It came as a surprise to Kiana just how many thoughts could cross a person's mind when facing certain death.
Not just a dangerous situation, no — Valkyries were meant to live through those everyday without hesitation. She meant something beyond that, when your remaining time was down to fractions of seconds and you knew it.
That was Kiana's situation: The very end of her life, brought about by her own idiotic actions.
That morning's mission was a completely normal Honkai Beast extermination within an already evacuated city block.
It was there that Kiana messed up.
First, she left her designated area in search of more Honkai Beasts with an exasperated Mei right behind her, completely certain that the spot Himeko assigned for them was completely clear.
She'd been right, but she still shouldn't have done so anyway.
Then, when a Parvati, an Emperor-Class Honkai Beast that was completely outside the mission's expected parameters, reared its ugly face, Kiana completely ignored Himeko's order to retreat and regroup, instead opting to face it alongside Mei.
Honestly, she just wanted to look cool in front of her. It just didn't hit her that dying wasn't a good way to accomplish that.
Finally, during combat, Kiana attempted to dropkick it in order to impress Mei.
The Parvati looked at her and, in a sudden burst of intelligence, opened its massive mouth rather than trying to headbutt her.
And that was where Kiana found herself — about to dive right inside an Emperor-Class Honkai Beast.
That was a problem, because one of the few things Kiana did remember from class was how Parvatis in particular had a really high concentration of Honkai energy inside them, and past a certain point even the most resistant Valkyrie wouldn't be able to withstand it.
So, she realized she was about to die, and it was entirely her own fault.
The thought hit her as a simple statement. The smirk on her face didn't have enough time to recede, but she felt a sudden spike of fear that reminded her of the first time she faced a Honkai Beast head-on, when her father had to save her.
Except he wouldn't be coming this time, so she seriously was going to die. Which was sort of a shame, considering she never did find out where he disappeared to.
In the split-second before she became a Honkai Beast snack, Kiana heard the beginnings of Mei's shrill scream. The Herrscher inside her really wouldn't be happy, but at least Kiana wouldn't be around to take the blame for the copious amounts of destruction about to happen. So there was that.
Not that it amounted to much, considering she was about to die in one of the most anticlimactic ways possible, despite all her recent talk about becoming the best Valkyrie ever.
She could already see the tombstone. "Kiana Kaslana, 1998-2014 — Never achieved a single one of her goals."
… Kiana never met her mom, but she had a feeling she was going to be grounded for two eternities in the afterlife.
That silly thought was her last one before she flew right into the Parvati. Even before she came to a sudden stop in its interior, something akin to a powerful shock ran through her entire body, the Honkai's corruption tainting everything it touched.
Then, right before darkness took her, she felt something inside her crack open.
Kiana dreamed of another life.
It was a simple one, without Honkai Beasts and fighting for her life every other day. It was only herself, her mother, and her friends, in a world that was perfectly peaceful.
And then it wasn't.
She could only watch as everything went wrong, as the corruption took her mother. Then they came and took all of them next.
Hell. That was the only way she could describe it.
Beds, straps, needles after needles, and it burned, her entire body burned again and again. Her own screams sounded foreign to herself after a point.
They took her friends, each one of them, and she didn't even know who went after who, but they were leaving and never coming back, or coming back empty, fading. Then it was her turn again, and each time her turn came faster because more and more of her friends were gone forever, and then…
What first greeted Kiana were a pair of voices, distant and almost unintelligible.
"Is... really necessary…?"
"Apologies… her own safety…"
"Honkai... after similar experiences… from harming herself…"
"Even so… leaves a bad taste…"
"Oh… waking up…"
One of the voices was very familiar, but the other not so much. Were they talking about her?
As her awareness returned little by little, Kiana slowly realized her situation.
Her eyes were open, but she was wearing some sort of blindfold, leaving only darkness. There was something in her mouth — was she gagged?
She wasn't wearing her battlesuit, instead clad in some fabric which she guessed was some sort of gown. And she was lying on a bed, but it was almost as if…
They tied her to it.
Her limbs, her torso, they tied her entire body down to the bed, and there was something entering her right wrist that she recognized as a needle.
Kiana's panic soared.
Without warning, she started thrashing and screaming, but whatever was in her mouth only allowed a muffled sound to escape.
