Saga of Soul


"No, seriously, Douchebaggio... What is your game here? I don't think you're going through my memories out of voyeuristic pleasure. I assume you're looking for something specific."
"Contrary to any impressions you might be under, Watanabe, I am not a James Bond villain. Just because you are my prisoner and at my mercy, it does not mean that I intend to reveal my plans to you."
"Can't blame a magical girl for trying."
"Actually, yes I can. Consider your dinner cancelled."
"Go to Hell."
"I've been there. Not much for attracting tourism."

As Soul and her foes were gradually being acknowledged as real by the world at large, discussions surrounding them multiplied on the Internet like wildfire. A rare few actually had Soul herself taking part in.
Rock2005: We've seen them open portals. We know they can do it. If they're summoning those objects and monsters from somewhere, it's still portals or some equivalent; otherwise, it's something completely different. I know Occam's Razor isn't definite proof, but it still sounds to me like a good indication that they're summoning this stuff.
What I find odd is that all three attacks were in Tokyo. Maybe there's something there that interests them. Maybe it's just where their portals lead them.
Neutron: I don't think Occam's appropriate here. We already know they can create those energy blasts, fly, probably shield themselves... So it's not like they're all about portals. As for why it's all taking place in Tokyo... Maybe one got there, and the rest just followed because it's become the designated battlefield?
The_Defcon: I just had a talk with some church buddies... Man. I love these guys, but some of their mental gymnastics is just plain nuts. Remember that wacko rant at about how these events are the start of the Apocalypse? Turns out, several of them are buying it. Never mind that it doesn't fit at all.
What worries me is that some people will buy anything when they panic. Church attendance has been up by a few notches all across town since the Murder incident, and I imagine it'll get even bigger now. Normally I'd consider that a good thing, but you know the apocalyptic crazies will take advantage of that... Anyone from a different religion around here can tell us how their community is taking it?
Silence_of_the_lampreys: I'm still trying to figure out what they're up to. Indiscriminate terrorism for Downfall and Murder, counter-strikes from Soul... and now the Circle of Wisdom's little "we come in peace, don't mind us killing you" speech. Makes me wonder what culture they come from that left them thinking it was a good idea.
I'm still wondering how much the govs really know. It's no surprise we weren't told about the Circle of Wisdom until they decided to reveal themselves... But at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, I'd find it perfectly typical if we later found out the government knew a lot more than it let on, a lot earlier than the rest of us.
Rock2005: Which government? Yours, or the Japanese one?
Speaking of which, Neutron: You live in Tokyo. What are your impressions?
Neutron: Well, for starters, doubt about it being real is pretty much gone here. Between the casualties and property damage, not to mention the monster's corpse, we know it all really happened. The prime minister is trying to reassure people that they can handle it. I hope he's right, but so far, most of the job was done by Soul. Maybe that'll change if they can adapt to these new enemies...

Eriko sighed at the computer. So much fear, so little information. I could stop so much of it just by holding a press conference. I wouldn't even need to explain about magic!
...I promised Monsoon not to do anything rash. She and Aurora probably know what they're doing. But still...
Eriko was pulled away from her thoughts as Junko entered the room. "<Um, Eriko? I was just on the phone with Tomo, and I wanted to ask...>"
"<She's having a birthday party on Sunday. Want to come?>"
"<Ah... I don't know.>" I'm not much for parties. At least, I don't think I am?
"<It'll be fun! There'll be songs, games, cake... Come on, you'll enjoy it!>"
"<Well, I suppose you can rarely go wrong with cake.>" And at the very worst, I'll get bored for a couple hours. Her expression turned serious. "<You know, I've been trying to figure out the details of what went on with the construct... What really bothers me is how much time it took for me to get involved. I mean, the police was there practically from the start, the military had the time to try several different tactics, and I only got there after dozens of deaths and tons of property damage.>"
"<It wasn't your fault. You didn't know.>"
"<It is my fault for not making sure that I would know! And what's worse... It could have taken even longer! What if Downfall shows up tonight while I'm asleep and burns down Chiyoda district? What if I don't hear about the next attack until thousands of people are dead?>"
Junko took a few moments to answer. "<Coulldn't you make some kind of alarm or something? With your magic, I mean?>"
"<I don't really see how... I mean, Mother Aurora could sense when Downfall was wreaking havoc, but she's special. Hm...>"

In another part of town, Masaki's fellow gang members watched in awe as he sent a fiery blast at a crate five meters away.
"<Way to go, Masaki!>"
"<You're invincible now!>"
"<Actually, Living Curse will need some serious training before he can use his powers effectively,>" Downfall said tersely. "<Unless I teach you how to create shields, you will be as vulnerable to bullets as any other mortal.>"
Masaki nervously nodded, and sent another blast at his smoldering target.
"<Hey, Mas... I mean, Living Curse>" said one of the delinquents, "<Can you do those portals?>"
"<Let's see.>" Masaki looked at the other end of the room, raised his hand, and concentrated.
Nothing happened.
Downfall laughed. "<Ha! It will take more than a single day of practice before you master such a complex spell!>"
"<Portals are more complicated than the rest?>" Masaki didn't try to hide his puzzlement.
"<Of course! So far, your spells have modified matter and energy. These are things you deal with every day.
But portals? Portals consist in warping space itself. Just imagining it is beyond the average man. Depending on the mage, it can take weeks, months, even years to learn how to create portals!>"
"<But... You said Soul was a novice, and she could make portals so easily...>"
"<Oh indeed. The exact amount of experience she has had is unclear, but her grasp of portals is impressive. There are precedents - some individuals who can understand the notion of warped space find portals far easier to master.>"
It would have been an overstatement to say that Eriko truly understood Einstein's general relativity, but various articles of scientific popularization had certainly given her some notions of it.
"<Not that it matters,>" Downfall went on; "<Next time we meet, she shall meet her downfall.>"
Someone in the back groaned at the awful joke. Another one got enthusiastic. "<Yeah! Between you and Mas... and Living Curse, she doesn't stand a chance!>"
"<Oh, I'm afraid you misunderstand. I do not intend to have Living Curse, or any of you, participate in my final battle with Soul.>"
"<What? Then, why...>"
Downfall grinned. "<There is a saying in Hell. It goes like this:
'Adequacy is killing your foe.
Magnificence is getting your foe to walk right next to a cliff, then push him over.'
And I intend to be nothing short of magnificent.>"

