"Uh... yeah, hey." Misaki felt a little awkward standing in a room where six others were sitting. Only one of whom she could say she somewhat knew. "I'm Okusawa Misaki. I... uh..." Introductions had never been her strong suit either. "I'm in Hello, Happy World. I'm the DJ. When I'm in the Michelle suit, I mean. Not that I actually know what a DJ does..."
While there were some expressions of surprise and/or amazement, at least there weren't any comments along the lines of 'wait, there's someone inside Michelle?'
"And... uh... I can... stick to things, I guess."
A hand shot into the air, from the smallest occupant in the room: Udagawa Ako. Misaki knew their names, even if she didn't know them know them. "Yes?"
"What do you mean 'stick to things'?" Ako asked.
"Uh... well... maybe it's easier if I demonstrate." Misaki headed over to the closest wall. If she was careful, this should work fine. She placed a foot on the wall, made sure it stuck, attached a hand, and then lifted the other foot up so she was only supported by the wall. She heard a gasp, though she couldn't tell who it had come from. Continuing the climb, she transitioned over to the ceiling, and let go with her hands, so that she was 'standing' attached by only her feet. "Like this," she said, and looked at all the upside-down people. Maybe she was showing off a bit, but that was probably fine.
"Cooooooool!" That was Ako again, though Shirokane Rinko was nodding beside her. Ako was quickly out of her chair to get a closer look. "Doesn't the blood rush to your head like that?"
"Kinda," Misaki admitted. She was starting to feel a little light-headed. She bent 'down' to touch the ceiling, so she could flip herself back around. And got some light applause as she stuck the landing. Then her hand flew up to catch something.
"That's not all though," said a voice.
Misaki looked over at Ichigaya Arisa, who was sitting there with a smirk on her face. She must have been the one who had thrown the thing. A juice box, it turned out.
"Whoooaaa~, how did you do that~?" Another occupant of the room was Aoba Moca. It was hard to tell if she was actually impressed or not, considering how she always seemed relaxed in the way she talked and behaved. "You weren't even looking at it~."
"Huh? Well... I can kinda sense things that come at me..." Misaki answered.
"You have to be quite strong too, to support yourself like that," another voice commented. Hikawa Sayo was giving Misaki a thoughtful look. She was actually from Misaki's school, but Misaki hadn't interacted with her a lot. She tried to stay clear of the disciplinary committee. Their only interactions had been during shows and practice they did together with their bands, during which Misaki had mostly been inside Michelle.
"Y-yeah, I guess. A bit above average," Misaki admitted. She didn't want to brag. Well, maybe she wanted to brag a little.
"Oh, oh! Can you pick me up?" Ako made herself known again as she stretched her arms into the air.
"Eh?" Misaki looked at her. Then at the others. No one seemed like they found this inquiry strange, though Sayo was giving her a strangely sympathetic look. "Uh, sure."
"Wheeeeee!" Ako went as she got lifted into the air. Rinko and Moca were also pretty quick to get out of their seats, but Arisa stayed seated, along with Sayo, and the final person in the room: Hazawa Tsugumi. Who was projecting a 'sorry about this' kind of expression.
Once things calmed down, and everyone had gotten back to their seats, it was time for the other newcomer to stand up and introduce herself. Someone who suddenly looked awkward at being the centre of attention.
"Um, hi. I'm Ichigaya Arisa, how do you do?" She sounded a lot more proper and lady-like than she had just a couple of minutes ago. Misaki had seen this 'transformation' before. "I'm Popipa's- I mean, I am Poppin' Party's keyboardist. I... um... like bonsai, and being online... w-wait, no, forget that, I mean..." She looked increasingly tense, and nervous. "And I... I can... read minds."
Ako's hand shot into the air again.
"Yeah, exactly like that," Arisa said. Even though she was staring quite firmly at the floor, and likely hadn't seen Ako move.
"Whoa!" Ako said.
"I know... creepy, right?" Arisa said, again as if she was answering a question.
But Ako was practically buzzing with excitement. "No, it's cool! Hey, what am I thinking now?"
Arisa finally looked up, and gave Ako a puzzled look. "Your dark gaze will see the truth? The hell does that mean?"
Then suddenly Arisa gave Moca a startled look. "W-wha- I'm not saying that!" Seemingly realising her own outburst, she looked at everyone else in the room before looking back down. "Uh... sorry..."
"It's okay... Ichigaya-san," Rinko said softly.
"Yeah, it's okay, Arisa-chan," Tsugumi chimed in. "Moca-chan, what did you do?"
"I was just testing~," Moca said. "But Moca-chan apologises~."
Arisa seemed to relax a little as she sat down. "Sorry..." she said again. "I'm trying to get better at letting people talk before I... but when I get nervous..." Her mask of being a polite lady had dropped entirely.
"It's okay," Rinko said again. She almost looked like she wanted to pat Arisa on the back.
Arisa gave everyone shy looks. "You're really... okay with this? I know it's a freaky ability..."
"Hey, we're all freaks here," Misaki said in an attempt at lightening the mood.