Someone called her name, but she ignored it as she attempted to break free. It was her turn again, how could she forget it, soon they would come with syringes and liquids that make her burn inside and she would scream but it wouldn't do anything, it never did—
Her left arm managed to break free, but someone held it down, and she couldn't overpower them no matter... how much... she struggled...!
But she still continued to try, because she had to get out now , she had to get back to Mei and Bronya, and then they had to break out Bella and the rest of her friends, but Bella wasn't with the others, these people took her somewhere, and she had to get her back—
She felt a needle enter her right arm. However, instead of excruciating pain flooding her mind, her senses slowly faded away.
And then she returned to the void.
Kiana felt anger. Hate.
They hurt her in so many ways, took away everything dear to her, and she didn't even know why.
From the moment she had been born, she had done nothing to deserve this, and so she hated them. They were evil, all of them.
Kiana wanted justice. Kiana wanted revenge.
God listened to her prayers.
The power that filled her body was unequaled. Aunt Teri came to save her, but far too late to make a difference. God's voice guided her, gave her what she needed, and soon she was unstoppable. Not even that traitor could stop her.
She felt herself drowning in her own rage, and it was incredible. She sent her servants to do her bidding, and it all became a blur of violence and bloodshed.
All humans were at fault for her pain. There wasn't a single innocent. They deserved everything they got. Kiana simply knew that everything she was doing was right.
Besides, there was nothing else left for her but this.
Sirin would be humanity's end, and she would let nothing stop her.
But then that accursed Class Monitor arrived with the Overseer and another person, manipulated her mind with those feathers. God showed Kiana the truth, and when that horrible cheater did something with her flames, God protected her.
The Class Monitor and the Overseer fled like cowards, leaving behind their so-called ally to die. That vermin lasted longer than the others, but she also couldn't stop Sirin's righteous rampage, and soon humanity had one less insect and Sirin had one of those stupid feathers for herself.
It was only then that Kiana realized the Class Monitor took God's guidance away from her.
Still, it wouldn't deter Sirin. She wouldn't let it.
Then her parents were there, and she didn't understand why, how, that damn feather didn't do its job properly and instead showed her so much warmth instead.
She had a family again. She had everything she ever wanted and forgot about.
But it was all fake. They took Bella from her again, and when the illusion was broken, Aunt Teri stood in her way as well. Her abilities were scary, they made Kiana feel powerless again, but it was useless anyway. Nothing could stop her.
Until her own father took away her arm and immortality, and it was unfair, so unfair.
Sirin was fading, and there was nothing she could do. She lost, but she shouldn't have lost, what right did they have to stop her after everything they did to her, what sort of father would do that to his own daughter—
And then her revenge ended.
Her anger, the rush of hate that gave her so much power, simply ceased, and her mind wasn't in a state to wonder why anymore.
There was a flower field. Everything was so hazy, but Sirin knew it was perfectly real.
Her mother — the second one, the one who yet lived — was there, and Sirin was in her arms, and it was warm, so very warm.
Suddenly, Sirin didn't care about anything else in the world. It was as though everything that came before was meaningless, and the single moment she shared with her mother was worth more than anything else.
The end was approaching.
Sirin knew it, but even if she could have done something about it, perhaps she wouldn't have wanted to.
In her vanishing mind, the only thing Sirin longed for was to stay in that warmth… for just a while longer…
"Ki… na… iana... "
At the distant sound of someone calling her name, she awoke for a second time, her mind far clearer than before. With each passing moment, Kiana actually understood more and more of her situation.
This time, her life and the one in her dream weren't merging in her mind. This time, she was absolutely certain that she wasn't there in Babylon Labs.
She was immobilized, blindfolded, and even gagged, but not because someone was about to make her suffer for their own amusement. She absolutely wasn't in danger.
Kiana knew that for a fact, because it was Himeko who was calling for her.
"Kiana, sugar, can you hear me?" came Himeko's cautious voice, finally clear. "I need you to stay calm and nod if you can."
She did just that, and Himeko sighed in relief.
"Listen to me, you're perfectly safe," she explained in a soothing tone Kiana never heard from her before. Kiana liked it a lot, though she wasn't sure why. "You're only like this to prevent you from harming yourself. I was told there were some Valkyries in similar situations who reacted… extremely badly after waking up."
Exactly like Kiana, she meant.
Chances were she'd have stabbed someone if she wasn't tied down, so unfortunately she couldn't really complain about the prisoner treatment.
She wanted to, though.
"Can I take off your mouth guard now?"
