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The End of the Circus: Remember My Truth

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DISCLAIMER: Concurrent with fair dealing clauses of the Copyright Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42) of Canada and fair use clauses in copyright legislation in other nations, this is a work that was created solely for entertainment purposes. Furthermore, it is posted freely on the Internet without expectation or requirement of remuneration.

****

Tomobiki, across the street from the Moroboshi home, the last Friday of June in 2012, dawn...

Moroboshi Ataru's eyes fluttered open.

Grunting as he found himself in a slightly cooler room than he had been forced to sleep in ever since Kotatsuneko had come into his life, he looked around to take note of the different contours even if a lot of things in the room matched what he had in his real bedroom. "I'm with the Hōjō sisters..."

"PAN-PAKA-PAAN!"

He then gargled as he was hugged from behind, the VERY soft feeling of quite voluminous breasts pressing against the back of his head. "AWK! Jeez! Atsuko-chan! What the HELL...?!" he began.

Giggling as he surged up and gave her an annoyed look, the second of the Takao-class heavy cruisers shrugged before reached over to warmly embrace him again. "Oh, Teitoku! I'm so happy that you came over and slept with us last night! I don't know why Ayumu-chan moved you here...!"

"Ayumu?! What happened?!"

"The Infinite Wave was triggered by Ayumu-chan within the bounds of Tomobiki-chō at about two o'clock this morning, Shirei-kan," a new voice announced as the youngest of Hōjō Atsuko's sisters came in to join them. Like the second of her class, the fourth of the reborn Takao-class cruisers was in presentable pyjamas that still showed off their very beautiful older teenage bodies, leaving nothing to the imagination whatsoever. "Because of that, we felt it necessary to shift you to...!"

"DARLING! NO! DON'T BE ONE OF THEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEM...!"

The collective sounds of Redet Lum's bio-electricity exploding in a near-Akira wave of power that sent a funnel of lightning and smoking debris exploding up through the roof over Ataru's normal bedroom into the sky made all three people gaze across the street, all blinking in surprise. Before anyone could comment, a screaming voice echoed from the house to the south. "YOU ALIEN BAKAYARO! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO DO?! CAUSE A FIRE IN TOWN?! SHADDUP AND GO HOME!"

Everyone then visibly winced as a well-aimed cinder block tossed into the open windows of Ataru's bedroom by the first of the Tenryū-class smashed into the screaming Lum's head! As voices of other people living beyond the circle of reborn cruisers who moved into the houses directly neighbouring the Moroboshi residence began to bark out a symphony of questions and comments — most of whom were only now NOT automatically blaming things on Ataru given what said reborn cruisers often did to idiots who couldn't see the ocean for the waves in front of them — Ataru moaned as he laid down on the futon. "I got my emergency supplies here, don't I?" he wondered as he gazed on Hōjō Chiyo.

"Hai, all set!" the former flagship of the Eighth Fleet affirmed with a nod.

"Good!" He then hummed.

"WHERE IS THAT STUPID BOY?! WHAT DID HE DO THIS TIME?! I WISH I NEVER HAD HIM!"

KK-KRUNCH!

"GROW OLD AND DIE ALONE, YOU SELFISH YŪJO!" Shimosuwa Tamiyo snapped after throwing another cinder block from her balcony to smash into Moroboshi Kinshō's head, sending Ataru's mother face-first into the floor. "DON'T YOU KNOW BY NOW WHY ATARU-KUN HATES YOU?!"

"Girls?"

"Hai?!" Atsuko and Chiyo asked.

"You're both overdressed and not docked beside me."

The two shipgirls gazed at each other, then gasped in mock horror before they immediately reached to their pyjama tops. "Why, Shirei-kan! We're sorry! How on Earth did we ever forget such a thing?" Chiyo meowed as they exposed their beautiful bodies, the moved to slip into the covers to cuddle.

Naturally, they ignored Ataru's mother: "Who will...take care of...me...when I'm old...?"

****

Breakfast...

"Okay! What the hell was it THIS time, Redet-san?!"

Redet Lum yelped in shock as she gazed at a VERY incensed Moroboshi Ataru, who was now leaning on the front fence of his home, dressed in his proper summer gakuran with a book bag in hand. As some passers-by stopped to gaze upon the rather big hole in the roof of the Moroboshi home right over Ataru's own bedroom, the warlord's daughter from Onishuto tried not to openly wince. While part of her wondered how he got his school things out of his bedroom when the room itself just got burned down by her lightning, the angry glare coming her way from him — not to mention two of his new lady friends, Hōjō Atsuko and her younger sister Chiyo — was enough to keep her tongue still. Fortunately, her cousin — who had weathered the lightning storm quite well given he was an Oni — was more than willing to talk. "Lum-chan had a bad nightmare about you becoming one of the Scary People!"

Ataru blinked even if inside his heart, he was laughing. So easy to set this up. "What 'scary people'?"

"The Yizibajohei...!"

ZZ-ZAP!

"TEN-CHAN! DON'T SAY THAT NAME!"

As Redet Ten dropped after getting zapped hard by his cousin, Ataru hummed. "Oh, Madame Infinity's people, you mean," he trilled, making his "wife" gargle in horror as she stared wide-eyed at him.

Shuddering like she was naked in Sano-wan where his granduncle's ship had long been trapped, Lum pointed at him. "Y-y-y-you kn-kn-kn-know...M-m-m-Madame Infinity?!" she sputtered.

"Hai! She's the one who rescued me from that FALSE wedding...!"

From fear to outrage in one second! "IT WASN'T FALSE...!"

"Crucio...!"

A deadly red beam of magic lanced into the warlord's daughter side from the south, lighting up her nervous system as if all the neurons had just been dipped in sulphuric acid, making Lum drop onto her back as her whole body violently shook akin to being struck by her own electricity. As an outraged scream echoed from inside the house, which indicated that Ataru's mother was racing out to save her future daughter-in-law, the bolt then dissipated just as he looked over. "Oi! Girls!"

The front door blasted open. "YOU STUPID BASTARD BITCH! HOW DARE YOU...?!"

KK-KRUNCH!

A cinder block smashed Moroboshi Kinshō down, making the quaking Lum and the slowly recovering Ten jolt on seeing how easy Ataru's second oldest half-sister had smashed the older woman down. "Do be quiet, Kinshō. Civilized people want to have a conversation. No one asked a useless piece of flesh like you to make noise about this!" A pause, then Hirosaki Chikage called out, "Ya, Ani-kun! You look quite fine this morning. It's good that Atsuko and Chiyo were there for you."

"BIG BROTHER!"

Everyone turned as Ten floated up to look down the street at the small mass of joyful humanity came his way. "Yah-hoo! Ani-chama!" Yotsuba Dunn called out with a "V" for victory sign before she pulled out her handy magnifying glass. "Yotsuba's here to check away all of Ani-chama's woes!"

"Kaho got up really early this morning to come to keep Onii-chama safe from all the creepy-creepies that bother Onii-chama all the time because people here are so SILLY!" Eigo Kaho added with her normal energetic smile, brandishing her special marching baton.

"I got up pretty early as well, Aniki!" Hatoyama Rinrin declared as she directed a sly glance at her bro-bro's would-be "wife". "Managed to make you a couple garlic powder spray devices to keep those silly Oni away from bugging you all the time so you can be with your REAL friends!"

As Ten and the slowly recovering Lum awked, Sukeyama Sakuya calmly declared, "Everyone simply couldn't wait to see you again, Onii-sama! I even got new lipstick for all your lady friends here in town to try out. I'm wearing it now." She pointed to her own lips, winking at him. "See how beautiful it is?"

Ataru zipped over to gaze at his sister's lips, humming for a moment. "Oh, you got that new orchid pink style from Molton Brown that just got out last month! It looks simply hot on you, Sakuya-chan!"

"What's this about lipstick?"

People turned. "Ah! Nii-ya, is this nice boy one of Nii-ya's friends?" Aria des Beauchamps asked.

"Hai!" Ataru said before he waved to the very effeminate man with the wavy brown hair cascading in gentle curves to the level of his shoulders, parts of which were tied up in shaggy twintails, plus chestnut brown eyes peeking out of a face that many would immediately think of as female. "This is one of the freshmen who came into the school back in April, Kajiyama Mitsuoki-san. Everyone calls him 'Mizuki' since he's more comfortable in girls clothes than boys. Mizuki-chan, my sisters."

Already knowing the truth about what had been learned back during the Liberation of the Avalonians over three weeks ago, the effeminate free Shōzoki android straightened himself, then bowed formally to them. "Hajimimashite, Ojōsama-tachi! I'm so glad that Ataru-sempai has REAL family he can fall back onto these days! I'd be prompted to say right now 'Welcome to Tomobiki'...but with the way things go around here these days, I'd rather say 'Welcome to the Tomobiki Insane Asylum'."

