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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, the Moroboshi home, the last Friday in June of 2012, after supper...

"How in the world could this happen?!"

He was going to murder someone.

"I don't recall raising you to be a hippo!"

Oh, yes! He was going to unleash the death scene to beat all death scenes!

"Ataru! Don't you understand the grave implications of turning into a hippo?!"

It was going to be so nasty, even Margo Black herself would be impressed!

"Now that you're a hippo, we'll have to fix all your clothes! That'll be expensive...!"

Oh, he KNEW who was the idiot responsible for his current predicament.

"Besides, if you think about it, there's the problem of feeding you!"

Once he got his hands on that pathetic magician...!

"Say, Ataru, what do hippos eat mainly?"

Oh, was that bastard going to SCREAM!

"Ataru...?"

And he was going to enjoy every last FRAME of it!

"Ataru?!"

Hearing the bastard begging for his death scene finally...!

"ATARU! ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?!"

KK-KRANG!

"I...wish...I never had you...!"

Shuddering, the pink-skinned hippopotamid therianthrope that was, not an hour before, a young man named Moroboshi Ataru turned back to his book — in actuality, such was a specially-modified device that could allow him to link into the mass communications network of his adopted people; it had been given to him as a seventeenth birthday present by the wisest of his peers from a former fish canning town in southern California — after winging the yapping fool across the table from him with a handy ki mallet. As both his "wife" and her cousin stared warily at him — even now, well over two months since the "wedding" attempt that would have bound him in matrimony to Redet Lum, they were STILL not used to his being so physically violent to either of his parents — Ataru reached over for some cookies one of his "fleet" of cruiser shipgirls had made for him to nibble on one, not bothering to comment at Moroboshi Kinshō's annoying statement about things that were too often beyond his control.

Like his own magical transformation.

As to HOW that bastard Rū had done that to him, he didn't know.

Still, once he got his hands on the creep...!

"Dear, it's not ALL bad," the other parental moron then spoke up, lowering his copy of the evening Yomiuri Shimbun as he gave his wife a reassuring smile. "Imagine for example that hippos become as popular as pandas and koala bears. There would be TV appearances...!"

KK-KRANG!

"IMAGINE BOTH OF YOU GROWING OLD AND DYING ALONE!"

Both Lum and Ten winced on seeing the aftereffects of Ataru winging his father Muchi with another ki mallet, sending him head-first into a nearby wall! Turning back to his book, he muttered under his breath, "Hope the girls come back soon so I can get back to normal...!"

"YOU NEVER GET TIRED OF THAT, DO YOU?!"

KK-KRACK!

"Ittacha...!"

As Ataru's parents and Ten gaped in disbelief and horror on seeing LUM of all people having been smashed head-first into a wall, a cool and nearly toneless voice called out from the entranceway, "Ya, Ani-kun! It seems I came just in time. You don't look so good."

A sigh of relief escaped him as he looked over. "Oi, Chikage-chan," he called out to the beautiful woman his age standing there with an amused look on her face, she dressed in her normal dark business suit with long skirt and white hooded floor-length cape. "Just got back from Hogwarts?" he wondered as he picked up the plate of cookies for the second-oldest of his half-sisters.

"Hai," Hirosaki Chikage said as she walked over to kneel beside him, taking one of the cookies and nibbling on it. "So what happened?" she inquired.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!"

The young arch-mage snapped her fingers...

KK-KKRACK!

Ten and the slowly-recovering Lum spun around to see Kinshō now buried head-first into the floor thanks to a dropped cinder block. "Do shut up, Kinshō. Learned people are speaking here. Fools like you are to stay silent," the Matriarch-in-Waiting of the Moroboshi Clan calmly declared as her royal blue eyes narrowed dangerously. "If you do not, you WILL be SILENCED!"

"Oh, please do that, Chikage-chan!" Ataru begged before he looked over and gave his mother an icy sneer that Severus Snape of all people would find impressive, especially given the changed muscle dynamics of his mouth. "I'm sure the good people here in town would appreciate the drop of NOISE POLLUTION coming out of Baka Aho Ofukuro's mouth all the time!"

"Well, once you move in with all of us, you won't have to put up to it anymore," Chikage added as she gave Kinshō a mirthless smile before she turned to glare intently at Lum. "And no, Lum, you're NOT coming with Ani-kun to where we live. We can do without all the LIES that follow in your wake!"

As the warlord's daughter winced, Chikage raised her hand to craft a scrying pentagram...

...while perched atop a telephone pole a couple blocks away, a raven-haired and masked man in a black tuxedo was gaping in shocked confusion at the sight of the woman with the lavender hair now moving to scan his victim. "Who the heck is THAT?!" Rū demanded...

****

The End of the Circus: A Tale of the Yizibajohei
Side Story: Remember My Truth
by Fred Herriot

Based on The End of the Circus: A Tale of the Yizibajohei, created by Fred Herriot

Edited by Rose Ash

Based on characters and situations from Bible Black, created by ActiveSoft; The Seventh Carrier, written by Peter Albano; Katekyō Hitman Reborn, created by Amano Akira; Azumanga Daiō, created by Azuma Kiyohiko; Men In Black, created by Lowell Cunningham; Colourful Kiss, created by Giga; My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, created by Hasbro and DHX Media; Kantai Collection, created by Kadokawa Games; Star Wars, created by George Lucas; characters created by World Wrestling Entertainment and its predecessor organizations, founded by Jess McMahon and Toots Mondt; Ryū ga Gotoku, created by Nagoshi Toshihiro and published by Sega; RWBY, created by Monty Oum; Sweet Valley High, created by Francine Pascal; NOëL, created by Pioneer LDC; Harry Potter, created by Joanna K. Rowling; Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2, created by Takahashi Rumiko; Suzumiya Haruhi no Yūutsu and its sequels, written by Tanigawa Nagaru; Sister Princess, created by Tenhiro Naoto and Kimino Sakurako; normalman, created by Jim Valentino; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon; and Stargate SG-1, created by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner.

Also including characters and situations from Urusei Yatsura: The Senior Year, created by Mike Smith and Fred Herriot.

****

Note: This is a reflection of the events of the third Urusei Yatsura movie Remember My Love as it would have occurred in the universe of The End of the Circus. The story occurs almost five months before the start of the main story, about one week after the events of the side story The Deadliest Woman Alive. As always, writer's notes will be at the end of the story text.

****

Tomobiki, the Moroboshi home, the last Friday in June of 2012, after supper...

"Okay! Who the fuck decided they wanted to stop BREATHING?"

Moroboshi Ataru's transformed ears perked on hearing that welcome voice with its mixture of Nagano and West Kantō dialects used by the reborn first light cruiser of Imperial Japan. "Osu, Tamiyo-san. Someone decided to be stupid around me again because of this one here," he stated, indicating his "wife" with one hoofed fore paw as a tomboyish woman with golden-brown eyes (the left one under an eye patch) and shaggy purple-shaded raven hair came into the room. As Redet Lum squawked in hurt outrage at being accused of being the cause of her "darling's" transformation, he took a deep breath as his half-sister continued her mystical examination. "We're just trying to get it reversed now."

Seeing that, the adopted native of Okaya and Yokosuka blinked before she moaned. "Oh, that's just fucking great!" Shimosuwa Tamiyo muttered as she scratched the back of her head with her free hand; she held her specially-forged katana, Amamurotō, in her other. "Where exactly did this happen?"

"The Tomobiki Marchenland, that new amusement park that just opened up near the Mizunokōji place," he answered, part of him wondering if the matriarch of that family had something to do with this. As he darkly imagined his visiting friend turning that annoying feminazi Mizunokōji Saeko into a nice pretzel-shaped heap of bruised humanity, he then wondered, "How many of the girls are back now?"

"Just me and Tadako."

A sigh escaped him. Much that he certainly didn't feel himself anywhere NEAR qualified to command the huge fleet of reborn cruisers that had made their way to Tomobiki over the last two months after being literally salvaged and Gifted, Ataru would take any help he could get, especially with the rather dicey situation inside Tomobiki itself concerning his "wife's" so-called "most faithful". Still, given Tamiyo's fierceness and her sister Tadako's well-honed ability to troll anyone into making all sorts of goof-ups, it wasn't all that bad. He'd get Kasuga Ayumu to use her Infinite Wave to get rid of the Niphentaxians in town ASAP, though. "I suppose we'll go with that," he declared. "I'm sure Chikage-chan can deal with the goon squad here if they decide to be their normal idiot selves."

"Naturally," the young arch-mage coolly declared.

Ataru's mother shivered as her son gave her a look that clearly stated that he considered HER part of the "goon squad", then she winced as he switched that glare to his "wife" to make her behave. As Lum cringed, he took a deep breath to relax himself and allow Chikage to finish her examination...

"It's a curse!"

KK-KRACK!

"It's...Fate..."

That was Sakurambō Hayao, who just had his face smashed firmly into the floorboards by Tamiyo's well-aimed foot to the back of his head. "I don't recall you being invited into this place, old timer!" the reborn first of the Tenryū-class cruisers snarled before she snap-drew her katana.

"The door was...UURRRRKK!"

Ataru smirked as he noted that Hayao's niece Sakura was now under threat of being made a head shorter thanks to Amamurotō's mesonium-hardened razor-sharp blade. "Fu-fu-fu-fu...!" Tamiyo icily cackled as the others in the room save Chikage hissed in shocked disbelief on noting the Shintō shrine maiden being threatened like that. "Ya scared?" she then challenged.

Chikage took a deep breath before snapping her fingers!

KK-KKUNCH! KK-KKLANG!

As the noise of two bodies hitting the roof of the nearby Senshōbu-jinja echoed in the living room through the open windows, the young arch-mage gazed intently at her would-be sister-in-law, then her own father and his wife. "Are there going to be any further interruptions?" she asked in a chi-charged voice as her royal blue eyes glowed an ominous reddish-gold indicative of her tapping into the dark side of the Force as she learned to do the previous summer in a galaxy far, far away.

Rapid shakes of heads responded...

****

Nearby...

To say that Rū was totally confused was putting it lightly.

Much that he was more than pleased to have put the metaphysical hurt on the bastard that made poor Redet Lum sad all the time since she came to Earth nearly a year before, the fact that said bastard had a SISTER of all things — and one versed in magic if what she had just done to poor Sakurambō Sakura and her uncle Cherry indicated anything! — was something he HADN'T known about Moroboshi Ataru. Never mind that strange girl with the ominous echo of some type of ancient surface warship all over her was a FRIEND of that bastard...and was more than willing to hurt LUM of all people because SHE had supposedly offended ATARU! While he was confident he could hurt this Tamiyo woman...

"Oh-ho-ho-ho-ho...are you SPYING on Teitoku, perchance?"

Hearing that cold voice, the time-displaced "magician" shrieked in fright, spinning around...

...before his eyes went as wide as saucers on seeing what was clearly a sister of that Tamiyo woman calmly FLOATING not a metre away from him, her hand grasping a long naginata-like weapon behind her back as she gave him a look that was both quite friendly yet also VERY cruel. Of course, the martial arts gi-like uniform covering the body of this more womanly person, black overall with white belt and boots and white trimming, a golden halo-like insignia over her heart topped with the white-trimmed black kanji 龍田 nearly made the poor lad soil himself as instant recognition crossed his face.

"SCARY PEOPLE!"

In a pop! of displaced air, he vanished. Noting that, the reborn THG Tatsuta hummed as she raised a gloved hand to her lips. "I wonder what got him so frightened," she absently lamented...

****

An hour later...

To say that Saeru Hinako was NOT happy about this was putting it lightly.

Oh, yes, all her other half-sisters were upset as well...

...but to make the Living Spirit of Innocence UPSET was taking things to a dangerously high level.

As Ataru gazed expectantly at the youngest of his half-sisters — all of them save Osamu Shirayuki were standing in the living room, gazing with outrage at how much their brother had been hurt; the Great Chef of the West herself was in the kitchen preparing some food to help with the sudden change of fluid balance in Ataru's body thanks to the transformation — Hinako took a deep breath.

"Now, Onii-tama, Hina wants to make sure she understands all this!" the native of Niigata then calmly — TOO calmly, her siblings all realized — said. "When that baka-baka there..." — here, she pointed at Redet Lum, who winced at being called that — "...found out about this Marchenland place, she convinced you to go on a date there since you wanted to see if it was a nice place for us to visit on an Onii-tama no Hi." As Ataru reluctantly nodded — the sisters didn't need any sort of information as to the "how" Lum would have "persuaded" him to go; the looks they were now sending her way had already caked the warlord's daughter in enough mud to fill a grave — Hinako then said, "So you went there, then this strange lady came up and told you about this Rū meanie and his magic show."

"Hai," he affirmed. "Now that I think about it, she must have been a kitsune or tanuki of some sort."

"Any alien races we know that are like kitsune or tanuki?" Sukeyama Sakuya asked.

"The At'ise from Noukiios," Hirosaki Chikage stated, that statement causing both Lum and her cousin Redet Ten to gape in surprise. "After the Imperial Dominion expanded into space, they relocated themselves to the planet P'ech'syek in the Coremarches close to the outer extent of Apophis' territory."

"I didn't hear an echo in her voice, so no lar'beke was in her," Ataru calmly declared. "Now that I think about it, I didn't smell any naquadah the lar'beke use to keep cheating death like they do all the time."

As the jaws of the warlord's daughter from Onishuto and her cousin dropped even further, Tanenobu Karen took a deep breath. "Well, we can eliminate the Goa'uld in this case. Rumiko-san's sensor network would scream the alarm if it detected any of them — or Jaffa for that matter — in Tomobiki."

Ignoring the ever-increasing confusion on the faces of Ataru's "wife", her cousin, his parents and both Sakurambō Hayao and his niece Sakura — the two clerics had, after they extracted themselves from the roof of Senshōbu-jinja after being magically pitched into its roof by Chikage, politely ASKED to come into the house this time — Tenhiro Haruka sighed. "So we have another annoying fool to deal with," she said, waving a gunsen in front of her face. "Are you sure that this kitsune or tanuki or at'ise or whatever deliberately picked YOU to be the subject of this Rū fellow's magic trick, Anigimi-sama?"

"Hai, hai," he affirmed. "I should have SMELT something of a setup here..."

"How could you do that?! An idiot like you...UURRRK!"

Kinshō was now about to become a head shorter thanks to the Quarterstaff Mistress, who had levelled her own naginata's blade at the older woman's throat. "And you have the temerity to believe you have the right to declare yourself Anigimi-sama's mother, Yamaguchi-san?" the native of Düsseldorf icily sneered as her blood father's wife stared warily at her. "Do be quiet and let CIVILIZED people speak. Mere normal TRASH like yourself can't BEGIN to imagine how much we all know."

"Oh, please, Haruka-chan, make her mute!" Ataru jeered, making his mother awk at that statement. "All of Tomobiki will THANK you for SHUTTING HER UP once and for all time!"

As Muchi shuddered while hiding behind his newspaper — the shock on realizing that his late mother Nagaiwakai had manipulated him TWELVE times over to be the father of TWELVE daughters to become matriarch candidates to lead the Moroboshi Clan was more than enough to still his tongue, especially with the fact that his son was gladly siding with his sisters over his parents — Kinshō collapsed into a dazed heap thanks to the overload of information shutting her brain down. As Sakura and Cherry exchanged looks — try as they wished to believe some malevolent force had taken over Ataru to make him so DIFFERENT than the way he was before the encounter with Queen Elle in April, there was no sign of any dark power on him save for what transformed him a couple hours before — he reached up to rub his cheek. "Okay, I've had enough of this stupid scene. I KNEW we should have cleaned out those Niphentaxian morons from town as soon as we found about what they did here!" Ignoring the horrified awk from Lum, he gazed on Hinako. "You think you can give me a good zap there, Hinako-chan!"

"Hai! Hai!" the native of Niigata said as she reached over to his snout.

Sakura jolted. "Wait! What could...?!"

"CURSE! CURSE! GO AWAY!"

An Akira-like wave of raw POWER surged out to mask Ataru in blinding light...!

****

Nearby...

Rū screamed in surprised pain as the glowing crystal ball in his hand sparkled with the sheer cosmic backlash from the cleansing power just unleashed by the Living Spirit of Innocence on her wonderful bro-bro! Trying to keep hold of the object that had allowed him to come to this place and time to give Redet Lum her happiness back — while not burning his hands to the bone from the sun-like heat emanating from said crystal ball — he then tensed on hearing a godlike voice echo over the area...

Tene lomher'buo, Ataru Katabarbe...!

"No...!"

****

The Moroboshi home...

Nesu...GAMR'BUO!

Screams of pain echoed from the others in the room as the transformation energy of the Gifting overcame Moroboshi Ataru, ripping away his normal clothing and yukata top and replacing same with a dark burgundy martial arts gi-like uniform with semi-detached sleeves, black belt and armbands securing said sleeves and black boots on his feet, a black theatre mask-like symbol over his heart. As his body was restored to normal human form, his face became rugged, a moustache and goatee framing his mouth. A delighted breath of relief escaped him while the memories of the many past incarnations of the Healer of Women's Hearts, Gamr'buo ("Rake"), were effortlessly and seamlessly downloaded into his mind. Fortunately, his sisters had turned their eyes away on hearing the living spirit of the Great Crystal of Power call out the warning that their brother's Gifting was happening at last, effectively healing his torn soul after five months of co-existing with the other half of his being within one body, then over ten weeks existing separately in a battle doll body cloned from his other-self.

Once the energy faded and the cries of agony from Ataru's "wife" and the others in the living room at that time filled everyone's ears, the sisters all turned around to look again before the older ones felt their cheeks heat at the sight of their brother now with the power of one of the most famous of Destructo's Chosen, the leaders of the Freedom Parade that launched the Dawn of Power on Yiziba over two millennia before. Instantly, Sukeyama Sakuya — who, as the Healer of Men's Hearts, R'buoho ("Courtesan"), was effectively her dear brother's opposite number — began to slap her cheeks, squeezing her eyes closed as she tried to use her own empathy to ward off what was now radiating from Ataru. "No! No! No! No!" the native of Ōsaka moaned. "Bad Sakuya! Bad Sakuya! Mustn't think about pillow scenes with Onii-sama! Mustn't think about pillow scenes with Onii-sama...!"

"Oh, my, Anigimi-sama! Such a...um, unique Gifting...p-p-pō...!" Tenhiro Haruka sputtered in embarrassment as she waved her gunsen before her face, twisting it to hide her reddening cheeks.

Seeing those reactions, Ataru winced. "S-s-s-sorry, girls...!"

"Hey! How come you became a Yizibajohei of all things?!"

An ear-piercing scream of mortal terror escaped Redet Lum on hearing THAT WORD escape her cousin's lips, which made Hirosaki Chikage snap her fingers.

KK-KLONK!

A cinder block on the head to knock the warlord's daughter down later, a pained moan then escaped her when the sheer information overload just shut down her mind. "Do be quiet, Lum," the arch-mage from Tōkyō coolly declared. "If you haven't figured out by now that Ani-kun has been affiliated with Yiziba since long before YOU ever came into his life, that's YOUR issue and not his!" As an awk escaped Ataru's mother on hearing the name of the ONE planet whose inhabitants had been the bogeymen to the Urusians as a whole for three centuries, Chikage gazed in amusement at her. "What, Kinshō? Did you honestly believe that those government officials who helped TRAP Ani-kun here SUCCEEDED in eliminating his memories of Yiziba? Did you honestly believe Ani-kun's many FRIENDS wouldn't start sniffing around when they found him MISSING from Yiziba? Or did you believe in all your ARROGANCE Ani-kun was too STUPID to make friends? Given that he — pardon me, SHE! — helped a THOUSAND people be Gifted, the chances of you getting away with trapping him here were next to NIL!"

"Oh, yes!" Ataru said as he sneered in disgust at his mother; seeing that, Chikage immediately mused that such would definitely earn an "exceeds expectations" mark from one Severus Snape. "'I don't recall raising you to be a hippo', you said to me when I came back from the Marchenland, Baka Aho Ofukuro. It's hard to claim something like that when I NEVER LIVED IN THIS HOUSE FOR OVER TEN YEARS, YOU PATHETIC YŪJO!" As Kinshō shrieked in outrage on being called that, he then gazed upon Sakura and Cherry. "Madame Sakura, Venerable Sakurambō, my deepest apologizes to you both for being dragged into my family drama like this. You won't remember this since everyone in this town was brainwashed en masse last September when we came here to help two nice ladies be Gifted..."

"Well, if there's a lineup for pillow scenes, I'm in first place then!"

Everyone perked, then they turned...

"Yon-san!" Sakura exclaimed.

KK-KLONK!

"Who are you talking about, you pathetic excuse for a shrine maiden!" Inu Chigaiko declared as she walked in; she had used her special telekinesis to send Sakura head-first into a nearby wall. The tomboyish, brown-haired star basketball forward of the girl's team at Tomobiki High was now in the rose-red fighting uniform as the Silent Hunter of the Fabulous Quartet, Nodyuo Bolem (the "Unseen Lady"). As Ten gasped — he knew thanks to what had been done to him a year before he came to live on Earth that the famous fighting foursome from Yiziba's western equatorial continent were normally heels or anti-faces — Chigaiko sashayed over to nearly drape herself over her classmate's shoulder. "Oooh, me LIKE!" she meowed before tilting her head over to kiss him on the lips.

"DARLING! HOW DARE YOU CHEAT...?!"

KK-KRACK!

That was the living room table being telekinetically propelled right into Lum's face before she could use her lighting on her "husband". "THAT, you selfish umale bitch, was for LYING to all of us when it came to your 'marriage'..." Chigaiko snarled as she glared at the other girl while Lum collapsed onto the floor. As the other normal people in the room scrambled clear, the table floated up...

KK-KRUNCH!

"THAT was for taking the planet HOSTAGE when that stupid space taxi hack stole Earth's oil...!"

KK-KRANG!

"THAT was for kidnapping everyone in class when that Elle tried to put her moves on Ataru-kun...!"

KK-KANG!

"THAT was for subjecting us to your REAL fiancé...!"

KA-POW!

"...and that psychotic airhead that was your oldest friend...!"

KK-KRACK!

"...and the stupid biker slut who couldn't shoot straight...!"

KK-KLONG!

"...and that ice bitch who dumps snow all over the place when it's not wanted!"

By now, Lum was a bleeding and bruised heap of shivering flesh on the floor. As Ten began to sob in fright at the sight of his cousin being ruthlessly smashed down so low, the other normal people were trying to cower in the corner to not attract the wrath of the Silent Hunter. "Now that you had coming to you, Redet-san," Ataru noted. "And since you still believe the LIE about our being married..."

Here, he held out his hand...

...making Lum scream as her horn buds were telekinetically YANKED out of their sockets to land in the palm of his hand before the other one came around...

KK-KKRACK!

KK-KKRACK!

A wailing shriek of heart-shattering pain escaped her before she gaped in stunned, horrified disbelief at him. With several firm claps of the hands, he brushed away the fragments of cartilage that had given his "wife" her powers before he offered his arm to Chigaiko, which she immediately took.

"Consider that a divorce."

In a flash of blinding light, he, his sisters and his classmate all vanished. Silence then fell before Lum screamed out again, she then collapsing into a sobbing mass onto the floor. As Ten and Sakura moved to comfort and Cherry shook his head at such sheer emotional savagery, Muchi sighed as he moved to get back to his paper, leaving a stunned Kinshō still in the corner, staring helplessly at the spot where her only son had been before he disappeared like he did, without a single good-bye.

"Who's going to take care of me when I'm old and grey...?" she then moaned...

****

The Moroboshi home, nightfall...

"WHAT?!"

It was definitely not a good night for one Aisuru Satoshi.

"Hai, it's true. He divorced Lum-chan."

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"HOW DARE HE DO THAT TO LUM-SAN?!"

"He's a Yizibajohei."

Surprised gasps escaped the considerable crowd of people now in the living room of the Moroboshi home, having been attracted to the place like metal filings latching onto a lodestone thanks to the shout that echoed over town nearly an hour before. As a moaned scream echoed from the direction of Moroboshi Ataru's former bedroom thanks to his "wife" having heard THAT WORD again — such being echoed by soothing sounds from her would-be mother-in-law — people in the living room exchanged looks as they wondered what to do now. "How did THAT happen?!" Mendō Shūtarō finally demanded. "We haven't been in contact with people from that planet since Lum-san came to Earth last fall!"

"What about the time we were all in the hospital after that thing with Elle?" Fujinami Ryūnosuke then wondered, making people look her way. "After all, Moroboshi kept telling us that a 'kind angel' rescued him from being married to Lum and we got sent to intensive care. What if it was one of his buddies from Yiziba..." — she winced as another cry of fright escaped the wounded alien teenager upstairs — "...that came by and rescued him, knocking us out of the way at the same time?"

"Why would they do that?!" Marubeya Momoe demanded, crossing her arms.

"Duh! You heard how much into anarchy those folk are into, Momoe-san! Given Moroboshi was made to forget everything about that planet if what Sakura-sensei said is true, his friends must have panicked and came in ready for a fight! You KNOW how much those guys hate Lum's people, remember?!"

Many took a moment to consider that. "Well, I suppose it IS understandable," Gekasawa Kumiko mused before she gazed at her best friend. "Still, there's a lot of good coming out of this! Eh, Momoe-chan?!"

The more tomboyish girl blinked before she laughed. "Yeah! That's true!"

The other girls blinked before they started to laugh and whoop. Megane then shuddered as he bolted to his feet. "YOU STUPID BITCHES! HOW DARE YOU LAUGH AT LUM-SAN'S...?!"

KK-KLONK!

The leader of Lum's Stormtroopers found himself buried face-first into the floor thanks to a cinder block that dropped out of nowhere. As people yelped at that sudden occurrence, a voice that was both hauntingly familiar to the people of Class 2-4 in the house — yet that of a complete stranger — called out from the entranceway, "Oi, 'Toshi! Knock it off with the verbal diarrhea! INTELLIGENT people want to have a CIVILIZED conversation here! No one asked for you to toss in your three sem!"

Heads turned over...

"MOROBOSHI! YOU BASTARD! HOW DARE YOU DO THAT TO LUM-SAN?!"

Shūtarō lunged over, snap-drawing his shin-guntō to behead the beast...

...before his eyes locked on very FEMALE breasts barely masked by the form-fitting white uniform topped with a black coyote's head in that impressive cleavage!

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH...!"

Tariko Katabarbe snapped her fingers.

KK-KLONK!

Everyone gasped as yet another cinder block smashed the scion of Japan's richest family into the floor. From behind his newspaper, Moroboshi Muchi sighed. "Ataru, would you PLEASE not drop...!"

KK-KRUNCH!

"Talking to the wrong person, Baka Aho Ofukun!" Tariko stated before she gestured, making a beautiful quarter-section of what looked like normal black forest cake appear in her hand. "Hey, Ryū-chan!"

As people stared wide-eyed at the sight of Muchi being smashed into the far wall thanks to the living room table being telekinetically flung right into his face, Redet Ten focused on the uniform of the strange woman who looked like she could be Ataru's own TWIN SISTER before he turned as grey as stone on recognizing what it meant. "M-m-m-Miss T-t-t-Tuyuki...!" he sputtered as he tried to back away as fast as he could fly from this living nightmare standing now in their midst.

Shocked gasps escaped all the others as the native battle name of the Trickster of the Show clicked into their minds, they instantly remembering what they had been told when they had been forced into intensive care on planet Uru ten weekes before. "Oh, shit...!" Shitto Kōsuke eeped as the other members of the Stormtroopers moved to scramble as far away from the creature whose past-self had been such an unholy TERROR to the Urusian people as a whole nearly three centuries before.

Tariko's eyes — so like Ataru's yet so unlike them, especially given the ominous glow deep within those orbs — focused on the man known more commonly as "Perm" before a mirthless smile crossed her face. "'Oh, shit' is right, Kōsuke!" she said before the smile faded. "Now go cool off!"

SNAP!

All the boys disappeared in flashes of light! As the girls screamed out in shock, distant splashing sounds echoed from the direction of Tomobiki High School. "Now that the peanut gallery is out of the way, let's get on to the climax of the scene, shall we?" the current incarnation of Tuyuki ("Coyote") mused as she sat close to Ryūnosuke, holding out the plate with the cake. "Here you go, Ryū-chan! One perfect black forest cake, full of chocolate that will definitely NOT turn you into a boy or make you as weak as a kitten like that fool old man of yours loves to claim all the time!" she declared with a wink. "Matter of fact, this will DEFINITELY make sure you become a GIRL like you always have been!"

A tidal wave then echoed in the distance. "Whoa! You can set an atomic clock to that umale, can't you?" Tariko absently mused, she looking over her shoulder.

"STUPID BOY! DON'T YOU DARE TOUCH THAT MONSTER'S CAKE...!"

SNAP!

KK-KRACK! KK-KRUNCH! KA-POW! KK-KLONK!

As the sounds of multiple cinder blocks dropping on the head of Fujinami Fujimi long before he could smash his way into the Moroboshi home echoed from outside, Ryūnosuke blinked before dim memory finally came back to her. "Tariko-san...!" she gasped as her eyes went wide. "Tariko-san, is that really you?!" she demanded as she pointed at the woman who was clearly a close relation of Moroboshi Ataru's, right down to the same general facial shape, eye shade, hair colour and hair style.

The other girls' jaws dropped. "Ryūnosuke-kun, you KNOW her?!" Momoe demanded.

"Sure I do, Momoe-san! Tariko-san and I met ten years ago when I was living by Beppu! She saved me from Oyaji..." Here, the "heir" of the Hamachaya gaped as she looked at Tariko. "With that same cinder block-dropping trick you used on Oyaji now!" she then asserted, pointing outside.

"Pin-pon!" Tariko chimed in affirmation.

Ryūnosuke blinked before she gazed at the cake, then she looked back at the woman who was her first true lady friend. "You mean you remember promising me to make a cake for me even NOW?!"

"Ryū-chan, I made a promise, remember?"

That made the other woman blush, sputtering in embarrassment. "So what's the catch here?" Momoe then asked, putting her fists to her hips. "Everyone on Uru told us about you, Tariko-san! You're the one who always loves to trip people up all the time! Much that I'm glad that you're willing to help Ryūnosuke-kun deal with that idiot father of hers, there has to be a catch here!"

"Oh, that's easy, Momoe-chan! I want Ryū-chan to be Gifted!"

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"You want me to become a METAHUMAN?!" Ryūnosuke shrilled.

"Sure I do!" Tariko affirmed.

The other woman's face smacked into the floor. "WHY?!"

"Because you deserve it, that's why!"

Jaws dropped in shocked disbelief. "I...!" Ryūnosuke gaped before she looked down at the cake. "I...! What the hell makes you think that I'd be the right sort of person to become like you, Tariko-san?!"

"Oh? As I recall, when we met, you were out there in FEBRUARY of all months, in the midst of a BLIZZARD of all things running through Kyūshū, while the idiot parental unit was trying to run a BEACH TEASHOP where any sensible person would NEVER be!" Ignoring the horrified gasps from the other girls, Tariko smirked. "Believe me, if you could survive something like THAT as a normal person, Ryū-chan, you can definitely survive something like this!" she affirmed, holding up the cake in emphasis.

Blushing again, the "heir" of Hamachaya sensed a lot of supportive gazes come her way from her peers. Noting that even Sakura and Cherry were nodding in grim understanding — given what she had seen of Ataru's parents during the odd times she had stayed in the Moroboshi home to get clear of her father, whatever their opinions concerning what they saw as "right" and "wrong" concerning Yiziba and its remarkable residents didn't matter, never mind what the fool aliens might think — she slowly nodded, holding out her hand. After Tariko handed the plate over, she called out, "Itadakimasu!"

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO...!"

SNAP!

KK-KRACK! KK-KRUNCH! KA-POW! KK-KLONK!

"Why the hell is that old fool even fighting this?!" Kumiko asked as a forkful of rich chocolate and very sweet alien cherries were consumed by her classmate before a squeal of delight escaped the tomboy. "Ryūnosuke-kun is a girl! It's pretty damned obvious with the way Ataru-kun chases girls all the time!" She then stopped herself. "Er...that is, how he chased girls until he got rescued from being forced to marry Lum, that is! Was that you, Tariko-chan? What are you to Ataru-kun anyway?"

Tariko's eyes sparkled. "I was the one being rescued, Kumiko-chan." As the girls all gaped at her — even Ryūnosuke had stopped eating though her hands were starting to glow a very familiar shade of bright silver in Ten's eyes — she then hummed. "To paraphrase that old rhyme...

"'Remember, remember,
Eleventh November,
When Lum was stupid a lot,
She fed me bad candy,
Burned my mouth too hot,
Then a cursed cake I ate;
Wow! Gifted twins we were not!'"

"But I put you back together again, child...!"

That was a wide-eyed Cherry, who had a putting-it-together look on his face. "You gave it the old try, but you didn't understand what you were really dealing with," Tariko declared, reaching over to pat the elderly monk's shoulder. "It's the luck of the fight scene at times. Win some, lose some, draw even in others. If you don't go through your death scene, clean up, then go at it again. Life's like that."

The girls blinked as they took a moment to absorb that. "Wait! When did you go to this Yiziba place?!" Miyake Shinobu then demanded. As another scream echoed from upstairs, Ataru's — and obviously Tariko's — former girlfriend then screamed, "SHUT UP, YOU SELFISH MONSTER!"

Footfalls echoed from the upper floor. "Shinobu-chan, stop saying that...YOU!"

SNAP!

KK-KRUNCH!

"Do be quiet, Baka Aho Ofukuro!" Tariko said after dropping another cinder block on her mother's head. "This is MY reveal scene! You don't have your greedy brother to come save you this time! Once I got a friend to reverse the brainwashing put on everyone at Toranoseishin, getting the fool ARRESTED on charges of accessory to EMBEZZLEMENT was as easy as pie!" Smirking as the girls gasped in horror on hearing that, Tariko trilled, "Lucky thing Obā-chan made DAMN sure Baka Aho Ofukun here was made to father twelve nice SISTERS to take over the clan while I was on Yiziba!" Here, she thumbed her dazed father in emphasis. "There's no way that anyone would let you steal from THEM, you know!"

"Oh, wow...!"

That was Ryūnosuke, whose whole body was brightly glowing.

You can guess what happens next, of course...!

****

The Moroboshi home, after midnight on Saturday...

"...care of me when I'm old and grey...who will take care of me...?"

Shuddering in terror as she found herself in a totally empty bedroom save for a small futon where Redet Ten was sleeping away innocently, the woman who would have been Uru's next empress had the Empire survived the Union Revolution which had been the ultimate result of the Mother of All Fight Scenes unleashed by the metahuman warriors of Yiziba decades before tried not to give into her fright and flee for home right now. And while it was very tempting thanks to what her "husband" had done to her hours before — especially since the new incarnation of the Trickster of the Show had used her powers to regrow her horns — giving up was not in Redet Lum's nature, especially after doing a HALF-YEAR of work to make Moroboshi Ataru her husband in the wake of so many things against her.

But to believe she had been fighting THAT all along...

A hiss escaped her as she recalled what her would-be mother-in-law told her after her classmates left in the wake of Fujinami Ryūnosuke being Gifted of all things into the new incarnation of the Huntress of the Wild, Tolose ("Carcajou"). "It was the only way to prevent an intergalactic war, Lum-chan. I didn't know the truth about those monsters until your parents and friends told us about them after we had to deal with that Elle woman, but there was no way I wanted you to be hurt because my idiot son preferred to live as some metahuman freak and not a normal boy like he should have been all along!"

Unfortunately, Moroboshi Kinshō was shot down by HER in front of Miyake Shinobu and all the other girls of Class 2-4 that had been there. "Keep believing that, Baka Aho Ofukuro! You just can't stand the fact that Obā-chan knew how much of a greedy BITCH you are! A pity you're still useful to me! The fools that tried to force me back into this sewer pit you call a 'home' will find out they screwed up sooner or later, then come out into the open so I can KILL the damned lot of them! Once that's done, you and Ofukun are on your own to the day you DIE all ALONE, not to mention POOR as PAUPERS!"

The transformed Ryūnosuke then rubbed salt into the wound by adding, "I can SMELL the freaking LIES you've heaped on all of us since I came to this place back in February! If you really had a hand in screwing around with the memories of all MY friends, I'm gonna save Tariko and Ataru the trouble of killing you and GUT you myself!" This, of course, had been emphasized with the Wild Hunter's deploying of her foot-long fingertip ki claws to threaten to impale the older woman's head on them. "Now crawl back into your little world and leave the REAL world be! Don't interfere when we send the umale back to their shithole home planets, either! No one's going to miss a greedy bitch like you!"

And just before they left...

"Oh, dear! The Infinite Wave sent your 'most faithful' into a BLACK HOLE, Lum-chan! How SAD...!"

THAT had scared Lum most of all.

Tariko Katabarbe knew of the Niphentaxians. Had even planned with none other than Yiziba's most powerful reality warper to remove the ONE sure ally Lum could turn to in hopes of trying to wrest control of this mad situation back into her hands again. And if Tariko was to be believed, the Niphentaxians had been dealt with militarily in a Mother of All Fight Scenes of all things nearly a MONTH ago, in the last week of a month-long absence from Tomobiki High by Lum's "husband"...!

Face it! He was NEVER your husband...!

"Lies!" she hissed at that nagging voice deep inside her. "Darling loves me...!"

Then why was he attacked like that...?

"I don't know! It was probably one of Those People who did that to him!"

Didn't you hear Tariko-chan? that hissing traitorous voice echoed in her mind. You remember her, don't you? The nice girl from Yiziba who helped you live a NORMAL LIFE?

"That can't be Darling!"

Suddenly, the hairs stood up on her neck, making her spin around. "WHO'S THERE?!" she screamed...