So not a gag. That certainly made more sense, Kiana thought as she nodded.
As soon as it was out of her mouth, the girl attempted to speak, only to start coughing from her dry throat instead.
"Right, I have some water here. Mind the straw."
When it touched her lips, Kiana didn't hesitate to take a few mouthfuls of water to make her throat less of a desert. Hell, how long was she out for?
No, how did she survive?
Better yet, what was going on with her?
Those dreams were far too real. There was so much bloodshed, so many familiar faces, the Class Monitor was there with the Overseer, and Kiana was quite certain she developed a bit of fear towards that girl (woman?), Theresa, and even her own father somewhere along the way. Despite being finally out of dreamland, she was still reeling from the experience of fast-forwarding through another person's life, especially considering how that person was apparently the Herrscher of the Void—
Kiana suddenly realized she could feel the Void Core inside her.
What the hell.
No, she couldn't deal with that, not right now.
With that decided, she shoved all thoughts related to that nonsense to some far-away corner of her mind, a place that she'd revisit either later or in a few months.
Finally, Kiana let go of the straw, a sigh escaping her lips before she spoke. "So… I'm not dead?"
Himeko actually snorted at that as she moved to undo Kiana's bindings. "Despite your best efforts, no. Mei's pet Herrscher got you out in less than a minute, so you have her to thank for it. And also your own strangely high Honkai resistance, because you don't have any decaying limbs right now."
"That's… good." As soon as she was freed, Kiana rubbed her wrists — careful not to displace the needle still there — and sat up on the bed.
She should be smiling now and making dumb jokes, if only so Himeko wouldn't worry. That was how Kiana always did things, after all.
Still, for some reason, it felt much harder than usual to fake any cheer.
So she didn't, keeping an uncharacteristic frown on her face. "And... my eyes?"
"Really sensitive from a very large serving of Honkai energy," Himeko explained. "They might sting for a few more days, but keep the blindfold for a while. Or maybe switch to shades later if they're not hurting too much. Anything else would just make it worse."
"Ah… right." They weren't stinging at all, but Kiana kept silent; she was already questioning her situation enough, no need to make others do the same. "How long was I out…?"
"You didn't spend three months in a coma, if that's what you're wondering," came the somewhat amused response. "Something like ten hours as a whole, give or take."
Which meant it was already night. Still, while the lack of drowsiness was to be expected, she didn't feel hungry at all.
"How long were you here?"
"Uhh…" she heard Himeko's uncharacteristically sheepish voice. "About… the whole time? The Principal let me take a day off. She even visited earlier with some food, then… physically dragged me outside so I could eat." The woman chuckled. "Well, it all worked out in the end."
"... Oh," Kiana said. Because she was still wrapping her head around the fact that Himeko cared enough to stay with her for ten whole hours and only ate something when Theresa made her. "And... what happens now...?"
Himeko didn't answer instantly, and Kiana had to resist the urge to take off her blindfold to look at her.
Suddenly, a hand fell atop Kiana's head, brushing her hair. "Honestly, I was planning on giving you my longest lecture yet, but I'm pretty sure you don't need it from the way you're acting. Almost dying is a hell of a thing, isn't it?"
Kiana didn't really reply, simply humming an affirmation.
"So…" Himeko continued awkwardly as she dropped her hand, her weak attempt at getting a laugh out of her student a complete failure. "Long story short, your body's mostly fine, but I'm taking you off the active roster for at least a week. Maybe longer, depending on your condition."
Kiana made a puzzled noise. "No punishment?"
Himeko let out another surprised snort. "The near death experience was supposed to be punishment enough, but if you still want more…"
"No, no, I'm good, feeling perfectly regretful."
"I'll take your word for it." Kiana could clearly imagine the woman shaking her head in amusement. "Now, about the... way you woke up earlier…"
Kiana grew tense in an instant, her mind working overtime to figure out an excuse—
"I won't pry," Himeko said instead, "but just remember I'm here if you need anyone to talk to. Same for the Principal, if you'd prefer."
"T-That's, um…" Kiana hesitated, unsure how to respond to the blatant overturning of her expectations. "I'll… keep that in mind… Thanks…"
She felt a bit bad about feeding that misunderstanding — both her aunts would probably run in circles in their minds trying to figure out Kiana's issue — but there really wasn't a good way to explain that.
For now, she didn't have much of a choice.