"<It's so nice to have you here, Hiro!>" Mrs. Shiina gushed. "<We haven't seen you in weeks!>"
"<Well, you know how it is, mom,>" Hiromasa tried not to stammer, "<Work's been keeping me busy, what with all the crazy stuff going on...>"
"<Oh, you're just like your father,>" she gave the aformentioned somber man a playful look, "<police work this, police work that. Always busy!>"
Hiromasa laughed with her while sighing inwardly. He'd never seen much resemblance between his stern, professional father and himself... and dinner at his parents' was always awkward. Tonight was probably going to be even harder than usual, given what he had in mind...
"<I've read the report about the last attack's damage evaluation,>" his father said. "Apparently the early estimations were too optimistic.>"
"<Well, yeah, kinda. I mean, some of those buildings will probably cost less to tear down and rebuild from scratch than to repair, and, well, you know.>"
"<I suppose that will be the new task force's concern now. You've been assigned to the Diamond Dragons case, from what I've heard?>"
Hiromasa forced a chuckle. "<Yes, that's right. Heh...>" OK, pull yourself together already... You need to tell him...
"<Have you started looking into it by now? I imagine you will first need time to handle the current case to the task force...>"
Mrs. Shiina interrupted. "<Oh honey, don't keep talking shop throughout dinner! This a time for both of you to relax and forget about your work for a little while.>"
"<Crime never sleeps.>" her husband replied without an ounce of irony.
Hiromasa breathed deep. "<Actually... I wanted to talk...>"
"<About what, sweety?>" asked his mother.
"<It's about... It's about the task force, and the current case.>"
"<What of it?>" asked his father.
"<Well... You see...>" Hiromasa took yet another deep breath. "<I think... I don't think... I mean... Ergh. I mean, I don't think inspector Aoyama should be taken off the case.>"
His father maintained his hard, neutral expression. "<Go on.>"
"<Father, Hyosuke is... He's exactly the man needed for this job. In addition to all his experience, he's the most intelligent man I've worked with. He is capable of original thinking, and he's very efficient. He figured out so many things from so little information, he was the one who figured to ask professor Maru... He's the best policeman I've ever seen.>" He paused. "<Except for relatives of course!>"
His father took a moment to answer. "<So, you believe that Aoyama is capable of handling this case better than the people assigned to the task force.>"
"<I am certain of it, father.>"
"<And, despite the NPA's decision to take the two of you off the case, you would want him to remain on it.>"
"<I... I was thinking, maybe if the two of us were assigned to the task force... We could achieve much better results...>"
"<And you've come to me.>"
"<Father... You have spent years and decades rising through the police's ranks. With your position and prestige, surely people will listen to you.>"
"<I see.>" He remained silent for a few moments. "<I will be certain to consider it. Do invite Aoyama for dinner tomorrow, or as soon as is convenient; I would like to hear his insight on this case before I make any decision.>"
"<Of course. Thank you very much, father.>" Whew. There, that wasn't so terrible, now was it?

The tranquility of the night was pierced by Eriko's scream, giving Junko once again a frightening awakening.
"<Eriko? Are you OK?>"
"<I... I'm... Everything's fine!>"
"<Bad dream?>" Again? Is she having post-traumatic stress thingie or something?
"<...Yes. Sorry for waking you.>"
"<It's OK, don't worry.>"
"<Well... Good night. Again, sorry.>" Eriko lifted her covers and looked down, a few mere seconds before the door to their room opened, allowing Mrs. Watanabe inside.
"<Girls? Are you all right?>" She turned on the light.
"<I'mfineI'mfine.>" Eriko had turned a deep crimson red. "<Had a nightmare. Sorry for waking you.>"
Her mother sighed in relief, and left soon afterward.
My name is Watanabe Eriko, and suddenly, I don't feel like sleeping at all. What kind of messed-up dream was that?!

"Psychological disturbance and embarrassment, soaked underwear, and I could make out a blurry Kazu before you woke up. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what you were dreaming about."
"Shut. The Hell. Up. Douchebaggio."
"I suppose it is normal for your age, all things considered."
"Shut up. <Shut up.> Seriously, shut up."
"Now, your choice of dream lover... I would venture a guess that you are attracted to confidence and strong personalities."
"Seriously, is the concept of shutting up beyond the grasp of your feeble mind?"
"Now of course, attraction and sympathy - never mind respect - do not always go together, so I can see why you were disturbed. That raises a few interesting questions..."
"We shall resume as soon as you've removed your fingers from your ears."

Mr. Watanabe was drinking his morning coffee when he saw Eriko enter the kitchen.
"<You're already up?>"
"<I woke up early, figured I might as well have breakfast.>" I need a lot less sleep these days, so I woke up an hour ago, have been doing quiet magic work in my room ever since, and need to take my mind off it for a bit.
"<I see.>" He got back to his coffee and the newspaper for a while as she had her breakfast, but eventually spoke again: "<Eriko... I was wondering...>"
"<Do you like Tokyo?>"
"<...What do you mean?>"
"<Well... Is there anything about this city in particular you like? Near as I can tell, you don't have any close friends except Junko; is there something here you care about that can't be found in any other big city?>"
"<Ah... Nothing comes to mind.>" Her tone got suspicious. "<Why are you asking?>"
He seemed embarrassed. "<It's hypothetical, at least for now. But with all the attacks on Tokyo... Plenty of people are considering moving away. Your mother and I haven't made any plans, but I suppose I wanted to know, just in case...>"
She made no answer. Leave Tokyo? Because of the attacks? Seriously?

