Author's Note
For the full story, the 16-chapter original MT TimeLines thread can be found here. For your convienence, a summary of that thread functions as Chapter Zero in this thread.

MegaTokyo TimeLines: Day Two
Compromising situations

Chapter Zero:
The story thus far…

After using untested technology to avoid a cataclysmic disaster by warping back in time, the Conscience Enforcement Agency tasks Agents Seraphim and Boo with the duty of ensuring that the two timelines are not allowed to merge. The operation starts out fine, with Seraphim keeping Piro and Largo out of Japan immediately after E3.

However, six months later they are invited to Japan by Piro's friend Tsubasa, so he can show off his prototype EDS, Ping. While Largo gets involved with an unscheduled event with zombies, Piro encounters Junpei, the ninja, asking for his "l33t m4s73r." Tsubasa, however, quickly shows up to get his friends out of the TPCD's way. Ed, who is tracking the EDS for Sony Enforcement, is dragged away by his boss before he can cause more trouble. He leaves a hidden tracking device on Ping's earblade, but other than that, the trip back to Tsubasa's apartment is uneventful.

The conscience insects, in the meantime, are joined by Special Operative Asmodeus. Agent Seraphim tails Ed back to SCEI headquarters while Asmodeus and Boo are tasked with keeping Piro and Largo out of trouble.

At Tsubasa's apartment, however, yet another unscheduled event occurs when Tsubasa is ambushed by an enemy. After dispatching the enemy with the help of Junpei the ninja and Ping, Tsubasa is revealed to be an assassin tasked with killing one of his own, a rogue assassin known only as "True Love." Tsubasa plans to continue his pursuit of his enemy, who he took for dead after a trip to America, but before he can get Largo and Piro to safety, the TPCD shows up to place the duo in custody.

Meanwhile, Seraphim follows Ed into a Sony Enforcement meeting, where the operations director, Usaka Ian, takes an unusual interest in Hayasaka Erika and Nanasawa Kimiko before revealing that Sony has found the rip in Space/Time the CEA created and is making moves to repair the timeline by capturing Kimiko and the Catalyst for her Idol powers – one of the Americans.

Before Seraphim can do anything to thwart this plan, however, she is captured by Usaka, who is a former subject of Seraphim's. After moving Seraphim to an interrogation room for torture he later performs himself, Usaka proceeds with the mission to capture Nanasawa Kimiko to work for Sony. Three guards – Kiada, Agassi, and Ray – are dispatched to protect Sony's "negotiator," Megumi, who was to finally finish her mission started years ago.

That mission overcomes an obstacle in Hayasaka Erika, who arrives home late after a reunion at MegaGamers with Yanagisawa and a now-paraplegic Yuuji (who was hired at the store instead of Piro and was severely injured in a fan-stampede) and a meeting at her new place of employment – Microsoft. However, Erika doesn't get a chance to clear up doubt planted by Megumi inside Kimiko. Kimiko decides to sign with Sony, while Erika finds herself in trouble with the TPCD after two unscheduled events of her own.

The other mission, received by Ed's team, is called off when Piro and Largo escape in a disaster scheduled by Tsubasa with a Rent-a-'Zilla. Ed spots the EDS with the boys and plans a strike for later.


Chapter One:
Meaningless whispers

Ugggggg…

Largo groaned awake and rolled over onto his back. Looking at the ceiling, he realized he was now on the cold floor in the dark. He sat up and glanced to his right, where Piro was still laying on the futon. Largo noticed that Piro was crying in his sleep.

He sighed, "What a woman." Largo realized that he needed a beer and noticed the light was on in the other room. He slowly started to walk towards what he hoped was the kitchen. He was just about there when he heard voices inside. The redhead peeked around the corner and saw Tsubasa and Ping kneeling at a small table.

"It's the ch1><0rz and the b4d-@$$ @$$@$$1|\|," Largo thought to himself.

<But, Tsubasa-sama, what do you want to do with the Americans?>
<I don't know. It's too dangerous to keep them in the country with t3h 3v1l, but the TPCD won't let us get them back to the United States for some reason.>

Largo perked up…they were talking about t3h 3v1l! This could be vital to saving the world, he thought as he struggled to find a way to understand more. Though he had little idea what was being said, he still hid himself behind the wall and tried to discern whatever meaning he could from the Japanese.

<Yes, Tsubasa-sensei, that was most strange. How do you plan to track t3h 3v1l with Largo-san and Piro-kun still here, though?>

"They're speaking in t3h d4r|< t0ngu3," Largo realized.

<I have little choice but to pursue True Love, now that we know she is indeed alive, despite all evidence to the contrary. I must leave, but you must stay.>

<But…Tsubasa-kun…>

<I know your programming keeps you attached to me, but I know you have the same attachment to Piro-san. I must know, however, how is it that you know him in such an informal way?>

<I…I'm not sure. But when I saw him, something registered with me. I know him to be very kind, if sometimes insensitive. I don't know why I know this, but I do.>

<I see, Ping-chan. I must depart in the morning, but you need to stay with Piro-san and his friend. Protect them at all costs, as you would do for me.>

<Yes sensei.>

<That's a good girl. Now, you must recharge before daybreak. We have a busy day today.>

Largo had heard, or not heard, enough. He walked into the room and asked a surprised-looking Tsubasa and an emotionless Ping, "Where is t3h b33r? I have need of b33r."

<What did he say, Tsubasa-sensei?>

Tsubasa ignored the EDS and instead pointed to the mini-fridge. "There's some in there, Largo-san."

Largo walked over to the fridge and pulled out a beer. "Ah, n3ct3r of t3h g0d5!" he exclaimed. Turning around, he walked right into Tsubasa.

"Sorry," Largo grunted.

"I'm sorry as well," Tsubasa sighed as he grabbed Largo's throat and slammed him up against the wall with his left hand. His voice became more authorative. "Now, what did you hear?"

"I cannot understand t3h d4r|< t0ngu3 you and the chi><0rZ speak," Largo gasped, with a look of fear in his eyes. "Are you planning to frag me?"

"Heavens no," Tsubasa laughed, relaxing his grip. "You are still my friend, however strange. But you must go back to sleep. Tomorrow is a busy day for you as well."

Largo returned to the futon and sat down, massaging his throat before taking a sip of his beer. "The @$$@$$1|\| is not one to be crossed."
Chapter Two
Rescue operation

The sun was just rising over the Tokyo skyline and outside Tsubasa's apartment, Asmodeus and Boo sat planning their next move.

Worry was beginning to set in when Seraphim hadn't contacted them in nearly 18 hours – something was definitely amiss. Asmodeus was stunned that he was able to manipulate Tsubasa into rescuing Piro and Largo without Seraphim's aid, but, even so, the whole matter just seemed too easy.

"Well, Fuzzy," Asmodeus sighed, "we have to do something."
"Squeak?"
"I don't care, but…" the bat-winged conscience started to blush, "we can't just leave her alone. What if something happens to her?"
"Squeak."
"I know. She'll kill us if we leave those two alone, but…I just have a bad feeling about Sony. Those guys can be pretty evil. What if she got caught?"
"Squeak! Squeek, squeak squeek!"
"Calm down, I know she knows how to take care of herself."
"Squeek…"
"Yeah, that's true. She would do the same for…well, for you." Asmodeus laughed, but quickly regained his grave composure. "We have to do something, but both of us have to go. If Sera got in trouble, neither of us stands a chance on our own."
"Squeak."
"When did that happen? Oh, yeah, stupid alternate timeline. This is confusing sometimes. Anyway if we're going to do something, we have to move out. Sony headquarters is near the center of the city."
"Squeek, squeak."
"No, Tsubasa can keep them safe for now. We'd have to check in with CEA headquarters anyway, so let's do it with Seraphim."
"Squeek."
"Fine, you stay here. I'm gonna help Sera."

He took off, leaving Boo alone. Boo sighed and walked back inside the apartment. Opening his briefcase, the hamster took out his most vital piece of equipment when working alone.

A couple hours later, Piro groaned awake. He spotted his cell phone and saw the time was 9:43am.

Looking around, he realized he was the last to wake up, with someone awake in the other room. Wondering why Largo would choose today to wake up before 10am, Piro dragged himself sleepily to the table where Largo and Ping were kneeling eating a pancake breakfast that the EDS had presumably prepared. Tsubasa was nowhere in sight.

Ping looked up at Piro and smiled. <Good morning, Piro-kun!>

"Ugh," Piro groaned as he stretched out. <Good morning…uh…>
<It's Ping, Piro-kun.>
<Yeah, that's right. Ping-san, where is Tsubasa? And why do you keep calling me Piro-kun?>
<Does it bother you, Piro-kun?>
<It's kind of embarrassing, but, no, not really. I was just wondering why, since I really don't know you all that well.>
<I can stop if you would like.>
<No, it's okay. But where is Tsubasa?>
<Sensei has some business he has to attend to this morning. I'm not sure when he will return.>
<I suppose he would…can you explain just what is going on, then? Two days ago I would have told you that what happened yesterday was impossible, what with Godzilla and the assassin and the ninjas and the…>

Largo looked up from his beer and pancakes. "Dud3, I can't even understand what you're sayin', but I can tell you're just blabbering."
Piro blushed and then turned back to the robot. <Sorry.>
The robot smiled, <It's alright, Piro-kun. But I don't really know all the details about last night. But I will explain as best I can. Just ask me a question.>

Piro looked around while trying to think of what to ask first. He had so many questions. As if by magic, though, the perfect first question appeared on the ground in front of him.

<Uh, Ping-san,> Piro said, trying to read from the Post-it on the floor. <How did you rescue us last night?>
Chapter Three
Questions interrupted

Ping looked a bit surprised at Piro's manufactured boldness, but bowed her head and started to explain what she knew from the previous night.

<Well, after the police arrested you and Largo-san…there's a better way of doing this. Please follow me, Piro-kun.>

The robot walked in the other room and up to the television. She drew a USB cable out of her earblade and plugged it into the PlayStation 2. Turning on the smaller machine, Ping started controlling the cursor on the screen herself. She navigated the PS2 and the EDS menus with ease, eventually choosing a "Memory Cache" option in her own hard drive.

A video started up on the TV. The EDS sat down watching her memories appear on the screen. Piro sat down next to Ping to watch the previous night's events unfold yet again from a new perspective.

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Hmmmhmmmmhmmm…

Ping was humming as she swept up some glass on the apartment floor. Junpei was standing near the broken window, deep in thought. The ninja turned around shaking his head and addressed the sweeping robot. <Ping-san, Junpei must go.>

Ping stopped sweeping for a second and bowed courteously to Junpei. <Thank you for your help tonight, Junpei-sama.>

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The screen began to blur. Ping blushed as she said as way of explanation, <Fast-forwarding.>

The video resumed shortly, with Ping now facing the apartment's door, still sweeping merrily.

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The door slammed open, with a clearly perturbed Tsubasa saying something that was bleeped in the video about the TPCD as he walked inside.

<What's wrong, sensei?> she said, grabbing Tsubasa's arm.
<Contact TPCD scheduling, Ping,> Tsubasa ordered as he brushed off the EDS' comfort.

Ping stood perfectly still, processing the command and the abrupt voice with which it was delivered. A window popped up in the upper-left corner showing Tsubasa's current blood pressure, heart rate and psychograph alongside his normal readings. In addition, it ran a sound diagram showing Tsubasa's normal voice and the much angrier one with which he now spoke. Processing this data rather quickly, Ping brought up a phone book, searching for the correct number.

Finding it, Ping shut down all other windows and now walked over to the apartment's phone. Dialing the number, she handed off the phone to Tsubasa, who grabbed it angrily without as much as a thank you.

Tsubasa spent a few minutes yelling at some poor worker at the police station, most of it bleeped out, until he calmed down. He held the phone away from his head for a minute and sighed. Bringing it back up, he now spoke very calmly and eloquently. Ping couldn't hear the other side of the phone conversation, but Tsubasa spoke more than enough for a decent grasp of the situation.

<TPCD Director Sonoda, I presume? This is Tsubasa, with the Assassin Guild. Your officers have interfered with my operations by arresting two of my friends from America. What do you plan to do about this?>

Ping took her eyes off of her end-user for a minute and saw a hamster - Boo -waddle into the room. She squealed with glee and rushed over and examined the tiny conscience. She saw something in the corner of her eye fly in. She turned around and as the bat-winged man – Piro recognized it as Asmodeus – land on Tsubasa's shoulder.

Tsubasa was silent for a minute as the creature whispered in his ear. <Okay then, I would like to get them out of there then, if you would be so kind. Yeah, standard Rent-A-Zilla fare. Thank you. Sony? No, not a problem. I'll take care of them myself. Good night.>

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The screen began to blur again. It stopped on Tsubasa and Junpei walking ahead of Ping. The movie started to play again, but the TV all of a sudden shut off. Ping quickly disconnected the USB cable, which retracted into the earblade. Ping turned around, looking around frantically.

<Someone just cut the power…we have to get out of here. We must finish this later, Piro-kun.>

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Author's Note: The video scenes, as you might expect, are from Ping-chan's perspective. As in, her vision only.
Chapter Four
Protection mechanism

Piro looked around, but seeing nothing, he refocused his gaze on the silver-haired EDS.

Ping still looked panicked for some reason. She started to get up from sitting on the floor, but stopped before she had stood up, keeping her in a kneeling position. She continued to look around as though expecting someone to burst through the door at any moment.

Piro couldn't see why she was having this reaction to a power outage. He tried to comfort her as best he could. <It's just a power outage, Ping. No big deal. I'm sure the apartment manager will take care of it shortly.> He stood up and subconsciously put his hand on her shoulder. <Calm down.>

Ping looked up at her comforter. Piro was surprised to see a look of legitimate fear on the robot's face. He was more surprised when she told him frankly, <No, this was intentional.>

<H-h-how would you know that?> Piro started to feel a bit panicked as well. How can a robot feel fear? he wondered. What kind of a thing is this?

<I…I don't know,> the robot admitted. <I just have a feeling…a premonition.>

<What kind of a robot are you?> Piro blurted out.

Ping blushed, but quickly got over it. <That's not of importance at the moment, Piro-kun. We have to get out of here.> She looked over her shoulder, where Largo was still drinking his beer. <Largo-san! You come too!>

Largo looked up and over at the robot with a confused look on his face. Piro realized that Largo had no idea anything was said other than his name. "Largo, we have to leave. Ping says there's something here."

"Funny," Largo said as he came over, still holding his beer can, "this apartment seems to be less safe than the prison we were in."

<What did he say? Never mind, we have to go,> Ping said as she grabbed Piro's arm and led him towards the door.

Ping threw open the apartment door. The hall was silent and pitch-black due to the lights being out. It was an odd sight, with a teenage-looking girl in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt practically dragging a similarly-dressed Piro into the silent hall, followed by a shirtless Largo.

The EDS grabbed Largo's arm now and led both of them down the hallway. The doors were all closed as the three ran past them. Ping all of a sudden stopped, finding one door that was blown open.

Piro got a glance at the robot's face and saw she wore a new look now. This wasn't just fear anymore, but pure terror on the EDS' face. He looked inside the open door to see what had scared Ping so badly and quickly became terrified himself.

The door didn't seem to be forcibly open, but inside there were the clear signs of a struggle. The table in the middle of the room was broken in two. Two bodies were torn asunder, with the blood covering much of the room in a deep shade of crimson. Ping stood still for a second more, and then slowly started to walk inside, leaving Piro and Largo in the hallway alone.

Largo stared at Piro for a minute before asking him, "What t3h hell is that robot ch1x0rz doing?"