"With that out of the way," Himeko spoke up again, "is there anything you want right now? Maybe some snacks? You weren't actually put on a diet."
Kiana forced a laugh out. "Auntie, you don't need to act so weird! I'm fine, really. I don't need treats and hugs like a sad puppy."
The words sounded hollow even to herself.
Himeko was silent for a moment before speaking up. "I don't remember mentioning hugs."
"I-I was just saying! Anyway, what sorts of snacks—"
Her words died in her throat when a pair of arms gently embraced her, and she felt herself pulled into the woman's chest as a hand brushing her hair.
Kiana froze completely.
"Sorry, sugar," Himeko spoke gently, "sometimes I forget you're still kids."
"I'm not a kid…" came Kiana's automatic response. It took her approximately two seconds to realize how childish it sounded.
Strangely, Himeko didn't call her out on it, simply humming in response. Another strange thing was how funny the embrace made Kiana feel.
It was weird; she hugged Mei a lot, and yet it never felt this way. There was something clearly... different.
"My poor little girl."
It finally hit her, and she couldn't stop herself from trembling. Even so, Himeko didn't say a thing.
"I saw your loneliness and pain in the illusion that you created… So I actually did try to be your mother and make it up to you. But I couldn't do much at that time."
The embrace was warm in a unique way, and while one part of her never felt anything like it, the another recognized it so well it hurt.
"Here we are, at the last moments of our lives. At least you won’t be lonely now."
When her tears started, Himeko simply tightened her hold ever so slightly. The gesture only made the girl cry harder.
"See? I’m here with you, sharing a moment of warmth together."
After a point, she wasn't sure anymore whether it was "Kiana" or "Sirin" who longed for this kind of warmth.
By the time the girl managed to put herself together, closing her eyes and taking off the blindfold for a moment just to wipe her tears, Himeko didn't question her actions, only asking whether she wanted to sleep in the hospital or go back home — Well, Himeko's apartment within one of the dorm buildings, but Kiana found herself thinking of it as "home" more and more often ever since she, Mei, and Bronya moved in.
So, honestly, it wasn't even a real choice.
Barely twenty minutes later, Kiana had already changed from the hospital gown to some casual clothes Himeko brought with her, and they were walking back home.
Well, Himeko was walking back home; Kiana herself was on a wheelchair being pushed by the woman. The alternative was wandering around blindfolded, and considering how Kiana still occasionally tripped even with a pair of uncovered eyes, she was fairly certain that'd only lead to her actually needing the wheelchair for real.
Somewhere along the way, Himeko started humming a familiar tune that Kiana recognized from a HOMU cartoon that Bronya watched in the mornings, and the girl soon found herself following along, a tiny smile on her face.
It wasn't a secret that Kiana didn't hold much respect for her teacher / assigned caretaker / taller auntie, mostly because of her often immature and alcohol-fueled behavior outside of missions, but she'd need to be purposefully stupid to not notice the sudden shift.
Kiana couldn't remember ever feeling so safe and at ease simply because someone else was nearby — not since her own father, at least — but, suddenly, everything about Himeko calmed her to the very core, from the woman's soft humming to her Stigmata's warm Honkai energy signature.
And Kiana just realized she could sense Honkai energy signatures.
She carefully stored away that thought.
However, despite what she clearly recognized as her own warm feelings, Kiana noticed her emotions felt strangely subdued. She didn't feel entirely detached, but it was like the smiles that once came to her so naturally, faked or otherwise, didn't recognize their owner anymore.
She constantly found her upturned lips twisting downwards into pure neutrality even as she continued to hum, to the point of having to remind herself to keep her smile up as usual. Over the course of a single day, her self-taught automatic smile, which served her so well over the years, simply stopped working properly.
It must've been those visions. Everything Kiana saw there probably knocked something inside her out of place, even if she didn't know what. The memories of Babylon Labs threatened to resurface, and she forcibly pushed them down.
Kiana hoped she'd be back to normal within the week, rather than being in the process of becoming Bronya. Now that would be a nightmare.
"The Kiana requests to know what Unit Bratnya has done to her dessert. Failure to comply may lead to combat."
"The Bronya lacks the knowledge that Unit Idiotka seeks. Now leave the Bronya's quarters."
"Negative. The Kiana has observed that Unit Bratnya has small amounts of chocolate near her mouth. Deception is suspected."
"The Bronya will not surrender herself easily."
"Acknowledged. Commencing ass-kicking routines."