...before her jaw dropped on seeing of all things a CLOWN in a baggy full-body golden jumpsuit decked with stars, white gloves and boots covering his extremities and a white jester's hat-like mask covering his head, said person floating over the fence line dividing the Moroboshi property from the neighbouring plot where the Shimosuwa sisters normally lived. Eerie, near maniacal laughter escaped this being as he seemed to stare intently at Lum, making her blink in confusion; if this fellow was supposedly from THERE, he was in a mode of dress that wasn't known to be common on That Planet.

"What do you want?!" she demanded...

...before his laughter turned into a considerable chorus of painful coughs, causing Lum to blink in surprise before she moaned, crossing her arms. After a moment, the newcomer then cleared his throat. "Good evening, Lum," he then greeted her with a formal bow in mid-air.

That made her tense. "Huh?! You know my name?! Who are you?!" she demanded, pointing at him.

He jolted. "Huh?! You don't know?!" As Lum stared askance at him, the newcomer rubbed the back of his head. "That's strange..." He then jolted as it came to him. "Ah!"

And with that, he snapped his fingers, transforming into someone that Lum had cause to remember. "Voilà!" the raven-haired man — wearing a black domino mask and the tuxedo-and-cape combination that would make any fan of Sailor Moon instantly think of Tuxedo Kamen — declared with a wave of his hands before bowing to the warlord's daughter from Onishuto.

Lum's eyes went wide. "YOU!"

He shook his head. "No, no, no, no! I'm Rū, not 'you'...!"

Unfortunately, she wasn't listening. "Why, you...you...!"

"Well, ain't this my lucky day?!"

Both Lum and the just-introduced Rū yelped on hearing that growling voice, then spun around...

...just as a certain reborn light cruiser built in Yokosuka near the end of the Great War and sunk off the coast of Papua New Guinea near the end of 1942 floated up to hover not two metres from Rū. As the magician screamed like a frightened child confronting an angry tiger on seeing the same type of uniform covering Shimosuwa Tamiyo's body that covered her sister's body — save for the difference of chest insignia, that bearing the kanji 天龍 over two intertwined white dragons — the adopted native of Yokosuka and Okaya tightly gripped her sheathed katana. "I knew that all we had to do is wait for a sleazebag like you to come back here after we spotted you spying on the Oni brat here!" Here, Tamiyo's good eye narrowed as she gently drifted towards him, making him scramble to float clear. "Or were you actually watching over Lum on behalf of those Niphentaxian assholes I've heard so much about lately?! You sure as hell don't look like one of those copycat freaks we smashed down a month ago!"

"Hah! I was protecting Lum from that monster Moroboshi!"

"YOU WHAT?!"

That was BOTH Lum and Tamiyo! "Well, why not?!" Rū snapped as he drifted closer to Lum, pointing in accusation at the transformed light cruiser. "Moroboshi wasn't satisfied with making you cry and be sad all the time, Lum! He had to turn around and SCARE YOU TO DEATH by siccing the SCARY PEOPLE on you!" As the warlord's daughter spun around to stare wide-eyed at him, he added, "Now he turned around and SPLIT HIMSELF IN TWO, then got GIFTED of all things!"

"And who's fucking fault was that, jerk?!" Tamiyo snarled, drawing Amamurotō as she secured the scabbard to her belt. "Dumb bitch LIES through her goddamned teeth last October when Teitoku said 'Now I can be married' — when he was talking about Miyake Shinobu of all people! — and says she's Teitoku's WIFE of all things! She fucking then takes the whole PLANET hostage almost right after that because Teitoku sure as FUCK didn't want anything to do with a lying MONSTER like that...!"

"HOW DARE YOU?!"

A blaze of lighting erupted from Lum to slam into Tamiyo's abdomen...which does nothing save make the transformed cruiser laugh! "Oi! Couldn't you guess it out by now, idiot?!" the first of her class then sneered while Lum recoiled in terror. "I'm a FIRST GENERATION BATTLE DOLL! In one way, I'm one of the ones who turned the lar'beke fleet into SCRAP METAL five thousand years ago!" As Lum and Rū both gargled in horror on realizing what they were now up against, Tamiyo went for the kill.

"Sent here by Doctor Destructo himself!"

A wailing scream escaped Lum as she instantly raced into the sky to get as far away from such a monster. "Lum, wait!" Rū yelled out as he raced off after her.

"Oi! Tenryū! What's going on?!"

Glad to hear a familiar voice, Tamiyo looked down towards the street where a former fleet mate now stood. "Get after those two, Sendai!" she snapped, pointing up into the sky. "The creep in the cape's the one who hurt Teitoku tonight! That Oni bitch must have made him do that!"

Hearing that, Hashimoto Sei — the transformed light cruiser THG Sendai — perked before she leapt into the air, her civilian clothes immediately morphing into her black and dark safety orange battlesuit while she poured on the speed to pursue her targets. A hundred metres ahead of her, Rū pushed himself hard to get even with Lum, then he snared her under the armpits to carry her along at a faster velocity. "Hey!" the warlord's daughter from Onishuto yelped. "Let me go, you monster...!"

"We have to run, Lum! One of those things is right...!"

"SEISHUSHI!"

Both aliens screamed as a virtual HURRICANE of energy bolts shaped like the throwing stars used by stealth warriors of old nearby ripped into both of them, Rū shifting himself and Lum clear of that deadly fusillade just in time. As she gargled on seeing yet ANOTHER woman that Ataru had befriended over the last couple of months FLYING at them, Rū angled himself towards the subdivisions close to the traditional home of Japan's second-richest family. "Hang on, Lum! I'll keep you safe!"

Here, he dived right for a small park close to Tomobiki High School, with Sei banking over to her left to draw open the range, ki again billowing in the hands of the woman with her shaggy hair done in a two-side up manner, brown eyes tracking her targets like the rangefinders used to help target in her seven 14 centimetre/50 calibre 3rd Year Type naval rifles. Seeing the magician carry his charge right towards the park gate, Sei chuckled before she flung out both hands. "SEISHUSHI!"

The storm of bolts instantly churned up the ground leading right to their targets, concussive waves knocking Rū and Lum around like rag dolls. As people in nearby homes turned on lights and looked out windows to see what the hell was going on, Lum spun around. "Sei-san! Stop that!" she screamed, lashing out with her lightning to drive the adopted native of Asagiri and Nagasaki back.

The warlord's daughter yelped in horror as Sei instantly drew out an ENERGY SWORD of all things from her body to swat away that bolt of bio-electricity. "Oh, man! First the spirit shuriken attack, now a soulsword?!" a wide-eyed Rū exclaimed as he whipped off his cloak and wrapped it around Lum. "C'mon! If she's some master of Saikō Jinseijutsu-ryū, you're DEAD if she catches you!"

"What's that?!" Lum demanded even if she didn't resist him pulling her along.

A groan answered her. "Figures that idiot wouldn't tell you about his family's own MARTIAL ARTS SCHOOL!" the magician snapped, that making Lum squawk in surprise as he angled himself north towards the Mizunokōji estate. "It's a form of ninjutsu, as deadly as anything this planet's Jewel Warrior practises! That energy sword that thing behind us has KILLS on contact with the edge of the blade! If those things all answer to that idiot, you're going to be very DEAD if you don't come with me!"

"Darling wouldn't DO that...!"

"He just got turned into one of the SCARY PEOPLE, Lum! You KNOW they don't care for you!"

The Oni teenager paled as she recalled what she saw not hours before inside the Moroboshi home. Realizing that somehow, someway, her would-be husband had been manoeuvring the forces of the Unspeakable Place — including the greatest warriors ever to rise from that planet's early history if all the dark tales from that time period, passed on by Vosian cultural observers from the natives all these years, were true! — to effectively seal off Earth from ALL alien contact made her shudder in terror. Much that she couldn't believe Moroboshi Ataru hated her so much that he was prepared to do this sort of thing to her — and even more so, go after her "most faithful" from Phentax Two to ensure no interference! — the sheer threat of people like the Hashimoto and Shimosuwa sisters...!

Were ALL of Ataru's new lady friends he met over the last two months like them...?

"Oi! Yasen-baka! What's going on?!"

Lum gargled. "Oh, no...!"

"Who's that?!" Rū demanded.

"Kumamoto Kiko-san! She's another of Darling's new friends!"

"You mean HER?!"

Noting where the magician was looking, Lum spun around...

...then she gargled as a woman with long raven hair done in a thick French braid to mid-back soared down out of the night sky and fell in close to Sei. The newcomer was in a two-tone green jumpsuit of the more traditional cut worn by Those People, the symbol over her heart being the kanji 北上 over the images of two jumping fish, marking the fishing port city of Ishinomaki where her namesake river flowed into the Pacific at two places. Seeing that, Rū blinked as he recounted what he had seen this evening. "'Kitakami'. 'Sendai'. 'Tenryū'. 'Tatsuta'," he said as he paled, then he poured on the speed, turning towards the Marchenland grounds. "Oh, man! I can't believe Moroboshi found some way to do THAT!"

"DO WHAT?!"

"Don't you understand?!" the magician warned as he pointed pack towards their pursuers. "Those aren't just first-gen battle dolls from the Scary Place, Lum! They're the ch'uongtechhu of old Japanese warships from the Terrans' Second World War made HUMAN!"

Lum croaked out in disbelief as Rū then dived to ground level, racing right for the main gate to the Marchenland grounds. Overhead and well to their rear, both Sei and Kiko braced themselves as they slowed down, ready to unleash a huge spread of energy bolts in an attack that would force them into a specific building before they'd drop it on the two aliens' heads and bring this merry chase to an end. "Ready?!" the reborn name ship of her class called out as the ki billowed in her hands.

"One Super-Kitakami Smackdown, coming up!" the reborn third of the Kuma-class cruisers announced.

Seeing the magician and his companion duck into the House of Mirrors in the middle of the fairgrounds, Sei whooped. "Perfect! SEISHUSHI!" she bellowed as a stream of energy shuriken stormed down.

"YONJŪ-KUJŪSAN!" Kiko screamed out.

The twin storms of energy bolts — forty large beams from Kiko alone in a spiritual replica of the forty 610 millimetre Type 93 oxygen torpedoes she had carried as a torpedo cruiser after the summer of 1941 — ripped up the ground around the House of Mirrors before the building was crushed as if the hand of Fūjin Himself had come down from the heavens to ruthlessly crush the impudent aliens who sought safety within. As shouts from nearby homes heralded the awakening of hundreds of people from neighbouring homes — that echoed with shrill sirens echoing from both the Mendō and Mizunokōji estates indicating both clans' paramilitary forces were mobilizing — Sei and Kiko dropped down to ground level, ignoring the billowing dust and smoke their attacks produced from wrecked and burning buildings. "I think we overdid it, Sei!" the reborn third of the Kuma-class cruisers wryly warned.

"They're idiots, Kiko! Don't worry," the reborn name-ship of her class muttered. "SENNEDDA!"

A virtual TORNADO of heated air formed in front of Sei, sucking in all the fire and smoke before she flicked it all high in the sky towards a nearby pond, allowing the building fragments to be doused and prevent any future flare-ups. Noting that there weren't any human bodies caught up when she unleashed that particular strike, the adopted native of Asagiri and Nagasaki on Kyūshū growled as she advanced on the House of Mirrors, which was now nothing more than a pile of shredded tent canvas, splintered wood and shattered glass. Summoning another heated tornado attack to clear the debris away, the reborn light cruiser then blinked on seeing nothing there save bare floor.

"What the heck...?" Sei demanded as Kiko came up to join her.

"HOLD IT RIGHT THERE, LADIES!"

Both reborn warships perked, then they spun around...

"Oh, hell! The Kempeitai major's grand-kid!" Sei muttered under her breath.

Sure enough, Mendō Shūtarō stood ready in front of a reinforced company's worth of his clan's paramilitary forces, all with weapons at the ready even if none of them were aiming their carbines at either Sei or Kiko. On recognizing the reborn light cruisers, the scion of Japan's richest family shuddered. "Um, Sei-san! Kiko-san! Please don't tell me that you're like Moro-...!"

Both women blinked as a panicking look suddenly crossed his face, his voice melting into a warble while his hands dropping his handy officer's sword, they reaching up to pull at his hair as he danced around like some lunatic. As the troopers panicked on seeing their employer act like he had lost his mind, a woman's voice possessing the strength of purest neutronium called out one word:

"Cease."

Everyone froze before Sei looked around Shūtarō, then she smiled. "Ah! Shihan-sama!" she called out with a friendly wave of her hand. "Sorry for making such a mess!"

The woman who appeared to be a slightly older version of Tariko Katabarbe calmly walked through the crowd of troopers, all of whom instantly snapped to attention and saluted the personal assassin to the Heavenly Sovereign. Of course, such was not Moroboshi Negako's "proper" job description; in the official government list, Earth's first true artificial intelligence made human more than a decade before was known as the Lady Chamberlain of the Fukiage Ōmiya Palace which had once served as the residence of the late Heavenly Sovereign of Shōwa. Moving with the terrible grace inherited by the amassed centuries of martial arts knowledge that became fully sentient in 1808, Negako paused to gaze on the wildly screaming Shūtarō for a moment before she reached over to tap a place at the back of the head, making him stop with a jolt, then he blinked in confusion before turning to gaze upon her. Seeing that face and general hair style, he tensed up again, his eyes spiralling once more.

"Young Master!" one of the senior paramilitary officers then hissed. "This is Teikokukan Yonjū-kū!"

A gargled croak of breath escaped the scion of Japan's richest family before he bowed low. "Negako-sama! Please forgive me for not recognizing you right away!" He then blinked before looking up at her in confusion. "Um...what are you doing here anyway?" he then quietly asked.

"Sei is my student, Shūtarō," Negako answered, making him nod in understanding. "Tonight's disturbance was, while ultimately not desired, expected given the revelations concerning Ataru's connection to Yiziba atop Lum's quite annoying lack of self-discipline." Ignoring the shocked awk from the younger man at such a comment directed towards his favourite classmate, Negako turned away from him. "Have your forces deployed around the property to maintain site security while I ascertain what has occurred here. No one is to trespass until I am sure the site is safe."

Before Shūtarō could respond, the leader of the paramilitary company snapped to attention. "Hai, Negako-sama! We'll make this place tighter than Fort Knox! You heard the lady, men! Move out!"

"WAIT!" Shūtarō cried out...

...to no avail as the troops raced off as they had been instructed, leaving their employer's son behind.

"What's going on here?!" he then feebly wondered.

The only thing that answered him was a hollow wind...

****

Nearby...

"That's not possible...!"

Staring at the horrifying sight of Moroboshi Negako walking on the grounds of the Marchenland — and not possessing her known host in this particular time period, none other than Moroboshi Ataru himself! — Lahla could only shake her head as she tried to figure out what was going on here.

If THIS was where her charge had come, it didn't match the history of Rū's ancestors whatsoever!

"Not possible..." the lavender-haired woman moaned. "Not possible at all..."

To Be Continued...!

****

WRITER'S NOTES

As noted after the title blurb, this story is set almost five months before the start of the main story. Since almost the whole of the third Urusei Yatsura movie, Remember My Love, is set in an alternate time loop, this whole story would occur in a single day in proper lineal time. This particular story starts at time frame 26:40 in the film; all that was depicted in the film before hand (save for anything Moroboshi Ataru did concerning flirting with other girls) happens as shown in the movie itself.

As always with my stories, the given names of characters such as the parents of Moroboshi Ataru and others are derived from what were used in The Senior Year.

Translation list and source language: Baka Aho — Literally "idiot fool" (Japanese); Ofukuro — Literally "honourable sack", an archaic way of addressing one's mother (Japanese); Taisa — Navy captain/Army colonel/Air Force group captain (Japanese); DNTK — Short for Dai-Nihon Teikoku Kaigun ("Navy of the Greater Japanese Empire") (Japanese); Tennō Heika Gunkan — Literally "Warship of His Majesty the Heavenly Sovereign" (short form THG), the ship prefix for Imperial Japanese warships in the universe of my stories (Japanese); KJ — Short for Keijun'yōkan, serving as the hull classification code for a light cruiser of Japan in my stories (Japanese); Amamurotō — Literally "sword of the heavenly void" (Japanese); Teitoku — Admiral (Japanese); Lar'beke — Snake leech (Yizibajohei); Tene lomher'buo — You are ready/It is time (Yizibajohei); Nesu — Behold (Yizibajohei); Yūjo — Prostitute (Japanese); Umale — Same/Sameness (Yizibajohei); Ofukun — Literally "most honourable father" (Japanese); Sem — Basic currency on Yiziba, equal to an American penny (Yizibajohei); Seishushi — Short for Seishin Shuriken Arashi ("Psychic Shuriken Storm"), one of the offensive attack manoeuvres in Saikō Jinseijutsu-ryū ("Way of the Supreme Life"), the Moroboshi Clan's in-house school of ninjutsu (Japanese); Yasen-baka — Night battle idiot (Japanese); Ch'uongtechhu — House angel, divine spirits protecting one's home/ship in myths (Noukiite); Yonjū-Kujūsan — Literally "Forty-Ninety-three", this is a reflection of the ability of THG Kitakami (Kumamoto Kiko) as a torpedo cruiser (in Japanese, Suiraijun'yōkan, hull classification code SRJ) to carry forty Type 93 "Long Lance" oxygen torpedoes in ten quadruple launchers (Japanese); Sennedda — Short for Senpū Netsu-hi Daboku ("Air Whirlpool Heat-Fire Strike") (Japanese); Kempeitai — The Imperial Japanese Army's military police/secret security service; Shihan — Marital arts grandmaster (Japanese); Teikokukan Yonjū-kū — Imperial Special Agent #49 (Japanese).

The shipgirls who appear in this chapter:

Shimosuwa Tamiyo-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Tenryū [KJ-44])
Shimosuwa Tadako-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Tatsuta [KJ-45])
Hashimoto Sei-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Sendai [KJ-58])
Kumamoto Kiko-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Kitakami [SRJ-48])

Of course, all four of the reborn cruisers noted above take after their Kantai Collection selves, of course.

Quick reminder of the way the sisters of Sister Princess address their brother in the original Japanese and in the English translation of the anime series:

Tanenobu Karen — Onii-chan (お兄ちゃん) (Big Brother)
Eigo Kaho — Onii-chama (お兄ちゃま) (Brother)
Itō Mamoru — Anii (あにぃ) (Big Bro)
Sukeyama Sakuya — Onii-sama (お兄様) (Dear Brother)
Saeru Hinako — Onii-tama (おにいたま) (Bro-Bro)
Susumu Marie — Aniue-sama (兄上様) (Brother Mine)
Osamu Shirayuki — Nii-sama (にいさま) (Elder Brother)
Hatoyama Rinrin — Aniki (アニキ) (Bro)
Hirosaki Chikage — Ani-kun (兄くん) (Brother Darling)
Tenhiro Haruka — Anigimi-sama (兄君さま) (Beloved Brother)
Yotsuba Dunn — Ani-chama (兄チャマ) (Brother Dearest)
Aria des Beauchamps — Nii-ya (兄や) (Mon Frère)

Note that as I've always done with these characters, I create separate family names for them since it makes more sense for them to be half-sisters to the game's player character than full sisters. Thus, an Onii-chan no Hi (literally "Day for Big Brother") (or variations of same depending on which sister we're speaking about) indicates the special day that any of the sisters spends with their brother.

Finally, a quick re-read of the writer's notes of the main story will help people get caught up in the basic facts of life in this particular universe.

Chapter Text

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.

****

The Tomobiki Marchenland, Saturday morning after breakfast...

"Holy shit...!"

"What the heck happened here?"

"Is this what those Yiziba guys can do?"

"Can't believe that Ataru was able to bring some of THEM here!"

Hearing the comments from his closest friends, Aisuru Satoshi took a deep breath. "Gentlemen, let's keep the right attitude!" he advised as he gazed on the other core members of Lum's Stormtroopers. "Much that I can understand Ataru's attitude towards aliens and how much disruption they cause, he's tarring Lum-san with the same damned brush! We can't stand back and let that happen!"

Hearing that, the other three boys tensed before they nodded, then they moved to approach the line of Mendō Clan paramilitary troops that were blocking off the entrance of the Marchenland grounds. Just beyond that line, the landscape of destruction unleashed by Hashimoto Sei and Kumamoto Kiko was quite visible to the crowd of onlookers gathered before the security line. "Holy shit," Daremo Hiroyuki ("Kakugari") exclaimed on seeing the level of damage. "What the hell did that?"

A Kuromegane perked on seeing the four men approach, then he came over, bowing respectfully. "Gentlemen, the Young Master awaits you on the grounds. Please don't disturb Negako-sama as she continues her examination of the place where Lum-sama disappeared. Follow me."

The boys nodded, then they followed the bodyguard past the troopers, heading through the gates and down the main pathway to where Mendō Shūtarō was standing with three more Kuromegane, along with Redet Ten and Kotatsuneko. Close to where the House of Mirrors once stood was Sakurambō Sakura and her uncle Hayao, they accompanied by the two reborn light cruisers who had chased the mysterious Rū and Redet Lum onto the grounds, plus another woman who looked ominously like the equally mysterious Tariko Katabarbe, though she was dressed in a black martial arts gi with pleated hakama trousers. Noting his classmates approaching, Shūtarō walked over to join them.

"What's up?" Megane asked.

A sigh escaped the scion of Japan's richest family. "It's some sort of interdimensional breach according to Negako-sama," he quietly explained. "When Lum-san and that Rū fellow were being chased here by Sei-sama and Kiko-sama, someone — most likely Rū — opened a dimensional portal to escape through. As to where the breach ultimately leads to, not even Negako-sama can say."

The Stormtroopers looked over as the personal assassin of the Heavenly Sovereign moved to scan the still-intact floor of the House of Mirrors. Noting how similar she looked to the woman who somehow claimed to be one-half of the being born as Moroboshi Ataru, Megane crossed his arms as he peered intently at her. "Who is that woman, anyway?" he then wondered.

"Teikokukan Yonjū-kū herself," Shūtarō answered, that making the Stormtroopers gasp. "Supposedly, eleven years ago, Tariko-san was to become Negako-sama's next host. But since she moved to Yiziba, a friend of hers was able to get a separate body for Negako-sama to use, the same type of body Moroboshi was forced to use after he was separated from Tariko-san's original body..."

"Oi! Oi! Oi! We all know Tariko IS Ataru!" Megane hissed.

"Not anymore."

That was Sakura, who was coming over to join them, with Cherry accompanying her. "Sakura-sensei," Kakugari called out. "What do you mean that Tariko and Ataru are different people?"

"Moroboshi Ataru was born a boy," the school nurse and shrine maiden affirmed. "On his sixth birthday over eleven years ago, he was found by a woman from Yiziba named Ayone Katabarbe. She had lost her beloved in one of those fight scenes that rock that planet constantly, having never born his child. Thanks to Moroboshi's mother being the selfish and uncaring woman we all deep down know she is, Moroboshi elected to go with Ayone-san to live with her on Yiziba. She pre-Gifted him to become the next Tuyuki, but since most of those 'battle lines' resurrect cross-gender in the 'casting change', Moroboshi was physically transformed into a woman. Hence, Tariko Katabarbe."

"The poor child actually grew up AS a woman," Cherry added as the Stormtroopers all gaped at such a stunning revelation. "Undergoing her first blood as one, doing everything as a woman for a decade. Then she came here to find young Tsuruya Rumiko and Inu Chigaiko to have them both become metahumans. That's when someone caught her, brainwashed her, reverted her back to being Ataru..." He shook his head. "All a month before young Lum came and the Tag Race occurred."

"Not to mention changing all our memories to make us believe Moroboshi lived here all this time instead of having vanished from his home for over a decade," Sakura added.

The Stormtroopers all jolted. "That can't be true!" Shitto Kōsuke (AKA "Perm") snapped.

"It IS true," Sakura affirmed with a firm voice, making the boys stiffen. "Negako-san made use of her soulsword to clear the memory blocks from Oji-san and myself." She then chuckled as she held up an ofuda, it glowing brightly. "Even improved our magical potential considerably; there was something blocking Oji-san and myself from accessing our full powers."

Hearing that made the boys all relax. "Still, it's hard to believe..." Urayamu Akira (AKA "Chibi") mused.

"No..."

Eyes locked on Megane as he looked around. "What is it?" Shūtarō asked.

"The atmosphere of this place," the leader of the Stormtroopers noted as his eyes narrowed. "Don't you see it, guys? It's totally different from yesterday. Yesterday, everything felt..." Here, he waved his hands. "I dunno...more carefree and happy. Even all those aliens and goblins we saw in this place..."

People looked around. "Where the heck are they?" Perm wondered.

"If they were robots, they might be shut down to save energy on the weekends," Chibi proposed.

"No," Sakura affirmed. "Those were real yōma being drawn into this place from other dimensions because of the breach created by this Rū fellow who attacked Moroboshi yesterday."

"But with the breach closed...!" Shūtarō warned.

"There is still hope."

People turned as the grandmaster of Saikō Jinseijutsu-ryū approached them, accompanied by the reborn namesake of her class of light cruisers. "What do you mean, Negako-san?" Sakura asked.

"Quite simple, Sakura. Lum had her spacializer device secured in her bikini top when she was removed from this dimension." As Ten's eyes widened in delight, Negako added, "All that is required now is for Lum to use the device's inter-dimensional homing capability to restore her to her proper dimension of origin, namely our own. If she was wise — and she was that in many ways despite her gross naïveté in other realms, especially when it came to her rather amusing pursuit of Ataru as a husband — she will warp herself to her family home outside Onishuto on Uru once the chance presents itself. Sei?"

Sei perked. "Hai, Shihan-sama?"

"Go fetch Aruka Ran. Bring her here unharmed."

The adopted native of Asagiri and Nagasaki tensed. "But Negako-sama..."

"Sei, Ran suffers from the psychological aftereffects of pronounced child abuse," Negako coolly stated, that making the reborn light cruiser tense as she bolted to attention. "Despite Ataru's anger towards her because of Ran's desire to use him as a vehicle to seek her vengeance on Lum, you ARE aware of Ataru's and Tariko's stance towards treating victims of child abuse, are you not?"

That made Sei tense. "H-h-hai, Shihan-sama. Excuse me, please!"

With that, she flew off. "How is she a student of your school, Negako-sama?" Shūtarō asked.

"She is the living kami of the Imperial Navy light cruiser Sendai, hull number KJ-58, lead of her class of warship," Negako plainly answered, earning her surprised gasps from all those listening to this. "Jariten, you would be familiar with the Noukiite version of the concept, the ch'uongtechhu." As Ten's jaw dropped in stunned shock, she added, "The others who have befriended Ataru in the last two months during the time he sought to prank the school authorities in hopes of drawing out those who attacked he-and-Tariko-as-one last September so they can be destroyed are also the reborn kami of cruisers. Tariko's and Ataru's youngest sister Hinako has effectively salvaged two entire classes of destroyers from the period of the Second World War. We also have two American warships, an aircraft carrier and a missile cruiser, who have returned as what are now addressed as 'kantai musume'."

"'Fleet daughters'?" Sakura asked.

"Indeed. Tennō will also be pleased by the transformation of one other ship, one your grandfather will have much cause to remember, Shūtarō," the ninjutsu grandmaster stated, making everyone stiffen on her mentioning the Heavenly Sovereign. "Ask Gennosuke of the heavy attack aircraft carrier Yonaga. Tell him he has my clearance to reveal everything concerning that project to you."

Cherry's eyes widened. "You mean Moroboshi Kyōsuke's ship, Negako-san?"

"The same one, Hayao. Kyōsuke is alive, as are his whole crew." As the others gasped on hearing that, Negako sighed. "They are all zanryū nipponhei, though. Still under orders to attack Joint Base Pearl Harbour-Hickam as they had been ordered to do by Yamamoto Isoroku in 1941 as part of Operation Z." Ignoring the stunned looks and dropped jaws, the ninjutsu grandmaster added, "Saved by an ice-filled cove so irradiated with diamond and ruby mesonium that the crew's aging processes were retarded to near-Avalonian levels. Not to mention make the kantai musume formed of Yonaga's living kami — Itō Yoiko — potentially the most powerful of their kind." Her eyes focused on her adopted brother's now-former classmates. "Yoiko considers Ataru part of her extended family because Kyōsuke — Ataru's grand-uncle — is her junior navigation officer. I believe you may draw your conclusions as to how she will react if you continue to maintain your current attitudes towards Ataru and by extension Tariko."

That made all five boys turn especially pale as Ten audibly gulped. With that, Negako walked back to where the House of Mirrors once stood. Waiting for her there was Kumamoto Kiko, who had an amused smile on her face. "You did that on purpose, Negako-san," the reborn third of the Kuma-class light cruisers quietly mused as she watched Shūtarō and the Stormtroopers move to leave the grounds.

"It was necessary, Kiko. They do not realize it at this time, but the 'circus' that has haunted Tomobiki since October is about to end very suddenly." Here, the ninjutsu grandmaster gazed into the morning sky. "They cannot run from Reality anymore. And Ataru and Tariko will not wish to help them given past events both before and after their physical separation in April. Come November, the shielding system being created now by Elizabeth Wakefield, Tat'jána Chapáeva and Tsuruya Rumiko will be activated, closing off our part of the solar system from outside access by the powers of the Galactic Federation and their rivals. Unless the people here change their attitudes quickly, the outside world will render a most harsh judgment...and they will NOT have Lum or her peers to protect them."

The raven-haired shipgirl nodded before she crossed her arms. "Much that I don't care for destroyers, I can get DESDIV Eleven up into space to help secure the frontier. Augment it with Fukushima Mayako; she's the only one of DESDIV Twelve back. Maybe add DESDIV Nineteen, too?"

Negako considered that before nodding in approval. "If you are uncomfortable leading them, Kiko, we can have Sei command them as a reformed Third Torpedo Squadron."

Kiko nodded, grinning savagely. "That should be enough if Lum's fat oaf of a father gets uppity."

A mirthless smirk answered her. "Indeed it will..."

****

Tomobiki High School, that moment...

"...boy...boy...I have a SON...!"

Hearing the moaning complaints from the quivering mass of bleeding and bruised humanity now on the floor behind the serving line in the school cafeteria which was Fujinami Fujimi, Marubeya Momoe could only shake her head in amusement before she gazed on the just-Gifted "heir" of Hamachaya, who was enjoying a peaceful morning tea and breakfast. "You must be happy that Tariko-chan finally remembered to get you Gifted, Ryūnosuke-kun. Seeing how helpless your father is now..."

The other girls from Class 2-4, who had come to the school to check up on one of their favourite classmates, all giggled or laughed as they spared the poor fisherman/beach café owner mirthless glances before turning back to their own morning tea. "Yeah, he ain't so uppity now," Fujinami Ryūnosuke mused with a smirk as she held out one hand, allowing her ki claws to deploy to their full half-metre length. As the other girls all gasped in awe at such a sight, the Huntress of the Wild retracted her primary weapons. "Won't be putting up with that dork tiger-cow Rei anymore once Rumiko-san gets that shielding system around the school grounds set up finally. Not to mention that brat Jariten and everything else that's come along to mess up people's lives here."

"Much that I do like Ten-chan, I can agree with that," Gekasawa Kumiko noted. "Remember that one time we had to be totally silent in class when Ten-chan was doing his best to rile up all the boys?"

"Yeah! At least Lum laid into him right afterwards," Momoe noted.

Snorts of agreement escaped some of the others. "So what's it like?" Okano Yuka, the second-smartest girl in the class and a former alumnus of Eisa Girl's High School in nearby Kanagawa who had got involved in a terrorist incident the previous summer — that seeing the school closed and the students dispersed to nearby schools while reconstruction was carried out — wondered as she crossed her arms, her eyebrow arching. "Being Gifted and all that? Is it really that much of a change?"

"Nah!" Ryūnosuke affirmed with a shake of her head. "Things about being a girl make a load more sense now. Yizibajohei are transplanted Terrans in descent, so things like handling PMS and all that stuff would be a lot easier for me." As the others nodded in understanding — despite all their efforts in helping their tomboyish classmate deal with feminine hygiene and all that, Ryūnosuke's father ALWAYS found a way to butt his nose where it didn't belong, claiming that his "manly son" shouldn't have to deal with "sissy stuff" — she sipped her tea. "Not to mention believing all of Oyaji's bullshit anymore."

The other girls snickered as they spared the still-quaking Fujimi even more glances of mock pity. "Aw! Poow widdle child abusew can't keep beating up his DAUGHTEW anymowe!" Nishimura Tina crooned out in a faux-Elmer Fudd voice. As the other girls laughed, the yonsei from Sweet Valley in California smirked as she sipped her coffee; she wasn't a tea drinker by any stretch of the imagination. "Serves the fucking bastard right," she sneered out as she sat back in her chair.

"Hear, hear!" her friend Shimizu Kaho whooped.

"Mi scusi, per favore..."

Everyone perked on hearing that, then they turned...

...before they blinked on seeing the twenty-something woman standing by the entrance to the cafeteria, gazing expectantly at them. Tensing on sensing what this newcomer really was, Ryūnosuke lowered one hand out of sight so she could fast-deploy her claws in case this one was a heel. "Who are you?"

The woman with the ladies' pince-nez glasses over her brown eyes and the medium-length wavy dark brown hair combed into blunt bangs over her eyebrows politely bowed. "Mi scusi, per favore," she repeated herself in standard Italian with a mixture of Venetan and Romanesco, then switched to cutely-accented Japanese as she waved to herself. "I am Roberta Ansaldo di Bergamini, capitano di vascello della Marina Militare della Repubblica Italiana, assigned now to the Comando Congiunto di Truppe di Guerra Specializzate 'Ercole'. I'm looking for Ammiraglio Moroboshi Ataru."

That made the girls blink in confusion; fortunately for them, even if the newcomer was in civilian clothing, the omniversal translator system built into Yizibajohei battlesuits was still active for the natives to understand what the newcomer was saying. "Um...Ataru-kun is no admiral, but he's in the secretary's office right now getting withdrawn from the school," Yuka's and Kaho's best friend from childhood, Sanokura Emi, reported as she pointed in the direction of the school's main administration area. "Er...don't mind my asking this, but are you one of these 'shipgirls' we've just heard about?"

Roberta nodded. "Sì. Sono la corazzata Roma, terza della classe Littorio. I was launched on the ninth of June in 1940, commissioned into the Regia Marina on the fourteenth of June in 1942 and sunk by those bastardi Nazisti on the ninth of September in 1943." She hissed out that last part.

"Mia cara amica, I sincerely doubt that the fanciulle della flotta from Germany would ever have approved of such an act," a voice that was both familiar to the girls of Class 2-4 yet still hauntingly unfamiliar declared from nearby as footfalls heralded the arrival of that class's most (in)famous member, dressed in very stylish civilian clothes. "Given how their own esteemed predecessors were treated after the end of the Great War, of course. Benvenuto in Giappone, mio Capitano."

The girls all gushed in awe as Roberta awked before she spun around...

...then the reborn battleship's cheeks went as red as cherries as the reborn Healer of Women's Hearts walked in, immediately moving to grasp Roberta's hand to raise it to his lips in a courtly kiss...

****

Somewhere...

" DARLING NO BAKA! HOW DARE YOU KISS THAT GIRL?! "

The sizzling crackle of bio-electricity filled the air of this pocket dimension as a raging Redet Lum rammed her fists helplessly into the reflective mirrors now showing the scene at Tomobiki High School. Watching the warlord's daughter from Onishuto scream in helpless outrage at the sight of her "husband" being so passionate to another woman — and worse, said woman clearly willing to reciprocate her "husband's" passion! — the time-transplanted "magician" who "rescued" her from the Scary People watched from nearby, a depressed look on his face. Sitting beside R ū was his faithful at'ise companion, Oshima, returned to her natural form in lieu of the canine therianthropic body she used while they had been "preforming" in Tomobiki Marchenland the previous afternoon. "Master Rū, I don't think that Mistress Lum will be willing to listen to you for a while."

The effectively orphaned adolescent from the Twenty-third Century could only shudder in helpless outrage as the woman he had sought to save from such a bastard continued to scream in jealous anger at the sight of Moroboshi Ataru flirting away with that strange Italian woman...

****

Tomobiki High...

"Whoo! You go, Ataru!"

Blushing as Nishimura Tina's voice echoed over them, both Moroboshi Ataru and Roberta Ansaldo giggled before the latter reached over to tenderly kiss the former on both cheeks in a more polite manner even if her interest in the just-Gifted man was more than apparent. "I take it Donna Daniela asked you to come here?" Ataru then asked as he gave the just-arrived battleship a knowing look.

"Well, given how much your sisters were willing to help the Nove Famiglie recover from what that fool Don Timoteo did and didn't do to allow them to remain strong, it was only proper," Roberta stated as she accepted his offering his arm so they could join Ataru's now-former classmates for one last breakfast tea before he would depart the school grounds for the final time. As Fujinami Ryūnosuke moved to prepare tea for them, they took their seats close to where Okano Yuka and her close circle of friends were relaxing. "Even more so, the leaders of COMCONTRUGSE were concerned that that those maniaci del copione alieno from that Phentax Two planet would cause trouble once you were Gifted."

"I got Ayumu-chan to send them back to their home planet last night," he assured her with a calming wave of his hand before he perked, then he gazed at Ryūnosuke, his eyebrow arching. "Oh, speaking of which, how is Shinobu-san reacting to The Book of Lum, Ryūnosuke-san?"

"Vowing to rip Lum to shreds for keeping something like THAT secret from all of us! What the Hell do you think, Ataru?!" the beach café tomboy muttered before she came over with a tea service for both of them. "So you're out of this zoo finally, huh?" she then noted.

"I have a real family awaiting me on Ōmure-jima, Ryūnosuke-san. What do you think?"

The girls all gave him understanding looks. "Much that I still find it so hard to believe you've changed this much, Ataru-kun, I can't blame you for wanting out of this place," Marubeya Momoe commented before she waved her hand peacefully. "And no, I won't tell Nabiki-san about this." As supportive looks came her way, the woman voted the second-most pretty girl in Class 1-4 the previous fall rolled her eyes. "She's still too much around the bend because of what happened to Ranma-kun. I mean Kanami-chan!" she then corrected herself as her peers laughed. "By the way, did Tariko-chan do that?"