"I have no idea," was Piro's reply. "But I know I'm not going in there for any – "
He was cut off by the sound of someone coming up the nearby stairwell. Piro could hear voices.

<Yes, I understand. Subject termination has been authorized by Director Sonoda. We're moving in now.>

"Termination?" Piro asked himself if he correctly understood what he just heard. "Oh…shit…Largo, I really don't like this. I really don't like this at all."

<Hey, I hear a voice up there,> said the voice in the stairwell.

Piro felt his pants become warm. He tackled Largo into the blood-stained room, hoping, praying that he would live to see the next day.

Piro stayed on the ground for a while, holding Largo's mouth shut while moving his head so he could see the doorway. He saw three armed men walk past the opening. Piro felt Largo bite his hand, but the fear of being caught kept him from screaming or relinquishing his grip.

A few minutes later, Piro felt it was safe to move. He got up and put his finger to his mouth keeping Largo silent before he had the chance to protest his rough treatment.

Piro crept slowly to the other room where Ping had walked, with Largo following and showing signs of fear himself as they passed the two corpses. One of the two was cut cleanly in half, as if by a sword. The other was missing his head and an arm. The stench made Piro want to throw up, but he managed to keep it together as they got to the other room. Piro saw Ping standing still over what seemed to be a third body and a broken, blood-stained window. He moved towards her slowly, not wanting to startle her.

<Get down,> Ping ordered in a dull, monotone version of her voice. <They know you're here. Get down if you want to get out of here alive.>
Chapter Five
Peaceful morning

Buzz….buzz…buzz…buzz…

Yuki reached up through her blanket and clumsily searched for the button to make the aggravating buzzing stop. Fumbling around, she hit the clock off the bedside stand, but it made the buzzing stop and that was all that mattered at the moment.

A few minutes later, Yuki was shaken from her renewed slumber by her bedspread being forcibly ripped from her.

<Come on, Yuki. It's time to get up,> she heard her mother say.

The young woman turned back onto her back and slowly opened her eyes. Sonoda Meimi's form slowly materialized in front of her eyes.

<Come on, Mom,> she groaned, her eyes already closed again, <Just a few minutes more.>

<No, Yuki,> Meimi laughed, <You're going to be late for school. Your father just went to work and now it's time for you to get up.>

<Okay, okay,> Yuki yawned as she sat up. She glanced at the clock, now on the
floor reading 7:02am. <Just another boring day,> she thought as she stood up.

After taking her shower and putting on her uniform, she came downstairs, still feeling half-asleep. Her mother greeted her with breakfast and a gentle smile.

<Good morning, darling,> she said as she walked over with a plate. <Hurry up; your friends are already here to take you to school,> she said, motioning over to the vestibule, where Mami and Asako were standing, ready to go. The two girls waved to Yuki.

Yuki waved back and grabbed a piece of toast off the plate her mother was offering her. Grabbing her school bag in her other hand, she ran over to the entryway and put on her shoes, holding her breakfast in her mouth.

<See you later, Mom!> she shouted as she ran out the door with her friends.
The light snowfall graced the city street as the three girls walked towards the train station. Mami walked ahead a bit and turned around so she was looking at Yuki as she walked backwards.

<So, Yuki, did you say yes?>
<Uweh?>
<Don't act like you don't know we know that Kogure Yoshiki in Class 3 asked you out yesterday afternoon.>
<Eh…hehehehe…>
<You didn't blow him off, did you?>
<Um…well, I don't know if that's the right word.>
Mami stopped and grabbed her friend's arm. <Look, I know you're concerned about your brother, but he wouldn't want you to stop having a life for his sake.>
<But…> Yuki protested.
<We know you've had a crush on Kogure-san for some time now. He finally gets up the courage to ask you out and you shut him down?>

Yuki had had enough. She stepped to the side and started walking away from Mami and Asako. Asako started to sprint to catch up, but Mami held her back.

Not seeing this, Yuki started to gripe internally. <Where does she get off telling me how to live my life?> she thought as she arrived at the train station.

<Good morning, Sonoda-san.>

Yuki looked up at her greeter. She was in a darkened uniform to compliment her purple hair, as usual. <Good morning, Tohya-san.>
Chapter Six
Rumors and truth

Miho smiled and walked over to Yuki.

<So, Sonoda-san,> she said, <where are the other two girls that you're usually with?>
<Asako and Mami? I needed some space today. Yesterday was kind of hectic and they weren't making it any better.>
<Sorry to hear it,> the high school student said emotionlessly as she looked away and started to walk towards the platform. Yuki followed her.

<So, did you hear anything?> she asked.
<About that Idol? Yes,> Miho said. She continued to avoid eye contact, which intrigued Yuki.
<Well, what of it?> Yuki said, grabbing and turning Miho to face her.
<I'd rather not say right here, seeing as how you seem to be quite emotional at the moment,> Miho mocked, continuing to be vague.

<Is it that obvious?>
<Yes,> Miho replied, delivering her soul-penetrating stare. <Boy trouble?>

Yuki's face blushed a deep red, but she nonetheless stated, <That makes no difference right now.>
<I see,> Miho said coyly as she continued to walk towards the now-arriving train. Yuki started to give chase, but was interrupted by Asako's cries of <Yuki-chan!>

Yuki looked behind her and saw Asako running into the train station with Mami walking behind her, shaking her head.

Seeing this, Yuki sighed and turned back around to nearly run into Miho, who had doubled back and was now just inches from Yuki's face. She backed up slightly and looked around the train station.

<Hard to believe,> she started, <that there was a shootout here last night. Something is happening to this city.>
<Uweh?> Yuki exclaimed, waiting for more.
<Ah, but it seems your friends are here,> Miho continued. <Goodbye, Sonoda-san.>

With that, she turned away and started to walk away, but quickly stopped. Without turning around, she said, <Lunch. The main courtyard.>

Yuki was stopped from pursuing by Asako, who latched onto her back in a hug.

Yuki struggled free and turned around, but Tohya was already gone.

<That's strange,> Yuki thought, <The train hasn't left yet.>

Mami joined Asako and asked Yuki, <Now, have you calmed down yet, Yuki-chan?>

Yuki shook her head, but still said, <I'm fine. Let's go.>

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Yuki didn't speak on the train, much to the confusion of Asako and to the annoyance of Mami. She was deep in thought over what Miho might have to say to her at lunch. As she got off near the school, she was still in a daze.

<What could she have found out about Hayasaka? Why is she being so coy about it? And what does a shootout in the train station have to do with anything?>

<Yuki-chan,> Asako said

<Could Hayasaka have been shot? Why wouldn't that be on the news?>

<Yuki-chan!> Asako repeated

<Why wouldn't she just tell me in the station?>

Asako shouted this time. <YUKI-CHAN!>

Yuki broke out of her trance. <Huh? What?>
<What are you so deep in thought over, Yuki-chan?> Mami asked.
<Oh, nothing,> Yuki sighed.
<It was something to do with that Goth girl, wasn't it?>
<Toyah-san? No, no, don't trouble yourself over it.>
<Yeah!> Asako exclaimed. <She's been hanging out with that high school student for a while now.>

<Why don't you be honest and tell us what's going on, Yuki?> Mami said as she placed her hand on Yuki's shoulder. <We're friends, you can tell us anything.>

<It's okay, really. I'll tell you later, but now, we're going to be late as it is,> Yuki said as she sprinted off towards Daitou Gakuen Attached Middle School. The bell started to ring 10:00 as she got close, but being late was the last thing on her mind at the moment.

<Well,> she thought, <this day just got a bit more interesting.>
Chapter Seven
Crime scene

Lieutenant Takama pulled up in a police car outside Shiritsu Daitou High School and got out with another officer. Three more TPCD cars pulled up behind him and two officers from each car followed suit.

Takama held up his hand and waved. Taking it as a signal, the other seven started towards the school. Takama held back and watched the stragglers heading to class part away from the approaching group. He took his cell phone out and made a quick call to headquarters.

<This is Takama. We're at the crime scene; what's the word from the regular police?>

<Word from Tokyo Police is a rather unusual set of murders: one of several simultaneous and nearly identical crimes throughout the city. Be on high alert. If you see anything, you have authority to evacuate the complex.>

<Understood,> Takama replied. <Unit is moving out as we speak.>

He joined the rest of his group and walked to the high school doors. A suited man – presumably the principal – and an officer from Tokyo Police waited for the team there.

<Good morning, sir,> Takama started as he walked to the head of the group. <I'm Lieutenant Takama with Cataclysm. If you could, will you take us to where the incident took place?>

The principal bowed. <Of course,> he said. <The regular police have already blocked off the area of the…incident, but this is certainly in your department's line of expertise.>

They walked inside, flanked by the police officer and the TPCD group. Takama looked around, seeing students in class as though nothing had occurred. <What are the regular police doing?> he thought. <Why are these students still in class?>

<You'll notice,> the officer said, as though reading Takama's mind, <that we have yet to evacuate. That is because of the unusual nature of the crime. There is no longer a threat to students at this point.>

<I hope so,> Takama muttered.

They turned and walked down a darkened corridor – the power was out in this section of the building. These classrooms were deserted, with only a single red line drawn sloppily on the floor. Takama could guess what the red was already, but it served quite effectively as a map to their final destination. The line went into a single classroom, and Takama walked in ahead of the rest of the group, his pistol drawn.

<What the hell is this?!> the Lieutenant shouted.

It looked as though the class was in session. The only problem, other than the blood spread along the walls of the room, was that the students in their desks, as well as the teacher, were all missing various parts of their body. It looked like they were all killed by swords.

<It happened at exactly 9:50am,> the officer said, <according to the surveillance video.>
<Are there any survivors?>
<Yes. One student was a minute late and walked in on this.>
<Just a minute?>
<Yes. The actual killings were conducted in a matter of a split second. One second they were all alive; the next – this.>

Takama turned to the principal. <What class is this?> he asked.
<English,> the principal muttered, looking away from the sight of twenty-some slain pupils.
<And the sole surviving student?>
<Tohya Miho. She's in the nurse's ward. She passed out when she walked in on this. But who could blame her?>
<It doesn't matter,> Takama said coldly. <She's going to need to be held for questioning.>
Takama turned to his men. <This is far too similar to a situation we had a number of years ago. This is bad.>

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Piro grabbed Largo and got down on the floor as Ping had ordered. Unfortunately, he landed where his face was inches from a bloody head.

The scream echoed out into the hall. A few seconds later, he heard the noise of several boots hitting the linoleum in the apartment entryway.

<Tokyo Police!> someone shouted.

Piro could hear the men walk into the apartment. One of them radioed that they had found another scene, whatever that meant.
Chapter Eight | Successful failure

Asmodeus had just landed atop the Sony Building when his com unit started to go off. Grabbing it quickly, he answered, "What?"

"Special Operative Asmodeus. What in God's name are you doing?"
"I'm rescuing a downed operative."
"You don't have authorization to leave your post."

"You know what – fuck you – you guys aren't in charge of me. If you want to leave Sera down there, that's your business. But if I can help her, I will."

With that, Asmo ended the conversation. The com unit started to ring again. This time, Asmodeus didn't answer.

"I'm coming for you, Sera," he muttered to no one.

He pulled out another device from his belt. The small device was just a screen with two buttons underneath. Hitting the first button, the screen flashed on. After hitting the second button, the device told him it was scanning for signals. A few seconds later, the device returned that Seraphim was indeed inside the building but couldn't provide an exact location other than "signal distorted – underground."

The screen then turned red and returned a second reading.

Alert…scan discovered a primary CEA target in area…
Touch screen to show details.


Asmodeus sighed. He didn't care about the CEA anymore. They can solve their own damn problems, he thought as he shut off the device. Climbing into the vent system, Asmodeus walked towards what looked like a way down. Flapping his wings, he descended as quickly as he could.

Landing at the bottom of the vent, Asmo looked for a way to see where he was. Seeing an opening, he turned his head as to see out. Looking for a sign to tell him what floor he was on, he found nothing and was about to find another descending point, when he heard someone speaking in English.

"Hey, Ed," someone said. "What's the news on the timeline situation?"
"Oh, Usaka-san just finished his second interrogation with the conscience. So we'll have some concrete data to work off of soon enough."

Conscience? Interrogation? Asmodeus thought. Crap. It doesn't sound like I have much time.

He backed away from the vent and ran to the next vent down.

A good thirty minutes later he couldn't find a way to go down any further. Turning back on the scanning device, Asmodeus discovered that Seraphim and himself were both underground. She was only a few dozen meters away. Getting out of the ventilation system, he found that the area was deserted.

Using the device, Asmodeus found the room where Sera was, surprisingly unlocked. He walked into the pure white room. Flying up to the table in the center of the room, Asmodeus was shocked to see Seraphim battered and bloody on it. He ran to her side.

Seraphim was breathing heavily, but still managed to smile when she saw Asmodeus.

"So," she said softly, "the CEA does give a damn…"
"Let's get you out of here," Asmodeus said. "Can you walk?"
"No…the bastards paralyzed me."

Asmodeus didn't say another word, but picked up Seraphim with surprising strength and managed to flutter down with her. He turned on his cloaking device and started to move towards the door.

It was a slow and belabored process, but eventually he found a place to hide while the drugs wore off. Surprisingly, only twenty minutes had passed when Sera started to move.

"Okay, let's get the fuck out of here," she said as she gingerly stood up. "I can't fly, as you can probably tell."

The two agents moved towards the hallway and eventually found the elevator.

"Why are they making this so easy?" Sera asked. "Shouldn't they care that I'm out of their custody?"
"Yeah…this makes no sense," Asmo admitted as he flew up to take the elevator to the rooftop.

The elevator rose to the top of the building with no interruptions. Getting out at the top, Asmodeus was shocked once again to see no one making a move to stop their escape. Nevertheless, he pulled out his radio and handed it to Sera.

"They're pissed at me," he said as way of explanation.

Sera took the com unit and made the call.
"This is Agent Seraphim. Immediate evacuation requested."
"Seraphim?" the incredulous voice on the other side asked.
"Yes, it's me. Now get us out of here."
"Rodger, ma'am; EVAC team will be there in twenty seconds."

Surely enough, an EVAC craft landed nearby twenty seconds later. The side of the craft folded out and a couple agents ran out, escorting Sera and Asmodeus off the building.

Taking off, the pilot turned around and informed the two passengers that they weren't going right back to Piro and Largo.

"We're taking you two to HQ. We have a bit of a more pressing situation at the moment."

Sera nodded, feeling weak. Asmodeus figured he was in trouble, but that didn't stop him from pointing out the two fighter jets heading towards the EVAC craft.

"Took them long enough," he said. "It looks like Sony doesn't want us to go just yet."
Chapter Nine | Hidden motivations

The two fighter jets streaked past the escape craft and swung back around to tail their target. The EVAC vehicle's radio crackled on.

<This is Sony Enforcement. Stand down.>

The pilot glanced to his co-pilot. "Do you have any idea what they said?"

Sera spoke up from the rear of the vehicle. "They want you to land," she said.

"Like hell. They have to out maneuver me first."

With that, the EVAC craft all of a sudden slowed to a crawl, but the jets followed suit. A second message crackled through the radio.

<This is your second warning. Land immediately or we will take action against you.>

"Sera?" the pilot asked.
"They're warning you again," Seraphim translated. "Next they're going to take action against us."
"Of course," the pilot laughed. "So, they want to party. I wonder if their aim is good enough to hit such a small target."
"Why don't we just land and take care of them on the ground?" Asmodeus offered.

