Meagen narrowed her eyes slightly. As her speed increased, the world around her became darker and silent. Soldiers of various factions seemed frozen in place to her, the battle turning into an eerie sculpture gallery.

*So this is what it all gets down to...*

There were no tactics involved, no alliances. Everyone was fighting everyone else. Only the very distinct looks of the armies involved prevented the battle from becoming a mass slaughter. Some distance away from her, Draegos was engaged in a swordfight with some Mihoist she couldn't recognise. They seemed to be moving sluggishly, which probably meant they were in full bullet-dodging mode to everyone else.

Suddenly, a bright light shone over the battlefield. Practically no-one took any notice of it: only Meagen was moving fast enough to have any time to think of the surroundings. But in her dark world of bended physics, its brightness was especially noticeable, almost blindning.

Meagen's heart filled with hope. "Are you the seventh?", she asked. There was no response, but somehow she felt sure she was right. "Please, help us!", she called out. "This can all be stopped, if you just..."

The light shone brighter, then winked out. Meagen's heart fell.

"No! Don't go! You have to-"

She fell out of hyperspeed with a lurch, just in time to see Draegos fall. His opponent had pierced him right through with his sword - armor and all - and Meagen was sure that awesomeness or not, the Texan was not going to get up on his own. A deep, violent rage welled up in her, blotting out all other thoughts and she-

-she sat up on the bed with a violent surge of adrenaline. Slowly, she composed herself, looking around the faintly-lit room, and then checked to assure herself that her boyfriend was sleeping peacefully next to her, not immediately threatened by any sword-weilding deadies.

Draegos stirred at her touch, and opened one eye. "Wha's wrong?", he muttered, seeing she was awake.

"Oh, nothing", Meagen sighed. "Just had a terrifying prophetic dream of your death that will come true despite my best attempts to hinder it."

"Ah. 'kay."

She smiled, kissed him slightly, and they went back to sleep.

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

Somewhere in Megatokyo, a magical transportation aura shimmered into existance, then resolved into the form of a red-haired woman in an expensive-looking blue buisness suit. She looked around, then nodded.

"It has begun", she said to no-one visible, and then walked forward. A few snowflakes fell to the ground behind her, and quickly melted in the hot summer night.

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

AN: And... it begins. ^__^ Comments and such are, of course, welcome.
Erika Hayasaka stood behind the counter at Megagamers, glancing at her watch every now and then. Piro was late again, and she was in a hurry. She adjusted her Miyu outfit and tapped her foot slightly.

There was a clatter of CDs on the counter. "Excuse me...?", said a male voice.

Erika turned around, and experienced a profound deja vu. On the counter lay two CDs signed with her name, and an unfamiliar guy was staring at her with a knowing smirk.

It wasn't the same guy as before - one of Piro's weird friends from America, as she recalled - but a similar enough type of guy, especially with the jacket and glasses. He seemed to be well-armed, and held a strange-looking gadget in his hand.

Ah, one of *those* people.

Erika reached under the counter for the device that would alert the nearby EEK team. "Can I help you...?", she inquired impassively, keeping eye contact.

The guy nodded, then suddenly pointed the gadget at her. "Remember", he said.

And she did.

He caught her limp body in one hand, then let it drop onto the counter, and left as if nothing had happened. No-one saw him go.
Erika slowly came to, feeling someone shake her insistently. She opened her eyes and with some difficulty focused them on a face. A familiar face, with a wild mop of red hair over it.

Largo looked grim as he checked her pulse and shone a flashlight into her eyes. He prodded a bit at her neck, and she heard him mutter: "...no bite marks. It must be a psychic vampire."

He was holding her close, and yet she didn't feel threatened. He certainly didn't have any ulterior motives right now. His examination, though obviously not too professional, was not in the least intimate. She felt a bit like a piece of evidence.

And even if he tried to cop a feel, she felt too tired to do anything about it right now...

"l33tmaster?", she heard another voice from somewhere above them. "We take girl to hospital?"

Largo shook his head. "They would not understand... the f00lz..." Then he seemed to have an idea. "...no, wait. There is one place where they are aware of the true nature of things. Where l33tn3ss is prized, and undead are treated with the loathing they deserve." He stood up dramatically. "Follow!"

Erika's back was on the way to a painful encounter with the floor, but someone caught her swiftly and held her up in a fireman's cradle. She squinted slightly at the ninja with brightly-colored hair.

"<...oh, it's you...>", she said faintly.

Junpei nodded. "<Fallen warrior need help. Then come back to battle stronger. But now, rest - Junpei bring you to place of healing. Trust l33tmaster.>"

Erika managed to smile very slightly before falling unconscious again.
The door opened and a Rei wearing a Senshi uniform similar to Sailor Saturn's walked out, a pensive look on her face. IntelliAyanami jumped up from where she'd been sitting next to Iain Caduceus, trying to cheer him up. "Well...?", she said.

Magical Girl Rei shook her head. "I'm really not sure. All the symptoms correspond to energy draining by a demon, but the magical signature is completely different." She paused, then glanced at Iain, still rather miserable after such an attack on his boss and favourite Main Character. "Excuse me", she asked, "could I read your aura for a minute...?"

He looked up, somewhat surprised, but nodded. Rei closed her eyes and moved her hands in front of his face, as if trying to frame it. Finally, she stood up and nodded. "That's it. That's the signature I felt."

"You're not accusing-", IntelliAyanami began, but the other Rei lifted her hand. "No, I mean it's the same *kind* of signature. Similar power."

"So the attacker... is a *Technomancer*?", C-kun asked.

"That's what it feels like to me. Maybe we should get Meagen to double-check", Magical Girl Rei suggested.

"I'll call her", IntelliAyanami nodded.

C-kun stood up, his face serious. "I have to look into this. Ayanami-san, Ayanami-san, Mizuno-san, please excuse me." He summoned his holotop, keyed in a command, waited for an authorisation, then vanished in a blaze of light through the nearest Ethernet port.

IntelliAyanami sighed. "Well, it looks like we're not getting much further right now, 'mam. I'll let you know when we have something."

Acting Head Nurse Tohru Mizuno stood up from where she'd been observing the proceedings. "Thank you, Rei-san. Please tell me when Meagen-sempai gets here." She hurried outside, or would have, if someone didn't choose that moment to try to enter the waiting room.

Good reflexes on both sides avoided an accident. "Sorry...", she began, only to realise the other person had said it as well.

Tohru and Lightsider regarded each other through the doorframe, both of their faces just barely hiding a deep pain. The akward moment stretched until Lightsider broke eye contact and stepped back, allowing Tohru to pass. This she did, vanishing down the coridoor without a word. The doctor walked up to IntelliAyanami, who had to remind herself once again that htting him would not make anything any better, and would probably make her fist hurt.
The telephone rang cheerfuly. Everything always seemed to be cheerful in the small house that Meagen and Draegos had bought to live in, when she abandoned her position as Head Nurse and he - as YLF commander.

