin. "And you don't need to know anything els—"

"LET HIM GO!" Chisame's yell took her by surprise, and the next thing she knew was a large and thick hardcover was being smashed from behind against her face. The force of the hit was not that big at all, but the mere shock made her to back away, releasing the boy.

She passed a hand over her nose, feeling it leaky. To her absolute indignation, she found it bleeding. Bleeding! Quickly, she licked the blood off her fingers before giving the hacker a venomous stare.

"Hasegawa Chisame..." she roared, chomping the air madly with her sharp teeth, "After I'm done with him, you impudent worm are next!"

"M-Me?" Chisame yelped, stepping back as she still held the deluxe Bram Stoker's Dracula she had just taken from Yue's desk in a mad bid for something big and heavy.

"Girls, step away!" Negi whipped his magic wand off, aiming it at Evangeline. "Flans Exarmatio!"

With a wave of a hand, the blonde projected a small shield of mystical energy around herself, instantly blocking the spell before it could reach her. The magical air blast was tossed all across the room, and Negi barely could jump in time to push Hakase with himself out of the way of one of the disarming bursts' way.

However, Chisame's shriek half a second later told him she hadn't been so fortunate.

"Hasegawa-san...?" he hesitated, looking into her direction only to quickly avert his gaze, blushing deep red.

"YOU INFERNAL BRAT!" Chisame was just as red, her clothes blown off, covering her chest and crotch with her hands as best as she could. "DON'T LOOK THIS WAY!"

"Ha, ha, ha hah!" Evangeline laughed madly, rushing ahead again towards Negi and Hakase. "What a failure of a mage! I'll bet your blood tastes like warm lemonade!"

"You'd better take a drink from this!" Negi yelled, pulling a few tiny bottles out and flipping them open in a single swift motion of his fingers, throwing their content all over Evangeline.

"What? AAAARRRGHHH!" Evangeline screeched to a halt, screaming as he attempted to rub the liquids off herself. "Why, damn you! You're just as bad as your idiotic father! I'll kill you for this! I will—"

Then she paused, listening to the steps outside. Their noise had alerted someone. Maybe another teacher.

Growling, the vampiress jumped back through the window, flying out into the deep night. "Come and get me if you can, Boya!" she loudly challenged. "I always preferred fighting at outdoors anyway!"

"Sensei!" Chisame shouted while wrapping a bedsheet around herself. "Don't even think of—"

But Negi had just taken his staff, mounted it, and flown out in hot pursuit of their attacker. "Just watch over the two of them!" he yelled. "I'll be back soon!"

Chisame rushed to the balcony, still calling for him, despite him being nothing but a speck in the nocturnal sky by now. "Wait, you imbecile! She's going to—"

Then she had to bite her tongue. Izumi Ako and her tall friend Ookuchi Akira had just appeared at the room's door, shocked and pale.

They were looking at the fainted Nodoka, the confused Hakase now with Yue in her arms, and the half naked Chisame with stupor and bewilderment.

"What... what has just happened here?" Akira asked. "We heard screams, and then we saw the door on the floor, and now... now..."

Chisame slumped her head down. "Hakase, you are the genius. YOU explain it for me, okay?"


 

Negi's hands tightened themselves around his staff, as the boy focused his power into radiating even more speed into the wooden implement. The world seemed to zoom around him, to nearly dizzying levels; he was not used to fly so fast, or so low either.

Evangeline seemed to be unafraid of being seen, as she kept on flying rather low, leading him into a chase through the campus, towards the Northern woods. Fortunately, the vampire scares had made sure the Mahora grounds were lonely at those hours.

"Mc Dowell-san!" Negi shouted at the top of his lungs. "Stop immediately! You could hurt yourself!"

"Ha, ha ha ha ha ha!" the young looking blonde laughed in a tone that fully contradicted her appearance. "Concerned about me, 'Sensei'? You shouldn't be! It's you who won't see the next day's light!"

"Don't say that!" he yelled. "Why are you attacking your classmates? Even if you suffer from blood thirst, any of the mage staff here should be able to help you!"

"Hah!" she increased her speed, looking back over a shoulder at him, smirking maliciously. "What, are you suggesting to let those weasels to feed me with fake blood while looking for a cure for me? I don't want any cures! I am the Queen of the Night! I don't even need the blood to survive! I only drank from those children to make time until the main course!"

Negi frowned while attempting to catch up to her, dodging the tree trunks as they zig zagged through a park. It was clear she was attempting to make him to crash. But he wouldn't desist! He wouldn't lose her!

He kept on analyzing the situation while chasing her. Evangeline seemed to combine the best advantages of a wizard (spellcasting, knowledge of the mechanics of the arcane) with those of the vampire (superior physical strength, flight without the need for a staff or broom). Apparently, he had the disadvantage in the versatility department, and yet, he couldn't help but noticing she had not used offense spellworking yet.

"Boyo!" she called out when they passed near the church. "I suggest you something! If you can catch me, I might tell you something about your father!"

His eyes went wider. "H-how could you know something about him?"

"Tsk! Tsk! No details until you have done it!" she chided, gaining some altitude. "What do you say? Are you up to the challenge?"

The boy's cute face made a resolute, yet almost laughable on his rounded features, expression. "Do you promise it?"

"Maybe, maybe not...!" she sing-sang.

Negi's brow curved itself angrily. "Rastel Maskir Magister!" he lifted a hand. "Evocatio Valcyriarum! Contubernalia Gladiara!"

Eight ghostly shapes made of grayish swirling vapor materialized themselves around him. The humanoid figures all seemed to form a long sharp blade made of hardened air in a hand.

"Bravo!" Evangeline congratulated him. "Finally, some proof you are his son after all! Not bad, but you'll have to do much better to approach him at all!"

"I only need to approach you for now!" he aimed a hand at her. "Age capiant!" he commanded, and all eight wind spirits zoomed down against her at a breakneck speed.

Evangeline smiled confidently, tossing a few small bottles out of the folds of her long black cape, hitting the spirits with amazing accuracy and blowing them up in midair.

But Negi smiled as well despite that. She had used potions instead of attack spells. That meant her magic level had to be low, which explained why he and Misora had not 'felt' it before. And using a shield at midair took a lot more power than one at ground level...

"Flans Exarmatio!" he shouted, aiming his right handpalm into her direction. If he took her potions away, she would lose a major part of her effectiveness.

Again, the massive burst of wind flew toward her, this time hitting her with full force despite her attempt to project another blocking shield. It blew the cape and the potion bottles right off her body, along with her black dress, leaving her floating in only a thin white undershirt and panties.

For a moment, despite his uneasiness at seeing another one of his students in a state of undress, he smiled, finding the victory to be much closer...

Right before a blur in a black and white maid outfit swooped down from high above, taking him fully unaware, punching him in the jaw and sending him falling down at a vertiginous speed.


 

Kasuga Misora just couldn't sleep.

It was funny.

Cocone had gone to bed more than two hours ago. From her seat next to the window, Misora could see her sleeping quietly on her bed, face down, never moving or rolling around at all.

But she, on the other hand, couldn't do the same thing, which was unusual since she was the laziest of the duo by far. She simply felt unrestful and fidgety, bothered by something she couldn't quite put her finger onto. It wasn't the usual fear she had felt since being attacked. It was something else, similar to some degree, but that felt more like some sort of sense of urgency.

She, feeling urgency over doing anything? The girl was really starting to think she could be sick.

So she had taken a seat next to the window, hoping the cool night breeze could soothe her down while she played her Game Boy, biting her lower lip while shooting spaceship after spaceship down. She had placed wards all around the window, as well, so the vampire's return, at last, after so many nights of bad dreams, was the last thing in her mind at that exact moment.

Then Misora heard the icy laughter, and she looked up at the sky.

And her eyes, once more, transformed into pitch black spheres.

It was like a feverish dream suddenly coming to life. Up there, flying over the trees, bathed by the faint light of the full moon, a figure with long golden hair laughed and laughed while flying wrapped into a gigantic black cape, fleeing a small boy riding a flying staff. Horrified, the girl backed away from the window violently, yet was unable to take her eyes away from the scene.

The boy, who she was sure had to be Negi-sensei, had just summoned eight attack spirits and sicced them on his target. Misora stared, fascinated, at that display of power, feeling her fear mixing up with some strange new admiration. He actually was an impressive wizard! Now she wanted that Pactio even more; if he could beat the Dark Evangel all by himself...

But then, as if on cue, her fondest hopes were shattered as swiftly as the pursuer summonings the escaping blonde had somehow just neutralized. Sensei was not beaten yet, however, no; he had just done some crazy shit that had blown the vampire's clothes off! Wow, there were stripping spells too? Well, it was easy to guess why Sister Shakti had never spoken about them at the church.

Misora still was unsure of how the hell could you beat a vampire by stripping her, but before such a relevant and timeless question could be answered, something that looked like a blur of black and white with green hair zoomed down from above hitting Sensei squarely on the kisser (or so it seemed), and sending him barreling down towards the ground, much to Misora's ever growing terror.

She only could see him falling through a tree's top, before she couldn't see anything else. Both because the angle and the distance didn't allow for it, and because she just couldn't keep on watching. Scared out of her wits, the young female pulled the curtains close and slipped under her bed's covers, trembling like a terrified deer.

She closed her eyes tightly, trying her best to sleep and forget, but she felt herself antsier than ever. Reopening her eyes, she warily looked over at Cocone's prone and still blissfully sleeping form.

"Nothing I can do anyway," Kasuga reassured herself under her breath.

Maybe he would be okay in any case. Yeah. If he was a strong sorcerer like his father, he could pull it off. Yes, that was it. Worrying about it was silly.

Misora remained still and silent, trying to listen. She couldn't hear anything else.

Shouldn't a mage beating a vampire up cause a few magical explosions?

On the other hand, a vampire sucking a mage's blood should be silent and discreet, like Yue sipping a carton of juice at the back of the class.

"No, that's ridiculous to think," she told herself.

Eh, even if she sucked him off, it wasn't like it'd kill him, right? She had survived something similar herself with no lasting effects.

Then again, if the vampire was after revenge over that Thousand Master affair...

You should have told him, she scolded herself. It's your fault!

No, wait, it's not my fault at all! I didn't tell him to go out and play Buffy!

But... I didn't try to convince him to stop it, either...she remembered, sulking down.

The girl looked at her right hand, reminiscing how good it had felt when he grabbed it.

What is this annoying thing I'm feeling? Guilt...?.

Gulping, she tiptoed to the window and took a brief peek through the curtains. The campus looked fully lonely and empty, but she knew they should be somewhere between the trees.

Misora sighed, sitting down at the floor. She shook her head, grabbing her scalp with both hands. She never had been so scared in her whole life. But exactly scared of what?

The Vampire Witch, the Damsel of Blood, was a huge part and parcel of that fear, no doubt, but what was that other panic she was feeling as well?

Misora whimpered as loud as she could without waking her child friend up. She couldn't put Negi-kun's smile out of her head, and then there was his courage, his kindness to the ghost girl, his determination. He was everything she couldn't be; brave and reliable, trustworthy and sincere. And now he would be killed, no doubt, his small dry dead body to be found early tomorrow, drained and cold. He would die alone and away from his house and family while she cowered under her covers.

"I can't do anything.." she whispered to herself.

Her eyes slowly traveled over to her closet. Trembling and breathing heavily, she stood back up and opened it, facing the hanging habits and the reserve crucifixes inside, the stashed spell books and the bottles of holy water.

Misora made a suffering face.

"I must be completely insane..." she whined. "A suicidal idiot, that's what I am..."


 

Negi yowled in pain as he fell through a sakura tree's foliage, finally managing to break his fall with one of the thicker lower branches. Still stunned by the impact, he noticed he had dropped his staff, looking down quickly to see it at the tree's roots.

He extended a hand towards it, and shouted "Mea Virga!" Instantly, the staff flew up to his outstretched hand, which gripped it tightly. Then he climbed to the upper branches, sticking his head out of the treetop and looking up at the sky, hoping to find his opponents again. But they were nowhere in sight.

Instead, Evangeline's amused voice came from below now.

"Are you looking for us, Sensei?"

Negi turned his gaze down to see Evangeline standing at the middle of a nearby small road, her arms crossed. Behind her, a French maid outfit, Karakuri Chachamaru stood expressionless and silent.

"That has been enough!" Negi shouted while jumping down to face them. "If you keep this up, I... I'll have to report you to the Dean!"

"Oh dear. I'm terrified," the small blonde chuckled, devilishly.

"Karakuri-san!" Negi called out at the robot. "Why are you helping her to do these awful things? Hakase-san won't be happy at all!"

"I'm sorry, Negi-sensei" the gynoid droned, lowering her head. "I only follow my master's orders."

"She is my Ministra Magi, Boya" Evangeline darkly cooed. "Hakase's opinion has no weight on this."

"WHAT?" Negi recoiled. "B-But she possibly can't be your partner! I mean, she is a— a—"

"Oh, we haven't Pactioed through the conventional means, if that's what you mean" Evangeline dismissed his question with a handwave. "Still, she is linked to me as my servant. And working together, a pup with no partner like you will never be able to defeat us."

"That remains to be seen!" Negi lifted a hand up. "Undecimem Spiritus Aeriales..."

Before he could finish the spell, Chachamaru blinked out of sight, then reappeared right before him in a fraction of a second and casually grabbed him by the cheeks, stretching them painfully.

"UWAAAA!" Negi bawled as soon as she released him. "That was mean! Undec—"

Always with the same neutral face, Chachamaru pinched his nose and twisted it around. "KYAAAAAA!" he yelled.

"Heh, heh heh! Surprised, Sensei?" Evangeline taunted him. "You shouldn't be! A genius like you should be aware a Ministra lives to protect her Magistra while she can't defend herself. We are basically helpless while casting a spell, so the Partners must act as a physical shield, or a counterattack weapon. That's why a youngling without any Pactio to his belt, like you, will never be a challenge for us. Chachamaru!" she commanded. "I grow tired of this! Hold him so I can suck him dry!"

"Yes, Master," with uncanny speed, the robotic girl caught the boy unaware, grabbing him into an inescapable chokehold against her hard as steel body. "Please forgive me, Sensei," she softly said. "Nothing personal at all."

"Oh, it is for me," Evangeline smirked as she walked to them, swaying her hips seductively. "I only wish your stupid father could be here to see this! Oh, that's true; I promised you to tell you about him, didn't I? Then listen well, because I never break a promise. For the last few weeks, since I learned you were coming here, I have been attacking those mindless students to gather strength for this moment. Many of the attacks went unreported; in some cases, the victims themselves thought they had just had a bad dream. And do you know why did I need to regain my strength?"

"Wh—Why?" Negi kicked and struggled in vain trying to break Chachamaru's grip.

"Because your beloved father sentenced me to years and years of suffering at these cursed grounds!" Evangeline yelled, her mask of playfulness falling off to reveal raw anger and bitterness. "That miserable oaf toyed around with me, and then sealed my powers away! I have spent fifteen hellish years trapped at this pigpen, surrounded by nothing but imbeciles! Me, who once was the most feared scourge of four continents! If I could, I'd eradicate your whole bloodline from this world!"

Negi went pale, and not only because the robot's hold was interrupting his normal blood flow. "But... I'm sure he'd have his reasons..."

"LIKE HELL I CARE ABOUT THAT!" she growled. "LET ME SPELL IT FOR YOU, NIMROD! I'M AN EVIL MAGE! EVIL! IF ANYONE DOESN'T WANT ME PREYING ON ANYONE I WANT, TOO BAD FOR THEM!"

Negi trembled under her glare. "D-Don't say that... I'm sure we can find a way to—"

"I already have chosen a way of my liking, thanks," Evangeline licked her lips, smiling again. "To break the Thousand Master's curse binding me here, I'd normally need to drink his blood, but as his son, yours will suffice, as well. And I'll make sure to enjoy every last drop of it..."

"SOMEONE HELP ME!" Negi screamed as Chachamaru lowered him enough for him to be at Evangeline's reach. The vampire opened her mouth fully, her long fangs glinting under the moonlight.

"I'm sorry. Not too much, but..." she said as she closed in to his neck, "I'll try to make this quick, if it's any consolation to you."

"IT ISN'T! he whimpered, nearly hysterical. "HELP-! HASEGAWA-SAN! HAKASE-SAN!"

Then, as if acting on cue, a female voice interrupted the scene, calling out from the other side of the path.

"STOP YOURSELVES RIGHT THERE, VILLAINS!"

The vampire grumbled, turning her around around to look at the source of the sound. "Now what...?"

A young female in a nun's habit stood at a prudent distance, posing heroically, her long skirt flapping around in the breeze. A mask covering the lower half of her face below the veil, only allowing for her eyes to be seen.

"I— I have come to punish all evildoers wh-who prey on innocent children!" the stranger announced, as if reading lines from a cue card, stiffly and fighting her own fear down. "I-I'm the protector Angel of Mahora! Y-You can call me, um... The Mysterious Sister!"

Negi's eyes widened with reborn hope. "Ahhhh!" he was amazed. Who could be that brave and beautiful heroine who had just showed up to save him?

"Ah. Kasuga Misora," Evangeline deadpanned.

The Mysterious Sister jumped up in alarm. "K-K-Kasuga who? You must be muh-mistaken, b-buh-bloodsucking fiend! I have no name but the one I just announced, and I don't know that pretty and cute young nun you just have mentioned! At all!"

Evangeline tilted her head aside.

Negi gave the Sister a shocked stare. "Is that really you, Kasuga-san...?"

"I'M NOT ME! I MEAN, I'M NOT KASUGA MISORA!" the newcomer yelled, and changed her voice abruptly to a thicker, gruff feigned tone. "Does Kasuga Misora sound like this? Huh? Huh?"

"Voice scanning complete" Chachamaru said. "It matches 3-A's student number nine, Kasuga Misora's, in a 100%"

"What are you doing here?" the vampire witch asked, annoyed. "Did you come to feed me more? I don't want my appetite spoiled for tonight's dish. I already had enough of your weak watery blood."

"Please don't hurt her, Master," Chachamaru asked. "Just ask her to go back home and forget this."

"Hmph. I suppose you are right," the short blonde conceded. "Very well, since I'm in a good mood over my victory, I will grant your wish, Chachamaru. You, girl! Heed your master's voice! Since I bit you, you are my slave! And so, I command you to head back to your hole and forget this ever happened!"

It took every bit of willpower the Mysterious Sister had to reject the offer, but shakily, she still shook her head, then briefly bared her neck. The bite marks were fully gone by then.

"Sister Shakti purified them!" she said. "I— I'm never going to be under your thrall!"

"Oh, ho!" Evangeline seemed entertained by the notion. "So that poor woman has more power than I thought. Curiouser and curiouser. Still, what do you hope to do against me? I have overpowered you like a baby before, and that's when I was alone. Are you that much of a masochist? Hmmmm?"

The Mysterious Sister gasped aloud, but managed to retain enough will to stand her ground and train a cross on Evangeline's direction. "S-S-Step back, vile spawn of the night! I-In the name of the Lord, I b-banish you away!"

The blonde gave the crucifix a stare, then laughed again. "Oh, please! Even if I were a demon, your weak faith wouldn't be enough to harm me!"

The masked girl trembled, starting to charge the cross with her own magic power. "That... That isn't the only trump card I had..."

Evangeline smiled, flexing her force shield around herself. "Just try it. I'd like to see your pitiful magic breaking through my defenses."

The nun threw the cross in a perfect arc over Evangeline's head. "Who said I was going to hit you? Sensei! Lower your head!"

He did it just in time, closing his eyes just as the cross clashed against Chachamaru's forehead, exploding and filling the whole area with blinding light.

"GAH!" Evangeline blocked her eyes with both forearms. "That's too intense! Kasuga, I'm going to—!"

"Optical sensors momentarily disabled," Chachamaru monotoned. "Rebooting visual systems, recovery complete in three minutes. Please wait..."

With the speed of a track and field star, the Mysterious Sister ran to Negi's side, grabbing him by a hand and pulling him away with herself, managing to free him from the distracted gynoid's arms. "Run, Sensei! Run with me as fast as you can!" she urged.

"Y-Y-Yes!" he nodded, recalling his staff, then jumping onto it, pulling her up with him. "Wait, we'll go faster in this!"

"Okay!" she swallowed hard, hugging him as they zoomed away back toward Chisame's dorm.

Evangeline finally regained enough eyesight to furiously look into their direction. "They are escaping, Chachamaru! Quick! After them!"

"Optical recovery complete in two minutes. Please wait—"

"I DON'T CARE IF YOU HAVE TO FLY BLIND! JUST HELP ME TO CATCH THEM!"


 

Chisame was simply hoping it wouldn't become a recurring event.

Once more, now that she was fully clothed again, she was hugging the piloting Hakase's thin waist as the mad genius piloted the speedster mini vehicle through the Mahora grounds, searching for their pint sized teacher. Honestly, that boy was more problems than he was worth.

"Do you think Izumi and Ookuchi really bought your story?" she finally mused, with a grunt that managed to sound unconcerned.

"They allowed us to go out without calling on anyone else, didn't they?" Satomi asked while keeping her eyes on her radar... more than on the path ahead, much to her roommate's discomfort.

"That's what they promised, anyway" Chisame snorted. "For all we know, they are calling on the Dean right now".

"They are true to their word" Hakase commented, rather distantly.

"Okay" Chisame kept on looking around. "But how do you plan to find him, anyway? All we saw is the general direction they flew into, but what if they took a detour to the West or South? Even assuming they kept the same direction, that still leaves too much ground to cover..."

"I'm not tracking them," the scientist replied. "I'm tracking Chachamaru."

"What?" Chisame gasped. "For the Kami's sake, Hakase! Worry about your Frankenstein doll later! An actual human life might be at stake here!"

"Chisame," Satomi spoke very seriously. "Wherever Chachamaru is now, Sensei and Evangeline-san will be there as well."

"And how do you figure that?"

"I'm not fully sure, but all signs point to it. Evangeline-san fled, meaning she couldn't keep on fighting there by herself. And so far, all her victims were harmless students; she never went after anyone powerful like Ku Fei-san or Chao, or any of the magic-versed teachers. So she could need Chachamaru's help to subdue Negi-sensei," Satomi analyzed the matter with evident cold blood.

"Wait," Chisame blinked. "How many teachers do know about magic?"

Hakase shrugged. "I haven't been able to run a complete research on the subject, but Chao has told me several of them do."

"Figures," the hacker made a disgusted face.

"I have received a positive signal," Satomi perked up visibly. "Chachamaru is at a distance of seven hundred meters, near the North limits of the school grounds."

"Uh-oh," Chisame cringed.

"And getting close at a very steady and fast pace," Satomi completed the analysis.

"TURN THIS THING AROUND AND GO BACK HOME THEN!" Chisame pleaded.

"Not without my intellectual and material property!" the shorter girl stubbornly shouted. "Oh, and Sensei too, I guess. Oh, and speaking of him—"

"What?"

"I think that might be him, currently heading in a flying fashion towards us" Hakase adjusted her goggles, looking ahead while reducing the vehicle's speed. "I only hope he slows down before we enter a straight collision course."

"INSTEAD OF HOPING FOR IT, JUST GET OUT OF THE WAY YOURSELF!" Hasegawa despaired.

Then she also saw Negi, flying their way into his staff, carrying... a masked nun?... with himself. "Sensei...?"

"Hasegawa-san! Hakase-san!" the boy called out while screeching to a halt in midair, the nun shrieking as she held to him for her dear life. "Wh-What are you two doing here?"

"Well, excuse us! We were just trying to save your life!" Chisame barked. "I know, that makes us almost as dumb and suicidal as you, but never mind that! Say," she fixed her glare on the nun, "is that you, Kasuga?"

"I have no idea of who is that Kasuga Misora you mention!" the girl in the habit averted her gaze. "I am only known as The Mysterious Sister!"

"Yes. It's indeed her," Satomi concluded.

Chisame jumped off the vehicle, grabbing Negi's neck forcefully and checking it up carefully. "Okay, where are the bite marks? We'll have to get you vaccinated or something, right?"

"Please, Hasegawa-san! There's no time for this!" he begged.

Chisame jerked back. "One second, you're right. Weren't you CHASING her off? And now, aren't you being chased instead?"

"That's right..." he lamented.

"They are here," Satomi evenly stated, looking at her radar again.

Hasegawa, Kasuga and Springfield freaked out. "WHERE?"

"Right... HERE!" Evangeline howled madly, as she and Chachamaru descended in their midst, the robot's foot jets making her to land down safely. "You miserable rats! Insolent vermin! You have laughed more than enough at me! Now you'll experience nothing but the most abject FEAR—!"

"Master, please, don't hurt Hakase-san too much. I still depend on her for repairs," Chachamaru softly requested.

"TH-THANK YOU FOR WORRYING THAT MUCH ABOUT THE REST OF US!" Chisame quickly backed away, torn between indignation and panic.

Negi stepped between the three human girls and his two pursuers. "Mc Dowell-san!" he called. "Please let them go! Your revenge doesn't involve them! You only want me, don't you? Drink all of my blood if you must, but don't hurt any of them!"

"It's too late for that, Boya," Evangeline growled, then pointed a hand at Chisame and another one at the Mysterious Sister. "She bashed my gorgeous face with a book! And she injured my evocative and dreamy eyes! No way I'm allowing those offenses to go unpunished!"

"Evangeline-san," Hakase calmly said while stepping down the speedster. "I'm taking Chachamaru away from you. I never agreed to lend her to you for the purposes of stalking and hunting human beings. Why, she could get critically damaged doing that!"

"YOU SHOULD WORRY LESS ABOUT HER, AND MORE ABOUT THE HUMAN BEINGS!" the Mysterious Sister yelled grievously.

"Hm?" Evangeline humphed. "Since when do you have any sort of moral qualms about the use of your creations, Hakase Satomi? I thought you had sold your soul to science. If Chachamaru is broken, you just find a way to repair her. If human scum is harmed instead, wasn't that just a collateral sacrifice for your cause?" she mocked bitterly.