"That could work," the pilot said as he brought his craft down onto a nearby skyscraper. The two jets started to circle above, like vultures over their prey.

The co-pilot whispered something in the captain's ear. The captain nodded, and hit a couple buttons on his dashboard. "Good thing they're taking their time with the capture," he said. "Locked."

The first jet moved in to land in front of the EVAC craft.

"Aren't these guys supposed to be good?" the pilot asked as he fired off a solitary missile. The jet that had landed exploded. The second one broke off pursuit nearly immediately, getting out of range.

"Well. That was easy," one of the operatives said as the pilot launched again, making his escape into the clouds.

"Yeah. Too easy," Seraphim muttered. "This is all too easy. Something is up and I don't like it. I really don't like it."

"Calm down, babe," Asmodeus said. "You're safe now and that's all that matters at the moment."

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Usaka watched the CEA operatives make their escape from his window. Turning his chair back around to face his guest, he wore a stern look on his face. <It looks like we failed. But, thanks to our safeguard, this may work out after all.>

<Of course it will, Ian,> the woman said.

Usaka stood and bowed. <I must take my leave. We have a new guest arriving momentarily.>

<Shall I see to the project's completion?>

<Do as you will,> Usaka said as he exited his office.

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Thirty stories down, Megumi and Kimiko were walking towards the Sony building. The jet's explosion garnered a lot of attention, with those walking to their destinations all stopping and pointing out the spectacle.

<Oh my,> Kimiko said, placing her hand to her mouth. <I hope the pilot ejected in time.>

<Yeah,> Megumi said quietly, knowing full and well that Sony Enforcement jets were all controlled remotely. <Let's head inside where it's safe.>

Entering the massive Sony Building, the two women walked up to the receptionist's desk. A young woman glanced up and smiled.

<Good morning,> she said. <Can I help you?>
<Yes,> Megumi said, placing her arm on Kimiko's shoulder. <This is Nanasawa Kimiko. We have an appointment this morning.>
<Oh, yes. Usaka Ian, our recruitment head, will be with you shortly.>
Chapter Ten | Change in character

The secretary pointed the two women towards a couple of chairs in the lobby.

<Please wait there,> she said softly. <Again, Usaka-san will be with you shortly.>

Kimiko followed Megumi to the chairs. Megumi took a seat, with Kimiko following suit. Kimiko started to breathe heavily, thinking of the last few interviews she blew.

Megumi placed her hand over Kimiko's, looking at her recruit. <Nervous?> she asked.

Kimiko nodded.

<Don't be. Usaka-san can be a bit harsh, but he's just a big softy.>
<Really?> Kimiko asked skeptically.
<Yes, really.> Megumi laughed. <Don't worry. He's probably more concerned with making a good impression on you than anything.>

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Usaka walked towards the elevator, buttoning up his suit jacket while his secretary talked to him.

<Usaka-san,> she said. <You have Director Sonoda of TPCD on Line 1; a representative from the Assassin and Ninja Guilds on Lines 2 and 3, respectively; field agent 368 on Line 4 and agent 521 on Line 5.>

Usaka didn't look at the secretary, but finished buttoning his jacket and took out a comb to straighten his hair. He stopped in front of a mirror to better do his work, and then addressed the concerns brought before him.

<Tell Sonoda that Sony Enforcement isn't cooperating with his department after the debacle they forced us to go through last night. I told him not to cross Sony.>

<Yes sir; and the others?> the secretary said, taking notes.

<The Assassin Guild's dead operative is not my concern anymore. He got in our way and was after one of my operatives to boot. I don't care if it is Master Tsubasa on the phone. The Ninja Guild won the contract they were bidding for, you can tell them that.>

<Okay; and your operatives?>

<368 can go ahead with his operation as soon as the police clear out of there. Tell the same to agent 521.>

<Yes sir.>

<Is there anything else?>

<No sir; thank you for your time.>

<It's not a problem,> Usaka said as he put his comb away and walked the rest of the way to the elevator. <As soon as you give the respective parties their messages, make sure to tell them I apologize for not dealing with them directly.>

<Certainly sir,> the secretary said, bowing.

<Oh, and you can take the rest of the day off after that. Tell little Aoi-chan I said 'hi.'>

<Thank you! Thank you very much sir,> she said, surprised.

<Don't mention it. Have a nice day,> Usaka said as he closed the elevator doors.

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Traveling down the elevator shaft, Usaka tried to think of the best possible way to approach Nanasawa-san. It didn't take the length of the minute-long ride for him to get ready for his first encounter with his new Idol.

The elevator doors slid open, and Usaka Ian strolled out into the main lobby. Spotting Megumi, his eyes shifted to the nervous-looking woman sitting next to her. He smiled as he walked over to Kimiko.

<Good morning,> he said as he bowed. <I'm sorry for keeping you waiting. My name is Usaka Ian.>

He extended his hand for a handshake. Kimiko stood and took Usaka's hand and smiled as she shook it.

<He has a firm handshake,> she thought as she said, <My name is Nanasawa Kimiko. It's nice to meet you.>
Chapter Eleven | Finalization

Piro and Largo were stretched out prone on the floor as the police officers charged into the room.

Pointing their rifles at Ping, one officer told the robot, <Put your hands up and get on the ground.>

Ping turned around and complied, slowly putting her arms over her head and kneeling down on the floor. Her blank face remained emotionless. Looking down on the floor, another officer spotted the two boys and motioned to the third officer that they were there.

A second later, Piro and Largo found themselves with rifles up against the back of their skulls. Piro whimpered in fear; Largo stayed silent.

The officer pointing his gun at Ping noticed the earblades glowing a faint blue in the darkness and stepped over Piro and Largo to investigate. <You wouldn't happen,> he said slowly, <to be one of those EDS things, would you?>

<Affirmative,> Ping said dully.

<Hmm...> The officer turned to his men. <One of you two needs to radio the guys downstairs. Sony should be interested in this.>

<Yes sir,> one guy said as he took his rifle away from Largo's head. He took out his radio with one hand while putting a pistol in the rifle's place.

<Now,> the leader said, returning his focus to Ping, <what happened here?>

<I do not know,> Ping said. The officer noticed the LED reading change.

MODE: ANALYZATION

shifted to

MODE: COOPERATION

<The power went out. I went to investigate with the two Americans and came upon this room,> she continued. <I went inside to investigate and found this.>

She pointed behind her, to a horribly massacred body on the futon, his head nearby Piro's and the rest of his body scattered in many parts across the couch.

The officer said blankly, <Who…who is that?>

<Ninja First Class Junpei,> Ping said flatly. <I don't know who did this to him or how, since his guests were seemingly killed in the same manner. The wounds seem to be inflicted by a sword.>

<I can tell. And these two men?> he said, pointing to Piro and Largo.

<Guests of my end-user, Tsubasa-sensei,> Ping said. Her voice became more aggressive. <Do not do anything to them.>

<That isn't my call, ma'am.>

<Sir,> one of the other officers said as he got off his radio, <Sony Enforcement wants to take the EDS into captivity. They already have an agent on stand-by.>

<Alright, and what do we do with the other two here?>

<HQ says to terminate them.>

<Make it so,> he said. Turning to Ping, he continued. <I'm sorry…>

He noticed that Ping's earblade had changed again.

MODE: PROTECTION
STATUS: RELATIONSHIP FINALIZATION

All of a sudden, Ping vanished in front of the officer's eyes.

He noticed his rifle was not in his hands anymore. He moved for his pistol and realized that both of his guns were now gone. Ping reappeared at the other end of the room, three rifles and three pistols all in her arms. They clattered to the floor as Ping made a stance.

<What in the hell?> the officer exclaimed.

<Piro-kun and Largo-san are Tsubasa-sensei's friends. I care for Tsubasa-sensei. I care for Piro-kun. I cannot let those I care for be hurt. I cannot let you hurt Piro-kun or Largo-san.>
Chapter Twelve | 368 & 521

Lieutenant Takama walked out of the high school, shaking his head slowly. He didn't understand too much, but he knew the situation was dire. He needed to get in touch with headquarters and quickly. If his hunch was right, Sonoda was going to have an aneurysm. But Takama didn't want to panic him needlessly; he needed some more information before he bothered the Director.

<It was odd enough that the girl in the infirmary walked in a minute late,> he thought. <It couldn't possibly be a coincidence…could it?>

A handsome looking man in an expensive Italian suit walked up the path towards the Lieutenant. He smiled when Takama met his gaze, but it was the kind of smile that sent a chill through you. Takama shivered, but regained his composure and met the stranger halfway, extending his arm for a handshake.

<Morning; I'm Lieutenant Takama with the TPCD. Can I help you?>
<Actually, I think you can,> the stranger flashed his chilling smile again. <I'm Sergeant Kiada Ian; Operative 368 with Sony Enforcement.> He held out his badge as proof of his identity.

<And what business does Sony Enforcement have with a crime scene, Sergeant?> Takama asked skeptically. Something didn't click with this guy. Takama didn't like Usaka-san either, and this "Sergeant Kiada" worked for him.

<That, Lieutenant, is none of your business. As I'm sure you're fully aware, Sony's status as a 7A Organization under the Corporate Protection Act of 2005 gives it legal jurisdiction in matters pertaining to its corporate interests. I don't wish to interfere with your investigation, Lieutenant. I just need to be allowed to do my job.>
<I can respect that,> Takama sighed. The law, as much as the recent expanding of corporate power angered him, had him beat. He couldn't stop this guy, suspicious as his motives were.

<But,> he continued, <I do want to talk to your superior first. This is a crime scene first and foremost. I'm sure Usaka-san can understand that much.>
<That's not a problem,> Kiada replied, <but it will have to wait a while. Usaka-san is in a meeting at the moment. Either way, I'm under orders to wait for you to complete your work before doing my own.>
<Very well, but I'm not letting you enter until I talk to Usaka-san personally.>

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Across town, Ed stood outside the apartment building where the EDS unit was supposed to be, waiting impatiently. He wanted to just charge into the building and take the EDS by force, but his superiors would hear nothing of it. Usaka-san wouldn't even talk to him personally; he had his secretary tell him to hold on until the police were gone. Finally, his cell phone rang.

"This is Ed," he answered angrily.
"And this is your Mission Commander," a woman's voice said. "Watch your tone."
"Yes ma'am; sorry ma'am. What's the news?"
"We just got a call from TPCD. They confirmed the tracker you placed on the EDS. It's currently near your location."
"Good; may I move in now?"
"They will bring it to you."
"Very well; 521 out," he said through gritted teeth as he clenched the phone shut. He hated having his work done for him.

A man in a police uniform walked out of the building and spotted Ed. He wore a look that befit one who had seen the morning's bloodshed as he walked through the freshly fallen snow.

<Ah,> he said, <I'm Officer Tetamousa with TPCD. And you must be the guy Sony sent to get the EDS.>
<Yes,> Ed said. <You know, I'm fine with going to get her myself.>
<No, that won't be necessary.>
Ed laughed. <I wouldn't be too sure of that. She is supposedly quite capable of being a major hassle.>

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Upstairs, Ping was proving Ed's point.
<What the hell are you?> the man who had been interrogating her just seconds ago asked.
<I am a Sony EDS accessory for the PlayStation 2 computer entertainment system. My end user has charged me with the protection of the two innocent Americans you wish to kill. I will not let you harm them.>

The EDS vanished yet again, this time re-emerging not thirty seconds later in the same spot. Only now, Piro and Largo were absent from the room, as were all the visible guns in the room but one. The one pistol that remained was clutched in Ping's hand, but not aimed at anyone. The machine's eyes glowed blue as they scanned the room, making hundreds of split-second calculations. A couple seconds later, Ping blinked. Her eyes returned to their natural grey for a second before flashing red. No one in the room could see the earblade's data readout, which stated:

MODE: PROTECTION
STATUS: ACCESSING GAME DATA...COMPLETED
"NINJA MASTER IV" PERSONA INITIALIZED
Chapter Thirteen | Escape methodology

Ping's red eyes faded back to silver, but the police officers were already more than intimidated. One of the three decided to test his luck and make a run for it. Ping barely seemed to notice as he ran screaming past her like a man possessed. He was halfway to the hallway when he all of a sudden realized he wasn't moving anymore. He slowly turned his head around to see the last face he wanted to see at the moment. He had passed out long before his body was through the window.

Ping jumped back through the window from the outside, though neither of the officers had seen either of the two pass through the now-shattered window in the first place. She was wearing a serious look as she continued to hold the gun in her right hand like a pistol whip.

She saw the look of fear in their eyes as she explained serenely, <Don't worry. He'll live, as will both of you.>

And with that, she tossed the pistol like a boomerang, which hit the leader in the leg, breaking the bone and causing him to double up in pain. Meanwhile, the other officer found himself through the window before he knew what was happening. He felt himself falling, falling until he stopped a mere two meters above the pavement. Whimpering in fear, he realized he had been hung from the streetlight just outside the apartment building. Looking to his left, he saw his comrade in an identical position, though he was passed out.

<What the hell are you doing up there?> he heard Officer Tetamousa ask him. He looked down to see Tetamousa walking towards the spectacle with Ed trailing behind him.

Ed started to laugh. <I told you,> he managed to say to Tetamousa before continuing to laugh uncontrollably.

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Back upstairs, Ping landed in front of the officer who had been in command of the situation only minutes before. She moved over to him and sat down by his broken leg, setting the bone expertly while picking up the pistol she had thrown just seconds ago.

<I'm sorry I had to do that, but I cannot allow my friends to be hurt.>
<What…what do you want from me?> the terrified man said, not realizing that Ping was helping him at the moment.

<I simply want to know the best way to elude capture,> she said plainly.
"And why would you want to leave?" Ping heard a new voice ask. She heard a gun click as its barrel was placed against her head.

<You're very sloppy. I heard you fifteen seconds ago,> Ping said before firing a shot from her pistol into Ed's leg, throwing the Sony operative's aim off just long enough for the EDS to get up and behind him before he realized what had happened.

Ed turned around quickly despite the pain and pulled the pistol's trigger.

Click

"Dammit," he muttered, looking at Ping as she tossed the pistol's clip to herself absent-mindedly as she looked through Ed's wallet.

<So,> Ping said, still playing catch with the clip, <you're with Sony Enforcement. What do you want with me?>
"Ugh," Ed moaned, struggling to think of the Japanese through his pain. <You're…broken. They…want to…fix you.>
<My CPU is operating normally. I have a directive from my end user, which I must fulfill. That much does not concern you. Nor does it concern Sony.>
<What…directive?>
<To escape with my friends,> she knelt close to Ed, pointing to her earblade.

MODE: NORMAL (GAMEPLAY)
STATUS: PLAYING A GAME (MASTER NINJA IV)
***CURRENT OBJECTIVE: ESCAPE***

"She thinks she's in a game now," Ed thought. "She IS defective."

And with that thought, he collapsed; his leg no longer able to support the weight of his body. He watched helplessly from the floor as the EDS left him and the police officer alone in the room. Ed looked around him, at the collapsed and still-whimpering policeman, the shredded body on the nearby futon and the severed head by his foot.

"What a mess…what the hell is going on in this city?"

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ping walked down the hallway, slowly, calculating her situation tactically.

<The immediate threats have been neutralized,> she said to herself. <Piro-kun and Largo-san are safe for the moment.>

She stopped in front of Tsubasa's apartment. Opening the door, she walked inside and across the floor to near the futon, where she found her charging unit, a change of clothes, a Memory Stick, and Tsubasa's PSP. She took the change of clothes, a simple red winter sweater and a pair of jeans and got dressed properly.