"More than understandable, Mizuki-chan," Tanenobu Karen noted as she bowed back before she gave him a very grateful smile. "It's good that Onii-chan has TRUE friends he can rely on here in town given how much people here are so willing to take advantage of him."

Saying that, the current incarnation of the Herald of the Show, Gar'be ("Embassy"), turned to glare at her big brother's "wife", that making Lum wince as she tried to hide behind the front fence of the home, not wanting to again draw in Chikage's wrath. As she was doing that, her cousin was doing a quick head count. "Eh?! You got TWELVE SISTERS, Ataru?!" the firefighter's son from Onishuto demanded as he stared wide-eyed at his would-be cousin-in-law, pointing directly at Sakuya.

"WHAT?!"

That was Kinshō's husband, who had just surged out the front door to stare in stunned disbelief at the dozen very pretty girls of varying ages, all in very stylish clothing as they returned his look with rather cool smiles. "Hai, Otō-san, Obā-san wanted to make VERY sure that your foolish wife could never steal the fortune she left behind for Ani-kun after she passed away." As the crowd of normal people who had started to gather around this scene gasped on hearing that declaration — which made Ataru's mother moan as she realized this would start up a whole TONNE of rumours that wouldn't reflect well on her — the just-graduated OWL-year student at Hogwarts crossed her arms. "Much that it was an annoyance to find out that my 'father' was actually my stepfather, getting such a wonderful and passionate brother in Ani-kun here is certainly quite the bonus." Here, Chikage glared at Lum, that look making the warlord's daughter cringe in terror. "We just need to dispose of the riffraff first!"

"Yeah, Ten-chan!" Saeru Hinako added as she wagged her finger at Ten. "Don't stop telling Lum-san to stop LYING about being married to Onii-tama so you could all go home and leave us be!"

Ten snapped to attention, saluting her. "I'll never stop, er...!" He then jolted. "Hey, Ataru!" he hissed.

"That's Hinako," Ataru provided, then he indicated the other sisters, doing introductions.

By then, Moroboshi Muchi looked as if he was about to die of apoplexy at the idea of his late mother forcing THIS on him. "The mortgage...!" he then sobbed, being instantly comforted by his still bruised wife. "I can't have you all here...there's not enough room in the house...!"

"Daijōbu, Otō-chan! Daijōbu!" Karen said with a peaceful wave of her hand. "We're all living at a much nicer property Obā-chan left behind for all of us once we got together with Onii-chan finally! You won't have to worry a thing once Onii-chan leaves to come live with us!"

"HE'S NOT LEAVING...!"

As Kinshō glared at the stupid bastard girls who were ruining all her chances to seize her late mother-in-law's fortune, all the sisters exchanged looks before chanting, "'I wish I never had him'!"

"What is the count now, Anigimi-sama?" Tenhiro Haruka asked, pitching her voice loud and clear as she sensed Hinako, Karen, Sakuya and Yotsuba using their telepathic/empathic powers to make the growing crowd that had gathered around them pay CLOSE attention to this.

"Two thousand, two hundred and six at this time, Haruka-chan," Ataru answered.

"What does that mean, Sempai?" Mitsuoki wondered.

"It's the amount of time Baka Aho Ofukuro has said 'I wish I never had him' — or words to that effect — concerning me since I turned SIX, Mizuki-chan," the future patriarch of the Moroboshi Clan said.

Suddenly, a huge chorus of angry shouts echoed from multiple directions as bricks and other street trash were all flung right at Kinshō. As Muchi also got nailed by that debris, a surge of incensed mothers and other people came charging up to give Ataru's parents the tenth degree concerning how they've treated their son. Shrugging, Ataru himself nodded politely to Atsuko and Chiyo before moving to join his sisters, offering his arms to both Karen and Sakuya. As they all headed down the street towards Tomobiki High School, Lum awked before she snared her own bag — which had been stored on her starship in orbit over her "husband's" home — then grabbed Ten as she flew off after them.

"ATARU! PLEASE! DO SOMETHING!" Muchi screamed out.

Ataru stopped before he looked over his shoulder, then he hummed as the crowd berating his parents paused, they gazing his way to hear what he had to say. "What should I do, Sakuya-chan?" he immediately asked the woman who was the spiritual head of his family.

The native of Ōsaka hummed, then she gazed at her genetic father before making a dismissive wave of her hand. "Well, we paid off the mortgage to the place to shut him up about the damage this alien idiot does all the time..." — here, she thumbed Lum, who awked on hearing that, then she glared at the now-very bruised Kinshō — "...AND we made sure ALL money your baka wife stole from Onii-sama's inheritance was recovered from your SAVINGS ACCOUNT!" As Ataru's mother shrieked in outrage on hearing that — then she cringed on hearing the chorus of bellows from the people berating her as they glared death at her — the matriarch of the Moroboshi Clan and the Healer of Men's Hearts turned her back to slip her arm around her dear brother's. "As of now, Kinshō, you and that STUD you married are totally on your own! Make the stupid alien here pay for the damage SHE causes from now on! Maybe it'll make her see how much she's NOT wanted on this planet anymore!"

Lum yelped before she cringed as Chikage glared her way, the latter's royal blue eyes turning into a sickly golden shade. "And no, you will NOT marry Ani-kun, Lum. Keep being a fool and we'll ask our friends from YIZIBA to deal with you!" she declared with a haunting echo in her voice denoting that she was now tapping into this universe's version of the Dark Side of the Force as she had been taught the previous summer in a galaxy far, far away a long, long time ago.

The warlord's daughter dropped to her knees in horror as the teenage arch-mage turned to follow her siblings down the street, a whimpering Ten floating by her side while the people who had gathered around the Moroboshi home turned right back to continue their berating of Ataru's parents. Noting this, Atsuko and Chiyo nodded to each other before heading inside their home...

****

Tomobiki High School, a half-hour later...

"Anii, I'm gonna say this right up front: This place is a DUMP!"

Moroboshi Ataru hummed as he relaxed in his chair, gazing in amusement at the fourth youngest of his sisters. Naturally, he was totally ignoring the small crowd of people who were inside Class 2-4 while the remainder of the class gazed in wide-eyed disbelief through the open hallway windows at the twelve utterly sweet and nice girls who had come with their big brother to check out his school today. "And what on Earth made you say something like that, Mamoru-chan?" he wondered.

Itō Mamoru humphed as she walked over to the wall, waving at the barely-patched burn marks and cracks in the plaster there. "Look at this crap!" the champion middle school track star from Nara on Okinawa gifted as the Star Surfer, Dikebimomlo ("Wipeout"), stated as she waved to the visible damage unleashed in the class for more than a half-year. "It's a wonder this place hasn't dropped down on everyone's heads with this amount of wreckage! Are you SURE this place is adhering to code?!"

"I have to seriously wonder about that," Ataru noted as he exchanged knowing looks with Inu Chigaiko, who was trying her best to not fall on her butt laughing at the sight of the massive chorus of shocked and stunned looks from their peers at the idea of the "cancer of Tomobiki" having TWELVE sisters who were more than willing to stand on HIS side. As Mendō Shūtarō found himself under threat from Tenhiro Haruka's very sharp naginata and a look that promised instant disembowelment if he started to do anything the sisters might find offensive — which made his own "fan club" in class fidget as they wondered whose side they should be standing on: That of the man they had a crush on...or join with Ataru's sisters in solidarity since they were all girls and Ataru himself clearly understood how to treat them even if he just met them over the last couple of months — his rival looked his way. "C'mon, man! Our family's the one who loans you all that money to keep your own clan's paramilitary forces up to date. What type of DORKS are your people hiring anyway?! All it needs is one good temper-tantrum from Redet-san and this whole place would collapse like it did in May when you had that tank here!"

"WHAT?! HOW DARE YOU SAY...urk!"

"Shūtarō-san, Anigimi-sama has EVERY right to ask that!" Haruka stated after placing the tip of her weapon at his throat to keep him from trying to assault her beloved brother because the fool's own pride couldn't take any sort of criticism. "From what I've seen of this GARBAGE HEAP of a school, it's a miracle someone hasn't DIED since the fool aliens came to this place!" She gazed on Sukeyama Sakuya, who was busy applying some orchid pink lipstick to Tsuruya Rumiko's lips as Fujinami Ryūnosuke — who seemed torn between laughing at Shūtarō's being dressed down so smartly by the native of Düsseldorf...and gushing in jealous envy that Ataru had a dozen cool kid sisters that were loyal to him in a way no sister she had ever known was loyal to a sibling — observed the native of Ōsaka work away on her infrequent lover. "Sakuya-chan, I say we get Anigimi-sama out of here NOW!"

"Hmm...tempting, tempting," the older girl stated as Rumiko gently twisted her lips around to make sure the lipstick was properly applied. As Ryūnosuke whistled in awe — which instantly made Rumiko blush at her lover's clear appraisal — the clan matriarch moved to secure her beauty kit. "We'd have to make sure all of Onii-sama's wonderful friends here can be allowed to transfer down where we live."