"Yes, we did," Ataru affirmed as he crossed his arms, using the plural first-person pronoun to indicate the time when he and his twin were one single soul. "And it's about time that Kanami-san DID break away from those fool parents of hers. She's much better off where she is now. And if the idiot fiancée brigade tries to chase her down where she is now, they'll be food for vampires." Save Akane-san, he mentally added. I wonder what blocked her Gifting from taking full effect...!

"Good riddance to bad rubbish," Sanokura Emi muttered. "That Shampoo girl is nothing but a menace to everyone who crosses her path. Mousse-kun is just as much a lunatic. Don't get me started on that bastard Hibiki! I still can't believe that Akane-chan doesn't realize that Hibiki's her pet piglet."

"People will believe what they choose to believe, Emi-san. Don't be surprised."

The girls all shuddered on hearing such formality come from their now-former classmate. It was still something they weren't used to...though it was a considerable improvement from the time between the aborted wedding on Uru back in April and last night when he got Gifted; before then, he always referred to his non-Gifted female peers with their family names and the basic honorific, even his "oldest friend" Miyake Shinobu. Even Redet Lum got that treatment despite all the efforts of their male peers to make Ataru "treat Lum-chan properly"; the times that he had referred to his "wife" by given name, it was with a slight sneer in the voice indicative that he did NOT really care for her whatsoever.

To believe that the warlord's daughter from Onishuto hadn't picked up on that during all this time...!

Something then beeped, which made Ataru reach into his jeans pocket to pull out his PAA, tapping the crystal control unit to make a projection appear. "What is it, Negako-san?" he asked.

"I am having Aruka Ran contact Shigaten Benten concerning Lum's abduction, Ataru," Moroboshi Negako reported from the grounds of the Marchenland. "Tariko states that she is willing to assist. Given the rather peculiar nature of how Lum was abducted by this Rū fellow, there has to be an extraterrestrial element to this whole affair. Will you be willing to assist in this manner?"

A mirthless smile crossed his face. "But of course," he stated as he reached over to grasp Roberta's hand. "With what Donna Daniela arranged after she returned to service, I'm sure that Roberta-san here will be more than enough to keep Shigaten-san and Madame Fuyujo in line while I deliver a long-needed bragging scene to that fat oaf. Let's see how HE feels when he's threatened for a change?"

All the girls listening to this whooped in delight. "That should be amusing," Negako noted...

****

The Toranoseishin Finances Tower downtown, after nightfall...

"We'll need to get a Fidelius Charm on this place, Chikage-chan."

"Be assured, Ane-kun, once our 'guests' are dealt with, it's going up," Hirosaki Chikage noted as she followed Tariko Katabarbe out of the stairwell leading onto the rooftop helicopter pad forming the crest of the fifteen-floor office tower serving as the primary operational headquarters for one of Japan's most unique banks. Already awaiting them were Aruka Ran, Moroboshi Ataru and Roberta Ansaldo, the former in her normal Terran-type civilian clothing and the latter two in their battlesuits. Of course, even if the Trickster of the Show had used her cosmic powers to remove the subtle brainwashing unleashed on the Seishin-Urusian teenager from the colony planet of Shingetsu to remove the automatic flight urge inserted into her on her fourth birthday concerning the natives of Yiziba, there was still wariness in the rose-haired teen's eyes. "We could hear Kinshō's caterwauling all the way on Promised Island."

Laughter escaped the other woman as they approached their sibling and his current companions. "Ah! Tariko-chan! Chikage-san! Konban wa," Ran stated as she politely curtseyed to the current incarnation of the Dark Heart of Pure Chaos, Nosyo'or'bem ("Dragonheart").

"Ran," Chikage coolly acknowledged with a curt nod of her head. "I hope Rei is not being his normal self and charging his way here because he's hungry."

A reassuring wave of the other woman's hands answered her. "Don't worry! Don't worry!" the native of Shingetsu assured her, recalling the previous weekend's "Ani-kun no Hi" when the arch-mage sorceress from Tōkyō came to Tomobiki to properly meet her half-brother and spend a couple days with him away from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Scotland. Seeing Chikage use something as ugly as the Cruciatus on Redet Lum to make the warlord's daughter from Uru back off and leave her "husband" be was a quite nasty object lesson...especially when Ataru's second-oldest half-sister sternly reminded Sakurambō Sakura that as an alien, Lum was under no legal protections by magical law concerning being subjected to the "unforgivable curses". And given that the eldest of Ataru's half-sisters, Sukeyama Sakuya, was the MATRIARCH of his overall family and had loudly DENOUNCED Lum's claims of marriage two weeks before...! "Rei-sama's now on patrol close to Ipraedies space."

"Good. Make sure he stays there," Chikage warned. "Negako has ordered a whole TORPEDO SQUADRON of shipgirls to patrol the Ceres orbit line this morning. No doubt, the Imperials on your planet like Rei's uncle are going to be up in arms over Lum's disappearance. They have orders to destroy ANY Urusian or allied ship without warning if they cross the orbit line into our space." An icy smile crossed her face. "And as I'm more than sure you're aware of right now..."

"You totally wrecked the Niphentaxians at the start of the month," Ran finished, her chestnut eyes glistening with delight. "That ALONE is more than enough for me, Chikage-san. Knowing that bastard Ōgi's rotting away in prison on Vos and that my diaries are safe from being snooped at really made my day!" She then gazed out on the surrounding Tomobiki cityscape. "I think I even heard some of them scream when Ayumu-sama used her Infinite Wave to send them all home."

"Would you like to see the look on Lum's face when I told her that Ayumu-chan sent them into a black hole?" Tariko teased as she gave the other girl a knowing look.

"GIMME!"

Laughter filled the air before the roar of air bike engines echoed from above and to the north. Turning, people watched as a sleek red-and-silver machine came down from the skies, its raven-haired rider driving fast to perform a "combat stop" in mid-air beside the roof edge. As soon as she did that, Shigaten Benten called out, "Yo! Ran! Moroboshi! I...AAAACK!"

The biker-babe from Bensaikyō on Fukunokami nearly leapt out of her battle bikini on seeing the Yizibajohei combat uniforms on four of the five people standing there, especially since one of them was Moroboshi Ataru himself...and another sure as hell looked like Ataru's fraternal TWIN SISTER, never mind her being in the uniform of Tuyuki! Before Benten could whip out her sash chain to defend herself, Tariko gazed knowingly at Ran. "You didn't tell her?" she wondered.

"I must have forgot," the rose-haired native of Shingetsu mock-lamented.

Tariko roared with laughter as Chikage shook her head before the latter snapped her fingers. Benten jolted as something seared right into her mind before she collapsed onto her chair; fortunately, she was well-skilled enough with her hovercycle to not tumble off her machine and fall the nearly fifty metres to the unforgiving pavement below. "What the fuck did you do to me?!" she shrilled.

"Yiziba."

The biker-babe stiffened...before confusion crossed her face. "Huh...?"

"That repeat scene is really boring," Tariko noted. "Where's Oyuki?"

"Most likely, her palace in Kōri City," Ran mused.

"Fine..."

SNAP!

And in a flash of energy, everyone vanished from Earth...

****

Thirty minutes later, in the Royal Palace of Neptune in K ōri City on Triton...

"So...your brother was cursed?"

"Yep," Tariko Katabarbe said as she stared with a slightly bored expression at her current host. After nearly scaring Oyuki out of ten years' growth — which, for a Neptunian, wasn't healthy since ten years in their count was 1,648 Earth years, almost the whole of the average lifespan of a descendant of the eighth world of Sol — it took the Trickster of the Show a minute to remove the brainwashing subjected to the crown princess of the planet when she was a child before explanations were given. While Oyuki again composed herself with the remarkable Zen-like calm she always projected to everyone, she was clearly rattled by the idea of Terrans actually becoming adopted members of the Children of the Forge.

Especially since one of them was none other than Redet Lum's very own "husband"!

And one more was said "husband's" very own twin sister!

Never mind the third of them being said "husband's" younger half-sister!

"Either Lum-chan or Darling were cursed," Aruka Ran added before sipping her tea. "The result was...shocking," she added before she gazed to one side of the room, where Moroboshi Ataru was seated with Roberta Ansaldo, the latter feeding her "admiral" some fresh tiramisù with blueberries and cherries; such had been brought along in a warp-space pocket the battleship had been taught to access by human-born adopted Yizibajohei back in her homeland in the period after the living kami of RM Roma was salvaged on the anniversary of her launching. "Fortunately, when Darling finally got Gifted thanks to his youngest sister Hinako-chan, the curse got reversed on him. Lum-chan's missing. Sakura-san and Negako-sensei both confirmed that Lum-chan was taken to another dimension."

"Can't believe that the person who stopped the metahumans in Japan at the end of your second world war is your adopted SISTER," Shigaten Benten noted as she gazed warily at Tariko. "Bet Lum didn't care for that." She then crossed her arms. "Still, I'm more than sure that Lum's the one who's cursed..." — here, she thumbed Ataru — "...'cause this husband of hers is much too STUPID to be cursed...!"

KK-KRACK!

"HEY!"

"That's simply rich coming from a woman who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn with the barn looming right in your FACE, Shigaten-san!" Ataru noted after using his small dose of cosmic powers inherited by the blood link he shared with Tariko to repeat his sister's "cinder block drop" manoeuvre on the biker-babe from Fukunokami. "Not to mention owing us a KISS from Setsubun!"

"Hell, I wouldn't kiss this lunatic even if she was the last damned woman in the whole freaking Universe," Tariko derisively added as she gazed in disgust at the moaning Benten, who clearly looked stunned at the fact that Moroboshi Ataru of all people had physically HIT her!

"Ane-kun! Ani-kun! Please! Please!" Hirosaki Chikage moderated. "Yes, Benten is sometimes a complete fool. We can acknowledge that. Can we please get on with this?"

"HEY!"

"STUPEFY!"

Benten was stunned insensate by the red bolt of energy that emitted from Chikage's index finger. Horrified at such a show of powerful magic from the teenage arch-sorceress — when she knew well that using such magic without a conduit was only possible for the most experienced of Terran magicals such as Chikage's headmaster Albus Dumbledore — Oyuki covered her mouth with her kimono sleeve to politely cough. "Well, that's easy to understand," the crown princess of Neptune noted to get the meeting back on track; she also knew that Yizibajohei as a race were rather NOT very patient people. "Still, who in Fate's name would put such a curse on Lum-chan in the first place?"

"That is what brought us here, Madame Fuyujo," Chikage noted, making Oyuki wince at the cold use of her patronymic, something that was typically NOT done in polite conversation on Triton. "Much that it would be desirable to have uncontrolled alien interactions with Terrans stopped given our people are certainly NOT ready to confront what is all out there, a missing Lum is counterproductive to that."

"What does that mean, Lady Chikage?"

"We are aware of the Imperial Round on Uru, are we not?" At the winces from the three non-Terrans in the room, Chikage smirked. "That ALONE constitutes a major threat to Earth since we KNOW that people such as Rei's uncle Yethis were the true instigators of last fall's 'invasion'. He did not realize the War Hawks had been on Earth for a decade as a response to Ane-kun's recruitment drive. They would gladly have been at the forefront of any response to an invasion had Ane-kun lost the Tag Race. Never mind the fact that Negako would have been sent to KILL Lum to deliver as harsh a message to both the Urusians and the Niphentaxians as possible to leave us be." As Lum's three closest friends all paled on hearing that, the Dark Heart of Pure Chaos smiled. "After all, what is the use of an actual invasion of any inhabited planet, especially one which is as culturally disjointed as ours?"

By then, Benten had recovered and had moved to slide closer to Ran and keep as far away from Tariko's half-sister as could be seen as polite. "Yeah, that's true," she dryly declared. "Given how much the Seifukusu and the Ipraedies would have raised Hell if Yethis and his morons did that — never mind what the Noukiites and the Zephyrites would have done given what Moroboshi's grandma did for them that got her made a Righteous Gentile and all that — it would have been a mess."

"And with nearly a THOUSAND people directly recruited by Tariko-san to become Yizibajohei, never mind the number of people THEY might have gone to recruit as well..." Oyuki mused, sending shivers through her friends' bodies on that sour note. "You hid that quite masterfully, Lady Tariko."

A shrug responded. "Don't get me wrong. If you people leave us alone, we'll leave you alone. Folks on Earth have too many of their own problems to deal with without all the garbage coming down on their heads from other planets. After all, would YOU people like it if WE dumped our problems on you?"

"Hell, no!" Benten snapped.

"I believe you made your point well, Lady Tariko," Oyuki mused as her eyes locked directly at Ran. "So who could have put a curse on Lum-chan?"

That stare instantly made the rose-haired Seishin-Urusian balk. "WHAT'S WITH THAT LOOK?!" she growled. "I'll put it to you straight! It WASN'T me! IT WASN'T ME! You got that?!"

"Of course it wasn't you," Chikage noted as she crossed her arms, she giving Ran a knowing look. "You prefer to do it up close and personal instead of long range."

"Still, can you keep it between yourself and Lum, please?" Tariko added as Ran blushed at the amused observation. "Much that I'm able to resist that empathic vampirism of yours, others aren't so blessed."

Ran blinked before she giggled at that backhanded compliment. "Still, it doesn't answer the question," Oyuki mused. "Who would curse Lum in this manner?"

Blinking, eyes locked on Ataru. "Oi, Moroboshi! What do you think?" Benten asked.

He looked over, then sighed. "Since you asked politely..." he muttered, making the Fukunokami wince as she recalled how easily it was for him to hurt her moments ago. "We can discount the Goa'uld. I didn't smell naquadah in the air around Rū or that assistant of his even if I'm more than sure that lady is an at'ise of some sort...and now that everyone of us who are Gifted in Tomobiki have their memories back, Rumiko-chan has layered a sensor net that would scream the alarm if the lar'beke even TRY to show up in town. With the kami of thirty-five cruisers reborn as first-generation battle dolls living in Tomobiki — now augmented by one VERY beautiful battleship from fair Italia, of course..." — here, he gazed in amusement at Roberta, who tittered in embarrassment at his appraising look — "...and with many other former warships of the Imperial Navy as well as our American friends returning to service as shipgirls, any fool Goa'uld that appears in town will become an instant snack for one of them."

"It's actually ironic that the Niphentaxians came to teach themselves how to properly cook a lar'beke," Roberta added before sipping her own tea, then standing to walk over with her plate of tiramisù to offer to the others. "At least they're civilized in THAT regard," she dryly added.

Ataru, Tariko and Chikage laughed. "No offence, you guys, but you're all weird!" Benten noted.

"Normal's been overrated on Yiziba for over two sagas! Don't you know that by now?!" Tariko noted.

More laughter from her countrymen. "Well, maybe Lum-chan's parents might be able to shed some light on this," Oyuki proposed before she tapped a control on a nearby console to send a signal out.

A moment later, a link was formed through the nearby Central Warp Chamber with a private residence outside the city of Onishuto. After a moment where Lum's parents Invader and Chim both panicked on seeing FOUR of They Who Must Never Be Named seated with their daughter's best friends — especially since one of them was clearly their own "son-in-law" of all people! — Tariko reached out with her cosmic powers to remove their brainwashing. Quite stunned at the actions of the Trickster of the Show, the gregarious Oni battlewagon warlord then listened as Oyuki explained the current situation. "A curse?! My little baby's been cursed?!" he demanded, eyes ablaze with fury.

"I'm afraid so," Oyuki answered. "Do you have any possible idea who could have done such a thing to Lum-cha?" she wondered, switching to the Vosian/Yehisrite equivalent of the Japanese "-chan".

"Oh, dear..." Chim noted.

"Our daughter isn't the type of person other people hold grudges against," Invader noted.

"Non-Lumite Niphentaxians, all the girls at Tomobiki High School, my sisters..."

Invader awked. "YOU WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO KNOW ABOUT THEM!"

"Too late," Tariko sing-songed. "We had a Mother of All Fight Scenes on those rimrae umale twenty-four days ago!" As Lum's parents, Benten and Oyuki cried out in shock and Ran cackled in delight, the Trickster of the Show counted off on her fingers, "Sent Lum's 'most faithful' over to the Vosians, where he's rotting in prison for the rest of his life; killed FIFTEEN MILLION of them; turned their 'secret colony' on Phentax Twelve into an ASTEROID FIELD; and WIPED OUT the 'Army of Lum'." As Invader grasped his hair in horror on realizing how much the Children of the Forge had put the hurt on the whole Galactic Federation, Tariko gazed on Chikage, wryly smiling. "Oh, that was so much FUN!"

"Indeed it was," the Dark Heart of Pure Chaos asserted.

Shuddering as he began to imagine what his superiors would say once the news of THAT got to them, Invader shuddered. He'd worry about the fallout of what happened three weeks ago later. Getting his precious baby girl back was more important. "Still, it's not possible that anyone would..."

Instantly, his mouth was clapped closed by his wife. "No, Dear! Don't even think about saying anything like 'Lum has gotten tired of her husband'!" she cried out.

"Are you INSANE?!" Invader snapped back. "Even if her good-for-nothing husband is now a Yizibajohei of all things, it's not impossible to think Lum might think of going after some other man! Don't you KNOW?! Yizibajohei can't have children with aliens! That's been that way for two thousand years!"

"IT'S A GOOD THING THAT I DIVORCED HER THEN!"

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"YOU WHAT?!"

That was all the non-Yizibajohei listening in on this conversation.

Ataru turned to gaze upon them, his eyes glowing a sickly golden colour that made Ran croak in horror, Benten scramble back as far as she could get from this man and Oyuki turn a very unhealthy shade of grey while Chim nearly buried herself in her husband's embrace, both elderly Oni shaking in sheer terror as they ALSO felt the savage empathic wave of energy from the Healer of Women's Hearts. As Tariko and Chikage both quietly enjoyed their tea and Roberta placed herself close to her admiral to ensure no sudden attacks upon his person, Ataru turned to glare intently at his would-be father-in-law. "I said I DIVORCED her!" he declared in the coldest voice anyone had ever heard from him, such making both Ran and Chim cry out. "ARE YOU DEAF AS WELL AS UNBELIEVABLY STUPID, YOU FAT FOOL?!"

Invader was sputtering in disbelief. "S-s-Son...!"

"SHUT UP!" Ataru roared, knocking over Lum's parents as Benten and Ran scrambled to high behind Oyuki. "You will LISTEN for once in your life! I have had it up to HERE..." — he indicated a level above his head — "...with your pathetic, disgusting ARROGANCE when it comes to my people! Why do you think we..." — here, he pointed to himself, then Tariko — "...have spent the last ELEVEN YEARS trying to make Earth safe from pathetic MONSTERS LIKE YOU?!" he thundered, pointing at Lum's parents before he turned to gaze in disgust at her best friends, the sneer crossing his face equalling Severus Snape's at his best. "Not to mention arrogant MONSTERS like YOU THREE IDIOTS?!"

Stunned silence fell over Oyuki's chambers as all the non-Yizibajohei stared in horror at the man they thought they knew so well...yet now realized they didn't know at all. And they knew — how, they didn't know — that what they had just heard wasn't the result of Moroboshi Ataru's Gifting...

****

Somewhere...

"Scary...! He's so scary...! Master Ataru is horrifying ...!"

Both R ū and Oshima held each other close, shivering in sheer terror as if they were caught in a typhoon thanks to what they and their "guest" just watched through the dimensional mirror that was now showing the awful scene inside the private chambers of the crown princess of Neptune. Kneeling on the deck in front of the mirror was a wide-eyed Redet Lum, her cheeks soaked with tears she started to shed the instant her young captor had told her this particular meeting was happening.

"No...! I'm NOT a monster, Darling...! I'm not...! I'm not...!"

As Lum collapsed on the deck into a sobbing heap, R ū and Oshima immediately moved to comfort...

****

Back in Oyuki's palace...

"M-m-Morob-b-boshi...!"

"DO NOT CALL ME THAT!"

Shigaten Benten squealed like a pig stabbed by a bayonet as Moroboshi Ataru glared her down. As Aruka Ran hugged Oyuki from behind, ducking her head away from the man her childhood friend claimed as a husband, the Healer of Women's Hearts turned to stare at his current shipgirl escort. "Madame Roma, my sincerest compliments to Madame Sendai," he coldly announced. "Since Madame Academician has been transmitting warning messages since midnight Tōkyō time last night about avoiding any part of the solar system inside the orbit of Ceres, there is no excuse for ANY alien ship to be inside the sphere of that orbit. ALL ships caught in that sphere from this point now are considered enemies to be DESTROYED! The Third Torpedo Squadron is to carry out that mission starting NOW!"

As the non-Yizibajohei all screamed in horror at that command, a cruel smile crossed his face as he added, "There will be no survivors of course, Captain Ansaldo." Ignoring the gasps from people listening in, he then declared, "I trust you will ensure Captain Hashimoto understands that?"

Roberta Ansaldo nodded, saluting him. "Sì, mio Ammiraglio! Mi scusi, per favore."

With a flash of teleportation energy, she left Triton. As Tariko and Chikage exchanged knowing looks, Ataru turned to gaze once more on his would-be parents-in-law, both of whom were stunned speechless that the man who had been selected as planet Earth's "defender" in the Tag Race over eight months before was now more than willing to do THAT. And it wouldn't be just ships of the Union of Uru that would be targeted by the first generation battle dolls now effectively under the command of the Healer of Women's Hearts. ALL ships belonging to any member-state of the Galactic Federation were now at risk if they were caught in what was technically seen as Terran space by treaty between the Kingdom of Neptune (and the Galactic Federation as a whole) and the United Nations (through the "Men In Black", the Special Committee on Alien Activities) agreed to decades before.

"At-at-Ataru...please! You can't DO that...!"

That was a grey-faced Oyuki, who nearly choked on her tongue as those dark eyes swept over and locked on her. "And why not, Madame Fuyujo?!" he icily asked with a smile that had NO mirth in it whatsoever, making her cringe as both Benten and Ran shook their heads in disbelief that this man was effectively declaring ALL-OUT WAR on the whole of the Galactic Federation. "We all know that delightful 'Let's slingshot around Sol' habit was developed by Urusian IMPERIALS as a way of hoping to cause our primary to go NOVA from the wrecked gravity fields! Please don't bother trying to deny it because it's actually Lum's maternal GREAT-GRANDUNCLE Colonel Seq Sivan who showed how 'harmless' it really was! The only thing that hadn't stopped this earlier was the fact that we didn't have the right sort of forces to chase ships away!" The smile slipped from his face. "Now we do."

"B-b-but...!"

"Please, Captain!" Ataru snapped as he stared at his would-be father-in-law. "Onē-san was monitoring all your THOUGHTS when you were in intensive care after Ayumu-chan put you there on our birthday! I'm fully aware of how you all REALLY feel about me! ALL of you!"

"Best damned birthday present we ever got, eh?" Tariko mused.

"Hai, Onē-san, indeed it was!"

"You two are TWINS?!"

That was a pale-faced Chim. "No, Madame Invader, Ane-kun and Ani-kun were actually ONE SINGLE PERSON named Tariko Katabarbe — or Moroboshi Tariko if you wish — even past the time she was BRAINWASHED a month before your daughter blasted her way into everyone's lives. Made to forget all her friends, transformed back into a gender state she hadn't been for ELEVEN YEARS...and then was literally served up as a SACRIFICE because you people decided to be your arrogant selves and 'protect' us from the Ipraedies and the Seifukusu!" As the jaws of everyone not of Yiziba dropped in horror, the Dark Heart of Pure Chaos added, "That state of affairs remained until the eleventh of November, almost a month after the Tag Race, when Ane-kun was tricked into eating an Urusian candy, nearly burning her mouth off and forcing her to consume a cursed cake that Venerable Sakurambō was going to burn. And voilà!" She waved to her sister, then her brother. "A split soul, even after they were reunited into one body. Remaining that way until Ayumu was so sweet to rescue them — AFTER YOU BULLIED THEM INTO AGREEING TO MARRY YOUR DAUGHTER after she LIED at the end of the TAG RACE in her claim that she and Ane-kun were MARRIED! — which saw Ane-kun Gifted as was intended all along..."

"And Darling left effectively helpless."

That was Ran, who was now staring in horror at Tariko, then at Ataru. "Which means..." the native of Shingetsu then stated as she shakily pointed at Ataru, "...Darling considers Lum-cha a GIFT THIEF!"

Metered clapping from Chikage. "Well concluded, Ran." The arch-mage turned to gaze once more at Lum's parents. "I believe you realize what we on Yiziba do to Gift thieves, don't you?"

"Look no farther than twenty-seven mini-series ago," Tariko added, crossing her arms.

Audible gulps escaped those not of Yiziba...

****

Somewhere...

"M-m-m-Master R ū...they're talking about the Mother of All Fight Scenes !"

On hearing that from Oshima, Redet Lum dropped to the deck in a dead faint!

****

Back on Triton...

"Why do you accuse my daughter of lying, Matriarch Moroboshi?"

Nodding in approval at Redet Chim's question, Hirosaki Chikage crossed her arms as she gave the older woman a knowing look. "We are aware of the one exception to the standard rule concerning what tagging an unmarried Oni-Urusian's horn buds means, are we not, Madame Invader?"

"Of course! A Tag..." Here, the older woman's voice dropped off as she stared at her husband. "A Tag Race...!" she then snarled as her whole body lit up with her own bio-electricity. "DEAR...!"

Redet Invader croaked before he was overwhelmed by the sheer force of his wife's powers, dropping him to the floor of his kitchen as his body shook from head to toe. As Chim still blasted away at him, she added, "By the way, I think I know who might have cursed Lum-cha!"

"Who?" Tariko Katabarbe asked, having pulled out a bag of popcorn to munch on what was within.

As her would-be wife's best friends stared comically at the Trickster of the Show while she gazed at her would-be mother-in-law giving her fool husband a well-deserved beat down, the older woman answered, "Well, when Lum-cha had her baby shower, we sent out invitations to everyone we felt should come to the party. One of them was sent to the Old Woman of the Oak Forest asteroid..."

"Lady Zōju?" Chikage wondered.

"Yes!" Chim calmly answered after delivering some powerful zaps to her husband. "It turns out that the invitation was lost in the mail. Oh, was she EVER so angry! She was looking forward to the party!"

"And she decided to curse Lum because of that 'insult'," Tariko concluded.

A nod answered her as Aruka Ran moaned, Shigaten Benten muttered something and Oyuki shook her head. "I'm afraid so, Madame Katabarbe!" Lum's mother apologetically affirmed with a helpless shrug.

Silence fell save for the pain moans from Lum's father. "Which means we have to call Mark-san," Moroboshi Ataru then noted, crossing his arms. "Can you do that, Chikage-chan?"

"Who is this Mark?" Oyuki wondered...

...before a soulful gonging noise echoed through the chambers, making everyone tense as a haunting and familiar funeral dirge followed, that heralding the opening of a dark space warp near the main doors. The non-Yizibajohei all screamed — with those in the chambers hugging each other for dear life — as a very tall man emerged from that darkness, dressed in what at first looked like his traditional wrestling attire as the "living heart" of World Wrestling Entertainment who had entertained MILLIONS for the previous twenty-two years. As the Texan who was the current incarnation of the Master of the Dark Gaol of the Great Crystal of Power, Ruodeuto (the "Undertaker"), slipped off his stetson hat to reveal the very youthful face of Mark Calaway, Tariko and Chikage smiled as Benten and Ran both boggled in disbelief and Oyuki covered her open mouth with her kimono sleeve.

"Something about a curse that Madame Zōju unleashed on that crazy kid you had to deal with, Tariko?" the four-time WWE Champion and three-time World Heavyweight Champion wondered.

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"Hey, Tariko! Does he give autographs?!"

That was a starry-eyed Benten. Tariko gazed at her, then she burst out laughing as Mark and Ataru shared an amused look and Chikage calmly sipped her tea...

****

Beyond the end of the "Slot" connecting Earth/Neptune and Toshitto, an hour later...

"Here you are, Calaway-sensei. It is quite the honour to have you here."

"Thank you, Your Highness," Mark Calaway said with a polite nod before sipping the freshly-roasted Noukiite uk'uo, a richer version of Terran coffee he enjoyed on odd occasions in his travels throughout the local cluster, mostly thanks to Vosian Silent Ones he encountered on Yiziba himself when he and others like him moved to keep the biosphere clear of ghosts and other such beings. "This is rare for me since I never have gone into Noukiite space, even to help the authorities deal with spiritual matters."

"Yeah, the Noukiites have their own experts," Shigaten Benten mused as she scratched the back of her head. She, Oyuki, Aruka Ran and Tariko Katabarbe were seated in the main control room of the crown princess' personal cruiser as it winged its way through the various open transport corridors into the frontier zone separating several of the Galactic Federation powers from the coreward borders of the Ipraedies Empire. Their ultimate destination, the Oak Forest Asteroid, was in a rather turbulent area of space close to Fukunokami itself; it wasn't recommended to do any sort of cosmic-level teleporting in and out of that location. "So when did this happen to you, Sensei?! On the entertainment networks, you've looked like you should have been right up to the last matches you did before now! Yet..."

"My body was effectively de-aged to the point I was when I first joined WWF when I was empowered," the native of Houston noted with a twinkle in his grey-blue eyes. "That's one of the benefits of being Gifted, Benten. High doses of mesonium does that to a person's biological functions; look no further than what happened to General Raeburn when she found the Power Jewel back in 1889 on her birthday. I just used a magical masking screen to make myself look 'normal' to the crowds since I got Gifted after my match with Shawn at WrestleMania XXVI in Arizona a couple years ago."

"Did Michaels-sensei like the idea of being retired like that?" Ran wondered.

"Shawn wanted a chance to get away from the ring for a long break, Ran. All the travelling wears people down over time, especially if you're in the top of the card like Shawn and myself." As his hosts nodded in grim understanding, the Master of the Dark Gaol sipped his uk'uo. "I'm starting to feel the need to slow down and relax a bit. Even if I have my magic, I'm no FISS-type by any stretch of the imagination. Injuries to me are just as real as they would be to normal wrestlers."

"You're contemplating ending the Streak?!" Benten demanded.

A nod answered him. "That'll come in a couple of years, I think."

"Aw...!"

"Benten! Calaway-sensei has a right to determine how his career will go," Oyuki gently scolded as she gave her friend an admonishing look. "I'm sure it will be a good performance when it does happen and he'll have a good, strong opponent to make it look all the more entertaining."

"Still..."

"Besides, it's gets boring after a bit, that sort of repeating scene," Tariko cut in, winking.

"Amen to that," Mark declared as he bumped fists with the younger woman.

Silence fell as the ship's automatic controls did the necessary course correction to stay in the set transit lane for non-Urusian craft. After a moment, Ran's eyes misted. "I can't believe Darling hates us...!"

"He doesn't hate you."

Eyes locked on Tariko. Currently, Moroboshi Ataru and Hirosaki Chikage were in a guest room along with Roberta Ansaldo, who teleported back to Triton to stay with her "admiral" while they investigated Redet Lum's disappearance. "What he hates is what you've done since you came into all our lives," the Trickster of the Show added. "You have to admit, Ran-chan, targeting us just to get at Lum was rather nasty. You're lucky you DIDN'T use that vampirism on us; it could have easily triggered our Gifting..." She then rolled her eyes. "With all the wonderful complications THAT would have caused."

"Ōgi, you mean," Benten spat out.

"Exactly. You guys ever notice that starbase self-destruct device his people buried in the town Ginza?"

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"WHAT?!" all three non-Yizibajohei shrieked.

"Hai, it's true," Tariko calmly noted before she sipped her own tea. "That's why Ataru got Ayumu-chan to use the Infinite Wave to send the idiots home last night. Thanks to a little flub-up during the Mother of All Fight Scenes on D-Day, Haruhi-chan accidentally pulled the device out of town from the morning of the twenty-third of November this year." At the questioning looks from Oyuki and Benten as Ran winced, the Trickster of the Show added, "A hundred and forty-six days from today."

"Oh, fuck...!" Benten moaned. "No wonder the governments on Earth are going ape over this!"

"We haven't really made good impressions, have we?" Oyuki noted.

"Are you guys trained first contact specialists?" Mark wondered.

All three teenagers blinked before they blushed. "Nah! Ya gotta go to galactic university to become one of those," Benten noted. "Oyuki here wouldn't need to do that since she'd have a staff of them working under her as crown princess and later queen. Lum wouldn't be that way, either."

"Indeed," Oyuki mused before sipping her tea. She then gazed upon her two metahuman guests, a curious look crossing her face. "What exactly is Gift thievery, Sensei? Much that I think I understand the concept, given how vicious your people are when that charge is made..."

"Easily explained," Mark answered. "When I die, my body is buried in the Great Crystal of Power. The organic material is recycled back into the biosphere while the spirit of the Crystal — the Conservator — holds my Gift seed until the next person who would fit being the Undertaker comes to be Gifted. It's the same for all Named. Even Nameless like Tariko's mother go through a similar process even if whatever powers they develop — and the memories of their being used — don't pass on to the next generation. Thus, when someone — like someone from another world — comes along and breaks that cycle..."

"Gift thievery," Ran finished. "It's your version of grave-robbing, you mean?"

"Yeah, that's about right," Tariko affirmed.

The non-Yizibajohei all sighed. "No wonder Moroboshi got so mad in the end," Benten muttered. "When he was part of you, Tariko, you knew deep down your destiny was to become Tuyuki. When his soul got broken away thanks to Lum and Cherry, then got his own body thanks to Infinity..."

"He was robbed of his destiny, his assurance that his life would go forward as planned," Mark finished as he gave the biker-babe from Fukunokami an approving nod. "That would upset ANYONE on Yiziba."

"Even if it really wasn't Lum's or Cherry's fault," Tariko added. As the non-Yizibajohei perked, the woman who instigated the rise of Earth's second Metahuman Age allowed a wolfish smile to cross her face. "We're still looking for the government pukes who arranged to have us 'taken home' like we were last September. You wouldn't believe what ELSE they did to make things look NORMAL to you people."

"What did they do, Tariko-chan?" Ran wondered.

"They put a ring of ebony mesonium energy crystals around the town limits," Mark explained, making the three aliens gargle in horror. "It served as a sort of two-way notice-me-not field, with enough power to create a funnel of 'safety' that would attract any alien visitor to Tomobiki itself; this would ensure that anyone who might want to attack Earth for whatever reason can be concentrated at one place to be dealt with." As Benten, Oyuki and Ran nodded in understanding, the Texan added, "No significant news which could affect people inside town from the outside world can get in. Likewise, no significant news of what happened in Tomobiki could get out to the outside world...save for the 'loud' stuff like that incident with the space taxi instigated by Megane and his friends." As Benten snorted in disgust and Ran and Oyuki moaned, the Master of the Dark Gaol added, "Doing that plugged up the ley lines that intersect at the southern reach of the Mendō estate, where a large cherry tree they call the Tarōzakura is. Because of that, all sorts of yōma got trapped in Tomobiki, affecting everyone's behaviour."

"That's one of the reasons you guys have to leave Earth," Tariko added. "If they could do that to Tomobiki, xenophobes elsewhere could do that. You won't believe the crap that came out of all our magical enclaves when Lum and her old man came along in October. It's a good thing Japan's magicals are so few on the hoof and aren't uniformly commanded; if this was America or Britain, you can lay a wager that the radical stalebloods would target Lum for death if they got the chance because she's a 'creature'." As the three non-Terrans listening to this winced, the Trickster of the Show sighed. "Like I said, we have to get our own house in order before we could come close to contacting your people."

Grim nods all around. "Aren't you mad?" Benten asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Oi! Your SOUL got split apart, Tariko! HALF of you wound up being forced to live as a BOY after you went through PUBERTY as a GIRL, remember?!" Here, the biker-babe threw up her hands, stunned that the Terran-turned-Yizibajohei reborn comedian was being so calm about this. "And even if it was some idiot government puke that did that to you, it was because of LUM, remember?!"

Tariko gazed at her, then she chuckled. "She's in my Book, Benten."

The three non-Yizibajohei blinked. "What Book?" Oyuki asked.

"I keep a record of all the people I've met to help be Gifted, right from the start of my casting drive after my sixth birthday and being adopted by Mama," Tariko answered. "I call it The Book of Pretty Girls." As Benten snickered at that title and Oyuki and Ran both hid their own knowing smirks, their reality-warping friend added, "Ayumu-chan is Entry #1...and Lum is Entry #2."

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"What happened?" Oyuki immediately demanded.

Tariko sighed. "Well, let me tell you about the Niphentaxians' dirty little secret that let us win the Mother of All Fight Scenes...and forced us to blow up Phentax Twelve along the way..."

The three non-Yizibajohei leaned in to listen...

Ten minutes later: "WE HAVE SISTERS?!"

To Be Continued...!

****

WRITER'S NOTES

Shipgirls introduced or mentioned in this part:

Capitano di Vascello Roberta Carlotta Ansaldo di Bergamini RM (Regia Marina Roma [pennant 21])
Fukushima Mayako-chūsa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Murakumo [KK-160])

Both girls listed above resemble their Kantai Collection selves.