Properly dressed, she then knelt down and started to collect her few possessions in her purse. She picked up the final item, the PSP, almost ready to go pick up Piro and Largo, before she stopped, realizing her reality for the first time.

<I am alone. Tsubasa-sensei is away; Junpei-san is…is…>

Ping saw a single tear land on the PSP screen. She moved her hand slowly up to her cheek and felt below her eyes.

<Am I…crying?>

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On top of the apartment roof, Piro shivered in the cold while Largo stared at him.

"Do you have 4ny idea how the f5ck we got here?" he asked.
"No, do you?"
"N0p3."
Chapter Fourteen | Tears of joy; tears of sorrow

Tohya Miho slowly opened her eyes.
<I must have passed out,> she thought. <This is the nurse's ward.>

She looked to her left, surprised at the sight that awaited her eyes.
<Oh, Miho-chan!> Ping exclaimed happily, her silver-grey eyes wet with tears of joy. <I'm so glad you're alright!>

Miho sat up and smiled at her friend, a tear of her own coming to her eye. <Have you been here all this time?>
Ping nodded. <Of course, you're my best friend!>

Miho put her head back on the pillow, closing her eyes once more as she said, <I'm so glad…that you're alright.>

All of a sudden Miho bolted up. The room was now empty and Ping was no longer there.

<Was that a dream?> she wondered, putting her hand to her head in an attempt to separate reality and fantasy. She had dreamt that she was at the train station talking to Sonoda Yuki, but was Ping's presence a dream as well? <Ping…I know her…she's supposed to be here…I know that, but…why?>

The door to the room suddenly opened, tearing Miho from her thoughts, with Nurse Sugawara walking in with another man that Miho recognized from somewhere, though she couldn't place her finger on it.

<Tohya-san, are you feeling alright?> the nurse asked gently.

Miho nodded, despite the truth.

<That's good to hear.> Sugawara smiled as she waved the man in the room forward. <This is Lieutenant Takama with the Tokyo Police. He wanted to ask you some questions about…the ordeal, if you're feeling up to it.>

On that note, Nurse Sugawara took her leave.

<Ah,> Miho said, finally recognizing the name, <how are you, Lieutenant? It's been a while.>

<Not long enough, it seems,> Takama muttered. Speaking up, he continued, <Are you going to cooperate or not?>

<Of course, Shinichi-san,> Miho said. She smiled at Takama's shock in the familiar term she had used. <But,> she continued, <you did get my father's permission, didn't you?>

<No, we haven't been able to contact him.>

Miho sighed at the incompetence the school and police continued to show. She turned to the other side of the bed and bent down to pick up her school bag at the bed's side. Picking it up, she reached inside and pulled out a cell phone. A few seconds later, she handed the phone to Takama. <It's ringing on his direct line, Shinichi-san.> Miho said, smiling mysteriously once again.

<Uh…thanks, Tohya-san,> Takama said, embarrassed that he hadn't thought of asking her for the number.

<Tohya Eiji,> the voice on the phone said. <Miho, is this an emergency?>
<Yes sir,> Takama said, <but this isn't your daughter.>
<I can tell. Who is this and how do you have her phone?>
<I'm Lieutenant Takama Shinichi with the Tokyo Police. Tohya-san has let me use her phone to contact you. We have a few questions we'd like to ask her, but we need her guardian's permission. That is you, correct?>
<Correct. Why do you need to question my daughter?>
<She was the lone witness at a crime scene.>
<What sort of crime?>
<Murder…twenty-two of them to be precise.>
<I'll be there in twenty minutes. You can wait until I'm there before you ask her anything.>

On that note, the phone went silent.
<He's going to be here in twenty minutes,> Takama informed Miho.
<Great,> Miho sighed, looking away from Shinichi. Takama noted that she definitely didn't look pleased by the development as he left the room.

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Ping sat on the futon, still crying, unable to make the tears stop coming. <This is ridiculous,> she said to herself quietly, <this is all part of the game scenario. The heroine's friend gets slain and she vows to avenge his life while protecting her remaining friends.>

She grabbed another tissue from the box she had grabbed from the other room and dabbed her eyes.

<But why can't I stop feeling depressed?>
Chapter Fifteen | Interlude

"We have arrived," the pilot announced.

Asmodeus got out of his seat and peered out of the escape craft's window. Indeed, they were closing in on a tiny, barren island. As they got a small bit closer, part of the landmass started to open up, revealing an entry into the CEA complex. As the craft descended into the entryway, Asmodeus' eyes widened as they found themselves in a full-fledged city. The opening closed above them as their vehicle touched down in the center of the relatively enormous complex.

"Wow," Asmo heard himself say subconsciously. "It's like something out of Eva…"
The pilot laughed. "No, no, this is all constructed. Nothing natural here."
"It's still amazing. I wish my old organization would have something this cool."
"I suppose," Seraphim said, "that we're all just used to this place."
"Either way," the pilot said, "we're here now."

The door of the EVAC craft folded out, with the CEA operatives filing out ahead of Asmodeus, who followed Seraphim onto the landing bay, where a paramedic team was waiting.

"Agent Seraphim," a doctor said, "If you'll come with us, we'll see what we can do for you."
"Thanks," Seraphim said weakly as she walked over, the blood on her face and clothes dry. Asmodeus started to follow the group, but found he was being held back by a red-headed woman he hadn't met before.
"Well," he said, a smile coming to his face, "hello there."
"Come with me," she said, going off in the other direction. Asmodeus followed, stopping for a second to look over his shoulder at Seraphim, who was being loaded onto an ambulance.

"Are you coming, Asmodeus?"
"Uh," he took one final look at Seraphim, "yeah."

A few minutes later, after walking in silence for the entire journey, Asmodeus spoke up. "You certainly do move fast, don't you? I don't even know your name yet."

"Oh, that's right. I'm sorry - I'm CEA Director Ami Prest."
"Oh!" Asmodeus exclaimed as he stopped in his tracks.
"Yeah, I don't know what you were thinking. Sera was right about you – little sense, lots and lots of hormones."
"So, what DO you want with me?"
"Knowledge; what you know and why you know it."
"What are you talking about, babe?" he said, putting his hand on Ami's shoulder.

Asmodeus all of a sudden found himself in extreme pain as his arm was twisted by a stronger-than-expected Director Prest.

"Look," she said, "I'm not going to deal with your bullshit. One, you can call me Director, Ma'am, Ms. Prest, Ami…I don't care. But never call me babe, ever.
"Two," she continued, "you work for the Anti-Conscience Institution, our counterpart. They were heavily involved with Sony, who has now taken a strange interest in our activities as of late and nearly killed one of my operatives. I don't trust you or your organization, but you did save Sera and can help me. Savvy?"

"Fine," pulling his arm away and rubbing it, grimacing. "Jeez, what a bitch," he thought. "I feel sorry for the saps that work for her regularly."

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<I wonder…what she wanted to tell me that she couldn't tell me at the train station…>

The bell rang, waking Yuki from the thoughts that had been occupying her all morning.

<All rise,> the class rep ordered. <Bow. Dismissed.>

Yuki practically bolted to the courtyard between the middle school and the high school, but to no avail – aside from a few junior high students already eating, there was no one there. No one from the high school was even around. The schoolgirl sat down at a bench and waited for a couple minutes, wondering what could be keeping Tohya-san.

Finally she spotted a group of students in the high school uniform. She was about to approach them to ask if they knew Tohya-san, when she heard a bit of their conversation.

<Seriously…all of them? ALL of them?>
<Well, one student is in the hospital wing, but that's it.>
<Oh, yeah, that creepy Goth girl. I bet she had something to do with it…>

<They're talking about Tohya-san!> Yuki realized. <She's in the hospital wing! I hope nothing happened to her...>

With that, Yuki dashed off towards the high school, filled with a desire to know what was going on.
Chapter Sixteen | Arrival

Tohya Eiji hung up his phone after finishing his conversation with Lieutenant Takama. He turned away from his desk and opened the nearby blinds a bit more so he could stare out the window at the city. The midday sun's beams streamed through the window, reflecting off a small silver orb next to a computer monitor on his desk. The bright light prompted Eiji to close the blinds completely, but the orb continued to glow a bright white, highlighting the man's aged features and expensive suit, making him look much older than the 46 years he actually was. Soon enough, it too faded in the now-dark room.

Turning back to his desk, Eiji pushed a button on the metal sphere, causing it to emit a soft blue light through the markings on the device, which provided adequate for his needs. He picked the phone back up and hit one of his speed-dialer's numbers. The phone rang for just a second before it was answered.

<Good morning, sir,> a young man's voice answered.
<Good morning Kawaiza-san,> Eiji replied, <I won't be able to make it to the meeting at 1pm. Apologize to Hayasaka-sama and schedule a meeting for later this afternoon – say 4:30.>
<Yes sir; how shall I handle the TPCD situation?>
<Ugh, they're already up to their necks in some major crap. We're on the back-burner for the moment. In fact, that's part of why I'm unable to go to the meeting at one.>
<I'm not sure I understand, but thanks for the update, Tohya-san.>
<Alright then; have a good day Kawaiza-san.>
<You too, sir.>

Eiji put down the phone and stood up, hitting the same button on the orb to shut off the light. The man then picked the sphere off its stand and held it in his hand for a second as he stretched out his aging muscles. It was still comfortably warm, though much heavier than it looked.

Sighing, he put the device back on its stand and started walking across the large office floor towards the coat rack. He grabbed his leather coat and put it on. He then produced a cell phone and made a call.

<Meet me out front,> he said softly.
<Yes sir,> came the response.

Putting the cell phone into his coat pocket, he opened the door to his office and walked out towards the elevator. No less than twenty people approached him to ask for one thing or another, but Eiji brushed aside the requests – he only had one thing in mind at this point as he took the elevator down to the lobby.

Exiting the elevator, Eiji saw the black limousine sitting out front through the main entrance, just as he had requested. He dashed past the stunned secretary, who barely had time to say <Good morning, Chairman Tohya!> before he was to the door.

Exiting through the door, Eiji spotted the driver waiting. The driver spotted him and bowed.

<Where to today sir?> he asked, opening the back door of the limousine.
<Take me to Shiritsu Daitou High School, please,> Eiji said, getting in.
<Yes sir,> the driver answered, closing the door.

As the limo drove through the city, Eiji's thoughts drifted to his daughter – all he could hope was that his daughter was alright.

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20,000 feet up, a plane started to come in for a landing over Tokyo. Dom looked out the window, glad that he would soon be back on the ground – he had been feeling a bit airsick. Being without his guns made him feel uncomfortable enough without being sick to his stomach, but he would get them back soon enough. The seatbelt light came on, giving Dom a sense of ease – it wouldn't be too much longer.

"Ed will be surprised," he thought. "It's been a while since we've been able to have breakfast together."
Chapter Seventeen | Bombarded and bewildered

Miho laid back down on the bed in the nurse's office, far too many thoughts running through her head to keep track of. She rubbed her temples with her fingers, trying to sort out what she had seen that morning. She was having trouble separating reality and fantasy; her dreams and what had truly transpired.

What she was pretty sure of was that her dad was coming to see her and that the police suspected her of something. She didn't even know if that was completely true in itself. What she hoped was a dream was the bloodshed that kept replaying in her mind.

QUOTE (Miho's thoughts)<Oh, God…I'm late. Why did I have to be late today?>
The young girl ran through the hallway, her schoolbag swinging wildly at her side as her purple locks of hair flowed behind her. She turned the corner, barely noticing that the lights were out in this section of the building or the streak of blood messily drawn on the floor.
Finally, she reached her destination. Opening the door, she bowed her head and apologized.
<Sorry for being late…I…>
The girl looked up, not believing what her eyes were telling her brain. She didn't believe that the teacher was slumped up against the blackboard, his head on his desk like so many apples. She didn't believe that her classmates were all sitting at their desks, their bodies slaughtered and destroyed beyond recognition.
<This…this can't be right,> the girl told herself. <It…it can't…>
Her thoughts fell into darkness as she collapsed into a pool of drying blood that was not her own…


Miho shook her head violently, desperately trying to forget what she had seen. As if to aid her quest, the door to the room opened, with Nurse Sugawara walking in behind Sonoda Yuki, holding the girl back to the best of her ability.

<Sonoda-san, please. She's been through a horrible ordeal…why don't you let her rest?>

Miho sat up, looking over at Yuki trying to plead her case with the nurse. <She's alright,> she said. <It's just fine…>

<I suppose if you want a visitor, I won't stop you from having one,> Sugawara conceded, letting go of Yuki's arm.

Yuki practically ran to Miho's bedside, asking softly, <Are you alright, Tohya-san?>
Miho shook her head. <I have no idea, honestly, Sonoda-san. Why are you even here?>

<I was worried about you, with everything they're saying happened to your class.>
<So,> Miho mused, <that wasn't a dream…>
<Yeah…you were lucky, Tohya-san.>
<Can you even call that luck?>

<Well…> Yuki started, but she was interrupted by the door opening yet again, this time with Inspector Takama in the doorway. Shinichi walked in, revealing that he was with Miho's father. Nurse Sugawara ran in behind them, clearly aggravated.

<This girl was through a horrible ordeal and I have three people who should all know better barging in on her?!>
Eiji extended his arm in a handshake. <I'm Tohya Eiji, Miho's father.>
Sugawara blushed. <Sorry sir, I had no idea.>

Yuki looked over at the two men talking to the nurse.

<Well,> she said, looking back at Miho and smiling. <It seems that you'll have to tell me what you heard about Hayasaka later. I hope you feel better soon.> And she got up, picked up her schoolbag and walked past Eiji, Shinichi and Nurse Sugawara, bowing as she closed the door behind her.

<What? Wasn't that a dream?> Miho thought, putting her hand to her head yet again as her father approached her. She turned away as Eiji put his hand on her shoulder.

<Are you alright?> he asked her sincerely, a look of concern spread across his face.

Miho removed the hand, continuing to look away from her dad. <Like you really care,> she said softly. <Let's just get this over with so you can get back to work.>
<Look here,> Eiji said, <I know you don't want my help, but I beg you to accept it for once. You know I care about you…you know I love you.>

<Yeah,> Miho said, turning back around. A look of hatred engulfed her eyes as she finished her thought, <just like you loved Mom.>
Chapter Eighteen | Accusations

Eiji stared blankly at his daughter for a moment, trying to think of how to respond as he searched for a way past his daughter's venomous façade.

<You…you don't understand,> he finally said. <You can't…you were far too young at the time.>
<I understand fine…Dad,> Miho said, the final word pronounced with a tone that hovered between hatred and sarcasm. <I'm doing fine on my own. I don't want or need your help, if you can call it that.>
<I understand that you've been hurt and that I can never completely heal the wounds I have caused you. I know I've made mistakes…>
<Bull,> Miho interrupted her father. <You don't know anything. You never even tried to understand.>

She looked past Eiji at Lt. Takama, who looked unnecessarily interested in the events that were transpiring. Switching to English, she continued, whispering the next words. "The only reason you're even here is because if I get accused of murder, your precious company is going to suffer in the media."
"You know better than that…" he father replied, stunned once again.

Shinichi tapped Eiji's shoulder now that the Lieutenant couldn't understand what was going on. Eiji broke out of the trance his daughter's piercing words had put him in long enough for him to turn around and face the lieutenant.