They had changed their typical attires when they became civilians - they mostly wore jeans and t-shirts now. Draegos favored black clothing, and his pantlegs always seemed to get ripped and torn in various places. He looked pretty much the same as always, especially on the rare occasions when he put on his old holster and armor for some reason. Meagen had always had the fashion sense of a Power Ranger whose hero costume was blue. Jeans and a seasonally-appropriate top in some shade of blue was her attire most of the time.

Today was no different, and the aforementioned phonecall found her in a light blue t-shirt proclaiming that the wearer was cute. She finished dripping cranberries over her meat before answering. "Hello?"

Her face changed to a look of alarm. "What?!" She cried, then listened for a while, nodding occasionally. "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Right.... Uh-huh. I understand." She hung up.

"Who was that?", Draegos asked, looking up from his part of the dinner.

"Wrong number", Meagen said unconcerned, sitting down and starting to cut into her roast.

"Ah. That reminds me...!", he said suddenly. "Rei-chan called when you were busy cooking. She wants your help with something. Sounded pretty upset..."

"Hm. Prolly important, then." Meagen considered this for a moment as she finished cutting a small piece of the meat. She ate it, then stabbed her fork into the rest of the dinner and ate it in one gulp - mashed potatoes, garnish and all. "I'll get over there now."
Meagen was on her way back home, nodding thoughtfully to herself. Her own scan had confirmed Magical Rei's impression, but didn't reveal anything beyond that. Afterwards, she helped tend to the Main Character for a while, feeding her high-sugar foods (since CPAE would not work on her), and generally giving her the treatment for energy drain victims.

Erika was recovering, albeit slowly, from the drain-caused apathy, but there was a haunted look about her that suggested there was something more traumatic about her experience. When Meagen had asked, however, Erika said she felt tired and wanted to sleep, so she had left her in the nurses' care.

Her steps carried her up a rather steep slope. At the top, there was a nice view of part of the city, with the sun setting behind it. Meagen stopped to take it all in - the black outlines of buildings, punctuated here and there by the yellowish light of a window, and the deep red color of the sky beyond.

A shadow grew slightly bigger in the street behind her. The red-haired woman smiled silently as she watched Meagen, considering her next move.

"Excuse me, 'mam", said a voice behind her, "But this is a No Lurking zone."

She turned, startled, to find the brown-haired girl standing there, smiling at her in a polite, but inquisitive way. Despite herself, the woman whipped her head around to look at where Meagen had previously been, and saw no-one there. She turned back, composed herself, and said: "Ah, yes. Your powers are quite remarkable indeed..."

"Powers?", Meagen looked genuinely surprised. "What powers?" She gave a wide, disarming smile.

The woman opened her mouth, closed it, then shook her head slightly. "In any case", she began, getting back on track, "it's because of your nature that you've been chosen to be the agent of change."

"Chosen?", the ex-nurse blinked. "By whom?"

"Well, mostly me", the woman admitted with a grin. "You may call me Sayaki, by the way. I'm what you might call a freelance meddler - and this plane will soon need some serious meddling. I think you're the best person to do this, Meagen Image."

"Who?", Meagen asked, with the disarming smile again.

"Ah, yes, pardon me... my mistake. You're not the *same* person as her, but..." Sayaki paused. "... Meagen. Just Meagen. Am I right?"

"That's more like it!", she nodded happily.

Sayaki smiled. "The first thing you should know is that what happened to Erika Hayasaka was only the first of a series of attacks. There will be more attacks, and they will target the female Main Characters." She lifted up a hand, stopping Meagen's next question, and added, "And if you figure out why Erika was the first, then you can probably guess who will be next. Farewell... for now." Sayaki turned around, and vanished in a shower of blue sparks.

Meagen blinked slightly. "Whaaaa...?"
Despite her cute and rather infantile exterior, Meagen was not stupid. Her mind was working as well as when she had been a more serious character, and her mastery of the Silly gave her an acute awareness of the world around her, especially when it came to clichees.

Still, she could only do things that were *funny*. She considered going to where Sayaki was and asking for clarifications, but then shook her head. The mysterious woman's base of operation had not been revealed yet, so having that kind of outside knowledge at this point wouldn't be funny, it would just be stupid.

*What did she mean by that...?*, Meagen wondered, as she went on her way down the other side of the slope, towards her home. *If I figure out why Erika was the first target, I'll know who's next... What makes Erika special among the Main Characters, from the point of view of an attacker?...*

Meagen stopped, then broke into a run. *Security! Erika has a faction, and all the time she spends there, she's virtually untouchable.* With one bound, she was on the rooftops, and hopping along to a nearby part of town. Thoughts raced across her head. *If they didn't get her by the time the pattern of the attacks was established, she could lock herself in and be safe. That means they'll go after the second well-defended character now...*

She was nearing her target now. *No-one knows where she lives. Can't attack her at school, too many people. But the perfect opportunity is when she finishes classes and goes straight to...*

*The Cave of Evil!*, Meagen finished her reasoning, her last jump landing her directly in front of this building. The last rays of the sun were quickly dying down, and strange multi-colored light was sipping out into the street from within the rave hall.

As she was considering her next move, she heard a familiar voice from a nearby dark alley, though the words weren't directed at her.

"<What do you want?>", Miho was asking someone, her voice threatening, with just a small undertone of fear.

There was a short pause, and a man said simply, "Remember."

The next thing Meagen noticed was a very bright flash from that alley. She got there just in time to catch the falling Miho by the shoulders, and ease her onto the ground. Perfectly on cue, various Mihoists began pouring out of the Church, attracted either by the flash of light or the sudden surge of power that had come with it. A thickening crowd of them began to form around their prone Mistress, laying with her head on Meagen's knees. They stared in collective shock while Meagen had an acute sense of impending doom. She began counting under her breath.
Just as Meagen finished saying "eight", someone shouted "Get her!" and all Hell broke loose as the various CoMmies rushed forward, intent on capturing the girl who had assaulted their mistress.

Fortunately, she had only been at "seven" when she tensed up and with one elegant leap, placed herself on the nearest rooftop and with a clear head start.

The chase was on.

As she bounced from roof to roof, closely pursued by about two dozens of black-coated Player Killers, Meagen considered her options. Going to hyperspeed required about a minute's concentration, so she couldn't do that yet. She had to go back at some point, explain that the attack was not her doing, and try to find out more. But for now, she had angry Mihoists on her tail, intent on capturing her or worse.

A mischievious grin formed on her face. She had missed this.