Translation list and source language: Zanryū nipponhei — Literally "remaining Japanese soldiers", this is the term used for those holdouts who refused to lay down arms after the end of the Second World War (Japanese); Chūsa — Navy commander/Army lieutenant colonel/Air Force wing commander (Japanese); KK — Hull classification code meaning Kuchikukan ("destroyer") (Japanese); Mi scusi, per favore — Excuse me, please (Italian); Capitano di Vascello — Ship-of-the-Line Captain, Italian Navy rank title for a naval captain (Italian); RMRegia Marina, the official name of the Royal Navy of Italy from 1861-1946 (Italian); Marina Militare — Military Navy, the name of the modern Italian Navy (short-form MM) (Italian); Repubblica Italiana — Italian Republic (Italian); Comando Congiunto di Truppe di Guerra Specializzate "Ercole" — Joint Specialized Warfare Troops Command "Hercules" (short-formed as COMCONTRUGSE), the multi-service metahuman/paranormal military defence force of Italy (Italian); Ammiraglio — Admiral (Italian); Sono la corazzata Roma, terza della classe Littorio — I'm the battleship Roma, third of the Littorio-class (Italian); Bastardi Nazisti — Nazi bastards (Italian); Mia cara amica — My dear (lady) friend (Italian); Fanciulle della flotta — Daughters of the fleet (Italian); Benvenuto in Giappone, mio Capitano — Welcome to Japan, my Captain (Italian); Nove Famiglie — Nine Families, representing the Famiglia Vongola and their immediate allies as depicted in Katekyō Hitman Reborn; Maniaci del copione alieno — Alien copycat maniacs (Italian); Rimrae umale — Copycat sames (Yizibajohei).

Okano Yuka, Shimizu Kaho, Sanokura Emi and Nishimura Tina are characters from the NOëL series of dating simulation games produced by Pioneer LDC in the late 1990s. While not as famous as games such as Tokimeki Memorial, the characters of NOëL did inspire me in past fanfiction stories. Of course, Tina's coming from Sweet Valley in California (setting of the Sweet Valley High young adult novel series by Francine Pascal and her army of ghost writers) is my creation.

The "Donna Daniela" spoken of here is none other than Daniela lo Secco del Vongola, the eighth boss of the Famiglia Vongola as depicted in Katekyō Hitman Reborn. Her full family name is my creation.

In The Senior Year, it was established the average Neptunian lifespan is 1,600 to 1,800 Earth years. In more recent stories, I borrowed the patronymic system used in Iceland for Neptunian names; Fuyujo literally means "child of Fuyu". King Fuyu of Neptune first appeared in the TSY story "Oyuki's Story".

Chapter Text

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, the house south of the Moroboshi residence, Sunday, an hour after midnight...

"I do NOT want to BELIEVE this...!"

For Miyake Shinobu, what had been discovered by the group — "fleet", maybe? — of reborn cruisers just after the departure of Moroboshi Ataru and Tariko Katabarbe from Earth hours before to find out the cause of Redet Lum's disappearance the previous evening was simple proof that the presence of aliens on Earth was nothing more than a MENACE that had to be eliminated quickly.

"Believe it, Shinobu-san," Shimosuwa Tamiyo sneered as she gazed on the twelve quiet girls the physical age of her spiritual admiral now seated in the living room of the once-empty house that had been taken over by the reborn Tenryū-class light cruisers and Aoba-class heavy cruisers over the last two months. "It's a good thing that Ayumu-chan properly cleared out those copycat bastards from this town last night. Instant they heard that we're here...!" Here, she shook her head.

A shudder ran through Ataru's former girlfriend as she considered that. Much that she would personally wish that starbase self-destruct device the Urusians' primary allies had secretly planted in the Tomobiki Ginza months before was gone from Earth once and for all, problems concerning temporal paradoxes would stay that eventuality for nearly FIVE MONTHS until the morning of Labour Thanksgiving Day on Friday in the second-to-last full week of November. Still, she was grateful that the living kami of Imperial Japan's fleet of heavy and light cruisers HAD come back to "duty". With them present, the "pro-Lum" faction among her peers centred around Aisuru Satoshi and Lum's Stormtroopers wouldn't cause any issues once the aliens living in Tomobiki were finally sent home in the next few days.

"Shinobu-san, daijōbu desu no?"

That was the reborn Great Chef of the West, Syuosekuo ("Küchenchefin"), who had been born as Osamu Shirayuki to a hypnotized Moroboshi Muchi back in the winter of 1999; this effectively made her the fifth in-line to succeed her half-sister Sukeyama Sakuya as Matriarch of the Moroboshi Clan of Mutsu. Shinobu perked before she smiled as the mauve-haired teenage master chef handed her a cup of tea. "Arigatō, Shirayuki-san. I'm fine. Just...overwhelmed, I guess."

Considering that for a moment, the native of Nagoya then nodded. "Hai desu no, it is overwhelming," she admitted before she looked over at the twelve girls seated nearby.

Girls that she now had to see as half-sisters as well given their rather unique origins.

"I can't believe those dorks actually took twelve of Ataru's CLONES from that silly fight Lum-chan had with Ran-chan in March and turned them into girls!" Redet Ten muttered from nearby. He was seated atop Kotatsuneko's head even if he was slurping a beautiful kimch'i candy made by the second-youngest of Ataru's half-sisters, Aria des Beauchamps; the native of Lyon in France was the Candy Lady, Tamkuo ("Douceâtre"), whose first-self was another heroine of the Starvation Times on Yiziba after the Dawn of Power. "And made them replicas of the sisters from Colourful Kiss?! Ataru HATES that game!" He then gazed on the silver-haired girl seated nearby. "What do you think, Aria-nēya?"

Aria hummed. "Aria likes having more sisters," she admitted in her normal demure voice. "Aria hopes her new sisters will become girlfriends to the kanmusu that came to protect us all." As Tamiyo blushed, the child born in the late fall of 2002 hummed. "Aria also hopes Shinobu-san will be Gifted as well," she added as she looked at Shinobu, who blushed madly at that comment. "Even if Nii-ya is being silly and is mad at Shinobu-san because of the way Shinobu-san treated him after she was made to think Nē-ya had been in this sad place all along, Shinobu-san deserves to protect herself just like Ryūnosuke-san and all the other nice people Nē-ya found to be Gifted deserve to protect themselves."

Ten nodded. "You're right, Aria-nēya."

Shinobu awked. "Ten-chan!"

"Shinobu-san, please remember that your sister is also Gifted."

That was the perfect replica of Tariko Katabarbe herself in her normal tomboyish clothing who was walking over from where the clone-replicas of her own template were relaxing and enjoying the soft snacks Shirayuki had made for them to help jump-start their own Giftings. Gazing upon Moroboshi Hiromi, Shinobu could only sigh. Knowing this woman was the film-replica of her ex-boyfriend created by a malfunctioning camera loaned by Lum to Class 1-4 when they were doing a film on school violence — with Hiromi's very living spirit forged by the excessive ki energy that had been trapped in Tomobiki thanks to whoever had brainwashed Tariko into becoming Ataru again just before the Tag Race — she could only shudder in horror at what the poor girl must be going through. Especially given the fact that once Tariko had been allowed to get her memories back, Hiromi herself was made to remember her template's life on Yiziba; like Sakurambō Sakura and her uncle Hayao, Shinobu and her parents Toshoba and Kimiki had been totally freed of that brainwashing by Moroboshi Negako's soulsword.

Perking as she heard Miyake Kimiki's shrill voice echo through the open living room window from the Moroboshi home next door as she blasted away at Moroboshi Kinshō, Shinobu then sighed. "Hai, Hiromi-chan. Okā-san and Otō-san were just tickled pink when they learned of Saiko-chan. How soon will she, Tatsuko-chan, Tachiko-san and Nijiko-san be back here?"

"Probably tomorrow," Hiromi answered. "They were busy clearing out the Niphentaxian observers in Peru and Ecuador when the alert concerning Lum-san's disappearance went out. Since Ayumu-chan only limited her Infinite Wave to the area around Tōkyō, there still are other observers on Earth to be found and deported." Here, she winked knowingly at her other-self's former girlfriend. "One never leaves a fight scene half-finished. It's seen as very sloppy on Yiziba!"

"Hopefully, they'll be able to bring back some local shipgirls," Tamiyo noted. "Especially the battleships that were in South America. We need some heavy hitters just in case some dork alien is stupid."

"How are Sei-san and the others, Tamiyo-san?" Shinobu asked.

"Well, Wakefield-sensei's alert messages sank in right away, so travellers are giving our solar system a REAL wide birth," the reborn light cruiser affirmed as she winked at her with her good eye. "Nothing yet from the Urusian Imperials like that tiger-cow's uncle, though."

"It definitely will be coming," Hiromi noted.

Ten snorted. "Do what you gotta do, Hiromi-onēchan! Yethis is a creep!"

The adopted Yizibajohei hearing this all giggled as Shinobu shook her head. "If the bastard ain't so damned scared that he's hiding under his bunk bed on his flagship, though!" Tamiyo darkly mused.

Laughter escaped the others hearing this, even from Shinobu. "It is a good plan, though," she finally admitted. "Using the Yizibajohei's reputation for sheer all-out destruction to chase the aliens away. And since these Seifukusu and Ipraedies are just as scared of Yizibajohei as the people in the Galactic Federation like the Urusians, it keeps us relatively safe." She sipped her tea. "Maybe I should get Gifted. Ryūnosuke-kun didn't seem to change that much when she was Gifted..."

"Doesn't Shinobu-san know?"

That was Aria. "What do you mean, Aria-nēya?" Ten asked.

"Shinobu-san and Nē-ya did mushy stuff a week before Lum-san came, Ten-chan."

As Shinobu turned a dark shade of cherry while her mind recalled the morning after a certain party thrown by Marubeya Momoe, Tamiyo stared intently at her for a moment, using her own ki sight — inherited from the many martial artists who had been part of her crew over the years — to scan the younger woman. "Oh, damn! You're as pre-Gifted as Ryūnosuke herself was when Teitoku told me about his sister's plans to get the girl Gifted to keep her fool Oyaji in line!"

"Well, if you're interested in doing it now, Shinobu-san, I can get Shirayuki-chan to make Onē-san's special black forest cake," Hiromi then offered. "If this Rū fellow is monitoring things, that should send a pretty stern message to Ten-chan's cousin that all the shenanigans in this town have to stop."

Hearing that tone of support from the would-be guidance counsellor (which was Tariko's/Ataru's rôle in the class film), Shinobu felt a surge of guilt in her heart as she looked away. "Don't you all hate me...?"

A sigh escaped her. "Onii-san is QUITE angry at you for many reasons. Never mind what you promised the night before the end of the Tag Race — with you just walking away from him when Lum-san made her mistake the very next day — there was also the thing with Ogin-sempai and her friends?" As Shinobu awked on hearing Hiromi mention Mendō Shūtarō's town-wide fan club, the Rosebuds, Hiromi's eyes narrowed. "Believe it or not, Tamiyo-san and her friends have been intercepting Ogin-sempai and her friends whenever they've tried to move against Onii-san after he 'started his rebellion' in the wake of your return from Uru." Here, she made finger-quotes. "We don't want to do that. Much that I understand — as do Onē-san and Onii-san — that their behaviour before the thing with Elle-san was deplorable, if you people can't open your eyes and see Onii-san HAS changed, they're not going to be allowed to get away with bullying him anymore." As Shinobu winced, Hiromi coolly added, "Onē-san effectively sent Sadoyama and his fools from that 'torture studies group' whose help Satoshi-san and his friends gained, both with that matter concerning the space-taxi AND the issue with Elle-san, to their DEATHS! Would you like to see more people effectively disappear into the Battlezone of all places?!"

Shinobu awked, her skin turning ash grey on hearing that the monstrous bald bully that had been used to tickle-torture her former boyfriend into submission on two separate occasions was now quite DEAD. "That's how mean Yizibajohei can be, Shinobu-onēchan," Ten warned.

"They were not nice people," Aria added before sipping her tea. She thought about it before adding, "Then again, Aria thinks Nē-ya was going through post-Gifting shock. It's a sad thing, but it happens."

"What happened when you got Gifted?" Tamiyo added.

"Aria made so much candy that Jii-ya though she'd made all her friends' teeth rot, Tamiyo-san."

Hiromi sighed. "Aria-chan, why on earth do you keep calling your MAID 'Grandpa'?!"

Aria humped. "Jii-ya!"

The would-be school counsellor's shoulders slumped. "Never mind..."

****

Meanwhile, on an asteroid somewhere close to Fukunokami...

"Mark! Tariko! Chikage! Welcome! Welcome! Here, why don't you make yourselves at home...eh?!"

Zōju of the Oak Forest — no one knew her actual planet of origin, though it was known she wasn't Yizibajohei; given her elegantly tapered ears, Vosian ancestry had long been suspected — perked on seeing the man in the dark burgundy jumpsuit walk in. "Oh, dear me!" the elderly arch-mage sorceress gasped before she came over to gently draw a fingernail over the meridian lines on Moroboshi Ataru's body. As the Healer of Women's Hearts waved to stay the third of the Littorio-class battleships from taking umbrage at the sight of her admiral's personal space being violated, Tariko Katabarbe waved her three non-Yizibajohei companions over to the table in the middle of the living room of this well-protected country-style home floating on an asteroid that produced its own breathable atmosphere.

"This wasn't your fault, by the way," Mark Calaway noted as he took his own seat.

"I hope not!" the aged woman noted before she gazed intently at the Trickster of the Show, then her brother. "How in the name of the Fates did you get your SOUL split apart like that, child?! It's a clean break, not one of these horcruxes Terran magicals create that Chikage told me about!"

"Sadly, my so-called 'wife's' inability to understand that Oni food is not fit for Terrans to consume was the ultimate cause of this, Grandmother," Ataru stated as he offered his arm to his host. As Zōju cackled in delight while he walked her back over to her place at the head of the table, Roberta Ansaldo moved to remain standing and on guard by the main door. "Once Ayumu-chan saved us from being married to her a couple months ago, the Doll House pretty much took care of the rest."

"Ah! Well, at least you're Gifted!" Zōju cackled as she tapped his nose before he sat down. "I know you Yizibajohei don't care to be 'normal' at your age given how bad the natural threats are on that planet."

"Hai, true."

As the aged arch-mage's mechanical doll servant — which resembled a young and very cute boy Saeru Hinako's age — moved to serve tea and snacks, Zōju took a sip of her Noukiite spiced tea. "Well, it's so nice to have you come all this way to my little corner of the Multiverse." She gave Mark and Tariko a knowing look. "Though I suspect there's something more to this," she then added.

"Sadly so," the Master of the Dark Gaol warned. "Do you remember cursing Redet Lum of Onishuto? Redet Invader's and Seq Chim's natural-born child, not her Avalonian clone sisters Hensō or Danu?"

A contemplative hum answered him as Shigaten Benten, Aruka Ran and Oyuki shuddered as they recalled the shocking revelation Tariko had given them on their trip here from Triton. "Lum...oh, yes...!" Zōju noted. "Yes, I did curse the child shortly after she was born...!"

"YOU WHAT?!"

That was Benten, who had bolted up to her feet. "DO SIT DOWN, BENTEN!" Hirosaki Chikage barked, causing the biker-babe from Fukunokami to drop into her seat in near-terror. "My deepest apologies, Mistress Zōju. Our companions here are worried for their friend."

"More than understandable! Commendable, even!" their host stated, then she gazed on Tariko, her eyebrow arching. "Still, that curse was eliminated when your people destroyed Phentax Twelve! Don't you remember that controlling orb poor Otako had?"

The Trickster of the Show perked as her non-Yizibajohei companions stared wide-eyed at her. "That thing?! Yeah, I blasted it apart to shatter the overall controls that idiot had over the factory before we could get it off the planet! There's no way it can still be active!"

"What is this about, Lady Tariko?" Oyuki wondered.

"Allow me to explain," Zōju then moderated. "It was a rather bad time for me when young Lum was born. As I'm sure dear Chim told you already, I was looking forward to her birth; they'd just adopted young Renning Negau when her family expelled her for being a Unionist and I always liked Invader's branch of Clan Redet as a whole." As the others nodded, she took a gently pull of herbal mist from her vaporizer. "Research in various magical projects I was conducting with the mages of Vos Colony Nine was turning out more failures than successes. I was needing a break and felt that young Lum's baby shower would do it. Then I heard the shower had happened and..." She shook her head. "I snapped."

"What happened next, Grandmother?" Ran asked.

"I forged a controlling crystal to put the curse within, then sent it to the Galactic 'Curses 'R' Us' Management Organization near Sakusei," their host answered. "Tariko can tell you the next part."

Eyes locked on Tariko. "That's an organization my second-self created when she got bored one day after the Show got going in earnest," she explained, earning her a triplet of surprised looks from Redet Lum's three closest friends. "It was made as a special clearing house for people who wanted to deliver a subtle magical and metaphysical smackdown on their enemies. Made my past-selves a tonne of good coin whenever we went slumming with the norms and sames during big Casting Changes."

"I thought you guys don't use money," Benten commented.

"On Yiziba, we don't. Not on other planets," Chikage warned.

As Benten, Oyuki and Ran nodded in understanding, Tariko waved to their host. "Grandma here mailed the orb she just mentioned to the people on Lohatolemla to get the curse going, but it got lost in transit and wound up on a dump on Yūbinsei, the home planet of the Galactic Mail Service. Five years ago, it was found by a girl named Otako Meinyak; she was a convert to Ōgi's oh-so-delightful 'great awakening'." After she paused while two of Lum's "holy friends" and one of the "sinful doubters" moaned on hearing about the race of religious copycat zealots that had been the Galactic Federation's heavy military firepower until a little over three weeks ago, the Trickster of the Show said, "It possessed her. When she was made governor of Phentax Twelve two years ago, that curse ended up possessing all the colonists who weren't Avalonians. By the time we got there, the whole place was effectively full of tuor'be; there wasn't anyone 'alive' there save for the Avalonians." As Benten, Ran and Oyuki gargled on hearing the Yizibajohei word for the undead — creatures that were as potentially powerful as minor FISS-types on many occasions whenever they rose on the World of the Forge — Tariko shook her head. "Margo Black had to euthanize them all and I destroyed the controlling orb Grandma here made."

"Did you contact the people on Lohatolemla to make sure the curse was gone?" Ran wondered.

Benten snorted. "That's Ran for you!" she noted to Oyuki. "I bet you're a frequent customer!"

"OI!"

"ENOUGH!"

That was Chikage, who was giving Lum's friends a warning look. As Zōju cackled and the other girls relaxed, the Dark Heart of Pure Chaos took a breath before sipping her tea. "Once we were appraised of the nature of what was happening on Phentax Twelve by confirming Otako had the cursed orb, Ane-kun contacted Master Ibam on Lohatolemla to ascertain the status of the curse. He reported the curse had grown to such levels of power that it was effectively sentient. That is what made Margo use her necrosis power to kill the colonists while Ani-kun dealt with the controlling orb itself. Once we salvaged the factory and had all the Avalonians removed from Phentax Two, all her colonies and the fleet, the planet was destroyed to ensure that any remaining energies from the curse couldn't be passed on."

"Oh, my...!" Oyuki breathed out. "Um, Grandmother Zōju, what was the curse meant to do?"

"It was meant to deny young Lum true love."

Silence fell before Ataru sighed. "Hence, why I was targeted."

"But Darling, if the controlling orb was destroyed...!" Ran protested.

"We're dealing with an interdimensional traveller."

Eyes locked on the Undertaker. "Calaway-sensei...!" Benten breathed out.

"How can you be sure, Sensei?" Ran wondered.

"Negako and Sakura warned that Rū took Lum into another dimension, remember?"

The others hummed as they considered that point...before a buzzing noise echoed from one of two pouches on Tariko's black belt. Pulling out her PAA, she placed it on the table and tapped the crystal, allowing the image of Osamu Shirayuki to appear. "Hey, Shirayuki-chan! What's up?" the Trickster of the Show wondered as she smiled at the young chef from Nagoya.

A sigh answered her. "Well, it's about time you got out of warp space, Nē-sama! We have a problem!"

"Oh? What's that?"

The answer comes.

"SAY WHAT?!" Tariko and Ataru screamed in unison...

****

Near the planet Shingetsu ten light-years from Uru, two hours later...

"Onē-san?"

"Hai, Ataru, what is it?"

"Remind me to kill Aruka-san one of these days."

As Aruka Ran gargled on hearing that threat from Moroboshi Ataru, Tariko Katabarbe gave her a look. "You gonna make it a public or private death scene?" the Trickster of the Show casually asked.

As both Oyuki and Shigaten Benten tried not to fall onto their butts laughing at how pale their friend was becoming on such a threat from the two adopted Yizibajohei, the Healer of Women's Hearts smirked. "It should be only public to our family. INCLUDING our new siblings. Ne?" he mused.

"Oh, of course..."

"AWK!"

"You okay back there, Ran-chan?"

"I believe she comprehends the seriousness of the situation, Tariko-san," Oyuki answered as Benten reached over to drag the shuddering native of Shingetsu down the hallway connecting the sole landing pad on the asteroid of Lohatolemla to the main offices of what was also known throughout the local cluster as the Milky Way "Curses 'R' Us" Management Organization.

As Mark Calaway and Roberta Ansaldo exchanged amused looks, Hirosaki Chikage waved her siblings down. "Calm down. All we need to do is build another residence tower at Welcome House, connect it to our tower and we're all united as one family. Especially with the types of Giftings Shirayuki was able to help the girls get. Given Akira-chan's own Gift, of course..."

Both Ataru and Tariko coldly chuckled, which made Ran nearly die of an apoplectic fit. "So what's this about this game the girls are modelled on, Moroboshi?" Benten asked.

"Colourful Kiss is an adult dating sim game where the player character encounters twelve girls in a boarding house who identify as his younger sisters. All are of the same general age bracket, so they would be more half-sisters like mine turned out to be. However, because they're so different than the player character, things get very INTIMATE between the player and the sisters." As scowls crossed the other people's faces on hearing that, Ataru snorted. "Much that I don't really mind getting more real family, that Ōgi's fools went and did that to those clones they captured that day makes me wish that I had a chance to be alone with the fool before Karen-chan transported him to the Vosians for trial."

"Well, at least the girls got them out of their gestation tubes," Tariko noted before she perked on seeing the raven-haired beauty standing by the main doors leading to the administration offices. Noting the black jumpsuit with matching hooded cape, plus dark grey belt and boots and a dark grey spiral-like insignia on her chest over her cleavage, Tariko could only grin in anticipation. Noting the long shaggy yet straight black hair that went to below her hips and the cool blue-grey eyes on a face that seemed a mixture of both Hirosaki Chikage's and Kasuga Ayumu's in general expression, Ataru tried not to smile himself. "And got them some pretty decent Gifts if Otome-chan here is any indication," Tariko added.

"Fortunately, Nē-ya, the Conservator seemed to be in a good mood given how close Ran came to perpetrating Gift thievery," Tsuchidō Otome stated as she crossed her arms, she giving a sweating Ran a knowing look. As Benten and Oyuki snickered at their friend's plight, the new incarnation of the Endless One, Bakaro ("Azriel"), turned to wave the others through the doors. "I'm sure Akira-chan will be pleased to subject Ran there to a nice case of Hifuto Syndrome if asked."

Ran nearly choked on her breath at that threat; Hifuto, a deadly filovirus that seemed to love spreading among multiple humanoid species in the local cluster, was often nicknamed "leprosy with an attitude" and killed more viciously than Ebola on Earth ever could, even in near-Arctic environments. "I take it Akira has become Yatohyuo," the Master of the Dark Gaol mused with a dry chuckle.

That made the non-Yizibajohei yelp. "Isn't she a living BIOLOGICAL WEAPON?!" a pale Benten asked.

"Indeed she is, Benten," Otome mused as she opened the doors.

Once inside, everyone found themselves in an alien analogue of any normal administration office in any major city in Japan. Workers of various species were at various desks busy doing all sorts of tasks. The only thing that seemed to bind everyone together was the fact that they wore the same sort of headgear: Bandanas holding two lit candles on the sides of their heads. Of course, they also wore the same general model of uniform despite the vast differences of sentient species employed here.

Approaching the front desk, Otome called out, "Master Ibam!"

A being similar to Humpty-Dumpty from Earth fables perked before looking over, then he smiled. "Miss Tariko!" he called out loud enough for his co-workers to perk, then they turned to gaze at their ultimate employer before whoops and cheers escaped them all. Walking over to formally bow to the Trickster of the Show, the bald creature smiled as he produced a considerable-sized bag from nowhere to plant before her. As Tariko opened it up to note the various forms of alien currency there — earning her admiring whistles from Benten and Ran, not to mention an impressed nod from Oyuki — he seemed ready to break down. "I just couldn't believe it when your sisters told me that dratted curse Mistress Zōju planned for Miss Lum was still active." He then gazed at Ataru. "I trust you're alright, young man."

"Hinako-chan got me Gifted yesterday evening, which made me turn back to normal, Master Ibam," the Healer of Women's Hearts assured him, winking at the female humanoids present, all of whom tittered in embarrassment as they gazed in admiration at him. "None the less, I'm more than glad that we took notice of this. Even with my so-called 'wife' now missing — which forced us to jump-start on some things concerning Earth's defences — that we caught it now means we won't be losing money!"

Ibam nodded in determination. "Always the right attitude, sir! Come this way!"

With that, everyone headed to a side door as the other staff got back to work. "As I'm sure you ladies are now aware of, Mistress Zōju cancelled the curse when she learned about the lost delivery of the invitation to Miss Lum's baby shower seventeen seasons ago," Ibam stated as they walked down one hallway to the main elevator connecting all the floors of the structure. "We never received the controlling orb, so we listed the order made by Mistress Zōju as 'destination unknown', with the curse having never activated." By now, everyone was on the lift, it heading down. "It was only when Miss Tariko and her friends launched their attack of the Phentax system twenty-four episodes ago that the true nature of what happened that curse became apparent to us. None the less, once the battle was concluded and the controlling orb destroyed, the curse energy dissipated and the Time Management Device attached to the curse shut down. We felt the whole issue was resolved!"

"Is Rinrin-chan looking at it now?" Tariko asked.

"Yes, Miss Tariko," he affirmed. "As is one of your new sisters, Miss Mitsuki. I didn't realize your late grandmother had your father sire more children beyond the twelve you spoke of to me a storyline ago."

"Call it two very immature people who had a spat with clone guns."

As Ran awked, Ibam nodded. "I'll add them to the List, of course."

"'List'?" Oyuki wondered.

"The list of people we do NOT curse under any circumstances, Your Highness," Ibam affirmed.

"Smart thing to not do that to your boss," Mark noted, crossing his arms.

"Indeed so. Terribly bad for business. Still, I can't, for the life of me, wonder how a curse confirmed to have completely be fulfilled would reactivate again, especially with the controlling orb destroyed!"

"We think it's from a parallel dimension," the Master of the Dark Gaol reported. "One similar to our own with very similar histories if this Rū kid's actions last night indicate anything. He knew about Ataru, Lum and the general Tomobiki situation, but didn't know about things like Tariko, the sisters or the shipgirls who've come back to duty thanks in part to the Healer of Destruction or whoever discovered the place where their new bodies had been stored since the Second Great Banishment."

"I see...ah! Here, we are!"

The lift came to a stop at a landing, then everyone walked through a secure door into a darkened space; the only lights were coming from the main computer station at one side of the room, not to mention two large lit candles. Seated at the main terminal was a pretty girl with bowl-shaped short dark brown hair and deep royal blue eyes now behind special safety goggles. She was currently in her battlesuit, a dark green affair with machine part logo trimming down the sides of her body and edging the halter top of her tunic, a grey gearbox insignia on her chest and belt around her waist lined in storage pouches full of objects. Hearing the door opening, the Technological Sorceress of the East, Kamluo ("Schmiede"), looked around her chair before smiling. "Ah! Aneki! Aniki! Sensei! Chikage-chan! Otome-chan! Mark-kun! Roberta-san!" Hatoyama Rinrin called out before she scowled at the three other people who came with them before turning back to the main computer screen. "Still doing diagnostics, Sensei."

"Is it that bad?" Ibam asked as Benten, Oyuki and Ran brushed off dirt Rinrin's glare dumped on them.

"Look for yourself," the teenage genius from Ōsaka advised, tapping a control.

It instantly showed a live camera feed of a huge hourglass-like device in a high-ceiling basement, one of many that seemed to fill the sides of the screens. Said device was now glowing near-star-bright with very luminescent azure energy. Seeing that, Ibam gasped in horror, his eyes as wide as saucers. "Oh, my HEAVENS! How in the name of the First Ones did that thing become THAT powerful?!"

"Just as bad as three weeks ago?" Benten asked.

"Worse, Benten," Tariko affirmed with a snarl. "Ibam, new policy: Instant any of those time management devices shut down, they get fully recycled and new ones built. It shouldn't set back profits THAT much, but if THIS is the result of interdimensional interference...!"

The senior administrator nodded. "Of course, Miss Tariko! That will be enacted this very episode!"

"Is there some way to cancel the energy of this thing, Master Ibam?" Oyuki asked.

A shake of the head. "No, Your Highness..." He then paused. "Wait...!"

He then gazed at Tariko, which made Mark perk before he also peered at the current incarnation of the woman who set up this installation almost two millennia ago. "It's worth a try," the Texan mused.

The Trickster of the Show blinked before she hummed...

****

Departing from Lohatolemla for the Slot, an hour later...

"Well, that shouldn't have surprised us," Tanenobu Karen noted. "It was a good idea, but it's obvious that Onii-chan and Onē-chan have evolved away from feeling any sort of intimacy towards Lum-san."

The other sisters, both blood and effectively spiritual, of the Trickster of the Show and the Healer of Women's Hearts sighed as they relaxed in the main observation lounge of the borrowed Sagussan courier ship that had been salvaged from an abandoned space anchorage in the Den'sha system some light years away from Phentax Two during the Avalonian Liberation over three weeks ago; Oyuki's personal cruiser was being towed by the larger vessel back to the Sol system. As the small crew of bioroids — all of whom were veterans of the "Army of Lum" that had been freed that day by the Children of the Forge — saw to the ship's operations for the quick trip back to Earth, Osamu Shirayuki sighed as she moved to serve tea. "So what did you learn about this Rū fellow, Yotsuba-chan?"

Tariko's and Ataru's British-born sister took a breath. "Yotsuba's investigations show we're dealing with a kid around your age, Shirayuki-chan," Yotsuba Dunn, the current incarnation of the Master Interrogator, Nyuosyo'o ("Bleachtaire"), announced with a flourishing movement of her arm. "His parents are a pair of chronic game show participants who just ABANDONED the kid to his guardian Lahla-san MONTHS ago in his time period, which gave him the chance to wander around Yūbinsei." As the other teenagers in the space groaned on hearing of such an insane way of living one's life, the native of London added, "And sure enough, lo and behold, one night when he was exploring the dump..."

"He found that dimension's version of Madame Zōju's cursed control crystal," Mark Calaway finished.

"Exactly, Mark-kun! Sure enough, it pulls this Rū kid back in time to when Lum-san would have first encountered Ōgi near her family home about twelve years back. Due to the similarity between Lum-san and the kid's mother, he's attracted to her. Nothing sexual, of course, but the curse's power makes Rū want to protect Lum. Since his encounters with her were when she's having quite a carefree life..."

"The relations between Lum and Nii-ya would earn this boy's disapproval," Tsuchidō Otome finished.

"Exactly, Otome-chan! Fortunately, we've got some good news."

"Being?" Sukeyama Sakuya asked; as Matriarch, she was at the head of the table, with Hirosaki Chikage at the opposite end as Matriarch-in-Waiting, with Mark to the latter's right as honoured guest.

"Point One: The curse's power hasn't totally taken over this guy to the point where we'd consider him a tuor'be," Yotsuba stated, which made the others at the table blink before they nodded in understanding.

"Point Two: Thanks to Rū taking a considerable period of time to properly prepare his floating 'pirate ship' that the psychics of our group sensed he's now living on, lineal time is clearly frozen in this dimension, so the degrading effects of the curse will not put Lum, much less Rū or his companion Oshima under threat," then spoke up Karasawa Mitsuki. The tomboyish raven-haired and bespectacled altered clone of Ataru was the current incarnation of the Supreme Polymath, R'buoyatodo ("Excelsior"); with such a Gifting, the unofficial battle group that would form around Tariko and Ataru thanks to their siblings would gain a hyper-genius polymath the equal of any of the Circle of Thought.

"But there's a problem with that," Hatoyama Rinrin then warned with a raised finger in emphasis. "While time is frozen where Rū and Lum are now, she is still subject to the standard rules of interdimensional travel. Which means, come the twenty-ninth of June next year..."

"Lum will be automatically pulled back into our dimension," Sakuya finished.

"How did the curse energy become so powerful?" asked the effective elder sister of the clone sisters, Hano Wakaba, the current incarnation of the Fleeing Orphan, Huoro ("Runaway"), one of many on Yiziba who could break the light-speed barrier with no harm via acts like running insanely fast.

"The most likely possibility is that the energy of the controlling orb that lasted until the Twenty-third Century intermingled with the energy of the controlling orb that existed in the time period his version of Lum was pursuing her own Ataru," Mark concluded as Chikage and Otome both nodded in agreement. "The magic matched between the two controlling crystals, creating the necessary sympathetic synergy to made the total power of the curse multiply to an unprecedented degree."

"How did this brat come into OUR dimension?" Yamanobe Saki, a replica of the first Colourful Kiss characters who was the current incarnation of the Demon of the Slums, Takrobim ("Scrapper"), asked.

"Most likely, when we were attacking Phentax Twelve to destroy the curse in our dimension, some stray energy opened a portal which Rū effectively stumbled through, Saki-chan," Otome stated. "With the destruction of the curse in our dimension creating a metaphysical vacuum — never mind the level of disguise work that Nii-ya was carrying out to prevent the Niphentaxians in Tomobiki from discovering the Yizibajohei in town — Rū doesn't even suspect he's holding the wrong version of Lum."

"So what about the version of Nē-sama — or Nii-sama — that's from Rū's dimension?" Shirayuki asked.

"Well, the big change is that Obā-chama is alive and well," Yotsuba affirmed, which made all the sisters' eyes brighten. "We have counterparts there on a sort of 'standby' just in case that version of Ani-chama — who never went to Yiziba, of course since his mother wasn't so much of a bitch given that version of Obā-chama is ready to have her declared incompetent on the spot — well, if he actually decides to marry Lum. Which he doesn't want to do, of course!" the Master Interrogator added, earning her knowing snickers from the others. "Don't know about replicas of you girls, but there are Avalonians being used as auxiliary agents there, so the chances are awfully good that Lum's 'most faithful'..."

"Will have captured our analogues to study the 'great evil'," Haruhino Shizuka finished for her template's half-sister. As the Mistress of the Travel Lodge, Huokro'o ("Landlady"), she was the den mother of the Colourful Kiss replicas and effective second in command under Wakaba. "It's a pity we can't actually determine which dimension this Rū boy comes from. We could easily go into that dimension, rescue our other-selves to give that version of Ani-sama's local family to fend off his fool mother's attempts at getting him married to that Lum. And while such would effectively see the curse in that dimension fulfilled given how genetically different we are from Ani-sama..."

"Oh, forgot to mention this," Yotsuba added before she sat back in her chair. "The galactic situation is a little strange. The Zephyrites are the other big power beyond Vos and Yehisril in the local cluster. The Noukiites didn't make it into space well enough before the Urusian Imperials waltzed all over them over three centuries ago. And since that version of Obā-chama is a Righteous Gentile..."

"Any dumb move on Lum's part means excommunication," Ototachibana Kanna finished.

"So what's wrong with that?!"

That was Shigaten Benten, who was seated with Aruka Ran and Oyuki on one side as a group, kept separated from either Sakuya or Chikage by Tenhiro Haruka and Kubo Ayano. "Simple, Benten," Kanna, the current incarnation of the Stalking Photographer, Emso ("Shutter"), said as she gazed in veiled amusement at the biker-babe from Fukunokami. "Spelled sideways, 'excommunication' means execution!" As the non-Yizibajohei yelped in shock, the replica of the eighth of the Colourful Kiss characters smirked. "Turns out that the Holy Inquisition there is the equal of Yehisril's Imperial Corps of Executioners. You can probably guess how that version of Obā-sama would have viewed the stunt that version of you pulled when Onii-sama's other 'fiancée' came by to claim her 'Honey'."

"Oh, Yotsuba knows what happened, Kanna-chan!"

"Tell us, Yotsuba-chan!" Itō Mamoru demanded.

"Remember the Sunin?" the London-born sister asked. As the other sisters nodded — the transformed clones had been allowed to telepathically probe into Tariko's memories to get caught up on the last couple of months when they had been in storage in gestation tubes somewhere in Tomobiki — the Master Interrogator declared, "When that Obā-chama learned of Ani-chama being bullied into marrying Lum, she sent the Sunin to Onishuto to stomp everyone into the healer's cockpit, then transport Ani-chama back to Earth. He got a whole MONTH away from the dork squad in Tomobiki as a result." She then shook her head. "Hell, if that version of Obā-chama was smart, she should have made her grandson totally disappear, then force the Urusians back to their home system at gunpoint!"

"Well, our version of Obā-chan died of aftereffects from the Bornai Fever, so if that version of Obā-chan lost her husband in the same way ours did, she's probably not thinking straight," Karen noted.

That made Redet Lum's friends perk. "Your grandmother was Vosian?" Oyuki asked.

"Part-Vosian," Sakuya answered. "All she had by the time her generation was born was the extended lifespan. It didn't pass on to Otō-sama or Oji-sama."

"What happened to your grandfather?" Ran wondered.

"He was a kamikaze pilot," Yotsuba declared, making the aliens seated with them all wince. "Didn't immolate himself on an American ship during Big Fight Scene Mark Two, but felt so guilty that he didn't join his mates in Yasukuni, he took his life after Otō-chama was born."

Winces answered that. "Damn...!" Benten breathed out.

"Our deepest condolences at your loss, ladies," Oyuki said as she bowed her eyes. "So, is there any hope whatsoever about getting Lum-chan back before next summer on Earth? I don't want to risk her materializing in deep space due to galactic movement that day."

"Yotsuba-chan, didn't Lum-san try to use her spacializer to try to get out of there?" Eigo Kaho asked.