"Hai, that's true," the would-be yamato nadeshiko nodded. "Would you care to join us, Chigaiko-san?"

"In a split-second," the basketball team forward immediately declared...

...before rumbling could be heard from the hallway. "Oh, give me strength!"

Hirosaki Chikage gestured with her hand to throw up a barrier at the doors and windows just as Chigaiko's teammates came up to charge into the class to confront their star player; no matter how much the "hidden" member of Class 2-4 tried to keep her desires to QUIT the girl's team quiet, some stupid thing always made the fools come charging out of NOWHERE to force her back.

"NO, YON-SAN! YOU CAN'T LEAVE!" all the girls screamed out...

...before they all slammed face-first into an invisible something with the strength of solid diamond!

As most of the members of Class 2-4 both inside and outside the classroom itself awked at such an incredible display while Chigaiko's teammates all collapsed into two piles of bruised idiots on the floors by the doorways, Chikage looked over to where the younger sisters were seated in empty benches by the back wall. "Girls, did any of you hear Ani-kun introduce a 'Yon-san' in this class?"

"No, Kaho never heard that name, Chikage-chan," Eigo Kaho asserted.

"Hina never heard that name, either!" Saeru Hinako said, nodding.

"Aria did not hear such a silly name, too," Aria des Beauchamps declared as she sucked on a lollipop she had made with her trofikinetic powers while coming to school. She had given a special kimch'i one to Redet Ten, who was calmly sucking away while he floated close to Ataru and his cousin to watch the fun. "Ten-chan, did Ten-chan hear the name Nii-ya said about Nii-ya's nice friend?"

"Hai! It was Inu Chigaiko-onēchan!" the firefighter's son from Onishuto said before he gazed on his cousin. "Oi! Lum-chan! Didn't you hear everyone?! You know who that girl is over there!" He pointed to Chigaiko in emphasis, making his cousin look over at the girl.

Redet Lum perked, then she looked over. "Of course I did, Ten-chan! That's Yon-san!"

As Chigaiko moaned, Ataru sighed. "Stupid much, Redet-san?!" he sneered, making his "wife" wince.

Sakuya looked over, shaking her head in clear disgust. "Man! When you told me about this stupid 'selective hearing' illness that haunts the people in this town, Onii-sama, I thought you were JOKING!" As people in and outside class fell flat on their faces from that stern observation from Ataru's oldest half-sister, she then looked at Rumiko. "You know who she is, Rumiko-chan?"

"Of course I do! She's Inu Chigaiko-chan."

"Huh?!" Ryūnosuke breathed out. "What did you say, Rumiko? What was her name?!"

The sisters all looked at the beach café "heir", then they sighed. "Chikage-chan, someone is NOT doing their jobs here!" Haruka scornfully declared as she lowered her polearm, gazing towards the front door.

There stood Sakurambō Sakura, who awked as multiple pairs of disapproving eyes gazed her way. "No doubt, any staff and student coming here might be affected by whatever this is," Chikage mused. "Since I can't feel any sort of physical object that's locked onto Chigaiko here, the whole school must have been warded to keep such a curse active. It may have to be burned to the ground as a result."

As the students all awked, Ataru chuckled. "Oi, Chigaiko-chan! You might just get your wish and get out of this place!" he firmly declared, pointing at her.

"Praise the Kami for that!" Chigaiko breathed out.

"YOU CAN'T LEAVE, YON-SAN!"

As the star forward winced again on hearing her team captain shriek out, Chikage sighed, snapping her fingers. The windows on the inside of the corridor opening to the south courtyard of the school opened up before all of Chigaiko's teammates were pitched out into the air over said courtyard, dropping into two very pained piles of broken bodies well over five metres below. As the members of Class 2-4 and Sakura winced on seeing that happen, Chikage made a wave of her hand. "The doors are open. You can come in. I'm sure Onsen-sensei will be happy to have a PEACEFUL homeroom class this morning."

"Hear, hear!" Ataru chanted.

And sure enough, the school vice-principal walked into his homeroom. "Ah! I heard you had more sisters appear out of nowhere, Moroboshi!" Onsen Mark calmly declared as he moved to stand behind the teacher's desk. "I hope they're as nicely behaved as Sukeyama-kun and Hirosaki-kun are."

"Unless we are provoked by the insanity that rocks this class, Kōchō-sensei," Haruka declared as she drew out a gunsen — a war fan with metal strips ending in razor sharp edges, Shūtarō and Ryūnosuke were quick to note — to fan herself, she making the man awk on being addressed THAT way.

"Could we be introduced, Ataru-kun?" Miyake Shinobu asked.

Ataru sighed before he stared neutrally at her. "Well, if you insist, Miyake-san," he coolly declared, making his former girlfriend wince on hearing his using her family name in lieu of his normal way of addressing her, something that had come into effect after the incident with Queen Elle in April.

Getting up, he waved up his sisters to join him while drawing their names on the blackboard, also using Latin script in the case of Aria des Beauchamps and Yotsuba Dunn. As the people in class took out cell phones to get pictures — with the odd one writing notes — the class president took his place at the lectern. "Much to my personal delight, my late grandmother actually hated the genetic unit my fool father married so much that she decided that Sakuya-chan and Chikage-chan should have as many wonderful sisters as Baka Aho Ofukun could actually father." He then gazed at Chikage. "In magical societies — as you'll all aware, we don't have to acknowledge that stupid treaty about the magical enclaves due to the aliens being here — this is called 'request to dam'. Since Obā-chan was dying ultimately due to heartbreak because Ojii-chan ended his life in suicide due to his guilt of not dying during the Second World War as a kamikaze pilot..." — he ignored the hiss from everyone in class on his saying that — "...she effectively forced twelve couples across Japan and even in Europe to birth my siblings using a form of ninjutsu-based hypnotism to make Baka Aho Ofukun have mushy scenes with their mothers." He gazed on Hinako, Kaho and Aria on saying that while people snickered. "And while most of the families understand Obā-chan was a very sick woman, this left Sakuya-chan abandoned at the property she and the others will start living in full-time at once summer vacation starts. Never mind Marie-chan being left in a hospice in Hakodate in the wake of her mother's and stepfather's deaths before our clan's people finally caught up to her some months ago to see her properly supported."

Here, he waved to Susumu Marie. "That's horrible!" Marubeya Momoe gasped.

"Are you sure you're alright, Marie-chan?" Gekasawa Kumiko wondered.

"Hai, I'm more than fine now, Gekasawa-san," the current incarnation of the Paper Sorceress, R'behim ("Leabharlann"), affirmed as she waved to herself, demurely smiling. "It was a case of very acute chronic bronchitis I inherited from my mother's family."

"Fortunately, our clan steward, Moroboshi Negako-sensei, was more than able to keep an eye on Marie-chan while she was getting back on her feet," Sakuya added.

"Marie-chan works for both the Diet and the British government on a pro-bono basis when it comes to maintaining special collections at various libraries," Yotsuba Dunn added as she thumbed her sister.

Gasps filled the room. "Whoa! How'd you get that job?!" Ryūnosuke demanded.

"I have certain talents that both Tennō and Her Majesty the Queen felt were perfect for the missions I've been asked to help perform, Fujinami-san," the native of Hakodate cryptically answered.

Everyone in the room gasped. "You...it was Tennō...?!" Shūtarō croaked.

"Oh, relax, Mendō-san! Tennō is a very nice man!" Marie assured him.

"And a very distant cousin of ours through Ojii-chan," Karen added.

Even louder gasps escaped the others listening to this. After a moment, Aisuru Satoshi cleared his throat. "So, ladies...what on Earth are you all doing here? This has to be a school day for all of you..."

"Oh, those of us who attend school in Japan got the day off so we can start our Onii-chan no Hi early," Karen assured him. "After all, this is a serious family matter we have to tend to,"

"Aria has moved from Paris to live with her sisters and Nii-ya," Aria declared in her normal demure voice that practically melted the hearts of most of the people in the room; of course, five of the "usual suspects" weren't so affected by such a show from the Candy Lady.

"Yotsuba came from London, so school ended a week ago," Yotsuba added as she held out her magnifying glass in emphasis. "Yotsuba was happy to come here to make sure she can check up on all the stupid things bugging Ani-chama so Chikage-chan can chase them away."

"And my magic school let out yesterday due to the incident earlier this month concerning their latest 'dark lord' having somehow resurrected himself," Chikage added, rolling her eyes in a droll manner.

Sakura looked over. "Voldemort has returned? The British Ministry of Magic denies that..."

"Madame Sakura, you must realize by now what a bunch of incompetent morons the people working under Whitehall normally are when it comes to their own self-policing," the teen arch-mage from Tōkyō declared as she fixed the shrine miko/school nurse with a warning look.