Another day of school. I'm not complaining; the lessons are interesting, and they provide a welcome relief from certain other aspects of my life.
In-between classes, I manage to get ahold of the go club president and tell him I'm going to be too busy to attend this week. He's not too happy about it (I am one of the better players, after all, and we've got a tournament coming), but magical girl duties are taking too much of my time for this.
I'd rather spend recess doing the math homework, but Junko predictably drags me to see the three stooges, and I don't have the heart to brush it off. Besides... Well, isn't that the healthy thing to do? Hang out with other people, make friends, and all that jazz?
"<Say, Eriko,>" asked Tomo, "<I heard you tore Kazu a new one for the way he treated Seika. That true?>"
Healthy thing to do. Yeah, right. "<I yelled at him a bit, but that's all. I don't think anything came out of it.>"
"<Still awesome. I'd never have the courage to go talk to him.>" She blushed a bit.
"<Can we please talk about something other than Kazu?>"
"<Sure! Didja know Minayo and Kansuke broke up?>"
"<Who? What class are they in?>"
Junko slapped her forehead. Of course, it should have been expected of Eriko not to recognize the names of recent pop stars...

"<Hey girls!>" Monsoon hovered toward the two as they entered Castle Nexus. "<Doing swell, I hope?>"
"<I've had worse days,>" said Eriko. "<I've been working on our little project, and thinking about the more interesting ones to follow... But, more importantly, I've been thinking about rapid-response strategy.>"
"<By which you mean...?>"
"<I mean I need a quick way to tell if there's a crisis going on. An alarm system, so to speak. How could Aurora know when Downfall was attacking Tokyo?>"
"<Oh... Aurora is special. She was using extremely advanced noble magic to warn her when massive spells were being cast on Earth.>"
"<Anywhere on Earth?>"
"<You mean, anywhere on the surface of an entire planet, and many kilometers up in the air? Well, yeah. This is the boss we're talking about. She's up there in the cosmic league.>"
Eriko took a moment to process the information. I knew she was powerful, but this... Wow. "<I'm duly impressed, but that doesn't really solve our problem. Do you have any advice for knowing when the villains strike?>"
"<Well... If I was watching the news carefully here, I might be able to spot trouble.>"
"<Not good enough. There's too long a delay. Sounds to me like we could save precious time and even more precious lives by contacting the police.>"
"<Wait, what?>"
"<Think about it: I go to the police, explain the situation to them, give them a way to contact me, and presto! Next time Downfall shows his ugly face, I'll be warned in time.>" In time to get another car thrown at my face, anyway.
"<Ah... I'd hate to be the voice of reason here, but didn't we go over this just yesterday? With you promising not to do this kind of stuff? Because it's a recipe for disaster in the long run?>"
<"I'm not talking about telling anyone what I know about magic. I'm talking about giving them a way to call for my help. No need to give away information or anything. There's no downside, and we can make people safer.>"
Monsoon looked at her, then giggled. "<Heh... Sorry, but the part about there being 'no downside' cracked me up. There's always a downside, Eri. The question is, is it worth it?
I dunno about this plan of yours. It sounds good on paper, but in practice... Engh. Look, I'll talk about it to Mother Aurora. How about we reach a decision together next time she's here?>"
"<Fair enou... When will that be?>"
Monsoon grinned. "<I'll try to arrange a meeting as soon as possible. This week if I can.>"
"<OK, I can work with that.>"
"<Voice of reason. Yay me.>"
"<There was... another thing.>" Eriko turned her head toward her adoptive sister. "<Junko, that concerns you too.>"
The latter frowned quizzically. Huh? What could it be about? I'm not as involved with this magical girl business as I'd like... Is it about the decoy?
"<I had a short talk with dad this morning. It sounded like he and mom are thinking about moving out of Tokyo, what with the danger and all.>" Junko's eyes widened. "<I don't think there are any definite plans, but... Well, what if that changes?>"
Monsoon snickered. "<I'm sorry, I really shouldn't laugh, it's insensitive and all... But you gotta admit, it is kinda funny.>"
"<My parents trying to keep me safe by moving out of town?>"
"<Well, yes. I mean, you have portals. You're pretty damn good with them, in fact. It's not like moving out of the city will make any difference for your world-saving career.>"
"<I suppose...>"
"<Besides, the fighting may not even stay confined to Tokyo. So, really, the important question here isn't whether Soul needs to live in Tokyo.>" The fairy paused for emphasis. "<The question is whether Eriko - and Junko - need to live in Tokyo.>"
"<It's not a huge deal for me. Junko?>"
"<I... Um...>" I've been here all my life! All my friends are here! OK, I'd still have Eriko, and she's the most important but there's all the others... "<I dunno. I'm not crazy about the idea.>"
"<Then better tell dad. That's going to be a factor.>"

"<Guys! You've gotta hear this!>"
Downfall looked up nonchalantly at the thug who had just run into the HQ shouting loudly. "<Hear what?>"
"<It's the Northern Fists and the Diamond Dragons! They're all dead!>"
Masaki's eyes went wide. "<All of them? How?>"
"<Well, they were meeting in this underground place... Turns out, there was a bomb. No survivors.>"
"<Both their gangs were having trouble with the Yakuza,>" another gangster noted. "<Think they did this?>"
Downfall began listening closely.
"<Could be it,>" admitted Masaki. "<Sounds a bit extreme, though. Um... We're not on their kill list, are we? I mean, I know we had that run-in, but we left and they got what they wanted, right?>"
"<Living Curse, Living Curse, Living Curse,>" Downfall put his hand on Masaki's shoulder, causing a shiver to run down his spine; "<You're going at this the wrong way. Allow me to explain:
There's a power vacuum. The balance is shifting. And you're the only gang in the world with magic.
I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this.>"
Masaki suspected he could. Which did little to alleviate his nervousness.