"She's tried it three times when the kid and the raccoon weren't looking. No go," the Londoner answered the native of Kyōto who was the third-youngest of Ataru's and Tariko's half-sisters and the current incarnation of the Maiden of the Parade, Tyuohuo Nokuoti ("Baton Dancer").

A groan escaped Ran as Benten slapped the table hard. "Shit!" the latter snapped.

"Couldn't Lady Ayumu or Lady Haruhi help?" Oyuki pleaded.

"With an INFINITY of potential dimensions to look through?" Tariko wondered, making the crown princess of Neptune wince. "Much that I want Lum to be safe as well, Oyuki, I'm sorry to say that Ayumu-chan and Haruhi-chan do have some control issues. It's like using an annihilation bomb to clear out a nest of hornets buzzing around a house. If we DID know where Lum was, sending either of them there could see her KILLED if Ayumu-chan and Haruhi-chan were off their game."

The non-Yizibajohei winced. "Could Danu-chan and Hensō-chan help?" Ran asked.

"Fear of 'they who must never be named'," the Undertaker warned. "Furthermore, Lum doesn't know about them and wouldn't trust them since they're clones effectively created by Ōgi in the long term."

Benten spat out, "Fuck...!"

"What about Lahla-san?"

Eyes locked on Shizuka for a moment, then eyes brightened. "Checky!" Yotsuba declared. "If Rū's from the Twenty-third Century — and from what we saw, the Galactic Federation had expanded big-time by then — the chances are good that Lahla-sensei would have come back in time to prevent a temporal paradox! She'd probably know what this kid's inner thoughts are really like."

"Agreed! Even if we sensed a lot, it was still surface impressions," Karen noted.

"So there's hope?" Ran wondered.

"Yes, Ran. As long as there is life, there is hope," Chikage affirmed before she sipped her tea, then she gazed knowingly at Lum's oldest friend. "Be assured, no matter what, Lum will come back for you to personally torture to your heart's content, one way or another."

The other sisters all laughed as the native of Shingetsu blushed madly at that observation by the teen arch-mage from Tōkyō. "So what should we do in the meantime?" Oyuki asked.

"Go home," the Dark Heart of Pure Chaos declared. "Take Lum's things and head back to your home planets. Have Ten stay with Lum's parents; I'm sure that his presence there will reassure them as much as it will protect Ten from his mother. Until we're assured by word and deed that fools like Ran's would-be uncle-in-law won't provoke us, we'll maintain a guarded stance against alien intrusion. We need to lull this Rū fellow into a false sense of security. Once his guard is down, we stand a better hope of getting Lum back safe and sound, plus see that curse finally done away with."

Benten, Oyuki and Ran took that in before they nodded. "I supposed that we have no choice," the crown princess of Neptune mused before a sad sigh escaped her. "Much that I can understand Ataru's anger at us now — which makes it impossible to force him to be the point to rescue Lum-chan since he blames her for how his life was shaken up so badly since before she came into it — we do want Lum-chan back safe and sound. Since Lady Tariko sees her as just a friend..."

Winces echoed from her old classmates. Ataru had departed from Lohatolemla via direct teleportation to Earth, accompanied by Roberta Ansaldo. He hadn't bade farewell to his "wife's" best friends in doing so in echo of his vicious outburst on all of them hours earlier back on Triton. That had hurt all three girls deeply. "What about Megane and his nerds?" Benten then wondered. "Mendō, maybe?"

"Do you want those boys to be killed the instant Lum's back?"

That was Mark, who was gazing intently at them. "What does that mean, Sensei?" Ran wondered.

The Master of the Dark Gaol took a deep breath...

****

Tomobiki, dawn...

"You know, even with all the problems you've got, you sure have a pretty planet."

Tariko Katabarbe chuckled as she squeezed Shigaten Benten's shoulder. "Don't knock your planets down, Benten. Fukunokami's a pretty happening place. A calmer version of the big villages on Yiziba."

Hearing that from one of the most infamous of "they who must never be named", the biker-babe from Bensaikyō blushed as she reached over to squeeze Tariko's hand in turn. "Er...um, hey, Tariko..."

A sigh answered her. "Want some advice?"

Benten nodded. "Un..."

"Don't pursue Ataru."

A stricken look crossed the raven-haired woman's face. "But...!"

"Benten, neither Ataru nor I are that person we were made to become before Lum came into our lives," Tariko soothed as she shifted Benten into a comforting embrace. "I know it hurts you as much as it hurt Lum, but we've matured a lot since before we ran into Elle. Life has to go on no matter what other people desire, you know." She leaned up to kiss the biker-babe's forehead, making Benten shudder. "Besides, how the hell could either Ataru or I measure up to a guy like Nassur, huh?"

Benten yelped on hearing the name of the legendary independent bounty hunter from Vos now based on an asteroid not far from Sakusei Station and Lohatolemla that was now simply designated "Home Base". Said hunter was the second child of Admiral Ninsur and Commander Hunba, leaders of the three decade-long civil war against the "president-for-life" of the "People's Confederation of Vos", known to the galaxy at large by the battle name "Mikado". While marrying a man like Nassur had been a dream of hers for years, he was married to the surviving child of the late leader of the long-destroyed Vos Colony Seventy-one, Cinba; both had two sons, Akisur and Hamasur. While Akisur was Benten's age, he fell in love with a Zeiwanite woman named Ayara of Kutzei; such was confirmed by recognition, the Vosian telekinetically-based power that would have someone's soul lock in on a perfect mate. Hamasur was only five, having been born after a "kind angel" — remembering that phrase, Benten suspected Kasuga Ayumu, the current incarnation of the Goddess Who Walks Among Men, Nodim ("Infinity") — saved the heavily-pregnant Cinba from an accident when she had been travelling to Uru on business.

"Can't blame a girl for dreaming," Benten then admitted before leaning up.

The kiss that followed was deep and wanting, which definitely confirmed that despite her growing up as a girl, Tariko had definitely been born as a boy. Then remembering that Yizibajohei women had to become bisexual by effective default given the males on that planet were more often driven to engage in fight scenes than pillow scenes, Benten sighed as she pulled away from the other woman. "Owed you that at least," she huskily declared as she gazed deep into Tariko's eyes.

A gentle cough then made both girls jolt before they turned around.

"Please forgive me for interrupting your private time with Shigaten-dono, Tariko-san," the sheer colossus of a woman in the green traditional battlesuit with the grey belt and boots declared with an amused smile as her stormy grey eyes flashed with amusement. "However, the deadline for the departure of young Ten and Aruka-dono is fast approaching. Tennō's wishes are driving the self-serving fools in the Diet to trip over themselves to see the aliens banished from this land."

Tariko sighed as Benten took a moment to give the newcomer — who was as tall as Redet Lum's father Invader or Aruka Ran's would-be husband Seq Rei when he was in his ushitora body — a detailed look over. Roughly thirty years old, weathered face framed in long raven hair shot with grey and silver, eyes of a bird of prey, a well-muscled yet still beautiful body under those clothes, a golden ship's wheel-like symbol Benten recognized as being Buddhist topped with the kanji 代永 in black. "'Yonaga'?" she then read before gazing a question at the Trickster of the Show. "A shipgirl, I'd assume..."

"She was my granduncle Kyōsuke's home ship," Tariko provided while she waved to the newcomer. "She and her crew got stuck in the very sea cove where the Dúma Gamájuna are based in northeast Siberia back in 1941 thanks to an earthquake, long before she could join the rest of the Kidō Butai on the hit on Pearl Harbour." As Benten gaped before she stared wide-eyed at the newcomer, Tariko added, "Her crew are all alive thanks to the mesonium in the cove, including Ō'oji-chan..."

"And still under orders in Tennō's Name to attack Pearl Harbour...though my admiral is interpreting things rather liberally given the change of affairs," the newcomer declared. "It is good that you just admitted your feelings for Tariko-san, Shigaten-dono. It proves to me that you would be more than worthy to become one of the Children of the Forge. Underneath that bōsōzoku exterior of yours beats the heart of a true samurai. Or whatever equivalent of same exists on your planet, of course."

Benten's cheeks turned as red as cherries. "Damn! I never thought I'd be compared to a Yehisrite of all people with words like that!" she confessed, scratching the back of her head in embarrassment.

The fifth of the Yamato-class and the seventh carrier of Operation Z allowed her eyebrow to arch in clear amusement. "Indeed, I would desire to meet a warrior of the noble Royal Kingdoms. From what I've heard of them since my transformation and Gifting back at the start of April, they are true samurai in heart as we would see them here in Japan. Especially these law enforcement officials of theirs. Even if they call themselves 'executioners', their hunting skills are truly first-rate."

"They swear themselves to the goddess of justice and the law on that planet, Yoiko," Tariko warned. "Which means that no matter what time it happens, when it comes time for a heel's death scene..."

"It is done," Itō Yoiko finished before she perked, then looked over as the faint whistling sound of a young man flying towards them echoed in the air. "Ah, Little One! Are you ready to return home?"

"Hai, hai!" Redet Ten declared as he flew as fast as he could from the veranda of Moroboshi Ataru's bedroom to join his cousin's best friend and would-be "husband" on the roof. Stopping to gaze intently at the seventh carrier of Operation Z, the firefighter's son from Onishuto could only gasp, his own imagination drawing up the image of THG Yonaga as had been described to him by Saeru Hinako; the current incarnation of the Living Spirit of Innocence, Lomroer'bem ("Suiki") had teleported herself from Welcome House on Ōmure-jima to help with packing Ten's and Lum's belongings, having not gone on the trip to Lohatolemla with her other sisters. "Um, Yoiko-onēchan, how soon will Tariko-onēchan's granduncle and the rest of your crew be able to come back home? They have to have family still..."

"When they are ready to confront and accept in their hearts and souls how much the Home Islands have changed since the day Shōwa Tennō bade all to endure the unendurable and suffer what is insufferable in the Twentieth Year of His Reign, young man," Yoiko bade as she reached over to gently squeeze his shoulder, making the young Urusian tense as he felt a small fraction of the transformed aircraft carrier's immense power flood him. "Now, listen closely, Little One," she then bade as she knelt to gaze directly into his eyes. "Your duty now is to your suffering uncle and aunt. Much that I realize fidelity to one's parents is always the primary thing, your mother's grief-induced madness at the loss of your father to the wrath of your version of Kagutsuchi-sama is a direct threat to your own person. Until we find your errant cousin and return her safely to her family's hearth, you must be there for them." Her eyes narrowed. "You must be a mature young man to do this duty, young Ten."

Hearing that, Ten stiffened as he lifted his arm in a Terran fingertip-to-eyebrow hand salute. "Hai!"

Yoiko nodded as she rose to her full 220 centimetre height, solemnly returning that salute...

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! YOU CAN'T LEAVE!"

Everyone awked on hearing the shrill voice of Tariko's birth mother, then Yoiko snarled as she lunged down towards the veranda, catching the edge of the roof with one hand to twist herself around and fling the metaphysical mass of an 86,010 tonne heavy armoured attack aircraft carrier right into the gut of Moroboshi Kinshō. Fortunately for the older woman, Yoiko was skilled enough to pull such a deadly kick from unleashing all its force on a human body. Still, the blow was enough to send the poor woman through the closed door of her errant son's bedroom and the wall separating the hallway from the guest bedroom; the force was enough to nearly bury Kinshō right into the far wall, knocking out some of the outer wood panelling. As early morning joggers passing by the house paused to see that before shaking their heads — they marked time where they were to see what was going on, even if the sight of Shigaten Benten's air bike now having Redet Ten's small duck-shaped star boat chained to the aft end spoke volumes — they then tensed on hearing heavy footfalls literally SHAKE the Moroboshi home.

Sure enough, the seventh carrier of Operation Z didn't disappoint them.

"YOU INSUFFERABLE, SELFISH, TRAITOROUS YŪJO!" Yoiko shrilled with the same sharp voice a drill petty officer at Eta-jima would have used. "BY ALL RIGHTS, I SHOULD BEHEAD YOU RIGHT HERE AND NOW FOR YOUR TOTAL FAILURE TO REALIZE THE TRUE NATURE OF THE THREAT THE ALIENS PRESENTED TO OUR PLANET, THEN FOUND SOME WAY TO RETURN YOUR DAUGHTER'S MEMORIES SO SHE COULD BE GIFTED AND CHASE THE ALIENS OFF EARTH!"

As the growing crowds outside all gaped on hearing that bellowed statement from the transformed fifth of the Yamato-class, Benten herself leapt down to the veranda, then looked in before whistling in awe at such power. "Man! Remind me to never get you mad at me, Captain Yoiko!"

Yoiko looked over her shoulder as footfalls echoed from the main floor announcing the arrival of another shipgirl, an older teenager who seemed only to stand up to the level of the transformed carrier's bust, with long dark brown hair and chestnut eyes behind goggles. Like the seventh carrier of Operation Z, the fourth of the Takao-class cruisers was in her battlesuit, though such was a modern sleeveless halter-top design, with a blue top, white pants, gold belt and boots and the symbol over her chest being a flock of birds swarming over heraldic water, the black kanji 鳥海 bordered in gold over that. "I see I'm in time to witness the public shaming of this yūjo, Yoiko-san. Do you need any assistance?"

"No, Chiyo-san, but such a kind offer is quite appreciated," Yoiko declared as she gazed in amusement at Hōjō Chiyo, the transformed and salvaged THG Chōkai that had been effectively lost with all hands at Leyte Gulf. She then perked on hearing the footfalls of a certain cat ghost coming up the stairs. "Ah, Kotatsuneko-san, there you are! Are you here to say good-bye to young Ten?"

The giant living spirit of a mi-ke cat who died in the early Meiji years from the cold nodded before he glared at the dazed Kinshō, who had collapsed to the floor after nearly getting her spinal column crushed from Yoiko's double-foot flying kick. The sound of Ten flying in then made Kotatsuneko turn before he walked over to warmly embrace the young man. "I'll miss you, Kota-chan," the firefighter's son declared as Kotatsuneko reached up to rub his hair. "You make sure you make a lot of good tea for Chiyo-onēchan and her sisters and friends. And Yoiko-onēchan and Kyōsuke-ō'ojichan when they and their friends all come home finally, okay? They've got to be COLD all the way up in Siberia, after all!"

Yoiko chuckled as Kotatsuneko stepped back, putting his paw over his heart as he nodded in promise. "Ah, they'll be alright, Jariten!" Benten stated, waving him down. "If they've been up in that place for over SEVENTY years, they actually might find Japan too WARM for their tastes!"

Yoiko roared with laughter as Chiyo giggled. Gazing at the beautiful cruiser, Benten then hummed. "Something tells me Ataru's going for the brainy girls to make up his personal 'fleet'," she leered.

Chiyo awked in embarrassment as Yoiko nodded. "Benten-san!" the cruiser scolded.

"Well, at least Ataru's got good taste!" Ten asserted.

"Hey! Stop talking about all this mushy stuff!"

Everyone jolted on sensing a wave of annoyance escape the seven-year old cosmic empath seated at her bro-bro's old work desk. "Ah, we're just razzing Captain Chiyo there, Hinako!" Benten assured her.

"You...can't...leave...!"

Hearing that moan from the selfish bitch who could have stopped a lot of things with the proper words in the right places, Benten scowled. "You guys mind if I cut in here for a sec'?" she then snarled.

"Please entertain yourself, Shigaten-dono," Yoiko bade.

Marching into the guest bedroom, Benten drew off her sash chain, then whipped it hard to wrap around the older woman's body before she flung Kinshō into another wall, making an impressive dent. "YOU FUCKING BITCH!" the biker-babe from Fukunokami snapped as she drew back her chain, allowing the older woman to crash again onto the floor of the guest bedroom. "WHAT THE FUCK IS THE DAMNED MATTER WITH YOU, HUH?! COULDN'T YOU ACCEPT THAT YOUR DAUGHTER WAS LIVING A GOOD LIFE ON YIZIBA AND DOING A TONNE OF GOOD HERE ON EARTH?! HOW MANY TIMES DID I HEAR YOU SAY 'I WISH I NEVER HAD HIM' SINCE LUM CAME TO THIS SHITHOLE, HUH?!"

The bruised mass of humanity on the floor shuddered. "Benten...!"

"Shut the fuck up!" Benten snarled. "Where the fuck is that useless husband of yours anyway?!"

"He went to work early to do overtime," Tariko answered from her old bedroom.

"Feh! Figures that coward would run away!" the other woman snapped, making Kinshō gargle in horror as the REAL attitudes of her would-be daughter-in-law's best friend were smashed right into her face with the force of a raging typhoon. "You have any fucking idea what sort of SHIT you helped cause in this town 'cause you were too greedy to steal your daughter's inheritance, you...?!"

"I HAVE AN IDIOT SON...!"

"MORON!" Benten screamed hard, knocking the older woman down. "THAT SURE AS HELL DON'T LOOK LIKE ANY BOY TO ME!" she snapped as she pointed at the Trickster of the Show.

As Kinshō sputtered in disbelief on noting that the younger woman wasn't bending to her viewpoint, Benten smirked. "You know about Megane and his nerds? Betcha DIDN'T know they have death marks on their heads right now thanks to that shit with the space-taxi last fall after the Tag Race! All courtesy of the same religious nut jobs who took down those skyscrapers in your world capital city eleven years ago, plus tried to take out that defence complex that was in that regional capital city nearby!" Ignoring the shocked gasps from people outside listening to this as Tariko's mother turned especially pale on realizing that MANY in Tomobiki would be speaking about such things come evening, the biker-babe from Bensaikyō added, "Even worse, knowing those pukes, they'd probably bring in some SUITCASE NUKE to kill off ALL of Lum's so-called 'most faithful' here in town! Don't you realize there's already a STARBASE SELF-DESTRUCT DEVICE buried downtown here thanks to Ōgi and his morons?! One that Tariko and her friends CAN'T move out of here for FIVE WHOLE MONTHS?!"

Shrieks and screams of terror echoed from the growing crowd outside the Moroboshi home, which made Kinshō gargle as she realized they would all blame this state of affairs on HER. "But NO!" Benten jeered. "All because you didn't make a fucking good impression on your MOTHER-IN-LAW...!"

"THAT COW!"

KK-KRACK!

Everyone yelped after Yoiko backhanded the loudmouthed fool into the wall again. "Do be silent, Yamaguchi-san!" the seventh carrier of Operation Z snapped as the poor woman dropped once more to the floor while running footfalls heralded the arrival of some of the people who had gathered outside, all of whom had a mix of panicked and outraged looks on their faces. "That is certainly NOT the way to properly address a PEER OF THE REALM whose married a direct descendant of Shōtoku Tennō herself!" As the newcomers all gasped in shock while some spun around to stare wide-eyed at Tariko and Hinako, Yoiko spat on the floor next to Kinshō. "Be assured that we kantai musume will protect the innocents of this sad town from any maniac who might want to seek just vengeance against you and those lunatic otaku calling themselves Redet-dono's 'stormtroopers'..."

"Like al-Qā'idah!" Tariko then teased.

The crowds in the upper floor and on the stairs howled in horror on realizing what could soon happen to them. One person, one of Tomobiki's ward aldermen, turned to stare hopefully at the Trickster of the Show. "Y-y-you can pr-pr-protect us, w-w-won't you, At-at...!"

KK-KRACK!

Cinder block to the head! "Talking to the wrong person, moron!" Tariko snapped.

As people winced, Benten laughed. "Oh, you don't know, eh?"

"Know what, Shigaten-dono?" Yoiko asked.

"Old saying on Yiziba, Captain Yoiko," the biker-babe from Fukunokami declared. As the people who could see her directly gazed her way, she then screamed, "'IT AIN'T MY FIGHT SCENE!'"

The seventh carrier of Operation Z nodded sagely as people paled, the dire implications of what Lum's best friend just stated sinking in hard and fast. "Indeed, given the shoddy way almost ALL in this town treated Katabarbe-dono when she was trapped here helpless and separated from her friends, I cannot blame neither her nor her brother for wanting to have ANYTHING to do with Tomobiki-chō EVER AGAIN!" Ignoring a couple of people who began to sob at the fact that the effective "lightning rod" of weirdness that had been in Tomobiki for well over a half-year was NOT going to be around anymore to save people from whatever cursed fate might befall them, Yoiko crossed her arms. "Be THANKFUL at least that we veterans of the Imperial Navy are here to see to your safety! I will NOT see my junior navigation officer's GRANDNEPHEW nor his GRANDNIECES treated as if they were burakumin because too many fools here can't be bothered to use the BRAINS the sacred Kami gave them at...!"

"Hey! Who are you?!"

Tariko perked, then she snapped her fingers, teleporting herself, Hinako, Benten, Ten, Yoiko and Chiyo to the living room. Now there was a virtual TWIN SISTER of the Trickster of the Show, though she was in normal civilian clothes; she was currently depositing a considerable number of papers and envelopes on the living room table. "Ah! Hiromi-onētama!" Hinako cheered as she walked over to warmly embrace the film clone of her elder sister "born" several months before from behind.

People seeing this blinked. "Who's she?" one elderly woman then hesitantly asked Tariko.

"My replica from that school project back in March, where Lum loaned a camera that ended up making literal CLONES of all the actors!" the Trickster of the Show answered as Moroboshi Hiromi smiled politely at them. "I was able to find her kami and get her a new body so she could live her life." She then gazed on the would-be guidance counsellor. "Sakuya just dropped the hammer, eh?"

"Hai, Onē-san," Hiromi affirmed before she whipped out the sign marked 諸星: 無知, 金賞, あたる that had hung by the main gate. "Ten-chan, would you be a dear and destroy this, please?"

"Hai!"

A blast of flame later, said sign was now smouldering ashes on the floor. Ignoring the potential fire hazard, Hiromi faced the crowd. "As of now, by order of the Matriarch of the Moroboshi Clan of Mutsu-no-kuni, Moroboshi Muchi-san and Yamaguchi Kinshō-san are expelled from the clan due to grievous harm they brought by their actions and inaction towards their child, my template and elder sister Moroboshi Tariko. Thanks to a law passed by the National Diet in camera — done at the request of our Revered Cousin, Tennō Himself — when Onē-san moved to Yiziba in the spring of 2001, both souls born of her are seen as EMANCIPATED MINORS under Japanese law. On behalf of the Matriarch and all TRUE members of the Clan, I humbly apologize to you all for the disruptions that came due to the false 'marriage' between Onē-san and Redet Lum-san, those that Onē-san — despite the mental instability she suffered due to acute memory loss imposed on her at Yamaguchi-san's request by parties unknown — were directly responsible for." Her eyes narrowed. "We will NOT accept any responsibility for anything our visitors from afar unleashed, though," she added with steel in her voice. "Do not expect Onii-san to serve as your resident court jester anymore." With that, she moved to step out of the house, with people getting out of her way out of fear that she would be as empowered as her sister was. Pausing at the portal, she gazed over her shoulder. "Deal with your own problems from now on!"

With that, she walked out into the morning air. "Just like her brother left this town," Benten stated as she glared at the locals. "No good-bye since Ataru thought that NONE of you selfish ass-wipes DESERVED a good-bye!" As people jolted on hearing that flat statement, the biker-babe from Fukunokami gazed down at her best friend's cousin. "C'mon, Jariten. Let's get going!"

"Hai!" Ten said as they headed out the door to get to their air cycles.

As the locals watched them go, Tariko took Hinako in hand and teleported out. "All of you, leave now," Yoiko then coldly ordered. "I'm sure Yamaguchi-san will do the HONOURABLE thing given her treason against Tennō! We should leave the traitorous yūjo to her well-deserved fate!"

People warily gazed on the transformed aircraft carrier...

****

Minutes later...

Three contrails of impulse engines moving to propel their host ships out of Earth's gravity well cut through the morning sky over metropolitan Tōkyō. On the ground from where they launched, people could only gape in awe as Oyuki's personal yacht (which was towing Redet Lum's own scoutship that had been in stationary orbit over the Moroboshi home), Aruka Ran's own scoutship/mobile home and Shigaten Benten's air bike (towing Redet Ten's star boat) raced into the high atmosphere.

On the ground by the Moroboshi home, people ignored the pained sobs from Moroboshi Kinshō as they watched the small procession of alien vessels depart Earth for good. Standing in the midst of a small formation of cruisers as they stood ready to race into orbit just in case some fool changed her mind, Itō Yoiko grimly nodded, glad that the living relatives of her junior navigation officer wouldn't have to put up to ANY of the fool alien maniacs with their warped worldviews and asteroid showers' worth of issues...!

"Oi! Big Y!"

Hearing that flat Yankee accent flecked with southern California, the seventh carrier of Operation Z perked before she looked to the nearby street intersection, where a wryly-amused woman of about the same physical age as Hōjō Chiyo now stood, dressed in a more traditional battlesuit with a stadium ring-shaped badge denoting her as a reborn warship of the United States Navy. "Maintain watch, Chōkai-dono," Yoiko then bade as she headed over to join the first American ship made a shipgirl.

"Hai!" the former flagship of the Eighth Fleet affirmed.

The other cruisers watched the once-lost fifth of the Yamato-class approach the first ever nuclear-powered surface warship to be built, the former USS Long Beach that now lived under the name Naomi Haight-Ashbury, though none moved to follow. Once Yoiko came up to her, the adopted native of her namesake city in California and Quincy in Massachusetts (where she had been built) nodded down a side street. As the older shipgirl moved to follow, the Cosmic All-Seer warned, "This ain't right, Yoiko."

The taller woman tensed. "What do you mean, Naomi-san?"

"This shouldn't have happened this way."

Here, Naomi nodded down the street a ways. Yoiko turned to look before her eyes narrowed on seeing the lavender-haired woman with the clearly ALIEN ki aura barely hiding herself as she watched the procession of alien vessels now disappearing into the early morning sky overhead.

"I see...!" the adopted native of Maizuru trilled...

To Be Continued...!

****

WRITER'S NOTES

As noted above, Colourful Kiss is a hentai dating simulation game produced in 2003 by the GIGA group in answer to Sister Princess, using the "not a sister" theme that exists in SisPri for players to use. Like the sisters of SisPri, the sisters of this game make use of special terms for their elder brother figure:

Yamanobe Saki — Nii-chan (兄ちゃん)
Haruhino Shizuka — Ani-sama (兄さま)
Mishima Akira — Onii-chan (お兄ちゃん)
Misaki Yukari — Nii-nii (にぃにぃ)
Karasawa Mitsuki — Onii-san (お兄サン)
Kishiwada Fūka — Ani (あに)
Kubo Ayano — Onii (おにい)
Ototachibana Kanna — Onii-sama (お兄さま) *
Ōnishi Koharu — An-chan (あんちゃん)
Ōnishi Konatsu — Aniki (アニキ)
Hano Wakaba — Nii-san (兄さん)
Tsuchidō Otome — Nii-ya (にいや)

I made a change concerning Ototachibana Kanna, though. In the game, she refers to the player character with the term "Ano..." (which literally means "That..."). Since that didn't chime well with me, I decided to make Kanna use Sukeyama Sakuya's term for her dear brother.

Yatsura manga and anime notes: The film replicas of some of the main cast — Moroboshi Hiromi, Redet Danu, Miyake Saiko, Mendō Tachiko, Fujinami Tatsuko and Shitto Nijiko — all appeared either in the manga story "Love and Violence" (manga chapter #78) or the anime story based on that episode, "Lum-chan the Ruthless Rebel" (anime episode #72). Ogin Haneko and the members of the Rosebuds first appeared in the anime story "Goodbye Season" (anime episode #64); note family and given names are my creation. Sadoyama Keizō (given name my invention) appeared in the anime story "It's Raining Oil All Over Town" (second part of anime episode #1) and appeared in the movie Only You. The Old Woman of the Oak Forest and the staff of the Milky Way "Curses 'R' Us" Management Organization appeared in Remember My Love; personal names are my creation, of course.

The Senior Year notes: Seq Yethis was a character from Lew Burton's fanfic Just a Dream who was borrowed for TSY; he would appear in later stories of that series. Lum's first Avalonian twin sister Redet Hensō first appeared in "What Price For Love?"; this was also where Otako odai-Meinyak and Ōgi ot'ndai-Zkuhsbagh appeared (note that Yizibajohei wouldn't care to use the honorific family name prefixes use among Niphentaxians). Hifuto Syndrome was first introduced in TSY as the galactic equivalent of Ebola. The Sunin appeared in "My Darlings United". Nassur, of course, first appeared in "Return of Memory"; it was also there that his wife Cinba was first mentioned. The Mikado and Nassur's parents Ninsur and Hunba effectively first appeared/were mentioned in "Nassur's Story". Nassur's and Cinba's first son Akisur and his girlfriend Ayara first appeared in the "Great Father Ataru" storyline that finished TSY; note that their second son Hamasur is destined to become a character in Twenty Years Later. And the Yehisrites effectively first appeared in "Ancient Ties".

The term Jii-ya is always applied to Aria's personal maid, who appeared in the second Sister Princess video game and also in the Re Pure anime series. In my stories, I give her the name Guenevere Rochelles; such was first mentioned in Lonely Souls.

Translation list and source language: Casting change — The death-and-rebirth shifting of one's Gift seed between the incarnations (when capitalized, it means a MASSIVE amount of such shifting among MANY people on Yiziba) (English phrase); Lohatolemla — Cursed temple (Yizibajohei); Yūbinsei — Mail star (Japanese); Tuor'be — Stiff corpse (Yizibajohei); Yatohyuo — Pandemic (Yizibajohei); Kagutsuchi — The Shintō god of fire (Japanese); JJ — Hull classification code meaning Jūjun'yōkan ("Heavy Cruiser") (Japanese); DNTR — Short for Dai-Nihon Teikoku Rikugun ("Army of the Greater Japanese Empire") (Japanese); KB — Hull classification code meaning Kōkū Bokan ("Aircraft Carrier") (Japanese).

The Second Great Banishment is the event five millennia ago where the second incarnation of Batae Erba (the Healer of Destruction, AKA "Doctor Destructo") emerged from the Great Crystal of Power to drive off the Goa'uld (from Stargate SG-1). This was when the first generation battle doll synthezoids that would be transformed into shipgirls (akin to the characters of Kantai Collection) were first created. Also, the first incarnation of the Undertaker appeared in this particular war.

Yizibajohei time measurements, noted here from longest to shortest: Saga — Millennium; Series — Century; Mini-series — Decade; Season — Year; Story(line) — Month; Episode — Day; Act — Hour; Scene — Minute; Frame — Second; Shot — 1/100th of a second. The lengths of time they represent would be roughly the same as on Earth.

The three shipgirls who appeared here:

Itō Yoiko-taisa DNTR/DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Yonaga [KB-11])
Hōjō Chiyo-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Chōkai [JJ-76])
Captain Ellen Naomi Michelle "Mama Cass" Haight-Ashbury USN (United States Ship Long Beach [CGN-9])

Itō Yoiko (THG Yonaga) is based on the namesake aircraft carrier of the late Peter Albano's The Seventh Carrier action/adventure series; she would resemble the Warship Girls interpretation of her sister Itō Shizuka (THG Shinano) save for having grey-shot black hair, grey eyes and be exceptionally taller. Hōjō Chiyo (THG Chōkai) takes after her Kantai Collection self. And Naomi Haight-Ashbury (USS Long Beach) would resemble the beautiful original art done by Bokuman that can be seen on Danbooru at post #1377452; she is effectively based on the interpretation done on her by IJNFleetadmiral in his fanfic Gaijun Teitoku.

Shōtoku Tennō (birth-name Abe) was both the forty-sixth and forty-eighth Heavenly Sovereign of Japan; in her first reign, she was known as Kōken Tennō. She lived from 713-770 CE, ruled Japan from 749-758, stepped aside for her cousin Junnin Tennō (733-765 CE), regained the throne in 764 and remained until her death in 770. In Lonely Souls, it was established that Shōtoku Tennō had a healthy daughter with her grand minister, Venerable Dōkyō (700-772 CE), named Mirei. Mirei is the ancestress of the Moroboshi Clan as a whole in the universe of my stories.

Chapter Text

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 High School, the first Monday in July, morning...

"ATARU TRANSFERRED OUT?!"

The chorus of stunned screams from many of the people in Class 2-4 echoed throughout the whole school as eyes locked on the pair of empty desks in the middle of the room, where Redet Lum and Moroboshi Ataru had sat until Friday when the former disappeared and the latter began the process to remove himself forever from the town he had been trapped in since the previous fall. As uncertain looks crossed the faces of many of the people there, Tsuruya Rumiko flipped a page in her English textbook. "Personally, I can't blame him for leaving," the "hidden" third member of Yiziba's triumvirate of hyper-genius polymaths mused as she exchanged a knowing look with Fujinami Ryūnosuke; much to Rumiko's personal disappointment, her lover still wore her boy's gakuran in lieu of a girl's seifuku. "Being blamed for everything under the sun here, being forced to deal with a lying idiot for a 'wife'..."

"HOW DARE HE ABANDON LUM-SAN LIKE THAT?!"

Resentful looks from the girls nearly caked Aisuru Satoshi in enough mud to fill a grave. "Brave talk from an umale lo'obir'ba like you, Megane!" Ryūnosuke snapped, barely fighting down the urge to deploy her finger claws and gut the loud-mouthed fool to forever shut him up. Fortunately for her, Rumiko had strongly suspected that the beach café tomboy would become the next Huntress of the Wild, so she had designed special skintight gloves that would replace the hockey uniform-like gauntlets Ryūnosuke would normally wear with her battlesuit. "Keep begging for the stupid Oni to come back so some nice terrorist comes along to KILL you and your gang of nerds!" she then sneered.

All four members of the Stormtroopers and a good number of their friends wailed on hearing that dire threat. "Don't bet on any of us to help you," Rumiko added as she gazed knowingly at them, making the girls all gape in surprise. "It's simply NOT our fight scene!" she then declared.

As the four core members of Lum's chief fan club on Earth dropped into dead faints on the floor, Marubeya Momoe pointed at her lesbian classmate. "Rumiko-chan, you...?"

Chuckling, the raven-haired bespectacled beauty stood up, tapping her belt buckle. Her uniform instantly morphed into an off-grey modern pattern battlesuit with a pouch-lined black belt and boots, plus a black lamp of learning insignia over her cleavage; naturally, her reading glasses also transformed into protective goggles with micro-sized HUD units. Twirling around, the current incarnation of the Careful Planner of the Circle of Thought, Timlem (the "Sage"), then made a coy pose as all the girls whooped on noting that no matter what their attitudes towards their former peers, Tariko Katabarbe and her brother were quite willing to help those who were worthy to become part of the Children of the Forge. "Wow! That seriously looks HOT on you, Rumiko-chan!" Gekasawa Kumiko gasped.

"Yes! It actually would have been nice to REMEMBER being Gifted right after Tariko-chan came to see both Chigaiko-chan and myself before she was brainwashed into becoming 'Ataru'," Rumiko noted with a droll roll of her eyes. "I could have proofed the school against the alien lunatics that were in town, especially if Lum overcame her fear of Yizibajohei and tried to pursue a relationship with 'Ataru'."

"Who would've been Tariko-san all the way through," Ryūnosuke noted with a snarky smile as Rumiko reverted back to her seifuku before sitting down at her desk. "Redet may have been a few frames short of a fight scene all the time, but she didn't strike me as the suicidal type!"

"There's gotta be SOMETHING that Ataru can do to get Lum-chan back!"

"Oh, shut the hell up, Koi!" the beach café tomboy snapped as she glared at Koi Shinjin, said to be as fanatic as the core Stormtroopers when it came to their missing classmate. "Tariko-san's a freaking REALITY WARPER and SHE couldn't do shit to bring the naïve dork back here so the stupid umale could be kicked off the planet and sent back to her parents!" As some of the boys grumbled on hearing how much the reborn woodland hunter didn't care a whit about Lum, Ryūnosuke perked on noting another pair of empty desks. "Oi! Where the hell's Shinobu-san? We're about to have homeroom!"

"Clock tower," Momoe answered. "She didn't take well to Ataru-kun leaving without saying good-bye."

A snort escaped the tomboy as she stood up. "Can't blame the guy."

Many in Class 2-4 winced at that comment while Ryūnosuke muttered under her breath before walking out of the room, heading down the hallway to the stairwell that led directly into the clock tower belfry that had been the scene of some incidents since the aliens came the previous fall. Walking up from the main floor to head to his class for homeroom was vice-principal Onsen Mark, who perked on seeing the Huntress of the Wild heading away from class. "What's the issue, Fujinami-kun?"

"Shinobu-san's sulking in the clock tower. I'll knock her around to get her back into line soon enough."

A grim nod answered her. "Hai, Moroboshi's departure was heated. Then again, I can't really blame the man." Here, Onsen then chuckled. "But the BIGGER screams are going to come along soon enough."

"Oh? What do you mean?"

"Inu-kun's departure?"

A guilty wince rocked Ryūnosuke's body as she recalled the basketball team forward who's very NAME almost EVERYONE in school, staff and students alike, forgot after the previous fall's Hallowe'en party; as to be expected, the only exception to that was none other than Moroboshi Ataru. The cause of that was a curse originally put on the then-girlfriend of the mysterious "Red Cloak" who had terrorized the students at Tomobiki High when he had been a student. Said curse hadn't dissipated after the girl's tragic death in the 1920s, coming back to hit whenever a very unpopular student gained a girlfriend, with said girlfriend dying of loneliness due to the stark isolation imposed by said curse. Inu Chigaiko had been the latest victim since Ataru — the curse's true target — had been so affected by memory blocks that his inner soul couldn't accept either Redet Lum or Miyake Shinobu as his true girlfriends.

"'Yon-san'..." the beach café tomboy muttered. "I'll keep the baying idiots down, Sensei."

"You do that, Fujinami-kun."

With that, Onsen headed to the classroom to start homeroom while Ryūnosuke headed to the emergency ladder leading into to the belfry. Climbing up it with the ease born of nearly thirty lifetimes of harsh living in Yiziba's rather unforgiving wilderness, she peeked into the space to see that Miyake Shinobu wasn't alone. Along with Mendō Shūtarō were four very familiar women, one of which looked like Shinobu's own twin sister and one of which was looked like Ryūnosuke's own twin sister.