"Do you think this monster will come here?!" Shinobu immediately demanded.

"Be at peace, Shinobu. There are forces active in Britain that will see that yōma smartly dealt with."

Sighs of relief escaped the people there. "So what are you plans for the weekend anyway?" Shitto Kōsuke demanded before he perked, then he looked over to the class president. "Oi! Ataru! You hear about the Tomobiki Marchenland? It's opening up tomorrow!" he then suggested.

"Hai, that would be a great place to go on a day outing!" Shinobu added.

The sisters all quietly shook their heads. The several psychics among them were quick to sense the true intentions of the "usual suspects": Moving to get Ataru somewhere where they could closely monitor him for whatever drove their own purposes. Of course, Ataru knew his peers' feelings about that sort of thing and could easily guess what the idiots that flocked around his "wife", never mind his former girlfriend, were now thinking. "Girls? You want to check this place out?"

"It's cursed."

Eyes locked on Chikage. "CURSED?!" everyone else screamed.

"I sensed a very uneasy aura around that place when I came here to see Ani-kun," the teen arch-mage advised as the sisters all stared at her, appearing to hang off every word she said. "I suggest we all avoid that place, girls. Besides, we have a much BETTER place to go with Ani-kun, ne?"

"Hai!" the girls chanted as one.

"I didn't sense any darkness there!" Sakura protested.

"Madame Sakura, you can't sense the fact that you yourself are affected by a curse that makes you forget Chigaiko's very name," Chikage stated as she indicated Chigaiko with a wave of her hand. "I would strongly suggest that you have your uncle or mother do a deep examination of yourself to ensure whatever is blinding you to that is not blinding you to other things! If they can't help, I can ask my grandfather or Negako to come here to look at you. They are experts in matters such as this."

As Sakura winced at that very stern admonishment — and the boys in the class save Ataru all blinked as they wavered between concern that their favourite teacher WAS cursed...and outrage that Ataru's rather spooky sister had publicly dressed her down like that — Onsen cleared his throat as the school bell rang. "Well, if you ladies would please head to the back of the class, we can get started."

"Hai, Kōchō-sensei!" most of the sisters chanted.

That made the vice principal awk at being addressed that way...

****

Morning study hall...

By the time the morning period set aside for homework and study away from formal lessons had come, the sheer shock of dealing with TWELVE younger sisters of none other than Moroboshi Ataru of all people had pretty much worn away. While the sisters had pretty much stayed in the class — with Yotsuba Dunn helping Onsen Mark with English lessons in first period while Hatoyama Rinrin had been happy to help with mathematics class under Hanawa Mitsu in the second period; considering that the former was a Londoner and the latter was the granddaughter of one of Japan's leading experts in artificial intelligence, doing that had been a no-brainer — they had only deeply interacted with the people Ataru pretty much acknowledged as his true friends in class: Tsuruya Rumiko and Inu Chigaiko. That, of course, had visibly upset Redet Lum...but given that ONE particular sister was more than willing to harshly discipline her Ani-kun's so-called "wife" in case she overstepped her bounds, she had no recourse but to stew in her chair while she tried to find SOME way to make those girls — who ALL had overwhelming power concerning her Darling's fate — accept that her intentions were honest.

Of course, none of them were even acknowledging her.

"Excellent strategy you're employing, my friend."

A shōgi knight piece was shifted to block Kotatsuneko's rather cunning attack at Hirosaki Chikage's own king's and rook's current positions; both were playing on Ataru's desk while a considerable crowd had gathered to watch. "Oi! Your granddad taught you how to play like this, Chikage-san?" Urayamu Akira wondered as people who had bet on the current game between the large mi-ke furred cat ghost and the Dark Heart of Pure Chaos shuddered in anticipation as to who would be the winner.

"Considering he was one of the senior officers in the Greater East Asia Liberation Army during the Wars of Liberation, he had a natural talent at shōgi and other strategy games, Akira," she answered.

People hummed before many of them perked on hearing one man's voice say from one side of the room where Chigaiko sat, "Oi! You guys have heard about the Tomobiki Marchenland they built on the edge of town beside where the Mizunokōji family lives, haven't you?"

"Eh?! Didn't you hear Chikage-chan earlier?" Marubeya Momoe wondered. "The place may be cursed!"

"Hah! Sakura-sensei said she couldn't sense it! Chikage-chan's being paranoid!"

"Better to be paranoid than to be dead."

Ataru's cool voice — which now seemed as hollow as Chikage's — made everyone wince on hearing that before they turned back to their own business. "Hey, hey, Ataru! Where's Shirayuki-nēsama?" Redet Ten asked as he flew over to hover between his would-be cousin-in-law and Kotatsuneko.

"She's making Onii-chan's Ai no Bentō right now, Ten-chan," Tanenobu Karen noted.

Everyone blinked. "'Lunch Box of Love'?" Aisuru Satoshi demanded.

"Hai! When Shirayuki-chan learned she was Onii-chan's sister, she couldn't wait to make him good food," the current incarnation of the Herald of the Show explained. "Given the prizes she's won..."

"Hey, wait a minute!" Daremo Hideyuki exclaimed, his jaw down around his knees. "Osamu Shirayuki-sensei?! She's the Chef Princess of Nagoya!" As everyone gasped on hearing that, the man known as "Kakugari" added, "She's won the Iron Chef competition THREE TIMES!"

"Oh! Someone's singing Hime's praises?!"

Everyone turned as a mauve-haired chef walked into the classroom, two bags full of bentō boxes being carried in. "Ah! Shirayuki-chan!" Sukeyama Sakuya called out. "What did you make us today?!"

Osamu Shirayuki came over to place the bentō bags on an empty chair opposite where Ataru was sitting. "Hime made her special sliced Kōbe beef panini with Nii-sama's favourite shrimp okonomiyaki with cheese filling, all properly cooked for the right period of time and containing thirteen special nutrients, including Chikage-chan's special anti-curse potion that ensures that anything that might try to hurt Nii-sama or us won't affect us, Sakuya-chan!" she declared as she pulled out one box to place on the edge of Ataru's desk, then she opened it. As the people seeing this all gasped in awe at such perfect sandwiches, the native of Nagoya added, "Hime also made some fresh kimch'i and all of Nii-sama's preferred side dishes, made in a better way than Nii-sama's selfish mother always tried to make." She then gave her big brother a worried look. "Hime always was worried that Nii-sama's selfish mother was trying to poison poor Nii-sama all the time," she then added.

People's jaws dropped. "Shirayuki-san, that's a very harsh accusation!" Mendō Shūtarō declared.

"Oh?! Didn't Shūtarō-san himself investigate someone involved with embezzlement not so long ago with Shinobu-san's help?" Shirayuki wondered as she fixed him with a knowing look.

"I personally think Shūtarō-kun is JEALOUS of the fact that his so-called 'rival' has sisters who LOVE him while he's stuck with a LUNATIC for a sister who tries to KILL him all the time!" Sakuya declared.

As the scion of Japan's richest family awked on hearing that cold assessment from the matriarch of the clan whose primary financial enterprise willingly loaned money to his clan for all their paramilitary needs, Ataru hummed as he sipped on a can of iced coffee he got from the vending machine by the main entrance between first and second period. "Hai. Makes me kick myself for actually finding that lunatic attractive in the first place. She needs to be in an INSANE ASYLUM if you ask me!"

"HOW DARE YOU, MOROBOSHI...?!"

KK-KLANG!

"Shūtarō-san, I cannot for a moment believe you actually consider someone like Ryōko-san to be even remotely stable!" Tenhiro Haruka declared after she had deftly used her naginata to intercept his shin-guntō well before he could dare hurt her beloved brother or force him to use shinken shiraha-dori to catch the blade. "How many times has that silly twit tried to KILL you in the last year alone?"

He jolted on hearing that rather blunt admonishment from the Quarterstaff Mistress, then he slowly retreated, sheathing his weapon as Haruka watched him go with a steely eye. Taking a moment to catch his breath from such a stunning intercept — while he had to defend his sister, he couldn't help but see how right Ataru's German-raised sister was! — he then perked on seeing Megane make a beckoning motion with his hand from the southwest corner of the room. Noting that Ataru's would-be "wife" was seated on the windowsill gazing outside while his former girlfriend stood beside her with a forlorn look on her face, the scion of Japan's richest family moved over to join them. Soon enough, the other Stormtroopers and Fujinami Ryūnosuke came over as well. "Lum-san, are you alright?" Shūtarō gently asked, keeping his voice down so as to not attract the sisters' attention.

The warlord's daughter from Uru tensed on hearing the concern in her peer's voice, then she gazed painfully at the sight of her "husband" watching his sister play a game of shōgi with Kotatsuneko, having not paid attention to any girl other than his own siblings all morning. And while Ataru's NOT going to hit on any girl was a welcome thing, that he was ruthlessly giving HER such a cold shoulder hurt worse than anything she had been subjected to in her life. "I'm jealous..." she admitted.