She slowed down slightly, making her jumps shorter, the rests between them longer. It wasn't obvious, but it was enough for the quickest of her pursuers to catch up. She landed in a crouch, listened for the sound of a blade (most likely a katana) being drawn from a steath behind her-

-then twirled around and launched herself straight at the Mihoist. Quite surprised by this turn of events, not quite sure if he should attack, dodge or defend himself, he did nothing to stop Meagen from soaring past him, then kick off for another jump from his back. Propelled downwards by the Laws of Anime Physics, he ended slamming face-down onto the sidewalk below, sending up a cloud of concrete dust. By the time he regained counciousness, he had completely lost sight of the chase. (He had a slight nosebleed, but was otherwise unharmed.)

Meanwhile, Meagen had made two consecutive leaps straight through the group of pursuers, similarly confusing them and sending them into complete disarray. The slower ones suddenly found themselves closer to her, blocking the way of the faster ones. They spent a while attempting to regroup without losing sight of Meagen. The latter, at least, was quite easy, as she was now glowing with a bright blue light which most of them recognised from their training as her battle aura.

They followed the streak of blue light as it moved from rooftop to rooftop, until suddenly it flew straight up, seemingly vanishing into the night sky. This perplexed the pursuers somewhat, until they realised the chase had brought them to the foot of Tokyo Tower. And the rogue Largo fangirl was now trapped up there.

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

[AN: It's not dead yet! This chase scene may take a while, though. ^^;]
Tokyo Tower stood out from the cityscape, its top soaring high over the nighttime lights. Meagen was crouching on the very pinnacle, on top of the small red light that server as a warning to aircraft. This high up, even the loudest noise from below was lost among the howling of the wind.

She didn't seem bothered by the precariousness of her perch, the long drop to the ground below, the angry Mihoists closing in, or the creature who was currently sharing the tiny space with her.

This was a rather remarkable creature, even by Megatokyo standarts. Short, similar in shape to a penguin, but covered in gray fur, with white sneaker shoes on its "legs" and a green and white striped scarf around its "neck". It sat back-to-back with her, mirroring her movements.

Meagen scanned the horizon, one hand over her eyes as if to shield them against nonexistant sunlight. Slowly, she turned her head from left to right, then switched hands and turned the other way. She took a look back over the Doubtful Guest's head as it ducked to watch the space in front of her. She took another long, panning look at the cityscape, then picked up the !penguin and held it away to allow them both a look in the opposite direction. Then she set the creature back down, seemingly oblivious to its presence.

Meanwhile, below her, things were getting complicated.

"Nonono. See, I'm a Minion of the *First* Order, With Plenty Of Style. I'm clearly the senior of the group here, so you should all do what I say." One of the PKs glared at the others, fiddling with the grip of his katana.

"Ha!", his most vocal opponent shouted back, "I may be only a Second Order, but I have a Special Mention For Wonderful Cosplay, and I'm a member of the Mahou Fan Horde! Mahou-sama once personally 'Meep'ed at me!" This caused quite a stir among the group.

One of the girls cut in. "I have a Ribbon of Miho which Lady Shadowdancer personally bestowed upon me for my rendering of the Darkly Cute One in art."

There was more muttering at that, but the First Order Minion quickly cut in: "Okay, okay, so you're a good artist, and you're a cosplayer, that's all well and fine but it doesn't give you any authority. I have the most style, and-"

"Excuse me", one of the others interrupted, "but can't we just split up and go get her? This is a pretty clear situation, for Miho's sake. We've got her cornered and we just need to go get her. Why are we fighting over titles *now*?"

The First Order minion and the cosplayer glared at him in unision, then shook their heads. "N00bie", the cosplayer muttered.

Before he could respond, the girl cut in again. "I have a Ribbon of Miho!", she shrieked, waving said artifact around in a clenched fist. "Shadowdancer-sama gave it to me personally, after-"

"Oh, shut up", the First Order Minion snapped angrily. The girl stopped, then her mouth shook visibly.

"Hidoi...", she muttered, and everyone winced. The Minion stepped back in alarm.

"N-no! Wait! I didn't... I mean-!", he pleaded.

The girl's eyes glittered slightly as she almost radiated with hurt feelings. The other two girls in the group, who weren't affected by the threat of tears, noticed that she managed to look quite stylish while wibbling. This was a rare feat, and no doubt the lady Shadowdancer would soon take notice of this young servant of Miho.

For now, the wibble was having its desired effect, as the would-be leader not only capitulated, but was really sorry he ever started the fight. "Okay! Okay! You win-! Please don't... *Please*..." the wibble lessened, to his relief. "*Please*... lead us. Milady."

The girl broke into a smile. "All right! Everyone, let's split up and head upwards. We shall corner the cursed Largo fangirl who *dared* harm Miho-sama, and we will shall bring her to the Lady Shadowdancer to be judged!"

The others all broke into cries of agreement, except one who still seemed confused about the intricacies of the CoM's lower chain of command. Breaking up into a few small groups, they began scaling Tokyo Tower with long, gravity-defying jumps and levitation magic.

Meagen and the Guest knelt down, carefully peeking over the edge as the Mihoists closed in. Whisps of conversation began to reach them.

"...clear so far..." "...nothing in the elevator..." "...western side, either..."

"Hey, I can see something up there!"

Meagen snapped up reflexively, then noticed the Doubtful Guest's scarf was blowing in the wind, unfurling way beyond the edge of the platform.

She looked at the !penguin. It looked back at her.

She grabbed its "neck" just above the scarf, and held it out at arm's lenght. It kept looking at her, its expression unreadable.

She gave her best cute smile. "Sorry", she said, and let go.

There was a muted "Oof-!", and the sound of steel bending under great pressure. There were some cries of surprise, which quickly turned to screams of fear. Then there was the sound of several people being brutally, horribly, excessively pied.

Then there was silence.

Grinning to herself, Meagen hopped down from her perch.

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

[AN: The first part of this scene didn't quite come out right, but anyone who watches cartoons probably knows what it's supposed to look like.
Less than half of the Mihoist Player Killers remained on her trail now. Bouncing from roof to roof, Meagen decided to wrap things up. She led them to another landmark - not quite as imposing as the Church of Miho, but still pretty grandoise in a low-budget way.

The Order of Rent-A-Zilla's Cathedral.

Landing on a flat part of the roof, she spun around and stood there, dramatically framed in the glow of the OCSB's various neon signs.

As the remaining five black-clad pursuers landed on the far edge of the roof and began advancing, drawing their weapons, she spun around, the Big Stick appearing in her hand to be twirled, and finished in a pose that was somewhere between a martial artist's and a magical girl's.

"All right", she said, in a low, dark voice, sweeping her glance across her opponents. "This is it. No more running. No more tricks." Four of the guys were standart Mihoist stock, with standart Mihoist katanas held in standart cinematic fashion. They all shrunk back slightly as her gaze fell on them, but held their ground.