Satomi looked straight at her eyes. "Science is ultimately all about the betterment of mankind. Not about its subjugation under the heel of magic".

"You should know better than to say that before a mage" the vampiress snarled. "I liked you better when you made no questions. Chachamaru! After I'm done with the boy, I'll feast on her! She'll be more useful as a slave with no will! So grab her for me!"

The robot paused for a moment, almost hesitating, before quietly saying, "Yes, Master."

Negi was about to shield the scientist with his own body, just as Chisame and the Sister, in their panic, turned to each other to share a terrified hug. But then, Hakase, without faltering, simply opened her mouth and spoke again.

"Override Program, Activate!" she said. "Hakase Takeover Protocols, Start!"

Chachamaru froze on the spot, much to Evangeline's puzzlement.

"What are you waiting for?" the undead mage sputtered. "Grab her now!"

"New Main Directive, Protect Subjects Springfield, Hakase, Hasegawa and Kasuga!" Satomi commanded. "Neutralize target: Evangeline Mc Dowell!"

"What?" the blonde blinked. Right before a metal fist punched her in the nose.

Negi, Chisame and the Sister gasped in shock, as Chachamaru turned around to assume a fighting stance.

"I'm sorry, Master" the green haired girl apologized. "I can't help it. Please depart before I'm forced to apply more force upon you".

"The hell?" Evangeline jerked up violently, wiping her bloody nose off with the back of a hand. "Et tu, Brutus? I'll never forgive this vile—"

Chachamaru just kicked her up in the jaw.

Falling back on her butt, Evangeline's eyes watered up. "You dastardly traitor! How could you—! I'll kill you all for this!"

"Sorry, Master," Chachamaru grabbed her by the hair, pulling her up and making her to yowl. "You shouldn't have said that. The more of a threat you become, the more defense force I'll need to use".

"You'll need much more than that, you—!" Evangeline tried to raise a shield, but before she could do it, Chachamaru used her speed edge to slam her facefirst against a tree.

"I regret this, Master. Honestly, I do," the gynoid said while stoically slamming her a few more times. "Please believe me, I'm attempting to use the minimal force needed to control you down."

"You... You coulda fooled me..." Evangeline groggily gurgled.

"Yeah, that's it!" the Mysterious Sister pumped a fist up. "No mercy! No holds barred! Show her a thing or two!".

"Are you sure you are a real nun?" Chisame told her, then turning to Hakase. "Hey, you! Why don't you tell her to stop? I think it's already been enough!"

"She's right, Hakase-san!" Negi said, sounding rather outraged over the turn of events. "I disapprove of any fighting between my students! Just stop this now!"

Satomi gave him a blank glare. "But, Sensei... She tried to—"

"NOW!" he ordered.

Hakase sighed. "As you wish. Chachamaru! Stop the proceeding! Restart only in case the target takes further offensive actions!" she clapped her hands only once.

"Yes, Hakase-san," Chachamaru almost sounded grateful as she allowed Evangeline to fall down to her knees, sobbing violently.

Even Chisame couldn't help but feeling some pity for her then. Like an angry and spoiled, yet broken and infinitely sad child, the petite blonde rubbed her tearful eyes. But as soon as Negi attempted to reach for her, she slapped his hand away.

"I hate you all, with all my soul!" she hissed. "Rest assured, the next time I see you, none of you will escape alive!"

"Please, Mc Dowell-san..." he begged. "There's no need to be enemies...! I'm sure we can find a solution for your curse if we—!".

"SHUT UP! SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!" the vampiress roared. "No more lies! You're just like him! I hate you more than anyone else!"

She flew up rubbing her swollen face, shooting a hateful glare to all of them.

"I'll claim my servant back, and all of you along with her!" she threatened. "You have just angered the most dangerous enemy of all! Fear! From now on, do nothing but fearing the day of my bleakest revenge—!"

"Master, beware!" Chachamaru warned as Evangeline floated backward. "Watch out for that—"

*BOMF!*

"—tree," the gynoid finished as her master fell back down to the ground, with a large bump on her head.

"Gyah!" Negi rushed to her side. "Are you okay, Mc Do—"

"I SAID AWAY!" Evangeline slapped him away, then flew off as quick as she could. "I'll see you dead for this!"

"Master..." Chachamaru whispered.

"You're much better off without her," Hakase huffed. "Come with me. From now on, you will be under my direct care and supervision. That will optimize our interaction and my data collecting, while preventing you from being dismantled by overzealous authorities."

"But, Hakase-san..." the robot started.

"No buts, Chachamaru!" the scientist was categorical. "Are you going to oppose your creator's stipulations?"

Chachamaru lowered her head. "No, Hakase-san."

Negi was about to protest, but Chisame stopped him, placing a hand on his right shoulder. "No, Sensei. Maybe it's best this way."

He sighed before turning his eyes to the other girl there. "Thank you, Mysterious Sister. And you too, Hakase-san, Hasegawa-san. You put yourselves in a great risk for me."

"Ah, ha ha ha!" the Sister laughed shakily. "It's what we champions of justice do, young Sensei! No need to thank me, although you can keep doing it if you really want so!"

"Yeah, thank you..." Chisame reached up for her mask and yanked it from her face, "... Kasuga!"

"AHHHH!" Misora quickly hid her face between her hands. "NO! You have just found my secret identity!"

"WE KNEW IT FROM THE START, YOU DUMMY!" the virtual idol yelled.

"I'm ruined...!" Misora sobbed. "Now all of you know I'm a mage, too!"

Hasgawa blinked. "What? You are a mage as well?"

"CRAP!" Misora bit her tongue. "Forget I just said that!"

"I'd do it if I could, believe me!" Chisame claimed angrily.

"Negi-kun, let's erase their memories!" Kasuga asked.

"No, Kasuga-san, just no!" he said. "And don't call me 'Negi-kun'!"

As the three of them bickered, and Hakase checked on her like a doting mother... or simply an overeager obsessed worker, Chachamaru remained quiet and silent, looking into the distance.

"Master..." she whispered again.


 

It was well past midnight by now.

They had left Misora at her dorm, then headed back to their rooms. After confirming the librarians were okay with Akira, and barely dodging Yuuna's questions about where had they been and why Chachamaru was with them, the four of them had finally settled back at Chisame and Hakase's bedroom.

Negi had fallen asleep as soon as his head had touched his futon's pillow, exhausted and drained. Chisame, on the other hand, was relentlessly insomniac, her nerves made a mess. Even now she rolled around on her upper bunk, casting the occasional wary glare in Chachamaru's direction.

The green haired robot sat, still and completely silent, next to Negi's futon, with a completely neutral expression on her face.

"Hakase," Miss Hasegawa said in a whisper.

"Mmmmmm?" a low mumble came sleepily from the bunk below.

"Are you sure it's safe to sleep in the same room as her?" Chisame kept her voice very low. "After everything she did?"

"Relax," Satomi yawned. "The override program makes impossible for her to attack any of us." She paused before adding, "As long as I don't say otherwise."

"Sometimes you scare me," Chisame muttered.

Somehow, it just didn't feel right. It had saved them, yeah, and even so, it felt wrong, having forced the robot to come with them. Having her watching over them with those creepy vacant green eyes was not helping, either.

"She's actually a well behaved artificial intelligence," Hakase made small dozing sounds, wrapping her bedsheets tighter around herself. "Evangeline-san was only giving her an incorrect use."

Chisame nodded to herself. She continued looking at the immobile robot. It seemed wrong to think of her as an actual girl, and actual classmate, but even so, listening to Satomi talking about her as some simple piece of machinery seemed even worse now. She kept on looking at that cold, unfazed face, trying to read her almost inexistent expressions.

"When will she go to sleep?" she asked. "And where?"

"She doesn't sleep, remember?" Hakase grumbled, sounding annoyed and just wanting to doze off.

Hasegawa grimaced. So the robot would just keep on watching all night long. Lovely.

Then she noticed Chachamaru calmly looking back at her, and she flustered, rolling away to face the wall.

For a moment, unseen in the room's darkness, Chachamaru made the smallest vague hint of a smile.

Then, the boy rolled around as well, to wrap his arms clumsily around her legs. "Sis..." he muttered, looking nervous and disturbed with his dreams. "Protect me, Sis..."

But then, just as his hands briefly touched Chachamaru's metallic legs, the child shrank away, shuddering. "C-Cold..." he gurgled. "So... cold..."

During a second, if anyone had looked at the robot, they could have sworn she nearly looked somewhat hurt by the statement.

But then, quietly, she put a few blankets over her lap, and carefully maneuvered Negi's head over them. He made a tiny contented sound as he hugged her midsection, comforted by the warmth of the blankets.

Silently, Chachamaru ran a hand, very softly, through his hair.

It was almost like petting a kitty.


 

To Be Continued

Chapter Text

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.


 

Fallaces Sunt Rerum Species.


 

Chisame nearly jumped out of her bed, not to mention her skin, when the horrified yelp coming from the other side of the room woke her up.

"Wha—? Wha—?" with a haunted look in her sleep deprived eyes, she babbled looking into Negi's direction. "Who? When? How many dead?"

"I-I-I-I think Karakuri-san has just died!" the boy shrieked, frantically pointing with a hand to the limp robotic body lifelessly sitting at his side. "This is horrible! I woke up to find her like this! She... She was so young, too..." he sobbed.

Chisame ran a hand over her own face. "Oh. That. HA-KA-SE!" she screamed. "Your wind-up doll needs screwing!"

Negi looked at her. "... What?"

Chisame hesitated, blushing a bit all of a sudden. "Wh-What have you just 'understood' from my words?"

"Nothing," he sheepishly confessed.

"I'm relieved," she replied. Then she climbed down to shake the heavy sleeping black haired girl like a doll of her own. "HAKASEEEE! THE NOBEL PRIZE COMMITEE HAS JUST CALLED!"

The shorter girl's eyes were open instantly then. "Itsahonortoaccepthisprizefor—" she mumbled before realizing how gray the reality around her was. "Oh, Chisame!" she whined. "That's a mean trick and you know it!"

The hacker pushed Satomi's face around to make her look at Chachamaru. "Your Terminator has just scared Sensei out of his wits! Wind her up before I grow tired and just use her as a mannequin for Chiu's costumes!"

"Ah. Eh. Okay," Hakase clumsily waddled out of bed. "Step aside, if you please, Sensei. Thats' it, what a nice gentleman." She knelt down next to Chachamaru. "Please open the first drawer of my desk and bring me the large key in there."

With a nod, Negi walked to the appointed desk and pulled a big key that wouldn't have looked out of place in a giant toy prop. "Is this what you wish for, Hakase-san?" he asked.

"Yes. Hand it to me."

Obediently, Negi did as he was indicated. Satomi then inserted the key into a big slot on the back of the robot's head and motioned for him to get closer.

"Now listen, Sensei," she instructed. "Once a day, Chachamaru needs an infusion of magical energy to continue performing her vital cycles. That infusion is done by a magically charged subject winding her up by using this key. Evangeline-san used to do it, but now you will have to suffice."

"Me?" he helplessly asked.

"Is there any other magic user in the room?" Satomi asked as she grabbed both his hands and placed them on the key. "It isn't difficult at all. Just twist it around until she asks for you to stop."

"Oh... Very well. I will do my best at this 'screwing' thing to make the three of you proud and happy!" he gasped, gathering his determination up.

"... There's no way you had no clue of what you just said!" Chisame's face had just gained a thick crimson hue.

Slowly, very slowly at first, Negi began to wind Chachamaru up, remembering those times when he used to play with toys, before entering Merdiana Academy. For the first few moments of it, nothing happened, but then, a soft single gasp barely escaped the robot's lips.

"Oh."

The boy smiled with relief. "Ahh, how nice... She's all right after all..."

"You have injected new life into her," Hakase commented.

"Do we need to do it every morning, then?" Negi questioned.

"At the morning, at midnight, even at school... at any time you two feel like it, actually," Satomi said.

"Isn't it something improper to do at school?" Negi doubted.

"A short screwing at the classroom won't hurt anyone," Hakase stated.

Chisame returned to her bed and hid her face into her pillow. "My God, I feel dirty just by listening at you!"

"Ah. Ah, ah," Chachamaru lifted her head a bit.

"Is it... right for her to do this?" the teacher seemed more taken aback now.

"It just means you are revving her up," the scientist remained calmed. "It's okay, she likes it. As long as you don't go too rough on her, she'll be fine. You are doing remarkably well for your first time."

He blushed at the acknowledgement. "Well, thank you... To be honest, I always worry about my performances..."

"Ah. Ah, uh oh. Ah," the robot fully opened her eyes. Her whole body had tensed up.

"Is... Is this fine, too?" he gulped.

"Yes, I'd say you two will be reaching the climax of the proccess in a few minutes more. Hmmm, it has taken her longer than usual this time. Maybe last night was too much for her," Satomi estimated.

"No, no, no," Chachamaru began to softly gasp, her voice cracking a bit. Chisame simply groaned.

"Do... Do I need to let her go now?" Negi asked.

"Not yet. Her mouth says 'No', but her body says 'Yes'," Hakase guided him. "I mean, it's a natural reaction. Her programming has not advanced enough to understand her actual breaking point. But her body still needs some more of it. Okay, here it comes. Here it comes..."

Chisame heard nothing but an odd pause then, and she lifted her face up from the pillow to look at the scene again. A pleased looking Satomi and Negi sat behind Chachamaru, who had recovered her usual emotionless appearance.

"Was it good?" Negi hopefully and gently asked, patting the robot on a shoulder.

"Yes," Chachamaru took the key off and handed it back to him. "You are... kind and considerate at it. You are not very skilled, but you will improve with practice."

"Oh, he will get a lot of practice, you can be sure of that," Hakase proudly gave him a few pats on the back. "I'll personally train him at it!"

Chisame just kept on looking down at the three of them, with jaded and cynical eyes.

"Hasegawa-san?" Negi innocently stared up at her bunk. "Is there something troubling you?"

"I need a cold shower," she reluctantly admitted.


 

"Good morning, Negi-kun!" Sakaki Makie chirped happily as she passed by running next to the quartet on their way to school.

"Good morning, Negi-sensei, girls!" Konoe Konoka said while rollerblading her way along with an indifferent Asuna. "Ah, you are early today!"

"Actually, I think it's us who are late," Asuna mumbled as she kept her fast pace on, and quickly she and her roommate left the others behind.

"Negi-sensei, one of your shoes is cleaner than the other. You should clean them both equally!" the long haired Kitsu Chiri from Class 2-F sternly pointed out, as she also passed by followed by a blissfully skipping and humming Fuura Kafuka.

Chisame groaned to herself. Things looked almost like the same old lunacy now, as if nothing had happened at all last night. And yet, they were stuck with Chachamaru following her and Hakase, with Negi dragging behind almost reluctantly.

"Sensei!" Chisame called back, annoyed. "Hurry up back there! We'll be the last ones to arrive... again! What kind of example will you set for your students?"

"Ubububu..." he softly babbled."I don't know how we will face Mc Dowell-san from now on..."

"What is there to fear for?" Hakase told him, low enough to be unheard by the other students. "Without Chachamaru, she is no threat at all for us."

Then she felt someone suddenly catching up to her and hissing into her ear in a sinister tone, "Don't ever underestimate the Mistress of Darkness..."

"KYAH!" Satomi cringed aside, shocked despite herself.

Chisame grumbled at the newcomer. Kasuga Misora had just reached them almost from nowhere; the only effort she seemed to be making was an effort to NOT leave them behind. "Kasuga, please! We aren't in the mood for any of your stupid pranks."

"Whoever said I'm joking now?" Misora looked at her eyes. "I'm dead serious," she struggled to keep her voice low. "Last night was just a setback for her, I'm sure. Someone as fearsome and hideously evil as her won't quit that easily!"

"That's what I'm thinking, too," Negi said, deeply concerned. "Oh, sorry. Where are my manners? Good morning, Kasuga-san."

"Good morning to you too, Negi-kun," the sprinter nun smiled back to him, softening her expression. "I don't have a working shift at the church today, so what if we spend the afternoon together?" she invited.

"Oh?" he blinked.

"Ehh?" Chisame blinked as well.

Misora laughed. "Well, I thought it'd be nice to... talk about what to do next now we have a common link between us!"

"Between you two?" the hacker implied rather pointedly.

"Well, between us all, actually," Kasuga agreed against her will. "I guess you girls can come too."

"Like a... circle of friends?" Chisame made a face.

"I have a few things to do after classes," Chachamaru quietly spoke. "But I would be honored to meet with you after that."

"You won't be going back to the Tea Ceremony Club," Satomi forbad strictly. "Not as long as Evangeline-san is there too."

"Hakase-san, please, isn't it bad, to decide those things for her?" their teacher stressed.

"It's not about the Club," the robot stated passively. "It is... something else."

Even Chisame and Misora looked curious about it now, but before they could ask, they had reached the school building.

"Fine," Hasegawa mumbled. "After classes, we'll go to Karakuri's activities, then we'll listen to what you have to say, Kasuga. Are you okay with that, Sensei? Hakase?"

"Yes, it sounds fine," Negi nodded.

Satomi adjusted her glasses, giving her creation an intrigued glare. "I suppose... I can skip my club activities just for this day."

Even Misora nodded wordlessly.


 

"Mana-Oneesama! Wait for me!"

Yet Tatsumiya Mana's quick pace did not slow down at all as she marched through the North borders of the school grounds, holding a huge backpack easily hung around her left shoulder. So the much shorter, redheaded girl with her hair collected into four long pigtails tied with green bows had to almost run to catch up to her; it always amazed her how the tall and tanned beauty could walk so fast with so little effort, and no apparent hurry.

"Mana-Oneesama, you're so mean to me!" the petite female panted. "You know my legs are so much shorter than yours!"

"I thought the point of your training was having you trying to reach my level, not having me lowering my level to yours." Calmly, flatly, without bothering to look back, the black haired teenager had answered.

The redhead pouted in a way that almost made her face to inflate, which, along with her tentacle like pigtails nearly snaking around, made her oddly similar to a cartoony octopus for a moment. "Don't mock me!"

Mana made no reply, no further sound. She just kept on walking at the same pace. The pigtailed girl had to rush after her once more to keep up to her.

"Anyway, now that we are away from everyone, can you finally tell me why are we skipping classes today?" she asked.

"The Headmaster called early today," Mana said in a low, serious tone. "Something managed to pass through the barrier near this area around 4:00 A.M., Shiho."

The younger girl, around thirteen years old at most, cringed a little. "H-How big?"

"Nothing too large in size, apparently, but often the small monsters are the worst ones. As you have taught me." She looked back, giving her a dry and wry half-smile.

"Oneesama, the comedy isn't your forte," the offended small Miko pouted again.

"I never joke," the tall female looked ahead once more. "But there's more. The reports also say something else left a major residual magical imprint around this area last night."

The shorter girl in the traditional red hakama and white haori jacket looked up at her identically clothed sempai. "Do you think it has something to do with the vampire scare?"

"Yes. It is the most likely alternative."

Munakata Shiho shuddered, getting closer to her. Then she paused, looking at the gigantic and majestic tree that towered over the whole campus in the distance. "Mana-Oneesama?" she asked.

"Yes?"

"Maybe I should try to do it this week?"

Mana took a brief glimpse into the tree's direction, then shook her head. "I don't believe you are ready yet. And neither is he."

"But at this rate, some other girl will declare herself to Oniichan first sooner or later!"

"Somehow, I doubt it," Mana stated bluntly.

"Hey! What is that supposed to mean? Oniichan has everything a girl could wish for!"

"Other than presence, intelligence, wealth and charisma, you mean?" the dark skinned young woman asked, rather devoid of bitterness, barely questioning in an almost casual way.

"You'll never get married with that attitude, Oneesama," the apprentice humphed.

"I hope so," she stopped, then tensed up, gesturing for Shiho to stop and hush as well. "I think I can feel it" she whispered. "Behind those bushes. Get your charms ready."

With a soft gulping sound, the short girl nodded, quickly pulling a few paper wards out of her long sleeves in a single swift motion. Meanwhile, much faster than that, Tatsumiya unzipped her bag and pulled a large sniper rifle out of it, aiming it towards one of the bushes. The bush suddenly trembled and rustled, and then it seemed to explode to life as Mana shot it and Shiho threw a few wards on it, right after muttering a nervous rapid prayer.

Dodging both the bullet and the pieces of blessed paper, the tiny white blur that had just jumped out into the open ran away as fast as the wind, clutching something into its mouth. Mana took aim again, and then shot once more, missing again much to her frustration.

"Wow!" Shiho gasped behind her. "It's good, Oneesama! I never had seen you missing ever before!"

"Kuso." the tall Miko grunted. Now the thing was fully out of sight, lost in the forest, as fast as it had appeared. "Shiho, did you get to see what it was carrying?"

"Actually, yes." the younger female nodded. "It was a bra!"

Mana tilted her eyes toward her, fixing a creepy, incredulous gaze upon her. "A... what?"


 

Ookuchi Akira stepped out of the dressing room, clad in her dark blue one piece school swimsuit, with a thoughtful expression on her features.

After classes, the Swimming Club was taking over the large indoor pool, but for some reason, Akira just couldn't put her heart into it today. Her mind kept going back to the events of the prior night. She just knew there was something off with the story Hakase had told them. If Hasegawa and her roommates had arrived to the room after the 'vampire' had left, why had Negi-sensei ran away after it? How could he know which way had it taken? And how could he go out so quickly, before she and Ako came? Jumping through the window? And why had Hasegawa gone out of her room wearing not but a wrapped bedsheet?

It just didn't add together at all. A Kazumi or Haruna would have pursued the mystery to its ultimate consequences, but Akira preferred to let it slide. For now, at least. Still, it was troubling, and she was sure Ako felt the same way.

The graceful tall girl walked to the pool's edge, ignoring the boys' glares and leerings from the other side of the fence. As always, they gathered around to watch the girls before their own instructor arrived. She was a favorite of them, and she had grown used to it, but even she stopped being the centre of attention when Kuga-sempai emerged out of the pool.

With water droplets glistening all over her slender but fit body, the swimsuit clad Kuga Natsuki stepped out, like a dreamy mermaid becoming human before her adoring subjects. Whenever she did that, even the other girls paused and took notice, drinking on her serene, dignified beauty.

"I wish I could have a body like Kuga-san's," someone whispered.

"She's like a model," they chattered.

"But she's very conceited," another girl confided quietly. "I heard she's a delinquent, too. She even rides a motorcycle, from what Aoi-sempai told me..."

Without saying a single word, not hearing or not caring about the rumors, Kuga marched away as Akira kept on calmly looking at her, until she was out of sight. The older girl went into the dressers, where several of her own classmates were toweling off and putting their clothes back on.

"Hey, someone took my brassiere away," one of them had complained.

The brown haired Higurashi Akane, with a pink towel wrapped around her modest figure, gasped while looking inside of her locker. "It can't be! My underwear's missing, too!"

"So's mine!" another girl despaired.

Class 2-F was a few meters away, pondering the disappearance of their own undergarments.

"There can be only one explanation for this!" Chiri scowled deeply, tightening a fist up and holding it near her meager chest, with bloody revenge burning in her eyes. "There is a shameless pervert between us!"

"Oh, come on, Chiri-chan!" her friend Kafuka laughed, waving a hand around dismissively. "There's no way a perverted underwear thief, the kind of dangerous sex offender we only see in the metropolitan news, is on the loose at this Academy!"

"Then what do you think it is?" their classmate Tsunetsuki Matoi asked.

"It has to be... an Underwear Gnome!" Kafuka said, very sure of herself.

"Say what?" Chiri exclaimed.

"The Underwear Gnomes are known everywhere from America, especially Colorado, to Japan," Kafuka lectured. "They collect underpants and similar items for profit. My mother told me a lot of stories about an infamous and twisted Gnome who roamed this area when she was young. He stole the panties of all girls until two brave martial artists caught him and locked him up at a cave at the hills! No doubt he's back for revenge now!"

Natsuki huffed while finished drying her long black hair. The inanities of those girls sickened her. She stood up from her bench and quickly walked to her locker, willing to go back to her target's pursuit as soon as possible.

She opened its door up and looked inside. Then she cringed, screeching her teeth.

"Something wrong, Kuga-san?" Akane asked her, blinking curiously.

Natsuki turned around fast, slamming the door close and leaning her back against it. "What could be wrong?" she asked dangerously.

"Well, it's just you always wear such expensive bras and panties, I thought you could have been hit as well..." the girl with brown hair hesitated.

"Nonsense. Of course I haven't been hit," Kuga grumbled, looking aside. "No way I'd let something like that to happen to me."

"Yeah, I guess you're right," Akane apologized. "You are always watchful and alert, so it's simply to be expected..."

Natsuki had to nod, forcing a feral smirk of self-confidence.

A few minutes later, she awkwardly walked in a stiff fashion through the halls of Mahora, holding her skirt down in a way that almost seemed self-betraying to her attempts to look natural. She couldn't wear her wet swimsuit under her uniform, so she was stuck with that situation until she could reach the Student Council's offices and ask Shizuru for a spare or something. She knew she couldn't trust anyone else on it.

So far, she had been lucky, not running into anyone else. But then she saw her target coming along, followed by his roommates, Shakti's assistant, and that strange girl who looked like a robot. Oh no, out of all the times to find him...

"I still can't help being worried about Ayase-san," Negi was commenting. "I wonder why we can't visit her..."

"I heard from Asakura she lost a lot more blood than me, and she's smaller and weaker than me to start with," Misora confided them. "I figure it's okay. Ako and Shizuna-sensei are with her, after all."

"I only hope so..." Negi sulked before noticing the older girl's presence. "Ah, Kuga Natsuki-san! Good morning! I am Negi Springfield, your English teac—".