"Ah, don't worry, Lum-san!" Megane assured her. "Soon as these girls see what sort of animal Ataru is, they'll drop him like a hot potato, then you can reassert yourself over him! This whole 'change'..."

"The day THAT happens, Satoshi, will be well after all of you are DEAD!"

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

Everyone around Lum turned...

...before a wrapped length of parchment latched onto Megane's head! As the other Stormtroopers awked on seeing that display of magic from Chikage, their leader scrambled to take the roll off his head, then opened it. Watching the metre-long length of specially prepared sheep skin unroll itself, he then gazed at it before his eyes went wide. "OI! THIS IS IN ARABIC!" he exclaimed.

"Apologies, Satoshi. Translatus Nihon-gō!"

The parchment glowed as the flowing script used by people in the Middle East and northern Africa quickly shifted to very recognizable kanji and kana. Noting that, Megane then tensed on noting the title. "THIS IS A FATWĀ FROM AL-QĀ'IDAH?!" he exclaimed as he turned as white as a ghost.

"Read it and stop interrupting our game," Chikage coolly suggested.

Megane gargled on hearing that cold rebuttal, then he plunged into the text, with his friends and peers looking over his shoulders. After a moment, the leader of the Stormtroopers turned ash grey as the terrible meat of the message there sank in. "THEY WANT TO KILL US?!"

Save Ataru and the two other Terrans-turned-Yizibajohei in the class, everyone fell on their faces in stunned horror. "Of course, lunkhead!" Sakuya said. "Thanks to the stupid stunt YOU idiots pulled after the Tag Race in October, our friends in Afghanistan and Iraq got understandably upset! SHUT UP!" she then snapped as Megane prepared to scream denials at her. "DON'T YOU DARE BLAME THIS ON ONII-SAMA! IF THAT STUPID BIPOLAR IDIOT BESIDE YOU THERE WASN'T GOING TO AUTOMATICALLY JUMP ON YOUR SIDE SINCE ONII-SAMA WISHES HER DEAD RIGHT NOW, SHE WOULD SAY THE DAMNED SAME THING!" she declared, pointing in accusation at Shinobu.

"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?!"

Sakuya looked over as Onsen Mark and Sakurambō Sakura looked into the classroom. "Apologies, Kōchō-sensei, but Megane there was going to scream his usual verbal diarrhea concerning everything being Onii-sama's fault because of that stupid thing with the space taxi driver THOSE FOUR went and TRICKED Onii-sama into summoning!" She pointed to the Stormtroopers in emphasis as many in the class began to shudder, hug themselves and weep at the idea of being directly targeted by the lunatics from the Middle East who had the blood of THOUSANDS on their hands from across the planet. "Chikage-chan, could you let them see it so they're forewarned?" she then asked her sibling.

The parchment was immediately yanked out of Megane's hands to fly into Sakura's. As the nurse gazed upon it, her jaw dropped in disbelief and horror as the sheer scale of the rather ugly threat now looming over Tomobiki sank in. She then showed it to Onsen, who also awked as the message sank in. "Why wasn't your brother mentioned in this, Chikage-san?" she then demanded.

"Because Ani-kun is seen as an innocent victim, Madame Sakura," Chikage answered as she sipped a cup of tea that Shirayuki provided for her. "While he was enjoying a wonderful month-long vacation while you all discovered the fact that he NEVER wrote an ENTRANCE EXAM to this school in the winter of last year, he took the chance to travel to the International Criminal Court in the Hague." As people's jaws dropped, the teenage arch-made added, "Willingly submitting his MEMORIES as verified by some of the best telepaths and Legilimency masters on Earth, he was exonerated of any potential criminal liability concerning all the incidents that occurred from the moment the Tag Race ended to the time he was rescued by Madame Infinity of the Free Planetary State of Yiziba..." — she ignored the squawk of heart-seizing horror from Lum on hearing THAT NAME again — "...on his birthday this year!" She then stared in amusement as his brother darling's chief tormentors. "When Shaykh 'Ayman aẓ-Ẓawāhirī got the news about that thanks to specialized warfare personnel from the OPEC nations being in on Ani-kun's questioning, they issued the fatwā you have in your hand, Madame Sakura."

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"Ataru-kun...SAY SOMETHING! Don't you see that your FRIENDS are being marked for DEATH?!"

Gazing neutrally at Shinobu, Ataru then turned away. "The only TWO people I count in this room right now — save the teachers and my sisters — who I count as my friends are Tsuruya Rumiko-chan and Inu Chigaiko-chan, Miyake-san," he said in a cold voice that made everyone's stomachs drop to their bowels. "As for the rest of you losers, all I see of you are traitors to humanity, traitors to humanity by association, a sexless thing who's neither boy nor girl..." — here, he indicated the boys, then the girls, then Ryūnosuke in particular — "...and two MONSTERS!" Here, he indicated Shinobu, then Lum. As Ten gulped while he moved to hide behind Kotatsuneko, he then rose. "My apologies for interrupting the neighbouring classes, Kōchō-sensei, but I fear now for my sisters' safety given what a pack of ANIMALS some people in this room can be at times." As the Stormtroopers, Shūtarō, Shinobu and Lum awked at that verbal slap to their faces, he formally bowed. "Would you excuse us, please?"

Onsen jolted — he was still blushing on being called the "principal" by Ataru and his siblings — then he cleared his throat. "Of course, Moroboshi-kun! Protecting your family from the insanity that rocks this place at times is more than understandable! Why don't you take the girls to the gym and stay there until lunch? It looks like your peers need a chance to really think things through! Besides, that game between Hirosaki-kun and Kotatsuneko looks good! Take young Ten with you as well."

The sisters rose to leave. "Come, Ten-chan!" Haruka then bade. "I'm sure that Aria-chan can get some more of her special kimch'i candy for you to enjoy! You need to have proper nutrients, you know!"

"Yay! Kimch'i! I like Aria-nēya's lollipops!" Ten whooped before he floated over to the German-raised would-be yamato nadeshiko's shoulder to hang on while Haruka moved to carry him out of the room.

Silence fell as the others in the class watched their visitors walk calmly out of the room, then they perked as Shirayuki stopped before she pulled another bentō out from somewhere to place on Ataru's desk. "Desu no!" she declared. "That should keep that silly cow Rei busy in case he comes here to steal everyone's lunch like that!" Once that was done, she scooped up all the bentō she had made for her family, then quickly walked out of the room, sliding the door closed behind her.

Everyone blinked on hearing that, then they gazed warily on the bentō in question...

...before part of the outside wall exploded inward!

People screamed as a massive column of dust nearly blinded everyone before a towering form in orange, white and black appeared. "LUM!" the ushitora who was Lum's fiancé then called out to her.

Lum moaned. "REI! WHAT ARE YOU DOING...?!"

She then gargled on seeing Seq Rei's eyes immediately focus on the bentō box sitting now on the desk of his weak local "rival" before she cried out in fright as the frontier space pilot suddenly grabbed the box and gobbled down the food contained there without hesitation...

"Oh, man! The Beef-and-Noodles King strikes again!" a familiar woman's voice then called out over the sound of air bike engines which started to echo over other noises, making people spin around to see Lum's two best friends now seated on one's machine outside the new "door" her ex-fiancé just made. "Oi! Lum! Everyone! What's going on...? WHAT IN BENSAITEN'S NAME...?!"

Everyone jolted on hearing Shigaten Benten's scream before they spun to gaze on Rei...

...who was now a VERY sickly shade of grey, appearing even THROUGH his fur. As his face morphed between MANY expressions, the back door slid open. "Ah! Rei-sama! What is Rei-sama doing...?!"

Aruka Ran then howled in horror as the transformed pilot dropped to the floor with enough force to shake the whole building! As people scrambled clear, the stench of VERY powerful chemicals filled the air, making students all grab for surgical face masks to cover themselves and breathe normally; learning to use those had become one of many things the students of Tomobiki High had taught themselves for emergency situations like this. And seeing Lum's normally unstoppable ex-fiancé literally POISONED so cunningly by Osamu Shirayuki of all people now counted as a definite EMERGENCY!

Especially given the fact that Rei's would-be fiancée had seen him fall...

"Holy fuck! Who did that to the brainless goof?!" Benten demanded as she and Oyuki got off the former's air bike to come over and gaze intently at the piteously moaning Rei while Ran remained frozen in place staring in heartbreaking disbelief at the man she loved so much had been so easily struck down. Approaching Ataru's desk, the biker-babe from Fukunokami then winced on smelling something vile in the air. "Damn! Did Moroboshi POISON the stupid oaf?! That fucking REEKS!"

"DARLING DID WHAT?!"

That was a now violently incensed Ran, whose eyes were ablaze with fury as the battle aura that appeared around her threatened to set the fire suppression system within the classroom off. Before any of the boys could feeble out an answer, a hollow voice declared from one corner of the room, "Ataru-kun sees us ALL as MONSTERS, Ran-chan...he wants us all DEAD...he hates us..."