The four newcomers were all in Yizibajohei battlesuits.

"Yo!" Ryūnosuke called up as she vaulted into the belfry, making people gaze her way.

"Osu, Ane-chan!" Fujinami Tatsuko, the current incarnation of the Ocean Goddess, R'bemba ("Tsunami"), called back. "Don't mind Saiko-san's sister. She's being an idiot again." Here, she crossed her arms. "Can't see how much Ataru-kun doesn't care for liars...!"

"I DIDN'T LIE TO HIM!"

That was Shinobu, who had bolted to her feet to glare at her best friend's film twin. "Sure, Aneki, sure!" her own film twin Miyake Saiko trilled, that causing Ataru's former girlfriend to quake. Crossing her arms, the new incarnation of the Eternal Titaness of Power, Yuotuo Maesete ("Atlas"), sent a sneer at her template. "You promised you'd marry Ataru-kun the night before the end of the Tag Race, RAN AWAY from him when Redet made her bonehead move, still claimed you were his girlfriend while NEVER LISTENING to a thing he said, never ONCE taking his side when he was being deluged by all the crap that came in Redet's wake...and then, when you DUMPED him for Slick here..." — here, she pointed at Shūtarō, who tensed on sensing the derision his former girlfriend's twin just expressed — "...you STILL decided to make Ataru-kun's life total HELL with Ogin and her fools!"

"Well, at least we have the cruiser shipgirls here putting those dorks in their places," Shitto Nijiko, the film twin of Shitto Kōsuke AKA "Perm", noted before sipping from a can of iced coffee. The incarnation of the Mistress of Daggers, Gamtuoku ("Switchblade"), then purred. "Pity we had to go out and get rid of those rimrae umale around the world. I wouldn't mind carving up those spoiled bitches a bit."

Here, she twirled one of a FOREST of throwing daggers the reborn master assassin had used in all her incarnations since the Dawn of Power before flinging it into the far wall, such cutting through the wood with a satisfying THWACK! As Shūtarō and Shinobu yelped at such an evil sound, Ryūnosuke snorted. "Yeah, no wonder Ataru wanted away from you as soon as he could, Shinobu-san," she noted as she moved to sit to the left of where Shinobu was sitting opposite where Saiko was. "You just can't stand the fact that Ataru finally blew you off after he realized you simply weren't worth the damned trouble being your normal bipolar self, no fucking different than that psycho airhead Aruka was to Redet..."

"I AM NOT BIPOLAR!"

KK-KRACK!

Shinobu dropped to the floor after Ryūnosuke casually decked her with a punch, which made Shūtarō bolt up to cut in and stop the just-Gifted tomboy from doing all sorts of horrible things to his former girlfriend. "Ryūnosuke-san, you can't just get into fights with others...!"

PSSSHHEEW!

The scion of Japan's richest family screamed after he nearly got his head skewered on his classmate's very deadly ki claws. "Siddown and shut your yap, you stupid fool! At least Ataru had a damned excuse for acting like the loon he did before Ayumu-san rescued him from being bullied into marrying Redet! Did YOU appreciate being put into the healer's cockpit for THREE WEEKS because of what those stupid government pukes and Ataru's fool mother did to everyone?!" As he was yanked back by his film twin Mendō Tachiko, Ryūnosuke sheathed her blades before she glared at her friend. "Grow the fuck up, Shinobu-san! The world don't rotate around you as much as it don't rotate around Redet!"

She headed to the stairs. Stopping at the edge, she then looked back. "You wanna prove Ataru right? That you're as much a MONSTER as Redet is? Keep going. No one's going to help you then."

Ryūnosuke dropped down to the second floor, leaving a shuddering Shinobu behind as tears flowed down her cheeks. "Now THAT you had coming to you, Shinobu-san," Tachiko, the current incarnation of the Passionate Pugilist, Dimdite (the "Boxer"), coldly declared, making her own brother wince.

As those words sank in, a wailing scream escaped Ataru's former girlfriend...

****

The Shimosuwa/Fujimoto residence south of the Moroboshi home, that moment...

"So this is her, huh?" Shimosuwa Tamiyo noted.

"Hai," Itō Yoiko declared as the image of a lavender-haired woman in a form-fitting burgundy jumpsuit — taken from a mental "snapshot" copied from Naomi Haight-Ashbury's own memories — hovered over the PAAs of the cruisers currently seated in the living room of the residence taken over by the oldest class of light cruisers and the second-oldest class of heavy cruisers built by Japan in the wake of the Great War. "Note her ears. There's enough of an up-swept cant in the upper part of her earlobe's helix. Not enough to be seen as truly tapered, but it clearly isn't Terran in origin. According to young Yotsuba, the shape of the fossa triangularis close to the upper helix indicates Vosian ancestry."

"What does this tell us about this Lahla person then, Yoiko-chan?"

That was one of the two human men now seated in the room, Lieutenant Commander Matsuhara Yoshi. Commanding officer of the Dai-Roku Kōkū Sentai's 261st Fighter Squadron, the handsome raven-haired doho from Los Angeles who had graduated from UCLA in 1936 before returning to his parents' homeland to fight for the Heavenly Sovereign was a very experienced pilot in both the Mitsubishi A5M and the later A6M, having become a multi-time ace in the Second Sino-Japanese War before "disappearing" into the maw of Unit 731 that was the cover organization for the seventh carrier of Operation Z. Having spent the last seventy-one years on countless simulator exercises — THG Yonaga had been purposely equipped with the same flight training equipment as shore flying schools to prepare the whole crew if necessary to serve as pilots; by the time of the ship's transformation into Itō Yoiko in April, everyone had their wings and real-time flight experience provided with the help of the gamájun whom they shared Sano-wan with — and patrols on magic carpets over northeastern Siberia, he was one of the best of Fujita Hiroshi's crew. He was also a gifted amateur poet; much to the Californian's embarrassment, once the crew of Yonaga were confirmed alive, none other than Moroboshi Negako herself saw Yoshi's poems published in newspapers such as the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Asahi Shimbun. When asked why by Yoshi on his first visit to Japan in over seven decades back in May, the grandmaster of Saikō Jinseijutsu answered, "They are excellent works, Yoshi. Tennō enjoys them."

"From what I can tell, Yoshi-san, she is a dedicated teacher and guardian," the adopted native of Maizuru mused. "She would see the sudden disappearance of her charge as a personal failure. Since they hail from a future time, it is most likely that she believes what we are all in now is an alternate timeline, thus would strive to return everything back to 'normal'. Could she bring herself to see our existence as an alternate dimension, a parallel universe that developed far differently than what she learned of in history classes? I cannot say. Still, her aura as I felt it yesterday morning is filled with determination. She will do all she can to see young Rū and his companion returned home."

Yoshi nodded. "What could possibly frustrate this?" his best friend asked.

The eyes of the cruisers lit up as they focused immediately on Lieutenant Commander (retired) Brent Ross, making the blond, blue-eyed American blush madly. A retired intelligence officer who had the honour of serving on USS Long Beach during the Persian Gulf War as well as battleship USS New Jersey at the star of her fourth period in commission in the 1980s, he was a native of San Diego born to a veteran of the Second World War who served on the legendary USS Enterprise as a gunner's mate before being captured by the Imperial Army during the Solomons campaign. Later brilliantly escaping from the stockade at Rabaul, Brent's father took a commission from the ranks for his valour, then became part of various fleet staffs planning the battles that wiped out the Imperial Navy and drove the war back to the Home Islands in the latter years of that conflict.

Despite that, Yonaga's crew considered the late Captain (retired) Theodore "Ted" Ross as a lost shipmate. In the late fall of 1983 while commanding the steamer MV Sparta while transporting supplies to Arctic ports in northern Alaska, he was nearly killed in a storm...but knew the law of the sea enough to save Yoshi's life after the pilot was tossed overboard while leading a fishing expedition from Sano-wan. Such would see Ted die of hypothermia in the carrier's sick bay a day later...but his statement to the would-be commander of Operation Z before he passed away — "I'm so glad you guys escaped that damned slaughter" — saw him enshrined in the ship's combined Shintō/Buddhist temple, the Shrine of Infinite Salvation, located on the forward end of Yonaga's upper hangar deck.

Such a noble sacrifice by a former foe would be honoured two decades later when Brent Ross came sailing north in search of his missing father, only to encounter the man Ted had saved in yet another fishing expedition from Sano-wan...but in much better weather, of course.

"How she would view Ataru-san, of course," Yoiko answered the star quarterback who helped win the Army-Navy game in 1983 during his fourth year of studies. "If this Rū is actually the descendant of young Lum, then Lahla-san might view Ataru-san's assistance as necessary — nay, vital! — to retrieve her wayward charge. His moving to Ōmure-jima, however, will no doubt throw her off her stride."

"Because of that mesonium masking screen around town, you mean?" Hōjō Chiyo noted.

"Exactly, Chiyo-san. Will Lahla-san go beyond Tomobiki and seek Ataru-san? Hard to conclude. Still, we must decide how we will deal with this woman when she makes open contact with any of us."

"Brent-san?" Yoshi prompted.

"Oi! Why me?" his American friend complained.

A wry grin answered him. "You are a Trekker, remember?"

Laughter filled the room. "Curse me for loving science fiction as a casual pass-time," the Californian loudly muttered, making the cruisers all whoop and laugh. "Well, since she is from the future, she'll be concerned about one big thing: Preserving and restoring what she will see as the proper timeline that would lead to the future she and this Rū kid hail from. That will make her be very circumspect when it comes to contacting anyone from Tomobiki High, especially Ataru."

"Should Ataru-kun come back to Tomobiki?" Hashimoto Nahoko, the reborn THG Naka, wondered.

"No!" Brent affirmed. "No matter what, it's damned high time that all the idiots in this town realize they can't push Ataru around anymore. With a REALITY WARPER for an elder sister, a whole slew of very powerful people for younger and adopted sisters — remember that Hiromi hasn't allowed herself to be Gifted just yet! — and all of you ready to pounce on people like Major Mendō's grandson and those four fools who are Redet's chief 'fans' in this town, doing that would be very counterproductive. We're trying to earn the TRUST of the people of Japan as the existence of all the adopted Yizibajohei here on Earth goes public. Doing things that would make US seem like monsters won't help one damned bit."

"Besides, given how much the wa of this town has been wounded thanks to Lum's disappearance, this will serve as a perfect opportunity for those souls who once associated with Tariko-san — and then later Ataru-san — to finally push themselves into maturity and prepare for life beyond the 'circus' that has haunted this place since October last," Yoiko affirmed before she gazed on Chiyo; as the former flagship of the Eighth Fleet, the fourth of the Takao-class cruisers had been affirmed as "flagship" of the "Tomobiki Guard Flotilla", with all the shipgirls living in town under her tactical command. "Be firm and fair, but do not act like honourless rōnin looking to prove your superiority on the helpless."

The cruisers firmly nodded...

...before people jerked as a wailing scream echoed from the house to the north, that clearly emanating from the woman whose actions the previous fall had made things beyond precarious on Earth. "What in Amaterasu's Sacred Name...?" Yoiko hissed as she and Chiyo got up and walked outside to approach the fence separating the cruisers' property from the Moroboshi home.

"WHERE THE HELL IS THAT BASATRD?!"

"Excuse me, but what are you doing in this house?"

"MOROBOSHI...!"

"SHINBASHO!"

A bellowed shriek of pain escaped the Moroboshi home, making Yoiko snarl as she leapt over the fence, then stormed around to the open front door. Marching inside, she was quick to see a muscular and bald man in his thirties now curling in on himself as he tried to slap his upper chest as his heart began to beat at an inhuman pace; such being the result of the Heart Blast Touch her junior navigation officer just unleashed on the man. As Lieutenant Moroboshi Kyōsuke relaxed himself and his niece-in-law stared in mute horror at the intruder, Yoiko sighed as she reached behind the man's back to tap the proper shiatsu point to cancel out what Kyōsuke did to him. "Now, sir," the seventh carrier calmly declared as she grasped the man by the back of his neck, boosting him off his feet so she could glare into his eyes — given she was MUCH taller than the average Japanese man these days, this left him dangling a half-metre off the floor! — as she put a little ki into her battle aura to scare the fellow into a more acceptable mode of behaviour. "What in the name of the Kami is THIS all about?"

"It's Moroboshi's damned fault, that's what!" the fellow snapped, waving to Kyōsuke. "He's responsible for making my wife addicted to nikuman!"

An eyebrow arched in answer. "How could Kyōsuke-san be at fault? He just returned to Japan today."

That made the fellow — whom many in Tomobiki would recognize as a window-washer who did work all over town — jolt before he stared at the native of Sendai. Despite looking very much like his famous grandnephew, Kyōsuke was older with a moustache and goatee, not to mention possessing a weathered face thanks to near-constant exposure to Arctic winds over seven decades. Noting that made the man jolt on realizing he made quite an understandable mistake. "I mean Moroboshi Ataru!" he thundered as he glared at Yoiko, trying to shift himself to get free of the carrier's steel-hard grasp. "He's the one who's made my wife bloat herself up to the point where she'll have a heart attack!"

Yoiko blinked. "How did this supposedly happen?"

"Because that alien tiger bull attacked her once and stole all the nikuman she had bought when she was shopping one day!" the window washer snapped back. "My wife freaked out after that, then started buying and eating nikuman like it was going out of damned style!"

"'Alien tiger bull'?" the carrier then mused. "That sounds like Seq Rei, Redet Lum's fiancé. How in the name of the Kami can you mistake that monster with the likes of Kyōsuke-san's grandnephew?"

"He don't wanna blame it on the right idiot, so he goes for a softer target, Yoiko-san."

Moroboshi Kinshō gargled on hearing the cold voice of the first of her new neighbours to PUBLICLY smack her down verbally and physically concerning the way she and her former house guests treated her errant son. Yoiko gazed over her shoulder at Tamiyo, who had a murderous look on her face. "Fine, then," she coolly announced. "Tenryū-dono, find a nice private place to take this fool to, then shatter all the major bones in his body. Maybe being CRIPPLED for LIFE will make this ignorant lunatic think hard about how to properly view his surroundings in the future," she then ordered, making both the window washer and Ataru's mother yelp in horror. "Regardless of what I said earlier, there are simply too many selfish and ignorant rōnin in this sad town to be allowed to run lose! Also deal with this fool's wife!"

"You got it, Yoiko-san," the adopted native of Okaya and Yokosuka cackled.

As she snared the idiot by the back of the neck to drag him out of the house, Kinshō quickly regained her senses. "Wait! You can't do that to that poor man, you monster! It's clearly my idiot son's...!"

"SEINIKKŌ!"

The woman's head was nearly burned off by the bolt of condensed ki fired from Kyōsuke's palm. "No one cares for your fool attitudes, you idiot yūjo!" he snapped. "It's no wonder that poor Nagaiwakai-chan didn't care for a selfish loon like you marrying her IDIOT SON!" As Kinshō moaned, he looked away. "Praise the Kami for both of young Kaeru's TRUE parents and young Tariko's TRUE mother!"

With that, he stormed out of the house, ignoring the stunned squawk from Tariko Katabarbe's mother on hearing the name of her "dead" son Moroboshi Kaeru, who was Moroboshi Ataru's younger twin brother; as far as everyone knew, he died thanks to falling off a cliff when he was just three, his body disappearing from the hospital sometime later. "Did you not know young Kaeru has been ALIVE all this time, Kinshō-san?" Yoiko then teased before she followed her junior navigation officer outside.

Kinshō blinked before she dropped into a dead faint on the floor...

****

Tomobiki High School, noon...

Near-mortal shrieks of agony echoed from the front gate.

Windows flew open from all the west side classrooms as people looked outside to see a considerable group of teenage girls in the uniforms of various senior high schools in and around Tomobiki literally dance the funky chicken on air, their bodies being burned to the bones by thousands of volts of electricity! "What the hell's going on?" Marubeya Momoe demanded, immediately recognizing some of the leaders of the Rosebuds now being quite thoroughly electrocuted. Included among them now was their senior leader, Ogin Haneko, a senior now attending the Sanrinbō Institute in nearby Kodaira.

"Ah! Sounds like my security measures are working perfectly."

People in Class 2-4 perked, then they gazed in bewilderment at Tsuruya Rumiko, who was nibbling on her lunch while gazing on a holoscreen projecting from her specially-modified PAA, words in an alien scroll that looked a lot like a mixture of Arabic and Mongolian letters flowing up the screen at quite a fast pace. "You did this, Rumiko-chan?!" Gekasawa Kumiko wondered as she pointed outside.

"Of course I did."

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"Um...why?" Momoe asked.

Rumiko sipped her ice tea. "After Ataru-kun and Chigaiko-chan withdrew and that curse that affected Chigaiko-chan came off, I offered my services to Nanase-sensei to have the school proofed against any possible intrusion," the Careful Planner stated as she stopped the scroll before typing a command on the holographic keyboard. "Given how tired Sensei became because of the damage caused by all the lunatics that storm into the school all the time — especially the LOCAL lunatics! — she was more than happy to let it happen since it wouldn't cost a thing." As people gaped at her, she tapped a control to get a camera's eyes view of the main gate. "Oh, it's your stupid fan club, Shūtarō. Could you go out there and make those idiots go away? Their screaming will get Nijiko-chan upset."

Gulps escaped many of the boys there; on seeing Perm's sister Shitto Nijiko in the battlesuit of the Mistress of Daggers, all of them nearly had heart attacks, especially since she had fixed all of them with looks that clearly said, "Mess with me and you're DOG FOOD!" Certainly, the forest of throwing blades strapped to her upper and lower legs, upper and lower arms and on her belt served to intimidate even a confirmed womanizer like Mendō Shūtarō. "Wh-wh-what would sh-she do?" Megane sputtered as he stared wide-eyed at the woman who clearly had no care at all for all the usual social conventions that had developed in Tomobiki in the wake of Redet Lum's arrival on Earth.

"She'll carve them up into bite-sized pieces to feed to her pet krotyuo."

People blinked even if some of them cringed. "What's that?" Kumiko wondered.

Rumiko tapped a control, projecting a large hologram displaying a fearsome reptilian creature similar to an indominous rex from Jurassic World...save for the fact that said creature was ALSO covered in ultra-sharp spikes on the outsides of the legs and arms, plus the spine from head to tail, never mind the frill of deadly tusks protecting the neck. Seeing the image of a man beside such a beast made the members of the class awk in horror; such a being could clearly look a Terran tyrannosaurus rex right in the eye! "Krotyuo. 'Ground shark' is how it translates," the Careful Planner calmly declared. "The apex predator on Yiziba. But once they're domesticated, they're actually quite cuddly...!"

"RUMIKO-SAN!"

That was the scion of Japan's richest family, who raced over to grasp his former subordinate from the Secret Peer Guidance Committee by the hand. "Rumiko-san, you MUST turn off such an awful...AWK!"

PSSSHHEEW!

The girls cried out on seeing Mendō Shūtarō about to be impaled on the ki claws of the Wild Huntress. "You hitting on my girl, Slick?" Fujinami Ryūnosuke snarled as she looked murderously at him.

Sputtering in fright as the beach café tomboy raised her other hand to splay those claws for a downward attack right into his face, Shūtarō then squawked as he vanished in a trail of smoke out of the classroom. As many of the girls all dropped to their knees in horror on seeing their rich classmate humiliated in public like that, Ryūnosuke sheathed her weapons, her nostrils then flaring. "Fucking asshole actually SHIT himself!" she muttered out loud before taking her own seat.

The boys blinked before they roared with laughter as those girls who still were attracted to the scion of Japan's richest family began to cry at the thought of him being brutally put down by the Wild Huntress...

****

The clock tower, that moment...

Watching Ogin Haneko and her friends — one being Miyake Shinobu's childhood friend Hyōga Yumi, who currently was the most popular girl attending the Shakkō Institute of nearby Niiza — still dance on air as they were electrocuted by what was obviously Tsuruya Rumiko's rather harsh defence against all the people who seemed to believe they could storm onto the grounds of Tomobiki High School without consequences, Moroboshi Ataru's former girlfriend could only look away, doing her best to ignore the pleas from the people who hadn't been assaulted by such power to rescue the leaders of the Rosebuds. Shuddering as she recalled what had been said earlier in the day in the belfry behind her, Shinobu could only bury her face into the pleats of her skirt as she tried not to break down and cry at the sheer scale of the changes unleashed on her and all around her in the last seventy-two hours.

Redet Lum disappearing like she did. That was normal.

Moroboshi Ataru cursed to become a hippo. That was depressingly more than normal.

But then...

Ataru's recently revealed half-sisters being metahumans...?

Ataru himself literally Gifted into becoming a metahuman...?

Ataru turning out to have been one-half of a person who had been born as Moroboshi Ataru, but who grew up for over a DECADE on a world many light-years away as a young GIRL of all things named Tariko Katabarbe, destined to be one of the most powerful metahumans in the whole UNIVERSE...!

All of Ataru's new friends made over the last two months being the KAMI of warships from the Greater East Asia War, restored to life in part by the same immortal power that had forever transformed him...!

...and with that, in final execution of a plan ELEVEN YEARS in the making, a force as unrelenting as a morning tide swept in to remove the aliens who had tried to make their homes on Earth off the planet, under threat of universal ARMAGEDDON if they ever dared return to the third world of Sol!

Too fast...

It had come down on everyone way too damn fast...!

"You need to get away from this place, Aneki."

Shinobu jolted on hearing the voice of the woman who knew her truly the best — even beyond her own parents Toshoba and Kimiki — before she turned to see Miyake Saiko seated nearby, calmly smoking an herbal cigarette; even if the film replica of her was now a Gifted Yizibajohei, she was still a sukeban at heart, matching the rôle that Shinobu was to play in that particular class project. "Why...?" she feebly demanded before jolting as a loud eruption of power echoed from the main gate, making her look over as Ogin and her companions were forced back from the effectively closed main gate to crash into burned and bleeding heaps on the street beyond, their friends immediately moving to give support.

As Mendō Shūtarō — with his backside somewhat browned thanks to what Fujinami Ryūnosuke had threatened to do to him — raced out to assist, Saiko smirked. "You care too much," she stated. "You latched onto Ataru-kun — in actuality, Tariko-chan — when she was made to forget Yiziba and was forced to live with her retard parents. No doubt because you subconsciously remembered the years you cried on Ataru-kun's birthday because he was gone. But because you couldn't hack what those government pukes did to the girl, you eventually decided to break it off when Lum proved too tough for you to fight after the Tag Race. Still, you cared for her, not realizing why. You always rode her case even after Mendō came into your life and proved 'easier'." She took a drag of her cigarette. "Then Ayumu-chan rescued Tariko-chan and discovered her soul got split apart thanks to Lum and Cherry. One part became what she had been destined to become all along...and the other part was made what she NEVER wanted to be..." Here, she gazed intently at her twin. "And POWERLESS to boot.

"So naturally, Ataru-kun was righteously pissed at a tonne of people. His asshole parents, his so-called 'wife', his ex-girlfriend, all the fools in town who couldn't see the forest for all the trees in front of them...hell, even a lot of his friends from Yiziba who hadn't clued into what was going on until it was way too late." Saiko took another drag of her cigarette. "He took three weeks off in the States freeing Avalonian slaves from their masters — Gifting a tonne of them along the way — before Suzumiya Haruhi shifted him back in time to the Monday after the 'wedding' on his birthday, when the guys and I got saved." Her eyes sparkled. "Believe me, the orgy that came after that..."

Shinobu squawked. "YOU HAD SEX WITH ATARU-KUN?!"

FLICK!

"OW!"

"See what I mean?!" Saiko snapped after flicking her sister to smash head-first into the outer guard rail of the belfry, making Shinobu yelp. "You just can't let it go even when other people WANT you out of their lives!" As her twin winced, the Eternal Titaness took another drag of her cigarette; she wouldn't be harmed by the fumes given her body's high FISS-level capabilities, so smoking wasn't an issue with her. "Why do you think it turned to 'Miyake-san' all the time after you got back from Uru at the end of Golden Week? Why do you think Ataru-kun actually LAUGHED when the classroom got trashed because Slick decided to bring a freaking TANK into the classroom for that stupid Nazi café Megane wanted to set up? Why do you think Ataru-kun didn't ONCE visit you when you were mending at Nishitōkyō General? Much less contact you in the month he was gone to draw out the government pukes who did that to Tariko-chan last September? Why didn't he stop his fleet of shipgirls, much less his sisters, from beating you down every time you horned in WHERE YOU WEREN'T WANTED, HUH?!"

Shinobu blinked several times at that cruel recap of the last two months sank into her mind, then she shuddered before shaking her head in denial. "I can't believe he HATES us like that...!"

"Don't blame the guy," Saiko noted. "Don't worry about it, though. We got in contact with Tōdō Yuki-chan down in Kyōto." As Shinobu squawked on hearing the name of her first sexual lover, a former classmate of hers from Tomobiki Junior High School who was a competent swimmer and had been accepted at a posh private school in Kyōto, the Shimogyō Academy south of the old Imperial Palace grounds, when her parents had to shift jobs to the old capital city just before Shinobu herself would enter Tomobiki High the previous spring, Saiko smirked. "She's actually pre-Gifted; an 'annex list' girl who got the chance to become one of us thanks to one of the girls Tariko-chan helped directly. Nice lady named Jody Crowley; she's Lady Shadow, the chief 'dark mage' of Yiziba..."

She then perked as she looked towards the main gate, making Shinobu turn to look herself before her eyes went wide on seeing the beautiful slender girl in the rather revealing white-and-black uniform worn by one of Japan's more prestigious private high schools located in the old imperial capital city. As the eyes of boys turned to instant hearts as they took in Tōdō Yuki's rather short red pleaded skirt, long black stockings, white button blouse with proper red tie, that topped by a black corset with shoulder straps — not to mention the long brown hair done in twintails over her ears, the sensual dark blue eyes that seemed to beg people to be intimate with her, not to mention a well-exercised body — she accompanied two other people past the front gate and up the walkway, none of them harmed by the defensive system Tsuruya Rumiko had installed to keep Tomobiki High shielded from intruders.

One of them was Moroboshi Hiromi, much to Shinobu's surprise.

The other was Shinobu's own mother, Miyake Kimiki.

Getting up, she immediately jogged through the belfry and leapt down the stairs to the upper floor, her twin behind her. Running to the main floor, she came out to the porch. "Okā-san! What's going...?!"

"MOROBOSHI-KUN!"

KK-KRACK! KK-KRACK! KK-KRACK! KK-KRACK!

"Wrong person, Kōchō-sensei," Hiromi coldly declared after whipping out a pistol with a strange alien sheen to the hull resembling a Glock 19 with a moulded laser sighting system under the barrel ahead of the trigger group, the muzzle of that weapon now smoking as the stench of cordite filled the air. As the Principal — now with enough burns and bruises to see him spend a MONTH in intensive care — dropped to the ground after he raced out to confront whom he THOUGHT was Hiromi's brother, many of the people in close range of this immediately backed away. Some of them, in fact, fled as far as they could from this hideous creature who mercilessly shot their principal down with the same lack of emotion one might express when squashing a cockroach, they screaming that the world was ending.

Much to Shinobu's horror, her mother had SMILED at that. "Thank you, Hiromi-chan. I wouldn't care to deal with that abusive lunatic while I'm trying to rescue my girl from this insane asylum."

"I'm happy to help, Oba-san," Hiromi coolly declared before she waved. "Oi, Saiko-chan!"

"Hey, Hiromi!" Shinobu's twin called out, waving back. "I can take it from here."

"Hai, hai! Fight scene's yours now."

With that, Ataru's film twin turned around and walked away, making many of the people there blink before they turned to stare warily at the Eternal Titaness. Seeing her depart without a single word to her other-self's former girlfriend, Shinobu shuddered before she moved to race after her...

"YOU STAY RIGHT THERE, YOUNG LADY!"

Shinobu was blasted down by her mother's shout while the others winced at such an admonishment. "You will LEAVE that poor child AND her siblings ALONE, Shinobu!" Kimiko snapped, putting her fists to her hips. "You've done enough harm to them because you feel that poor Ataru is nothing more than your personal PUNCHING BAG because of your own insecurities!" As a squawk of denial escaped her daughter, the former fashion model glared at her. "Do you realize how much those nice sea angels who've come to protect us all have dreamed of putting you into a COMA for all you've done to Ataru AFTER he remembered where he had been living for eleven whole years, then strove to do his best to make AMENDS for what he was made to do even if he had to keep his connection to Yiziba secret because of those maniacs that worshipped that Oni monster who put that BOMB in the Ginza?!"

"Miyake no Mae, what has caused such distress this wonderful day?"

Kimiki awked before she turned around, then blushed on seeing the concerned look on the face of the seventh carrier of Operation Z, who had literally teleported herself to the school grounds after seeing a certain window washer properly dealt with. "Oh, Itō-taisa! Konnichi wa!" she said with a respectful bow, which Itō Yoiko returned with a polite nod of her head. "I'm sorry about that, but I'm here right now to get my girl out of this lunatic asylum; we'll be moving down to Kyōto this week."

As many gasped on hearing what had brought Shinobu's mother to school, Yoiko nodded. "More than understandable. Given the lunacy that could come thanks to people such as the mindless rōnin who serve in this al-Qā'idah group my crew and I've heard of over the years, seeing to your child's safety is a pragmatic thing to do." As people hearing this awked in horror on hearing the dreaded name of the Islamic terrorist group that had killed THOUSANDS of people over the previous decade and more, the adopted native of Maizuru glanced at Yuki before she smiled. "And you brought a dear friend of your daughter here to ensure she would be willing to depart this sad town for a more pleasing place, I see."

As Yuki blushed, Kimiki chuckled. "She was worried about Shinobu-chan."

"A good thing. By the way, Ojō-sama, what foul magic is haunting your school?"

The swimmer blinked as Shinobu gasped in horror before looking at her, then she sighed. "It's an artifact from the Middle Ages called the Bible Black, Yonaga-sama," Yuki explained with a hollow voice. "The woman who helped pre-Gift me is trying to track it down to destroy it."

"The Bible Black?!"

That was a white-faced Sakurambō Sakura, who had come out to see what was going on; she had nearly become concrete on hearing that phrase. "Ah, yes, I've heard of such a hideous tome," Yoiko noted. "My crew's wonderful allies who welcomed them into their nests told them of it. Supposedly forged by the descendants of lilin in the time of the First Crusades, all of whom were still oath-bound to serve one of the grand dukes subordinate under Lucifer-sama himself." Ignoring the horrified squawks from people hearing this, the seventh carrier added, "It was forged to allow them to break whatever binds of loyalty linking him to said duke, but it disappeared over a century ago. It's been found?"

"Eleven years ago, on Walpurgis Night, it was used by a band of hearth witches to summon a demon to enhance their powers, Yonaga-sama," Yuki declared, making Shinobu squawk again and the others listening in hiss in stunned disbelief before they exchanged wide-eyed looks.

"I heard of that," an aged voice declared as Sakura's uncle Cherry walked out to stand by his niece. "Over two dozen innocent children were KILLED in that failed summoning. One survivor in the end."

"Who had to make a deal with that devil to stay alive," Yuki warned.

"Who's that?" Sakura wondered.

"Kitami Reika-sensei. She's our school nurse," the swimmer answered. "Much that I understand the urge to stay alive, she's running out of time. Next April, she's lost to Agares-sama once and for all."

"You care for her, Yuki-chan?" Kimiki wondered.

"She was an innocent victim of that night, Oba-chan. She got targeted because the head of the student council at the time was a pathetic lesbian bitch who wanted her as her latest sexual conquest. I don't blame Sensei for rejecting that sort of thing...but because that dyke Kozono-sempai couldn't take being told 'no' like that by Sensei, she decided to make Sensei a bloody sacrifice to a devil of all things! All of us who are Gifted at Shimogyō don't want to see Sensei die like THAT!"

As people around her began to hiss and chatter away at such a vow from the young swimmer, Yoiko nodded in approval. "Spoken like a true samurai, young lady," she said as she placed her hand on Yuki's shoulder in support. As Yuki shuddered on feeling the ancient typhoon of energy the Ice Warrior of Eternity and the blessed one of Earth's oldest sentient being within the transformed carrier's body, the adopted native of Maizuru perked. "Yuki? Tōdō Yuki-san? Josephine Crowley's apprentice?"

The swimmer gasped. "You know of her?!"

"Aye, I do, though the gamájun that my crew befriended over the decades. She is the finest graduate from poor Meridiana, worlds above any of the 'proper' wizards and witches of Europe from places such as Hogwarts." Ignoring Yuki's squawk at the seventh carrier's appraisal of her beloved sempai, Yoiko held up a warning finger. "Once you are properly Gifted — and I can sense it will be a magical Gift — listen to all Crowley-dono teaches you, Yuki-san! You are forced by the Fates to protect yourself, your families and your peers from the mad avarice of the yōkai your lost sempai accidentally drew to Shimogyō over a decade ago. Even your beloved friend here is under threat; even if she lives in Tomobiki," she then added as she gazed intently at Shinobu, who tensed at that look even if her cheeks blushed at the carrier's obvious concern despite the current break of relations between Shinobu and her former boyfriend, who was seen as spiritual family by Yoiko given who Moroboshi Ataru's granduncle was. "Though I strongly suspect if given the chance — which Tariko-san did even if by accident before the aliens came to be foolish — you would gladly face such foes head on, Shinobu-san."

Kimiki jolted before she gazed at her daughter. "She wasn't forced to RAPE you, was she?!"

As people squawked in horror on hearing that, Saiko waved her hand. "Relax, Ofukuro! Tariko-chan and Aneki drank pretty heavily spiked punch at a party Momoe-chan threw at her place a week before Lum came to Earth." As people exchanged looks, she reached over to squeeze her sister's shoulder. "You're lucky the Dragoness' spell blocked you from getting pregnant from that, Aneki. I sure don't want to see a heel come after you because of Gift thievery of all things!"

Shinobu awked as she tried not to cringe; her sister had told her about that particular bugbear when it came to Yizibajohei as a whole. Sensing her old lover was starting to consider facing up to something that had been forced on her months before through something that had been the fault of whatever jerk had spiked the punch like that, Yuki then blinked before she gazed at the giant shipgirl in their midst. "Um, Yonaga-sama, who blessed you like that?" she then hesitantly asked.

A knowing smile crossed the carrier's face. "Napaaqtuqarunnanngittuq."

The eyes of all the mystically aware hearing this nearly shot out of their owners' skulls. "MASTER TÚNDRA?!" Yuki exclaimed as Sakura and Cherry exchanged wide-eyed looks. "God! No wonder you're so powerful...!" She then stopped. "Wait! The gamájun?! Your crew befriended gamájun?! You were forced to reside where the Dúma Gamájuna is based out of, weren't you?!"

Yoiko threw her head back roared with delighted laughter from that observation. "Well, that certainly explains your magical knowledge, Yoiko-chan," Cherry noted as he came up to her, gently tugging her slacks as he intoned a prayer to the Buddha to protect this mighty sea spirit who — unlike most of her fleet mates from decades before — had been successful in keeping her crew alive and well so they could return home eventually once they had adjusted to being gone from Japan for so long.

"Indeed, the many tales the wise ones taught my crew were more than enough to keep the insanity of boredom from striking them down, Venerable," the carrier noted. "Of course, when poachers came around to turn those wise ones into pretty sex slaves, my crew — and I myself after I was Gifted — were more than willing to render them heads shorter for their temerity!"

A sneer crossed the monk's face. "Bah! Those fools would have deserved no less!"

"Hear, hear!" Sakura said with an approving nod.

"Ano...um, Yonaga-sama?"

Yoiko looked over. "What ails you, Yuki-san?"

"Could you help force my Gifting, please?" the swimmer asked. "Given your being blessed by one of the Great Old Ones, it might be the thing we can use to drive off the demons and rescue Kitami-sensei."

Humming, the adopted native of Maizuru reached over to gently touch the kyūsho on the swimmer's face, feeling a gentle surge of familiar energy respond. "Yes, you're almost there," Yoiko mused before she summoned a small amount of her cosmic reserves of ki to push into Yuki,

Tene lomher'buo, T ōdō Yuki...!

As the Conservator's voice echoed over the scene, the swimmer's body glowed as her clothes smoked from the heat the hyperspace injection of so much mesonium into her body was unleashing. "DON'T LOOK AT IT!" Saiko then screamed out, making people instantly spin away and cover their eyes.

"SHINOBU-SAN, STOP...!"

Kimiki spun around to see her daughter lunge over to warmly embrace her first lover, which allowed the excess energy pouring into Yuki's body to lock on the considerable amount of mesonium in Shinobu's.

The result was...predictable.

Tene lomher'buo, Miyake Shinobu...!

"NO!" Mendō Shūtarō screamed out as he tried to race for his old girlfriend. "SHINOBU-SAN, NO...!"

As Yoiko snared the scion of Japan's richest family to prevent him from butting in, Yuki screamed out as she flung her hands out while her clothes burned away, "TAEIM LETAM!"

A supernova of power then exploded on the front lawn of Tomobiki High School...

Nesu...YAOI!

Nesu...R'BELIM R'BERUO!

****

An hour later...

"Here you are, Miyake-kun! All your school records ready to be shown to the staff at Shimogyō so you can do their entrance examination and join your friend there."

Here, Nanase Mariko's eyes twinkled in amusement as she placed the large envelope down in front of the just-Gifted Miyake Shinobu. As her first true lover squeezed her shoulder in support, the newest incarnation of the Princess of the Fires of Life, R'belim R'beruo ("Prometheús"), nodded her thanks before she handed the package to her mother. "Arigatō, Sensei. I just wish that things didn't get so bad here that I'd be forced to leave all my friends behind and graduate high school at another place."