If Himeko noticed Kiana holding in her laughter — the very first sign of the person she was mere hours ago — she didn't question it, allowing the girl to act as she pleased without needing to justify herself. It would be just another thing Himeko let slide today.
And so Kiana spent the rest of her ride imagining outrageous scenarios and humming along with her teacher (while carefully avoiding any comparisons with both of the kind and warm mothers she saw in those memories).
It didn't take long for them to arrive at their destination. Himeko opened the door to push her student inside, closing it on her way in, and until that point things were going swimmingly.
Then Kiana heard a loud gasp.
"Kiana?!" Mei's panicked voice approached, and a pair of hands suddenly took hold of her upper arms. "Your eyes, your legs...! Now that I look at it again, your even hair looks paler than usual!" Wait, it did? "No way... The Major didn't tell me it was this bad!"
"The Bronya also hadn't realized the infection was... to this extent..." an almost monotonous voice spoke up nearby, actually sounding distraught for once.
Of course, Kiana had no idea how to react. For a moment, she was too overwhelmed to reply in any way.
"Ah, darn it..." she heard her teacher mutter under her breath, and that was when it clicked.
Himeko forgot to explain her situation in advance.
That was bad. She should say something fast. "H-Hey, hold on, it's not like that—"
"No, don't worry, Kiana," Mei interrupted her, voice almost hysterical. "Even if you have to quit being a Valkyrie, I can go with you! We can go live in a peaceful cabin in the mountains, and even without your legs or eyes, I'll make sure you don't feel hungry or cold or—"
"Objection, Subject Kiana could make use of prosthetics like the Bronya," it was Bronya's turn to interrupt. "Subject Kiana's eyes can also be safely replaced, therefore substituting the need of a caretaker with that of a mechanic, and even allowing her to remain a Valkyrie depending on the specs of her parts."
"... Oh, right."
Were Kiana's ears playing tricks on her, or did Mei sound strangely disappointed?
Himeko interrupted that line of thought by clearing her throat. "Listen, Kiana's fine. Her eyes are covered because they're sensitive, and she's on a wheelchair because her eyes are covered. That's all there is to it. No one's getting prosthetics or retiring to a mountain cabin, understood?"
"A-Ah, that's a relief..."
"Tch, that means Bronya is not acquiring a cyborg ally in the near future..."
A long silence followed.
It took a few more moments until Himeko was apparently done processing their nonsense and pushed the wheelchair further inside.
"Um, say…" Kiana spoke up just as the wheelchair stopped. "How's dinner coming along? I kinda… can't smell anything tasty here, so if there's anything wrong with my nose, I'd like to know."
"Oh," Mei gasped. "I forgot."
It felt like a bucket of cold water was just dropped on Kiana. No homemade dinner from Mei.
There was no way this wasn't a nightmare.
"Indeed, Mei was too busy worrying about you to remember about dinner," Bronya explained helpfully.
"I-I'm sorry…" Mei sounded so sad Kiana would have hugged her if she could see where she was going. "I'll go prepare something real quick!"
"The Bronya requires no more food," the gray-haired girl piped in. "The Bronya left the premises to purchase her own meal approximately an hour ago."
" That was why you went outside?!" Mei complained as her voice grew distant, heading into the kitchen. "Then why didn't you remind me about it?!"
"The Bronya did not wish to interrupt Mei's brooding."
"I was not— Oh no, I forgot to buy the groceries!"
"This is why excessive brooding is inadvised."
"Bronya, don't you start!"
Kiana let out a laugh that was soon joined by Himeko's own. Mei taking over Kiana's role of bickering with Bronya was surprisingly amusing, and she idly wondered if Bronya was egging the girl on to lighten the mood. Kiana wouldn't put it past her.
"Incidentally, the Bronya acquired several cups of instant noodles on her way back in case Mei failed to produce a meal in time. The Bronya suggests their consumption. In fact, she craves it."
"No, Kiana just left the hospital! I'm not letting her gorge herself on instant noodles, of all things!" Mei paused. "Wait, didn't you just say you already ate?"
"There is always additional space for noodles."
Mei let out a familiar aggravated noise she usually saved for Kiana. Yes, Bronya was absolutely doing it on purpose. "I still say no. Come on, we're going out for some late shopping."
"The Bronya needs to go as well?" She sounded so disappointed.