Ran's head snapped over to see Shinobu curl in on herself, her body shaking with both denial and disbelief. "Shinobu-chan..." the native of Shingetsu wondered.

"It was Ataru's sister Shirayuki that did it, Ran."

Heads snapped over to Megane, who was now shuddering as he wavered between outrage and terror at what he just learned over the last few hours. "'Shirayuki'?" Ran then demanded as she put her fists to her hips. "Darling only has two sisters! Sakuya-chan and Chikage-san!"

"HE'S GOT TWELVE OF THE LITTLE MONSTERS!" Megane bellowed. "THEY...!"

KK-KRACK!

"THAT'S ENOUGH OUT OF YOU!" Onsen snapped after flinging a chalk brush into Megane's head, knocking the leader of the Stormtroopers over and causing everyone in class to freeze. "THIS IS A CLASSROOM, YOU SELFISH BRATS! MOROBOSHI-KUN HAD PRIOR PERMISSION TO BRING HIS SISTERS HERE THIS MORNING TO SEE WHAT CLASSES ARE LIKE HERE! I CAN UNDERSTAND HIS WANTING TO PROTECT THEM FROM THE LUNACY YOU GET INVOLVED IN ALL THE TIME! THERE'S NO PERMISSION FOR THIS MONSTER, MUCH LESS THESE TWO, FOR BEING HERE AND DISTURBING CLASS!" He pointed to the downed Rei, then Benten and Oyuki, in emphasis.

"Allow me, then!"

Everyone perked...

KK-KRACK! KK-KLONK! KA-POW! KK-KRANG!

"Okā-chan...Ran-chan hurts all over...!"

Everyone spun around, then gasped in disbelief on seeing Ran now a bruised and bleeding lump of quivering flesh on the floor thanks to Chigaiko and a well-swung desk that she was now putting on the floor nearby. "Stupid bipolar idiot's voice makes me SICK to listen to it!" the basketball team forward declared as she moved to leave the room. "Need to go out for a walk and get some fresh air...!"

Out the back door she went. People blinked, then they tensed on hearing Rumiko rise from her desk. "Um...Tsuruya-kun, where are you going?" Onsen then asked of the class' most intelligent member.

"Getting away from a potential disaster zone, Sensei."

Both Onsen and Sakura tensed. "What does that mean?" the latter demanded.

The younger woman snorted. "Within about two minutes, that selfish brat in the corner is going to start screaming a waterfall of denials about her 'darling' HATING her! Never mind that it's known NOW that Ataru-kun only tagged her horns in a TAG RACE — where it is clearly FORBIDDEN to consider tags in a Tag Race as a tag for marriage! — the fact that she has continuously treated him like GARBAGE since she blasted her way into his life is more than enough reason for him to want to see her DEAD!"

As people gasped on hearing that dire statement and Lum croaked in horror on noting that Rumiko had somehow guessed out the hidden truth about the end of the Tag Race months ago, the bespectacled hyper-genius polymath then glared at her. "Once that happens, the fool's brigade now around her and that rich twit with more money than common sense will move to swarm her!" She then added in a perfect imitation of Shūtarō's voice, "'Oh, Lum-san! Moroboshi has once again broken your heart! Allow me to help you heal from such a bastard's evil act towards you and make your heart whole!'"

As the scion of Japan's richest family awked at that remarkable prediction, Rumiko lifted her bag, then turn to march out. "Once that happens, all the idiots in this class are going to freak out because they either want Redet or Mendō for their own snuggle-bunny or potential money pit, which will cause a fight, set Redet off like a ticking time bomb and I personally don't care to deal with static electricity!" She then smartly walked out of the room without another word, slamming the door behind her.

Silence then fell.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"Darling HATES me...!"

Eyes locked on Lum, who had started to sob. As the Stormtroopers and Shūtarō moved to comfort her, Onsen and Sakura exchanged frightened looks, then they quickly ran out of the room just as people there began to shout away over what was happening. Once in the hallway, they charged downstairs to the main floor before heading into the secretary's office. "EVACUATE THE SCHOOL!" the vice principal screamed at the school's administrative officer. "THAT IDIOT ONI'S GOING TO...!"

"LEAVE ME ALONE!"

A titanic explosion of bio-electricity then blew off the walls and part of the roof of Class 2-4!

Both Onsen and Sakura ducked their heads as the ominous rumbling of shattering wood assaulted their ears, such drowning out the howls of dozens of trapped students within the classroom in question who didn't clue into Rumiko's warning until it was just too late! After what seemed an eternity later, the supporting beams holding up the upper floor in that part of the building snapped like rotted twigs, dropping the floor right down on the hapless Principal in his office! That was soon followed by the collapse of the rest of that section of the school's southwest wing — the corridors on both floors — which now left a gaping hole at least TEN METRES across from the clock tower over to Classes 1-2 and 2-7 in that part of the building. As screams and outraged shouts echoed from other classrooms as people looked out to see what had just happened, two calmly walking young women headed towards the nearby gymnasium, ignoring the shouts from people closer to the scene to help with rescue.

As a wailing Ten raced as fast as his still-maturing powers could push him from the gymnasium to see what just happened to his cousin, Rumiko and Chigaiko headed straight into the large space, where Ataru and his sisters were now seated and relaxing, the shōgi game between Chikage and Kotatsuneko still going. Seeing their friends come inside, Ataru then faced his sisters. "Ladies! Your votes?!"

Everyone's PAA went up to project the number 10 in glowing letters over the control crystals as Chigaiko whooped, applauding her classmate while Rumiko calmly adjusted her glasses before graciously bowing. "Addendum Two to the First Rule of the Great Show of Life...!"

"'NEVER GET THE SAGE ANGRY AT YOU!'" the sisters all screamed back.

Wild laughter then echoed from the gymnasium, such drowned out by the sounds of many people in the school panicking over the latest disaster to have totally wrecked the infamous "classroom of failure"...

****

EPILOGUE

Aboard Station Robert in geosynchronous orbit over Earth at the meridian of New York City (directly over a point twenty kilometres east of Muriba in the Caquetá Department in Columbia), the last Saturday in June 2012, mid-morning (T ōkyō time: The first Sunday in July, midnight)...

"Ladies! Let us stand in awe of our esteemed colleague!"

"CHEERS!"

"KAMPAI!"

"ZA VÁSHE ZDORÓV'E!"

Shot glasses full of apple cider were raised into the air, then the seven people standing in the private chambers of their host sipped the drink, so chosen since it wasn't alcoholic. After people finished their shots, six of them immediately moved to applaud one girl in off-white and black, who was now blushing from head to toe from the level of delight her friends from both her many past lives and her current incarnation now demonstrated thanks to what she had done over a day before.

Of course, the lady being applauded by people who had come from America, Russia and Japan to celebrate was one Tsuruya Rumiko of Tomobiki. The only lesbian member of the infamous Class 2-4 of Tomobiki High School, she was the Careful Planner of the Circle of Thought, Timlem (the "Sage").

Having come from a small former fish canning town was the leader of Yiziba's triumvirate of hyper-genius polymaths whose first-selves had effectively saved the whole of their people from the Starvation Times by developing the worldwide systems that allowed the Great Show of Life to become utterly self-sustaining. She was Elizabeth Wakefield of Sweet Valley near Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, the Wise Genius of the Circle of Thought, Daturie (the "Academician").

Making the threesome who had always been the technological mavericks that had kept the third world of Kaeyu ahead of all potential rivals within the Milky Way Galaxy complete was the beautiful lady from the town of Výborg sitting on one arm of the Gulf of Finland some distance outside Russia's old imperial capital city of Sankt-Peterbúrg, Tat'jána Chapáeva — "Tánja" to her close friends — the Passionate Historian of the Circle of Thought, Kikhodato (the "Philosopher").

Forming the head of her own triumvirate of reality warpers was a native of Wakayama not far away from Ōsaka, who later lived in Japan's third-largest city and one of the island nation's main economic hubs. That was Kasuga Ayumu — almost ALWAYS called "Ōsaka" by her peers in Azuma High School in Itabashi near Tomobiki — the Goddess Who Walks Among Men, the First Child of the Seeker's Forge and the most powerful person living on Yiziba bar none, Nodim ("Infinity").

Beside her was another native of Japan's Kansai region, though she hailed from Nishinomiya between Ōsaka and Kōbe. A natural reality warper until her Gifting, Suzumiya Haruhi was the leader of an eclectic band of people in her high school who always explored the strange and unusual in their part of the world. After she was Gifted, she became the Mistress of Time and Space, R'buttuo (the "Weaver"), the one who could make and destroy alternate dimensions and timelines at will.