"And if you can read our minds, shouldn't you be able to tell?" Sayo asked.
"Uh..." Arisa blushed. "I... yeah. Thanks." A slight smile, that still exuded warmth, appeared on her lips.
After quickly getting the newcomers up to speed on what the rest could do (while Arisa already knew, Misaki was quite curious), it was time to move on to the biggest topic.
"So as you've both figured out, we've been looking for more people like us," Tsugumi said. "Though we didn't really have a clue how to do that until you... well, reached out yourselves. That was a surprise. But maybe we now have our answer."
"Yeah, Arisa would know~," Moca said.
"Eh?" Arisa looked at them both.
"Could you tell us whether you know of anyone else?" Tsugumi asked, even if Arisa had probably already read the question.
"I... I'm not sure I'm comfortable revealing anyone's secrets..." Arisa said hesitantly.
"Oh really?" Misaki said in a dry tone.
"Hey, that was different," Arisa said quickly. "If you had said no, I wouldn't have told anyone about you. I would have left it at that. I just thought you would be interested..."
She wasn't wrong there. Misaki had been curious about whether there were others for a long time.
"I... would prefer to approach people on my own, like I did with Okusawa-san, but... I'm not great with people." Arisa didn't sound happy about admitting that, but perhaps she felt it wasn't worth hiding the fact.
"While that is commendable, there might be more who feel lonely like... we did," Sayo said, though it sounded like she had almost said something else. "Just hoping to discover someone else. If you have trouble approaching them yourself, perhaps the rest of us could help."
"We could keep it to... people we know... if that makes it easier?" Rinko suggested. "I was quite happy... to discover Hikawa-san." She had seated herself close to Arisa, as if she was acting as support.
"I guess so... sure." Arisa smiled.
"And if you discover anyone else, you can just ask one of us for help if you have trouble on your own?" Tsugumi added.
"Oh, oh!" Ako had her hand in the air again. "Can you speak with your thoughts? Talk to us over great distance?"
Arisa blinked. "I... I don't think so. Sorry."
"That would be a fun power~," Moca mused.
"Not if you got it," Tsugumi said, then looked as if she was surprised at what she had just said. "A-anyway, I guess it's natural to start with Poppin' Party then. Anyone else from there?"
Arisa shook her head. "I would have invited them along if that were the case."
"I see... and Hello, Happy World?" Tsugumi looked at both Arisa and Misaki.
"I know Kanon doesn't have anything," Misaki said. "The other three... considering how little I suddenly realise I know, it's possible... but I don't think so. Even if Kokoro and Kaoru-san are both quite strange."
"I don't know about Kaoru-san, I haven't exactly spent a lot of time close to her... but I'll agree that Tsurumaki-san is strange. The few times I've glimpsed into her mind, it's like it's on a different level. But that doesn't necessarily mean she has any powers or abilities. Kasumi's mind is also a bit different from what I'm used to, so it might just be a similar thing."
Arisa blushed. "Well... i-it's difficult to explain in words. It's more like... a feeling."
"Ah..." Tsugumi nodded. "I think I can relate to that."
"And Kitazawa-san is a nope," Arisa finished with.
"I was thinking..." Sayo spoke up. "What if someone had some power they weren't aware of? Ako-san talked about how she didn't think of her ability as one, since to her it just seemed like a normal thing."
"Huh? Hmmm... then I guess I wouldn't find out," Arisa replied. "If they never think about it, I wouldn't be able to read it. But if we go by that metric, then absolutely anyone could have something."
"What if someone intentionally tried to hide it?" Ako asked.
Arisa opened her mouth, then shut it again. Then a moment later said: "That sounds like it would be difficult. Thoughts are hard to control, at least in my experience. But now you have me doubting myself... it is definitely possible for me to overlook something. Like I wasn't aware of Hikawa-senpai until... um... I accidentally probed Shirokane-senpai..." She looked embarrassed all of a sudden.
"Well, it's not like we've spent a lot of time together," Sayo said.
"There's also that. I might not have known about Shirokane-senpai either if we weren't both in the library so much. But for someone to intentionally hide it... they'd have to be aware of the risk of mind-readers? Sounds like some seriously paranoid types to me..."
"But is it truly paranoid if it's true~?" Moca chimed in, seemingly amused.
Tsugumi cleared her throat. "That aside, we now have members from every band that was at the Girls' Band Party, except one."
"Oh yeah, there's no one from Pastel*Palettes." Misaki hadn't thought of that. "Do you think..."
"Well, I know Hina isn't," Sayo said. "But the odds would seem to be in favour of it, considering the circumstances.
"Most of them go to Hanasakigawa, right?" Ako asked.
"Except Hina-senpai, and Maya-senpai, yes," Tsugumi said. "I know Maya-senpai a bit, from when I interact with the drama club. She's usually the one it's easiest to talk to. But nothing strikes me as unusual about her."
"Eve's a friend of Popipa, so I feel certain in saying she doesn't have anything, even with all the qualifiers we have," Arisa said. "And... I honestly haven't spent enough time around Shirasagi-senpai or Aya-senpai to say. Kasumi likes talking to Aya-senpai, but I haven't picked up anything from the times we've been close. I've only seen her surface thoughts though, and only for a limited time."