"The kid teacher, I know," Natsuki nodded quickly, cursing the fact that hall was so narrow and she just couldn't rush past them like that. "Sorry about not making it to classes lately. Been busy. Still am, so if you excuse me—"

"Is there something I can help you with?" Negi still stood in her way, cluelessly. "You only have to ask—"

"No, there isn't!" Kuga fumbled with the words. "Can you please just step aside? I have no time to waste!"

"Why so angry, Sempai?" Misora asked. "Sensei was just asking you a question..."

Then Negi suddenly seemed about to sneeze. Panicking, Chisame silently pulled a tissue out at full speed and pressed it against his nose. He thanked her with a smile and a nod, blew his nose off as politely as a child could, and smiled in some embarrassment up at Natsuki. "Sorry about that, Kuga-san" he said, the sneeze threat apparently over. "If you have something urgent to do, please do it. But don't keep on skipping classes, okay?"

"I'll see what I can do" the girl began to walk past him. Then her long hair brushed accidentally against his nose.

It was only a small sneeze. Not enough to blow any clothes off, but enough to blow a skirt up. And there was nothing to shred up under it.

Negi, Chisame and Misora stared in paralyzed shock. Hakase merely made a brief disapproving face. Chachamaru's expression did not change at all.

Natsuki stood petrified for a moment, before pulling her skirt back down, her face painted red all over. The boy was stuttering a terrified apology, turning his head around and blushing like crazy. The other girls simply kept on looking at her, not saying a single thing.

There was only one thing she could do now.

Kuga Natsuki had never, ever been a shrieking woman.

But she still had to shriek as loud as she could then.


 

"Bwa-ha-ha-ha!" Even now, Misora was laughing so hard her face was red. "Oh, man! Oh, man, that look on Kuga-sempai's face! It was priceless! The only thing that would have made it better is if Kazumi had been there with a camera!"

Chisame took a disgusted sideglare at her. "I ask you again, exactly what kind of nun are you?"

"It is perfectly okay to make fun of those who go commando," Misora said while wiping the laughter tears off her eyes. "It's, um, a sin deserving mockery."

"Where in your Bible do they say that?" the hacker asked. After her own incidents with the stripping sneeze, she couldn't help but feeling some sympathy for Natsuki's plight.

"It's, er, in the Book of Ruth, Chapter 3, Verse 4," Kasuga quickly made her excuse.

"No, it isn't," Hakase calmly denied from where she stood, flipping through the latest Popular Mechanics magazine. The three of them waited next to a magazine stand right outside a small grocery store at the outskirts of Mahora City.

Misora shot the genius a frustrated glare. "You're an atheist, what can you know about the Bible?"

"My lack of belief on its doctrines doesn't mean I haven't studied its text. It has no scientific value, but it still counts as enough of a social and historical implement to merit some research, back when I hadn't decided on a specialty yet," Satomi explained with extreme tranquility.

Misora groaned. "Hey, Chisame-chan. You know, I have found a new sense of respect for your everyday patience."

"I am a martyr of science," Chisame agreed, nodding solemnly.

Chachamaru and Negi walked out of the store then. "Sorry for keeping you waiting!" the boy teacher apologized.

"We can be on our way now," the robot sedately said, holding a bag full with several cans in a hand.

"What's that for, Chachamaru?" Misora asked her.

"It's for... some friends." Keeping her face low, the living machine started to walk away, the four humans following her closely.

"It isn't a trap you're setting for us, right?" Kasuga distrusted.

"No," Chachamaru denied passively.

"Who are those 'friends'?" Satomi scowled. "You never had mentioned them in your personal performance reports."

"I considered they were of no interest for your research fields," the gynoid stated.

"Hoo! That's robot for 'Mind your own business', isn't it?" Misora whistled.

"Kasuga-san, please..." Negi begged.

"I'm surrounded by idiots," Chisame muttered.

They continued walking down the street until they ran into a little black haired girl bawling her eyes out. Concerned, Negi rushed to her side. "What's wrong? Can we help you with something?"

"My-My balloon!" the seven-years old sniffed, pointing up to a tree. "My balloon slipped from my hand and now is stuck in there!"

Chachamaru lifted her head up, focusing her eyes on the treetop. "The object has been located. Still functional, trapped between two upper branches. I will retrieve it."

Her shoes spat fire; literally, as the small jets installed into her feet were turned on, lifting her up into the air. She bonked her head against a thick branch, but she paid no attention to it. Instead, she looked into the foliage, quickly pulling out a shiny red balloon.

The little girl's eyes lit up. "My balloon!"

Chachamaru flew back down, handing it back to her with a polite nod.

"Thank you, Green Hair-san!" the child happily said. Behind her, Negi, Chisame and Misora stared wide-eyed. Hakase only took frantic notes on a worn out notebook, biting her lower lip down.

As they left the contented girlie behind, Misora questioned, "Don't you think you should be more careful with your secret?"

"Which secret?" Chachamaru asked back.

"Well, duh! The one about you being a robot!" the sprinter slapped herself on the head.

"Should I keep that as a secret?" she wondered, flatly. "Hakase-san?"

"No, it's okay," the scientist then smirked. "The more people knows about MY genius, the better!"

"If TV crews start showing up at home, I'll kick you out," Chisame warned.

Right then, Chachamaru stopped abruptly. Her classmates and teacher followed her gaze to where a diminutive old lady in a kimono worked her way up a long set of steps leading to a shrine. Before anyone else could move, the gynoid had flashed next to the gray and old woman, greeting her with a bowing of her head.

"Ah, Chachamaru-chan!" the woman spoke in a nice and warm, but tired and spent, voice. "As pretty as always. Are you going to see your friends?"

The robot nodded again, and then turned around and crouched down, gesturing for the lady to climb onto her back.

"Oh, will you do that for me? You're too kind..."

Satomi did nothing but to take more notes. The others watched, amazed, how Chachamaru helped the woman to mount her, and then followed that by carrying her up to the shrine itself. Once there, the lady thanked her by patting her head with a wrinkled tiny hand.

"Thank you again, Chachamaru. You're such a good girl..."

They still were silent by the time the robot rejoined them. "I am sorry," she said. "My actions have delayed our schedule. I will do my best to prevent any further incidents of this nature."

"Y-You don't have anything to apologize for!" a deeply moved Negi shook his head.

"Is this girl for real?" Misora whispered to Chisame.

"It seems hard to believe Hakase programmed her, doesn't it?" Chisame whispered back.

Hakase overheard, arching an eyebrow, but opted to stay silent on the matter.

Finally, the robot led them into a large empty lot. Only a few old walls stood there, seemingly the final remains of a house brought down long ago.

"So, this is the place?" Hasegawa asked. "Who the heck could you meet at a place like this?"

Chachamaru didn't voice her reply. Instead, she only crouched down and started opening the cans, making small cooing sounds that were as bland as oddly moving. Attracted by the sound of her voice and the smell of the food, kittens and cats of all kinds and sizes began to show up from behind every wall, softly meowing and gathering around the newcomers, especially Chachamaru herself.

"Chachamaru," Satomi blinked, "What is the meaning of this...?"

"They depend on me," the robot kept her voice low as she fed a black and white kitty. "They all lost their homes. The Master allowed me to care after them. Would you please do the same thing?"

Misora giggled, picking a fat kitten up and scratching its stomach. "I wonder if Cocone would like one of these..."

"I don't like animals," Satomi scowled slightly. "They disrupt the conditions needed for a peaceful working environment."

"I only ask to keep them here," Chachamaru pleaded in a heartfelt monotone. "I promise not to bring them home."

"I don't know..." Hakase doubted.

"Please, Hakase-san...!" Negi, with stars in his eyes, held a purring tabby near her face. "Isn't it the cutest thing you've ever seen?"

"GAH! Sensei, keep that dirty thing away from me, please! Who knows how many germs it holds! Okay, Chachamaru, you can continue supervising these... felines as long as you keep them confined to this area!" she relented.

"Thank you," the machine bowed deeply.

Chisame scoffed before deciding to pet a cat herself. It was a small thingy with dark fur and very bright eyes that had caught her attention. Smiling a bit, she crouched down next to it and carefully reached for its head. "There, there, Cutie... Never fear, I'm just going to—"

Then the cat bit her fingers cruelly, with teeth as sharp and pointy as a bear trap.

"YEEE-OWWWW!" Chisame howled. "THAT'S IT! I'M GOING TO KILL THAT $%#& BEAST!"

"Hasegawa-san, please, no!" Negi begged.

"It was just a bite, Chisame-chan!" Misora laughed. "Don't be such a baby!"

"I HAVE TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME 'CHISAME-CHAN'!"


 

"If it gets infected, I'll retaliate," Chisame mumbled while the five of them walked back towards her dorm. She was finishing wrapping her bitten index finger in bandages, with a horrible sour expression etched into her face.

"You always are drowning in a glass of water," Misora carelessly said. "But I suppose it was to be expected from a hikkikomori."

Chisame tossed a killer glare into her direction. "How have you just called me?"

Negi blinked with curiosity. "What does that term mean?"

"Hikkikomori," Chachamaru read from her memory data banks. "Contemporary term popularly employed at Japan to designate the so-called 'shut-ins', people who spends their time locked inside of their homes, rejecting social contact with others. See also, NEET, Otaku, Fanboy, Fangirl."

Chisame growled while pulling her keys out, the five stopping before the building's main door. "If you insist on being a dictionary, I'll make you sleep on the bookshelf!"

She opened the door, and all of them walked in. As they went for Chisame and Hakase's rooms, Negi couldn't help but stopping before the door to Yue and Nodoka's living quarters. He looked at it with a distant and worried expression, silently mulling to himself.

"Sensei?" Chisame asked him. "Snap out of it. They'll be okay."

"I know..." he sighed. "But, even so... I know it's my fault. They were targeted because they were my students, and the closest ones to us..."

"How is that your fault?" Misora huffed. "You aren't responsible for what that witch decided to do on her own."

Chachamaru seemed to be somewhat taken aback by those words. "The Master is... a complex person. She may seem ruthless and uncaring, but she never takes actions without a reason for it."

"No reason is good enough for putting us at the hospital!" Kasuga adamantly claimed.

"I'm sorry for your problems and Ayase-san's," Chachamaru bowed to her. "If I could do something to make up for it..."

Misora seemed interested. "Anything?"

"No matter what are you thinking, the answer is 'No'," Hakase warned her.

"Will you EVER let her to take her own decisions?" Misora snapped back. "By the way, Chachamaru, why do you think Eva skipped classes again today? You know her well. Don't you think she may be planning her revenge?"

"The possibilities of that are... near a ninety percent," the robot replied reluctantly. "The Master is not a person to take offenses or setbacks lightly, and once she puts her mind into something, she will not back down until she gets it."

"See? I told you!" Misora seemed vindicated. "The only thing we can do now is to counterattack while she's still weak and helpless! Or else she'll suck us drier than Nitta-sensei's lectures!"

"But she's my student, *and* your classmate!" Negi was scandalized. "What you are suggesting is simply wrong! Maybe we should just try to talk it over with her..."

Hakase was just looking at Chisame, who had frozen solid at the door. "What has happened?" the black haired teen asked.

"Noise. From inside," Hasegawa whispered, her voice stiff.

"Crap, it's her!" Misora instinctively hid behind Chachamaru. "It's an ambush!"

Negi took a breath in and walked inside. "I'll deal with it," he said.

"Sensei, no..." Chisame began, but he already had made his way inside. "Children today. Never listening to their elders."

"It isn't the Master's style for a lethal ambush," Chachamaru estimated. "She would prefer a grand entrance with a loud announcement of her overall superiority."

Hakase gave her a look of stupefaction. "In how many lethal ambushes has she taken you into?"

Negi had stopped right at the entrance to the bedroom, his eyes wide and his mouth open. Chisame had just stopped right behind him, gasping and making a terrified face. Hakase followed in, pushing her glasses up to look at the room's scene, with a puzzled face. Finally, after Chachamaru walked in and showed no recognition of whoever was there, Misora dared to warily follow in, peeking over the robot's right shoulder.

She saw a small furry animal, all white as snow, with a long tail and shiny black eyes and nose, sitting on top of a huge hill of feminine underwear, with a cigarette on its mouth. Its paws danced over the keyboard of Chisame's computer, as the screen before it displayed several images of a girl who looked a lot like Hasegawa herself, wearing several fancy and rather revealing dresses.

"Chamo...!" Negi could say at last.

The animal finally noticed it was not alone anymore, turning its head around to look at them. It lifted a paw up casually, and then it spoke, in a perky and cheerful voice.

"Oh, hey there, Bro! Nice place you have here!"


 

For Negi, it was a moment of infinite joy.

For Chisame, it was a moment of infinite terror.

For everyone else, it was seeing a smoking white weasel at a computer, on top of a mountain of underwear.

"Chamo...!" the teacher ran to grab the animal in a tight, heartfelt hug, squeezing it against his chest. "It's been such a long, long time...!"

"My dear Bro!" the weasel cried back. "You have grown so much...!"

Chisame just pushed them aside and yelled while looking at her computer. "My webpage! You were browsing through my webpage!" she voiced her despair, completely forgetting Misora and Chachamaru were there as well.

"Huh?" the furry thing looked back at her. "It was bookmarked, so I didn't see any problem with it!"

"YOU SEE NO PROBLEM WITH TURNING A STRANGER'S COMPUTER ON AND THEN— Oh my God," she clutched her face between her hands. "I'm talking to a white giant rat. And the rat is TALKING BACK TO ME!"

"That's such a rude thing to say!" the small mammal sounded offended. "A rat? Me? Miss, I'll inform you I'm Albert Chamomile the Third, a noble descendant of the mythical Caith Sith ermines! I'm also the Bro here's best and closest confidante, so you'd better—"

"You're a peeper and a panty thief!" Chisame growled, grabbing him by the throat, yanking him away from Negi and throttling him. "Where did you get all this underwear, you... you sicko hallucination!"

"ANIMAL ABUSE...!" the critter managed to yell for dear life.

"Hasegawa-san, please, let him go!" Negi tried to intervene. "You're going to hurt him!"

Misora, meanwhile, took advantage of Chisame's distraction to walk over to the computer and look at it. "So, you have a webpage, huh? This is what keeps you locked here all day long?"

"KYA!" Moved by panic, Chisame let Chamo fall down to the floor with a heavy thud, then stepped in between Kasuga and the PC. "Don't look! It's nothing of your business!"

"Ehhhh?" Misora was perplexed. "What's the big deal? You don't make porn, do you?"

"O-OF COURSE I DON'T!"

"You should. You have the shape for it," the ermine said from the floor.

Chisame stomped on him a few times. "You shut up like a normal animal would!"

Chamo laughed between brief yelps of pain punctuated by each stomp. "So! Ow! Worth! Ouch! It! Ooof!"

Hasegawa then realized he was looking up her skirt. With her face bright red, she kicked him against a wall. "Just die already!"

Negi knelt down in tears next to the tiny bleeding figure. "Chamo..." he sobbed."Don't die..."

"I have just witnessed Eden..." Chamo spoke up with a suddenly deep and manly husky voice, his head tilting aside. "I can perish happily now..."


 

Five minutes later, however, he was perfectly okay now, sitting on top of the coffee table and laughing happily at the small group gathered around him.

"As soon as I learned the Bro was going to leave Wales, I knew I had to go after him, no matter if he went to the end of the world!" he narrated. "Sadly, I didn't arrive in time to come with him, but I managed to learn of your ultimate destination thanks to my amazing information compiling skills, Bro!"

"You hid into Anya's underwear drawer and spied on her again, didn't you?" Negi asked, not really annoyed, simply curious.

"Well, heh heh, it's a tried and true strategy..." the ermine excused himself.

"Where did you and Sensei first meet?" Satomi inquired. "I have a hard time imagining any common interest between the two of you."

"Oh, it happened five years ago, at the hills of our homeland" the mammal reminisced. "Somehow, despite my incredible skills at surviving in the wilderness, I was caught into a bear trap set up by a cruel and vile poacher..."

"Actually, it was our tutor at the time. He wanted to catch whoever was stealing the undergarments of the village's girls," the young boy pointed out.

"He still was cruel and vile!" Chamo protested. "Anyway, the Bro set me free, and he even fixed my broken leg with a healing spell! He also took a harsh punishment for letting me go!" he cried.

"It was only a light slap on the head..." Negi laughed it off.

"Ever since, I took an oath of honor to help my Brother to become a Magister Magi as great as his father! Maybe you mundanes don't know it, but the Magister Magi is the highest rank an aspiring mage can reach! And it can't be attained without the help of a good partner like me!" the ermine boasted.

"You have stolen all this lingerie from underage schoolgirls" Chisame dryly said while holding a rather racy pair of panties up. "Do you expect us to believe you have any honor to place oaths onto?" She paused. "By the way, where did you get these ones?"

"Next door," Chamo simply replied.

"Next door?" Chisame's face betrayed shock. "No way these may belong to Miyazaki, so..."

Misora let a whistling out. "Never expected it from Yue-chan, either."

"That... That doesn't matter!" Chisame slammed a hand on the table, her face red. "What if someone finds all of this here? We'll be branded as perverts! We'll never live it down!"

Satomi held a match up. "What if we burn the evidence down?"

"That's it! What a great idea!" Hasegawa nodded.

"No, my precious innocent dearies no!" the critter yelled. "It's not their fault!"

Negi casted a confused glare on him. "I'll never understand that strange hobby of yours, Chamo..."

"Oh, you will, Bro," the ermine confided him. "Believe me, sooner or later, you will. By the way, are these girls your Pactio partners? I'm impressed! Little more than a week here, and you already got four of them!"

"Ch-Chamo!" Negi blushed. "Of course they aren't! Don't joke about that!"

Chisame had a bad feeling as she saw the boy, and even Misora, blushing. "What's a Pactio partner? And what's the embarrassing deal about it?"

She wasn't sure she wanted to know, but she figured remaining ignorant could prove to be even worse.


 

Chamo sat back, smiled a little snug ermine smirk, and began his explanation.

"The word 'Pactio' is Latin for 'Alliance'. It's the union of a Mage and a Partner to become companions in battle," he said. "Traditionally, wizards need someone to help them while they cast their spells... to protect their backs and such. The partner subordinated to the mage is called the Minister Magi, and normally plays a Paladin or Knight role to support the mage's actions. Are you following me?"

"I already knew all that," Misora said.

"Me as well," Chachamaru nodded.

"Chao had told me a few details on the matter," Satomi reminisced.

Chisame sweated. "Am I the only person at the class who has led a normal life until now?"

"Then pay attention, Ignorant-Sis," the ermine scolded her. "In exchange for their services as the guardians and protectors of the magic users, the Ministers receive a boost of magic power from their masters. It increases their bodies' strenght, agility and speed! Their stamina grows, as well as their mental endurance! And best of all, every Minister gets a special Artifact that allows them to use magical abilities of their own! Such abilities are usually born out of the Minister's subconscious mind, and thus, the Artifact generally matches the Minister's personality."

"No way," Hasegawa denied.

"Yes, way!" Chamo insisted. "A long, long way, actually!"

"Okay. And how is that fantastic alliance established?" Chisame moaned. "Through a signed contract with two leprechauns and a Fairy Godmother as witnesses?"

Negi blushed again and stammered. "U-Um, not that way, actually. It's... somewhat complex to explain—"

"Complex, nuthin'!" Chamo laughed. "The Magister and the Minister simply have to kiss each other!"

Chisame choked on her own saliva. "A-A-A KISS?"

"Well, yeah" the animal was unfettered. "If they don't like each other enough to share a kiss, then how could they hope to protect each other's lives? The link between Minister and Magister must be very deep and strong. There are a few other ways to establish a Pactio, yeah, but they are too bothersome, and almost no one uses them nowadays."

"But that's the Provisional Pactio, isn't it?" Hakase seemed to remember. "Chao once mentioned there was another kind of Pactio, one deeper and more powerful than the one established through a kiss."

"Ah, yes, the Permanent Pactio. It acts as a definitive union between Magister and Minister, but the Bro's still too young to even consider that" the ermine answered. "You can do several Provisional Pactios at the same time with no problem, but only Magister Magi of a really high level can establish two or more Permanent Pactios at the same time. It happens, however. Ever heard of King Solomon? The legends of the Magical World say he achieved such a knowledge of the arcane arts he managed to amass a whole harem— I mean, team— of Permanent Ministra. Afterwards, he founded the basis for the current Magician's Society Goetia, and he—"

"Stop the history lesson right now!" Chisame shouted. "If a Provisional Pactio is achieved through a kiss, then how do you get a Permanent Pactio?"

"Well..." Chamo seemed uneasy as his friend and Misora looked even more awkward, "I... I'll explain it to you when you're older..."

Chisame slumped back down. "I knew it. Then it's like dating compared to getting married, isn't it?"

"A very astute observation, Chiu-chan!" the critter nodded quickly. "As a matter of fact, yes, many Minister and Magister end up marrying each other! That's why usually the pairings are between a female and a male, although there can be any sorts of variations on it."

She stared daggers at him. "Never call me 'Chiu-chan' again if you value your life! And now I'm even more sure Sensei doesn't need to think of such things yet! Don't tell me that's the only reason why you came all the way here!"

Chamo seemed offended. "Do you think I would be here only to push an agenda upon you, Bro?" He turned some huge Bambi eyes up at Negi.

"Of course not, Chamo!" the brat heartfully replied, annoying Chisame even more.

Misora sighed, then looked at the window. "It's getting late," she noticed.

"Well, go back home then," Chisame humphed.

"No way I'm going out into the night again as long as Evangeline is out there hunting," the shorter girl cringed.

"But you can't leave your friend Cocone alone all night long, either," Negi pointed out. "I can escort you home if you want..."

"No need for that, Sensei!" she laughed. "I'll just call her and tell her to go sleep with the next door neighbor. She never makes any questions; I used to send Cocone-chan with her whenever I slept over at Yuuna's."

"Don't reject the chance, Bro..." Chao whispered, chuckling as he playfully elbowed the boy's chest. "Sleeping in the same room as four pretty girls! Someday, you'll look back at this night and think—"

A book thrown at his face silenced him.

Chisame was just as surprised herself as the others she hadn't been the one to toss the tome. She looked at Satomi with wide perplexed pupils. "Hakase...?"

There was the slightest fade of pinkish red over the scientist's cheeks. "My hand slipped. Sorry."


 

Hakase Satomi woke up with a start shortly after midnight.

She had been having that kind of dreams again. She had not had them for months now; she thought she was over them by then. And yet, they had just returned.

It was the ermine's fault. He and his dirty talking about nonsense like lust and romance. Satomi sat up on the bed grumbling to herself, feeling strangely hot and bothered, as she had not felt for so long. She knew she couldn't get to sleep again until she took charge of her annoying mounted up tension.

The last thing she needed in her life was being reminded of Kazuya-sempai.

It had been a stupid girlie crush, the kind of thing she was supposed to be above of. She would be mortified if anyone knew about it; she suspected Chao and Chisame did know, but neither of them would ever talk about it, and she preferred it that way. No matter what, she had to leave that alone, forgotten and buried.

And yet, the need was there again. It needed to be dispatched away and quickly.

Her eyes wandered into the darkness until they found Chachamaru, sitting quietly next to Negi-sensei's futon, with the sleeping child's head resting on her lap.

"Chachamaru," her creator whispered.

"Yes?" her creation whispered back.

"I... I... I will be at the toilet for, um, a substantial amount of time," Satomi took extra efforts to keep her own voice barely audible. "If anyone should attempt to enter there during that period, you are authorized to stop them at any and all costs. Especially the ermine."

"Understood," the robot said softly. She looked at the drawer where the animal slept like a log, on top of a comfy bed made of stolen underwear.

Satomi nodded while standing up and heading for the bathroom's door. She may not have known the first thing about popular sexual lingo and innuendo, but she was well read, and academically, she was well familiarized with the mechanics of the exercise she was about to engage into.

Not to mention, well, she had the practice of all those months ago.

Stupid Kazuya-sempai.

He never had even noticed her.

It hurt now, like an old wound that had just reopened.

Hakase slammed the door closed after herself.

At the upper bunk of the bed, Misora's eyes were fully open. She did not move at all, but her mind raced faster than her feet at any day at the track. Had she just been woken up by the sounds of Hakase Satomi actually going to do what she thought she was going to do? Or was she still dreaming? Nah, she had to be dreaming. No way the Prof could—

On second thought, maybe it was better if she wasn't dreaming it. Because if she dreamed about the mere notion of Hakase doing that, what did that say about herself?

It was bad enough she was sharing a bed with Hasegawa Chisame of all people. Actually, it had not been that bad at first; Chisame slept quietly and was not the type that rolled around. But now that Hakase had made those small noises, that seemed to have pushed her roommmate to the brink of waking up.

"Nnnh," Chisame mumbled sleepily, feeling someone near her, forgetting all about going to sleep with the young sister. "Sensei. Here again? Idiot."

Without any warning, the sleeping girl drove a fist into Misora's chin, and hard, making her to squeal under her breath. For someone who vegetated all day long before a computer, Chisame sure packed a mean punch!

And apparently she also half-heard Misora's choked mild sobbings of pain, because her face softened after it. "Mmghhh. No cry," the long haired girl mumbled. "No, moron. Sorry. Sorry."

Misora was surprised when the sleeping schoolgirl put her hands on her shoulders, vaguely pulling her towards herself, allowing her chin to rest on her left shoulder. Kasuga was starting to get a truly bizarre, but probably accurate, idea of Negi-kun and Chisame's recent sleeping habits.

And yet, it felt warm and comfortable.

Misora relaxed herself in Chisame's loose sisterly embrace, smiling a little. She closed her eyes slowly and allowed herself to drift off into sleep.


 

"So, Eva's not coming today again, huh?" Misa asked as she eyed the empty seat.