<Your family…err…issues,> he said, <while certainly interesting, have nothing to do with this investigation. Is your daughter prepared to cooperate with your blessing, or do we need to bring your wife here as well?>

<My wife…,> Eiji's thoughts drifted for a second, before snapping back to reality. <No, it's fine. She doesn't need my help it seems. My lawyer is in the other room; even if she doesn't want him present, I do…for legal reasons. Those are my conditions to her testimony.>
<I see. Well then, shall we go ahead, Ms. Tohya?>

Miho removed the sheets that were covering her, revealing her bloodstained uniform as she stood up. <Yes, I'm fine. Let's get this over with, shall we?>

She delivered another glare to her father as she walked past him, slamming the door behind her and Shinichi. Eiji stood alone in the room for a second before moving over to the bed his daughter had occupied just a minute earlier and laying down himself. He placed his hand to his forehead, trying to subdue the beginnings of a headache.

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Out in the hall, Miho walked down the hall with Shinichi. Miho was choosing to stay quiet, but Shinichi elected to try and talk to the girl after a few minutes of uncomfortable silence.

<Well, your father certainly is an interesting person, Miho-san. Why haven't I met him before?>
<He's nothing but an arrogant jerk.>
<Well, the conversation I had with him didn't make him seem so bad. I think he's genuinely concerned about you.>
<He's just a good business man, Shinichi-san. He's good at feigning his feelings and manipulating others to get what he wants.>
<So…he's a lot like you, then? Look, why don't you give your dad a chance. It's obvious he cares about you and doesn't want to see you in this mess.>

<Why are you telling me this? Do you think I haven't tried?>
<No, I just think you're the type of person who sees the worst in people, rather than the best.> He opened the door to the conference room they had arrived at.

<That's part of why I think you always seem to end up in trouble.>
He pointed inside, where a suited man – Eiji's lawyer – was already waiting. <Have a seat, Miho-san. I'll be with you in a moment. Relax, if you didn't do anything, you have nothing to worry about.>
Chapter Nineteen | PROGRAM: ESCAPE

Piro stood on top of the apartment building with Largo, struggling to keep warm in the cool winter air. Shivering, Piro walked towards the edge of the building. Looking down, he tried to discern if he and his friend could get down without breaking their necks. It was the fifth time since they found themselves placed on the roof that he had tried to deny reality. The first couple times, he had gotten sick looking down the five stories and imagining the splat his head would make if it hit the ground. Now, the cold made him half-wonder if the pain would be instantaneous enough to make jumping worth it. Shrugging off the notion of suicide, he turned back around and started to walk back towards Largo.

"Largo," he said through chattering teeth.
"What?" Largo said, tired and cold enough to not bother using "l33t sp33k" for once.
"You think of a way down?"
"No."
"You figure out how we got up here?"
"No."

Piro sighed and turned away from his friend, rubbing his hands together in a futile attempt to make his body warmer as he walked back towards the edge of the roof. "What kind of a building doesn't have a roof access?" he wondered as he turned yet again towards Largo. He started to march off in that direction when Ping all of a sudden materialized in front of him.

Piro yelped, backing away from the robot nearly to the point of toppling off the roof. Ping grabbed his arm, pulling him towards safety while yelling something in Japanese that Piro was too cold to try and mentally translate.

Ping continued to talk excitedly in Japanese, while Piro sighed and sat down, shaking his head. "Ping," he said, "English please. I really can't deal with Japanese right now."

"Nani?"

"Dammit, she doesn't understand English, does she?" He thought for a minute, trying to think of what to say before having the Japanese words come to him. <Ping,> he said, <if you know a way down, please take us inside…I'm too cold to try and understand Japanese right now.>

A few seconds later, Piro found himself next to Largo in Tsubasa's apartment. The lights were back on now, as was the glorious heat. Piro and Largo both ran over to the heat register, basking in the warmth as Ping stood nearby and fired off orders.

<Piro-kun, you and Largo-san need to get dressed and ready to leave. We have to go; the TPCD wants to kill the both of you and Sony Enforcement wants to capture me.>

Piro started to feel lightheaded and he started to wish he had never accepted Tsubasa's invitation. "Why did I even come here?" he thought. "What the hell is wrong with me?"

<Piro-kun, this is not a game for you. You must listen to me. Get dressed; I will wait in the other room.>

<Alright,> Piro stood as he stood up. Switching to English, he turned to Largo. "Ping says we need to get dressed and out of here. Those guys are coming back."

"S3cur1ty does not seem to exist here, not on t3h d1g1t4l, nor on the physical planes." Largo said, walking over to the futon where he had a change of clothes waiting. "W3 mu5t fix th4t."
"Uh huh," Piro said half-listening while he put on a new shirt.
"I'm serious, Piro," Largo said, now fully dressed and putting on his jacket. "We need some l33t g34r if we want to get out of this place alive."

"You know," Piro said, chuckling as he said it, despite the situation. "You seem a lot saner after last night." He finished tying his shoes as he called into the other room. <We're ready, Ping.>

<Okay, Piro-kun,> Ping said, walking back in the room. <Do you have what you're bringing?>
<Yeah. We don't have much to bring along, just my laptop and some clothes.>
<Bring the laptop; I can get the clothes later tonight,> Ping said, wiping something from her eye. <You're being awfully calm, Piro-kun.>
<I guess I'm too scared to be scared,> Piro said, packing up his laptop case. <Kind of like being too sad to act sad, I guess, but you wouldn't understand.> He finished packing up and stood up with his one bag. "You ready, Largo?"
"I am ready."
<Ping,> Piro said, turning back towards the robot, <we're…wah! Are you alright?>

To Piro's amazement, the robot was crying. <It's alright,> she managed to say through the tears as they started to slow. <We have to go now.> She wiped her eyes and threw the tissue in a nearby wastebasket that Piro could see was nearly full. Ping walked over to Piro and gently led him towards Largo. <Hold on,> she said as she placed one arm each around Piro and Largo's waists. A few seconds later, Piro found himself outside. He looked around and could see the apartment building far in the distance.

"Whoa," he gasped, shocked at how far they had gotten in that one split second, while wondering to himself, "Now what do we do?"
Chapter Twenty | …now what?

<Piro-kun, are you coming?>

Piro looked up from the ground to see that Largo and Ping were nearly a block ahead of him. It was a miracle he could even see that much in the crowded streets. "A major city at noon," he thought to himself. "Guess that makes it easier to get away."

He sprinted the block to catch up with the others, taking care to sidestep the many pedestrians that were heading to their lunch breaks. Nonetheless, he was bending over and gasping for air when he caught up. He hadn't realized how out-of-shape he was, but there was little that could be done to remedy that particular problem at the moment. He heard a chuckle, and looked up to see the robot covering her mouth trying and failing to suppress a grin.

<Sorry, Piro-kun,> Ping said, bowing. <Shall we get something to eat?>
<Uh…sure,> Piro said, realizing all of a sudden that he hadn't eaten yet. <But, can we? I mean, we're want…> He stopped, feeling the stares of a hundred people walking around him.

<Oh, it's no problem. We just have to make a stop first.>
<Where? To see Tsubasa? I'm sure he can help us.>
<Unfortunately, I am unaware of Tsubasa-sensei's location. We're on our own.>
<Ah…then where are we going?>
<Nowhere special; just a place where I can access the Internet.>
<Uh…okay,> Piro said, feeling more confused than ever.

With Piro now caught up, the three continued to walk further down the bustling street. The cold of the Tokyo winter was less apparent now that they were surrounded on all sides by the life of the city, but Piro still felt a chill of a different sort. He felt the chill of uncertainty, the fear of not knowing what is coming around the corner. A few minutes passed before Piro, deep in thought, ran into Largo, who had stopped behind Ping. Rubbing his stinging nose, Piro backed up and looked at where they were.

Anna Miller's Restaurant

<This place has a Wi-Fi hotspot, Piro-kun,> Ping said, smiling. <Would you mind eating here?>
<That's fine. I just want to know what our plan is.> Piro switched to English to address Largo, saying, "Hey, we're going to eat here; that okay?>
Largo shrugged his shoulders. "Sure."

The three walked in. Almost immediately a waitress stepped forward. <Good afternoon; welcome to Anna Miller's. Can I help you?>

Piro started to ask for a table, but Ping took command of the situation. <Yes, please. Can we have a table for three, preferably away from any windows.>

The waitress looked a bit surprised by the special request, but agreed, leading the three to one of the few open tables left in the busy restaurant. She told them another waitress would soon be by with some menus and asked for patience before going back to greeting customers.

<Okay,> Ping said as soon as the waitress had left them, <now to get to work.>

The EDS put her purse on the table and pulled out a PSP. Ejecting a UMD, she turned on the system and plugged in a USB cable from her earblade into the system.

<So, you're compatible with those things?> Piro asked.
<Yes. It's more limited than the PS2, but I can do what I need to on this.>
<Which is…?>
<I'll explain more after eating, Piro-kun.> Ping explained nonchalantly as another waitress approached the table.
<Sorry about the wait,> she said, bowing. <Here are your menus. Can I bring you some coffee?>

<Yes, please.> Ping said. <Piro-kun, do you want some too? And how about Largo-san?>
<Sure,> Piro said. He looked at Largo, about to ask him; then he thought better of it. <Ma'am, do you carry alcohol?>
<Uh…yes, but just beer.>
<That's fine,> Piro pointed to Largo. <That's what he wants.>
<Alright, I'll be back with your drinks in a moment.>

Ping smiled as the waitress walked away. Putting down the PSP, she unplugged the USB cable and put the PSP back in her purse.

"Well, part one is finished," she said. "You guys know what you want yet?"
Chapter Twenty-One | Transformation

<Here you go,> the waitress said as she placed the food on the table.

Largo eagerly looked at his plate – he had ordered a classic cheeseburger and fries to go along with his beer. "Finally!" he shouted, "l33t normal food!" before practically diving into his food.

Ping chuckled before asking, "Largo, pancakes this morning do not count as normal?"

Largo was halfway through a mouthful of burger, but he still answered in a slightly muffled voice, "No, pancakes are not l33t."

"I see," Ping said, frowning slightly before looking down at her order – just a standard ramen meal. She broke apart her pair of chopsticks and began to eat.
Piro sighed and started to eat his spaghetti meal quietly, feeling hungry enough to try and ignore the conversation. Starting to eat, his mind drifted back to the apartment building and the situation at hand. Feeling slightly dizzy all of a sudden, Piro closed his eyes and tried to focus.

"Piro," Ping said softly.
"Yes?"
"I'm going to go finish up something. I'll be back in a few minutes."
"Oh," Piro said, his thoughts not completely caught up to his mouth, "okay."
Ping got up and grabbed her purse as she walked to the back of the restaurant. Piro watched her enter into the bathroom.

"She can't possibly be THAT real…ugh…my head hurts," Piro said, taking another forkful of spaghetti and shoving it into his mouth to try and keep his mouth from reaching around and eating his brain.

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Ping sighed as she put her purse on the sink. She reached around the back of her head and undid her hair, letting the long gray locks fall down all the way to the small of her back, removing her earblades from sight. Ping removed the PSP yet again from her purse and examined the UMD she had removed earlier.

Princess Maker Portable

She put the game in the PSP and started it up as she reached into her hair and pulled out the USB connector yet again.

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Piro was still slowly picking at his food when Largo tore him, yet again, from his troubled thoughts.

"Hey, Dom!" Largo shouted, "What's up?"

Piro looked up, muttering "huh?" as he scanned the restaurant. Indeed, Dom was walking past him and Largo. His waitress escort noticed as Dom stopped. She turned around and asked him, <Oh, is this who you were meeting?>

Dom shook his head, <No, but it doesn't look as though he's here yet. We'll sit here, if it's okay with them.>

Piro smiled at his old college friend. <Of course it is,> he said. "Long time no see, Dom."

Dom smiled as he sat down across from Largo and Piro. He looked at the waitress and took the menu she was offering. "Yeah; haven't seen you guys since E3," he said, moving Ping's nearly-empty plate to the side. "So, what brings you guys to Japan?" he asked.

"Oh, we're visiting a friend. And you?"
"The usual…work."
"So are you still with Sega?"
"Yeah; they downsized their American operation, so they transferred me to Japan."

A waitress walked up and addressed Dom. <Sir, did you want anything to drink?>
Dom looked up and frowned slightly, but nonetheless answered, <Yes please; can I just have water? Oh, I'm ready to order, too. Can I get a chicken sandwich and fries?>

<Certainly; that'll be up soon,> she said as she turned away. <Oh! I'm so sorry, ma'am,> she said to the blond she had incidentally knocked to the floor as she turned around. <Sorry,> she repeated, bowing and blushing as the woman stood up.

<That's fine; don't worry about it,> she said, waiving off the offense. She turned around as the waitress walked away. "Piro, you look surprised. Is everything alright?"

"Uh…uh…" Piro stuttered, "Do I know you?"

The girl giggled, her blue eyes twinkling. She moved the blond hair just enough for Piro and Piro alone to see the earblade.
Chapter Twenty-Two | The questioning [part one]

Takama Shinichi sighed as he picked up his briefcase. He wasn't looking forward to questioning Tohya Miho, but it had to be done. He walked out of the teacher's lounge that was functioning as a temporary base for TPCD personnel and walked back down the hall towards the conference room where his subject was waiting. Reaching his destination and taking a deep breath, Shinichi opened the door and walked in.

The room was empty aside from Miho. Shinichi thought for a moment that something was amiss; that someone was missing, but his troubled mind quickly blocked out any idea that anything was wrong. He walked over to the table where Miho was sitting and put down his briefcase. Opening that up, he removed some papers that held the notes his officers had gleaned from the crime scenes today and from the other situation from two years ago.

<So, Shinichi-san, are you ready?> Miho asked him serenely, as though she didn't care one way or the other.

<Yes,> Shinichi answered as he flipped through his stack of papers. Finding the relevant report, 魔法の女の子の活動- 2004 の一年生植物概要 (Magical Girl Activities – 2004 Annual Summary), he brought it to the front of the stack. <So,> he said, scanning the report, <what do you want to tell me about what you saw this morning?>

Miho frowned. <Contrary to what you might think, want to think, or what a report that covers my past activities may tell you, Shinichi-san, I was as shocked as you were this morning.>

<I'm not accusing you of anything.>

<Sure you are. You don't like thinking it, and I don't blame your suspicion, but I'm above…that.> A grimace snuck onto Miho's face as she continued. <I don't remember too well the exact details, but I've been having these dreams – very cryptic dreams that, looking back on my record, may mean something.>

<I see. And those dreams…?>

<Well, the first I've been having for a good six months now. It was the first dream I've had in several years…since just before the 2004 incident with Hayasaka Erika. In fact, it felt like the Hayasaka incident dream. But the more interesting one is much more explicit. I first had it two days ago. Today, it came true with the murders.>

<Just like two years ago…>

<Exactly. I didn't want to believe it either, but Sonoda's child confirmed what I had suspected for a few days now. It's back.>

<God…Tokyo isn't ready for that again.>

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<Understood,> Kiada said quietly into his cell phone. <I'll commence the operation immediately. What should I do with the TPCD? … I understand…Yes.>

Kiada closed the cell phone and took out his QDP pistol, not bothering to conceal it as he walked into the school. He traversed the hallways until he reached the darkened halls near his destination. He smiled and loaded the QDP as he turned the corner.

<Hey! You aren't supp–>

The police officer collapsed; the shot from the high-powered plasma blast to his skull obscure as always. But he was dead, there was no mistaking that. Kiada got to the crime scene and fired another shot at the unsuspecting officer gleaning data from the murders. As expected, the second officer collapsed into the girl's body he had been examining. The image was amusing, eliciting a chuckle from the sergeant, but he quickly moved on with his mission.