The girl in the front of the group, however, advanced unflinchingly even when Meagen gave her best glare. She was dressed in a tight-fitting top, a short skirt that fluttered slightly in the breeze, non-transparent tights and flat-soled boots. The ensemble was in the traditional black and purple, and gave the impression of being reasonably comfortable for combat as well as stylish. Her dark hair was cut short except for one long lock hanging in front of her left ear, with a purple ribbon magically suspended in it. It looked rather like Lain cosplaying Miho, or possibly the other way around.

She drew her own weapon - not a katana, but a thin, straight blade with a short grip and a decorative guard, a rapier. Hefting it in a traditional fencer's grip, she advanced, her bright purple eyes never leaving Meagen.

"You were quite clever, leading us on a merry chase like that", she said. "Thinning out our numbers. But you stopped much too soon." She smirked. "You were lucky. But now... we are five against one. You have no chance."

One of the male Mihoists stopped his careful advance to whisper to the next one, "She's new in town, isn't she?"

The other one nodded. "Very much so." He sighed slightly. He had been regretting his decision to take off after Meagen, and cursing the luck which had allowed him to remain in the race this long. There was no way to back out and remain stylish now... And their 'leader' would probably tell them to leave Meagen to her any minute now.

"Leave her to me", the Mihoist girl told the fanboys, who obediently halted just out of reach. One of them sighed again.

The two girls faced off, stick and rapier at the ready. A tense hush fell over the group.

"It ends now", Meagen said.

"Make your move", the Mihoist (whom Meagen had mentally nicknamed "Ribbon Girl") invited. The fanboy winced.

"Okay. I give up", Meagen said in a normal voice, dropping her Stick to the ground, and smiling at them cheerfully.

The five Mihoists looked at her for a full ten seconds, completely speechless.

Then the roof collapsed.

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

"The snow collects in the mountains slowly", Phydeaux intoned, as the elevator began its ascent.

"But when the avalanche starts, none may halt it", Asimov responded.

"We are the mountains. The snow is our funding", Phydeax went on.

"When we collect enough funding, we shall let loose the avalanche of a Rent-A-Zilla Rampage!", Asimov bellowed.

A loud, earth-shaking crash sounded through the whole building. "What the *hell* was that?", Phy-chan cried, which wasn't actually part of the spiel.

Asimov looked sheepish. "Oh. I suppose that was the snack bar's roof... I, uh, sort of had it only temporarily repaired. To save some snow. I mean, cash."

Phydeaux glared at her leader. "And you do realise that cleaning up after a collapse will cost *more* than you've saved, and you'll have to have the roof repaired properly anyway?!"

"Oh. Uh, yeah, I guess so."

The redhead shook her head. "And you wonder why it's taking us so long to save up for our ultimate goal..."

"Hey! The snow collects in the mountains slowly, but-"

"We did that part already", Phy-chan reminded him, then pressed a button. The elevator stopped, then went back down. "C'mon, let's see what happened down there."

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

[AN: Whew! This chase scene wasn't *supposed* to take this long... I swear, the next part's the aftermath, so we can get on with the plot. Stay tuned!]
The pile of pots, pans and other assorted kitchen utilities shifted, and Meagen emerged from the top, with the obligatory kitchen pot on her head covering her eyes. (Despite the fact that the pile seemed to contain a good deal of pointy objects, she was unharmed.) She pushed her tin hat up to survey the scene before her.

She was in the OCSB kitchen, probably the only place in the world where the words "food fight!" were shouted with alarm and horror. One of the stock Mihoists was stuck from the waist down in a vat of Hellfire Chilli, screaming "IT'S EATING THROUGH MY PANTS!!!!". (He was pulled out in time to be relatively undamaged by the substance, though his chibi-Ping-printed boxers caused some comment.)

Another had landed right in the middle of a rather large dish, among various garnish, to the great puzzlement of the cook (who had never seen anything that looked *this* similar to a normal creature leave his kitchen).

Though she couldn't see it from her position, a third had dropped face-first into a plate of Cataclysm Stew, prompting the predictable exchange of "Waiter, there's a deadie in my soup!" - "Quiet, sir, or everyone will want one" between an irate patron and Durden, the shapeshifting waiter(ess). A fourth had ended up right on top of Vetrinari, the giant human-shaped cobat mecha, who had been just having an electronic equivalent of a pleasant daydream about Rei "Skuld" Ayanami.

She was most concerned, however, with Ribbon Girl, who had fallen right into the grip of the Monster Calmari. And with one glance at her, Meagen ralised she had somehow slipped into Bad Hentai mode. Her eyes had grown bigger and impossibly sparkly, her chest was a size that should have given her huge lowe back problems. Despite the fact her rapier was within arm's reach, all she seem could do against the advancing tentacles was to bat at them with one hand and issue one shrill scream after another.

Now, a calmari's arms are not really a sexual organ, and it shouldn't find human females attractive anyway. But this was Megatokyo - a place where reality was shaped by the imagination of horny fanboys. There was way too much tentacle hentai out there to *not* influence any tentacled animal. And especially not one bred near a nuclear waste dump, and thus (thanks to Monster Movie logic) just about the right size to fill in for a demon of lust.

And with the Mihoist in Bad Hentai mode, this could turn very ugly, very fast.

Meagen looked around for her Stick, but quickly realised blunt weapons were not the way to go. She took the pot off her head, grabbed two knives from the pile, and twirled them with a determined look on her face.

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

Phydeaux and Asimov made their way across the bar, past an irate Dreadnaught, past where a Mihoist was coughing up soup and hyperventilating, into the kicthen past another Mihoist who seemed to have lost his pants, and another one still lying on a dish as the day's special.

There they stopped, and stared.

Meagen was a blur of speed, the knives in her hands twinkling in the air as she chopped up lemon after lemon, sending the slices straight against the tentacles of the Monster Calmari. The creature was shrivelling and retreating as quick as it could back into its armor-plated fridge. Meagen dropped the knives, sent one last slice of lemon to splat against a tentacle, and ran up to catch a Mihoist girl (her black clothes a bit rumpled, but still in one piece) from the creature's clutches.

As the last tentacle vanished and the fridge shut with a CLANG, Ribbon Girl stirred, then looked up at Meagen. "You... saved me", she said slowly. "Th- thank you."

"No problem!", Meagen said cheerfully.

The girl surprised her by throwing her arms around her neck, and sobbing violently. "Oh, it was so *awful*!", she cried. "That *monster*... it wanted to... oh Kami, I don't want to think about it..."

"Um... there there?", Meagen ventured, akwardly patting the Mihoists's head.