"So how did the meeting with Kahara go?" Katsutoshi asked with the annoyed expression his mother was probably used to by now.
"As expected." She replied with the cold expression all who knew her were certainly used to by now.
"Was he happy about your little bomb stunt?"
"Of course not. He ranted about how such disproportionate measures attract unwanted attention from the media and police, and could hurt their business. These gangs were only minor problems, after all."
"Thirty people died!" Katsutoshi allowed himself to get angry. "Thirty people! What the hell was the point?!"
"After Kahara was done ranting, I expressed the opinion that his clan lacked expediency, and could stand to be more ruthless. I added that as far as the police were concerned, they could just truthfully claim that they were not involved. Following that, I directed them toward a recent 4-million-dollar profit in their investments, then mentioned that a rival clan were seeking contact with me, and they should probably keep an eye on them."
"But what was the point?"
"The point was to remind them to fear me. I have not been here for several years; memories of what I am capable of have faded to a degree, especially among the younger generation. It is best for them to be fully aware that I am perfectly capable of destroying them."
"And that you bring in the money. And that you could choose to work with their rivals instead." He rolled his eyes.
"And what if, mommy dearest, they decide it's safer to just eliminate you and be done with it?"
"There are many rumors of post-mortem arrangements I have made. Some of them are true. Most of them have been encouraged by me."
"Of course. What now?"
"Have you read the report I've sent you?"
"I'm... halfway through..."
"Finish it. Then re-read the NDE research papers."
"The NDE ones? Why?"
"That will be clear soon enough."

"<I can't believe this freaking crap!>"
Junko was slightly taken aback by Eriko's anger. "<What's the problem?>"
"<It's an article about how religious movements are reacting to the Soul thing.>" Eriko glared at the monitor. "<Many big names like the pope or the dalaï-lama are being cautious, but every loon and his grandmother is trying to spin this to his advantage! From Christian fundamentalists to Muslim wahabists to... Raellians are trying to spin this as an interstellar war, Scientology says Downfall and Murder were sent by Xenu, Aum recruitment is up!>"
"<...I don't even recognize all of these.>"
"<Lucky you. Screw this, I'll check the rest of the news articles. More cheerful stuff, like earthquakes in India or terrorism in the Middle East.>"

Masaki looked nervously at the bank. OK, this is going to be either my big break or a huge flop.
Putting on the black skull mask, he entered the building. "<Nobody moves! This is a robbery!>"
There were a few screams. Everybody did move, away from him - except for a guard who got up from his chair and waved a baton at him. "<Hands in the air where I can see them, punk!>"
He hesitated long enough to ruin the dramatic inertia. We've tested those shields. He shouldn't be able to hurt me with that stick. Right? "<I said nobody move!>"
"<I said hands in the air!>"
It dawned on Masaki that, unarmed as he was, he wasn't going to be taken as seriously as required unless he displayed his power. A potted plant (probably plastic) caught his eye. Without much thinking, he sent a fiery blast at it.
Everything happened very quickly. The guard struck with his baton, with the attack unable to get past his kinetic shield. He raised his hand at the guard, projecting him backward; the guard flew several meters before hitting the wall.
Masaki looked at the people around him. I need to say it. Downfall said to say it. "<I am the Living Curse! No mortal can stand against my magic!>"
A few bystanders ran out of the building. He himself walked up to the cashier, trying to look as imposing and intimidating as possible.

Eriko looked closely at the article. "Great fires in Californian wilderness. Communities evacuated in advance."
She paused. I could... Couldn't I? I mean, all it would take would be...
She left the computer. "<Junko? I need your help.>"
Junko put down her latest shojo. "<With what?>"
"<I'm bringing in the decoy. You'll need to cover for me in case mom enters the room. I'll have to hurry if I want to be home before it gets suspicious>"
Junko tensed up. "<What happened? Another attack?>"
"<Not this time. Take a look:>" She pointed at the monitor. "<Wildfires in America. I'm going to put them out.>"
"<What? I mean... I don't think you're supposed to do that...>"
"<Forget about 'supposed to', Junko! It's important, and I can do it! It's the right thing to do - simple as that!>"
"<I... guess so.>" She paused. "<But return quickly.>"

As the sun rose in California, others were already dealing with the crisis.
"The planes can do another run in 40 minutes, drop water on the Southern fires, but that won't slow it down much, chief."
"Fucking drought." The firefighter officer cursed. "Any chance of rain tomorrow?"
"Some 25% chances three days from now. 50% in four. But not before."
"Terrific. How's the evacuation going?"

It took a few portals to find the spot, and she had barely said a few words to Monsoon on the way (which had mostly involved "Stay calm", "it's not an attack", and "I'll talk to you later"), but within minutes, Soul had found herself flying in the American skies in range of the gigantic columns of smoke.
This whole flying thing still weirds me out. It doesn't feel like flying; it feels like continuously falling.
OK, focus. These fires are covering kilometers and kilometers. I can't just use noble magic to turn down the temperature or something; the area's too large, and I'd need all day. But if I go at the right altitude...
I wonder what the right altitude is. I mean, I must be, what, two kilometers above ground now? Three? Four? I can't tell. Let's hope it's enough. And now... Showtime!
A portal opened. Immediately, a great stream of water ejected from it downward, going faster and faster toward the ground. With some effort, she widened it until its radius reached three meters.
That's right. Cold water from deep within the ocean, tens of kilometers off the coast! That's gotta do the trick, right? ...Wish I could see what was going on down below.
With some effort, she began moving the portal horizontally, trying to cover the burning surface below. From this height, the water can disperse a bit, so it'll be like very heavy rain by the time it reaches the ground. I think. Was that a fish right now?

The junior firefighter ran back to his superior.
"Boss, you're not going to believe this..."

It looks like the fire's stopped in the areas I was covering before. This shouldn't take much longer... Ten, fifteen minutes?

In all his years working for the fire department, he had never heard of, much less seen, anything of the sort.
"I don't get it. Where's the water coming from?"
"No freaking clue, chief. We have a surveillance chopper four miles away. We could have them take a closer look."
"Let's. But, careful."