"Rumor is Chachamaru left her and moved in with Negi-sensei, Prof and Chi-chan," Kazumi giggled with a wink and a nod. "Who knows what went on there!"

Asuna perked up a bit, distracted from her morning sleepy stupor. "She did?"

"That's what my sources have told me," the reporter answered.

"Maybe she's just staying there for maintenance," Madoka theorized. "Hey, Chao, do you know something about it?"

The Chinese girl shook her head. "Can't say I've been told-yo," she said. "I'll ask Satomi after classes, ne?"

"Please stop that!" Ayaka, rather annoyed at what she was hearing, clapped her hands, standing up as she heard those small, already familiar to her, steps coming from the outside. "Everyone greet Sensei!"

The class obeyed as Negi walked in followed by Chisame, Hakase, Chachamaru and Misora. "Good morning, everyone!" he told them after they voiced their welcome. He acknowledged Sayo's presence with a brief nod into her direction, and the ghost smiled back gently. Only he and Misora could see her, as the ones who had performed the reveal spell on her, but she still was happy to have at least two people she could talk to now.

"Are Nodoka and Yue still on sick leave?" Kasuga asked while sitting down next to Ako.

"Yes, Haruna also took the day off to look after them" the nurse replied. "But Nodoka should rejoin tomorrow. She got nothing but a shock and a nervous crisis."

Negi sighed, opening his roster book to take notes on the day's absences. Chisame, meanwhile, sulked moodily at her own desk. First forced up to sleep with the brat, and now with the nun. Waking up to find her hugging her in her sleep had been rather disturbing, even if Misora had just laughed it off and passed it off as nothing.

"Any news on Mc Dowell-san?" he asked.

"Wouldn't you know-de gozaru?" Kaede asked curiously.

"More specifically, wouldn't Chachamaru-chan know?" Fuuka gave the robot an inquisitive glare.

The gynoid denied with her head, sedately, her head a bit low. Negi couldn't help but feeling bad about her. The class' eyes were set on her, as if trying to silently pry a direct answer from her. Ayaka in particular seemed to be very antsy and touchy on the matter of her recent living developments.

"W-Well, I'll visit her after classes to see how she is doing, okay?" he said, with a shaky short laugh of reinsurance. Chachamaru actually seemed to perk up at that, to some degree, but Misora, Chisame and Hakase all made faces that seemed to shout 'BAD IDEA! BAD IDEA!' Unfortunately for them, he was oblivious as he opened his textbook. "Well, now, let's check the exercises on Page 42..."

And so, they were there, late that afternoon, at the doors of a small cottage at the Northern Mahora woods. Misora had quickly excused herself saying she had things to do at the church, but Satomi had stubbornly insisted on coming with Chachamaru even if it meant missing another meeting of the Jet Propulsion Club. Chisame had been torn between following and heading back home for another session of being Chiu, but at the end she had stupidly decided to come along. She still was berating herself as Negi warily knocked at the door.

"Hello...?" he shyly said. "Mc Do— Evangeline-san? It's me, Negi-sensei. We were... worried about you. We've brought Chachamaru-san..."

There was no reply.

"No one's here," Chisame grumbled. "Maybe she's out sucking bunnies dry or something. Let's go back home".

"No," Chachamaru touched the door. "My scanning of our residence shows her biosignature inside. It feels faint and weak, however. She is sick. We must enter."

"Okay. Fine," Satomi sighed. "Did you happen to bring any keys?"

"I am a key," Chachamaru calmly produced a key that sprang off the tip of her right index finger.

Hakase blinked. "I didn't install that into you!"

"The Master and Chao-san did it," the robot said as she opened the door and walked inside.

"How could they do that without informing me?" Satomi exclaimed. "And why didn't you report it to me, either?"

But they were ignoring her, Negi and Chachamaru entering the house, Chisame following in after a few moments of hesitation. Hakase sputtered to herself for a second, ballying her hands up into fists, before finally going after them, closing the door behind herself.

Was this how Chisame felt all the time?


 

The three youngsters walking behind Chachamaru paused and gasped in awe of their surroundings. The living room of the cottage was lovingly decorated like a fairytale scene, complete with dozens and dozens of dolls and stuffed animals lined up on several shelves.

"It doesn't exactly look like the hideout of a bloodthirsty fiend," Hakase observed, pushing her glasses up.

"I guess it doesn't," Chisame kept staring at several of the dolls, getting tons and tons of ideas for new Chiu costumes. "I suppose this is your personal touch, Chachamaru?"

"No, all of this was brought in by the Master herself," the robot passed a finger over the back of a chair, examining the fine layer of dust on it. "But she hasn't cleaned up. She isn't used to do it herself."

"It's all really pretty," Negi marveled. "It feels much warmer and nicer here than I thought..."

"Who's there?" a muffled, wheezing and angry voice came from upstairs. The four of them looked up to see Evangeline standing at the top of the stairs leading to the upper floor, with her nose bright red, her eyes half closed, and wearing pink pajamas. She had several potion bottles clutched in her small hands. "Ah, it's you" she wheezed, forcing an evil smirk up. "On top of all the indignities you have piled up onto me, now you dare to invade my home..."

"We aren't here to fight, Mc Do— Evangeline-san," Negi stumbled with his treatment of her once again. "We were concerned about your wellbeing, especially Chachamaru-san. We simply wanted to know if you were okay..."

"You? Worried about me? HAH!" the vampiress laughed dryly. "Why should you be? What sort of pathetic attempt is this? You can't fool me, not after centuries of experience... Where's Kasuga? Was she too cowardly to come? It doesn't matter, I always can catch her later..."

"D-Don't say such things!" Chisame stammered. "Is that any way to be thankful? It's absurd to keep on fighting when we all are classmates..."

Eva flexed her fingers and shook her head. "No. This won't be a fight" she coughed. "It's only a witch twisting the necks of three chickens and a dirty traitor doll. Hardly a fight at all..."

Satomi rolled her eyes around. "Yes, sure. Like you matched up to Chachamaru's strenght so well last time..."

"SILENCE!" Evangeline yelled. "Even without my magical power, I still can destroy the lot of you having the home advantage..."

"Evangeline-san, please," Negi all but begged. "Stop these hostilities and go back to classes like a good student after you've recovered... Stop being mean to your classmates and skipping classes, or you will have to repeat the term..."

"YOU DOLT!" the blonde screamed. "EVEN IF I ATTENDED CLASSES, MY CURSE WOULDN'T ALLOW ME TO GRADUATE!"

"Master, you should be in your bed," Chachamaru said. "You know you get too weak when you fall ill..."

"Weak? Me? PAH!" she gave a step forward. "Let's settle this once and for all! Only then I'll feel better!"

The teacher stepped in front of his human students, determined to protect them, taking a firm hold of his staff. "If I defeat you, will you stop attacking your peers?"

"I have no peers," Eva sneezed loudly, her next step wobbling. "No peers— No equals— No—"

Her evil smile faltered, her eyes went blank, and she fainted forward down a few steps, like a limp doll.

"GAH! EVANGELINE-SAN!" Negi shouted.

"Master!" Chachamaru ran to her side despite Satomi's unregistered warnings, picking the small undead up in her arms. "Sensei, she is under a severe fever. This season often harms her body defenses. Please help me to carry her to her bed."

"Y-yes, of course!" he quickly rushed to join them.

"What kind of vampire falls sick and feverish?" Chisame asked, disbelieving.

"Due to the seal on her powers, the Master is only a normal ten years old child, in terms of immunity and health," the robot explained as she and Negi took the house's owner to her bedroom, a nice and cozy place fully decorated on pink and black. They placed her on a large and soft bed with rich, expensive sheets and covers. "She couldn't be a threat to anyone for now."

"Oh, no?" Satomi asked, following them into the room with Hasegawa.

Chachamaru was reviewing the room's medicine cabinet now. "No. And she already emptied her medicines. She does that when she is left to her own devices. She simply consumes everything she thinks could help her."

"She really looks to be in a rather sorry state," Satomi pondered.

"Maybe she caught a cold when you stripped her down that night, Sensei," Chachamaru passively stated.

"I-I-I'm very sorry!" he seemed on the verge of tears.

"It's... okay," the gynoid said. "But please, could you look after her while I go to buy more medicines? I also must feed the cats..."

"Do you expect us to stay alone here with HER?" Chisame squealed.

"She won't harm you under the present conditions, I promise," Karakuri replied.

Hakase sighed. "Very well, very well, you have my authorization to go. We will look after Eva-san."

"DON'T DECIDE THAT FOR THE REST OF US!" Chisame protested.

"I'll stay, too," Negi nodded firmly. He smiled at the two girls. "Thanks for your generous assistance, Hasegawa-san, Hakase-san."

"I still... haven't said..." Chisame's voice trailed off. "Oh, forget it."

"I will be back shortly. You have my eternal gratitude," Chachamaru was as polite as ever as she bowed to them and left.

Once they were alone, Chisame just grabbed one of Negi's ears, one of Satomi's ears, and tugged on both at them at once, as hard as she could. All the while keeping a stony, dead serious expression.


 

They had been sitting silently around the bed for a few minutes now.

Negi simply twiddled his fingers around uneasily, briefly touching Eva's forehead to control her temperature at random intervals. Satomi had taken a book dealing on the mechanics of magic from one of the room's shelves and was flipping through it to see if it had any application to her research. Chisame was just using her laptop to reply to a few e-mails from her fans.

Then the small blonde moaned. "Thirsty..." she kept her eyes closed."I'm thirsty..."

"AH!" Negi stood up immediately. "I'll bring you some water!"

He ran outside and returned moments later with a glass full of icy water. However, the vampiress rejected it by shaking her head as soon as she felt it near her face. "No... Not that..."

"Then what?" Negi eagerly asked. "Tea? Soda? Juice?"

He had his reply when the little girl chomped the air aggressively, trying to reach for his fingers.

"Still hasn't changed her tune at all," Chisame groaned, even as Eva coughed loudly.

"Sensei, you told us she has a need to drink YOUR blood to disrupt her curse, didn't you?" Hakase pondered.

"Yes. Why?" he blinked.

Satomi sighed. "Then you'd better not supply her with any of it. I'll do it instead."

"What?" Chisame widened her eyes. "You can't be serious."

"It could be an interesting experience. I have never had a chance to investigate on a vampire's feeding habits," the scientist flatly replied, pulling two fingers into Evangeline's mouth. Not missing her chance, Eva bit on them at once, making Hakase to yelp, much to her roommates' panic. However, she calmed them down with a gesture. "Relax, please. It's... okay, I suppose. It's just like taking a sample of your own blood," she bit her own lower lip as she watched the blonde hungrily sucking her fingers, until she opened her mouth and allowed them to slip off leaving a thin trail of red.

"If you become Dracula and try to bite me at night, I'll stake you," Hasegawa had to warn.

"She won't be turned after losing so little blood," Negi pulled a few bandages out and carefully, lovingly, wrapped Satomi's bite marks with them, making her to blush just a bit. Fortunately, he was too busy looking at her hands to notice the change on her face. Chisame, however, did notice, but remained mum on it.

"Uh... I feel hot..." Evangeline gurgled sleepily, turning around at a side, facing away from the window.

"Oh, of course! The sunlight!" Negi jumped up again, running to the window and closing the curtains, leaving the sunset's lights out.

But then the small girl shuddered, curling up into a ball. "Aaahh— C-cold..."

Chisame took a wary grip of her pajamas. "She's soaked on sweat!"

"Sweating the fever up, I see," Satomi noticed. "Sensei, would you leave the room? We are going to need to change her garments up."

"O-Of course!" he nodded before bolting out of the bedroom, closing the door behind himself.

He breathed deeply easing his back against the door, attempting to collect his thoughts. But then the girls' voices from inside distracted him.

"Okay, lift a leg, now the other... That's it, I'm pulling her pants down..."

"Oh, for the love of Pythagoras! What kind of underwear is that!"

"No joke! It's a freaking thong!"

"And see-through!"

"It doesn't suit her at all."

"Well, personality-wise, it might, from what we have learned about her recently. But even so…"

"Let's see if we can find something better for her... Oh God, all these drawers have nothing but even worse stuff! And what the hell is this thing? GAH, IT'S VIBRATING!"

Negi's face had become as red as a tomato by then. Even if he had not a complete idea of why, actually.

Finally, Chisame poked her head out of the bedroom and gestured for him to come back in. "We're done," she said. "The Sleeping Beauty is doing like a log again."

"Oh" Negi walked in stepping soft and silently, retaking his seat between both of his roommates. "Thanks for your help," he quietly spoke.

Evangeline was now wearing baby blue pajamas decorated with several tiny ribbons, laying on her back and sleeping like a baby. She looked extraordinarily cute and harmless, with her small mouth half open making the most diminutive wheezing sounds.

He didn't notice he had kept on staring at her until he caught on Chisame's disapproving glare. "S-sorry," he looked aside.

"Don't let her appearance to fool you," the brown haired teen lectured. "Cute as she may be, she's still an implacable enemy, and I doubt she'll be thankful."

"Hmmm," Satomi kept her nose buried back into the book she was examining. "You know, I never had really thought about it, but now I do wonder about the exact circumstances of her vampiric nature."

"What do you mean?" Chisame asked her.

"Well, it's simply she lacks any of the weaknesses the folklore assigns to vampires. She doesn't burn under the sunlight, she has no need for sleeping at a coffin with dirt from her homeland. She goes to swimming classes, so water is not an issue to her, either. I have seen her wearing silver accessories, and from what Sensei told us, Misora's cross had no effect on her."

"She might have overcome those weaknesses through her witchcraft," Negi observed.

"Ah, yes. When she was attacking the librarians, she told us she knew your father, didn't she?" Chisame remembered. "Was she some sort of rival for him?"

"I don't know..." the teacher lamented. "I don't know as much about my father as I'd like..."

"It's a shame," Hakase mused. "If only she were more cooperative, I could learn a lot about her scientific condition, and you about your father."

Negi perked up. "That's it. I think there may be a way!"

"Huh?" Chisame frowned.

He immediately sulked down. "But I don't know if it's the right thing to do..."

"What is it?" Satomi was curious now.

"Well, I... I thought of using a special spell to look into her memories, but that would be unethical to do without her consent..."

"Let's do it!" Hakase enthused.

"Whuh?" Negi and Hasegawa chorused.

"Sensei, learning knows of no moral bounds, and no self imposed barriers should stand in the way of our discoveries!" Satomi put a hand over her own flat chest. "I'm sure the future will forgive you! Almost any taboo is worth breaking for the sake of enlightenment for the future generations!" She grabbed him by the shoulders, her eyes sparkling madly now.

"Oh no, I'm rooming with Doctor Mengele!" Chisame gasped.

"Um... Well..." Negi sweated. "I'm sure Evangeline-san won't be hurt..."

His mind made up, he grabbed his staff and held it up above Eva's sleeping body. He twirled it around, until it floated by itself over the bed much to Chisame's awe and shock, glowing with a faint yellow light.

He gulped as well. It felt horribly wrong, but if it was the only way to learn more about his father...

"Rastel Maskil Magister..." he chanted."Nympha Somni Regina Maeve..."

Recognizing the words in Latin, Satomi asked, "It is some species of attempt to delve into her dreams, isn't it? Can we take a look with you?"

After a brief moment of doubt, Negi nodded, extending a hand to her. Hakase grabbed it quickly, then grabbed Chisame's right hand in turn without allowing her to protest.

"Portam Aperiens Ad Se Me Alliciat," the boy finished, and then a blinding white light filled Chisame's eyes.


 

When she regained her eyesight a moment later, the first thing she noticed was a burning need to kill Hakase.

Then, she noticed she was fully naked except for her glasses.

Then, even more of an urge to kill Hakase.

Afterwards, she saw Negi and Satomi also there, as naked as herself (again, save the glasses), although their bodies were rather featureless with no visible nipples or genitals.

Even so, the urge to throttle Hakase had not departed.

"Why... WHY ARE WE ALL OF A SUDDEN NAKED IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE?" Chisame yelled as loud as she could, while covering her own featureless crotch and breasts with her hands.

"EEEEEEE! I'M SORRY!" Negi cried. "No one can travel into the psychic plane while keeping their clothes! If it makes you feel any better, these aren't our real bodies, but astral projections of ourselves! We are still sitting around Evangeline-san's bed!"

"What is there to be embarrassed about?" Satomi patted herself on her non descript private areas. "No actual sexual organs are shown at all here."

"It's still creepy!" Chisame huffed. "Our faces are fully detailed, even including our glasses, but our bodies are those of Barbie dolls?"

Negi looked away, blushing. "W-well... If you prefer it so, I might modify the spell so we are more anatomically correct..."

"No, thanks," Chisame quickly replied. She looked all around herself; they seemed to be at some sort of distant and peaceful beach of white sands, and there were only two lonely human figures in the horizon. "I guess no one can see us here, right?"

"Right," Negi nodded.

Hasegawa pointed towards both figures. "Well, then let's go there. It's the only place where you can see anyone, so I think it has to be where Evangeline's memories must be happening."

"Brilliant deduction, Hasegawa-san!" the child brightened, running that way eagerly, with Satomi following him closely.

As she watched them, Chisame cringed. Featureless as their fronts were, their lower backsides still were fully detailed. And no doubt, her own would be, too.

For a moment, she could do nothing but looking at them despite her own reservations, kind of admitting to some unconscious degree Sensei's cute and flat kiddy bottom was actually mostly pretty to look at. As well as Satomi's perky and round, small and pale buttcheeks.

With a moan of shame, she covered her butt with both hands and reluctantly walked, very slowly, after them, hanging her head down and dragging her feet through the sand.


 

Now they were close enough, the three of them could see a tall, busty, buxom and curvy woman with long golden hair wearing a slinky black dress, with long gloves and high heels. She was gorgeous, but her face sneered with nothing but malice and cruelty. Next to her, and only visible from a close distance, there stood a tiny doll with green hair, somewhat similar to a miniature version of Chachamaru, with a creepy glare on its shiny pupils, and a huge sharp knife in each hand.

They faced a tall and mysterious stranger wearing a long gray robe, with a hood covering his face. Negi's heart, however, jumped at seeing the staff the man was holding.

It was his very own bandaged staff.

"Is that Evangeline's mother?" Hakase blinked.

"I think so," Chisame replied. "But why does that Muppet look like Chachamaru? I thought you had designed her."

"Hmmm. To be honest, Evangeline gave me a few basic outlines of her physical parameters," Satomi admitted. "She told me she wanted her servant to have green hair, for instance. Maybe she used to play with that doll when she was a child, so she wanted a reminder from those times."

"She played with a doll armed with knives?" Chisame seemed unconvinced, but paused right afterwards. "On the other hand, we're talking about Evangeline. I can buy it."

"Thousand Master," the temptress was saying, her voice husky and threatening, her mouth half open in a dangerous smile. "Finally, after so many months of pursuit, I have found you at this miserable island. An unusual choice of sorts for your final resting place, but it doesn't matter."

The blonde tightened a fist, "Tonight I will finally make you pay for your deceptions. Yes, I will crush you down like the insect you are! And your blood, body and soul shall belong to me!"

"You tell 'im, Master!" the doll cackled with a shrill, manic squeaky voice. "Blood, blood, blood, flowing all around! Grab me a boat, I'll sail away on it!"

"Evangeline, the Master of Puppets," the man said in a low, masculine and low voice that almost made both girls to swoon despite themselves. They quickly noticed it, asking themselves what had just happened. "The Apostle of Destruction, the Tide of Evil, the Undying Sorceress. How many men have you tempted with your bewitching beauty? How many lives have you corrupted with your power? And yet, you insist on coming after the only one who can stop you..."

"No way," Chisame recoiled. "Is that supposed to be Evangeline herself?"

"It would seem she has suffered some sort of age regression," Satomi attempted to analyze. "Highly puzzling!"

Negi was too starstruck to add any comments.

The man had pulled his hood off, revealing an absolutely handsome, strikingly perfect face, neither brutish nor effeminate, the optimal point of what an average (and most above and below the average) woman would wish for in a man. Chisame found herself open mouthed, her heart beating a few skips faster. Even the normally absent to love Hakase was staring with wide eyes, a soft pink gliding over her cheeks again.

"It's... It's him!" Negi cheered up emotionally. "My father!"

"I advise you to quit this insane quest," Nagi Springfield had spoken ominously. "No matter what you are planning to do, you will not succeed."

"It's just like I had imagined him!" Negi jumped up and down in place. "A brave hero with no fear, the mightiest mage of all! This is the happiest day of my life!"

Flashback-Eva laughed bitterly. "What are you going to do, a lone mage without a Partner, against both of us? HAH! CHACHAZERO! ON HIM!" she commanded while charging ahead.

"ON HIM, THROUGH HIM, ALL OVER HIS CHOPPED PARTS!" the doll crazily sing-sang following Evangeline at a speed that was rather surprising for something so small. "BLOOD AND GUTS, NO QUESTION, NO BUTS!"

However, The Hero did not seem bothered or concerned at all. He simply gave a step back, quietly examining the ground at his feet.

"You're too slow, Boya!" the vampiress grinned, reaching for him with a hand full of crimson fingernails. "Give yourself in at last! BE MINE!"

"DAD!" Negi attempted to run at them, just as Evangeline and the puppet closed in for the kill...

But right then, both of them fell into a huge sandtrap that had remained hidden at the ground until the woman set foot on it.

"Eh...?" Negi stopped in mid-step.

"GAHH!" Evangeline gasped for air, as she poked her head out of the sand. "What... What is the meaning of this?"

"It's a trap, Master!" the tiny homunculus struggled to drag herself out of the sand, her short arms proving to be quite unfitting for the task.

"I know that, you idiot!" the blonde shouted at her.

"Ah, ha ha ha ha!" Negi's father laughed from above. "If only they could see you now! What a joke! The terror of Mundus Vetus, reduced to a laughingstock in a hole! But let's spice this up, don't you think? Here, have a feast on my account!" With those words, he unloaded the content of a huge sack he had been keeping near to into the pit.

"What...?" Evangeline blinked several times, right before a storm of garlic and onions fell on her face and all over her body, nearly burying her under them. "NO! I hate those things! Stop it, you maniac!"

"Stop? Why should I?" he asked. "All children in mid-growth need this in their diets! Here, drink some soup as well!" He poured the contents of a huge cauldron he also had at hand at his makeshift camp into the hole, showering his attackers with a flood of smelly and hot garlic soup. "I was researching into your weaknesses, kid! And I don't like to study on anything, so you'd better believe I'm mad at you!"

Negi, Chisame and Hakase were all staring in stunned silence. Finally, the scientist asked, "Is this a standard procedure for a magical battle against the undead?"

"I... I don't know what to believe anymore..." their teacher meeped out weakly.


 

"Hold on, Master!" the doll shrieked and shrilled flailing her arms around, splashing sand and soup everywhere around, only succeeding at burying herself even deeper into the muddy result. "I'll save you! And then we'll stab 'im in the face!"

"Agh! I can't!" Evangeline gasped for air, her breath becoming erratic. "Stop! You fiend!"

But the mysterious man just laughed at them, agitating the liquid with his staff. Until his prey couldn't take it anymore, and with a yell, her body shrank down to a petite size, the one the three visitors recognized as that of their vampirical acquaintance.

"It IS Evangeline after all!" Chisame said.

"We might be on the trail of the secret for eternal youth here!" Satomi's glasses fogged up with excitement. "I would be lauded as the greatest benefactor to mankind ever if I isolated that!"

"No, Master!" Chachazero was all but crying. "You have ran out of magical power!"

"Hah, ha ha ha!" Nagi laughed from above. "What will everyone say when they learn the queen of all vampires is nothing but a skinny brat? Here, eat more!" he bombarded her down with even more onions.

"I told you to stop it, cretin!" the now childish Evangeline wailed, her face deeply red. "You... You are a cheating coward! Aren't you the Master of a Thousand Deadly Spells! You should use them in battle! Like any mage with honor would!"

He stopped his laughter, sneering down at her. "Me? I'll pass! To be honest, I barely memorized more than half a dozen spells...I never was big on studying!"

Negi's jaw hit the floor.

Chisame looked at her teacher. "You already learned far more than that, didn't you?"

Hakase patted him on a shoulder. "Congratulations. You have surpassed him this early in your life."

"THAT ISN'T WHAT I WANTED TO SEE!" Negi practically bawled.

"What?" Evangeline was gulping.

"I left the magic academy because I didn't like those boring geezers and their tests" Nagi yawned carelessly. "What? You shocked, kiddo?"

Evangeline pouted. "I don't understand you, Thousand Master! Why to escape the chances to learn more about magic? With your raw power, you could be the next Sorcerer Supreme! And with me at your side, it would be even easier! Why do you keep on running away from me? Together, we could rule over all we can set our sights on!"

"Meh. I don't like flat chested children," the handsome mage made a disgusted face.

"A child? You fool! I'm more than one hundred years old!" the vampiress screamed.

"A flat chested old mummy! Even worse!" the man seemed about to vomit.

"DON'T YOU DARE SAY THAT ON MY FACE!" Mc Dowell howled.

"Keep a grip on yourself, Master!" Chachazero begged.

"Okay, enough of games," Nagi grew serious. "I'll let you go only if you promise to leave me alone and stop attacking innocents."

"NEVER!" Evangeline cringed her fangs defiantly.

"Oh, is that so?" the Thousand Master chuckled creepily. "Welllll, then I have no choice. I'll have to subject you to one of the most hideous spells ever created..."

"What?" Eva blinked, feeling a gigantic amount of energy flowing around the man. "What do you intend to—"

He had pulled a spell book out of somewhere and lazily read through it, "Ummm... Where was it... I think the old fool at Mahora needed a guardian or something... It should be around here... Ah, yes. Here. Man Man Terro Terro..."

If she had been asked later, Chisame couldn't have honestly said what the hell was said afterward since she didn't know a single word of Latin, but judging from Negi and Hakase's expressions, it had to be something horrible and very fearsome, enough to make even the Mc Dowell girl to waver in terror.