Why he was told to move up the timetable was beyond him, but Kiada didn't care – the day had been boring, now it wasn't. That was all that mattered, murder be damned. The TPCD would never know that it was Sony doing anything...they wouldn't have any evidence to know anything.

Shooting out the surveillance camera in the classroom before stepping over the TPCD barrier, Kiada scanned the room over for his objective. Spotting the glint of tempered steel in an evidence bag, Kiada moved over and tore open the bag, letting the item fall into his hand. Smiling, the sergeant took out the second part of his objective.

<This will be fun,> he thought as he walked out of the room, his task complete.
Chapter Twenty-Three | The questioning [part two]

Kiada smiled as he slid his pistol back into its holster. Walking out of the restricted area where the murders of twenty-two – now twenty-four – people had taken place; Kiada felt a rush of adrenaline. It had been too long since Sony had last authorized him to play. But with the activities of last night at the train station and the killings of the two TPCD officers this afternoon, it was all coming back to him. He couldn't let himself think too deeply about it, though – this was just a game, after all. Nothing good ever came out of letting a game bother you.

So deeply engrossed in his thoughts was the sergeant that he barely noticed someone walk past him as he started to head towards the exit. A few seconds had passed before Kiada turned around, feeling that something was wrong. He quickly shrugged off this notion though, when he saw that the threat he had felt was nothing more than some schoolgirl. Nonetheless, he felt his hand drift towards the holster he had deposited his weapon in earlier. An urge to kill started to build up again, but this time it was shared with an equal urge to leave. <Not like it matters; the level's already been completed.> he convinced himself as he left the gun alone and continued down the hallway.

Exiting the school building, Kiada pulled out his cell phone and contacted his Mission Operator.

<Enforcement Mission Command: Sergeant Kiada, have you completed your mission?>
<Yes sir,> Kiada said. He smiled as he walked down the pathway towards his car. <I have the device.>
<Excellent; and…>
<Yes, that has been taken care of as well. There will be no evidence.>
<And you are certain of this?>
<Absolutely,> Kiada said as he climbed into his sports car. <I placed a precautionary measure at the end of the level.>
<Good. You may proceed to Level Twelve, then, Sergeant.>
<Thank you sir,> Kiada said excitedly as he closed the phone and pulled away from the school. As he pulled to a stoplight, he examined his prize. The small steel device was elegantly designed, worthy of being the goal of Level Eleven. It had served its purpose. <Level Twelve,> he thought, his mind now firmly on the task at hand. </-\|^|3$0/\/\3>

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The infirmary door blasted open and a large, burly Scottish man looking quite out of place in a suit barged in, yelling, <Chairman Tohya!> and otherwise startling Eiji from his rest. Miho's father sat up and rolled his eyes.

<What's wrong, Charlie-san?>

Charlie stood up straight and looked around as though expecting more than Eiji to be in the room. A much smaller man – Eiji's lawyer – snuck in the room behind his larger companion after peaking around and making sure the coast was clear.

<And why are you here, Kumasi-san? Why aren't you with Miho?>

Kumasi bent over, breathing heavily. <Miho-san said you were in trouble and needed me and Charlie. Funny, she sent us to the wrong side of the building. From there, we headed over to the office and they said you were in the medical wing. We feared the worse and rushed over here.>

Eiji got up off the table and dusted off his suit. He chuckled a little, realizing immediately what was going on.

<Ah, up to her tricks again, is she?> he said, prompting confused looks from his two would-be rescuers. <I'm in no trouble. My daughter just decided that she would wing this one alone, despite my explicit order that she do no such thing.>

Eiji moved towards the door. Charlie and Kumasi backed away, letting their boss past as he turned down the hallway towards the conference room where Miho was. Charlie and Kumasi nodded their heads at each other, knowing better than to question Eiji, and followed his lead. They had nearly gotten there when the three were startled by the school's fire alarm going off.
Chapter Twenty-Four | The questioning [part three]

<Dammit,> Lieutenant Takama sighed, already tense enough. Exasperated upon hearing the fire alarm ring, he asked rhetorically, <what now?>

Miho looked surprised by the fire alarm as well, but started to brush off the buzzing when a new distraction raised its head.

<Miho!> Eiji shouted as he threw open the conference room door and marched up to his daughter, flanked by Charlie and Kumasi. <What do you think you are doing?>

<Right now?> Miho answered slyly as she moved for the door, <I'm leaving.>

Charlie blocked her way. <Your father wishes to speak to you, young Tohya-san.>

Miho gave the Scotsman a cold stare. <Move.>

Charlie looked to Eiji, who nodded and said, <I can't think with this damned buzzer going off. This had better not be a stupid drill,> as he followed Miho and Shinichi from the room.

A number of students were filing out of the building in the semi-controlled panic that always occurs when knowledge is lacking. The five followed the students out of the building at a distance, Miho kept carefully in front by Charlie, much to her displeasure. As they moved towards the nearest exit, a TPCD officer joined them, adding to Miho's annoyance. The precautions they were taking were almost insulting to the girl. Takama – and certainly her father – knew that if she had a reason to run, she would have done so long ago. It was all part of the game.

She exited the school into the early-afternoon sunlight, flanked by her "guards." They group joined the students gathered a safe distance from the school. Looking across the park that surrounded the joint courtyards between the high and middle schools, Miho could see that the students from the middle school had been evacuated as well.

More curious was the panic of the teachers and school faculty, unbefitting of a mere drill. Looking back at the school, there was no seemingly no reason for an alarm to go off, let alone at both schools. There was no smoke emitting from either building.

<Oh, this is ridiculous,> Takama shouted, realizing the same thing as Miho. <And in the middle of a police investigation!> He turned to the unsuspecting principal, who was walking past him. <I want to talk to the delinquent that pulled that fire alarm!> he shouted, causing the man to knock off his own glasses in shock.

<Yes, Lieutenant-sama,> the principal said, bowing both as an apology and to pick up his dropped bifocals. Standing up straight again, he turned to a nearby woman.

<Kiribati-san, has the alarm system been shut off?>

<Yes, principal-san; we can start filing the students back in as soon as the respective teachers all take roll.>

<That's more like it,> Takama said, clapping his hands together and walking back towards the school and pulling his cell phone out. <Maybe NOW I can get something done. You know, I think this fresh air – >

He didn't get to finish his sentence. Before he could get the final phrase from his lips, a massive explosion racked the school. The lieutenant was tossed high into the air over the heads of the gathered students. As Shinichi reached the peak of his body's arc through the air, his mind hadn't yet had time to comprehend what would happen when he crashed into the ground a hundred yards away from what used to be the school. Suddenly, the finality of his situation came to him as he saw that, ironically, the target his body was heading towards at a rapid velocity was his own police car. Shinichi closed his eyes and helplessly braced for impact as his body approached the vehicle.

-------------------------------------------------

Already two kilometers away, Kiada had turned down his S2000's radio to listen fully to the explosion. A twisted smile overcame his face as he heard the confirmation he had been waiting for.

<No crime scene,> he said to himself, snickering madly, <no evidence. What a shame about the students, though. But, hey, b0|\|u5 p0i/\/7s for killing NPCs, right?>

He turned the radio back up, smiling again as the Breaking News sound played.
Chapter Twenty-Five | Compromising situations

The mood music inside Anna Miller's Restaurant all of a sudden shifted to an abrupt, jarring melody, which in turn gave way to a troubling news report.

<This is an NHK Radio News Bulletin: A massive explosion at Shiritsu Daitou High School and the attached Daitou Gakuen Middle School just rocked the Shinjuku district. Details are scarce at the moment, but reporters are heading to the scene. Shiritsu Daitou High School was also the scene of an ongoing police investigation this morning. More details when we know them. This is NHK Radio News.>

Piro held up his hand to silence Dom, who had been asking about how Piro and Largo met Ping. He looked around and noted that several restaurant patrons who looked like they might have students in school were moving for the exits. "Did you hear that?" he said, "An explosion in Shinjuku…and at a school of all places; how sad."

"Yeah, but it's not like we can do anything about it," Dom said, shrugging off the news and turning to face Ping, who had sat next to Piro. "So, Ping, was it? Since Piro and Largo aren't talking, how did you guys meet? I didn't think Piro was the type to take a random girl as pretty as you are to Japan."

"Oh…uh…" Ping said, blushing as she ran through her list of appropriate responses, "we share a mutual friend here in Tokyo."
"I see. And where is this mutual friend?"
"He's at work."
"And what does he do for a living?"
"He works as a contractor for one of the guilds downtown," Ping answered, looking to Piro for assistance, knowing full and well she lacked the capacity to outright lie in her current game mode.
"Oh. So he works in Shinjuku?"
"Yes," Ping said, nodding.
"Do you think he's okay, what with that explosion and all?"

At this, Ping bolted up, a look of realization on her face. "Piro, Largo; we should go." She took out a 5000 Yen bill from her purse and placed it on the table. Bowing, she said, "That should cover our bill. It was nice to meet you, Dom."

Stunned, Dom waived his hand goodbye as Ping led Piro and Largo out of the restaurant. "What a strange girl Piro picked up," he muttered to himself, musing on the strange coincidence that Piro and Largo happened to be in Japan this week of all weeks. Looking up a couple minutes later, he saw that who he had been waiting for had finally arrived.

"Hey Dom," Ed said, taking a seat.
"You're late."
"Sorry. Some bitch of a robot I was after for work shot me."
Ed laughed. "Nothing fatal I see. So, you kill it yet?"
"No, she got rid of my weapon and made it all but impossible for me to get away," Ed explained, pointing to his leg. "I couldn't move my leg until Enforcement brought me a health pack."
"Shame. Hey, you'll never guess who I met up with: Piro and Largo. Did you know Piro has a girlfriend now?"
Ed's shocked expression gave way to one of understanding. He pulled out his PDA and looked at the display for a second before saying, matter-of-factly, "No, he doesn't."
"What are you talking about?" Dom started to ask, but Ed was already gone.
"Why are all of my friends nut jobs?" Dom asked himself, shaking his head.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"What's going on?" Piro asked Ping as they walked hurriedly down the sidewalk.

"Threat assessment; a Sony Enforcement operative is closing in on our location. He's at Level 9, too."
"Sony Enforcement? Level 9?"
"Yes, Sony operatives function on levels. I'm not quite sure what it all means; I didn't download all the data when I looked up the Enforcement division."
"But…why would a company need an 'Enforcement' division?"
Largo fielded the question ahead of Ping. "It is t3h E\/1l 3mp1re5' way of staying on top. Every major company has enforcement these days, n00b."
Ping nodded her head. "Largo is correct. Many companies in Japan have back-alley operations. Tsubasa-sensei is often recruited to do work for one company against another."

Piro shook his head. His entire worldview was being challenged today. But fate wasn't done messing with him yet.

"Piro! Largo!" Ed shouted.
"First Dom, now Ed," Piro thought as he turned around, "what a day."
"Uh…why are you pointing a gun at me, Ed?"
"I'm not. I'm pointing it at your…what did Dom call that thing...your 'girlfriend?' Nice job on the hair change. The concealment of the earblades is an especially nice touch. Pity you didn't catch the tracking device I put on you yesterday morning."
Chapter Twenty-Six | The Game

"What the hell is going on?!" Piro yelled, moving in front of Ping.

"Ed! What the fuXX0rZ are you doing? Selling out to t3h 3\/1l 3|\/|p1r3?" Largo demanded, pointing an accusing finger at Ed.

"Largo, don't be a moron. I didn't sell out to anyone. I just chose to be loyal and play for the winning team," Ed said as he shrugged.

"Loyalty is for fools."

"Perhaps, but that robot chiXX0rz is my key to Level Ten. Neither you nor Piro are going to stand in my way unless you have a death wish. To stand in opposition of Sony is to be a fool, not the other way around."

"I will die a fool before I give Sony what it wants unopposed."

Ed shook his head. "I don't have time for this." He waved his rifle. "I don't want you to get hurt unnecessarily. Idiots or not, you're still my friends. I'll take you in peacefully, but the girli3 is going in a scrap heap. You have no weapons, you have no power-ups, and you have but one life. Move out of the way."

Largo laughed. "We do have a weapon. This 'girli3' is quite formidable."

"We shall see. Are you going to move, or do I have to pwn your ass too?"

Ping tapped Piro and Largo on their shoulders. "I can fight this battle on my own," she said, smiling weakly. "Thank you for your assistance, but you two needn't be involved."

Ping stepped in front of the two boys, and proceeded to hit a button on her earblade. The bright blue eyes flared red for a second.

Piro then looked around him at the passing people, who didn't seem the slightest bit concerned about the ensuing fight between an armed man and what appeared to be a young girl. Sadly, this didn't seem at all odd to Piro anymore, who didn't think anything would faze him anymore after seeing an assassin take on a cloaked intruder, mechs right out of Gundam under command of the local police, a Godzilla-looking thing in rescue mode, and a trio of brutal murders. All of a sudden, Largo's constant insanity seemed…almost logical. So, it didn't surprise him when the ensuing fight was delayed by Ed's PDA beeping.

Ed held up his hand to signal that he needed a minute, and then pulled out his Clio to examine the source of the interruption. Sighing after a second, he lowered his gun.

"You got lucky, girli3. I'll see you around."

And with that, Ed turned around and waved goodbye before fading back into the crowd walking the Tokyo streets. Pulling out his PDA again, he shook his head as he reexamined the display. "Sony seems to have something against me getting to Level 10."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Objective Change:
This is a direct order from Enforcement Command. Failure to obey the following orders carries a punishment of a one level downgrading:

Operative 521 (Level 9), you are to disengage from your current Level Objective immediately. Report directly to Headquarters. Operative 368 (Level 12), Sgt. Kiada Ian, will brief you on your new objective.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Largo watched Ed leave with a grimace on his face.

"Dammit," he said, his hand becoming a fist, "how did I let this happen? Ed: A Sony dr0n3?"

"Largo," Piro said, "we can't think about it. We just have to deal with it."

"Yes. We need to get g3ar'd up if we are to rescue Ed from the Evil Empire and get out of this. Sony is playing a game that they made. We have to pwn them at their own game. This will require massive amounts of l33t sk1ll5. Where can we go to shop?"

"Uh…do we have money for what you want to do?"

Ping turned around, smiling for whatever reason. "I have funds that were given to me by Tsubasa-sensei. They should prove sufficient. We can get supplies in Akihabara and find lodging at a hotel downtown."

"Okay, there's that," Piro said, nodding. "Then what?"

"I haven't thought that out yet," Largo admitted.

"Ugh…"
Chapter Twenty-Seven | Too-late revelations

It was dusk when a bright light managed to perforate through Takama Shinichi's eyelids, causing him to move his arm to shield his eyes from the light in reflex. All of a sudden, the lieutenant realized he wasn't dead for some reason. Sitting up on the stretcher he had been placed on, he tried to reflect on the dream he had just been interrupted from, but realized that it had escaped him. Looking around, he was bewildered by the scene that awaited him:

The light that had awoken Shinichi was from one of two helicopters circling the once-beautiful school grounds, shining a light on the darkening site of a horrific explosion that had nearly sent him and several hundred students to their untimely demise.

The reddening dust-filled sky was befitting of the charred park that still had several small fires being tended to by a few remaining firefighters. At the back of the grey-brown trees and grass were the charred remains of Shiritsu Daitou High School and Daitou Gakuen Attached Middle School. The proud school buildings were reduced to smoldering skeletons of themselves. It felt like something out of a war movie. Takama shook his head, trying to sort out his thoughts, but one kept rising to the surface, again and again: The wish that this was all still a dream.