"I'm not carrying the bags alone. Go get ready." Mei's voice approached Kiana again. "I'm really sorry about this. Dinner will have to wait a while..."
Kiana gave her a small smile. "No worries, I'm perfectly fine with waiting a little bit longer for your world-class cooking!"
It helped that she still didn't feel hungry at all. Maybe she should start worrying about that?
"Heh, isn't 'world-class' a bit much?" Kiana could easily picture Mei's bashful smile. "Alright, just hold on a bit longer."
With that said, Kiana heard Mei's footsteps carry her away. At the same time, noticeably metallic ones drew close, stopping right besides her wheelchair.
"Yes, Subject Kiana would do well to avoid any other attempts at indirect self-termination until we return." Before Kiana could retort, she felt Bronya's hand on her shoulder, and then the stoic girl's breath was right by her ear as she started whispering. "The noodles are concealed at the back of the second cabinet. Mei likely hasn't caught sight of them. If two or three are consumed and disposed of in the trash can within the Bronya's room, the information will never reach Mei."
Kiana turned her head towards the other girl, astonished. "I love you."
"As Subject Kiana should."
Having said her piece, Bronya also left the room, not minding Himeko as she barely kept her laughter in. Fortunately, the woman fully reined that in by the time those two returned, said their goodbyes — Bronya's far less enthusiastic — and left the apartment, closing the door on their way out.
Which once again left Kiana alone with Himeko.
"Not much of a proper welcome, right?" The woman let out a wry laugh, and Kiana's own lips tilted upwards.
Really, there was never a boring day with those insects around. If there was anyone who could convince her the human race didn't deserve complete extinction, it was them—
Kiana carefully folded that thought and hid it underneath her mind's carpet.
She could unpack it later.
"So, sugar, what comes next?" Himeko brought her out of her thoughts. "Want to lie on the sofa? Go back to your room? Or maybe something else?"
"I… think I just wanna go back to my room." Kiana also had a lot to think about, after all.
"Before or after we make a few cups of noodle disappear?" She could basically hear Himeko's grin.
Kiana kept her face perfectly neutral as she turned towards Himeko's direction. "After, of course. Today, the Kiana requires additional sustenance beyond her scheduled refueling."
Not really, but she wanted noodles.
Himeko finally had enough, devolving into a fit of laughter. It only took a second for Kiana's own giggles to join, the girl suddenly feeling far lighter.
Yes, things definitely felt different.
But she wouldn't really mind if it became the new normal.
After they were done eating and getting rid of the evidence, Himeko promptly brought Kiana to her room. Her teacher told her to feel free to fall asleep and let her wake her up when those two came back, and then closed the door on her way out.
Despite that, Kiana was certain she wouldn't find any sleep easily.
Even as she lay on her bed, eyes still covered by her blindfold, her thoughts soon began raging like a maelstrom with no further distractions to push them away.
Visions of another life, far too vivid to be illusions. The Void Core inside her, maybe the source of its previous host's memories? Even a new ability to sense Honkai energy, with which she could tell exactly where Himeko was standing in the living room at the moment. To top it all off, the Class Monitor was far older than she looked and had some sort of connection to the Overseer, and that alone would've been a crazy discovery a few days ago.
It was all so outlandish, even for her. She knew for a fact the dates didn't line up — she was already born by the time Sirin died, obviously — so how did she end up with the Void Core?
Then again… she held no memories of her life before she was 9. And her father's behavior back then was also really weird and distant.
Was she kidnapped and experimented on, like Sirin in Babylon Labs? Was her father so cold at first because she forgot everything, including the name he gave her?
… Was it Schicksal that put the Void Core in her, and she cluelessly returned to them as a Valkyrie?
Kiana's hands closed into fists at the thought. For a moment, remembering all the horrors inflicted on those children, the idea of destroying Schicksal crossed her mind, burning as hot as the hate that consumed Sirin from within.
It didn't last, however. Things weren't that simple, and she knew it; getting rid of the largest Anti-Honkai organization in the world, against which only Anti-Entropy came close in comparison, could only lead to disaster.
Well, that, and Kiana doubted she was powerful enough for that. Probably.
She still wondered if she could at least kill the Overseer, but that was a question for later.
Her mind was struggling to catch up with all the revelations and their complete lack of context. She stumbled upon a conspiracy, and she was clearly a key piece in it, but her only concrete knowledge was the fact she was missing a lot of things.
Kiana groaned, sitting up on her bed. This was going nowhere.