"Your friends will be relieved that you are now as technically safe as you can be in this world, plus fighting the good fight against alien intruders who threaten innocent and helpless people," a certain carrier declared from a nearby table as she enjoyed the herbal tea the school nurse prepared for her. As Sakurambō Sakura, her uncle and Kotatsuneko — who had come to see what was all the fuss concerning one of his favourite "kittens" — nodded at that appraisal, Itō Yoiko gazed at Shinobu's first lover. "You will have two master mages at your side when you deal with this pathetic akuma that wants to drag the soul of your good nurse into a very undeserved afterlife." She focused directly on Tōdō Yuki. "What are the other Gifted at Shimogyō beyond yourself and Crowley-dono, Tōdō-dono?"

Blushing at being called THAT, the current incarnation of the Major Domo of the Shadow Court, Yaoi ("Night Raven"), scratched the side of her head. "Well, we've got Nonogusa Miyuki-chan..."

People perked. "She's Shimogyō's champion swimmer!" Mariko noted.

"Hai, she is! She's another of Jody-sama's converts. She became Kraken..."

A gargle of breath escaped the top-end FISS who also commanded ebony mesonium-fuelled flames who was the fourth person of Class 2-4 in Tomobiki High School to be Gifted (discounting Tariko Katabarbe and Moroboshi Ataru) in the last year. "Oh, no...!" she croaked.

"What is it, Shinobu-chan?!" her mother Kimiki demanded.

Tears flowed down the younger woman's cheeks. "I'm gonna CHEAT on Yuki-chan, Okā-san!"

Everyone save Yoiko and Kotatsuneko fell flat on their faces at that wailed admission! Blinking at such a show of honesty from the young Catholic descent of Kyūshū, the adopted native of Maizuru hummed. "There were intimate relations between your past-selves and Nonogusa-dono's, Miyake-dono?"

A hesitant nod answered. "H-h-hai, Itō-taisa. Practically ever incarnation...!" She jolted as memory came back before she slapped her cheeks; Shinobu once watched the tomboyish lady from Kyōto who won gold at the national championships last summer. "No! No! No! No! Bad Shinobu! Bad Shinobu! No thinking of pillow scenes with Miyuki-san! No thinking of pillow scenes with Miyuki-san...!"

A flash of energy made everyone gasp before saw the youngest of Moroboshi Ataru's sisters standing there, she in her white jumpsuit as the Living Spirit of Innocence. "Little One..." Yoiko called out.

"What's wrong, Shinobu-san?!" Saeru Hinako called out as she walked over to take in the girl's beautiful black jumpsuit decked in crimson-and-gold flames running up the sides of the legs, hips and abdomen, such topped with black power-dampening gauntlets, red belt and matching red boots. "Waa! That's a nice Gift you got there, Shinobu-san!" the native of Niigata declared as she focused on the sun-like corona of flames insignia over the older girl's cleavage. "What's wrong?"

"You know of the relationship between incarnations of Prometheús and Kraken?" Yuki wondered.

Blinking, Hinako took that in, then she crossed her arms as an aura of calm radiated from her to make everyone relax themselves, even Shinobu. "Oh! Hina understands now! Shinobu-san would want to do mushy stuff with Yuki-san since they did mushy stuff when they were in middle school, but Shinobu-san's past-selves always did mushy stuff with Miyuki-san's past-selves. If what Hina learned from Jody-san about the baka-baka akuma and yōkai hurting all the nice people at Shimogyō and what they did to people there is true, Miyuki-san is more interested in Kurumi-san since both of them were made to do silly things with other people by whoever has got that silly, silly, silly book...!"

"WHAT?! MIYUKI WAS RAPED?!"

"QUIET! HINA'S TALKING HERE!"

Powerful as she was, the Princess of the Fires of Life was no match for the Spirit of Innocence; to the shock of everyone else, Shinobu was literally blasted back into her chair by Hinako's shout. "Sorry...!"

The younger girl gazed at her, then she moaned. "Oi, Yoiko-san, we need to find someone who can go to Kyōto and keep an eye on everyone there! If some baka-baka akuma and yōkai are hurting nice people there, it's got to stop. Is there one of the shipgirls who could help?"

Eyes locked on the fifth of the Yamato-class. "I remember Napaaqtuqarunnanngittuq-sama telling me of a fleet mate that was made to become a shipgirl in May by Samiloluto-sama..."

"The Lord of the Deep?!" a wide-eyed Sakurambō Hayao demanded.

"Samiloluto-sama is another of the Great Old Ones, Venerable," Yuki warned.

A groan escaped Hinako. "Hai! Hai! Hina will be right back!"

In a flash of light, she teleported away. "HINAKO-CHAN...!" Shinobu shrieked.

"Be at peace, Miyake-dono!" Yoiko called out as people seeing this exchanged concerned looks. "You should know the full extent of young Hinako's true power, should you not? Besides, Samiloluto-sama and Napaaqtuqarunnanngittuq-sama were very close allies during the End War of the Great Banishment twenty-five millennia ago against the so-called 'Old Ones' who tried to turn Earth into their private Hell! Hinako is known to them all thanks to her various 'world tours' since her Gifting last summer which has allowed the kami of various warships such as myself to be Gifted and given human form."

Shinobu blinked before her film twin Saiko pushed her back into her chair. "She's only a CHILD...!"

A chuckle answered her. "Be assured, Shinobu-san, He also watches over young Hinako."

Here, she pointed to the beautiful rosary that had been the only item of Shinobu's clothing to fully survive her Gifting intact. As the devout Catholic blushed madly at the transformed carrier's very calm yet quite honest observation, people listening to this chuckled...

****

Honiara on Guadalcanal, the headquarters of Her Majesty's Ministry of Magical Affairs of the Solomon Islands, minutes later (local time: Two hours before supper)...

"Again, Mistress Matsunaga, we can't thank you enough for what you did."

A hearty chuckle escaped the adopted native of Yokohama who seemed to be cursed to speak in Kansai-ben in lieu of the dialect of Japanese used where she had been built before she bowed politely to the chief unspeakable of the local Department of Mysteries. "Please, please! It was a pleasure to help you with those stupid yōkai," Matsunaga Ryōko, the reborn fourth carrier of Imperial Japan now known on Yiziba as the Dancing Dragon of Pure Chaos, Syo'oluo ("Ryūjō"), declared as she waved the physically older man down. "It was the choice of the Fates that led me this way after I did that last job in Samoa." Shaking her head, the very slender teenage-looking twenty-something with the long brown hair in twintails and the wise caramel eyes picked up the considerable bag full of gold royals, the local version of British galleons or American dragots; her payment for the task she just finished for Her Majesty's MMA on Guadalcanal would add the equivalent of forty-five thousand tsūhō to her Gringotts account. "Anyhow, you know how to contact me if something screwball happens again?"

"You'll be the first true curse-breaker on our list, Mistress Matsunaga," her host declared with a bow.

Ryōko bowed back, then she headed to the floo portals that would transport her to the surface — like many magical ministry/department headquarters complexes around the world, the ruling body for magicals in the Solomon Islands worked in a vast underground complex — where she would emerge in the heart of the local magical shopping district, Valencia Lane. Breathing the fresh air of an open sky — people in the government headquarters needed to desperately work on the air circulation system to make it less stuffy — the aircraft carrier-turned-onmyōji priestess (courtesy of a dozen such people who served in her crew before she was sunk in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, all dying in that battle) walked over to the white granite building hosting the local branch of the International Mercantile Bank of Gringotts. Seeing the reborn warship kami approach, the guards at the door snapped to attention and bowed deeply to her, which Ryōko returned with a nod of thanks before stepping inside.

Before she could get into the queue to deposit her money, a dapper kobaloi in a proper business suit came over to her. "Mistress Ryōko, welcome back to Gringotts," he said with a polite bow of his head. "Forgive me, but someone has come to our establishment seeking you personally for assistance." He gazed at her. "She was directed here by your own great spiritual patron."

That made the adopted native of Yokosuka blink. "Lord Samiloluto told this person to come see me here?!" she asked, speaking English with a noticeable accent. "Don't tell me it's one of those nice kids that lady from outside Tōkyō went and got Gifted during her 'recruiting drive' over the last decade."

"It is actually Mistress Tariko Katabarbe's youngest blood sister, Mistress Saeru Hinako; you will know her better by her battle name 'Suiki'," the banker declared, making Ryōko's eyes go wide. "She has come to alert you to a most terrible threat currently rising within the old imperial capital of Japan."

Her jaw dropped in surprise...

****

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

"Shinobu-san, you MUST...!"

KK-KRACK!

"Oh, shut up, Mendō!" Miyake Shinobu snapped after she back-slapped her former boyfriend into the front blackboard of Class 2-4, making a considerable dent in the black slate. "No one asked for your opinion! You actually want me to abandon one of my dearest friends to a DEMON of all things?!"

As a number of her now-former classmates — including a large group of boys atop most of the girls — nodded in agreement, a pair of fists slammed into his desk, the billow of rage escaping the head of the Stormtroopers making people awk. "DON'T BE AN IDIOT, MIYAKE! THIS IS ALL ATARU'S...!"

FWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH!

Aisuru Satoshi screamed as he was nearly turned into a crispy idiot thanks to Shinobu's mesonium-fuelled flames. As those others who still supported the Stormtroopers wailed at such a show of power by the Princess of the Fires of Life, Itō Yoiko snorted. She was now relaxing atop Moroboshi Ataru's old desk, surprising everyone there by not collapsing it under her nearly 116 kilogram body mass. As people who worked for the school newspaper, the Tomobiki Chase, got interviews during this study hall from those such as Tsuruya Rumiko and Fujinami Ryūnosuke concerning Gifting and becoming adopted Yizibajohei, the seventh carrier of Operation Z declared, "Cease your futile attempts at seeking blame for this noble act done by your former peer to take control of her life once and for all time, Satoshi-san! Even if your precious alien princess was here, she could NEVER stop what just happened."

"Yeah! Considering dealing with people who have the powers to deal with ANY alien jerk that wants to ruin people's days, living alongside people like Shinobu-chan and Ryūnosuke-kun is WAY much better than living with THAT selfish bitch and her stupid entourage!" Marubeya Momoe snapped.

"Momoe-san...you can't let...this happen...!"

She looked down at the twitching Shūtarō, a flash of concern filling her heart for a moment before the many selfish actions of the scion of Japan's richest family over the last half-year came back to her. "Oh, shut up! Stop trying to blame Ataru-kun or Tariko-chan for getting rid of those alien monsters from this planet! If you can't see how good this is, YOU'RE the one with the big issue here, not us!"

"Besides, if you even THINK of going and demanding that a Gifted Named Yizibajohei GIVE UP his or her Gifts to become a 'norm' again, YOU'RE the one bucking for your own death scene, Slick!" the Huntress of the Wild growled as she gave the dazed man a warning look.

"Be assured, Ryūnosuke-san, Onii-sama will NOT be doing anything that would cause THAT sort of discomfort to ANY of us on Earth," a strange voice then hailed as footfalls echoed from outside.

Eyes turned as Shūtarō's transformed film twin came into the room, she dressed in normal civilian clothes rather than her black battlesuit with the gold belt, boots and padded gloves that helped her control her considerable ki generating abilities; unlike ki mistresses like Ryūnosuke, Mendō Tachiko had the ability to project her body's ki to create massive explosions on skin contact. Since her first-self was a professional boxer from the northern polar continent who could easily impress the likes of Muhammad Ali himself, the Passionate Pugilist was forced to wear protective gloves — a gift from Rumiko — that would prevent any ugly accidents from happening. "Tachiko-chan!" Shinobu called out.

As Shūtarō gazed warily at his film twin, Tachiko crossed her arms. "To make sure you don't make an ass of yourself in the future, Onii-sama, Ojii-sama has ordered that NO Kuromegane or any member of the clan's paramilitary forces are to serve you until you GIVE UP this pointless jealousy towards Ataru-san, much less ALSO give up your equally pointless lust for Lum-san!" As her brother screamed on hearing that while the girls in class whooped in delight, Tachiko then gave him a wicked smile. "And to ensure your compliance, you will be made to listen to ONE SENTENCE every time you misbehave!"

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"There is no such thing as MONEY on Yiziba!"

A nearly-mortal scream of agony escaped the scion of Japan's richest family while he bolted up, making warding signs with his hands while his body turned to stone as THAT unbelievable statement sank into his mind to literally cause his whole brain to go on the fritz! As the girls watching this (save for those who had been welcomed among the Children of the Forge) gave him sympathetic looks — indeed, for someone born of such wealth, to learn that the people of a whole PLANET lived in a society where ANY form of specie was NOT used in any exchanges was nothing short of heresy! — those who were Gifted snickered while boys in the class all fell on their backsides laughing their guts out on seeing the rich fool brought down so easily and so publicly, too! While the other members of the core Stormtroopers moved to carry their burnt leader out of the room for transport down to the nurse's station through the back door, the front door then flew open, allowing an ofuda engulfed in blue cleansing flames and printed with the kanji 勅令 in mesonium-enchanted ink soared in to smack hard on Shūtarō's head!

The effect was instantaneous.

A wild scream escaped the scion of Japan's richest family as those cleansing flames surged over and through him, making him collapse to the floor as dark energy seemed to waif away from him. While the girls all gasped on seeing that SOMETHING had been possessing the poor man, Yoiko's eyebrow arched before she gazed over her shoulder at the woman now standing at the doorway before her own eyes went wide on seeing the traditional battlesuit she was wearing. A dark maroon top with black trousers, a white belt with golden magatama symbols on the strap and the buckle embossed by the Imperial chrysanthemum, she had white slip-on shoes covering her feet and the images of two golden prancing dragons over her ship name 龍驤 embossed in black right over her heart.

"Sempai...?"

Everyone's jaws dropped on hearing that while the older carrier blinked on seeing the kanji on the wheel of Dhármachakra insignia on the giant woman's chest. "Yonaga...?" Matsunaga Ryōko whispered.

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"AHO! WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU ALL THIS TIME?!"

Before Ryōko could pound her fists into the younger carrier's chest, a young voice bellowed, "RYŌKO-SAN! DON'T BE SILLY! YOIKO-SAN'S CREW ARE ALRIGHT! EVEN YOSHI-OJISAN IS ALIVE!"

An impressive face-fault resulted from Saeru Hinako's scream! "Say WHAT?!" the adopted native of Yokosuka demanded as she gaped at the Spirit of Innocence.

A huff escaped the native of Niigata. "You come here with Hina now! Hina will take Ryōko-san to see Yoshi-ojisan and Ō'oji-tama and Brent-san; they're with the nice cruisers who became part of Onii-tama's special fleet while he was living here! Yuki-san?! Shinobu-san?! You need to come too so those baka-baka akuma and yōkai can be kicked out of that poor school in Kyōto!"

With that, Hinako grabbed Ryōko by the arm and literally dragged her out of the classroom, a chuckling Yoiko calmly following her now-quite confused elder fleet mate. Shinobu then rose, offering her arm to her first lover. As Tōdō Yuki slipped her arm around that of her beloved friend, the Princess of the Fires of Life gazed on her old peers. "Sorry! Gotta run! Fight scenes to be in!"

"Sure! Sure!" Ryūnosuke said with a wave of her hand. "Go have fun!"

The other girls whooped as their former classmate headed off, screaming chants of luck...

To Be Continued...!

****

WRITER'S NOTES

Translation list and source language: Umale lo'obir'ba — Literally "same worshipper", this is a person who is incapable of thinking beyond the box and accepts his/her place in life with no drive to become something new (Yizibajohei); Few frames short of a fight scene — Euphemism similar to the Terran "Few brain cells short of smart" or similar such memes (English); Helix — The outer fold of skin framing the earlobe (Latin); Fossa triangularis — the area bordered by a Y-shaped inner fold seen just above ear canal opening (Latin); Dai-Roku Kōkū Sentai — Sixth Naval Air Flotilla, the name applied to THG Yonaga's air group (this being my creation as specific air wings and squadrons were never named in The Seventh Carrier series) (Japanese); Shinbasho — Short for Shinzō Bakuhatsu Shoku ("Heart Blast Touch"), one of the two direct killing manoeuvres of Saikō Jinseijutsu-ryū, using specific shiatsu points to make the heart literally explode in the target's chest (Japanese); Seinikkō — Short for Seishin Nikkō Kōsen ("Psychic Sunlight Beam"), a brutal ki beam attack similar to the Mōko Takabisha as seen in Ranma 1/2 (Japanese); (Name) no Mae — Literally "Lady (Name)", the formal way of addressing the matriarch of a family (Japanese); Taeim letam — Let the Show begin (Yizibajohei); 勅令 — Said chokurei, meaning "imperial edict", which appears whenever THG Ryūjō (Matsunaga Ryōko) makes use of her onmyōji powers to launch her air group in Kantai Collection (Japanese).

The Senior Year notes: Koi Shinjin first appeared in "Lum's Lesson". Moroboshi Kaeru first appeared in "My Darlings United". Moroboshi Hiromi's weapon is a Lawgiver, a Zephyrite particle-photon pistol similar to the weapon of the same name that appeared in the Judge Dredd comic series.

Yatsura manga notes: The Red Cloak appeared in the story of the same name (manga chapter #41).

Seventh Carrier notes: Matsuhara Yoshi and Brent Ross were primary characters throughout the whole series; the former would first appear in the second book The Second Voyage of the Seventh Carrier while the latter appeared in the first book The Seventh Carrier. Of course, the admiral in charge of THG Yonaga, Fujita Hiroshi, has also appeared in all volumes of the series. Moroboshi Kyōsuke is my own creation; he first appeared in The Angels of the Era of Eternity. For the interaction between Yonaga's crew and the Dúma Gamájuna, please read Of Gifts and Semblances.

The two shipgirls first introduced here:

Matsunaga Ryōko-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Ryūjō [KB-04])
Hashimoto Nahoko-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Naka [KJ-60])

Naturally, both girls take after their Kantai Collection interpretations.

Bible Black character and situation notes: Both Tōdō Yuki and Josephine "Jody" Crowley appeared in the New Testament OVA series; note that the time period of this story would be equal to the period depicted in the original Bible Black video game and anime. Of course, Kitami Reika, Nonogusa Miyuki and Imari Kurumi first appeared in the video game and first OVA series; Reika would also appear in a younger state of her life in the Bible Black Origin two-part OVA series.

A royal was the original currency of Australia and other British colonies in the region. The tsūhō (literally "circulating treasure") was part of a special inscription put on pre-Meiji Japanese coins in circulation at the time. In the universe of my stories, the royal and the tsūhō would be adopted as the local magical coinage, with the same literal value as a British galleon or American dragot. The royal would use the letter R with the dual horizontal strokes in the upper part of the left stem as its monetary symbol; the tsūhō would use T with the dual horizontal strokes in the stem for its symbol.

Chapter Text

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.

****

From the diary of Marubeya Momoe...

It was all over.

Thank all the Kami of the Universe, it was all OVER!

In the early dawn on the first day of July, Independence Day came of us all.

Marked with the contrails of three alien ships blasting off into the heavens.

In that, it was clearly obvious: Lum and Ten-chan and Ran and all their friends who came to Tomobiki-ch ō and effectively ruin ed the lives of many who lived here had finally left.

Would they return? I hope not.

Well, actually, I doubt any of them would WANT to return.

Ironically, Ataru-kun — No! Tariko-chan! — had much to do with that.

As did his sisters, especially his youngest sister Hinako-chan.

We were finally SAFE from all that insanity.

Yet even if most of us at Tomobiki High and elsewhere were just relieved that sanity had finally returned to our poor town, there was still a sense of sadness among many people, even those who didn't care whatsoever for Lum and her rather interesting yet annoying entourage of weird alien friends.

Like some great festival coming to a final end...

****

A festival...

A great circus...

Still, when a festival ends, real life must go on. It's the law of humanity. Oh, sure, the joyous times experienced by so many here in Tomobiki-ch ō were quite wondrous...yet it is now sinking into the minds of those who were the closest to the chaos that even something as wondrous as THAT could not last forever no matter what people might have wished. With what happened to Tariko-chan over a decade ago, the "festival" that haunted all our lives was guaranteed to end with a crashing halt.

Given the power Tariko-chan has, to say anything of the reputation she possesses, it was inevitable.

Not to mention the arrival of REAL family for Tariko-chan and Ataru-kun.

And with what Hinako-chan started in the spring...

****

The days pass on without Lum or any of her friends imposing themselves even accidentally on us.

And try as some in town might, there's nothing that can stop the march of time.

No matter how much Mend ō-san could wish to have the technology and power to go out there and bring Lum's friends back in hope of rescuing her from this Rū fellow everyone spoke of during that incredible weekend, nothing will happen. With Tachiko-chan now in his life, Mendō-san is being forced to face up to his future responsibilities as the head of the Mendō Conglomerate.

Seeing him suffer in his own agony is heartbreaking no matter how necessary it is...

****

The Mend ō estate, the Saturday after the aliens' departure, after lunch...

"What is it, Onii-sama?"

Hearing the concerned voice of his film twin — whom he was starting to accept as his sister, much to the near-constant annoyance of his blood sibling — the scion of Japan's richest family blinked as he gazed upon the considerable school of octopi in a salt-water open aquarium close to the main mansion house. "I can't hear them anymore, Tachiko..." Mendō Shūtarō quietly breathed out.

Mendō Tachiko blinked before she walked over to kneel beside him. Save for her protective gloves that restrained her considerable ki powers as the Passionate Pugilist, the Terran-form Avalonian-turned-Yizibajohei ki mistress and mid-level FISS-type was dressed quite fashionably though conservatively; her brother and parents were learning quick what was seen as sexually provocative among the Children of the Forge. "Hai, you were able to listen to their thoughts at times, didn't you?"

"Hai..." her brother breathed out, his eyes misting over. "Why? Why can't I understand your feelings like I used to?" he wondered as he peered at the beings who seemed at times to be his only friends.

Noting no answer from the octopi in the pool, Tachiko reached over to squeeze her brother's shoulder, then she walked out of the aquarium. Stepping through a corridor to proceed to one of the several greenhouses that the clan maintained on their property forming the western border of Tomobiki, the reborn championship boxer then paused on seeing her "younger" sister walking towards one of the fast-growing saplings born from the Tarōzakura at the south end of the estate, a plate full of raw diced octopus in one hand and a fork in the other. "Feeding your pets, Ryōko-chan?" she then asked.

Mendō Ryōko paused before she stopped and looked over her shoulder at the eerie image ultimately crafted by her elder brother's "most faithful" from another world and breathed true life thanks to her elder brother's would-be rival. "Hai, Tachiko-chan, it's time for my beauties to have some good food," the quite theatrical sophomore who attended Seiran Girl's High School in neighbouring Kodaira declared as she speared two of the strips of tako to hold out towards one tree. "Here you go..."

Silence then fell.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"Ryōko-chan, daijōbu?"

Ryōko blinked on sensing her sister squeeze her shoulders, then a lost look crossed her face. "I don't understand..." the young heiress whispered. "Why won't they talk to me anymore?"

Tachiko blinked before she sighed, drawing her hands back. "Ryōko-chan, please take this advice. Your life does not have to depend on Ataru-san or Tariko-san or all those who came in the wake of Ataru-san's so-called 'wife' last fall to make it joyful," she said as she turned to walk away and let her sister have some time to herself. "Focus on what really matters and you'll hear..."

Her voice trailed off as her ears picked up sniffling escaping the woman behind her. "Ryōko..."

"Why...? Why did Moroboshi-sama leave us...? Why does he hate us so much...?"

Turning to see Ryōko shuddering as she tried not to drop to her knees and wail at not having any chance to play with Moroboshi Ataru anymore — even if she often did it to rile Shūtarō up and make her brother look even more like the total fool in front of his many fans, the Seiran sophomore did enjoy the many times Moroboshi Ataru had flirted with her in the past — the Passionate Pugilist walked over to place comforting hands on her sister's shoulders. "He doesn't hate any of you, Ryōko."

"Then why did he leave?"

Turning to see a forlorn Shūtarō slowly walking towards them, Tachiko sighed. "You may see this place as your home, Onii-sama," she said as she walked over to warmly embrace him. After a moment, she let go, then turned to walk back to the main mansion. Pausing after a moment, she then gazed sadly at them. "But to Ataru-san — and to Tariko-san — this was nothing more than a PRISON!" Turning away, she shrugged. "Vent your frustrations on the umale who forced that on her. And him."

Both of her siblings remained still as Tachiko headed away...

****

From the diary of Marubeya Momoe...

One good thing for the class was that Megane disappeared shortly after summer vacation began in mid-July. While all the Stormtroopers and their close friends such as Koi Shinjin were simply devastated because of Lum's disappearance and Ataru-kun's departure to live full-time with his sisters — and with Tachiko-chan running interference, there was no way that Perm, Chibi or Kakugari could convince Mend ō-san to try to send people out to locate where Ataru-kun was living now, never mind what people like Chikage-chan would do to Megane if he dared try to hurt her Ani-kun — rumours began to fly about the four-eyed fool actually going off to kill himself, no doubt to stop attempts by al-Qā 'idah to launch an attack on Tomobiki to punish everyone here for our supposed "support" of Lum.

Thinking of the times that Ataru-kun called girls like myself "traitors to the human race by association" because of our interest in Mend ō-san — who I finally came to realize was playing with us while doing his best to win Lum over — really gave me some ugly nightmares a couple of times.

And with the Yizibajohei attitude of "It's not my fight scene"...!

To believe those people could be so NORMAL while being metahumans as well...

****

Speaking of disappearances, Ataru-kun's fool parents both moved out of their home in town, relocating somewhere else. With only the monetary support from Ataru-kun's uncle Moroboshi Komeru-ojisan — who pretty much left Japan years ago to go off and explore all the interesting places on Earth, most likely so he didn't have to deal with his sister-in-law — the house was soon demolished and a small shrine that served both Shint ō and Buddhist purposes was erected in its place.

Said shrine was dedicated as the new Shrine of Infinite Salvation — which was the temple that had been placed on the upper hangar deck of the aircraft carrier Yonaga — where the shipgirls could come and place objects that would allow them to pray for their lost crews whenever they took time off from securing Earth's space frontier while Rumiko-chan and her two new friends Elizabeth Wakefield-san and Tánja Chapáeva-san work to place a special system at the orbit line of Ceres which would BLOW UP the warp drives of those ships that tried to do a close slingshot manoeuvre around the Sun as a way to speed up their voyages onward to other planets. According to Rumiko-chan, this was pioneered by Urusian Imperials — sort of like the crazy militarists in Japan who drove the country into the Greater East Asia War — as a way of causing the Sun to nova and wipe out all life on Earth.

Yeah...and Lum supposedly had "honourable" reasons to stay on the planet...?

What a hypocrite!

****

While clearing out the last of the Niphentaxians from Earth, the shipgirls and Ataru-kun's clone sisters made the discovery of Avalonian bioroids who had been specifically cloned after the Stormtroopers. That didn't surprise anyone; after all, according to this crazy "faith" those maniacs followed, those four nerds were four of Lum's "holy apostles", whose diaries were secretly copied to create new verses in their holy book, which was called — and yes, Diary, you guessed it right! — The Book of Lum.

Ugh...!

Since Perm, Chibi and Kakugari were in town, Tariko-chan came by and convinced the two nerds who didn't get siblings thanks to last year's film project to let their "sisters" have a chance at true life, which included copying their memories into the clones' bodies to properly gestate their own souls. After some pretty nasty threats from the dorks' parents — which possibly included throwing them out of the house once and for all for the stupidity they always pulled when it came to Lum — they gave in.

Of course, Tariko-chan forgot to tell them the two girls were getting Gifted, too!

We all laughed when Chibi and Kakugari woke up to that fact.

So Urayamu Takako-chan became the Titaness of the Stratosphere, Ramzel , while Daremo Mitsuko-chan became the Unstoppable Puncher, Ithfaen .

Sorry! The Yizibajohei way of saying those words just escapes me now...

Takako-chan wound up being able to alter her size to make her as big as an office building, with the corresponding increase of strength and invulnerability. Mitsuko-chan is pretty much a living tank, able to fight most of the heavy hitters on Yiziba such as Takino Tomo-chan from over at Azuma High School — where Kasuga Ayumu-chan, a reality warper who's the most powerful of ALL Yizibajohei, goes to school — not to mention Hayashi Kanami-chan, the former Saotome Ranma-kun.

And to round out the new "Stormtroopers", Tariko-chan got a friend to find Megane, then he was forced on threat of disowning by his mother to allow his own memories to be copied into his new sister's mind.

Hence, Aisuru Tokiko-chan was born.

And she became the new incarnation of the Siren of the Cosmos, Archseren .

Which gained a big laugh from Tariko-chan.

When I asked her what was so funny, she told us that Tokiko-chan's first-self and Ataru-kun's first-self were LOVERS back in the days of the Freedom Parade which launched the worldwide metahuman revolution on Yiziba, known these days as the "Dawn of Power".

Megane almost died of a stroke when Tokiko-chan drowned Ataru-kun with a KISS when they met!

That was SO funny...

****

Speaking of Ataru-kun, the amount of shipgirls living with him and his sisters has grown quite a bit. Hinako-chan went out to locate the kami of many aircraft carriers, destroyers, escort ships and submarines so that what was designated by the government as the Rengō Kantai Musume Tokushu-sen Rentai could be properly established. This would finally see the crew of the Yonaga return back to Japan after SEVENTY-ONE YEARS away after summer vacation ended, all alive and hearty.

The sight of the six reborn carriers who had served in the Kid ō Butai in the early years HUGGING their true commander, Fujita Hiroshi-taishō , brought tears to everyone's eyes when the crew mustered at the Shrine of Infinite Salvation after Ayumu-chan teleported them home.

On the anniversary of Yonaga's entrapment in a cove in Siberia back in 1941, all the shipgirls of Japan and the crew of Yonaga marched from the Shrine in Tomobiki-chō to the Imperial Palace in downtown Tōkyō so the Heavenly Sovereign could order Fujita-taishō's crew to stand down from their orders to attack Pearl Harbour and the shipgirls to reaffirm their loyalty to the current Constitution since many still saw themselves as directly loyal to the Heavenly Sovereign alone.

And while many relatives of Yonaga's crew were lost in the Greater East Asia War — Fujita-taishō's wife and sons were killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 before the surrender — there were descendants of the crew around to help their long-lost relatives settle back down in a county that seemed as different to them as America did both back in the early Shōwa years and especially today!

Still, there seemed to be something going on that Fujita-taish ō and his senior staff were involved in that they kept secret from all the shipgirls, which just drove the cruisers totally batty.

I wonder what it is...

****

Oh, speaking of shipgirls, Ataru-kun's own personal "fleet" grew quite a bit since he moved in to live with his sister's full time. Atop getting the Italian battleship Roma — now Roberta Ansaldo — as his personal "flagship", he also got the Japanese cruiser Chōkai (Hōjō Chiyo-san) and the destroyer Akebono (Ashikaga Akemi-san) to serve as his personal aides while his sisters worked hard to help all the shipgirls adjust to being human...and human WOMEN atop that!

Even better, much to the delight of Itō Yoiko (who was Yonaga), one of her old mission mates from the Kidō Butai, the carrier Zuikaku (Matsubara Suzue-san), became part of Ataru-kun's fleet, as did the torpedo cruisers Ōi and Kitakami (Kumamoto Otsune-san and Kumamoto Kiko-san), who had been close to Ataru-kun when he still lived with his parents in Tomobiki.

Even crazier, two foreign shipgirls became close to Ataru-kun as well. One was Roberta-san's old fleet mate Paola de Lerici-san, the heavy cruiser Pola. The other one was once the German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, who was later surrendered to the Americans and sunk in one of their atomic bomb tests. When she came back as Catarina von Savoyen-san, she stated she was still USS Prinz Eugen, thank you very much! Catarina-san wasn't dissuaded of that even if her old fleet mate Luisa von Bismarck-san — three guesses as to who she was, of course; the first two don't count! — came to Japan with several of her fleet mates given how the return of shipgirls was causing something of a minor uproar in Germany, especially with the memories of the Holocaust still fresh in people's minds.

One of them was Amélie von Zeppelin-san, the aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin. She hadn't been commissioned when she was built, so she felt a little lost and unsure of herself when she was restored as a shipgirl in August on the anniversary of her scuttling by the Russians. However, since Fujita-taishō is the true father of Japanese naval carrier aviation, Amélie-san soon latched onto him as his personal "secretary shipgirl" so she could learn the ins and outs of carrier work AS a shipgirl.

Seeing what she did to the Mizunok ōji estate when Asuka-chan's fool mother annoyed her once...!

Nope! NOT getting Amélie-san angry for ANY reason!

Fortunately, everything with the German shipgirls was settled when the kami of the large cruiser Admiral Graf Spee was reborn as Margareta von Spee-san one day in mid-September when aliens that the shipgirls all called "lar'beke" approached Earth near Uruguay where she had been scuttled in the early part of the Second World War. Her defence of South America made her the first person to be made a member of the Order of the Iron Cross since the Second World War; that medal was restored as a special decoration for German metahumans who perform valiantly in the field. Seeing Margareta get the "tin necktie" from her saving MILLIONS of lives earned her some heckling from her old fleet mates.

I didn't understand why, though...

****

As things pretty much settled down in Tomobiki, Megane returned to class. He was quiet, which was a welcome change from when he nearly broke everyone's eardrums by his yelling. Even more, the other Stormtroopers were quiet, looking as if they wanted to move on from what had drove them in the past concerning Lum. And much to everyone's delight, even Mend ō-san seemed willing to move on; much that he was still very polite to all of us, he didn't seem to want to flirt with us as he did in the past.

Was he preparing himself to be engaged to Mizunok ōji Asuka-chan...?

Gods, I hope not!

Still, life became quiet after summer vacation, which was a relief to many in Tomobiki-ch ō. Ironically, many of the girls in class started to lament that they actually missed Ataru-kun hitting on them for dates as he did before that whole thing with his other "fianc ée" back in April. When we asked her, Ry ūnosuke-kun said she heard that Ataru-kun was pretty much settling down and busying himself helping the shipgirls adjust to being human, not to mention getting to know his TRUE family.

Including fending off advances from his clone twins, who — despite being mental replicas of Ataru-kun — were genetically different and could have children with him, avoiding issues with inbreeding.

Given they were modelled after characters of a HENTAI game, though...!

Gods! No wonder Ataru-kun got so mad at Lum when he found out about them!

I hope the creep that ordered those girls' creation is suffering GOOD...!

****

Welcome House on Ōmure-jima, two days before Hallowe'en, evening...

"KAMPAI!"

Cups of properly warmed sake, hot apple cider imported from England and an ice wine from the Niagara region of Ontario prepared by staff working for the Protector of All Life herself were raised in salute before people sipped their drinks. Despite the day not being a local celebration due to Obon occurring in the summer, the spiritual significance of All Hallow's Eve still had an impact in eastern Asia as it did in Europe and North America. Even if people were enjoying alcohol, the shipgirls present — even Paola de Lerici, much to the surprise of the other members of Moroboshi Ataru's personal fleet — were keeping the intake low so they still would have their wits in case something odd happened.

Seated directly to her admiral's right, Roberta Ansaldo tensed as her ear twitched. "Signal from Tamiyo, Ataru," she said as she gazed upon her spiritual leader. "All quiet in Tomobiki. No excessive spiritual energies are being detected either by your granduncle, Madame Sakurambō or Venerable Sakurambō."

"Did they do a check of the Marchenland grounds just in case the kid showed up again, Roberta-chan?" Sukeyama Sakuya asked from her position at the head of the table before she nodded thanks as one of the destroyer shipgirls, Fukushima Shirayuki, came over to refill her sake cup.

"Your granduncle looked over the grounds, Donna Marchesa Sakuya. No sign of any sort of breach from where Lum and her 'rescuer' passed through to go to where Rū wanted to keep her 'protected'."

Annoyed sighs echoed from around the large table. When the clone sisters became known to Ataru's blood siblings, Hatoyama Rinrin teamed up with Karasawa Mitsuki to build a whole new Martello tower-like residence right beside the original tower that was on the old seashore side of Welcome House's main commons. Said building was built to be interconnected on all three floors to the older residence, allowing the two groups of sisters to intermingle with each other as well as their brother. A new joint dining room was built on the ground floor between the two towers, giving enough space for everyone to gather for meals; since all of Ataru's blood sisters still went to school — all save Hirosaki Chikage now attended Stargazer West College, a ladder school for all residents of Ōmure-jima rated one of the best all-grade institutions in Japan — it was a way of allowing such a unique family to bond more properly.

"It's a good thing that you were able to come enjoy the celebrations here, Chikage-chan," Tanenobu Karen noted as she gazed on the now-sixth year post-OWL student at Hogwarts, granted a couple days off to be with family. "I hope that silly Umbridge woman didn't cause issues."

"Rose and Thérèse are going to make their final move on Voldemort soon," Chikage noted as the second of the Fubuki-class destroyers — who had been nicknamed "Little Hime" by her namesake Osamu Shirayuki — came over to refill her cup of sake, then do the same for Tsuchidō Otome. "Given the sheer number of British shipgirls who've reported back to duty to become part of the Specialized Warfare Fencibles, I doubt any protest from the stalebloods in the Ministry of Magic will get far."

"Hina thinks its good that Dumbledore-kōchōsensei only has to be the headmaster of Hogwarts," Saeru Hinako noted before smiling as Misaki Yukari leaned over to pour her a new cup of hot apple cider for her to enjoy. "Hina remembered seeing him go from Geneva to London and back to Hogwarts doing what everyone wanted him to do. Kōchō-sensei looked really, really, really tired when Hina saw him once in Diagon Alley before that baka-baka Voldemort came back...eh?!"

The psychics in the room tensed on sensing a wave of power wash through the dining room from the main entrance. People then jolted on hearing a knock at the door. "Whoa! This is a happening party!"

"Ah! Naomi-san! Naomi-san!" Hinako cheered before she got off her chair and ran over to hug the first American warship spirit to be reborn as a shipgirl. "Hina's so happy that Naomi-san came...uh?"