<Shinichi!> he heard Director Sonoda call out.
Shinichi stood up slowly, testing out his limbs. Discovering that he was, miraculously, without injury aside from a few scrapes and bruises, no doubt from the explosion itself, he walked over to his boss.
<Are you alright?> Sonoda asked him.
<I'm fine, thank you. At least, I'm much better than I thought I would be.>
<Good,> Masamichi said, patting his old friend on the back. <At least one thing has gone right today then.>
<Why am I alive?>
<You were snatched out of midair by Master Tsubasa, who is assisting with our operations here.>

Shrugging off the additional questions this rose, Shinichi asked his second question. <Is anyone hurt?>
<Not many; maybe twenty students suffered minor injuries, as well as a few more TPCD officers. It's a miracle that Yuki spotted the intruder and pulled the fire alarm. A few students got scrapes and the like, but thanks to her…> his voice drifted out, the director not wishing to verbalize the feelings he would have had, had his daughter not spotted the bomber.

<Yuki? What was she doing in the high school? Why was she even out of class?>
<Luck, I guess. She had been visiting the Tohya girl earlier, and was returning to the hospital wing for some reason when she spotted our dear culprit. I haven't really pressed her yet.>
<That's understandable, but who is our culprit? Do we have any leads?>
<Not yet. We were hoping you could help us with that, since you were in charge over here before the whole ordeal. But…this is insanity we're dealing with here. We weren't expecting this level of shit to go down today. We're in the process of scaling back planned disasters for the next few weeks. But back to our potential leads: Yuki's over this way by our temporary base here. I want you to talk to her.>

With that, Masamichi turned and led Shinichi through the wasteland that was now a much bigger crime scene than it had been that morning. Looking around, Takama counted no less than thirty TPCD officers running around, trying to sort out the unplanned chaos that had overtaken the district.

The dust in the air started to catch in the lieutenant's throat as they got closer to the epicenter of the explosion. One of the overhead choppers started to pass overhead as they walked down the still-intact sidewalk, spinning even more dust into the air, sending Takama into a fit of coughing. Waving his arm to keep some of the dust out of his eyes, Masamichi continued through the dusty air towards a large white tent with the initials "T. P. C. D." in huge black letters on the sides.

When they finally entered into the tent, Takama and Sonoda were covered in dust that made them both look ten years older. Not caring about their appearance, the two men moved to the back of the tent, where Yuki sat, covered in a blanket, shivering in the cold that none of the panicked TPCD officers seemed to feel.

Pulling a pair of folding chairs up and setting them up, Lieutenant Takama and Director Sonoda sat down across from Yuki. Going straight into cop-mode, Takama blurted out a quick apology for the ordeal that had occurred, then jumped straight into questions. But before he could get his question out, Yuki asked him the one that he didn't really understand himself.

<Shinichi-san…I'm so glad you're alright…but how did you live from that fall you took?>
<I was really lucky, but that's not the issue here. We really just want to know what you saw.>
<I didn't really see much…just a strangely happy guy leaving the restricted area of the school. He scared me…I was going to the office, but something told me there wasn't a lot of time to act. So I pulled the fire alarm, feeling like something bad was about to happen.>
<I see…and the guy?>
<Nothing really out of the ordinary…he looked handsome, but something odd just struck me about him. He was dressed in a suit, if that helps.>
<A suit…handsome…> Takama muttered, putting the pieces together. <Masamichi! Do you know what happened with the Sony Enforcement guy that I told you about earlier?>
<Actually…no…you don't think…why would they…?> Masamichi said, his thoughts drifting back to the words of Usaka the previous night: <You still have to be punished for moving that Idol to Microsoft. You don't mess with Sony.>
<I don't know, but something smells. I'm going to go talk to Master Tsubasa.>

With that, Shinichi excused himself and walked over across the tent where he had spotted the assassin.

<Hi, I'm Lieutenant Takama with TPCD. First of all…I wanted to thank you for your help earlier.>
<Oh, it is no problem. I try to help when I can.>
<But that raises my second question. Why were you here?>
<My mission. I had tracked my target to the school. However, when I arrived here, the school exploded. I have been helping the TPCD since then.>
<And what, exactly, is your mission?>
<My mission is nothing more and nothing less than the total eradication of True Love.>
Chapter Twenty-Eight | True Love

Takama gazed at Tsubasa with an incredulous look in his eyes.

<Uh…come again? Eradicate true love?>
<That is correct.>
<So…what: you go around killing off people's true loves? Do you have a permit?>
<I think you misunderstand, Takama-san. True Love is the code name of a rogue assassin I have been charged with terminating.>
<Oh. Well, why was he here?>
<She. But, I digress, I have no idea. I doubt she is behind the explosion. True Love's style is swordplay, not bombs. Too messy.>
<Swords?> Takama said, thinking back to the butchered class he had witnessed earlier.

<Yes, swords. I once partnered with her. She is one of the most skilled assassins I have ever met, which makes her all the more deadly. And combined with her powers and alliances…>
<And,> Shinichi interrupted, an idea coming to him, <could this 'True Love,' by any chance, kill twenty-two children in a matter of seconds without being seen?>
<Of course, what do you think an assassin is worth if she can be seen? But…why do you ask?>
<Come with me, Master Tsubasa,> Takama said, motioning over to Sonoda.

The two men walked back over to Yuki and Masamichi, who were talking about something or other. Takama tapped his boss on the shoulder, causing him to turn around with a somewhat disgruntled look on his face due to the interruption.

<What is it, Lieutenant?>
<Sir, we may have some additional information that might be of some use. I think you may be interested.>
<Alright, then what is it?>

Takama nodded towards Yuki, feeling that this needed to be discussed away from the girl. <Sir…>
<Oh…> he got up and walked across the tent to maintain some level of secrecy. Lowering his voice, he asked, <So, what's going on?>

Takama put his arm on Tsubasa's shoulder, gently forcing him forward. <Master Tsubasa, if you would, could you explain to us a bit about this 'True Love' character? Like, who she is, why you're after her, and why, exactly, you think that she would be capable of the murders of twenty-two people this morning.>

Tsubasa nodded, though he still did not understand why his mission could potentially be a police affair. <It is a complicated story,> he started, <but True Love is a skilled assassin that parted with the ways of my clan and took up another code.>

Sonoda looked intrigued. <What code would this be?>
<The Code of Love. While this is a noble enterprise, once she turned her back on the ways of the assassin, we are charged with eliminating her.>
<The…Code of Love… Wait a minute, isn't that the Magical Girl code? How can an assassin take that oath?>
<Much as I was, True Love was raised as an assassin from birth. When she became older, though, she began to show signs of becoming a Magical Girl, and took allegiance with them. This was a few years ago; we've been after her ever since.>

<But…why would a Magical Girl murder twenty-two students? And, how could she coordinate between three similar murder scenes?>

<I don't know…she may have a following, but explicit murder without a cause is definitely against the Code of Love. There must be a purpose here…>

As Takama was trying to introduce Tsubasa's knowledge into the equation, Sonoda Yuki sat sulking under her blanket, trying to sort out why her dad didn't want her to go home just yet. Adding to her frustration was the fact that her dad was excluding her from anything important. A voice started to sneak into her subconscious, much like the one that had encouraged her to pull the fire alarm earlier.

<It's not fair for them to exclude you…>
<You again…I'm going nuts…that must be it…>
<You aren't insane, Yuki.>
<Then what exactly are you?>
<I am a friend, telling you the truth. You are being used.>
Chapter Twenty-Nine | Nighttime awakening

<Used?> Yuki thought, uneasy enough from the idea of talking to herself, or to her "friend," whatever it was.
<Yes. You must have noticed by now, Yuki.>
<Noticed what?>
<You are a very special girl, Yuki. Haven't you noticed that when your friends or loved ones are in jeopardy, you're always able to help them? Haven't you noticed weird events occurring around you that you can't explain?>
<Now that I think of it…>
<You have a lot of potential, Yuki. Potential others may want to stop you from attaining. Potential your father will do anything to suppress. Potential the assassin will do anything to eliminate. Potential I will help you to attain.>
<Why am I thinking these things?>
<These thoughts have been suppressed for far too long.>
<I feel strange…what is going on?>
<A revelation.>
<A revelation? Revelation of what?>
<A revelation…of what you are CAPABLE OF!>

Across the room, Tsubasa looked over at Yuki, feeling a strange premonition. <Who is that?> he said, pointing at the girl.
<My daughter,> Sonoda said.
<Did you happen to feel that premonition as well?>
<What premonition?>
<Just a strange outburst of immense p–>
<Yuki, what are you doing?> Masamichi shouted, interrupting the assassin.

Yuki had shed her blanket and had started walking towards the trio. As she moved forward, a strange blue aura started to glow about her, to the point of completely enveloping the girl.

<W-w-w-what is going on!?> Takama said, backing away.

Tsubasa drew his sword off his back and pointed it at the light. Masamichi stepped in between the two, holding his hand up in Tsubasa's face.
<Put that away,> he said plainly and forcefully.
<Director-sama, with all due respect…>
<PUT IT AWAY!>

<I don't need your protection, daddy,> came Yuki's voice from the light, powerful enough that the dirt inside the tent started to stir. A strong wind started up, blowing the fabric of the tent up into the air, leaving only the skeleton that the tent was resting on. <The assassin, however, may do well with it.>

The blue aura died down, leaving only Yuki. The full moon shone upon her form, as though it was focusing on her and only her. Her dark blue uniform had been replaced with a bright white version of itself. The school icon had been removed, and the blue skirt had been replaced with a bright pink skirt that complimented the pink ribbons in her hair. It was almost painful to look at the girl for a few seconds until the glow that surrounded her body had completely died down.

<Director-sama,> Tsubasa said. <Move out of the way.>
<What!? Do you think I'm going to just let you attack her?>
<No. Just MOVE,> he shouted as he forced Sonoda's legs out from under him, sending him to the ground, just seconds before the newborn Magical Girl flew at the assassin, launching several dagger-like ribbons with her. Tsubasa didn't quite manage to avoid the attack, as one of Yuki's hair ribbons cut into the assassin's shoulder. Tsubasa barely felt the pain of the blow, however, and quickly launched into the air after the girl.

<Child!> he yelled as the two bounded from skyscraper to skyscraper in the nighttime city sky. <What are you doing?>
<I am simply defending myself from deception and protecting my allies and loved ones from the likes of you, Master Assassin.>
<Fool, you are being used by a greater power.>
<No, I WAS being used. But no more,> Yuki said, reaching another skyscraper and using it to launch back at Tsubasa. This time, however, Tsubasa was prepared. He swung out his sword and used it to block Yuki's ribbons. Grabbing the girl's arm as she flew past him, he threw her to the ground, flying after her. Landing just short of her, he pointed his sword at the girl's throat.
<Stop this foolishness, Sonoda-san. Your underdeveloped powers are no match for a trained assassin.>

<You are the fool, Master Assassin,> Yuki said, smiling despite herself. Tsubasa heard a strange whizzing noise, causing him to turn around just in time to see the ribbons that he had blocked earlier flying like so many knives towards him. Moving his sword away from Yuki's throat, he managed to swat away the ribbons once again, this time noticing as the ribbons simply turned right around and flew back at him. Yuki seized her opportunity to get away, jumping to the top of the nearest skyscraper, chuckling slightly as the assassin fought off the ribbons again and again. She wasn't as amused when, after a few rounds, Tsubasa jumped as the ribbons, which had by then encircled the assassin, closed in, causing them to hit each other, removing the danger.

Spotting Yuki, Tsubasa leapt up the building, landing in front of the girl.
<Young Miss Sonoda, this game has gone far enough.>
<I'm not playing a game.>
<Perhaps some pain will prove otherwise, young miss,> Tsubasa said, swinging his sword at Yuki's ankle. However, the blade stopped just before it made contact.
<What the?> Tsubasa said, mystified.

<I told you, Master Assassin,> Yuki said, smiling sweetly as she grabbed the other end of the long black ribbon that had ensnared Tsubasa's blade. <I'm not playing a game,> she said as she flung the sword into the air.

The ribbon straightened out and formed a sword of Yuki's own, which she in turn pointed towards Tsubasa. Tsubasa smiled himself as he disappeared. He reappeared just behind the girl after grabbing his blade spinning in the air. <It seems this will actually be a decent fight,> he said as he launched back at the young girl.

<More than you know, Master Assassin. More than you know.> said the girl, who was now much more than just a girl, as the pair fought into the Tokyo night.
Chapter Thirty | Opening and closing

Tsubasa and Yuki traveled down the street, neither of them bothering to touch the ground as they leapt between the buildings of the Tokyo streets. They had, by now, traveled all the way to the Akihabara district. The bright lights of the district partially masked the blows the two were throwing at each other. Despite the seeming ferocity of the battle, however, the actual fight was coming to a standstill. Neither Yuki nor Tsubasa were seriously hurt, with Tsubasa suffering the only true wound; that which was caused at the start of the battle by Yuki's original ribbon attack.

However, both combatants were showing their weariness from the ongoing fight. What was once impossible to track with the naked eye was slowing down to the point of shocking some of the tourists in the shopping district. Tsubasa's concern was involving any of the gaping civilians by the rampaging Yuki. Luckily, Yuki was focusing on him and only him, but one misstep could injure hundreds of the innocents below.

<Master Assassin,> Yuki said cheerfully as she launched another volley of ribbons at Tsubasa, <Are you planning on playing with your full strength or not?>

Tsubasa swatted away the ribbons and landed on a store's sign to catch his breath momentarily. <What are you talking about, child?>

<You are capable of much more than just parrying my attacks. Why don't you show me what you can do?>

Tsubasa sighed as he jumped off the sign and flew at the girl. <This girl is untrained and yet she mocks me so. But…I cannot use my full power. She may be under a dark influence, but she is still Sonoda-sama's child.>

Yuki took advantage of Tsubasa's lack of focus and avoided the assassin as he tried to deliver an attack. Mirroring a move Tsubasa had pulled on her earlier; Yuki grabbed his arm and flung him into a nearby building. Tsubasa was moving fast enough that he crashed through the wall, rather than into it. His sudden entrance managed to shock the computer store's customers as his out-of-control body managed to hit a shelf as he skidded across the floor. As dozens of monitors and other components fell to the ground, Tsubasa slowly rose.

Already winded from the crash, Tsubasa was barely prepared as the inevitable ribbons sliced through the hole in the wall towards him. He reached for his sword to parry the deadly weapons, only to spot it across the floor, of no use to him now.

<Damn,> he muttered as he jumped back, narrowly avoiding the ribbons, which stuck in the floor. He looked up just in time to spot one last ribbon slicing right towards his head. Rolling to the left towards his sword, he almost avoided Yuki's attack, but the final ribbon still managed to slice into his already-damaged right shoulder. He grabbed the sword with his right hand and his gashed open shoulder with his left, finally grimacing at the pain. He backed up against the store wall, trying to regain his bearings before returning to battle. He looked to his side at the wrecked store, to see a strange blond-haired woman dashing towards him, as well as Piro and Largo looking confused as the rest of the store ran for the exit.