Instead of dwelling on how many things she didn't know, she decided to focus on what she did know. Namely, the fact she felt absolutely no side-effects from becoming Parvati snack.
Had her Void Core protected her by absorbing the energy that would've corrupted her otherwise? From the way Himeko spoke before, at the very least her eyes were supposed to be stinging, even if a little bit.
Curiously, Kiana took off her blindfold, and slowly opened her eyes. She expected a sudden burst of pain to punish her curiosity, but instead she was met with the perfect view of her dark room — which was, well, too dark to see properly, but she could make out shapes, and that meant her eyes were functioning perfectly well.
Then again, better make sure.
Kiana rose from the bed and walked over to the light switch, turning it on. When her room was illuminated and her eyes didn't flare up in pain, she finally concluded there was nothing wrong with them at all.
Huh. Perhaps there were some actual benefits to having a Herrscher Core inside her.
Scoffing at the outrageous thought, she calmly walked over to her mirror, if only to check how terrible she looked.
Her smile disappeared.
Himeko always understood that there was a certain distance between Kiana and herself, and not just because that girl seemed to have no concept of respecting her elders. Or a filter between her brain and mouth. Or common sense. Honestly, she lacked a lot of things.
It just so happened that, by the time Himeko found Kiana, Mei, and Bronya, they had already been working together for a while. In other words, those three were The Team, while the likes of Himeko and Theresa were outsiders — or, at the very least, that seemed to be Kiana's opinion, even if subconsciously.
And all that changed today, much to Himeko's own astonishment.
When Kiana dived right into that Parvati, the woman damn near lost it. That was her charge and Theresa's goddaughter, and that made it much worse than a normal casualty, if those two words should even be paired together.
Then Kiana miraculously survived with just about no lasting damage, and when Himeko's worried mind finally registered that the girl was safe, she instead boiled with anger at Kiana's blatant disregard for her own safety. She was, in fact, going to yell at the stupid girl until her throat was sore, and then call the Principal over so they could take turns reprimanding her.
Her plan was foiled when Kiana briefly woke up only to have a panic attack, and it suddenly hit Himeko that perhaps she had assumed too soon that there was no lasting damage.
Any thoughts of reprimanding Kiana were eliminated right there. Suddenly, the only thing she wanted was to protect the poor girl.
Sure, she always wanted to protect her students, but what she felt there was on another level entirely. Before today, she never witnessed such a cheerful student of hers succumb to trauma like that, so perhaps that contributed to it. Or maybe it was the fact they had been living together for a few months, ever since Himeko was assigned to take care of those three. It could also be that Himeko really hated seeing someone that young hurting so much.
Regardless of the reason, Himeko wanted to protect her.
And she apparently showed it well enough for Kiana to drop every single one of her walls around her teacher. When Kiana woke up a second time, Himeko embraced her, and the girl suddenly started crying her eyes out, as though for the first time in years, and for many more reasons than just her latest close call. Even as she became much quieter than usual afterwards, Himeko could tell how at ease the girl suddenly was around her, as if the woman was family instead of just a so-so caretaker and decent enough teacher.
Himeko really, really wanted to protect her.
Which was why, the instant she heard Kiana's scream, she was already up from the couch and rushing to the girl's room.
Kiana could have tripped, or decided to test her eyes like an idiot, or been affected by a sudden side-effect of her Honkai exposure that the doctors hadn't noticed, or a million other bad things that crossed Himeko's mind in the seconds it took to reach the door.
Himeko didn't hesitate to push it open.
"Kiana, what happ—"
She froze in her tracks.
Right there, in the middle of the room, was a massive swirling portal, its inside completely black.
But that wasn't all, because Kiana already had a leg across the portal — as though she was trying to escape through it — when she turned to look at Himeko, her eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights.
Her glowing yellow Herrscher eyes.
Himeko felt her heart drop to the bottom of her stomach.
For her part, "Kiana" didn't suddenly move to carve said heart out of Himeko's body. In fact, rather than acting like a genocidal monster, she looked like the same girl Himeko once caught opening the fridge in search of food at 2 AM.
That was certainly un-Herrscher-like behavior, even if the woman didn't meet many of those to compare.
The girl's next words, coming with an inhuman double voice that Himeko only ever heard from Mei's mouth, were just as unfitting.
"Auntie, I can explain."
"... Please do, sugar."
She could tell it would be a long night.