The girl looked up at her, giant round eyes sparkling. "Only one thing can make me forget that", she said, and kissed Meagen in a way that was much more than friendly.

After a split-second of shock, Meagen let her instincts take over.

She reached behind her for a frying pan, and clubbed the Mihoist on the head with it. There was a noise like a large gong, and Ribbon Girl passed out.

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

Shadowdancer glared. Even Meagen, who was probably the hardest person to harm in the whole of Megatokyo (second-hardest if you counted nonhuman creatures), felt nervous under that glare. Sitting in seiza opposite her on the floor of the now-empty Cave of Evil, she felt like she was being called to see the principal.

"Even if we assume you weren't behind the attack on Miho-sama", Shadowdancer admitted, though her voice made it clear she doubted it, "You still knocked out, pied or otherwise hurt ten of our Minions, caused a man-sized dent in Tokyo Tower with one, and you owe another a new pair of pants."

Dark Templar Manta leaned forward and in an undertone, said, "Don't forget, she also set back the ORAZ Rent-A-Zilla budget another few months, and crippled their ability to make most of their dishes for the next week."

Shadowdancer sighed. "Yes, I suppose there are *some* mitigating circumstances..."

Manta nodded. "There's also the matter of Miho-chan..."

Meagen looked confused. "Miho...-chan?"

"The girl you brought back", Shadowdancer explained. "Her name is Hitomi Miho, so we all call her Miho-chan. As opposed to Miho-sama." She sighed. "She was a very promising young artist, but since she returned..."

"Oh Hoturi-sama!", came a shrill scream from the direction of the CoM Clinic. "Take me! Take ne *now*!"

"Gyyyaaaah!", came the white-haired Mihoist's voice. "Put your nightshirt back *on*!"

Shadow sighed. "Manta-kun, could you go help him, please?"

"It sounds like nothing he can't handle", the High Templar mused. Before his beloved leader could glare at him, he quickly went around to the Clinic.

"How *is* Miho?", Meagen inquired. "The other one, I mean. You should bring her 'round to the Hospital, we've got the best treatments for energy drain."

"How did you know she has had her energy drained?", Shadowdancer asked quietly, but with a dangerous undertone.

Meagen shrugged. "The same thing happened to Erika-sama this morning. Plus I very nearly saw it happen", she explained patiently.

"The Darkly Cute One has lost much of her power, but I've devised a spell which will help. I will be putting it in motion now", Shadowdancer told her. After a short pause, she added: "...you may stay and observe the ritual if you wish." This was a formality which had developped soon after BGMaster's death: invite Meagen to everything. That way if she showed up, you didn't have to attempt to kick her out.

Meagen nodded thoughtfully. "I think I'll do that."

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

[AN: Plot's back on track! Finally.]
A pair of tall doors opened before Shadowdancer, revealing the biggest assembly of Miho fans that Meagen had seen in her whole life. She knew some of the people here - among the more notable personnages were Integral the sexy blonde webmistress, Tohya the Miho cosplayer, Hanatoko the bartender, and Izuko, formerly of EM, still searching for his place in the world - and others, she'd probably recognize from sight except for her habit of never looking back when pursued.

The size of the crowd, and the fact that it contained visibly new alcolytes as well as familiar high-level faces, led Meagen to believe that what she was seeing was in fact the entire membership of the Church, right down to the newest minion. She reflected that the CoM was bigger than one could expect, but that it wasn't all that big. Somehow, the thought made perfect sense to her.

Shadowdancer led the way to a raised section of the assembly hall, where stood a series of stylish tall-backed chairs, almost like thrones. A hush fell over the crowd as she approached. Hoturi and Tohya excused themselves and made their way forward, taking the two seats on the far left and far right, respectively. Shadowdancer stood in front of the cantral seat, facing the assembled Mihoists, as Manta took his seat between her and Hoturi. With a nod to Meagen, the Right Hand of Miho gestured towards the empty seat.

The former Head Nurse moved forward, and stopped short. The seat was already taken.

It wasn't quite clear exactly how BGMaster, the previous head of the Church, had met his demise. It would have taken quite a powerful adversary to bring down what ammounted to the most powerful non-comedic, non-Main-Character person in Megatokyo. But he was definitely dead, along with his wife Yukiko, a good friend of Meagen's and incidentally a powerful combat EDS unit. For some reason, however, his spirit had been periodically returning to Megatokyo. Perhaps he was stubbornly refusing to leave the affairs of the Church for good (treating death as a more secure version of retirement), perhaps he had to atone for some of the deeds in his long and exciting life, perhaps he just got a kick out of haunting, as he had liked to impress and frighten people when he was alive. In any case, while his power had diminished significantly, Meagen found that he had become more annoying than she could've ever imagined.

And right now, he was sitting in the guest of honor's chair, and his grin and the more pronounced transparency of his body told her she was probably the only one who could see him.

"Uh, that's okay", she told Shadowdancer uncomfortably. "I'll, uh, just stand over here."

Shadow raised an eyebrow, but didn't comment. Turning to the awaiting crowd of Mihoists, she called out: "Minions of the Darkly Cute one, assembled here at my calling, hear me now! Our Mistress lies sleeping, stricken by a cowardly and devious attacker, who sapped away her lifeforce.

"Though she is not slain, it may take her many weeks before she regains her strenght." she paused, letting the words sink in. "But there is a way to help her. We, her faithful Church, may lend her some of our own energy. Though her power is far greater than any of us can ever weild, we are many. If each of us as we stand here gives their strenght to the cause, she will return to us even tonight."

Shadowdancer paused again, looking around at everyone assembled. Next to her, Meagen did the same, her eyes wide and her face in a rare expression of disbelief. Wether because of their leader's charisma, or their devotion to their Main Character of choice, no-one present seemed to mind the idea of giving up their energy. An overwhelming positive murmur swept the room, and Meagen caught small phrases like "sounds good" and "I'm up to that" and "when do we start?".

Shadow turned her head slightly and gave Meagen an almost imperceptible smile, then raised her hands for silence.

When she got it, she fell into a meditave stance, and concentrated. Wisps of her own energy as well as Necronomicon magic surrounded her small frame, as she chanted in some aincient language. She moved her hands, tracing a complicated pattern in the air - literally, because thin lines of light trailed behind her fingers, forming into a three-dimentional geometric design. Next, rows of small symbols began to appear in some of the planes, some of them scrolling past and out of sight, others staying in place. Finally, with one last gesture from the drow, the pattern faded out and a translusent orb about the size of a basketball faded into view. Inside, a small amount of silver fog was spinning on its axis like a miniature galaxy.

As the orb hung in mid-air where it had appeared, Shadowdancer breathed out, then sat down on the central throne. Meagen noticed her hands were shaking slightly. Finally, the leader of the Church found her voice. "This orb will drain the energy of anyone who touches it", she explained. "All those who wish to make a contribution, please step forward and place your hands on the surface." With a small nod, she indicated the nearest Minion, who promptly walked forward and up the stairs.