"It's the end, Master!" Chachazero was screaming.

"No, it can't be!" Evangeline still attempted to get away. "You are worse than a demon, Thousand Master! Mark my words! You will regret this day! You will—"

"INFERNUS SCHOLASTICUS!" he shouted, aiming his staff at her, blasting the Nosferatu with a flood of crackling and sparkling arcane energies, making her to yell and convulse frantically.

"NOOOOOOOO—"


 

"—OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Evangeline woke up sitting up with a start, panting madly, her eyes going from closed to fully open in an almost grotesque fashion in half a second. It was only after her scream died down she noticed she was at her own bedroom, on her bed, with Hasegawa and Hakase looking tired and sitting near her. "What? W-What are you two doing here?"

"Um, we were... not doing anything, actually. Just killing time until Chachamaru comes back," Chisame groaned, staring aside, determined to not saying anything about their recent trip.

"She went out to buy medication for you," Satomi informed. "It shouldn't take her long to come back."

"I feel fine now," Mc Dowell mumbled, before pointing down at the exhausted looking boy sleeping with his chin resting on her lap. "Take this thing off me, right at this instant."

"Huh?" Negi blinked, coming back to himself. "Eh? Oh, oh, s-sorry, Evangeline-san!" He quickly straightened up. "I guess I was too tired from the classes, and—"

The blonde waved a hand at him. "I don't care. I had some fever and a bad dream, that's all. I don't need your pity or care. But... you three showed some courage coming here, so... I will not dispose of you today," she huffed. "You'd better walk away with your lives while you can."

"You have a strange way to say 'thanks', but I'll accept it," Satomi stood up and bowed. "We will see you later."

"You can bet you will," Eva nodded slowly, but not really angry for now.

Chisame nodded as well, mechanically, starting to follow Negi and Satomi outside.

But then, the cottage's owner noticed the leftover energies around herself. She recognized the remains of the spell's pattern. And her voice grew deep and threatening again. "You tadpole..."

"Huh...?" Negi stopped abruptly, sweating very, very cold.

Eva stood up on the bed, her hair beginning to stand up around herself. "You little upstarts... What have YOU been doing to meeee...?"

Chachamaru was walking back through the peaceful woods with several full bags in her hands when she heard the screams coming from the cottage.

"I'LL SKIN YOU ALL ALIVE! I'LL HANG YOUR HEADS OVER MY CHIMNEY!"

"IT WASN'T MY IDEA! HAKASE IS THE ONE TO BLAME!"

"EVANGELINE, PLEASE LOWER THAT THING DOWN OR I'LL CONTACT THE LOCAL AUTHORITIES!"

"EVANGELINE-SAN, PLEASE, RECONSIDER! THESE ARE YOUR CLASSMATES!"

The robot mused to herself with a calmed, softly pleased voice. "Ah. Like I thought. They could make her to feel better..."

For a brief moment, she almost looked like she was smiling.


 

To Be Continued.

Chapter Text

 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 Light at the End of the Tunnel.


 

Feverofsk District, Russia:

The icy cold winds blew savagely as the helicopter flew over the snowy hills. A massive, state of the art, last-gen piece of recognition, search and destruction military technology, the chopper made no attempt to fly discreetly, in hot pursuit of a desperate armored van careening across the mountainsides.

Sitting on the passenger's seat of the fleeing vehicle, a young woman with long light reddish hair sobbed and chewed on her left thumb, drawing blood out of it.

"Stop doing that!" the man driving the vehicle barked at her.

"Let me at least do this... or else, just kill me already...!" she lamented, never stopping biting and chewing, a prey of complete anxiety. "Let... me..."

"I told you, cut it out!" the man reached over to her with the hand not at the steering wheel.

And then she sank her teeth on the back of his hand.

The man growled roughly, but made no attempts to retaliate as he pulled his hand back. "Damn it. What have they done to you..."

But it didn't matter. Not anymore, at least. They could see the frontier pass just ahead of them, visible even in the middle of the storm blizzard. It only would take them five minutes or so before...

One of the missiles suddenly shot at them by the helicopter hit and rocked the car, sending it sliding off road, crashing against a snow bank.

The next thing the young woman knew was she was tossed on the snow, shuddering in her light pale dress, and lying just a few steps away from the dead driver, who bled all over the white, half of his body peeking out a window. The van was on its side, and the lights of the helicopter were on her, hurting her eyes. Just like those in the laboratory, during the tests.

The pilot of the helicopter grinned to himself, taking aim at the small, trembling target who was just coming to her feet, wounded and corralled. It would only take a single barrage of shots. Easiest kill he ever had in his-

Then something, coming to him from a side, broke through the cabin's window, shattering the bullet proof glass before embedding itself into a side of his head.

The young woman watched on, muted and rattled, how the flying machined spiralled down, out of control, in the opposite direction to hers, before crashing down between some pines, and exploding into a maelstrom of beautiful orange flames.

That was before a gigantic bipedal machine, more than four times her size, lurched out of the woods, walking right over her without even grazing her, its titanic feet so close she could have touched them if she only had reached for them. Which she didn't. She didn't react at all, actually. She only watched how the machine inspected the flaming debris of the helicopter for a few moments, keeping a gun fitting its own size between its hands, before turning back to her, with an almost human fluidity to its motions.

"Arm... Slave..." she whispered.

The metal giant knelt down before her, and with a hiss of vapor, the cockpit in the collosus' head opened itself, revealing a human figure in black. The figure jumped down more than climbed down to her level, walking towards her, with a cold, emotionless expression on his young, yet dry face.

"What are you going to do with me?" she asked, tired, almost as emotionless as him.

"We'll take you home," he said, gentle despite everything, softly placing an injector against a side of her neck and shooting her a dose of tranquilizants. He easily caught her in his arms as she fell, limp, a second later.

"What's your name?" she asked, barely comprehensible at all, before succumbing to sleep. "Please tell me..."

But the young man with the inexpressive brown eyes did not answer until she was fully unconscious.

"Sagara. Sagara Sousuke."


 

Days later, somewhere under the Sea of China.

The old gentleman in the olive green uniform had his gray hair longer than one would have expected from one of his rank and age, but the submarine's crew was hardly the most conventional military force in the world. That was part of what made them so special. And dangerously unpredictable. Pretty much all of them had their unique, unconventional quirks, and the three younger members standing before him were living proof of that.

"Tokiwa Kyoko," Sagara read flatly from the tablet the Major had just handed him, showing a picture of a tiny girl with braided light brown hair, in her Elementary school uniform and holding a bag of books against her chest.

In a much more vivacious, even creepily so, tone, the slightly older blond man standing at his left leered, rubbing his scruffy chin with the shadow of two days' worth of unshaven beard. "Hoo! She'll sure be a looker someday..."

"Actually, that picture was taken more than four years ago," the Major said, from behind his desk, which despite everything was quite smaller than Konoemon Konoe's. "She is about to hit her sixteen years of age."

"Shouldn't we keep more up-to-date pictures?" observed the roughly beautiful woman of short black hair at Sagara's other side.

"Yeah, where's the 'Now' photo?" asked the blond man. "Don't tell me she grew up into some sort of teenage mutant cow..."

Sensibly ignoring him, the Major continued, ever the stoic, "Now we have neutralized the threat to the fifth subject, it's quite likely Kissin or Von Faust will attempt eliminating or controlling her next. Currently, she is residing at the Academy City of Area Eleven, in the Mahora District. Mahora is a heavily fortified sector, but it also is too complex and unpredictable for the subject's long term safety. The three of you will be sent to personally stand guard over her until further notice."

"Only the three of us?!" the blond man whistled. "That's hardly standard procedure!"

"It's a hardly standard operation, for hardly standard grounds," the old man conceded. "That's why you three, my least standard men, were selected for the mission."

The woman spoke next. "Sir! Permission to deploy Class B Equipment!"

"Granted," the Major replied, faster than she had expected. "Sergeant Mao, you will be at charge of the mission's in situ command, and the integrity of the M9 Unit and all its weaponry. You also will be charged with two external condensation units, and you know what does that mean. We expect nothing but the utmost discretion from you. Mahora is... shaky ground, to say the least."

"Understood," Sagara said, grim and sparsely.

"Today at 13:30, you will be handed your documents and files for the cover operation. I know those are not your strong suit, Sagara, so make sure to obey to every command from Sergeant Mao, and none from Sergeant Weber."

"Hey..." the blond man grumbled, deeply hurt.

"Sir, on the subject of Sousuke's status, surely you aren't thinking of..." Melissa Mao left the sentence intently open.

The old man nodded. "Of course I am. Which other kind of cover story could he have? In his case, consider his deployment... an academic transferal."


 

"Question: What is this?" asked Sousuke, eyeing the wide variety of discs, trendy clothes, colorful posters, wrapped foods, cans of energetic drinks, manga, and above everything adult magazines on display on his bed.

Kurz Weber shrugged. "Well, you're the one who'll have to blend in with the kids, so I thought I'd help you by giving you a good sample of what Japanese kids nowadays do like..."

Sousuke dryly eyed the random junk all over his mattress. "Other than the drinks, I see no clear usefulness for the whole lot of this. Question: Why would they like it?"

"Well, shocking as it may sound, there are some of us who do like things that aren't necessarily must haves in the line of duty. You know, for those times when we are out of the battlefield. Which, for most people, amount to... pretty much their whole lives," the blond man explained.

Sousuke raised an eyebrow. "So I have heard," he simply said.

"Honestly!" Mao sighed, cocking a fist on her hip and waving a Playboy mag in her other hand. "Kurz, why would you give these to the boy?"

"Since when are you of all people a moral crusader?" Kurz growled.

"Shit, I don't mean that!" she said. "Kids these days resort to the Internet for this! Now, nudie mags are only for old perverts! What kind of weak profile are you creating for him?"

"Question: What is this?" asked Sousuke, holding a package of condoms.

"Contraceptives," Mao bluntly told him.

"What are they used for?" he asked this time.

"They are intended for security," Mao said.

"They don't look adequately protective..." the boy said, opening one of the small packages and staring at the little thing that looked like a deflated balloon. "For starters, they are too small to properly cover any major area of my body, and the material they are made of appears to be excessively-"

"They are supposed to protect your dick," Kurz cut in.

"Question: Wouldn't a crotch piece be far more conductive for that purpose?"

"Actually, it's more like they are used to protect the girls' crotches from your dick," Kurz explained.

"Question: Why would I attack female crotches with my dick? Is that a custom in the Area Eleven? And if I am ever going to attack them, why would I bring protection for them, instead of myself?"

Kurz tossed his hands up. "Goddammit! It's a protection for both, okay!"

"Even so, wouldn't it make more sense to bring a protection exclusively for myself, instead of one protecting them as well? I fail to see the purpose of protecting female agents against our own offensives."

Kurz began whacking his own head against the nearest wall.

"First of all, Sousuke," Mao waved a finger, "When you are there, never call them 'Elevens'. They just hate that. Call them Japanese, and call their nation Japan. Doubly so in your case, since you ARE Eleven..."

"... Japanese," Sousuke corrected.

Mao nodded. "Quick boy. Anyway, since you are Japanese, even if you werem't raised there, if you refer to yourself as an 'Eleven', you'll be socially branded a sellout, and that only will be a major obstacle for the assignment. As for your question, you are NOT to poke or attack female crotches with your dick, at least until you and the girl are both eighteen, and you buy her dinner first."

Sousuke nodded. "I think I understand. Their customs are strange, but I'll adapt."

Kurz took a moment off to facepalm.


 

One week after that first day of classes, Hasegawa Kodaka's gloomy expectations about the likelihood of his making new friends had proven entirely correct. Since starting studying at Mahora with his three sisters the prior year, he'd actually nursed some vague hopes that here, at this school that seemed to be filled with students from all over the world, things would be different. But they hadn't. And now, as expected, and just like last year, and the year before, everyone in Kodaka's class had avoided him like the plague since that first morning of classes.

And it was so, so massively unfair! That Yuuki kid had hair just a bit darker than he did, and nobody thought he was a thug. The little bastard actually seemed to be making friends with Saruyama, Sawanaga and Itou, while Kodaka was still a pariah. It didn't make any sense.

(Well, it might have made sense if one realized, as Kodaka clearly did not, that while a case might be argued for Saruyama, Yuuki Rito's friendship with Sawanaga Taisuke and Itou Makoto was a rather shallow one, that Rito wasn't actually all that comfortable with either of them and that they viewed him as a loser who made them look better by comparison. It might also have helped had he been aware that his status as a pariah had less to do with the color of his hair than it did with the perpetual scowl on his face. Said expression, to be fair, had come about after years of being teased and taunted about his hair, so there was a connection, just not the one that he thought. Kodaka believed that his facial expression conveyed the message that he took things seriously, when in fact it conveyed an attitude best described as 'verging on homicidal'.)

It was so fucking unfair. Not only Sora and Chisame had somehow dodged the bullet of inheriting the blond hair, but he doubted anyone ever gave Kobato any crap because of hers. Because of her being a delusional little nut, yeah, but sure as hell her good foreign looks and golden hair never were issues for her. Why the fucking double standards? If everyone thought he was a bleached delinquent, then where was his damn posse of fellow delinquents? Like a real bully would always hang alone. No, unlike him, even bullies had friends, or at least fellow bullies they hung around with. At times, at his worst moments of depression, Kodaka had considered actually becoming a thug, asking that Ryuuji guy from the class next door to join him.

The Ryuuji guy had looked at him with that scary face of thug of his and said, with that thuggish voice of his, "I'm not a thug".

Yeah, right. Like someone who looked like a thug so much, and always was alone because no one wanted to associate themselves with him, could be anything but a thug. Everyone had him pegged as such! Who the hell was he fooling?

Even thugs didn't want to be friends with Kodaka, did they?

After the maddeningly inane and bizarre day of lessons from Itoshiki-sensei, where they had been told about their 'worth' or lack thereof (which hadn't done wonders for Kodaka's mood either), the boy wandered away from the classroom with a perfectly neutral expression.

Once, Kobato had sneered at him and asked "If it bothers you so much, why don't you dye your hair dark and fit in with those filthy plebeians?"

But even at his most depressed, even when he would consider hanging with actual delinquents like the Ryuuji thug, Kodaka would never change his hair. It was the only thing reminding him of his mother.

And Chisame and even Sora would feed him his own balls if he ever did that. They were quite fond of anything that reminded them of Mom, as well.

He'd been thinking all this while stomping (or, as he viewed it, walking with a serious gait) down the hallway back to to his classroom, where he'd forgotten one of his books, and just as he was thinking about one person in particular, he'd arrived at the doorway to the class and heard that person's voice. Except that he wasn't sure that it was really that person's voice. It sort of sounded like her, but she'd never sounded so cheerful and upbeat.

And it sounded like she was talking with someone, and he'd just been thinking that she never socialized with anyone.

As soon as he opened the classroom's door, he saw a girl with her back turned on him, advancing towards a corner, with her shirt off and hanging from a seat. He recognized her as that weird arrogant girl who sat all the way at the back, Mizora or Yuzuha or something. She had nice fair skin, and long and silky black hair. Her face was delicate and beautiful like a doll's, but also cold and scornful all day long. Now, however, from what he could see of her features from his angle, she had a predatory smile on instead, as her hands seemed to reach for something he couldn't quite see at all.

"Come on, Sayo-chan..." she purred huskily. "Your mouth may say 'No', but your body says 'Yes'... What? No, of course it's a body, even if it's an air one. You're wet between the legs, aren't you? Yes, I know you don't have legs! That isn't the point... What? Someone where?"

The girl looked back over her shoulder and saw Kodaka standing at the doorstep with a clueless expression on. After a moment of gasping panic, the girl reached for her shirt and pressed it against her bra-covered chest, growling "Don't you know anything about respecting others' intimacy?-! You ruined Sayo-chan's mood!"

Kodaka blinked, looking in all directions as if hoping to see someone, anyone. "... Who is Sayo-chan?"

"Why do you care?" the girl growled once more. "Are you her friend or something?"

"I can't be friends to someone I don't even know!"

"Well, duh," she said, pulling the shirt back on. "What a stupidly obvious thing to say. Wait, you're the dumb thug, aren't you? Shouldn't you be bullying kouhais with your friend the thug next door?"

"He isn't my friend!"

"Ah, yes, I forgot. You don't have any friends, do you?" the girl sneered. "Pathetic. Even Sayo-chan has more friends than you. What? Of course you do, you have me. Ah? That isn't what you meant? What do you mean, I'm insulting you? How the hell am I insulting you? All I'm saying is you have me, and you're just made of air!"

Kodaka asked it, although his mind was just yelling t him to run away. "Who are you talking to?"

"Sayo-chan. Haven't you been paying any attention?"

"Who is Sayo-chan?"

"Haven't you just asked that, moments before? You deaf or dumb? Sayo-chan is my friend..." Then she seemed to realize how insane and stupid she was sounding as she finished lamely, "... My air friend."

"... Huh." Kodaka took a wary step back before asking, "Do you make a habit out of molesting your... ah, air friends?"

"Of course I don't! Do you think I'm a mad woman, seeing air friends everywhere? Sayo-chan is the only air friend I have!"

"The only friend you have, period?" he guessed.

"Like you're much better, bleached thug!"

"It's not Bleach!" he protested, before wondering something and asking, "Say... can you see ghosts? It's that... isn't it?"

Now she would answer 'Yes', and he'd be relieved, because she'd still be a delusional mad woman, just a less-

"Ghosts? Don't be ridiculous!" she snapped. "Ghosts don't exist. Sayo-chan doesn't remember ever living as a human or dying, so she can't be a ghost. The only logical alternative, then, it's she's an air person."

"An air person," he repeated as blandly as humanly possible.

"Yeah, what's so weird about that? You wouldn't look at me with those eyes if I had been playing an air guitar, right? Then don't act surprised just because I'm talking to an air friend!"

"Imaginary friend, you mean."

She huffed. "Does it matter? If she's real or not, as long as I can see and talk to her, it's the same for me. Just as it's the same for you, since you can't see or hear her."

"That... What kind of skewed logic is that?" he asked. "So, anyway," the girl asked Kodaka, as hostile as before, "Why did you come back here to begin with?"

Kodaka was reminded of the reason that had slipped his mind for the last few minutes. "Ah, yeah. I forgot one of my books, so I came back for it..."

The girl, frowning, walked to Kodaka's desk, reached under it, pulled his book out, and tossed it into his hands. "Nice catch. Especially since I wasn't aiming there. So, how about leaving already?"

"Uh, sure thing," he said, vaguely noticing she had headed straight to his desk without any doubt on which it was, or where he kept his things. "Thanks. I guess. Then, have care on your way back, right?"

"Who are you, my mother? Shoo, shoo. I don't need anyone to walk me along, and I sure can take care of any bullies who get in my way."

"I don't doubt it," he replied. "It's just, most guys in the kendo club are creeps, and they like staying until late..."

"The kendo club? Bitch please, those idiots know better than to mess with me. They are nothing but sissies who flaunt their membership and overcompensate with those stupid wooden swords. Any idiot can belong to a club, but the really strong stand alone. Can't they practice by themselves? Did Miyamoto Musashi have a trail of parasites hanging behind him as he traveled the land? No! If you ask me, those nancy boys only gang together because they like showering together in that pigpen they have for a clubhouse..."

"I think that's a Dojo, not a clubhouse..."

"Placing fancy names on lame things doesn't make them any less lame!" the girl argued. "Kodaka, do you belong to any clubs?"

"Huh? Well... no."

"See? Even you know clubs are a waste of time for people who are so socially impaired they need to socialize with other losers to belong somewhere! It's just plain pathetic! Don't you think?"

"Uh, well, if you say so. Now, if you excuse me, I have to lea-"

"What, scared of the big bad kendo club?" she snorted. "Relax, I'll protect your butt if they come after you! Don't leave me hanging here, talking with air and an air friend! Be a man and listen politely! Where's politeness nowadays?"

"Certainly not here," he said.

"Damn right! And that's because all the losers in this school system are only interested on hanging around in herds like animals!"

"Well," he said, "It's not like belonging to a club has to be a bad idea. As long as it's with people you can call friends, I suppose it's not bad, it's just..."

She gave him a very odd look. "Do you think so?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "Maybe. I can't know for sure since I've never been in one, but... that's the way it's supposed to be, isn't it? It's simply some people can fit in a club, and some of us can't."

"Ridiculous," the girl waved at him. "Everyone's got a place where they can fit. It's only some places are smaller, for less people to fit in."

"Ahhhh... Right. That's very... wise. Then, sorry but I've got to be going, ah..."

She looked at his face for some moments, as if waiting for something, before dryly saying, "Mikazuki Yozora."

"Right, that's it. Sorry, Yozora... san. Well, see you tomorrow," he nodded for a moment before turning around and sharply leaving.

Yozora stood there for a few moments, quiet and mute, until she said, "No, I wouldn't call him that. I'd call him an idiot! But you know what? That's not a bad idea at all. I'm glad I thought of it."


 

The rest of the day, after Kodaka's narrow escape, was thankfully much more mundane. Escape, leave school, walk to the small house where he and his youngest sister resided (in dramatic contrast to the dormitory housing of most Mahora students, including both his other sisters), spend the evening cooking for her and dealing with her weird delusions (a few years too early to be diagnosed as "eighth-grader syndrome", and having a much more interesting cause), bathe with her, do homework, then go to bed.

(Mundanity is in the eye of the beholder.)

He entertained some vague hopes that the next day would be just as mundane as all that, even though he was aware that his own decisions - specifically, his new decision to make friends by joining a club - meant that it probably wouldn't be. Aside from that, he was also worried about how to go about doing so. While the first week or so of school had been filled with people trying to recruit for various clubs, he hadn't really been paying attention at the time. Now that things had settled down, he found it somewhat difficult to recall which clubs had seemed interesting.

The notion of forming his own club didn't really appeal. While he could do that, he knew that his new club would have to get a few members in order to become official ... and he had no confidence in his ability to get those new members. No, he'd have to find a club whose activities interested him and hope that shared interests led to friendship. It should work. Probably.

But which club, he wondered as he entered homeroom early. Which club?


 

"Hasegawa-san?" said a polite voice from his side.

Kodaka snapped his head up from where he'd been resting it against his desk. It couldn't be. But it was. A girl was talking to him without any provocation on his part. And not just a girl. But the girl. Asakura Ryoko, the incredibly popular, beautiful girl who'd been the class' majority pick for class rep. And she was smiling.

Okay, that last bit wasn't all that impossible, since she always seemed to be smiling. He'd heard that she'd had a solemn look on her face once, but he hadn't really been paying attention on that occasion.

But compounding the implausibility, she wasn't alone. Standing just behind her were those two girls, a blonde - Momioka, he thought - and her petite, pony-tailed glasses-girl friend - Sawaka? No, Sawada. And they were smiling at him, too. What was going on here? Had he been selected for some sort of human sacrifice?

"I heard from Sawada-san that you were having a conversation, earlier, with Suzumiya-san," Asakura said. "Is that right?"

No, no, it was worse than a human sacrifice! "Ah, well, sort of," he said, glancing behind him. Of course Haruhi wasn't there, having departed as soon as the lunch bell rang, no doubt engaged in some strange errand. They probably wouldn't have approached him if she was there. Curse you, Haruhi!

"She never talks to anybody!" Momioka said, which probably didn't need to be said, since everyone present was well aware of that. "I guess being a Yankee must give you a lot of nerve!"

Now, that, Kodaka decided with a look at her hair, only slightly darker than his own, was distinctly unfair. Before he could protest that he wasn't a Yankee, or say anything in his own defense, though, Asakura was talking again.

"Well, however you managed to do it, you managed to have a civil conversation with Suzumiya-san. I would really appreciate it if you could keep doing that, so that she'll have at least one friendly associate in class. I think that would be a good step in helping to turn her into a happy classmate."

Kodaka just stared. What the hell? How was associating with him supposed to do that?

"Which would be great!" enthused Sawada.

"'Cause she's hot!" added Momioka, smile taking on an edge.

Now he blinked, as he tried to understand why another girl was describing Haruhi as 'hot'. Beautiful, he could see anyone saying, but 'hot'? "Ah, well," he temporized. "I'll s-see what I can do." It wasn't like he could refuse a polite request from the class representative, was it?

"Thank you so much," Asakura said, smiling. "Until then, if we ever need to get a message to Suzumiya-san, we'll pass it through you, all right?"

Apparently, he'd not only become Suzumiya's sponsor in Friendless Jerks Anonymous, he was also her manager. "Right," he temporized. "Um, excuse me, I need to, um, excuse me," he finished weakly as he stood up and edged his way out of the room.

Shaking his head as he walked down the hallway towards the washroom, he mused that at least things couldn't get any screwier than they already had.

And then someone grabbed him by his tie and started dragging him towards the stairwell.


 

It was a moment before he realized who was dragging him, and another moment in which he was too baffled by the sheer strength of the small girl who was doing it to offer any comment. Then there was the moment of sheer horror in which he was being pulled up the stairs and unable to draw breath because the tie was pulling tight around his throat like a noose. She finally came to a halt in front of the landing's window, letting go of his tie and whirling around to shove a piece of paper in his face.

"I did it!" proclaimed Mikazuki, with a snarling smile of triumph.

Kodaka was desperately loosening the tie and taking deep breaths, so he couldn't immediately respond. When he did, he naturally came back with a wheezed, "What?"

"I did it," she repeated, perhaps a little less savagely but a bit more smugly. "I went down to the administration and established a new club." She emphasized this by shaking the paper she was still holding up.

He blinked and took a slightly longer look at the paper, which was, he now saw, emblazoned with the school's logo and a header reading "Club Registration Form". Looking a bit further down, he read the new club's name.

"The Neighbors Club?" he read aloud.

"In the spirit of Christian fellowship, we shall strive to be good neighbors to each other, growing closer to each other each and every day," she recited the club's statement of purpose, written just below the name.