People turned to look...

"Ah! Lahla-san! THERE you are!" Itō Yoiko mused as she fixed the lavender-haired part-Vosian teacher from three centuries in the future with a knowing look, she crossing her arms. "We were wondering when you were going to approach us concerning your wayward charge."

Naturally, Lahla's eyes went wide on hearing THAT...!

****

Ataru's bedroom, moments later...

"Here you are, Sensei!" Osamu Shirayuki said as she placed a small bentō in the lap of their inter-dimensional and temporally-displaced visitor. "When was the last time you had a good meal?! You look as thin as a rail! This should help you have some good nourishment! Bon appétit!"

With that, the Great Chef of the West walked out of the bedroom, allowing Lahla to be alone with Moroboshi Ataru. Of course, all of Ataru's personal "fleet" of shipgirls were also present; Aisuru Tokiko had gone back to Tomobiki to be with her family for Hallowe'en since there was quite the celebration planned at her brother's school. Also present were Naomi Haight-Ashbury and Itō Yoiko, a supportive look on the cruiser's face while the seventh carrier of Operation Z was in her normal Zen-like state. "You should honestly eat, Sensei," Ataru then said as he sat back in his chair, an amused smile crossing his face. "If you were expecting that girl-crazed loon we were before April..."

That made Lahla perk before her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "Um..." she began before sighing, then she picked up the chopsticks to bite into the rice. "Truthfully, I didn't know what to expect when I came here and heard about your Gifting, not to mention yours and Tariko-san's past history on Yiziba. Much that I can say the name of that planet and all the related terms, there is still enormous fear of your people in my time period." She had learned from the Cosmic All-Seer reborn from the world's first nuclear surface ship that Ataru and his relatives knew of where and WHEN both she and Rū hailed. "Still, I have to admit I never thought that encountering Yizibajohei would be so PEACEFUL!" She gave him a curious look. "Was that what you and Tariko-san intended all along, Ataru-san?"

"It's been the long wish of the Nameless like Mama that SOMETHING radical had to be done to change the Show in a way where people would think more with their hearts and heads than their adrenaline glands," the Healer of Women's Hearts noted before he felt Catarina von Savoyen's hand grasp his own. Sensing the look of admiration from the adopted native of Paris and Vienna (where her namesake had lived) and Kiel (where she had been built), he gave the visitor a shrug. "I have to admit, all the bonuses that came with it are more than welcome." He then fixed her with a knowing look as he leaned down to gaze intently at her. "Still, you're not here to hear a recap of the overall plot script, aren't you?"

Lahla blinked before nodding. "Hai, Ataru-san. I had hoped and prayed that you or either of your true twin sisters could help me rescue Rū and Lum-san so the timeline here could be restored to normal and that curse destroyed." She sat back in her chair, then moved to finish the bentō. "Sadly, seeing how much Tariko-san, Hiromi-san and yourself have evolved away from what you obviously were before your memories were restored after the incident with Queen Elle a few months ago..."

A smile crossed his face. "I am sorry about that," he admitted. "Hai, there were many times that we — Onē-san and I when we were one person — did find Lum attractive. She was, despite her lie about our being married, the ONE true friend we had in that town at that time. But..." He shook his head. "I doubt you could understand how HELPLESS I felt when I woke up in the Doll House with my memories restored, me being in a gender I hadn't been in for eleven years..." His eyes closed. "And without the Gift seed given to us by Mama that allowed us to absorb the memories of all the past incarnations of Tuyuki as a way of preparing us for the Gifting. It didn't take long for anger to set in once Ayumu-chan got me back to Yiziba and Onē-san got her memories restored. The chances of a Mother of All Fight Scenes that would finish off what we started twenty-seven mini-series ago was THIS close..." — here, he made a very narrow space with his thumb and index finger — "...from happening!"

She tensed. "What stopped it?"

"Rumiko-chan noted the bomb Ōgi's people planted in the Ginza." As his guest winced on hearing that bit of news, Ataru shook his head. "Potential for a world-wide HOSTAGE SCENE if he tried to use it to make me bow to his 'goddess'." A sneer quickly crossed his face. "So I had to be an open distraction while Onē-san and all our friends worked hard to remove those rimrae umale from Earth, plus stop them from supporting those fools on Uru like Rei's uncle just in case they objected to our being here."

Lahla nodded. "Don't you think things were a little rushed?"

He considered that before he gazed on Yoiko. "What do you think, Yoiko-san?"

"In a way, I agree that things were rushed in some ways," the adopted native of Maizuru noted before she gazed on the cruiser that was there on her transformation and Gifting. "Your words when we saw Lahla-san the night Lum-san's friends departed have haunted me since that morning, Naomi-san."

"How could we change things?" Roberta Ansaldo wondered as she stared intently at the other shipgirls. "Is this Rū child not from another DIMENSION? Sì, the threat to Signorina Redet is considerable given she hails from this dimension, but can that justify changing our own timeline?!"

"It's gotta go back, Bobbi."

Eyes locked on Naomi. "What the fuck does THAT mean, Naomi-san?" Ashikaga Akemi demanded as she crossed her arms. "Why change things like this?! Even if the aliens are being their normal shitty selves, they haven't pushed things with us. After Margareta-san killed off that lar'beke Heru'ur when he came to turn Montevideo into a new bay of the South Atlantic, those stupid so-called 'gods' haven't been much more trouble to us or our pals at the SGC! Why should we change things?!"

"Because it is interference from another dimension."

As Lahla gasped, Ataru looked around her to see who just teleported in. "Otome?"

The teacher tensed as a comforting hand landed on her shoulder. "There is one person who could help you penetrate the dimensional walls and retrieve young Rū, Sensei," the Endless One then declared, her other hand held up in a splayed-finger formation as an expectant look crossed her face.

Lahla blinked before she nodded, then relaxed as the raven-haired, blue-eyed Terran-form Avalonian-turned-Yizibajohei reality warper reached over to touch the specific shiatsu points on the older woman's face, her eyes closing as she whispered. "Your thoughts to my thoughts...your soul to my soul..."

Lahla's grey eyes closed as she felt the power of Tsuchidō Otome's mind gently surge into her own. Both women fell silent as memories that spanned dimensions and centuries were shared between them. In what seemed an eternity to the two women — it was actually a minute in real time — their eyes opened as Otome pulled her hand away. Gazing upon her — and noting the faint ghost of what she was when she was created by Aruka Ran's clone gun back in March — the teacher nodded. "One of the two powers that it is said that not even the Infinite One herself could change," she whispered.

"And that is?" Yoiko asked.

A smile crossed the time traveller's face. "Marei'cha."

Jaws dropped. "Whoa! You mean...you and that Oni bitch?!" Akemi demanded.

POINK!

An awk escaped the profane eighth of the Ayanami-class destroyers after a hanko was pressed onto her forehead, displaying a cloverleaf with "-10" in the centre. "Ten-point deduction!" Lahla declared.

"HEY!"

"AKEBONO-DONO! ENOUGH!"

Akemi yelped as Yoiko's incensed glare made her back off. "No matter what, we MUST speak about your LANGUAGE, Akemi-san!" the seventh carrier snarled, making the reborn destroyer drop down onto the floor in obvious fright of the effectively older shipgirl's well-controlled cyclonic rage.

An embarrassed giggle escaped Lahla. "Forgive me, Akemi-san! I do that a lot when I'm tutoring!"

"Though she does deserve that," Otome cautioned.

An annoyed humph escaped Akemi while she looked away as others in the room chuckled or laughed. "I still don't understand," Paola noted. "Even if Donna Marchesa Otome here feels the urge to take Signorina Redet as her wife, how can the energy of that curse be defeated?"

Lahla gave the third of the Zara-class cruisers a hopeful look. "The power of true love, Paola-san. Remember, Mistress Zōju's curse was meant to deny Lum-san true love. The curse as it existed in this dimension may have helped contribute to your admiral's change of attitudes concerning Lum-san when he was allowed to live his own life, but it can still be defeated by overwhelming force. Look what it required to have him Gifted, especially as one of the Chosen of the Healer of Destruction, after all."

"A massive injection of energy from young Hinako," Yoiko concluded.

"Hai, Yoiko-sama!" Lahla affirmed. "If what I hope will happen, Otome-san's desire to make Lum-san her bond-mate — added onto the fact that the curse that's now possessing Rū is actually from ANOTHER DIMENSION — may be enough to open the breach between this dimension and wherever Rū is right now, thus allow us to deal with the controlling orb that's at the heart of this whole insanity."

"You'll need a little help, Teach."

People gazed on the reborn USS Long Beach. "What do you mean, Naomi?" Catarina asked.

The adopted native of her namesake city in California reached behind her back to draw out a package over a metre long, wrapped in ruby mesonium-infused Yizibajohei silkworm cloth. "Paid a visit to the man whose the current version of the lady who created our new hulls." As Ataru and Otome gaped on hearing that, Naomi undid the tie to allow what was within to be exposed. "Since he's got access to that Sanctuary hangout where the Questors surged back in time to meet the Seekers, he found this." With that, she held out what she had been given by the current incarnation of the Healer of Destruction.

As Lahla gasped in awe, Otome nodded. "That will work..."

****

Approaching the Tomobiki Marchenland, a half-hour later...

"I can sense the full moon is adding to the spiritual energy in the city," Tsuchidō Otome noted as she serenely flew alongside Lahla — driving a blue-and-white air bike much more advanced than Shigaten Benten's preferred model — towards the darkened park. "Given that the blocking shield that was erected by those who attacked Nē-ya to trap her here in Tomobiki last September is still up, it's allowing the hidden desires of all those who interacted with Lum to sense what we have in mind."

"The soul of the town wants her returned?!" the tutor asked.

"Part of that wa wants Lum to return. The other part wants a PROPER resolution to matters between Lum and others," the Endless One affirmed as the two came to a hover over the front gates. "Like it or not, the whole of Earth is simply NOT READY for direct interactions with sentient beings of other worlds. I saw what you learned in history classes about the post-First Contact era on Earth, Lahla-san. Given the different types of powers in play in our dimension, that sort of thing can't happen."

Lahla blinked as she tried not to shudder from that cold judgment by the Endless One. Once again exposed to the simple fact that someone like this beautiful female clone of Moroboshi Ataru also had the knowledge of multiple LIFETIMES lived over TWO MILLENNIA on a world where the concepts of social Darwinism was a fact of life every day, she gazed on her companion. "Still, you desire Lum..."

"Which means that Lum herself must be Gifted."

The older woman's jaw dropped. "I doubt she'd go THAT far..."

Otome winked as she gave her companion a knowing look. "Remember what Nē-ya and Ayumu-chan did for her shortly after Nē-ya began her casting drive."

Lahla's eyes went wide...

"Oi! Otome-chan! Sorry we're late!"

The tutor spun around, then gasped in awe on seeing the two teenage girls floating to her left, one in a slate-grey jumpsuit with white belt and boots and a while lemniscate insignia on her chest, the other in a black jumpsuit with golden belt and boots topped with psychedelic sprays of multiple colours forming a maddening maze across her chest and legs. "Lady Infinity...Lady Weaver..."

"Oi! Oi! Lahla-chan, relax!" Kasuga Ayumu said as she floated over to pat the older woman's shoulder. "Once Otome-chan gives Lum-chan the strength to throw off that curse, Haruhi-chan here will send you and Rū-kun and Oshima-chan home and we'll get our timeline back to order again, okay?" Here, the current incarnation of the Goddess Who Walks Among Men waved to her equal in power, Suzumiya Haruhi, the current incarnation of the Mistress of Time and Space, R'buttuo (the "Weaver").

Hearing that vow from a being said to be able to destroy and create whole UNIVERSES at her whim, Lahla gulped. Much that she was more than grateful that these three living goddesses in mortal form were available and willing to help her get her charge back home safe, the sheer POWER that both Ayumu and her friend possessed could actually be TOO MUCH in this case. "Still..."

"Hey! Relax, Lahla-san!" the boisterous xenophile sophomore from Kita-Nishinomiya High School in the namesake city between Kōbe and Ōsaka who was also the leader of a special team of paranormal explorers spanning time and space said with a wink as she drifted over to float beside her friend. "Our being here can keep the more uglier side of Otome-chan's marei'cha urges from sending the kid into the healer's cockpit once you all get home. We're here for DAMAGE CONTROL, alright?"

The tutor tensed, then she gazed at the Endless One, who had drawn the spare Cat's Claw taiken-like blade forged by the First Race billions of years before, the dark silvery surface indicating said weapon was forged of the Universe's densest known material now glittering as Otome drew in the necessary spiritual energy to coat the blade in the right sort of energy to seek out the missing warlord's daughter from Uru. Since the blade was forged of depleted neutronium — material taken from the degenerate cores of neutron stars, then purged by the Seekers to drain ALL the volatile energy such a titanic gravitational pull ultimately unleashed on the crushed hydrogen and helium atoms fuelling the cores of normal stars — its density was measured in the TRILLIONS of tonnes per cubic centimetre; the ruby mesonium straps on the hilt and lining the dulled side of the single-edged blade radiated an anti-gravity field which reduced such a mass to something a normal person could handle.

Of course, Otome was no normal person.

"Otome-san..."

"I'm alright, Sensei," Otome whispered as the power on her blade's spine became as luminescent as brightest noon. "I think this should be enough to break down the door and get your errant ward back...

"KONTŌ!"

With a perfect overhand pitch, the Endless One sent the ancient blade spiralling through the air right at the entrance of the house of House of Mirrors...

On contact with glass still charged with the cosmic magic of a decades-old curse enhanced with a like curse that had CENTURIES to grow in power, the blade tip punched through the mirror...

...creating an instant black hole that drew four young women within!

****

Somewhere...

A gasp escaped Redet Lum as she felt something surge towards her, something full of genuine concern — even the ONE emotion she had long sought from the one she had long desired to be her life-mate — which made her look out the window of the guest cabin at the aft end of Rū's pirate ship. "Darling...!" she hissed, the joy billowing in her like a nova. "Darling, it's you! You came for me! Oh, Darling...!"

The whole ship rocked hard as something twirling with the speed of the fastest propeller blade smashed through the windows, nearly cleaving apart poor Oshima before burying itself into the forward bulkhead three metres behind Lum. Both beings screamed at such a terrible display as they were knocked off their feet, with the at'ise being head-first into the inner bulkhead and the warlord's daughter falling on her back, smacking her head on unyielding wood. "Ittacha...!"

Footfalls then echoed as the sound of air bike motors echoed, making Lum turn to look. "Darling..."

She then gaped in understandable confusion on seeing who was standing there.

"Um...Otome-san...?"

A chuckle escaped the Endless One as she knelt, moving to help the still-somewhat dazed Oni teen up to a sitting position. "I must have put too much power into the stroke of my soulsword to breach the dimensional walls, koishii," Tsuchidō Otome said as she used a bit of her power to wave off the dirt from Lum's body and her "one good outfit"; of course, the woman modelled after the last of the Colourful Kiss characters wondered why Lum acted as if she was so poor given her father's position both in the Urusian government and the armed forces of the fourth world of Oniboshi. "Apologies for being late, but the Fates insisted we wait until the right spiritual moment to mount the rescue."

Lum blinked before she shook her head, then she looked around. "Darling...?"

"Nii-ya couldn't help you in this case. Neither could Nē-ya."

Silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Then...

"No...!"

Otome sighed as Lum seemed to collapse, her body shaking as one fact of that statement finally sank in. "Lum..." she began before reaching over to squeeze the other woman's shoulder. "Koishii..."

Lum then gasped as her ears picked up that one word. "Otome...?"

Gently, the Endless One pressed her forehead against the other woman's.

"Remember...!"

****

Tomobiki, the second Sunday of March in 2012, mid-afternoon...

"There's one! I've got him!"

Redet Lum perked on hearing the familiar voice, then she turned. "K ōsuke-san... ?"

Her voice caught in her throat as Shirai K ōsuke levelled a VERY advanced weapon at one of the clones of Moroboshi Ataru who had been running around trying to hit on girls since he had been created by Aruka Ran. Noting that said weapon was nowhere close to being built by local technology, the warlord's daughter from Onishuto summoned some bio-electricity and shot it off directly at her classmate. "Kōsuke-san! Where in the Maidens' Names did you get that...?!"

The bolt slammed into his right arm, burning off the shirt and blackening the skin underneath it. Before she could soar over to directly confront her husband's best friend, the freckle-less version of the tallest of her "Stormtroopers" fan club spun the weapon around to aim right at her face. "Stupid, lying flesh-bag BITCH...!" he snarled as his eyes glowed an unearthly gold.

" LUM! LOOK OUT! "

Lum gasped as the clone of Ataru tackled K ōsuke hard to totally throw off his aim, sending the other young man crashing HARD head-first into a VERY unforgiving telephone pole. As he dropped to the ground, the warlord's daughter looked...then she gargled. "An ANDROID?!"

That made the clone jolt before he leaned down to shift Kōsuke's head to expose the ripped skin displaying a metal skull underneath, a considerable amount of severed circuits now sparking dangerously. Seeing something that looked like it had rose from the Terminator movies, the clone let go of his template's "best friend", cartwheeling away while he waved his hands to ward off whatever alien technological spirit decided to possess Shirai Kōsuke. "What...how...?!"

Lum blinked before the more urgent issue came back to her, then she raced off to find Ran. The clone turned to watch her go, then he cried out, "Oi! Lum! What the hell's going on here?! Did you...?!"

ZZ-ZARK!

The clone awked before he collapsed to the ground. "There we go," the middle-aged man dressed somewhat like Onsen Mark — though he didn't bother to hide the tapered ears marking him as a native of the second world of the Phentax system — breathed out as he secured his Lawgiver, then walked over to pick up the device the now-malfunctioning android had dropped when he had been knocked down. "Pathetic Sh ōzoki machine! You stupid androids actually think you're so ADVANCED...!"

The dazed clone blinked in confusion before unconsciousness overcame him...

****

Somewhere...

"You...saved my life..."

"Hai...I did, didn't I...?"

Hearing that from the two women who had just mind-melded — she knew that the one in the black jumpsuit normally worn by They Who Must Never Be Named had been an Avalonian before her Gifting — Oshima blinked before she shook her head. Seeing the mixture of joy and attraction on the face of her master's "guest" sent chills down the alien metamorph's spine. Whatever had been exchanged in that touching of souls had so shaken Redet Lum away from her attraction to Moroboshi Ataru that it now had her locked on this Tsuchidō Otome woman. Master Rū had to learn of this very quickly...!

"Do not move."

The mid-aged at'ise awked on hearing that ice-cold voice, then she hesitantly turned to see a pair of dark blue eyes focused directly on her. As Lum shuddered on sensing the woman who obviously wanted to be her life-mate was moving to properly punish her captors — she knew of Azriel, one of the minor reality warpers native to That Place, so there was no way that whatever Rū had in his possession would stand up to the likes of Otome — the Endless One stretched out her hand, snaring the hapless shapeshifter in a dark bubble of energy. "Nē-ya will deal with Rū-kun himself very soon, Oshima-san," the replica of the twelfth of the Colourful Kiss characters warned. "As for your part in this..."

Oshima then screamed out as a virtual hurricane's worth of lighting ripped through her body, causing her bones to light up like neon while the smell of ozone and seared flesh assaulted the nostrils of the two human women there. After a minute, the poor creature collapsed to the deck, moaning in agony as Otome allowed her holding bubble to fade. "That should attract his attention..."

"You just watch me, Lahla...!"

Hearing the young voice of her captor, Lum pointed forward. "That way!"

Otome was already on the move, scooping up the Cat's Claw blade as she ran into the main corridor of this particular deck. Narrowing her eyes as she reached out with her much-enhanced telepathy, the Endless One then charged down the corridor, Lum right behind her. Reaching a particular door, Otome made a brutal swipe of the blade, the razor-sharp depleted neutronium edge ripping through hardened durasteel like it was tissue paper. Once beyond that portal, she parried a bolt of energy fired by Rū from the controlling crystal he had found in a dump on another dimension's Yūbinsei in another time.

"GO AWAY, MOROBOSHI! YOU'RE GOING TO MAKE LUM CRY AGAIN!" Rū snapped.

Bolts of energy lashed out to splash harmlessly on her cape. "True, I AM Moroboshi!" the Endless One stated. "But the one that you speak about NO LONGER EXISTS!"

KK-KRACK!

Rū yelped as Lum gasped in surprise as a noticeable crack appeared on the surface of the controlling orb the former was holding. "NO! YOU'RE NOT GOING TO MAKE LUM CRY AGAIN...!"

"I'll take that."

A hand snared the orb, yanking it out of Rū's hand, which made him yelp as someone in off-white, grey and flipped over him to land between the time traveller and her adopted sister. Jolting on realizing who ELSE had come, Rū screamed out as he lunged towards her. "GIVE THAT BACK, MOROBOSHI...!"

WHOMP!

"It's Katabarbe, brat! Not Moroboshi!" Tariko Katabarbe snapped, her brown eyes flaring dangerously after dropping a cinder block onto the younger man's head, sending him crashing into the deck as a large lump appeared on his temple. "Baka! Try to steal MY money, eh...!"

Lum blinked. "Your money?!"

"Didn't you notice, koishii?" Otome asked. "Nē-ya technically OWNS the Milky Way 'Curses 'R' Us' Management Organization. It was her second-self that founded it two millennia ago."

That made the warlord's daughter perk as she recalled seeing that before she chuckled. "Tariko-chan, did anyone tell you your people are too STRANGE at times?!" she then sarcastically commented.

"'Normal's overrated'!" both Tariko and Otome chanted together.

Silence fell, then laughter filled the air of the control space before Tariko reached behind her back to draw out an ornate khukuri-shaped knife to plunge the razor-sharp blade into the controlling orb, causing that to seriously crack even if the cut didn't shatter it. Rū's body jolted as energy exploded from him, dissipating into nothingness, that making Otome use her cape to shield Lum's eyes from the burst of blinding light. After a moment, a pained, tired moan escaped the young boy from the future as the last of the curse energy that had infected him dissipated into nothingness. At that moment, a cheery voice called out, "Gee, Tariko-chan. You never use the Claw in fight scenes."

"It was needed this time, Ayumu-chan," the Trickster of the Show said as she tossed the controlling orb to Otome. "Here! You two finish off this thing while we clean up the mess here and fix the timeline."

"Hai, Nē-ya," the Endless One said as she wrapped her free arm around Lum.

Both teleported away just as Lahla came in, followed by Kasuga Ayumu and Suzumiya Haruhi. "RŪ!" the tutor cried out as she ran over to help him into a sitting position. "No...oh, Rū...!"

"Oh, relax! He's okay, Lahla-chan!" the Infinite One assured her, making the teacher from the future gaze upon her. "Tariko-chan broke the curse's hold with her Claw. She just sent Otome-chan and Lum-chan away to talk things over. Rū-kun just needs a long nap right now."

That made Lahla blink. "Um...but what about the timeline, Ayumu-sama?"

"Daijōbu, Sensei! Daijōbu!" the Mistress of Time and Space affirmed. "That's MY responsibility! Everything will go back to the way it should have gone hadn't your kid butted into it, okay?!"

"But do us all a big favour, please?" Tariko asked as she gave the older woman an exasperated look. "Make sure the damned kid doesn't wander around in DUMPS anymore!"

"Yeah! And go find his dork parents!" Ayumu added. "Or adopt him as your own son, for Heaven's sake! He deserves to have real family around him, you know!"

Hearing those words from three of the most powerful people of this universe, the tutor blushed before she gazed at her young charge, then she smiled as she moved to hug the sleeping Rū close to her...

****

Somewhere else...

A moan escaped Redet Lum as her eyes fluttered open, she finding herself in some dark space. There was a sort of "floor" present, though she couldn't see it, much less discern anything else wherever she was right now. Blinking as she took in a deep breath of fresh air — at least there was oxygen here, so she could survive in this place, wherever it was — she moaned. "Yizibajohei are so WEIRD...!" she muttered under her breath before a surprised gasp escaped her. "HUH?!"

She then blinked as a flash of red caught her attention from somewhere by her left knee, making her stop thinking of the fact that she no longer feared Those People. Pulling up her left hand, she then blinked on seeing a glistening crimson string tied neatly around her little finger. Blinking in confusion for a moment, her eyes then widened in surprise as memory came back to her...

I bet Darling and I are connected by a red string, too...!

Jolting as that conversation in the Tomobiki High School library the day before all this madness began came back to her like a relentless tsunami, Lum then felt a titanic surge of depression overcome her heart, that instantly eliciting the sound of ominous thunder from around her. Immediately gazing around her, she then tensed on seeing silvery cracks appearing overhead. "I'm in the controlling orb Mistress Zōju made!" she exclaimed, a new surge of panic flooding her from head to toe.

"Not our Mistress Zōju, koishii."

Hearing that voice, Lum spun around. "Otome!"

Immediately flying over, she warmly embraced the Endless One who had just appeared in the darkness around her, now on her knees. Feeling those powerful arms hold her close, SENSING the powerful mind augmented through the Gifting process by memories of the many incarnations of one of Yiziba's more powerful reality warpers, Lum shuddered as a powerful warmth flooded her from head to toe, making her feel even more safe now than she ever did since that day at the end of the Tag Race, when...

A tender kiss touched her forehead to wipe away the surge of guilt that shot up Lum's spine as she recalled what she had done that day over a year before. "You were fleeing being the 'marble woman' on Uru, koishii," Otome gently soothed before she allowed her cloak to cover her would-be bond-mate's body, which had been covered only by Lum's tiger-striped bikini. "Fleeing an engagement to a man who one tried to EAT you..." She shuddered as her own dark eyes flared with the endless power she had at her command. "Remind me to kill that walking stomach one of these days, will you, Lum?"

A laugh escaped the warlord's daughter before she looked up into the other woman's eyes. Seeing the faint image of Otome's template appear before it melted into her current features, Lum felt her eyes glisten as a new surge of raw, pure DESIRE overcame her heart. "Darling...!"

"Koishii..."

Their lips collided together in a yearning, passionate kiss that took their breaths away, the frustrations and uncertainties that had rocked both their lives since that day when two alien girls were duelling with clone guns and members of two alien races with dark designs on the citizens of Earth took advantage of that silly spat between two "childhood friends". As Otome's touch telepathy — a legacy of her Avalonian heritage — flooded Lum's mind with her own memories from the moment of her creation to when she rescued Lum from Shirai Kōsuke (an enslaved Shōzoki android, Lum now knew) to her capture by Lum's "most faithful" and "preservation" in a "slave robot" body to better understand what drove the "Great Evil", the warlord's daughter from Onishuto mentally screamed out at how much those snarling demons that had tried to suppress her for their own evil desires still loomed in the background despite all her desires to live her life in peace with someone she truly wanted to love.

Someone...that had been a lie all along...!

For that someone had been also seized and TRAPPED in the town that Redet Lum had come to see as her place of peace away from the madness that had haunted her back on planet Uru. Saved from uncaring parents by a grieving widow who had lost her husband in the incessant fighting that always rocked the third world of Kaeyu, transformed into a girl on inheriting her late would-be father's Gift seed, then going forth to protect her birth world from potential harm by recruiting others like herself to shield Earth as well as hopefully reform the way of life — the Great Show of Life! as it had been called there for the past two millennia — throughout all of Yiziba. Then being trapped, brainwashed and forcibly returned to being what she had not been for over a DECADE, forced back into a home she never considered her own, then made to live a LIE until her true oldest friend rescued him/her, restoring her memories...and effectively forcing part of a now-split soul to seek out a whole new destiny.

Maidens, it was no wonder that Darling — that Ataru — had come to hate so much!

This curse had nothing to do with that...!

Lum jolted as more loud cracking noises echoed from all around them, then she pulled away from Otome to look around. "We're doing it," the Endless One firmly declared. "The more our feelings for each other grow — and the more you come to realize your pursuit of Nē-ya and Nii-ya would only have led you down a path you wouldn't DARE accept — will shatter what's left of the curse's hold. Once it's destroyed, Master Ibam and his friends will destroy the time management device tied to Mistress Zōju's original curse in our dimension, thus preventing something like this from happening again."

"I'll forget you...I'll keep hurting your brother...!"

A hand shifted Lum's head to allow her to gaze into Otome's face. "Spoilers..." she teased.

Her left hand came up hover beside her head.

Said hand having a red string tied around her little finger.

Lum blinked in stunned surprise, then she held up her own hand to see that the string tied to her own finger now connected to that of Otome's. Even better, there were no other strings tied to any of their fingers. A shudder of pure jubilation then flooded the warlord's daughter before she stared intently at the woman who would one day in the cloudy future ahead...be her wife and bond-mate.

"Darling..."

"Koishii..."

Their lips collided once more...

...as what was left of the controlling orb shattered into disintegrating fragments!

****

And within the barrier between dimensions...

"And it's done!"

Watching the final destruction of a curse that had gained the power to affect people in TWO dimensions over a span of THREE centuries and more, a dazed yet conscious Rū blinked before he leaned against his tutor, gazing hopefully beyond two of Them — he was glad to be able to say the name of That Planet now, but they were still SCARY as heck! — to see the last pieces of the centuries-old orb that had possessed him one night on Yūbinsei vanish forever in sparkles of energy.

"Are you sure it's done, Haruhi-sama?"

The Mistress of Time and Space looked over her shoulder at Lahla. "Oh, relax, Sensei!" Suzumiya Haruhi declared as she waved the older woman down. "Sure, Lum-chan and Otome-chan are meant to come together in future days and months, but there's still a TONNE of spiritual, extraterrestrial and other garbage cooped up all over Tomobiki that has to be cleaned up in complete and painstaking detail before we could see those two get together and do the wedding dance without issues."

"Oh! Haruhi-chan, can you remind me of something?"

"Huh? What's that, Ōsaka?"

"Remind me to do an Infinite Wave to get rid of those Niphentaxians in Tomobiki right away!"

That made the native of Nishinomiya blink in confusion, then she nodded. "Sure! Go on, you lazy dork!"

"Waah! Haruhi-chan's so mean...!"

And with a wave of the hand, the leader of the Sekai o Ōi ni Moriageru Tame no Suzumiya Haruhi no Dan sent Kasuga Ayumu back to her home dimension and the place in time where she would merge with her past-self and thus be made to forget what had happened over a period of four months. Seeing her do that, Oshima — recovered from the electrocution Tsuchidō Otome unleashed, now freed from the curse's influence as much as her master was — looked over. "Um, Mistress Haruhi, wouldn't the removal of the Niphentaxian observers in Tomobiki alter the proper history in your dimension?"

"No, not at all," Haruhi said as her chocolate brown eyes sparkled with considerable amusement. "They were effectively defunct the instant we smashed apart the 'Army of Lum' back on the anniversary of D-Day. We could have done it a lot faster than we were going, but all of us have pretty much lives outside these battlesuits, so we decided it was best to take our time and be thorough." She then chuckled. "A lot less flashier than what the Ataru-kun of your universe did to those rimrae umale."

Hearing that, Lahla chuckled. "Hai, that's true! Still, the 'auction'..."

Haruhi roared with gut-busting laughter as both Rū and Oshima snickered and guffawed on being reminded of THAT particular tidbit of their own history. Then, the young man who had been possessed by Zōju's curse in his own dimension froze. "What is it?" Haruhi asked.

"Um...what made me want to go after Lum in the first place, Lahla?" he asked as he gazed at his tutor/guardian. "I mean, yeah, she looks like Mom but still...!"

"Well, she's your ancestor," the woman whom Haruhi knew was the direct descendant of Redet Lum's old combat teacher Nassur of Vos — who lost his first wife Cinba and effectively lost his second son Akisur in a shuttle accident five years before the Tag Race changed lives forever on Earth, but would later marry Lum's best friend Shigaten Benten — answered. "Your six-times great-grandmother."

"But she never married Ataru!" he then protested. "He had his grandma chase her off Earth after the Second Tag Race, found a way to get Negako-sensei out of his head to fulfill that sacred promise he made on his sixth birthday, then eventually married Inu Chigaiko!"

"Hai, hai, that's true, but you're effectively descent from him, too!"

"Eh?! How?!"

"You remember Reiko-sama, don't you?"

Haruhi tensed as Rū's eyes widened in surprise. "Who's Reiko?" she asked.

"Ataru-san's and Chigaiko-san's adopted daughter, whom they welcomed into their family just before they helped liberate the Avalonians in their own dimension and saw Negako-sama freed from Ataru-san's subconscious mind," Lahla explained. "A Noukiite-born clone bioroid created from the combined DNA of that planet's greatest kings, sages and military leaders in the Lost Stars Project."

Here, the Mistress of Time and Space nodded in understanding. "Oh, that!" she declared. "Yeah, that sort of happened in our timeline, but authorities caught onto it and rescued the kids before having the perpetrators executed for grave robbing." She then considered that for a moment before she blinked, then she pointed at Lahla. "Hey! Isn't Reiko's name in Noukiite 'P'yeknu'?!"

"Hai! Moroboshi Reiko-sama, later the second empress of the new Nehech Dynasty."

"Oh, yeah! Noukiios was occupied by Uru in the series around the time of the Mother of All Fight Scenes," Haruhi noted before her face screwed up in disgust before she turned away from them. "Damn! Your Ataru actually went to Sagussa of all places?! That's gross!"

"Eh?! Why's that, Haruhi-sama?"

"Having pillow scenes with reanimated corpses?!"

The visitors from another dimension all balked as the native of Nishinomiya waved her hand to send them spiralling through a temporal tunnel back to their home time period...

To Be Concluded...!

****

WRITER'S NOTES

Translation list and source language: FISS — Short for "Flight, Invulnerability, Super-Strength and Super-Speed" (English); Ramzel — Gigantic (Breton); Ithfaen — Granite (Welsh); Archseren — Female superstar (Welsh); Rengō Kantai Musume Tokushu-sen Rentai — Combined Fleet Daughter Specialized Warfare Regiment (Japanese); Kapitän zur See — Captain at Sea (short-form KptzS), the German rank title for a Navy captain (German); KMDR — Short for Kriegsmarine des Deutschen Reiches ("War Navy of the German Realm"), the official name of Germany's naval service between 1935-45 (German); Kriegsmarineschiff — War Navy Ship (short-form KMS), the ship prefix for German warships from 1935-45 in my stories (German); Reichsgräfin — Imperial Countess (German); Fürstin — Literally "lady first", this is a German noble rank title for the female relatives of a sovereign price directly subordinate to an emperor (German); Marchesa — Marchioness (Italian); Marei'cha — Literally "the one with whom you raise a child", this is a parent's life-mate in Sagussan/Avalonian society (normally referred to as one's bond-mate), which doesn't have to be the child's co-parent (Sagussan); Kontō — Soulsword (Japanese); Koishii — Darling (Japanese); Sekai o Ōi ni Moriageru Tame no Suzumiya Haruhi no Dan — Brigade for Spreading Excitement all Over the World with Suzumiya Haruhi (short-formed as SOS-dan or SOS Brigade) (Japanese).

The shipgirls introduced or directly mentioned in this chapter:

Kapitän zur See Amélie Françoise, Reichsgräfin von Zeppelin KMDR (Kriegsmarineschiff Graf Zeppelin [pennant F1])
KptzS Wilhelmine Luise, Fürstin von Bismarck-Schönhausen KMDR (Kriegsmarineschiff Bismarck [pennant 62])
KptzS Huberta Margareta, Reichsgräfin von Spee KMDR (Kriegsmarineschiff Admiral Graf Spee [pennant K88])
KptzS Olympia Catarina, Fürstin von Savoyen-Carignen KMDR (later Captain USN) (Kriegsmarineschiff Prinz Eugen [pennant K93], later United States Ship Prinz Eugen [IX-300, later CA-161])
Capitano di Vascello Paola Maria di Pisa e Lerici RN (Regia Marina Pola [pennant I67])
Kumamoto Otsune-taisa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Ōi [SRJ-49])
Fukushima Shirayuki-chūsa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Shirayuki [KK-157])
Ashikaga Akemi-chūsa DNTK (Tennō Heika Gunkan Akebono [KK-173])

Of course, save for Margareta von Spee (KMS Admiral Graf Spee), all the girls listed above resemble their Kantai Collection interpretations; Margareta will take after her Azur Lane interpretation. Note that in my stories, those countries that adopt the pennant number approach to ship identification use their own flag superior codes based on their native language terms for various vessel types. Thus, in Germany, flag superior F means Flugzeugträger ("aircraft carrier") while flag superior K means Kreuzer ("cruiser"). In Italy, flag superior I means Incrociatore ("cruiser"). All ships of the German, Italian and Japanese naval services are numbered in order of construction or capture; thus, Ashikaga Akemi (THG Akebono) is the 173rd destroyer serving in the Imperial Japanese Navy (a list that also includes captured Russian destroyers from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05) while Luisa von Bismarck (KMS Bismarck) is the 62nd battleship to serve in the various German naval services.

Yatsura character notes: The incident of the clone gun war was depicted in the manga story "All of Me" (manga chapter #107). Shirai Kōsuke was a background character in the manga series, whose rôle was ultimately taken over by Lum's Stormtroopers (Aisuru Satoshi AKA Megane, Urayamu Akira AKA Chibi, Shitto Kōsuke AKA Perm and Daremo Hiroyuki AKA Kakugari) in the anime.

As one can suspect, the history where and Lahla hail is a slightly-alternate history of what was depicted in The Senior Year. The primary influence from that universe's Moroboshi Ataru on Rū (as noted above) was his adopted daughter, Moroboshi Reiko, who first appeared in the TSY story "Arrive Reiko-chan". And yes, the name "Reiko" is encoded as P'yeknu in my Korean-to-Noukiite sound encoding system that I use for the latter language as I describe in several stories; the term "Reiko" means "clever child" in Japanese (written 怜子 in kanji), which is read as 령자 (ryŏngja) in Korean.

Chapter Text

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.