He looked into the orb for a second, gathering his courage, then said quietly: "For Miho-sama", and reached out.

The instant his fingers touched the surface, the orb lit up slightly. He winced instinctively, but held on as the spell slowly took his lifeforce, adding it to its contents. His breathing quickened, as if the air around him was getting thin, and drops of sweat appeared on his brow. Finally, he broke away from the orb, and bowed to Shadowdancer as well as he could with his knees shaking. She nodded, dismissing him.

And thus the procession began. Each of the Mihoists in turn stepped up, said those two words, offered as much of their energy as they felt they could spare, and then either wobbled away to rest or stayed to watch. After a while, the unfamiliar faces seemed to Meagen to be blending into the darkness of the room. One exception came when Izuko stepped up to the orb, bravely grasped it with both hands and held on until he passed out. Mahou, the dark-haired miko serving as a nurse to the CoM, even though she was actually a Piroist, caught his limp body and with the help of an assistant carried it back to the clinic, tsk'ing slightly.

She had to make several more trips like that, because emboldened by the ex-EM-worker's example, other Minions decided to give as much energy as they could before their bodies gave up on them. After the first hour, Meagen sat back in her seat in resignation, too tired to care whose ghostly lap she was occupying.

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

After another hour, the crowd had thinned considerably, the silvery fog was filling the sphere almost completely, and the senior Mihoists were taking their turns. Each one took more time, since they had more energy to spare. After Tohya removed her hand from the orb and wiped her brow with a white-laced sleeve, Manta and Hoturi exchanged glances, then nodded.

They stood up in unision, walked to opposite sides of the sphere, and stood at the ready, glaring at each other over the articaft. The slight change in tension woke Meagen up from a slight doze. Shadowdancer sighed and shook her head in resignation.

As if on cue, both Mihoists placed their palms on the magical device, letting their energy flow into it. Their eyes locked, each looking for signs of weakness in the other. They stood like that, first immobile, then sweating a bit, at lenght panting and shivering, neither willing to let go before the other did.

Suddenly, they both felt a slight pressure on their wrist, and their hands were gently but firmly moved away from the orb. They looked down at Shadowdancer, who smiled. "That's quite enough", she told them. With one last glare at each other, they went back to their seats.

The short drow, for her part, glanced worriedly at the silvery mist within the orb. It was almost, but not quite, full - the amount of energy in it would be enough to let Miho wake the next day, but it wasn't triggering the conversion spell yet. With a mental shrug, she prepared to trigger it manually...

...but then Meagen leaned forward, puffing at her extended finger as if she was blowing someone a kiss. A tiny blue spark floated from her finger tip and struck the orb, which responded with a melodious tone. The concentrated energy inside swirled fater for a second, then changed color to a deep purple.

Everyone present stared at Meagen in disbelief. She shrugged it off with her usual cheerful smile.

Shadowdancer took the orb carefully in both hands, dislodging it from its place. "Let us carry this energy to our lady Miho, then", she said.

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

[AN: From a Star Wars quote right into a Shakespeare reference. Wow.]
This room was much smaller and darker than the assembly hall. Several small round lamps bathed the room in a purplish glow which didn't quite reach the figure of Miho, slumped in a chair in what seemed a most uncomfortable position. Meagen briefly wondered if the piles of toys and plushies were Miho's collection, gifts from well-wishers, or possibly had some symbolic meaning.

Shadowdancer knelt down, raising the orb in front of her. She examined the contents carefully.

Her eyes widened. For one second, she could swear she saw a tine blue spark flash by silently in the sea of purple.

She shook her head, then looked again, but the phenomenon did not reappear. No reason why it should - the spell had been design to convert all the energy inside it to a type similar to Miho's own, so she could absorb it more easily and without any losses. It had worked perfectly, so even if Meagen had added some of her own energy, no traces of her aura could possibly remain. Shadowdancer dismissed the sight as a sign she was tired.

She raised the orb towards Miho, and prepared to cast one last spell.

"Oh Darkly Cute One", she muttered under her breath, "by the sacrifice of your loyal minions, by the gift of our own hearts, take this energy and be whole once more, to bless us with your power and your style."

As she spoke, the outer layer of the sphere vanished, and the purple fog began to disperse before being drawn to Miho's prone form in long, ribbon-like wisps. The power swirled around her whole body, envelopping her like a cocoon, and then sunk and vanished within her.

Miho Tohya stirred, and slowly lifted her head. As she opened her eyes, they shone with an eerie golden light. She stood up slowly, then very carefully and stylishly stretched.

Shadowdancer, for her part, got up slowly to her feet, then immediatley fell back. Manta was ready to catch her. As she struggled to stay awake, BGMaster walked up to her, making himself fully visible, which caused a bit of a stir.

The drow looked up at him, eyes clouded with exhaustion. "BG-sama...", she muttered.

He smiled. "You've done well. Now, rest." Laying a ghostly hand on her eyes, he cast a simple sleep spell. "Take her up to her quaters", he told Manta, who nodded, picked up his beloved in his arms and left.

BGMaster turned towards Meagen, his trademark smirk apeparing on his features. "You look tired as well", he observed. "I'd carry you home, but there's this small matter of being incorporal."

"Shut up", Meagen muttered, then yawned.

His smirk widened. "Perhaps I should get Hoturi to carry you? He has his hands free for now."

"Shut up", Meagen muttered again, then turned around. "I'm going home. Night-night, miss Tohya", she said, and left.

Miho smiled enigmatically. For just one second, the glow in her eyes turned sky blue.

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

"Well, I certainly wasn't expecting *that*", Sayaki confessed, falling in step next to Meagen. The brown-haired girl glanced at her blankly. "You actually gave some of your own energy to help Miho recuperate? Why did you do that, I wonder?"

Meagen shrugged. "Because it was funny", she said simply.

"M-hm", the mysterious woman nodded. "I see. It may lead to quite amusing results in the future, too. Well, you do realise what this means?"

"Miho is good as new and safe?", Meagen guessed.

"More than that. Nearly all the Mihoists have given away part of their own energy. Their mistress may be at full power, but they are not. They have lost the edge they had over everyone else... if something happens to threaten the balance of power, they may not be able to single-handedly keep it up, as they had before."

Meagen shrugged, though she didn't miss the way the "if" and "may" in the last sentence stood out like strap-on wings on a hamster. "You seem to know a lot of what... *may* happen", she observed.

"Yes", Sayaki grinned. "Yes, I do. Goodnight." With that, she vanished.

Meagen stopped, looking at the spot where the woman had been for a minute. "...that's two", she said to no-one in particular, then went home to bed.