"I can read, you know," he told her.

"I wasn't sure."

Swallowing that not-terribly-subtle burn, Kodaka looked from her face to the sheet. "Christian fellowship?"

"What?" she asked. "They have that big-ass church, aren't they? Plenty of nuns all over the place. Christianity is clearly big here. Plus, the administration wouldn't want to seem like they were restricting our freedom of religion."

The sheer naked cynicism nearly overwhelmed him, and he let out a long breath. "Well," he said at last. "You've clearly thought of everything. I hope you and your fellow good neighbors have lots of fun together."

"You're joining," she said.

"... I'm what now?"

"You're joining," she repeated. "It was your idea, after all, so I put you down as one of the charter members." She pointed out his name under the list of members, consisting of three names, one of which was Mikazuki's own.

He stared. "You can't do that."

"No, it was easy, see?" She pointed out his name again. And mimed writing it.

He struggled to find something to say to that, something that expressed his objection. But the words would not come. Staring at the list, all he could say was, "And, and who's this person?"

"Last member of the Literature Study Club. I talked her into letting us use her club's room for meetings, so of course she's joining too. Her club's going to be disbanded when they review things and find out it has only one member, after all. You've got to have at least five, you know."

"And you've got three -"

"We've got three. For now," she corrected. "We'll get others."

"Okay, no. I'm not -"

"You said you wanted to join a club, right?" Mikazuki said, just a bit sharply. "So you could make friends. So here's a club specifically for the purpose of making friends. What is the problem, here?"

"Well, I don't know, maybe I could -"

"Nope."

"I haven't even said what I was going to do," Kodaka growled.

"You're going to talk about making your own club, right? Sorry, nothing doing. The secretary told me that the school allows for a limited number of non-specific clubs, like this one, every year. And guess who's got two thumbs and filled the last available berth?" She pointed at herself with both thumbs. "This gal."


 

Suzumiya Haruhi stormed out of the administration's offices swearing like a sailor. As this was not a terribly uncommon occurrence, all that transpired was that one of the secretaries made a discrete phone call once she was out of hearing range.


 

Sensing the certainty of his defeat, Kodaka sighed. "Okay. Fine. I'll go along with this ... Neighbor's Club." He looked at the sheet again. "You even found a faculty advisor, too. Is this guy a foreigner?"

"Negi-sensei? Yeah, I think he's from Wales or something."

Huh. He had the vague notion that Wales was right beside England. That was interesting. "Well, I guess we've got a club, now, Mikazuki -"

"It's Yozora, Kodaka," she said.

He blinked. Not only did she use his personal name, she was insisting that he use hers? That was ... odd. But then, he was coming to realize that this was a very odd girl.

Be that as it may, he supposed that he shouldn't be completely surprised that she insisted on showing him the room that she'd found for this club, immediately. While initially grateful that she allowed him to walk at his own pace rather than be dragged like he had been before, Kodaka started to get nervous once he realized that the club room was (a) not in the same building as their classroom and (b) not in a building in the same general area as the building in which their classroom was held.

"Um ... you know, maybe we should wait until after class to go there," he said as they walked briskly across the campus.

"Don't be ridiculous," Mi- Yozora said, without looking back at him. "We need to claim the classroom quickly in case the Literature Club realizes what we're doing and acts like a bunch of dogs in the manger by reforming."

"Dogs in the -" He set that aside for the moment. "But, we might be late getting back to class?"

"So?" she said, again without a backward glance.

"We'll get in trouble," he said. "People already think I'm a delinquent, and -"

"Don't be silly," she said, holding up a hand as though to wave off his concerns. "You're going to your club, right? You can't be a delinquent if you're going to your club."

Kodaka was fairly sure that wasn't how it worked. But they finally arrived at the building in question, an older, semi-abandoned one that wasn't actually too terribly far from the one where they had class. If they hurried, they'd probably be back before bell. Probably.

Entering, they headed up the stairs to the second floor, and then Yozora threw open one of the doors. "Behold!" she proclaimed.

Kodaka beheld. Specifically, he beheld a rather small room with a table, some chairs, some shelves with books on them set against one of the walls and a coat rack on the other, and a petite and very pale girl seated at the table. She wore a black jacket over her school uniform, and glasses, and was reading a thick book while wearing a set of headphones.

"Nice and cozy, don't you think?" Yozora said, strolling in.

"Is that -"

"Ah, right. Member number three. Hey, Yuki," she said, waving at the girl.

Said girl made no response. This was perhaps to be expected, given her complete immersion in her book. With a faint bit of curiosity, Kodaka glanced over her shoulder and discovered that it was some sort of intricate and heavy medieval fantasy novel. Lacking interest in the subject, he turned back to Yozora. "Yes, very quaint," he said. "Now let's get back to class."

"What's the rush?" she asked.

"... the rush is a complete lack of interest in getting lectured about cutting class."

"Eh, it'll happen whether you're interested or not," she said dismissively. "Anyway, first I want to show you something." She proceeded to start opening her uniform jacket.

"Oh, hey, wait a minute," Kodaka said, backing away.

"What?" Yozora asked, looking genuinely perplexed as she pulled a piece of paper out of the jacket's inside pocket, then unfolded and held it up for him to see. "I made a photocopy and put it up on the school bulletin board."

What small poise he'd managed to regain instantly fled as he stared at the childish drawing of ... a large number of people (and, um, not-people) holding what looked like mushrooms - with little arms and legs - and smiling broadly under a rising sun which was also smiling and holding a mushroom. With writing underneath.

"What the crap is this?" he asked.

"It's our recruiting poster," she said. In response to his wordless gaze of disbelief, she elaborated. "I decided to draw that song, you know? When I'm a third grader I'll make a hundred friends and we'll eat onigiri on Mt. Fuji?"

"That's supposed to be onigiri?" he asked. "Why did you give it arms and legs?"

"Because it's cute," Yozora replied, clearly starting to sound exasperated.

"Okay, setting that lunacy aside -"

"Hey, lunacy?"

"What's with this message? It doesn't say anything about what this club is supposed to do. It's just ... I'm not even sure what to call it."

"Read it diagonally," she said, sounding cross.

He did so. "... who the hell is going to notice this?"

"Anyone who does notice it is going to be just the sort of person we want in this club!" Yozora proclaimed.

The door, which they'd closed behind them, swung open once more. "Recruiting friends?" said a voice.

Standing there, breathing rather heavily in the fashion of one who has run a marathon while radiating almost incandescent fury, was Suzumiya Haruhi. Her eyes didn't so much wander around the room as dart from place to place, finally settling on Yozora.

"Recruiting friends?" she repeated.

"That's right," Yozora said tightly. "You wanna make something of it?"

From the look on Suzumiya's face, it seemed fairly clear that she did. But she drew in one more deep breath, and regarded her calmly. "I want to join."

"Rejected," Yozora said without hesitation. "Kodaka, would you kindly get rid of this wench?"

"What did you just call me?"

Right at the moment, Kodaka couldn't imagine anywhere he wanted to be less than right here. And that wasn't easy, because he could imagine a lot of very unpleasant situations. "Uh, Yozora," he said. "Didn't you say that anyone who could figure out the hidden message was someone you'd want in the club?"

"I say lots of things," Yozora replied. "She doesn't count."

"Why not?" Kodaka and Suzumiya asked in rough synchrony, though using very different tones.

"Because of th- the way that she's obviously up to something!" Yozora exclaimed, somehow changing course mid-way through the sentence. She glared at Haruhi. "You are obviously up to something, wench!"

"You did it again," Suzumiya said, more amazed than anything else. "What do you mean I'm up to something?" she asked a heartbeat later.

"You're up to something!" Yozora repeated, just a bit angrily.

"Repetition is not explanation!" Suzumiya answered just as angrily.

Yozora made a few false starts, before she finally pointed a finger at the other girl. "You said on our first day that you don't have any interest in ordinary people."

"Yes, that's right," Suzumiya agreed.

"Well, there you go, then. This is a club that's all about becoming friends with ordinary people, so you wouldn't have any interest in it!"

"Oh yeah?" Suzumiya sneered. "You really think ordinary people are gonna figure out that daft secret message?"

"She has a point there," Kodaka observed.

"Don't encourage the wench!" Yozora yelled at him. Then back to Haruhi. "So anyway, you are obviously scheming to come in here, take over our friendly association of friendship and, within a couple of weeks, turn it into something weird like a group to look for aliens and espers and time travelers and, and whatever that other thing you were looking for was -"

"Sliders," Kodaka supplied.

"Don't encourage her!" Suzumiya yelled at him. Then back to Yozora. "You are a paranoid little girl, you know that? I would never even consider what you're suggesting." (Which was true. She'd had a much more long-term strategy in mind, taking most of a month rather than a couple of weeks. Clearly she was going to have to draw it out even longer to avoid attention.)

"Sheah, right," Yozora sneered. "Anyway. As president for life of the Neighbors Club -"

"You're what now?" Kodaka interjected.

And was completely ignored. "- I am officially rejecting your petition for membership."

"Objection!" Suzumiya cried, holding up a swirly tipped finger. "School regulations officially state that the officers of a club may not unilaterally reject any petition for membership without the consent of a simple majority of the existing club membership!"

"You actually read the school regulations?" Yozora asked, jaw dropped.

"I have a lot of spare time!" Suzumiya snapped.

"Well, fine," Yozora growled after a moment. "Hand poll. Let those who wish to accept the petition for membership of this wench raise their hands." She proceeded to glare murderously at Kodaka.

Kodaka flinched beneath the stress of her regard. The last thing he wanted to do was raise his hand under these circumstances. And come to that, didn't she already have a boyfriend? What did she need with more friends? So really, the smart thing to do would be to keep his hand lowered.

And yet.

He remembered how Asakura had asked him to do what he could to help Haruhi, and the warmth of the girl's smile. So, with a sigh of certain doom, he raised his hand.

"Uh huh," Yozora said, nodding, still glaring a look that promised death to all traitors. "How sweet. One for, one against, president breaks all ties, so -"

"You need to count again," said Suzumiya.

"What are you talking about, there's me, him and -" Yozora broke off. Slowly, she turned.

Nagato Yuki had not looked up from her book. But her hand was raised all the same.

"She's wearing headphones," Yozora said dazedly. "How does she even know what we're talking about?"

"Two for, one against," Suzumiya said with an obvious smirk.

"Welcome to the Neighbor's club, Suzumiya -" Kodaka started to say.

"It's Haruhi," the girl interrupted. "If you're going to call her by just her name, you can do the same for me. Now about our recruitment efforts - the poster has its points, but I believe we can do better with something ... moe."

Haruhi, as she would insist on being called, did not have a chance to elaborate on what she meant by that. With the membership situation resolved, Kodaka's earlier anxieties about being late for class returned in full. "Well, now that that's settled, we should really get back to class!" he said, clapping his hands and smiling broadly.

"Wow, you have got to do something about that grimace," Haruhi said, staring at him.

"It looks like you're in incredible pain," Yozora said. "As though from a stick up your ass, for example."

The two girls did not share a glance, silently communicating the notion that though they despised each other, they were in total agreement about Kodaka's unpleasant smile. Some degrees of mutual loathing cannot be overcome by such agreements.

"I don't have a - look, I just don't want to get in trouble over this, okay?"

"Eh, that probably won't happen," Yozora said. 


 

 It had been three days since then.

"You can go ahead, Hasegawa-san," Negi had said happily after classes were over. "I'll stay for a little longer reviewing these assignments."

"Are you sure?" she asked. Hakase and Chachamaru were gone by now. "Hmph, fine. Just remember to be at home before nightfall. I still don't trust Evangeline."

"Oh, come on," he laughed her concern off gently. "She's cleaned up her act now. She's even returned to classes since then, and there haven't been any more reports of attacks, right?"

"Still not trusting," she insisted, then shrugged her shoulders. "If not for her, then be there early because I'll kick your butt if you don't, do you understand?"

He pouted. "That's no way to talk to your teacher…"

"No, but it's a way to talk to an unruly child. Bye." The girl walked out of the classroom without looking back. "I'll buy something for our dinner at Chao's on my way home, if you really need a good incentive," she calmly sweetened the deal before turning around a corner of the hall and disappearing from sight. Negi noticed the fast pace of her steps; no doubt she wanted to get home quickly and do a Chiu session before Chamo returned from his panty raid of the day.

Once alone, the boy drew in a deep breath. He rolled his sleeves up, grabbed his staff from the corner he kept it at, and walked with it to the middle of the empty class.

Well, mostly empty.

With an eager and nervous look on her face, Aisaka Sayo floated to meet him there, twiddling her vaporous fingers together. "D-Do you really think it will work?" she asked, her voice trembling.

"I'm almost positive," he replied with a comforting nod of his head. "I researched on some of the tomes I brought from Merdiana Academy, and even consulted Chamo on it."

"Who's Chamo?" Sayo asked.

""Hum… a friend of mine," Negi chuckled."He's a bit… eccentric, but a great fellow deep down. Anyway, I've been working on this spell for a few days now, and I think I should have it mastered now. We only need to test it for real."

"I don't know," the ghost whimpered. "I-I don't want to doubt you, but if it hasn't been tested yet, couldn't it h-harm me?"

"Relax, please," he asked her soothingly. "It's okay. Only offensive Astral Magic spells can hurt spirits. Even the exorcisms, and this has nothing to do with them, only can transport them away. And even if this comes out wrong, you will receive no harm at all. I guarantee it."

She smiled and nodded, eased by his promise. "Ahhh, that's a relief! Then let's do it, please!"

"Why, the chance of you suddenly being dragged down screaming into hell is practically non-existent!"

Aaaand there went the relief.

Negi just smiled obliviously. "Okay!" he grinned happily, then placed his staff over her head. "Rastel Maskir Magister. Teru Ma Amorista. Gate of the Spirit World, loosen your grip over this soul. Allow her presence to show itself to the eyes of the Magi. I ask thee in this hour, further her advance amidst the living! Walker of the Light, out of the Darkness!"

Then Sayo felt herself filled by a radiant and warm light that made her 'heart' to soar. She felt a new degree of solidity to herself; while far from that of a physical shape, she even could see the colors as brighter now, and she sensed some added sense of weight into her person.

"Waaaiiii! I think it has worked, Sensei!" she chirped with glee.

"I'm glad!" he smiled. Then he informed her, "With this, mundanes still won't be able to see you, but mages, and those who derive magical power from sorcerers, like Ministra Magi, will see and hear you, not only Kasuga-san and me. You are going to make a lot of new friends!" he said. At least Evangeline-san and Chao-san, he thought. With any luck, she could bring Eva further out of her shell.

"Yayyy!" Sayo cheered. "But, oh, wait. Won't this bring us problems? Do you think your fellow teachers will agree?"

Negi froze on the spot immediately. He KNEW he had been forgetting some detail.

"W-Well…" he started to sweat."I guess it'll be okay if you keep yourself out of their sight. It's not like the magically aware ones are going to enter without any warning at any given—"

At that moment the classroom's room was slammed open without warning, heralding the magically aware Itoshiki Nozomu's rushed entrance, scaring Negi nearly to death. "NEGI-SENSEI!" the tall thin man yelled. "I BRING HIDEOUS, DESPAIRING NEWS! HASEGAWA-SAN TOLD ME YOU'D BE HERE—"

"I-I-Itoshiki-sensei!" Negi quickly spun around, attempting to shield Sayo with his back, just as the spectre cowered behind him. "M-May I help you with something?"

The older teacher stopped, looking at the ghostly figure badly attempting to hide behind a child much shorter than her. "As a matter of fact, yes," the suicidal dark mage said in a flatly awkward tone. "You could begin by telling me, is that a ghost you are hiding from me?"

"Hm… no," the boy shook his head vehemently.

"Because I am seeing it now," Nozomu insisted.

"Wh-Where?" Negi stammered.

"Attempting to crouch down behind your back, which I think might work better if she had any actual legs," Itoshiki said.

"Um, she's just… shy. And an albino. That explains her pale skin and lack of color of hair, see?" the child lamely stated.

"She has no legs," Itoshiki repeated itself.

"A tragic accident…" Negi whined pitifully.

"…" Mr. Despair stared blankly at them.

"…" his much younger colleague averted the stare as best as he could.

"I don't doubt this has been a tragic accident, indeed," the man finally stated, his voice unchanged.

Negi felt himself as dead as Sayo then.


 

"P-p-P-p-Please don't exorcise me! And don't turn Negi-sensei into an ermine, either!" Sayo bursted out into ectoplasmic tears. "Have mercy, creepy man-san!"

"Wh-What-san?" Nozomu babbled.

"I'll go away and never come back if you want so!" the ghost wailed. "But don't punish Negi-sensei! He and Kasuga-san are the only two people who have ever tried to help me! Oh, no! Now I have involved her as well! Forget I said that! To be honest, I wasn't talking about Kasuga Misora! It was another Misora! No, I mean another Kasuga! Who doesn't study here!"

"Please forgive her, Sir!" Negi stepped in. "Her name's Aisaka Sayo, and she has been invisible to everyone in this Academy for the last sixty years! I… I just tried to give her some happiness! I beg you, don't hold that against us!"

Itoshiki sighed. "We all would fall into serious disgrace if this becomes public knowledge, so I won't divulge it," he relented. "But do try to keep her away from all our colleagues, will you? Regardless, Aisaka-san…"

"Y-Yes?" the spirit sniffed her tears back.

"I intend to join the afterlife in the near future," he calmly informed. "How is it, from your experience? It cannot be any worse than the tortures of the living world, but exactly how less distasteful is it?"

"… I have only wandered through this campus for all this time," Sayo finally replied, meekly. "I haven't ever seen anything like Heaven or Hell…" she shuddered visibly, "… nor any other ghosts, angels or demons. So I suppose it is… mostly like your life?"

The man slummed his head down. "I should have expected it! These cursed grounds are like a trap, binding us to them! For the likes of me, there is no escape, no relief, in any world at either side of the mortalcoil! DESPAIR!" he yelled. "The idea of being chained to this school for all eternity after my demise fills me with DESPAIR!"

He lifted his head back up. "Ah, yes, Negi-sensei. Arai-sensei, the psychological counselor, wishes to talk with both of us."

"Really? Why?" the child teacher asked.

"Because we have a serious problem student at Class 2-F," the beautiful, elegant Arai Chie, a shapely woman in her late twenties, with short black hair and perfectly manicured fingernails, looked at her notepad minutes after that, sitting cross-legged at her office before Negi, Nozomu and Sayo. The ghost girl still was invisible to the supernaturally untrained eyes of the psychotherapist. "Her name is Komori Kiri, and she has refused to attend classes ever since the new term started, two weeks ago. She already gave serious signs of reclusive tendencies last year, but never to this degree. I attempted to talk with her this Monday, but I couldn't reach to her; she is stubborn and unwilling to cooperate. However, since you apparently have managed some level of success on helping Hakase-san and Hasegawa-san to socialize more with others, I thought of asking for your help with this situation, Negi-sensei. Would you be willing to do it?"

"Naturally!" Negi nodded bravely. He had yet to learn you NEVER volunteer for anything. Sucker.

"That's a relief to hear," Chie smiled. "Itoshiki-sensei will show you the way to her rooms."

"I already have enough with my own distressing problems, sorry," Nozomu politely refused while installing a hangman's noose on the roof of the office, with his back now turned on them. HE had certainly learned never to volunteer for anything you could get out of. "I can't possibly be of any help. And besides, even if I would survive this, I have a bath at a private alligator pit and an early dinner with strychnine and arsenic lined up for this afternoon."

Then Arai-sensei sneaked around to look at his face, giving him an up close and personal piercing glare.

It made even Negi's skin to crawl all over. Despite its lack of anything supernatural about it, and even though the rest of her face being completely unchanging, not even scowling at all, that glare was one of the most fearsome things he ever had seen.

Somewhere on Mundus Magicus, a butter-yellow hottie with pink hair and supermodel looks sneezed.

Poor Itoshiki didn't have a chance.

"O-Of course, I could take a couple of hours out of my suicide agenda…" he babbled nervously.

Chie-sensei smiled sweetly anew. "It pleases me to hear that."

Somewhere in the ocean, a random great white shark sneezed.

"There are a million things far worse than death, Negi-sensei" the grownup explained minutes afterward, as the two of them and Sayo reached the doors of Komori's place. "Arai-sensei holds the keys to most of them."

"Scary…" the ghost trembled.


 

They were greeted by Komori's roommate, a teenager with a modestly thin build and very short black hair named Tsunetsuki Matoi. For some reason or another, she was wearing a boy's school uniform, and her voice was uneven and agitated, as that of an addict in withdrawal.

"Kiri-chan never leaves, no matter what" she explained, pointing at their bedroom's door. "She hates sunlight, but mostly open spaces. I can't be expected to drag her to school. No time for that. I have a relationship to keep with my boyfriend. If I don't spend all of my time with him, he'll leave me!" she ranted paranoidly. "I leave this in your hands. I must go to see him. I'll ask him out on a date. Yes. Yes. That. Good luck!" She quickly bolted away out the front door.

Negi just kept on staring in the direction she had taken, his eyes tiny black dots. "What… What is wro— happening with her?" he asked.

"Tsunetsuki-san is a chronic stalker," Itoshiki answered. "She changes boyfriends often; once she has found a new romantic obsession, she latches onto the unfortunate young man's life and starts copying his habits, his hobbies, his customs and his clothing style. Plus, she follows them around at all hours and places."

"What?" Negi gasped.

"Yes, my class is sadly full of such misfits and maniacs!" Nozomu lamented loudly. "Oddballs, weirdoes, nut jobs, loonies, screwballs, flurries, Survivor watchers, Narutards—"

"Twilight fans?"

"No, even they have some dignity to not sink that low. Still, they are my shame, although fitting for someone as low as me! And yet, what wouldn't I give for a normal class like yours, Negi-sensei!" he confided in another annoying outburst.

"We… We are normal?" Sayo blinked blankly, pointing an index finger at her own chest. "… Us?"


 

Both teachers stood before the thick door to the girls' dorm room, with Sayo floating right behind them. They all remained still and silent for a few moments until Negi gathered the courage to step forward and gently knock on the door.

"Komori-san?"

No one gave him any reply.

"Komori Kiri-san?" he tentatively repeated.

"GO AWAY!" a female voice shouted angrily from inside.

Finally, Itoshiki sighed and bothered to speak. "Komori-san, we are your teachers. We have been commissioned to see you attend your lessons!"

"Leave me alone!" the voice yelled back.

"Ugugugu…" Sayo shrank back, putting her hands together over her own chest. "She sounds so scary, she must be a horrible person…"

"Please, Komori-san" Negi attempted to negotiate. "It's only for your own good. At least tell us why you don't want to—"

"That school is not a safe place! It's… It's… It's full of people!" the unseen girl screamed.

All three of them blinked.

"I don't get your point," Negi flatly admitted.

"I hate people! Especially weird people like you all! I heard from Matoi you were a child teaching classes and a suicidal madman! And I've seen even worse people out there! Even the Principal looks like an alien!"

Negi's eyes widened. "Konoemon-sensei?"

"Well, his head IS somewhat strangely shaped," Itoshiki conceded. "I'd kill myself if I had one like that."

"And he dresses like he's from China two centuries ago," Komori's voice agreed.

"And he smells sort of funny as well," Nozomu nodded.

"His voice is weird, too," Komori added.

"And the way he looks at Shizuna-sensei when he thinks no one else is looking…" Nozomu made a disgusted face.

"Sensei, aren't you just adding more fuel to her fire?" Sayo wondered.

"Regardless, Komori-san, even if they all are strange, annoying, rude, crass, bothersome, despairing, irritating, abnormal, unbearable and unsympathetic, they are still your classmates and teachers!" the adult went on. "Step out of that room immediately, please!"

"NO!" she stubbornly insisted. "I'll never leave with so many freaks outside!"

Nozomu shook his head. "She makes Hasegawa-san to look positively well-adjusted."

"No joking," Negi marveled. "What will we do now?"

"I don't know. We can't just break in; they'd take the repairs for the door out of our pay. But at the same time, we will be the object of scorn and disapproval if we fail at such a basic mission. The other teachers will laugh at us. Then again, I am used to it…" Itoshiki mused.

"It'd help if we knew exactly what the exact conditions are in there." Negi attempted to think of a solution. "But how…"

"I-I'll go in," Sayo offered herself.

The boy looked at her. "Are you sure, Aisaka-san?"

"Y-Yes!" she nodded. "I must pay you back for helping me to meet Kasuga-san and Itoshiki-sensei! I can go in even if you can't!"

Nozomu nodded. "She's right. And besides, she will not be seen or heard, so she will not disturb our troublesome student!" he whispered.

Negi nodded back, then smiled at his student. "Okay, Aisaka-san! Thank you very much!"

Sayo smiled with awkward enthusiasm. "I'll do my best for you!"

"I'm sure you will," the child mage said confidently.

As both teachers watched her passing through the door and into the bedroom, Itoshiki seemed to have an idea. He looked down at Negi and said, "I also believe I might find more clues about Komori-san's condition if I look through the rest of the rooms. You stay here and watch over the door in case she decides to come out."

"Okay," the boy agreed, not suspecting anything.

Satisfied at the result of his words, Nozomu headed for the kitchen, and once he was out of Negi's sight, he began looking into the cabinet of knives. With a quiet morbid fascination, his gaze fell upon them, carefully measuring each one with a clinic eye.

"It must be as painless as possible, yet also sharp enough to do it decisively quick…" he told himself. "However, I must leave as little of a stain on their floor as I can. Oh, decisions, decisions… Maybe the saw-edged one? No, far too messy…"

Meanwhile, Sayo floated through the darkened room, gulping and cringing in the deadly silence of the warm (perhaps too warm) place. It was eerily quiet, except for the corner from where she could hear a few tiny sobs.