This is tiring, but... I think I'm actually starting to enjoy this. No monster trying to roast me alive, no psycho trying to stab me, no civilians dying before my eyes - just a big fiery target to aim water at. I think I'm actually going to file this among the positive parts of the magical girl lifestyle.
With all the noise of the water so close to her, she couldn't hear the sound of the helicopter less than two hundred meters behind her.

"Ho. Ly. Shit. That is that superheroine from Japan."
"Think we should get closer?"
"Just stay above the level the water's coming from. I... I guess I'll film this."

All right, I think I've taken out the biggest chunks of the fire... I should probably get back home before mom and dad notice anything is amiss.
As she closed the portal and the stream of water, she became aware at last of the nearby chopper. The news? No... I'm guessing it's the fire department. So do I just leave or...?

"Hey... She's coming here!"
The firefighter had no idea what to do as the white-clad Asian girl hovered toward him, stopping two meters away from the helicopter.
"Er... Hi," she began, then realized her voice was completely drowned by the helicopter's noise. "Hi!" She tried again, shouting this time.
"Hello." he shouted back.
"How are the fires below? Under control?"
"I think so. This camera has great zoom for surveillance. Things look wet and quiet down below, just some small fires left."
"Can you people handle them?"
"Yeah, sure."
"OK. Good luck!"
And with that, she left through a portal.
"Claudia will never believe me," he muttered to himself.

"<Oh, so now you're here,>" Monsoon pouted as Eriko returned to Castle Nexus. "<Hey there, Monsoon! Don't mind me, only hope for this world, I'm just going to go on a potentially dangerous stunt in my magical girl identity and not even take the time to tell you what for!>"
"<Sorry, but I was in a bit of a hurry. There was this big fire in America...>"
"<Wait, wait. You did this whole thing to put out a fire?>"
"<Yeah. See, a large area was burning...>"
"<...Were there people who needed urgent rescuing?>"
"<I... don't think so. Those were wildfires. But they were going to cause really serious damage, so...>"
"<OK, hold it. It's great that you're trying to help out and all - no, really, it is - but to the best of my knowledge, these things aren't exactly an 'every second counts' situation. It was a wildfire, not a burning building. You can't seriously tell me that you couldn't stop for, for one minute to explain to me what was going on!>"
Eriko said nothing. I suppose she's right...
Monsoon facepalmed. "<You weren't in a hurry because it was urgent. You were in a hurry because you wanted to get there and be done with it before I could make arguments against it.>"
Eriko gazed down awkwardly.
"<Look, hun... There are a few reproaches I could make about this. Risks of blowing your cover, risks of one of your foes attacking you while your guard was down... You know, basic common sense.
But. You do realize Mother Aurora and her loyal, self-referencing motormouth of an agent are trying to protect this world and its people, right? Putting out fires does count toward that.>"
Eriko looked up to see Monsoon smiling.
"<I don't know if I approve of everything you did today, but you did some good. That's gotta count for something, no?>"
"<I... Thanks.>"
"<Just remember that, the occasional disagreement aside, we are on the same team.>"
As Monsoon hovered in and hugged her, she awkwardly hugged back. "<I... I'll try. Sorry about... Well, about not being fully honest with you.>"
"<No grudge.>"

"<No casualties, no serious injuries, and even the bank's money was insured,>" Hiromasa mused out loud. "<That's easily the least destructive attack so far.>"
"<The previous ones seemed to cause destruction on purpose,>" noted Hyosuke. "<This Living Curse looks like he just wanted money.>" He looked again at the security camera's recording. "<There's an interesting bit in the end.>"
"<What, the portal he escaped through? They all used portals.>"
"<Look closer. Whenever Downfall or Soul made a portal, they made a gesture, or something - they needed to pay attention to it. Even Murder, to a lesser extent. But this guy? He didn't do anything visible before the portal showed up. In fact, he flinched afterward. Like someone else made the portal appear.>"
"<Brilliant! So he has a magician accomplice somewhere!>"
One of the night shift officers went by. "<I thought you guys were off the magic case, now that there's the new task force?>"
"<The task force is still being set up,>" Hyosuke replied coldly, "<And they will need this information once they get started on the case.>"
"<Yeah, but weren't you supposed to be investigating the Diamond Dragons? I mean, they did get blown up...>"
"<I know my priorities. Is asking us these questions one of your priorities?>"
The other officer smirked. "<Bad day, I take it? Actually, I thought you might want to check out the news. Your little witch just showed up in America.>"

"<I think that's you on the CNN website, but I can't read this," said Junko as Eriko brushed her teeth. "<So... How did it feel to go back to America?>"
Eriko spit out and washed her mouth. "<Eh, I was flying above the wilderness. Didn't get close enough to the ground to make any difference, except that the firefighters were speaking in English.>" She paused. "<You know, I was thinking of dropping back in the US for a quick visit with my powers, check out the bookstores and such... Then Mother Aurora came, and I had no time for it. How about we both go for a quick tour once we have some free time?>"
Junko looked at her wide-eyed. "<That... That'd be awesome!>"
Eriko smiled faintly as she moved toward the computer. That's right. After Murder, I sorta forgot about actually enjoying my powers. Even my scientific research has been mostly on hold to develop strategies and train on combat moves. Which is all very important, but...
She began looking at the online information. OK, the news websites are one thing. What about the online forums?
"Supernatural incidents: No longer restricted to Japan?" I wouldn't call it "supernatural"... Oh well.
"Superheroine Soul Sighted Saving State from Searing Setback!" ...Superheroine? I suppose I am, in a way...
"Turns out the Japanese weren't crazy" ...Thank you for the vote of confidence.
Hm. These reactions seem generally positive. A bit excited, even. Maybe because there weren't dozens of civilian casualties this time around. Lots of people actually seem to find this... "cool"?
Heh. Sure, why not.