Aya was the type who seemed entirely harmless, but that didn't necessarily have to mean anything.
"And Shirasagi-senpai is... a bit intimidating."
Misaki nodded. "Yeah."
"I think I see what you mean," Sayo concurred. "But it would be beneficial to find out. Could you spend some time closer to them?"
"I... I suppose I can try," Arisa said, even if she didn't seem thrilled about it.
"Oh! And you should come to Haneoka to look for people," Ako said.
"Yeah, that might be a good idea~," Moca agreed.
"Eh... it might be hard to pick up something at random though..." Arisa said.
"Well, we have two 'suspects," Tsugumi pointed out. "Kaoru-san, and Maya-senpai. You could just check them?"
"Mm... I might have to look beneath their surface thoughts, and... that feels invasive. I'm really sorry for doing that to you, Shirokane-senpai." Arisa looked uncomfortable.
"It's okay... Ichigaya-san," Rinko said patiently.
"Maybe we can talk more about that later," Tsugumi said. "For now, let's move on. Ako-chan, do you have anything to report?"
"Oh! Yes, ma'am!" Ako reached into the bag at her feet, and pulled out a tablet. "I have pulled on the dark strings of the web, and produced... um... I have... uh... found some stuff! Let's see, I got it bookmarked..." She swiped and tapped at the tablet for a short while. "Someone says they saw someone move a fallen tree out of the way in a park in Adachi City. That's not too far away. They weren't able to get their phone out in time to film it, though they took a picture of the tree afterwards besides the path. Apparently this mystery person didn't touch the tree, it just seemed to move out of the way on its own, as if they moved it with their mind!"
Misaki sat up. "Hang on, is this from Esperbee?" She could have sworn she'd read this herself.
"Huh? Yeah! You know it?"
"Yeah, I..." Misaki scratched at her cheek. "Kinda lurk there... sometimes." The rest of the room just seemed confused.
"Supertora too?" Ako asked.
"Yup," Misaki said. "Do you go to Powernee?" she asked in return.
"Of course!" Ako seemed proud of that. It was one of the less populated ones, so there was this feeling among the board members that only the really serious seekers went there. "What about Abysslords?"
"Uh... no, I don't know that one," Misaki said. It seemed like the kind of name she'd remember, even among the boards she no longer visited.
"Ah... well, it's mostly dark magic stuff, but they sometimes report sightings of demons and such. With what we know, I was thinking maybe those were actually people, but who had gotten demonic powers. Or stuff that's been summoned by people with demonic powers! There hasn't really been anything that seems plausible in our vicinity, though. I guess people wouldn't summon demons in cities."
Everyone else in the room seemed rather lost.
"Well, that's interesting, but it's not a lot to go on," Tsugumi said, perhaps wanting to get things back on track. "Even if we went to the park, there's no guarantee we'd find that person."
"We could knock over a tree, and have a stakeout! Maybe someone will come and move it if we do it over a well-trodden path," Ako suggested.
"I think that would just be a nuisance to regular people, Ako-san," Sayo said in a chiding tone.
"Ugh... sorry," Ako said. "W-well, there was one other I found, from Sumiya City. One of the trusted posters on Powernee says they saw someone on a sidewalk about to get splashed by a passing car, but when the water was about to hit them, it spread around them instead, as if it hit a forcefield or something. They added a picture of the person's back before they went around a corner, and one of the splash pattern on the pavement. See?"
She showed the rest of them the images.
"The one of the person isn't exactly clear," Misaki said. She hadn't seen this post herself, and was a little disappointed there wasn't more. Sure, the water pattern definitely looked like something had been in the way of the splash, but that could have just been it hitting a regular person who was a bit big.
"And there's not exactly a shortage of people wearing dark coats in the city," Sayo pointed out.
"Yeah, but..." Ako looked a little deflated.
"Good job, Ako-chan~," Moca said, and patted Ako on the shoulder. "Keep it up~."
"Yeah, we know some things to keep an eye out for now," Tsugumi said.
They sounded sincere, though Misaki wasn't sure how much of that was just to cheer Ako up. Not that she wanted to see Ako sad like this either. "I'll help with the research," she said. "We can compare notes next time. In fact, you can have my number."
* * *
They managed to perk Ako back up, and the conversation drifted onto more mundane topics. What did Arisa do online? (Did her best to dodge the question.) Was it Misaki inside the Michelle that advertised downtown too? (Yes.) Had Moca brought enough snacks for everyone? (No.) Did Sayo and Tsugumi prepare extra snacks for such an eventuality? (Yes.) What was the latest NFO patch like? (Arisa tried very hard to pretend she wasn't paying attention.) Did anyone need help with their homework? (Maybe.) Could Sayo take everyone flying at once? (Could, yes. Would, no.) And so on.
In the end they might not have technically accomplished much, but they still felt a little better for having had the meeting at all. It was nice to just get together, and talk openly about what they'd kept to themselves for so long.