There it was, with its back turned to her, a slim figure wrapped in a huge and thick red blanket, with long jet black hair covering its features. A pair of pale bare feet peeked out from under the blanket. The person was sitting there, surrounded by a few magazines, a portable TV, an electric too rush with charger, some empty bottles of soda and a mess of discarded clothes and crinkled tissues with strange stains on them. There was a strange musk in the air.

Sayo's ghostly teeth clattered, as she drank in the creepy appearance of the room's inhabitant. She was about to turn tail and run out when she was paralyzed by panic at seeing the hermit lifting her head up in alarm, staring in her direction with haunted eyes.

"Who's there?" Komori Kiri asked in a choked, shocked voice which quickly became a shrill shriek.

The most hideous thing in the world had just appeared at the middle of her bedroom; a shapeless shadow with a long white mane, and deep red eyes like those of a demon. "THE D-DEVIL!" she was terrified.

"YOU ARE?" Sayo, in her own terror, mistook it for an introduction. "N-N-N-NEGI-SENSEI! SAVE ME!" she broke out into wailing tears again.

"A BANSHEE SCREAM!" Komori rushed to cover her own ears with her hands. "IT'S THE SIGN OF DEATH!"

"SHE HAS JUST THREATENED ME WITH DEATH! NEGI-SENSEIIIII!"

"Hold on, Aisaka-san!" Negi shouted from outside, readying his staff to blow the door down. He had no idea of what was happening in there, but no time to ponder it, either. However, before he could conjure a spell, the door slammed open from inside and smashed him against a wall. "Uguuuuu!"

"IDONTWANTTODIEIDONTWANTTODIE!" Komori ran out of the room as quick as her legs could carry her.

As a groggy Negi slumped down to the floor, Sayo tackled him in a hug and buried her tearful face into his chest. "It was the scariest thing I've ever seen…!" she bawled. "Help me, Sensei…!"

"Si St Er..?" he gurgled. "i Do N'tt Thh I Nk i Wan TO go TO skOOl twODay…"


 

Itoshiki was so absorbed into the comparison and analysis of the sharp instruments of death and cooking arrayed before him, he didn't even actually register the screams of panic and anguish coming from the other rooms.

Neither did he really notice when Komori Kiri ran into the kitchen looking for any hideout that wouldn't demand her to actually leave the house.

"Help me! Help me!" she screamed as she ran straight towards… and into… him, to tackle him with a frantic hug from behind, toppling him over the knives' cabinet. "Save me from the hordes of Hell!"

Nozomu gasped as he lost balance, falling face-first into a veritable collection of large and small knives, the kind of collection only a devoted obsessive stalker would amass. For a moment he just laid there, motionless, surrounded by sharp edges, with a sobbing girl clinging to his back.

Then, miraculously spared for some reason from being stabbed by a knife, he sprang back to his feet, turned around to face the young woman, and shouted at her, "WHAT IF I HAD DIED?"

"KYA!" Komori backed away quickly, crouching down in a corner like a corralled animal. She turned her face away and began to cry, nearly hysterical. "Why… Why do these things happen to me? I… I wasn't doing anything bad! All I wanted was to be left alone… in peace…"

Negi and Sayo had entered the kitchen, and mutely, they watched how Itoshiki's expression soften while looking at the girl who suffered at their feet.

"Out there, there are so many weird and fearsome things… Things no one else can see, and they told me I'm crazy…" Kiri continued sobbing pitifully. "It drives me mad, I can't cope with it… Why can't I stay here where I'm safe? What do I do to anyone with it…?"

"I understand," the adult teacher knelt down next to her. "It drives all of us insane. It's a harsh, cruel world. It is the way it is, and it won't change. But we must either live with it or die. No middle ground."

He reached with his hands for the extremely long bangs of black hair covering her face. She attempted to resist, but before she could do anything, he already had moved her hair aside.

She looked at the three of them with huge tearful eyes, while a red coloring ran over her pale cheeks as her gaze met that of her Sensei.

"You're beautiful," Itoshiki said softly. "With such fair skin, as white as the purest snow."

He took his hands away, leaving her wordless. Negi simply stared without understanding. Sayo cooed to herself, swooning gleefully.

Komori stammered for a few moments without managing the words out, but then Nozomu calmly told her, "If you ever want to die, please tell me first."

Taking it as a sign of him valuing her life and promising to be there for her, the girl, the boy teacher and the spirit were all deeply moved.

"Ah…" Kiri sighed.

"Itoshiki-sensei…" Negi had stars in his eyes. "You are an inspiration to me…"

"I had misjudged you before…!" Sayo ran a sleeve over her own face, wiping her newfound tears off.

All the while, the adult ignored them, pulling a notebook out and adding Miss Komori to a short list of likely future suicide partners he had made.


 

The next day, Negi was finishing his classes with another study group, and he was walking back to 2-A to rejoin Chisame when he saw a miserable looking Itoshiki standing at the doors of 2-F.

"Itoshiki-sensei?" the child stopped in front of him. "What's wrong?"

"It's… Komori-san," Mr. Despair sighed heavily.

"She still hasn't shown up for classes, has she?" Negi asked with some pity.

"No, it isn't that!" the older teacher lamented. "She was here before anyone else this morning! I also got to learn what caused her problem in the first place! Apparently she has some sort of natural hyper-sensitivity to magical energies, which makes her to feel all the magical powers floating around Mahora, confusing and scaring her!"

"Ah, that explains why she could see Aisaka-san," Negi seemed satisfied at the explanation. After Eva and Chao had given no signs of seeing the ghost that morning, even though he suspected they were faking ignorance, he was starting to doubt the effects of his spell. "But then why are you so sad? I don't get it…"

Itoshiki opened the classroom's door for him. "Behold it by the means of your own eyes!"

Negi looked inside to see the empty classroom, only it was not exactly empty. Kiri and Sayo sat at the back of the room around a small kotatsu table, surrounded by several stacks of magazines, a portable TV, a cheap laptop, a radio, and a few boxes full with Komori's belongings. Two electric toothbrushes were plugged into the wall socket, one beat up and covered with strange stains, the other nice and new.

Kiri was pouring two cups from a small teapot. "More tea, Sayo-chan?" she quietly asked.

The ghost smiled happily. "Yes, please!"

Komori smiled back, handing her one of the cups. "Enjoy it."

"I will! Thanks!" Sayo daintily held the cup and drank from it, the liquid falling right through her and spilling all across the floor. "Ahhh! It was delicious!"

"Instead of refusing to leave her room, she refuses to leave the classroom now!" Itoshiki slumped his head down.

"Omni Initium Est Difficile, I guess." A large drop of sweat had appeared on top of Negi's head.


 

That late afternoon, to celebrate the success of Komori-san's reintegration to the education system, Itoshiki took Negi on his first 'men only' dinner out. Meaning they were now eating warm noodles at a cheap street stand. It was so cheap, they and the profusely smoking ramen man were the only ones there, as a matter of fact.

"Is there something the problem, Negi-sensei?" the older teacher asked passively at a given moment.

Negi blinked, barely now realizing how unenthused he must have looked until that point. He blushed. "Um… No, of course not! This… These noodles have quite the taste," he said, taking care to not mention it was not a GOOD taste. "It's just I was thinking, and wondering, hm…" For a moment, he struggled to think of a good, believable excuse, which didn't come easily to him at all, since he was not used to lying in the slightest. Then, however, an opportunity to change the subject presented itself. "Isn't that Tsunetsuki-san over there?"

"Who?" Nozomu asked back, looking in the direction Negi was pointing at.

Itoshiki fell silent, catching a good view of the easily recognizable head of the young woman with short black hair who had greeted them into her and Komori-san's living quarters. She sat in the back of a police patrol car, which waited for a green light at the intersection of two nearby streets before continuing on its way towards 'Policetown', the massive mundane law enforcement center of Academy City.

"… oh, yes, that's her," Nozomu answered blandly, setting his chopsticks down.

"Kids nowadays, huh," the ramen stand guy snorted, puffing three rings of smoke. "Deviants an' delinquents all, now!"

Negi gave the large, greasy man with hairy arms an annoyed glare, but the English gentleman in him insisted on remaining the better man. Instead, he chose asking Itoshiki, "Sensei? Shouldn't we try calling the police? Something very serious must have happened to her! No doubt she needs us!"

The other teacher sighed and pushed his glasses up his nose. "Negi-sensei, Tsunetsuki-san needs far more help than anything we can provide."

Negi blinked. "Huh?"

"And that's why they're a lost generation," the unkempt man growled, scratching himself under an armpit. "We gave up on 'em, so of course they went an' took the wrong path in life, the poor saps. Parents an' teachers haven't been worth a crap for decades. It's like my ex tells me when she bugs me f'r the alimony thing f'r the brats…"

Itoshiki looked down at his bowl. "Oh dear. Is this a dead spider at the bottom?"


 

Come the next afternoon, in Itoshiki's office…

"A stalker," Negi spoke the term in such a way that it made clear it had never grazed his lips before. He was familiar, of course, with the concept of an animal or a human hunter stalking their prey, but so far, the idea of humans, cute Eleven schoolgirls at that, stalking other human beings was very alien to him. Even after the recent explanation Itoshiki had given on Tsunetsuki's behavior when he first met her. One which Arai Chie was repeating and expanding upon now.

Arai-sensei, who stood next to the chair currently taken by a crestfallen Tsunetsuki-san, nodded. "She pursues her ex-boyfriends obsessively, makes copies of their house keys, and then breaks into their houses. Now that's gotten her in trouble with the police itself, and since you two just did such a sterling job with Komori-san, the Headmaster thought you might be able to help her too…"

"I wouldn't call what we did a sterling job, myself," Itoshiki pointed out.

Chie smiled. "Always so humble, Itoshiki-sensei."

"No, I'm serious!" he argued. "We only traded her problem for another, and just look at us! We both have enough problems of our own! He's a traumatized child, and me… you know my case better than anyone else!"

"But I'm not traumatized!" the poor traumatized boy said.

"Yes…" Tsunetsuki spoke slowly then, "… it'd be useless either way. I'm hopeless like that. Once I fall in love with someone, I just can't let them go! My mind becomes fixated on them! I can't live without them… I have to call them every five minutes to see if they're okay, or if they're with someone else. Sending them e-mails is okay too, I guess…"

"Okay, that definitely isn't healthy," said Negi, Master of Magic and the Obvious.

Matoi began chewing her finger nails. "Right now, I'm burning with the urge to see Taisuke-kun, to hear his voice! But he won't let me in anymore, after getting what he wanted from me, so I have to sneak into his room late at night. Then he escaped with his family, so I had to follow him, they were hiding him from me, so cruelly, and then those Jerkops came along…"

"Oh my," Itoshiki gasped. "A CWC-ism! She's a lost cause! I'M IN DESPAIR!" he threw his hands up. "Sonichu's corruption of today's youth has left me in despair!"

"Sensei, please," Negi patiently said as Chie stood aside, obliviously painting her finger nails red. "Don't try teaching our students things are hopeless! That's not only false, but discouraging! There is always a way, a path to improve ourselves!"

"- and then I had to bug his room, after he stopped answering my calls, and so I learned he talked badly of me to his family…" Matoi kept on muttering.

"Perhaps, but I suspect her path was blocked by a rockslide," Itoshiki dryly observed.

Negi ran a hand down his own face.

"Stalker?!" Fuura Kafuka startled the boy then, appearing out of nowhere behind him. "Ha ha, that's just silly! There's no way we could have someone as dangerous as a stalker living right amongst us!"

"Wh-Where did you just come from?!" exclaimed Itoshiki with figurative heart in hand.

"That's not important now, Sensei!" Kafuka cutely giggled. "What matters is, this isn't the behavior of a stalker! This is simply, purely, a beautiful and innocent… DEEP LOVE!"

Tsunetsuki raised her head to give Kafuka an impressed glare. "Deep… Love…?" she weakly mouthed.

Kafuka nodded, smiling widely. "A-yep! It's the ultimate manifestation of unyielding, stubborn, driven romantic passion! Deep Love!"

"Deep Love…" Matoi repeated, liking the sound of it.

"But that is wrong!" Itoshiki protested. "Bugging a boy's bedroom after breaking into it isn't love!"

Somewhere, Daidouji Tomoyo sneezed.

"No one has ever said love has to be good by default," Chie passively said from a side, flipping through a fashion magazine.

Somewhere, Gasai Yuuno sneezed.

"That's the kind of love that presses the biggest emotional buttons in people!" Kafuka argued. "The kind of love that sells movie tickets and books by the millions, even if they happen to deal with crappy vampires!" Even Kafuka wasn't optimistic enough to deny Twilight's horridness.

"Well, it's true that such books seem to sell…" Itoshiki said, "But so do books on teen prostitution, the corruption of the underaged, and drug cartels! Real love has to be mature, complex and often painful, even tragic, like the love of Section Chief Shima Kosaku!"

"… who?" asked Negi.

"The clammy, dark love of a middle-aged man!" Itoshiki gestured grandly. "That's what Deep Love really means!"

"No, my love is Deep and intense, too," Matoi quietly said. "And I'm a lover, not a stalker! My love is just a little deeper than everyone else's! It's not my fault if Taisuke-kun doesn't feel the same way yet, but he will, he will, after… Oh-oh! That reminds me! I've left him alone far too long! What if, what if his love resolve falters now? What if someone else seduces him? What if disaster befalls him? I'm too worried! I won't be at peace until I see him again!"

And she bolted up from her chair and raced for the door, as Kafuka stepped aside to make way for her.

"Wait, Tsunetsuki-san!" Negi tried to stop her. "He's got a restraining order on you! You'll be arrested again! Think of your mother!"

"I'm in Despair!" she cried. "Knowing my beloved must be about to be taken from me has left me in despaiiiiiiir!" Her voice now trailed away from the hallway outside.

"… that's my catchphrase!" Itoshiki gasped.

Chie-sensei sighed softly, setting the magazine down. "Good job. Now please go and look for her, will you?"

"Bye-bye!" Kafuka waved at the two males. "Best of luck!"

Itoshiki blinked. "But why us…?"

"Because you are her teacher, perhaps?" Chie said.

"And you are her counsellor, so why don't you come with us?" the man demanded.

"I'm also the counsellor to many others, and I can't leave this sacred post unattended," she said, leaning back on her chair, crossing her shapely legs and grabbing another magazine. "I trust you will do the right thing."

"But…!" Itoshiki squealed.

"Come on, Sensei!" Negi already was pulling him out the door. "Let's go do the right thing!"

"Yes, please do so," Chie hummed, beginning to re-read her magazine. "Ooohhhh, Yuuki Ringo is such a genius…"


 

"So let me see if I heard you right," Itou Makoto, plain-looking, black haired student of Class 1-3 of Mahora Combined High School, sat before the TV of his bedroom, playing videogames with his taller, marginally better looking, brown-haired best friend and roommate. "You rejected a girl. You?"

Sawanaga Taisuke snorted. "I wouldn't call her a girl. More like a banshee who sneaks behind you, breathing on your neck and then making that strange creepy sound she makes…"

"I didn't hear you complaining while you were dating," Makoto said.

"Give me a break!" Taisuke said. "That was before I learned how overwhelming she could be! Seriously, you know how overbearing she is! You've seen all the text messages and calls she sends me! A man can't live like that, Makoto! Besides, I've got my eyes set on bigger prizes now."

Makoto sighed. "Yeah, I think she crossed a line when she left that package for you at the door, but even so-"

"TAISUKE-KUN!" Matoi yelled then, slamming their door open. "You've been avoiding my calls again!"

Taisuke nearly jumped off his skin. "Gahhhh! Wha-what if I hadn't been decent, you wacko!"

"Why wouldn't you be decent when in a bedroom with another man?" Matoi asked. She looked at Makoto accusingly. "You're perverting him for your own goals, aren't you? You fiend! Just like your father! Yes, I know about your father, I made sure of making background searches for everyone who is close to Taisuke-kun…!"

Makoto blinked. "… what do you mean…?"

"Hey, cut it out!" Taisuke stomped ahead. "I've told you, we're done! Not an item anymore! Finished! Why can't you get that already? And besides, I'm not gay! And even if I were, I'd aim higher than Makoto!"

"Gee, thanks. It's mutual…" Makoto droned.

"Anyway, get outta my house and outta my life!" Taisuke barked to Matoi. "Or I'm calling the cops again!"

Makoto sighed and walked towards the kitchen. "Never mind me, I'm going for a tuna sandwich…"

"We are in love!" Matoi wailed. "How can you tell those mean things to your future wife, Taisuke-kun! After everything we promised each other, too!"

Then another figure appeared at the doorstep. Followed by yet another, much smaller one. "Ah, there you are!" the tall pale man in the hakama said. "Tsunetsuki-san!"

Matoi cringed. "Sensei! And Sensei!"

Taisuke blinked. "Sensei? And Sensei?"

"Yes!" Itoshiki nodded. "Sensei! And Sensei! Together, we fight crime! Or something."

Makoto's voice hummed from the kitchen. "Hnnn… So, sandwiches for you as well, Sensei? And Sensei?"

Negi looked up at Nozomu. "Sensei?"

Itoshiki nodded. "Yes, Sensei."

"Okay, thank you! One for me and one for Sensei!" said Negi-sensei.

"Coming right up, Sensei!"

"Don't interrupt us, Sensei and Sensei!" Matoi growled. "This is between Sensei and Sensei! I mean, between Taisuke-kun and me! ARRRRGHHHH! Just look at what you made me say, Sensei!"

"And Sensei," Itoshiki-sensei pointed down at Negi-sensei. "Anyway, Tsunetsuki-san, your loud proclamation of love is simply ridiculous, childish and baseless!"

"And why would that be? What do you know on the subject of love?" Matoi challenged.

"Two tuna sandwiches…" Makoto strolled in, giving one to Sensei and Sensei each.

"Thank you," Itoshiki said, taking his and taking a bite. "Hmmm, good one. You'd make a good wife."

Somewhere, Emiya Shirou sneezed.

"Yes, indeed," Negi nodded, chomping on his. "Wait… What?"

"I was saying," Itoshiki stated solemnly, "If you really love someone… You should be willing to die with them!"

"No, I'm pretty sure that's not what you were saying," Makoto said blandly.

"Come again?" Matoi doubted. "Dying… with Taisuke-kun?"

"Other than the part where it's with me, I'm all behind that plan," Taisuke said.

"Sawanaga-san! That's no way to talk to a lady!" Negi chided him. Taisuke just threw his hands up in half-hearted apology.

"As all good Classic Literature will tell you," Itoshiki said, unknowingly adopting that old 'Know It All' body posture, "the ultimate, most heart wrenching form of love is the shared sacrifice! And that means… DOUBLE SUICIDE!"

Negi, who had just accepted a glass of juice from Itou-san, promptly spat it all over Itou's front. And actually, so did Itou do to him.

"What," Sawanaga said, in a dead disbelieving tone.

"The path of love, like all paths in life, ends up leading to death!" argued Itoshiki. "So it's only logical taking that road with the one you care the most! If you really love each other, you should do that! I guarantee it'll finish all your petty squabbles forever!"

Makoto looked at Negi. "Is this guy for real?"

"I-Itoshiki-sensei, please! Listen at what you're saying!" Negi screamed.

"Because all that 'dying together' crap really sounds like something out of a Bad End for a cheesy game or visual novel…" Makoto hummed.

"I don't want to live with her, much less die with her! Cut it out with the sick jokes!" Taisuke angrily said, while pointing at a silent and shocked Matoi.

"Here," Itoshiki said, leaving a black briefcase before the youngsters. "This is one of my reserve travel packs, in the event you decide to take that important step together. Ponder it wisely, and in case you decide against it, please hand the pack back to me. Well, since we trust your good judgment on the matter, we will leave it to you from here on. Let's go, Negi-sensei," he said, heading back through the door.

"But-! BUT-!" Negi choked in his saliva, before giving the students an exasperated look and a shrug of his shoulders. "Please don't die, okay?" he begged, bringing his hands together, before quickly following Itoshiki away. They could hear Negi's protestations to the man down the hallway, but they couldn't make their exact content out too well.

They remained in silence for the next several moments, Makoto wiping juice off his shirt, Taisuke facepalming, and Matoi staring at the door with a curiously intrigued expression.

Finally, she sighed and began walking out. "Good night," she quietly said.

"Hey, aren't you going to take this shit away?!" Taisuke said, holding the briefcase up, but she already was gone, moving with deceiving speed.

Makoto approached him. "Say, what's in that thing, anyway?"

Taisuke frowned and hummed. "Let's see…" He opened it.

Both boys cringed very deeply. Inside, there was a veritable arsenal of instruments of death and self-destruction, ranging from hangman nooses and handguns to bottles of poison and knives. It also included a few Enka discs and a legal kit to write your own last will and testament.

"Eeeeewww… Weirdos," Taisuke commented.

Makoto weighed a large knife in his hands. "Maybe Kotonoha-san would like this one? It looks foreign and expensive…"


 

Next morning:

"Aaaahhhh…" Itoshiki breathed out as he read the newspaper (starting from the obituaries and crime news, as always) over his spartan breakfast generously spiced up with toxins and glass shards. "That's good, I guess. No news on any double suicides, so they must have sobered up…"


 

"Kobushi?" he asked later, as he took attendance of Class 2-F.

"Here, Sensei," Kobushi Abiru weakly raised a trembling, very bandaged arm.

"Komori?"

"Here as always," the classroom hikikomori said from her corner at the bottom of the class.

"Maruichi?"

"Right here," a girl with short black hair carelessly said while counting a thick wad of yen bills.

"Tsunetsuki?"

A moment ago, she hadn't been there. But right then, as soon as her name had been spoken, as if on cue, she walked in, sporting a perfectly nice, pleasant and sweet smile.

"I am here, Sensei," she said.

The rest of the class reacted with stunned, muted horror and rigidity, as Tsunetsuki elegantly made her way over to her seat, wearing a perfect copy of the teacher's ensemble of hakama and sandals, if in more feminine colors. Kaga Ai began choking in a very low tone, and a single long hair sprang from a side of Kitsu Chiri's head, but no one said a single word.

Until Despair-sensei greeted the newcomer with an attitude, for once, completely relaxed and serene. "Well, good morning, Tsunetsuki-san. My congratulations on your choice of fashion today. Is it because of some special occasion?"

She only nodded, with a slight blush on her cheeks and an adoring look in her eyes.

"I see," he nodded, apparently unwilling to keep asking on the subject. "Now, Aoyama…?"

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…

Itoshiki's skin crawled up. What had been that strange, unnerving sound?

He looked all around for the noise's source, but saw nothing out of normal (for once) in his students, all of whom sat very still and in perfect order.

"… H-Here…" Aoyama finally said, shyly raising a hand.

"Hmmm," Itoshiki said. "Okusa…?"

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…

That sound again! Itoshiki's head wildly whipped around in all directions, but once again, no sound source could be identified. He looked back at the students and asked, "Did any of you say anything?"

They all quietly, eerily shook their heads.

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII… the sound came to him again, and Itoshiki took two steps forward, narrowing the emission to a particular seat, the one where Matoi sat, staring fixedly at him, barely even blinking, and smiling, in a dreamy, absorbed way…

"Oh. No," he softly gasped, his features going even paler than usual.

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…

"No. No, no, no, no, no, no no no. No!" the teacher repeated.

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…

He quickly ran out the door, tossing his hands up. "I'M IN DESPAIR! BEING THE LATEST VICTIM IN A STRING OF INCIDENTS THAT WILL RUIN MY CAREER HAS LEFT ME IN DESPAIR!"

Swift and efficiently, never running but regardless moving faster than anyone who might have attempted stopping her, Matoi went after him.

Silence reigned in the class once again.

"So," the bespectacled Fujiyoshi Harumi finally said, "anyone up for a round of Spin the Bottle?"


 

And so…

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…

"Itoshiki-kun," Takahata asked during lunch, "is it you whom Tsunetsuki-kun is staring at from behind that chair?"

Itoshiki buried his face deeper into his plate and made an agonic gurgling sound.

"It didn't work as expected, did it?" Negi asked sympathetically.

Itoshiki lifted his haunted eyes from the plate. "Whatever gave you that idea?"

"Well," Negi said, "since she seems to have shifted her attentions over to you, although I very well could be mistaken, I thought…"

"That was sarcasm, Negi-sensei," Ririko Kagome-sensei told him.

"Aaaahhhh…"

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…

"You'd better find a way to stop it soon, or the Headmaster will have to take measures," Akashi-sensei gently said.

"I know…" Itoshiki groaned. "I will kill myself. That will stop Tsunetsuki-san's infatuation with me."

"Probably," Nikaido-sensei cautioned. "Honestly, even those certain others around here who have their much younger students crushing after them don't have it that bad. At least those students who will remain similarly unnamed have some level of self-restrain left…"

Ririko-sensei, Fujimura-sensei, Yukari-sensei and Kuroi-sensei nodded sagely. Takahata just stared quiet cold murder at Nikaido, who simply smiled sharply at him.

"Maybe we should invite her to come here and lunch with us?" Negi wondered. "She can't be comfortable, crouching there as she eats…"

"NO!" every other teacher around the huge table shouted, in sudden panic.

"But, but I thought…!"

"YOU'LL MAKE IT EVEN WORSE!" they chorused.

Negi blinked several times, then slowly guessed, "Had it happened to you ever before…?"

Nyamo-sensei wandered away into a corner to breathe in and out of a brown paper bag.

"It's a topic we all have agreed never touching on unless absolutely necessary, Sensei," Nitta benevolently told the small boy.

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…

Itoshiki twitched violently. Over at her corner, Nyamo's knees wobbled in place.


 

Been thinkin' for a while and there's something I gotta tell you.

She followed him after classes.

Been thinkin' that our love for each other has grown so very strong.

She followed him into the train back home.

It's plain to see we're building our worlds together.

She followed him into the residential area for the teachers.

I'm looking in your eyes right now and I can tell you feel the same.