"Really, Soul? Putting out fires? How charmingly quaint," said Murder as he watched the news from behind bars.
Dimitry watched the stream of water on the screen. "They're finding fish splattered across the area. I'm guessing she opened a portal inside the ocean, and just let the water flow through?"
"So it would seem. A clever application of her magic, even if for a rather silly goal."
"I... Can think of worse ways to use these powers..." Shut up shut up shut up stupid stupid stupid!
Murder smirked at him. "Is that really what you believe, my friend? Allow me to explain a few things to you then.
Things die. People die. Everything dies." Murder clutched the bars. "Elysians such as myself, and other spirits for that matter, often refer to your kind as 'mortals', as if to suggest that we, in contrast, aren't. But we are. We may not age, but we die. Eventually, there will be nothing left of this world, or any world. No-one can change that. Every attempt you make at saving something, anything, will be a failure; at the very most, you will prolong its existence until the inevitable end."
Dimitry's attempt to listen and comb the monologue for clues was interrupted when he suddenly found himself projected forward, slammed against the bars, his face only a few inches away from Murder's. The Elysian continued:
"I am not interested in prolonging the existence of what surrounds me. I find it so much more interesting to bring it to a premature end." With that, a gun suddenly materialized in his hand, aimed between Dimitry's eyes. "To take something that exists... And erase it forever. That, my friend, is what I live for... At least, until I too cease to be." Dimitry tried to speak, but terror seemed to have paralyzed his vocal chords. "Though I do hope, at least, to go down with the ship that is the multiverse, rather than be taken out halfway through... But, we'll see about that."
"P... P... Please..."
"Please what, my fragile, squishy friend?"
"Please... Don't..."
"Don't what? Don't kill me? Don't put an accelerated piece of metal through my brain, thus causing my vital functions to shut down and my mind to cease to exist on the material plane, disappearing into the oblivion of the Tunnel of Light?"
"Why, my friend? You're going to die sooner or later, just like everyone else. What does it matter to you if it happens right now?"
"I... My family..." Dimitry struggled to speak through his terror. "I'm... needed..."
"That's it? That is your best argument? I should give up on the pleasure of killing you, because people who are going to die sooner or later need your help to die later rather than sooner, and if you die sooner rather than later you will be unable to provide that help? That's all?"
The force pressing Dimitry against the bars suddenly disappeared, and Murder handed him the gun. "Well, I suppose I've heard worse arguments. Congratulations, Dimitry: You get to die later rather than sooner."

Shortly afterward, a haggard Dimitry left the room and entered his office. His hands still trembling, he picked up the phone.
The boss's number is... The boss's number is... No, not the boss.
After a moment of hesitation he dialed.
"<Hello, h-honey.>"
"<Dimitry! You haven't called in two days!>"
"<Sorry, sorry... It's been busy over here.>"
"<I hope you're eating well. Don't think I've forgotten how you can get unless I'm around to kick you into shape!>"
He laughed nervously. "<I'm... I'm fine, I'm alive. How are the kids?>"
"<They miss you too. Kir did very well on his math test; he's actually talking about sending it to you in his letter.>"
"<Heh... Tell him to keep it.>"
"<Tell him he can show it to me in person when the time comes.>"
"<Dimitry... When is that time coming? If at all? You never sound like you trust these people much.>"
"<It's been... difficult. But I'm making progress. Very soon, we'll all be together again. I promise, honey. I'll see you soon.>"
"<...See you soon.>"
"<Love you. Tell the kids daddy loves them.>"
As he put the phone down, he told himself: "<I will survive this. I will.>"

My name is Watanabe Eriko, and I'm in a far better mood today than yesterday.
I've read several hundreds of forum posts about Soul before leaving for school this morning. A bit self-indulgent, really, but... it was encouraging. Sure, there were some wacky conspiracy theories, and some weird bullshit... Mostly, though, people were treating me like a real-life superhero. And I guess that's what I'm acting like. Superhero, magical girl... Whatever. I did good yesterday.
Still got much to do, though. For starters, I need to establish communication with the police. I still need to talk with Monsoon and Aurora, but... Well, screw their worries, I need to protect people.
Now I just...
"<Hey there, gutsy girl.>"
"<Hey, at least answer.>"
"<Hey there, steaming pile of human-shaped excrement. May you rot in Hell.>"
Kazu laughed loudly. "<See, Gutsy, that's what I like about you: You may be a bit thick at times, but you're never boring.>"
Her face reddened. "<If you have something to say, get it over with already.>"
"<Hm... How about 'banana'?>"
"<You asked me for something to say. I figure 'banana' is as good as anything else.>"
"<Oh, screw you!>" She stormed off.
He chuckled. "<Not boring at all.>"

In a castle clearly not designed for people who couldn't fly, Mother Aurora was in a rather foul mood.
"<I can hardly believe it! That she would use magic for something so frivolous!>"
"<Well, it probably doesn't look frivolous from her perspective,>" noted Monsoon, who was hovering with her back to the ground. "<I mean, she saw a problem, she tried to solve it. Simple and obvious.>"
"<She solved it with magic! There are consequences.>"
"<Yeah, consequences that she has no way of knowing about.>"
"<I seem to recall we agreed that these should be best kept secret, Monsoon.>"
"<And I still stand by that. Eriko's a good, brave girl, and I'm sure she wants to save reality as much as we do... But if we tell her what magic really does, it could slow her down.>"
"<It should slow her down. I believe I have been clear in the past on what I do and do not consider to be acceptable sacrifices, Monsoon.>"
"<You don't need to tell me again. But, your majesty... I don't think we can afford for Eriko to slow down. Hell's forces are here. Murder is here. Worst of all, the Circle of Wisdom is already here, and the last thing we want is to lose another world to them - especially when you're getting close to completing your ritual, which may have massive strategic implications if it works. But first, we need it to work, and that'll be all but impossible if we lose this world and Soul.>"
"<I know, I know. Unacceptable sacrifices. For what it's worth, I think I can get her to cut it out without saying too much...
However, that still leaves the issue of her new plans. She's... full of initiative. I don't think we can keep working with her without giving her some more leeway...>"

