Yuu Akimoto waited patiently in the coffee shop, sipping his drink. It was already five minutes past the appointed time, but he knew some people couldn't help but be late.
Indeed, after a bit longer, with a crackle of magical energy, a glowing person seemingly made of pink light appeared across the table.
"Hello there, Mr. Akimoto," she said.
"Yuu, please," he told her. "Not sure if you noticed, but my family name is a bit conspicuous around here. Speaking of conspicuous things..." He glanced around and noticed that nobody was gawking at the person made of light. "I'm guessing the general public isn't seeing what I'm seeing."
"What, this?" she said, gesturing at herself. "No, that's just for you, Yuu. Everyone else just sees a forgettable mousy-looking girl. My 'Hyursona', one could say. Or 'humansona', rather."
Yuu nodded. "... By the way, how should I refer to you? I don't attend your school, so 'Headmistress' seems sort of..."
She tilted her head in a show of faux-thought. "Well, I believe this is the part where I normally say my name is classified, but I must admit, I'm surprised to learn you haven't managed to dig it up anyway, somehow."
"I don't know everything," Yuu said, grinning. "About your world, in particular, I actually know almost nothing. Just one cursed individual, and you. And if you hadn't jumped out at me like that, I wouldn't even know about you."
"If you say so," she responded, picking up a cookie from the plate on the table. "... The curse, huh? That's really what did it?"
"That and the devil mentioning it offhand. I assume he knows more than I do, what with it being his curse and all."
The headmistress shook her head. "What a pain... I'll keep an eye out for him, then. ... The silly part is, I only even cursed Yoshiko as a joke. She rolled a 6, y'know?"
"Not precisely," Yuu responded, "but I suppose I can guess the general idea. You were playing a game, I imagine?"
"Do you play games of that sort often?"
"Only once." She paused, looking thoughtful. "I'm not sure if I liked it. I think I prefer the hotel. That's been uneventful lately, though..." She frowned, looking concerned.
"Is that a problem?" Yuu asked.
"... It is if I don't want to start another... game."
"And you don't like the games?"
She paused. "They don't sit right with me. I've been on both sides of them, now, and..." She shook her head. "They just don't sit right," she repeated.
"Why not? That probably sounds ridiculous," Yuu admitted, "but you haven't told me anything about them."
The headmistress considered that for several seconds. ... Oh, what the heck. What could he even do if he disapproves? "They're more commonly called murdergames. A host, such as myself, traps a handful of players in a closed circle and makes them kill each other according to some prescribed set of rules."
Yuu frowned very loudly. "And you have to run these murdergames, if the hotel doesn't... what are you even getting from them?"
"Memories," she said. "The hotel produces good memories, and the games produce bad ones. And it's common knowledge that bad memories are much more vivid than good ones, so..." She trailed off.
"But after being in a game yourself, they don't sit right with you anymore," Yuu said.
The headmistress shook her head. "No, I was in a murdergame first. It wasn't until after running one that I realized I couldn't do it again. I had already made changes, but even with those..."
"What kind of changes did you make that made you think a game like that would be okay?" Yuu asked, somehow managing to sound simply curious and not at all judgemental.
She shrugged. "Just changed the rules a bit. Mainly, his game chose particular people and forced them to kill, while mine relies on the players choosing to kill of their own accord." She paused to sip from her tea, which had somehow arrived without Yuu noticing.
"So, what, it's a commentary on how far people will go with a minimal push?" Yuu asked.
"Well, one could call it that, certainly," she said. "But really... I only made that change because I felt guilty about forcing people to kill. This way, they could've collectively defied me and chose to live in peace forever. I had no plan against that." She closed her eyes in thought. "I almost thought they were going to, during Steybarque's trial. But they just couldn't trust her after what she did."