He slammed his house's door on her face.

We are in love…

He locked himself in his bedroom, pulled the curtains close, and assumed a fetal position on his bed, suckling on his thumb.

I am so in love today.

"I think I'm gonna run away," he muttered to himself.

We are in love…

His cellphone rang. Just as his nightstand's phone rang as well.

"Did you tap my phone lines?" he wondered aloud.

Yes, I tapped your phone lines.

We are in love…

He wrapped a pillow around his head and rocked back and forth in place.

I won't lie, you're a very pretty lady. But you're crazy, crazy, crazy. You make me want to move to the border. You know I'm thinking I should get a restraining order. Even though those are so hard to enforce.

His phones kept ringing.

We are in love…

Outside, it was raining a violent storm now. As a flash of lightning bathed the whole street, had Itoshiki been looking out his window, he could have seen Tsunetsuki Matoi standing on his lawn, with a gigantic smile frozen on her face, unconcerned about the fury elements bashing all over her.

We are in love…

Even so, the situation as he understood it was still enough to make him howl his powerless anguish for the whole campus to hear.

"I'M IN DESPAIR!"

We are in love…

JIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII…


 

"She hasn't come," observed Taisuke, staring out his window.

"Nope," said Makoto, who was busy playing an online galge with someone calling himself 'The God of Conquests'. Currently, that person was kicking his ass and stealing his harem away in full force. "Great, huh?"

"She hasn't called, either," his roommate chewed on his knuckles.

"You've always been a lucky guy," Makoto said.

"I haven't heard that piercing, annoying JIIIIIIIIIII all day long!" Taisuke yelled, frantically pacing around the room.

"I guess Despair Sensei's words last night scared her away. Maybe there's a method to his madness, or maybe it takes one to stop another."

"So, you're saying they're made for each other? Is that what you're trying to say, Makoto?! Are you supporting teacher and student relationships, you immoral son of a Sawagoe Tomaru?! As expected from you!"

Makoto pressed Pause. "Man, what's your problem? I thought you wanted to get rid of her!"

"Not like this! This has been too easy! There must be a nasty catch to it!" Taisuke decided, seething as he pulled a jacket on over his shirt. "And I'm gonna learn the truth! Don't wait for me for the dinner!"

"Which dinner?!" the other boy asked. "We were just going to call for pizza, remember!"

"You can have mine!" Taisuke replied, storming out the door.

Itou kept staring at the door for a few moments before shaking his head to himself and returning to his game. "Women are nothing but trouble," he told himself, shortly before one of his conquests stabbed him to death in the game. "Damn, games nowadays sure are bloody."


 

He finally found her following the withered down, depressed teacher down a narrow street leaving the main academic area, after the extra hours. She kept a prudent distance, and so did Taisuke, hiding behind a street pole to stare at her with piercing eyes dripping with poison.

Damn it, he though, how could you do this to me? Leaving me for a scarecrow like that… Everyone will laugh at me now!

Unknowing to him, several steps behind, another girl hid behind the next pole, also staring fiercely at him.

How could you, Taisuke-kun?! Kuroda Hikari sniffled as those thoughts went through her head. After dating that cheap rocker tramp kohai from 2-A, and pining after Katsura-san of all people, now you are reduced to THIS?! Following a wacko who's in love with Despair-sensei? Why won't you ever notice me?! True, maybe it'd help if I were honest with what I feel and didn't keep denying them every time Sekai-chan brings them up, but that's no excuse for you to ignore my unspoken feelings…!

The tall, dark haired boy hiding behind the next post behind her chewed on his lower lip as he checked her out. Damn it, dat ass… Maybe I should make a move on her already… Nanami-chan won't put it out, and a man has needs…!

Behind the next post up the street, a Tall, Dark and Bishoujo presence watched in silent ambush, chewing on one of her thumbs. Kyouichi…! Don't tell me you're putting the moves on Hikari-chan! My best friend…!

In turn, around the corner, a fat, smelly man in a white uniform and cap watched her, hiding behind a trash container (on top of which slept the kitty who had bitten on Chisame's fingers last chapter. Aren't we clever?) and drooling slightly. It's me, Imouto-chaaaan… Your secret admirer, the man who always washes your undies…

Watching from further behind the man of the cleaning service, Chie-sensei and Negi stood silent witnesses to the bizarre display.

"Arai-sensei… what's that?" asked the naive boy.

The woman sighed. "How disgusting. It's a chain of stalkers."

"No, it's a chain of DEEP LOVE!" Kafuka piped in, appearing right behind them.

"Gah!" Negi jumped up. "You were there?!"

Kafuka nodded. "Yes, always!"

Chisame also walked in. "Ah, there you are, Sensei. Chachamaru was starting to grow concerned… What the hell is that?!"

"A chain of stalkers/DEEP LOVE!" Chie/Kafuka said at the same time.

Chisame took her glasses off and rubbed her eyes. "Oookaaayyyy, sorry for asking. You ask a dumb question…!"

"Itoshiki-sensei's like the Pied Piper of Hamelin!" Kafuka sang, clapping her hands. "Hamelin, Hamelin, Hamelin!"

"It'd be nice if he could lead them all out of town, like in the story…" Chie observed.

"And then drowning them in a river?" Chisame asked.

Chie, Kafuka and Negi stared at her in silence.

Chisame waved her hands before her face. "Hey, hey, hey there…! I'm only going for literary accuracy! Anyway, after the Headmaster learns of this, they'd be better off at the bottom of a river…!"


 

And so, next day…

"Well, well, Itoshiki-kun!" the old Headmaster Konoe Konoemon said, in quite a pleased tone, overlooking the overcrowded classroom for 2-F. "Now this is inspirational! You've moved the student body so much, pupils from all across the academy are coming to attend your lessons! I'm so proud of you, lad."

Itoshiki sweatdropped. "Thank you, sir, but all the same, I'd like to ask for a leave of absence all through the next week…" he said, not really being heard over the loud sounds of JIIIIIIIIIIII filling the classroom, and coming from all the DEEP LOVERS gathered within. At the head of them all, Tsunetsuki Matoi kept on looking adoringly at her teacher.

Kimura Kaere looked at Kafuka. "Hey, aren't they leaving my debut for the next segment?"

"Hmmm, nope, I think they'll be skipping over that and doing a Full Metal Panic chapter instead…"

"Full Metal Panic? Over me?! That's an outrage and an offense! I'LL SUE!" she spun a fist as a random burst of wind blew in through a window and lifted her skirt, flashing her hot pink panties…

-Divine Wind…-


 

"A stalker?" Munakata Shiho blinked several times, astonished.

"It has to be!" the also short, thin, young girl sitting before her nodded vigorously. She wore thick round glasses, and her light brown hair was tied up into two huge pigtails. She still was wearing her school uniform, just like her taller, curvier, dark haired friend next to her. "That guy has done nothing but chasing Kana-chan around since he was transferred here!"

The four of them were sitting at the privacy of the Mahora Tatsumiya shrine, both mikos in training wearing their priestess outfits.

"Elaborate," Mana asked very calmly.

"It's nothing, actually," Chidori Kaname scoffed dismissively. "The guy's creepy, yeah, but harmless. He doesn't send love letters, he doesn't try to hit on me, nothing! He just follows me around from a distance, always from afar, never saying anything. And that's it."

"That's it?" Shiho scowled. "No way."

"Yeah, nothing else to it," the upperclasswoman shrugged. "Well, only one thing. Once, I got sick of him shadowing us, so I confronted him. He said he had no idea what was I saying, so I got angry and tried to punch him. But he blocked every punch as if it was nothing! I couldn't land a single blow on him. But he didn't strike back, he just blocked and then apologized and left. But by the next day he was following us again, only from a larger distance."

"Weirdo," Shiho put on a face of disgust.

"What does that have to do with us?" Mana was not amused. "Do you wish for a special prayer for your safety? That'll be 500 yen."

The geeky looking girl frowned at her. "Of course not. We know the rumors about you, Tatsumiya-san. They say you fix people's problems for a fee, like a mercenary. That even the Headmaster looks aside and lets you do that."

"What if it were true, Tokiwa Kyoko?" the taller, yet younger female fixed an icy glare on her. "Would you have the resources to afford my services if such were the case?"

Ignoring Kaname's weary sigh, Kyoko emptied her purse in front of Mana, a small hill of coins and bills falling between them. "Yes, I think I do."

With her interest just visibly piqued, Mana did not change her neutral expression, but her fingers moved quickly to count the money at a surprisingly fast pace. Then she shook her head. "It is not enough."

"WHAT?" Kyoko yelled. "Those were our savings of two months!"

"You are still two thousand yen short. Bodyguarding services are never cheap," the dark skinned girl was categorical.

"We only want you to scare that guy away!" Kyoko protested. "It shouldn't take you even an hour!"

"Are you insinuating I am some kind of... demon?" Mana asked flatly.

"Huh? Well, no, but—"

"Let it go, Kyoko," Kaname started to gather the money back. "I told you, we are perfectly able to look after ourselves. Let's just get back home, and they don't even have to see a single cent of this."

Shiho watched silently how her Oneesama's right eyebrow twitched just a bit. "Wait," Mana said.

Kaname stared evenly at her eyes. "For what?"

"We will accept that sum and two weeks of lunches as our payment," Tatsumiya replied.

"Too much," Kaname shook her head.

"One week of lunches, and you start calling us your sempais," the tall Miko offered, her voice still flat. "That's my final offer."

"You are joking!" Chidori snapped. "Why should we call you 'Sempai'? You may be taller than a skyscraper, but we still are two courses above you!"

"We'll take it!" her friend nodded.

"Kyoko!" Kaname exclaimed.

Her shorter companion gave her a begging look. "Please, Kana-chan! It's a small price to pay for some quietness and peace of mind!"

"I have a question" Mana looked at the bespectacled teen again. "You do seem awfully personal in your fear towards that classmate. Are you sure he isn't tailing you instead of your friend? You two are always together, after all."

"M-Me?" Kyoko put a hand over her own modest chest. "Heck, no! Why should he? I'm short, nerdy, and look like a kid! He must be after Kana-chan! After all, she's the popular, pretty and well liked one!"

Chidori-san rolled her eyes around. "Pfft. You say the silliest things."

Mana pondered that in silence for a moment, then nodded. "Fair enough. In that case, tomorrow after classes, make yourselves sure to draw him away from his dorm for at least two hours. To defeat the enemy, you must get to know him in depth first."

Shiho's body posture shifted to one of stiff discomfort. "Wait a second, Oneesama. Don't you mean..."

"I do," Mana dryly nodded.

Munakata whispered into her right ear. "Weren't we supposed to cover the case of the underwear thief?"

"Not anymore," Mana whispered back. "The Dean himself told me to leave it alone."

Shiho grumbled, then asked both visitors, "Haven't you tried to denounce that creep to the teachers?"

"We did," Kaname answered. "All we got were a few nervous laughs and being told we were being... paranoid."

"It was so weird," Kyoko put a a finger on her chin. "Like they almost were afraid or something."

Mana's eyes seemed to gain just the slightest hint of interest.

"Maybe he's the son of some really big fish," Kaname huffed. "Those guys think they own the world."

"No. Not them, exactly," Mana quietly observed.

"Huh?" the visitors looked back at her.

She made a vague sign with her head. "Never mind. Just follow my instructions to the letter. And remember, I like sweet beans with my lunch."

Kyoko scowled. "Sweet beans?"

Everyone was right; 2-A indeed was full of weirdasses.


 

"Oneesama..." Shiho whined while nervously looking over her shoulder, "I still don't think we should be doing this... This is a boys-only dormitory! If we are caught—"

"All the neighboring rooms' inhabitants have been... convinced to allow us free access," her Sempai calmly replied while stepping to the front door. Shiho still pouted, though. The corridor they were at could have been unusually deserted now, and she of all people knew well about her superior's intimidating skills, but in their recent dealings with the neighbors, they had seemed just as afraid of that Sagara boy as they were of Mana herself.

Even so, Mana did not seem fazed at all while examining the door's lock. "Shiho," she dryly commanded. "Look at this."

The younger girl looked closely at it. "What the—? This isn't a normal lock at all!"

"No, it isn't, obviously" Mana stated with the briefest hint of irony. "It requires a fingerprint identification and optical scan, plus an access card, to grant entry. It's the kind normally used at military installations. As such, it requires a highly special bypass measure."

She pulled a small device similar to a cube with a tiny drill and drove it pointfirst into the lock, jamming it quickly enough to drown the first sounds of an alarm into absolute silence.

"There. It should have hacked into the rooms' whole security system. Any traps not directly activated by human contact should have been rendered useless," Tatsumiya sedately observed. "But just in case, walk right behind me at all times and don't touch anything."

"Was that from Chao Lingshen?" Shiho asked, eyeing the little gizmo warily.

"From Chao Lingshen," Mana nodded only once.

The redhead tilted her face aside. "That girl will never stop creeping me out."

"Silence. Follow me," Mana pushed the door in, and it posed no resistance. They gave a single step in, Mana not turning the lights on, but using a lantern instead. Aiming the lantern's light in all directions revealed a few red laser beams set around the nearby doors, plus a few random spots on the floor that seemed to have some sort of faintly glowing mechanism hidden underneath them. "Don't step on any of them."

"I won't," Shiho could do nothing but nodding.

They walked in deeper and deeper into the small home, which was decorated in an extremely Spartan and functional fashion. "Sagara Sousuke lives alone, which is rather unusual considering the high demand for housings at the Mahora area," Mana was relating without ever changing her business tone. "Look over there, at that window" she gestured at their left. "That building you see through it happens to be the female residence where Tokiwa and Chidori do habit. Judging from the angle, I'd feel safe guessing Sagara has a clear view of our contractors' quarters from there."

"What a pervert! And going so far for it, too!" Shiho whispered.

"Hmmm" the tanned girl made a thoughtful sound. Without adding anything else, she reached a door that had the most lasers around it. Pulling a small can of spray out, she bathed the laser generators with a strange white substance that turned them off immediately. Only then did Mana push that door open as well, and they saw what seemed to be their investigation subject's bedroom, a simple and humble enough room with nothing to write home about.

Except for the huge collection of weapons and firearms of all kinds stashed all around the closet, including hand grenades, hunting knives, cans of pepper gas, Magnums, a few stunguns, a shotgun or two or three, electric batons, brass knuckles, Swiss army knives, and even a slingshot.

The other outstanding thing was a wall full of tacked on, nailed on, stuck on and hanged on images of all sorts of Tokiwa Kyoko, ranging from official documents to carnet photos, but most of them were photographies of her in unsuspecting everyday situations all across the Mahora campus.

Shiho's pigtails stood up in point. "This guy's a murderous nutjob!" she cried. "No wonder Tokiwa-sempai was so worried! I never had seen anything like this! And she, not Chidori-sempai, was the target after all! You nailed it, but how— "

"Not Sempais, Shiho. They are our kohais now," Mana was unfazed, ignoring the weapons much to her assistant's puzzlement after giving them a brief but intense and knowledgeable gaze. Instead, she headed towards the wall covered with photos, carefully looking up and down at them.

Shiho stopped at her side. "I have heard of things like this before. It's a stalker shrine! Those wackos keep them to collect photographies and mementos from those they stalk. Tsunetsuki-sempai from 2-F is told to have a few of them at her home."

"I doubt this is a work born out of passion," Mana evenly pondered. "Chidori told us Sagara never carried cameras around, and never even took pics of them with his cellphone. Plus, look at these photographies, at this side. These ones are airbone, or at the very least taken from a high rooftop's height. You would need a helicopter for some of these angles. No, Sagara has not taken these photos. They are someone else's labor."

Shiho blinked. "You mean there are several psychos working together here? Like a demented fanclub?"

"Worse than stalkers and lovers, if I am not wrong," Mana, for the first time in the whole day, scowled deeply. "Far worse."

She quickly turned around and stomped her way back towards the door. "Out of here, fast! They must know we have entered. I'd bet on that, even with Chao's device breaking the main cameras down."

"They?" Shiho nearly ran after her. "Who are 'they'?"

Tatsumiya's eyes narrowed dangerously. "That's what I'm going to ask him."


 

Tatsumiya Mana stood alone, quiet and silent, under the shadow of the World Tree. The twilight was painting the Mahora landscape with a faint red heralding the upcoming night when Tokiwa and Chidori arrived to the meeting point, both looking rather puzzled and unnerved.

"We got your text message," Kaname mumbled, her voice tense. "So, why did you call us here, after all?" She crossed her arms and lightly tapped a foot on the grass.

Mana didn't reply until she saw her kouhai approaching from the opposite direction, with several paper wards in her hands. "Is the perimeter fully secured, Shiho?" the tanned female dryly asked her.

"Yes, Oneesama!" the small girl saluted. "Exactly like you wanted!"

"Good," Mana nodded before addressing her contractors. "As requested, we performed a background search on the subject. We made quite a few interesting discoveries, but we still need the final piece of the puzzle. And for that, we need your cooperation".

"Of... of course," Kyoko blinked, somewhat shocked at seeing the feared Tatsumiya so softly asking for their help. "What do we have to do?"

"Come closer," Mana gestured for them to approach. "This needs to be said in privacy."

Without any word of protest, both sempais advanced toward her. Only to fall squarely into a camouflaged pit trap five steps on their way.

"YOW! HEY! WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA HERE?" Kaname protested from the bottom of the hole, while Kyoko rubbed her aching head, sitting on her friend's stomach.

Never missing a beat, Mana simply and very quickly pulled an IMI Desert Eagle and trained it down on both of them, making them to loudly yelp in terror, while aiming another one in the direction they had come from. Behind her, Shiho simply sighed in resignation.

"Sagara Sousuke!" Mana called out with a stern, commanding tone. "Step out of your hiding! Or else, I make no promises about your charge's safety!"

"ARE YOUT OUT OF YOUR FLIPPING MIND?" Kaname angrily yelled. "WAIT UNTIL I PUT MY HANDS ON YOU—"

"Kuh-Kana-chan!" Kyoko cried. "Not while that thing's aimed at us, please!"

Mana ignored them, keeping her eyes fixed on the lone figure stepping out from behind some small trees, like a chameleon appearing out of nowhere. He was tall and handsome, with rebellious short black hair and a small cross shaped scar on the left side of his chin. He seemed merely two years older than her, but his cold jaded eyes spoke of a past as harsh as her own. He still was wearing the standard school uniform, well pressed and clean, even hours after classes were over.

"Shiho," the tall Miko ordered, with her voice never faltering at all. "Take cover."

"Y-Yes. Um, good luck, Oneesama!" the redhead gulped down, rushing to hide behind the gigantic trunk of the arcaic tree.

"Sagara-kun" Mana continued, not moving an inch. Neither did he. "I know your actions aren't moved by desire or lust. What, then, moves you to monitor Tokiwa Kyoko?"

"Ehhhhh?" the bespectacled girl raised her voice from below. "It can't be! I'm the one he's chasing? It has to be a mistake!"

He did not reply. Until Mana simply thrusted the gun's barrel down, making both of her prisoners to yell again.

"I'm not authorized to share that information," he flatly said then.

"You are not authorized to let any harm to befall her, either," Mana threatened, pointing further down once more.

"You will not shoot her," he simply said. "We do have files on you, too. We know you never have killed an innocent civilian."

"I could shoot her in a leg," Mana replied. "Would you be willing to accept that?"

"NO! NO!" Kyoko pleaded.

"TATSUMIYA!" Kaname howled. "I'M GOING TO GRAB YOUR NECK AND TWIST AND TWIST!"

"... No," Sagara finally relented.

"Then drop all your weaponry down and walk to me. Slowly. Without tricks," the mercenary lowly warned.

"Yes," he nodded stoically. Calmly, he reached into his shirt and pulled a handgun out, then dropped it aside. Then another handgun. And another one. By the fifth one, Shiho's peeking eyes resembled saucers.

"What are you doing there? Anwer me, dammit!" Kaname demanded at her lungs' top as the metallic sounds of handcuffs, knives, Berettas, small bombs, nunchakus and the occasional large sharp scissors hitting he grass continued out of the hole.

Even Mana was starting to disbelieve now, as she saw the little hill of weapons now at the boy's feet. "You have been... well backed up," she admitted.

"Yes. I have."

"Come closer, then. Slow. Step by step. That's it. Keep your hands high, and walk in a straight line..."

Then it happened, in a fraction of a blink of an eye.

It came as a glint of metal popping out of his right sleeve. Springing up as a Jack-in-the-Box into his expecting right hand, the Glock was visibly for only the briefest fraction of time before he jumped aside, dodging the first bullet just in time and shooting the gun off Mana's hand. Cursing inwardly, the Miko rolled aside as well, drawing a second identical weapon out at superhuman speed, shooting back a few times. The fire exchange had started, with both adversaries taking refuges behind bushes while Kyoko shrieked and Kaname forcefully pushed her head down, shielding her down with her own body.

"Tatsumiya!" Sagara warned. "Flee this area at once! The sounds of gunfire will surely attract onlookers you are sure to have to answer to!"

She smiled even though their current positions meant he couldn't see her face. "I don't think so. We have taken... some precautions in that regard."

From her own hideout, Shiho couldn't help but smile. Her Oneesama had acknowledged her contributions! That always made her happy. When it happened. Which was not often.

Then her happiness sank down like a dead weight when she noticed he could see her from his own current position. And he had just raised his gun to aim it at her pigtailed head.

"The hostage situation has changed," he dryly announced. "Surrender your weapons and state your intentions and backers before any harm befalls your accomplice."

"Shiho!" Mana breathed. Her voice, finally, had gained just a shade of alarm to it.

"YOU BOTH ARE #$%€ MAD!" Chidori yowled from inside the trap. She couldn't see all what was happening, but she had a good idea about it from its sounds.

Shiho just pouted childishly and wailed. "YATAGARASU! HELP ME!"

"Who?" Sagara asked.

Then it fell from above, swooping down from the tree's branches, like a huge black blur, a whirlwind of furious feathers and a frantic pointy peak stabbing at him. To his credit, he didn't move at all from his spot, ignoring the sudden attack enough to keep the weapon trained on the kouhai, barely using his other arm to try and shake the obscuring, more annoying than anything else, dark bird off. But that was all Mana needed.

Jumping from her hiding place, she shot the Glock off Sagara's hand, then rushed at him to catch him with a punch to the stomach. He recovered in a flash, countering with a punch to her face, but she quickly blocked, then dodged the knife jumping out of his left sleeve and into his hand, threatening to stab her in a flank. She twisted the wrist forcing him to drop the blade, but that allowed his other hand to land a blow on her head. Completely unfazed, she headbutted him, and then, with nearly demonic maniac strength, pummeled him several times with both fists, knocking him down to the dirt.

Not giving him any chance to recover, she slammed a foot down on his chest and locked her gun's sight into his face.

"If I wanted you dead, I'd have shot you right after Shiho distracted you. In the future, I advise you to steer clear from my apprentice" she threatened, back to her flat business intonation. "But that doesn't mean I can't shoot now if I'm not convinced you aren't a menace to our lives. Which agency did send you? The JSSDF? CIA? S.H.I.E.L.D.? A.I.M.? Checkmate?"

"I have no authorization to disclose such information," he spoke, completely unafraid. "I only can tell you my name and serial number."

"I advise you to talk. Because your cover's already blown up. And you can't continue following your charge without explaining her... and us... why is it for. Do you wish for your mission to fail so much?"

He remained in a total, unreadable silence for several long and tense moments before talking again.

"Mithril."

"Mithril!" Mana repeated with what almost seemed surprise. "What's their interest on Tokiwa?"

"I haven't been informed, and if I had been, all I would be authorized to say is I haven't been informed."

He reached back for his gun, handing it to Tatsumiya. "I haven't been deployed at these grounds to use lethal force unless extremely necessary. THESE bullets aren't the standard models."

"Neither are mine," Mana admitted. "Mahora doesn't employ murderers."

"Geez, I thought I was going to die!" Shiho yelled at them both. "Mana-Oneesama, you baka!" Then she sobbed petting the head of the old, one eyed and huge crow now perched on her own right shoulder. "Isn't she, Yatagarasu? Of course she is!"

"Hello...?" Kaname said in a grim and moody tone from down below. "We are still here, remember...? If you bring us out right now, I won't push for a death sentence for you psychos..."


 

Shiho took a final look over her shoulder as she walked after her Sempai, watching Tokiwa and Chidori sorting out their (many, many and them some many more) questions to Sagara. Chidori had just pulled a paper fan out and started to whack the boy over the head with it in her exasperation. He wasn't fighting back.

"Are you sure they'll be okay?" she asked with hesitation.

"They will," Mana said with no evident emotion. "We accomplished our mission, and the reasons for his behavior aren't our concern from now on. That story is not our own."

"I don't understand you," Munakata admitted. "First you were so adamant on questioning him, and now you just wash your hands off?"

"I learned all I needed to. Beyond that point, questioning him isn't an intelligent thing for us. Maybe for them, since it involves them directly. But I call my leave on that research. If the Dean trusted Sagara to act here, I'll respect his wishes."

"The Dean could have told you, though..."

Mana shrugged casually. "We are nothing but servants of the mission. Ours is not to question, but to follow on our contracts' guidelines."

The smaller girl frowned, keeping her eyes low, but she said nothing. For a few minutes they kept on walking in silence, heading back to their rooms, until they passed next to the Chao Bao Zi. Its lights were still turned on.

"Hey, Mana-Oneesama."

"What?"

"Wanna stop for a quick after dinner snack? Those sandwiches we ate while waiting for the Sempais to show up just weren't enough!"

"How many times do I have to tell you? They are our kouhais now."

"Sorry."

"As for the meal, I'll pass on it. After all, we don't want our appetite to be spoiled for tomorrow, do we?"

For that once, she allowed herself a wide, smug and real smile.

"I'm going to make sure we have the best lunches of our lives for this whole week," she confided.


 

To be Continued.