My name is Junko. I'm about to enter Castle Nexus.
It's cool that Eriko could help with the fire in America, but I'm not sure what to make of her and Kazu. The reactions he gets from here lately are... suspiciously strong. Is she crushing on him? Well, he is cute, in a "bad boy" sorta way. But if she is, then what? Should I encourage her? Give her advice? Maybe... Maybe that's it. My help isn't worth beans when it comes to magical girl business, except for the secret identity thing (and even there, I'm not much. That decoy isn't going to fool anybody for long). My help in getting her new friends only seems to bore her to tears, even if I keep trying. Maybe I can help her get a boyfriend, find love! That has to count for a lot, right?
...Wait, is that Mother Aurora?
"<Greetings, children.> The fairy queen, luminous as ever, hovered right next to Monsoon.
"<Hiya kids!>"
"<...Hello.>" Eriko waved politely. Junko nodded respectfully.
"<Monsoon has reported to me all that has transpired here," said Aurora. "<Though it is worrying that the Circle of Wisdom has gotten involved so quickly, it is good that you were able to dispatch their construct so efficiently. She has also informed me of your other recent accomplishment.>"
"<You mean, the fire?>"
"<That'd be it,>" said Monsoon. "<And it's still great that you could help, but... It might not be a good idea to do repeat performances.>"
"<What do you mean?>"
"<Well... It's like this:
I've been to many worlds like this one. Every now and then, you've got a group of mages who go, 'hey, we've got all these awesome powers. Let's make the world better!'. Problem is, they end up doing the exact opposite. Every time they use their magic to solve a problem, the normal, regular people stop trying to deal with that problem themselves. Before you know it, mankind start to stagnate, looking up to its magical heroes to take care of everything. And then, you end up with a society that's basically a shallow magocracy - even though the guys who started it were only trying to help. It's not pretty.>"
"<So... You're saying that, if I use my magic this way too often, people will start depending on it? That sounds a bit... simplistic.>"
"<You're underestimating yourself, then. There's been nothing quite like your powers in this world so far, Eri. It commands awe, whether you want it to or not.>"
"<Then what? I should let disasters happen, unless magic's already involved?>"
"<Wanting to help is nice, but good intentions can sometimes mess the world up something fierce. But if Downfall attacks, then yeah, a mage needs to kick his ass.>"
"<I'll take that into consideration. For now, though...>" Eriko looked at the fairy queen. "<Mother Aurora, I've been wanting to talk to you. It's about alarm systems.>" She took a deep breath before going on. "<When that construct attacked, it took far, far too long for me to notice anything was going on. Tens of casualties, immense damage... All of which could have been avoided if I had known earlier.
Now, there is one group that is going to know about those attacks practically as soon as they begin: The police. I don't need to tell them everything I know about magic... I just need to give them a way to contact me in case something happens.>"
"<Simple enough in theory,>" said Mother Aurora. "<While I commend you for your dedication, do understand that this apparent simplicity would vanish the moment you tried to put this into practice. As soon as you make contact with the mortal authorities, and give them a way to reach you, complications will inevitably arise.>" She gestured. "<They will seek to learn more. They will probe your secrets. Power plays will erupt as they seek to control you; failing that, they will try to control access to you. It is a great burden already to keep the secrets of magic; if you go to the law enforcers, your burden will rise tenfold.>"
"<So, you know, think carefully.>" Added Monsoon.
Junko paid close attention to the entire exchange. Eriko has a point... but so does Mother Aurora, I guess. Well, Eriko is usually the kind of person who follows the rules and does as teacher says, so I guess she'll probably accept that argument and...
"<I thank you for the warning and advice,>" said Eriko, "<but this is a necessary measure. Now I just need to figure out how to best go about it.>"
...Or maybe not. Huh. I... suppose she cares more about the police's authority than Mother Aurora's.
"<If that is your decision.>" Aurora's expression did not waver. "<In this case, you will need to ensure the honesty of those lawmen you deal with. The corrupt will be a source of unceasing woe and confusion.>"
"<So I need to find a good, honest policeman.>" Eriko grinned. "<I think I know where to start.>"

The sun had already set ss Hiromasa accompanied Hyosuke out of his parents' home. Mrs. Shiina commented to her husband: "<Hiro's partner seemed a bit gruffer than I expected, but he seems like an honorable man.>"
"<He does his job.>" Hiromasa's father took a moment to think. "<Intelligent, driven, and dutiful. I've heard that he could use being more respectful, but that he gets the job done. I can see why Hiromasa thought he was the right man for this case.>"
"<So, you'll help Hiro with this?>"
"<I suppose I will. For once in his life, the boy is showing initiative. It'd be foolish to waste the opportunity.>"

Late afternoon. Shigetsugu glanced at the police station. This had been a reasonably good day so far: The chief hadn't found anything to criticize him for, the cute new meter maid had laughed at his joke, no big crime or mishap... With any luck, perhaps he could...
His thoughts came to sudden halt as something strange happened before his eyes. It was as if a hole had opened in the air - and behind the hole was some other place, and right in front of it, a teenage girl dressed in a white costume. Time seemed to freeze as he realized that this was one of the portals that were always involved with the attacks.
The girl stepped through the portal. He was still frozen in place as he realized she was almost certainly Soul. He looked at her. She looked at him, then nodded respectfully. "<Hello officer. My apologies for bothering you, but I am in need of your assistance.>"
He noticed the people in the street watching the scene all bug-eyed. Finally snapping out of it, he answered as coherently as he could. "<M-my assistance? What... What do you need?>"
"<I need to speak to inspector Aoyama.>"