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

[AN: Just a short one to finish day 1. Meagen will be sleeping in tomorrow, so the next story post will be by co-author Lightsider. Stay tuned, everyone, and thanks for all your kind words so far!]
The door to the dojo opened, and Lightsider stopped his combat exercises and looked at the intruder. His blank expression didn't even crack when he saw Nurse Tohru there, war fans in hand. Hers registered surprise, though. Surprise, then grief. Lightsider turned his back to the door and continued his exercises. He caught a glimpse of a blond-haired man behind her as he did. Vorlon, of course. The young man who sometimes worked as a janitor for the UFL.

"G… Gomen," She stuttered, then shut the door.

Tohru and Vorlon walked quickly away from the dojo, not noticing that Will Trent and Nurse EarthStar had seen the whole thing.

Dr. Will Trent made a shushing motion with his hands, and EarthStar nodded. He opened the sliding door to the dojo noiselessly, just a crack, and they both peered through at what was going on inside. Dr. Trent frowned. Even though he and Lightsider had been friends since they met, the week after the Virus attack on the hospital, there were still some things about the man he didn't understand.

The blades were immaterial, forged from Light and thought rather than steel and fire, but they still sang as they flashed through the air. They molded and reshaped themselves at the command of their wielder as he tried to reach into the meditation of the kata.

"How long has he been at it?" the young nurse whispered.

"An hour and a half now," Dr. Trent whispered back. "He's gone for half a day before."

"But why…?"

Dr. Trent's hand touched EarthStar's back lightly, quieting her. "It's all he can do," he said.

The air around his blades hissed as if in pain as the warrior spun and reversed his grip on both swords, thrusting backwards then slashing up again. A small disc of Light appeared on the floor, and Lightsider stepped on it, using it to launch himself upward into a high walkover backflip, wings spread. When he landed, his blades had melded into his hands, becoming Wolverine style claws.

EarthStar fiddled with one of her ever-present bits of duct tape. "I still don't understand what happened."

Will grimaced, then nodded his head at the crack in the door. "That," he said, "is what happens when you let your past get in the way of your future."

Lightsider's style became vastly more aggressive, matching the vicious weapons he now wielded. He spun, stabbed and slashed in a seemingly random berserker fury, yet each motion precisely controlled. The UFL practice dojo was filled with his heavy breathing and the harsh whisper of air meeting Light, but was otherwise silent.

"It was a hard choice, I guess," Will said. "And he chose not to choose."

"He's changed."

"Yeah."

Lightsider's kata eased, and became fluid and deceptive, with misdirected strikes and confusing parries.

"I guess I didn't notice until he shattered that fanboy's chest, then refused to help him at all," EarthStar shuddered at the memory.

Will nodded. "He was on probation for a long time for that one. I'm amazed Meagen and Intelli didn't fire him outright…."

Lightsider stopped, breathing hard. His claws reformed into two swords, and he dropped one, letting it dissipate before it hit the ground.

The other he flicked out and behind him, and it lanced into the crack between the door and the jamb. EarthStar squeaked as the molecule-splitting edge cut off a lock of her hair.

"Dammit Lights!" Will raged, throwing open the door. "You could have…."

"I'm not in the mood for spectators," Lightsider said, without turning. "Leave."

Will glared at his fellow doctor's back, then grabbed the shaken EarthStar's arm. "C'mon. Let's go."
Erika Hayasaka knew a great deal about Megatokyo. She knew that some of its inhabitants were idolised by various fanboys and fangirls. She knew that those same fanboys tended to fight amongst themselves, and she realised that there was profit to be made in selling them weapons. She knew that reality seemed to favour storytelling conventions over laws of physics. She also knew that an outright attack on her by one of the faboys was not a normal thing. Erika knew something was up.

But most of all, she knew that there was no way the Rei Ayanami nurses would let her out of the hospital so she could set her people to work investigating this.

Fortunately, the hospital's staff wasn't all female. As soon as the door closed behind the last nurse, Erika was up, and a few minutes later doctor Will Trent found her almost completely dressed in the Miyu outfit she had arrived in the previous day. "Miss Hayasaka!", he said reproachfully. "You shouldn't be out of bed. Your energy is still dangerously low, and-"

"I have important buisness to attend to", she cut in sharply, glaring at him. "You will sign my discharge now."

Will sighed internally. *First Lightsider, and now this...* "I really can't do that, Miss Hayasaka", he said plaintively. "I can't let you out of here if there's a chance you'll pass out in a few hours. It would be bad publicity for the Hospital."

"You're as stubborn as your idol of choice, doctor", Erika said impatiently. "And your ire is just as misguided. I feel perfectly fine. You *will* sign my discharge."

"Stubborn? Misguided?", Will blinked slightly.

To his surprise, Erika smiled a bit. "He is chivalrous, I'll give you that. Certainly different from all the men I've known in my life..." Snapping out of it, she glared again. "Now, about my discharge?"

"Different from... *Oh*. You mean Largo." Will paused a bit, then grinned. "Well, since you feel this strongly about it, I suppose I have no choice..." He browsed through his clipboard until he found a particular form, and quickly filled it out.

As Erika finished adjusting the costume, he handed her the paper with a bow. "Here you go. Remember to eat a lot of sugar for the next few days, and don't do any heavy lifting or such."

The nurse at the front desk was surprised, but didn't protest as Erika showed her the discharge and walked out. As soon as the Main Character was out of sight, she quickly dialed a number on the intercom and waited.

"M'am? I think Dr. Trent needs a talking to..."

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

Erika arrived at Megagamers late and with a day of absence behind her. Her boss was not pleased, but he hid it well. He didn't want to anger the violent girl, after all, and besides, she worked cheap.

Sometime later, keeping one eye out for customers, she opened her private communication relay to EM. She was soon talking to Ancestral Hamster, the old rodent who was the head of PR and like most of her fans, a brilliant poet.

"I don't care, make something up", she was saying. "News of this attack would cause panic among the stockholders." she paused, listening to a voice at the other end. "Yes", she said patiently, "but all those people are in a different reality. We just need to keep the two aspects from mixing." Another pause. "As I said, I don't care. Make up a good lie and keep them happy." She smiled. "Keeping a facade... yes, I'm quite good at that."

She disconnected, and briefly wondered what else she had to do in each of the reality levels she was present in. Suddenly, she heard a noise from the back room. She twirled around - she couldn't see much of it from her current position, though. Erika reached under the counter for the EEK alarm, hesitated, and closed her hand over the railgun lying there instead. Hefting this, she went around to investigate the noise.

It sounded like various books and occasionally CDs were being tossed around. The intruder was searching through the merchandise, looking for something...

Suddenly, there was a crash, and a girl screamed in terror. Erika burst into the back room, railgun in hand. "<Who's there?>", she demanded.