A ringing noise suddenly emanated from her ear and she frowned. She tapped the source of the noise. "What is it? ... ... ... No, look, you don't need to do anything. Just let it play out. ... Listen, I'm busy right now, okay? Let it play out, and if it goes on too long... I don't know, I told you you can do what you want, so think of something. Give them an incentive or something." She tapped it again with the disgruntled look of someone hanging up on an unpleasant phone call.
"Bothersome subordinate?" Yuu asked.
"I only even have the one subordinate," the headmistress grumbled, "and I'm kinda regretting it already. I told him he could do what he wants, within the boundaries I defined, and he keeps whining that the players aren't killing each other as fast this time."
"And I take it that's bad," Yuu said.
The headmistress shrugged. "It's definitely less eventful, but... strictly speaking, as long as memories keep being produced, it's fine if there's a few days between kills. He's just put out because that never happened when I did it, even though my players were less bloodthirsty than that adventurer of his. And the whole point of me letting him run his own game was that he could do so without my intervention, so the calls are starting to get on my nerves..."
The headmistress shook her head. "Bah. Enough about my silly games. How are your silly games going?"
"Fairly well, I'd say," Yuu said, stirring his tea idly. "The tournament is going as expected, and I got one over on the false God."
"Ah, your patron," the headmistress said, smirking. "False gods lately, am I right?"
Yuu raised an eyebrow.
"Hey, I'm no god and I never claimed to be one," the headmistress said defensively. "What I am is a domain holder."
"And that's an important distinction to you?"
"Very important," the headmistress says. "For practical reasons, too. In my hotel, my campus, my... stolen replica of a corporate headquarters that's also a science facility?" She frowned. "I understand what he was going for, but it doesn't really fit..." She shook her head. "In those places, my places, I have power comparable to... at least two of your Seven Stars. Possibly more; my comprehension of those things kinda breaks down at two and a half.
"But out here, in a mortal realm, I've got 35% of a star at most. I outclass mortals easily — maybe not you, with your family's star, but normal mortals — but if I tried taking on the devil, or that false god of yours, I'd be crushed in the blink of an eye.
"And the being I seek to destroy... His power is so far beyond mine that I don't even know how to measure it. I could maybe outmaneuver him if he tried challenging me in my domain, but if he found me here, I'd be done for — as would you and most of your world, most likely." She shrugged. "Depending on how he felt that day. He's why I need to gather more power..."
Yuu frowned. "But do you have to run deadly games, just like he did?"
The headmistress flinched. "So many people say that...!"
"Really, though!" Yuu said, pressing on. "The hotel is creating memories too, can't you do more stuff like that? Like... make an anime! Or open a free theme park! You don't have to — you-know people."
"I need to gain power faster than him, Yuu," the headmistress said. "Anyway, I bring them back afterward."
Yuu faltered. "You bring them back? You can bring people back?"
She shrugged. "To a limited extent. Again, domain holder, not god — I wouldn't be able to maintain them out here, not all of them at once. Maybe some of the more popular ones — Nyquil, TIDQ, Metabomb, Jocelyn."
"Does popularity matter?" Yuu asked.
She smirked. "Of course it does. What kind of person do you think has the most memories about them? Perhaps it shouldn't, but... well, that's why I need more power. So I can bring them back for real. Everyone who died to his machinations... and mine." She frowned. "Speaking of my machinations and gaining power, I should probably get back to that. I will try to come up with some less murderous ideas, though. If I get enough going, I can outpace him without any murdergames, and everyone involved will probably be happier with that."
Yuu nodded. "That's good enough for me."
The headmistress held her hand out in front of her and a small cloud of pink smoke coalesced into a white pearl, which she tossed to Yuu. "Keep in touch? That's a linkpearl; just put it in your ear and tap. And it'll chime if I'm calling you."
Yuu nodded again. "Sure. Maybe we can help each other with some of our plans. The non-murderous ones."
"The non-murderous ones. Of course." She smirked. "... Ah, I never did tell you my name, did I? For now, you can call me V." And with a crackle of energy, she vanished.