And then there came the man-turned-woman responsible for the lion's share of Giftings on Earth over the past decade and more, a child who fled a toxic home environment to go to a place that was beyond magical, then s/he elected to share what she could become with so many others. Born Moroboshi Ataru, s/he became Tariko Katabarbe...and despite efforts by some parties in Japan to render her weak and helpless, she was now the Trickster of the Show, Tuyuki ("Coyote").

And the host of this gathering and the only man in the room...?

The eldest of the group by several years, the orphaned native of Queens in the Big Apple was one of far too many who had a Gift literally FORCED on him by a person or persons unknown over five years before. An anime, movie and video game otaku willing to use his knowledge to aid others, Isaac Thomas had become the effective hero and saviour of a dark planet many thousands of light years from Earth, well long after he became the Wise Lone Sage, Raer'buo Erba ("Doctor Renaissance").

"So..." Isaac began.

Silence fell as people gazed expectantly on each other, then chuckles escaped the others in the room. "Another would-be galactic disaster averted," Tariko noted as Haruhi brought the jug of apple cider over to refill her friend's glass. "And even better, I didn't lose MONEY over it!"

"Master Ibam had that TMD used for Mistress Zōju's curse destroyed?" Isaac asked.

"Instant I woke up this morning and kinda remembered what happened in that time loop," the current native of the vast "village" of Kabe-koli on the northern polar continent near which she had resided for the vast majority of the past decade and more said before she sipped her cider, then she reached up to rub the bridge of her nose. "Good thing, too. If this kid actually came from a universe that also had a version of me and Lum and Grandmother Zōju, not to mention all the mindless entourage...!"

People shook their heads. "Well, at least Rū-kun and Lahla-chan are back home safe and sound," Ayumu noted. "Even better, I was able to get rid of those dork Niphentaxians in Tomobiki itself!"

"Can't wait to get images of the fools' faces when they discovered what we did to their 'one true faith' not three weeks ago," Tánja then darkly noted. "Never mind that wonderful 'surprise' that Atarú Ájonovich's wonderful fleet of dévushki flóta discovered..." — one could sense the sarcasm in the part-Karelian eleventh grade secondary student and part-time freelance scientist for the Federation's defence forces — "...when they examined one of those fools bases in town."

Eyes locked on Tariko as sympathetic looks came her way from her friends. Shaking her head, the Trickster of the Show sipped her drink. "Well, the girls have a whole week to get to know their new sisters before they have to focus again on Lum and the 'Greek chorus' that laps up her backside like hungry dogs. At least they got Gifted with the same powers that they did in that time loop!"

"How's Ataru's reaction to them?" Elizabeth asked.

"Poor Ataru-kun," Ayumu answered for her friend, shaking her head. "The instant all of Ataru-kun's and Tariko-chan's new sisters got Gifted, they started making moves on him!" As the others winced on hearing that, the Infinite One added, "Ataru-kun has to keep hiding behind Roberta-chan, Akemi-chan and any of the cruiser girls who went down to Ōmure-jima to keep him safe!" She sighed as she slumped in her chair. "I hate to think of what Yoiko-chan's gonna think when she finds out."

«Little late on that, A-gal!»

Everyone perked before they looked around, then people relaxed on recognizing that voice. "Hey, Cass!" Tariko called out. "Is Yoiko sharpening her katana for some short haircuts?!"

«Naomi-san has already informed me of what was just discovered by Tamaki-san and her sisters, Tariko-san. Much that I am grossly temped to go down to Ōmure-jima and discipline those poor girls thanks to the inbred temerity that rōnin Ōgi's fools forced on them which has come to wound their karma so much, I am controlling myself,» the mental voice of the seventh carrier of Operation Z, on whose decks Tariko's granduncle Moroboshi Kyōsuke served as junior navigation officer since 1941 to this day, calmly answered. «Still, I might go down to Welcome House and suggest to your new siblings that they might wish to do as Hiromi-san's sister film twins did in April after your birthday and form their own battle team to work their aggression on Yiziba itself until such time as they can control themselves in the presence of your brother.» A sigh echoed through people's minds from Itō Yoiko. «Tell me, Isaac-san, do you have need of Akemi-san on Remnant soon?»

"I don't have anything in mind that needs Akemi's direct touch, Captain," the Wise Lone Sage answered before he blinked. "Are you thinking of having Akemi and the other girls of Destroyer Division Seven work on keeping the new sisters in line around Ataru?" he then asked.

«Given that Akemi-san's own feelings for her spiritual admiral are as strong as both Roberta-san's and Chiyo-san's, it is a wise idea and will prevent further temptation,» Yoiko warned from her normal place of meditation on the outer slopes of the dropped glaciers that had blocked the entrance of Sano-wan and trapped her when she was just THG Yonaga for over seven decades. «Tamiyo-san has warned me that both Shiori-san and Namiko-san are ready to beat down Ataru-san's new sisters for even LOOKING at him the wrong way, especially if they do such acts within sight of Akemi-san or Roberta-san for that matter. Every time something untoward happens, Akemi-san's self-control over her rather crude language fractures more and more towards a final break.»

People winced. The reborn THG Akebono — now Ashikaga Akemi — was the first of the Ayanami-class destroyers to be salvaged and Gifted with Saeru Hinako's help shortly before the discovery of what had befallen Tariko became clear to all her friends in mid-April. Given her history as a "ship of misfortune" — which had been confirmed quite vividly by a former officer who had served on her before transferring to Yonaga, Lieutenant Commander Katsube Hakuseki, who currently served as Admiral Fujita Hiroshi's chief administration officer and auxiliary aide-de-camp — the adopted native of Ōsaka had a fierce temper and was a classic tsundere. With a voice that could out scream a gale and language that would make even the most profane of stand-up comics like the late George Carlin blush in embarrassment, Akemi was working hard to hold her tongue in the presence of the man whom she now saw as her spiritual admiral and his beloved siblings, especially the Living Spirit of Innocence herself.

Still, if the Avalonian bioroids bearing the souls of clones made from Moroboshi Ataru who were purposefully transformed into replicas of a hentai dating simulation game where the sisters were expected and welcomed to perform INCEST with their elder brother kept going...!

«Chill, Big Y,» Naomi Haight-Ashbury assured as the muffled sound of a hand patting the reborn carrier's knee echoed in people's minds on Station Robert. «I can swing down to make sure that no one goes watch the sub races with A-man. Probably by the time the squares A-man still has to deal with because Sparky is still being too thick in the head about the guy finally get out of Sick Bay after yesterday's blast in classes, the new gals will be off to explore the final frontier.»

«May the Kami and the Great Spirits of the Astral Plane allow it to be so, Naomi-san.»

Chuckles escaped the others as they felt the powerful minds of the reborn THG Yonaga and USS Long Beach withdraw from their own souls, then Ayumu mentally drew up a privacy shield to protect everyone here. "So, Haruhi, can we get a full recap of what happened when Rū came back in time and across the dimensions to make Ataru a hippo of all things?!" Isaac asked.

Haruhi smirked before she began. The explanation took about an hour, her words interrupted by questions by the other people there while the members of the Circle of Thought and the Wise Lone Sage jotted down notes in their PAAs for later deep analysis. Finally, the Mistress of Time and Space took a deep breath. "And once Otome-chan's marei'cha kicked in and Lum-chan actually accepted her interest, the controlling orb shattered and I sent Rū-kun and Lahla-sensei home."

People blinked as they took a moment to absorb that. "Bózhe moj!" Tánja hissed as she sat back in her chair. "To believe that all our preparations to defend Earth could have been DERAILED like that!"

"Can you guys pick up the pace about that shielding system idea you came up with?" Isaac asked.

The members of the Circle of Thought blinked before Tánja and Rumiko gazed on Elizabeth. "Tánja and I have summer vacation starting now, with Rumiko's starting in three weeks. We could get the majority of it set in place and do some dry run tests with idiots who want to skip deep into the solar system. We'll need to speak to the Noukiite authorities so the Marines on Tengsei are ready to receive their prisoners, though I suspect the governors of the Outmarches will be happy to have the people 'killed' by 'accident' processed through their courts and kept on ice until the time comes to make it fully active."

"Including those who deserve to be sent to Hichkyech'eng," Rumiko warned.

Tariko shuddered. "It's COLD there this time of year!"

Laughter filled the room from that common dry joke concerning the hidden ice planet somewhere in the vast domain to the galactic "north" of Sol which served as the base for the maximum security prison for the whole of the Imperial Dominion of Noukiios; Hichkyech'eng was feared as Yiziba itself. "What about the Giftings of the people who gained their powers within the time-loop?" Elizabeth then wondered. "Especially Ataru, of course. Given he became one of Destructo's Chosen of all things..."

"Believe it or not, Liz, Otome-chan actually placed a memory crystal in Sanctuary before she visited the good Doctor for that Cat's Claw blade to rip through the dimensional veil," Haruhi answered. As the other people blinked at the quite surprising forward thinking the "mystery sister" of the Colourful Kiss replicas made from Ataru's clones demonstrated, the native of Nishinomiya added, "I was able to retrieve it and put the sword away before I brought it with me back to the proper timeline."