My name is Aoyama Hyosuke. I'm in the process of being taken off the strangest case in the history of the Tokyo police, and I need to get as much as possible done before they foist it on some incompetent jackass.
Soul's latest foray into California has taught us a few things. For starters, those portals of hers can go a pretty good distance - she wasn't anywhere near the coast, but, judging from the fish and saltwater, the other end of the portal was in the ocean (Huh. Wonder if the salt will hurt the vegetation? Probably less than the fire, at least). Plus, she managed to keep it open for, what, twenty minutes?
It's also proven that she can use her magic outside Tokyo. Given how all these things happened here, I was starting to wonder if we were dealing with a localized phenomenon. Maybe at least this will shut up the idiots who talk off moving out of the city.
At least Hiromasa is taking his job seriously. Oddly enough, he's been showing more initiative since we were told we were going off the case. He's still not the sharpest crayon in the box, but...
"<Hey! Aoyama!>" Hyosuke and Hiromasa turned toward the policeman who had just entered the office. "<There's a call for you from another station.>"

Hyosuke answered the phone. "<Hello? Inspector Aoyama speaking.>"
"<Are you the same Aoyama who talked to Soul during the kaiju attack?>"
He raised an eyebrow. "<That was me, yes. Why the question?>"
There was a pause on the other end. He thought he heard a "<It's him>" in the background, before the reply: "<Well, inspector... Soul is here.>"
His lower jaw dropped by a centimeter for a short moment. "<'Here'? In your police station?>"
"<Yes. She showed up a few minutes ago, saying she needed to talk to 'inspector Aoyama'. It took us a while to figure out who she was talking about. Anyway, she... Uh...>"
Surprised shouts erupted from the rec room.
"<...I think she just went your way.>"
Hyosuke, with Hiromasa and the other policeman in tow, walked into the rec room. As expected, he saw Soul right there; the officers already present were watching in shock, taking their distance; a couple even had their guns drawn out.
The white-clad girl looked at him, probably recognizing him. He pulled out his badge. "<Inspector Aoyama.>"
She nodded. "<I am Soul.>"

A short while later, in the interrogation room...
"<You realize that this entire conversation is being recorded, and that we do not guarantee confidentiality.>"
"<Of course. Makes sense.>"
"<Well, so long as you understand that, we have a lot of questions for you.>"
"<I imagine as much, but please understand that I don't know everything, and can say even less.>"
"<Why is that? Why the secrecy?>"
"<...I have my reasons.>" So. This is what it feels like. "<I can't tell you who I am. I can't tell you where magic comes from and why it works. And I don't know as much about our foes as I would like. But I do want to help.>"
Hyosuke considered. "<Magic, you say. Is that what all these weird abilities are?>"
She winced. "<It's a convenient term, but probably a bit misleading. It suggests a supernatural nature.>"
"<And you're saying it's not supernatural.>"
"<Well... By nature, in this context, we mean that which exists. Since these powers exist, then, pretty much by definition, they're not supernatural - not outside the realm of science, which, by definition, is the study of that which exists. They're... merely unexplored. For now, at least.>" She paused. "<People have been saying a lot of strange things about me lately. That I herald the Apocalypse, that I'm some kind of messiah, that I'm a goddess-slash-alien-slash-angel-slash-whatever. And, well... I'm not. I'm not here to destroy the world, I'm not here to start a golden age.>" Although that might come later. Magic has interesting applications. "<I'm just... trying to help. Stop guys like Downfall and Murder.>"
"<Speaking of which. What can you tell us about those guys? Or about the Circle of Wisdom?>"
"<Not much. I can tell you that Murder's golden knife is magically enhanced so that it can cut through just about anything. I can tell you what I know about their shield spells.>"
"<That would be appreciated.>" Even if it only confirms what we suspect. "<What can you tell me about Living Curse?>"
She raised an eyebrow. "<Who?>"
"<So you don't know.>" He pulled out a file. "<There was a bank robbery two days ago. Check the pictures... The guy in the black mask identified himself as 'the Living Curse". He used magic, apparently. The media haven't gone nuts with the story due to limited evidence - he didn't wreck the place like previous attacks, so they're not sure if it really happened.>" Neither we nor the bank were in a hurry to confirm, either.
Soul examined the file. "<Another one? Not good. Can I see the videos?>"
"<Sure. Tell us if you can figure anything from them.>"
"<Right. But, before that... Inspector, the main reason I'm here isn't so I can answer your questions.>" If my unwillingness to do so wasn't enough to tip you off...
"<Then what?>"
"<It's... It's like this. When the third attack took place, that monster caused incalculable damage before I got there. It doesn't actually take me long to reach a hot spot... I just didn't know anything was going on. Took me a while. I'd like to avoid this kind of problem in the future.
You people at the police will know about attacks nigh-instantly. If you warn me, I can show up much faster, and save many more lives. In other words... I need my own bat-signal, and I'd like you to be my Jim Gordon.>" Seeing his raised eyebrow, she pulled out a small device. "<Here. This gadget will allow you to call me at any time.>"
Carefully, he picked it up. "<Like a cell phone?>"
"<More like a radio.>" I mean, with a cell phone, you could track me. With this... Not so much.
"<Is it magical, or...?>"
"<No. Just electronics.>" Though magic was involved in creating it. "<Next time there's an attack... Please call me.>"
He hesitated for a while. Finally, he spoke: "<You need to realize that the NPA is currently establishing a special task force to deal with magical incidents.>"
"<I'm aware of it.>"
"<I'll... give them this communicator then.>"
"<No!>" She surprised both him and herself (and Hiromasa) with her outburst. "<I mean... I want you to take care of this.>"
Because I saw how you behaved during the construct attack. You were brave. You were dutiful. You put the protection of the people ahead of all else. "<...I need someone trustworthy as my liaison.>"
"<...I see. Well, I'll see what I can do.>"

"A small step for magical girlkind, but a huge leap for an aging policeman's career."
"You're the riot to end all riots, Douchebaggio."
"I suppose I can see the fairies' logic... They probably figured that, if you knew about He Who Laughs, you might end up reluctant to use magic at all, even to save the world. In this respect, at least, they've underestimated you."
"Are you imitating my 'creepy silences'?"
"Suit yourself, Soul. We're pretty much done for today anyway."

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