<Sensei!> she yelled as she reached Tsubasa.
<Ping?> Tsubasa said, astounded. <What are you doing h–GET OUT OF THE WAY!>
<Nani?> the robot asked. <But…you're hurt.>
<I believe,> Yuki said as she flew into the store, <that he is concerned for you.>
<And who are you?> Ping asked, stepping in front of Tsubasa.
<That is none of your concern. Let the Master Assassin and I finish our battle.>
<Are you the one who did this to him?>
<Again, that is none of your concern. Move out of the way. I promise it will be quick.>
Ping's eyes flared red. <Answer me.>
<I don't want to involve innocents. Please move.>

<Ping,> Tsubasa said, gingerly standing up. He moved his left hand off his shoulder, his now-blood-soaked hand revealing to Ping that he was indeed injured. <go. Protect the Americans, as I instructed you.>
<Y-y-y-yes, sensei…as you order.>
<Good…now, Sonoda-san, I believe we were in the middle of something.>
<More like the end, but yes, let us continue.>
<Your arrogance will cost you, child,> Tsubasa said as he leapt out the window.
<It isn't arrogance if it's justified, Master Assassin,> Yuki said, following.

Inside, Ping walked over to the gaping hole in the store wall and stared out as Tsubasa and Yuki continued their duel. Piro and Largo walked over to her, both carrying large bags of computer equipment.

"Are you alright, Ping?" Piro asked.
"No, but there is nothing I can do. Let's go back to the hotel…Largo can set his stuff up there."
"Yes," Largo agreed. "Our room will be l33t by night's end."

Ping nodded and stepped away from the newly created window, walking away from the battle she knew in her heart she should be a part of…if she even had a heart. Outside, Tsubasa and Yuki were embroiled in a renewed struggle, as pointless as anything that had come before…a battle that could not have a true winner. Tsubasa swatted away yet another attack from Yuki, retreating yet again, hiding and breathing heavily.

<I am injured…she is toying with me at this point. I only have enough strength for one attack, but that is all it should take…>
<Oh Master Assassin,> Yuki called playfully, laughing as she landed on the street not twenty feet from Tsubasa, <hiding are we?>
<No,> Tsubasa said, revealing himself, <I'm just waiting.>

He launched at her, drawing his sword. Yuki looked surprised for a second, but nimbly sidestepped the assassin…exactly what he was counting on. He used his stronger left hand to swing out his dagger at the dodging Yuki, cutting off the ribbons in her hair. The pink ribbons fell to the ground slowly; floating down to the ground as Tsubasa knelt down ten feet away, putting away his sword.

<As I said, young Miss Sonoda, your underdeveloped powers are no match for those of an trained assassin. You should be powerless without those ribbons, child.>

<Damn…you…> Yuki said, a faint glow developing around her as she knelt down. The glow faded and revealed Yuki to be back in her traditional school garb.
<W-w-where…am…I?> she asked as she collapsed to the sound of sirens in the distance.

A pair of TPCD cars pulled up. Sonoda and Takama jumped out of the lead car and rushed over to Tsubasa.

<Is…she okay?> Masamichi asked as he examined his unconscious daughter.
<She's fine, Director-sama. Something overcame her and activated her latent Magical Girl powers…I doubt she will remember anything,> Tsubasa said, smiling weakly as he collapsed himself.

<Get an ambulance out here immediately,> Sonoda ordered, seeing the wounds on Tsubasa's body. <He's lost a lot of blood.>
<Yes, Masamichi,> Takama said as he dashed back over to the patrol car.
<Thank you, my friend,> Masamichi said, patting the assassin on the back before he picked up his daughter and walked over to the patrol car, placing her inside. Takama soon joined him.

<It's been a long night, Shinichi. I'll leave you in charge; I'm going home for tonight. You know what to do.>
<Yes, Masamichi, I understand. Good night.>
Chapter Thirty-One | Briefing

Kiada stood still inside Usaka's office, listening as his boss tore into him and wishing he was anywhere else.

<You fool!> Usaka yelled, his hand slamming against his desk in anger. <What did you think you accomplished with blowing the school sky high!?>
<Sir…>
<You will talk when I tell you to, Sergeant!>
<Yes sir.>
<Shut up! I'll tell you what you accomplished: An intense scrutiny upon this organization as we close the deal on several large projects. We don't need the attention you brought upon us, though your recovery mission was successful.> He sat back, still visibly infuriated. <You may respond.>
<Sir, with all due respect, I was told to eliminate evidence tying back to this organization.>
<And you think that the proper way to go about that was introducing yourself to TPCD…as a RANKING OFFICER OF ENFORCEMENT…then disappearing when all hell broke loose? Did you really think that through, Sergeant?>
<I apologize for any unintended consequences for my actions…>
<Damn right you apologize. I have yet to fully determine your punishment, but we'll start off here. Give me your hand.>

Kiada extended his hand as Usaka took out a small device. Placing the end of the item on Kiada's thumb, Usaka turned his computer monitor so Kiada could see the results of the scan. Pressing a button on the device, the end of it shone blue for a split second. On screen, Kiada's personnel file appeared with a minimal delay:

QUOTE (Data Readout)Operative 368 - Player Data Summary:

Kiada Ian (Level 12)
- Rank IV – Sergeant (7 Ranked Missions until Rank III)
- Experience: 580/30000 until next Level
- Nationality: Japanese

Current Level Objective:
You are to direct a tactical strike on an enemy base using the S-85 remote fighter jet. Player will be given command of seven Rank V operatives for completion of this mission.
Difficulty Level: B
Ranked Mission? Yes

<Let's see…you did complete the task at hand, so I won't revoke your Level advancement. However, I will deduct that 580 additional experience you were able to obtain.>

As he spoke, the actions he decided to take were carried out in real time on the computer screen. <In addition, we're going to make your next mission a bit harder - an 'A' Difficulty Level seems adequate, with only six operatives under your command, rather than the seven originally allotted. Also, this will no longer be a Ranked Mission for you, Sergeant.>
<Yes sir,> Kiada said, resigned to his fate, while also glad the punishment wasn't more severe.

<I'm not done with you, Sergeant. But…should you exceed my expectations of you in this next mission, I will be more lenient. However, should you under-perform or fail…> he let the threat hang.

Kiada gulped. <Yes sir, I understand.>
<Good, now go meet your men and deliver the briefing. I expect the mission to be carried out tomorrow. Is that clear?>
<Yes sir; thank you sir.>
<You are dismissed. Get out of my sight.>

Kiada abided; turning and walking out of the office as quickly as he possibly could. As he closed the door, an attendant walked up to him.

<Sergeant,> she said, handing him a Memory Stick, <this holds the data on your operatives for your Level Objective, as well as further details on the mission.>

<Thank you,> Kiada said, grabbing the Memory Stick and sliding it into his PDA as the attendant bowed and walked away. <Interesting,> he thought, looking at the data. <It seems we are much further in this project than I would have guessed. But I suppose that's for the best.>

Kiada walked down the hall towards the briefing room. He opened the door, but upon seeing that only five of his operatives were seated in the room, he suddenly became angry himself.

<Good evening, I'm Sergeant Kiada, your Mission Operator. Introduce yourselves by your Operative Number…we don't have time for real names tonight.>
<I'm Operative 1061,> the woman on the right-most side said.
<810> the man next to her said.
<901>
<588>
<And I'm Operative 987,> the second woman of the group said.
<Good,> Kiada said, looking at his PDA, <then that just leaves Operative 521. He'll be taking the point position for his tardiness. I suppose it is good he's an American, hmm?>

This elicited a few chuckles from the group. The door behind Kiada opened on cue, revealing Ed.

<Ah, glad you decided to join up, 521.> Kiada said, eliciting more laughter. <You'll be taking the point position tomorrow. No bonus experience.>
<Yes sir…sorry sir.>
<Take a seat.>

Ed complied, sitting in the chair nearest the door. Meanwhile, Kiada pulled up his mission notes via hooking his PDA up to the room's projector.

<Our target tomorrow is this island in the South Pacific, Kiada said, pointing at the appropriate place on the map being projected. We will be utilizing the S-85 remote aircraft for this operation. I assume you are all familiar with the standard Dual Shock control scheme?>

The group all nodded, prompting Kiada to move forward. <Good, then I shall continue. This is a pretty straightforward mission. Seek and Destroy. The tricky part has been handled already; you're just following our tracker in. It shouldn't be too hard for you, but they are well-fortified, so, while the difficulty is an A, it will be much simpler once you're in. Any questions?>

Seeing none, he shut off the projector. <See you tomorrow then. Bright and early…we'll have the S-85's ready for you…it'll still be night for them, so they'll never know what hit them. Dismissed.>
Epilogue | Night in a troubled city

Kimiko's hands were shaking as she reached for the door handle to hers and Erika's apartment. It was late, after 10pm, but that wasn't why she was nervous. It had been over a day since she had last seen Erika and she wasn't sure she could face her after the revelations she had been given by Megumi the other day. All she had left was a short note before she left to spend the previous night at Megumi's place.

<Focus, Kimiko,> she told herself. <Erika's your friend…she wouldn't do anything to hurt you on purpose.>

With that in mind, she swung open the door. The small apartment was dark, with the only light coming from the back of the apartment and from the city lights behind her. Kimiko placed her purse and the bag holding her welcome package from Usaka-san – a new PlayStation 2 and a game he wanted her to play – on the floor and took a deep breath. <I'm home,> she thought, <but it doesn't feel the same anymore.>

Taking off her shoes, Kimiko noticed that there were two pairs already laid in the entryway: Erika's and a man's. Blushing slightly, feeling bad on intruding, Kimiko started to put her shoes back on. Reaching for the second shoe, Kimiko looked up to see Erika walking towards her. Realizing who it was, Erika dashed over and turned on the light.

<I'm…I'm so sorry, Erika!> Kimiko said, now in a deep blush. <I…I didn't mean to intrude on anything.>
<What are you talking about?>

Kimiko simply pointed to the shoes as an answer.

<Oh, that. Kawaiza-san is just here…for work. Nothing's happening. I promise. Now, come in. This is your apartment just as much as it is mine. I want to know where you've been the past day that you couldn't even give me a call.>
<I'm so sorry Erika…I just…didn't feel I could face you after…> Kimiko stopped, tears starting to come to her.

Erika saw her friend start to break down. Feeling unsure, she placed her hand on Kimiko's shoulder. <I'm sorry too,> she said. <I wasn't completely open with you either…and for that, I apologize. Come on, you look like you're about to break down on me. And I just washed the floor too.>

Kimiko sniffed. <Erika…>
<You should lie down. You look like you've had a hell of a day.>

Kimiko took her shoe back off and followed Erika into the back. Kawaiza sat on the futon, holding his laptop on his lap. Looking up from his typing, he waved to Kimiko.

<Hey, Nanasawa-san,> he said, smiling.
<Hi, Kawaiza-san,> Kimiko said, wiping her eyes. <Why are you here so late?>
<We had a couple things to go over…and, personally, I think Erika-san was a tad worried about you.>
<Amora…> Erika said with a slight tone of anger in her voice.

<What?> Kawaiza said, laughing. <Hey, the news is coming on,> he said, pointing to the small television and changing the subject. <But…I'd better go. You two have a nice night,> he said, bowing as he made his exit.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

<Tonight, chaos downtown,> the disembodied female announcer said as the news logo scrolled across the screen.

Images of downtown Tokyo appeared with a very notable dust cloud over the Shinjuku district as the headline, <Unexplained Phenomena,> appeared at the bottom of the screen. Soon, they cut to the news studio, where the female anchor sat at a desk.

<Good evening, I'm Kuromori Hoshiko,> she said. <Tonight, we have some new information on several unexplained murders across the city, as well as on an explosion in the Shinjuku district that is causing trouble for the police. We have a reporter at tonight's police press conference to get you some answers. But first, downtown in Akihabara, a strange phenomenon with what seemed to be a rogue Magical Girl occurred earlier tonight. A reporter is on the scene with more.>

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Across town, Piro watched the same newscast from a comfortable couch in the hotel suite that Ping had rented out. Largo continued to work on his custom defense PCs that he was calling a "Beowulf Cluster" across the room, in a section blocked off by Piro when Ping started to go off on Largo's naked PC tinkering. Nearby, Ping sat on a chair playing with the PSP that she had used earlier to upgrade her system.

Some amateur footage of Tsubasa and Yuki's fight started to roll. Piro, catching a glimpse of Tsubasa's face, called out to Ping.

"Hey, Ping," he said, waving to grab the attention of the robot. "Tsubasa's on the news."

"Oh," Ping said. She shut off the PSP and disconnected it from her earblade. She walked over and sat next to Piro to have a better view of the television as the reporter came on screen.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

<Earlier tonight,> the man said standing outside the electronics store that Piro, Largo, and Ping had left earlier after witnessing part of the fight being reported on, <several people reported seeing bright flashes of light above the streets of Akihabara. As you can see from the footage we were able to obtain, what many are calling a rogue Magical Girl caused severe damage to this computer store I'm standing in front of. Damages to the store, the hardest hit by the fighting earlier tonight, are in excess of ¥15,000,000. The Magical Girl was eventually subdued by the assassin the police used to pursue her. The assassin, identified as Master Tsubasa by the Assassin Guild, is listed in stable condition at Keio University Hospital in Shinjuku. Live in Akihabara, this is Kitakawa Jiro. Back to you, Kuromori-san.>

Kuromori-san reappeared on screen, thanking the reporter for his time and effort. <Now,> she said, <we take you live to the police press conference on today's events, where Police Lieutenant Takama Shinichi is supposedly going to answer some questions…>

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Outside the general police headquarters, a careful ploy often utilized by TPCD to keep the special division away from most of the general public's view, Shinichi was going over his notes for the press conference that was part of Public Scenario #36. While he had gone over the standard procedure several times before, he was still nervous. He had never had to cover up anything directly related to him…let alone a, "rogue Magical Girl," that was, in honesty, the Director's daughter.

<Sir,> an attendant said, coming up to him, <they're ready for you.>
<Thank you.>

Takama stepped up to the podium that had been set up earlier. He felt the heat of the television cameras and lights wash over him. The flashes from the cameras blinded him for a second. The tension in his throat started to mount as he pulled out his opening statement. Calling on his experience in public affairs, Takama summoned the courage he needed to proceed.

Across town, the Sonoda's were sitting down watching the news broadcast, with Yuki fast asleep in her room. Masamichi watched anxiously as his friend took the stage.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

<Good evening,> the man who had taken the podium said. The television overlay identified him as Takama Shinichi of Tokyo Police, neglicting the Cataclysm Division notation. <Earlier today, we were directed onto three separate murder scenes. The first murder scene we discovered was downtown nearby the American company Microsoft's Japanese headquarters. Five Microsoft employees were killed. Microsoft is doing their own investigation into the matter, and TPC...the police are assisting them in their efforts while tying in the overall investigation into our own.>

<The second murder scene was discovered at a metropolitan apartment building. Three were murdered, including a high-ranking member of the Ninja Guild. The third and final murder scene was at Shiritsu Daitou High School and Daitou Gakuen Attached Middle School, where an entire class of twenty-one students and their English teacher were all murdered. This was prior to the explosion later today.>

<The murders all shared similar degrees of brutality, but we are still unclear how, or even if, they are all related. The explosion, as far as we can tell, was due to a gas leak and not due to any malice, and no additional students from either school were killed. We do not believe it is linked to any of the murders. In addition, the Magical Girl phenomena encountered in Akihabara earlier tonight does not seem to be linked either. We will now take your questions…>


------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Usaka turned off the television.

<So,> he thought, <it seems that TPCD doesn't want to outright link us to the explosion yet. Interesting. I wonder what Sonoda's game is.>

End | Day Two
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Author's Notes:
This thread has been yet another great experience and I want to deliver a big thank you to all those that have supported this fic. The comments and criticisms that I get pretty consistantly after each chapter are all that keep me at it...and I just want to thank you guys for it all. I'm doing it for you guys at this point. :)

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