"We could use that," Isaac noted.

"How so?" Tánja asked.

The New Yorker hummed. "Let's wait until Ataru is Gifted in this timeline before we allow everyone like Shinobu and Ryūnosuke to get their memories of that time loop back, not to mention the others who were directly involved in that mess like Otome's siblings and the other sisters," he then proposed, getting agreeing nods from the others with him now. The Wise Lone Sage then chuckled. "Though I suspect Chikage will figure it out on her own," he then warned as he looked at Tariko.

"Chikage knows how to keep the spoilers to herself," the Trickster of the Show noted.

"There's one other issue," Rumiko warned.

Eyes locked on her. "What's that?" Tánja asked.

"We need to discover some way to prevent these sorts of temporal accidents from happening again," the Careful Planner warned. "It could be used against us in ways that will definitely get some of the more feisty of us back home up in arms, never mind what the Doctor might do as a result." As people winced on remembering the times their past-selves had encountered the various incarnations of the Healer of Destruction — who also bore the very ominous tag line "Chaos Bringer" and "Changer of Destiny" — Rumiko sipped her cider. "We have a set 'power dampener' in Liz's friend Annie Whitman." As the others nodded on hearing the name of the one being on Yiziba to be able to REVERSE the Gifting process, the Show Stopper, Yoenu'u ("Oblivion"), the native of Tomobiki added, "If some genius figures out something like what just happened, it's going to cause trouble for all of us down the road."

"Especially if Lum decides to make her 'darling' powerless before we could expunge whatever is making her act like she's got a few frames missing from a fight scene," Tariko gently warned.

Grim nods from the others. While Redet Lum was seen as a friend to the Trickster of the Show given what Tariko had gladly did for her with Ayumu's help eleven years ago when they were children — that seeing the warlord's daughter given her own entry in The Book of Pretty Girls — her current bull-headed attitude concerning Moroboshi Ataru had the potential to escalate to a very dangerous degree. Both Tariko and Rumiko knew that despite the naïveté the native of Onishuto often showed, Lum was a very brilliant woman...and she had been confirmed as someone who would see a direct move against her "darling" by any of They Who Must Never Be Named as something she couldn't and wouldn't accept. Given her ability to build her own spacializer temporal/dimensional displacement device — used and sternly regulated by Urusian historians to research their lost history from before the Seifukusu occupation a millennia ago — Lum could potentially shift herself back in time to prevent Tariko/Ataru from ever going to Yiziba, something that would screw up the timeline in a way that Rū's little jaunt back in time couldn't possibly equal. And she now lived in a place that was framed by enough ebony mesonium to badly twist the thoughts of everyone to follow a general "party line" worldview that could prove FATAL for Tariko's brother or any other innocent person caught in the crossfire.

Understandably, KILLING Lum was not an option...

"Still, there is a bright side to this incident."

Eyes locked on Isaac. "What's that, Isaac-kun?" Ayumu asked.

"Had this time loop situation never occurred, none of us might have suspected that such a thing could happen," the native of Queens noted, breathing out. "There have been times that the 'clean-up crews' like Hiromi's friends have been quite brutal when dealing with those remaining observers on Earth. Since Ayumu here needs the chance to really recharge herself before she could do a worldwide Infinite Wave again, we need to get the people in the field to stop, take a deep breath, then remind themselves that there are people who are possibly monitoring Earth in ways we haven't taken notice of yet. Given the interest the Goa'uld alone have expressed about Earth since the SGC made first contact on Abydos four years ago, that's going to cause some major issues if we're not careful."

"So did I screw up?" Haruhi asked.

"I wouldn't say so," Elizabeth commented as she gazed on the native of Nishinomiya. "Much that you allowed yourself to remember what was going on and allowed us to learn of this, we're forewarned. It's a chance for us to pause and catch our breath as Isaac here just said."

"What about Lum's dream yesterday morning?" Rumiko asked.

«Do not concern yourself with that, Rumiko.»

Everyone perked. "Hey, Negako! How'd you...?" Tariko began.

«Relax, Tariko. Even if you guys can mask a lot from most people, it can't escape either Negako or myself,» a dry woman's voice speaking with a more classic form of standard Canadian English which denoted her place of birth near Niagara Falls cut in, making the young people gape on realizing the planet's own Jewel Warrior herself had been monitoring things from her office in Ottawa.

"General Raeburn, this is a surprise! What did you and Mistress Negako do?" Isaac asked.

A dry chuckle answered him. «Soon as Negako sensed what had happened — even if Haruhi there sealed up that time loop, it STILL had an impact on the wa of the town — she went into Tomobiki and probed around to make sure that you guys didn't leave any sort of open markers for the 'umale' to pick up on,» Lieutenant General Dean Raeburn answered.

«Do not be upset by the results of your correction of the time stream, Haruhi,» Moroboshi Negako added. «As for Lum's nightmare yesterday, I sealed off that part of her memory from recalling such. Though I suspect if Otome's desire for Lum provokes a marei'cha bonding between them, what Otome herself allowed you to have to make everyone remember the events in the time loop — especially Ataru, Shinobu and Ryūnosuke — will do much to calm Lum's own fears.»

"We still have to keep an eye out," Isaac concluded.

«Wise decision, Isaac,» the grandmaster of Saikō Jinseijutsu-ryū then noted. «What of your students from Remnant that came with you to Earth after the Avalonian Liberation? Amon Jō told me that you plan to have them visit Kiryū Kazuma in Kamuro-chō in the immediate future.»

"They'll need it, Mistress Negako," the Wise Lone Sage noted, a wry smile crossing his face. "Kazuma was able to teach Rebecca Skylark how to control her powers as Hamon when he visited the Wondercolts sometime after his own Gifting. I believe he could do wonders for Yáng Xiǎo Lóng to help her better control herself as Fortitude. Given what Adam Taurus did to the poor woman..."

"Sounds interesting," Elizabeth noted.

"Oi! Don't you know by now, Liz?! That's the story of our lives!" Haruhi snapped.

The others blinked before laughter filled the room...

The End...Or Is It?

****

WRITER'S NOTES

With thanks to Dr. Tempo for writing part of the Epilogue.

Shipgirls introduced or mentioned in this chapter:

Hōjō Atsuko-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Atago [JJ-74])
Hōjō Tamaki-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Takao [JJ-73])
Ashikaga Shiori-chūsa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Ushio [KK-175])
Ashikaga Namiko-chūsa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Sazanami [KK-174])

Of course, all four ship girls listed above take after their Kantai Collection interpretations.

Kajiyama Mitsuoki AKA "Mizuki" was inspired by a character made by the dōjinshi artist Makuro.

Translation list and source language: Tachi — The equivalent to the English final "-s" ending indicating a plural amount of objects (Japanese); Shinken shiraha-dori — Literally "real sword blade grasp", this is the name of those technique used where one character can easily stop a sword by catching it between the palms of the hand in a clap (Japanese); Translatus — Literally "translate", this is a spell that allows anyone to read any script in whatever language is denoted, thus making Translatus Nihon-gō literally mean "translate into Japanese" (Latin); Fatwā — A nonbinding legal opinion on a point of Islamic law (Arabic); Shaykh — The proper scholarly Romanization of "shiekh", the term used for a ruler of a tribe or kingdom (Arabic); Za váshe zdroróv'e — To your health (Russian); Kabe-koli — Analogue to Dodge City in Kansas (especially in the days after the Civil War) (Yizibajohei); Dévushki flóta — Plural of dévushka flóta ("maiden of the fleet") (Russian).

Hirosaki Chikage (Dragonheart) travelled to the Star Wars universe in the summer after her fourth year of studies at Hogwarts, around 4 BBY (some years prior to A New Hope). The concept of an interdimensional magical quest (as this is called) is better explained in the Icemaidens series.

Miyake Shinobu's and Mendō Shūtarō's involvement with problems concerning embezzlement was depicted in the Yatsura anime story "Shinobu's Cinderella Story" (anime episode #71).

Chronologically in the universe of these stories, Tat'jána Chapáeva (the Philosopher) first appeared in Of Gifts and Semblances. Isaac Thomas (Doctor Renaissance), who was first created by Dr. Tempo, first appeared in Friendship is Yizibajohei.

The term Tánja Chapáeva used to address Moroboshi Ataru in the standard Slavic style, Atarú Ájonovich, is a matronymic, not a patronymic. The matronymic here means "daughter of Ayone".

Katsube Hakuseki first appeared in the fourth book of the Seventh Carrier series, Quest of the Seventh Carrier.

Hichkyech'eng was first mentioned in Phoenix From the Ashes.

Annie Whitman first appeared in the ninth Sweet Valley High novel, Wrong Kind of Girl.