The room was empty, save for a huge mess. An overturned bookcase moved, and Piro crawled out from underneath it. "Ow...", he moaned. "Oh, good morning, Hayasaka-san." He surveyed the damage he had done, and sighed heavily. "I'm sorry... I hit my head on the shelf, and that must've unbalanced it..."

"<What were you doing in here?>", Erika asked, a bit weak-kneed with relief.

"I was looking for my bag", he explained. "I *know* I had it this morning when I left home, but now I can't find it... I thought maybe I put it down in here when I was restocking the shelves this morning, but I can't find it here either." He looked at Erika a bit more closely, and briefly wondered why she had such a strange taste in unweildy acessories.

He quickly forgot about it when she spoke again. "", his co-worker asked him. ""

"Uh... yeah... but I really have no idea why she did it!", Piro quickly fell into defensive blabbering mode. "I mean, first she has my bag and runs away, then she brings it back, then asks for art lessons, it's like she's following me or something, I have no idea who she is..."

Erika tuned him out, wondering about something.

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

[AN: Here we go again, folks!]
Yuki Sonoda was having trouble concentrating on the lesson. The old, semi-senile teacher was droning on about some war which wasn't even mentionned anywhere in the history book, and most of the class was ignoring him anyway, passing little notes and playing games on small portable consoles.

Yuki was a good student, and usually tried to pay attention, but today she had way too many internal distractions. Thoughts of the shy blonde American swirled in her head. His sketchbook. The drawings. The voice on the phone. The girl in the store...

And Asako and Mami, sitting on either side of her, were certainly not helping, with their constant knowing looks and little whispers. She only managed to catch a few words from the teacher every now and then, like-

"<...and then Draegos announced, 'the rivers will run red with necrophile blood!', to which Tragic Bill replied, ...>"

Yuki blinked. Why did those names seem so *familiar*? She checked the book in front of her, but of course it didn't contain anything even remotely resembling the teacher's ramblings.

At that moment, a note saying, "<What was it like when he kissed you? -A.>" landed on her desk. With a small snort, she uncapped her pen and began an annoyed response.

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

Across the street from Shirtsou Daitou, there was a small cafe. Seated at one of the tables was a scruffy-looking gaijin, completely unremarkable except for his light blonde hair. Sipping a milkshake, he idly checked the time every now and then. At the foot of his chair sat a slightly battered bookbag.

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

The front gate of the Temple of Ping swung open majestically. A visitor entered, and, as first-time visitors tend to, he stopped and gawked.

The Temple of Ping took their name just as seriously as the Church of Miho did, although not quite in the same way. They developped a system of philosophy based around the contemplation of the true nature of the robot girl (and her fondness of pie in particular). They liked to use small electronic gadgets as accessories, in the manner of the famous "earblade thingies". And, since they had a Temple, they filled it with murals depicting Ping in all aspects of her cute glory.

The particular piece opposite the entrance had been entitled "Ping flood", and its effect on the unwary viewer was much like the effect of its namesake on computers.

The stranger stood and gawked for a while, until a polite cough interrupted him. Sabyr, the Pilgrim, and an important teacher of the Way of Ping, smiled at him. "Welcome, brother", he said. "Have you come to join us, or maybe to learn about the Blessed One?"

"Good morn to you, good sir", the visitor replied. "I have other allegiances, I'm afraid, but the nature of Ping-chan intrigues me. I wish to know... about her emotions."

Sabyr's face lit up in a smile. "Then you will find no better place, and no better person to talk to. Come, let us walk in the garden", he said, indicating a side door.

The stranger nodded, delighted, turned away from the mural and followed the Pingfan.
It was a nice day, so Yuki and her friends were having their lunch outside. (Actually, Yuki had gone out in hopes of finding some peace and quiet, and her friends had followed to make sure she didn't get them.) The long-haired girl nibbled her bento without much enthusiasm. Tuning out Asako and Mami's chattering, she reflected on the past few days. Her eyes seemed vacant as her sight focused on something far, far away... it slipped around the sports field, the wall surrounding the schoolyard, the decorative vegetation-

-and suddenly came to rest on a familiar figure with blonde hair, standing just beyond the gate.

Yuki sat up with a gasp, startling her friends. The figure at the gate turned away, and started to walk off with a slouch in their shoulders. Yuki caught the faint glimmer of sunlight on glasses.

She stood up in a flash, her lunch spilling on the ground. "<Mr. Piro-san!!>", she cried, and ran off at top speed.

"<Yuki-chan? Where are you going? The lessons aren't over yet!>", Asako pleaded as she and Mami gave chase, but their friend didn't listen.

Yuki skidded to a halt beyond the gate, and looked around frantically. She noticed the blonde-haired stranger just as he was rounding a nearby corner. Her heart leapt as she caught sight of the familiar bag on his shoulder. Without a second thought, she ran after him.

They were in a narrow, dirty alley between buildings. Some part of Yuki's mind wondered what in the world he was doing in such a place at this time, and furthermore why she had something as crazy as run out of school to pursue him. She didn't dwell on it, though, much too happy to be able to see him.

"<Mr. Piro-san>", she began happily. "<Excuse me, but I'd really like to talk to you for a moment...>"

He turned around slowly in the limited space, holding something out. It was his sketchbook, opened on one drawing she'd found particularly interesting, and had commented on very extensively. Seeing it brought back so many memories at once, she lost track of what she was trying to say and fell silent.

Then the blonde man spoke. "<Remember>", he said, pointing a strange device at her with his other hand.

Yuki's piercing scream alerted Asako and Mami, who had just managed to lose track of her. By the time they found their friend, slumped against the wall and unresponsive, the attacker had fled. The only thing that remained was his bag, leaning against the wall next to the unconcious girl.
While Erika put the back room in some semblance of order, Piro was sent back to the cash register and the duty of "store watching". He was standing there now, looking tired and depressed (well, moreso than usual).

The sound of the front door opening interrupted his moping. He straightened his shoulders a bit, and put on what he assumed was a friendly smile. "Irrasha-", he began, but was cut off.

"<What did you do to Yuki-chan?!>", an angry schoolgirl demanded. A second, equally enraged girl stood behind her, as backup. Piro blinked, trying desperately to remember who these girls were and what they could possibly want from him.

"<Y-yuki?>", he stammered, trying to gain some time. "<I don't... I never...>"

"<I knew you were a bad man!>", the second girl chimed in. "<You took advantage of Yuki-chan, didn't you?! She was passed out just like Momo-chan when that gym teacher took advantage of her!>"

There was an uncomfortable pause, and Mami said in an undertone, "<Um, Asako-chan, do you even know what 'taking advantage of someone' means?>"

"<Sure>", her friend said, slightly confused, "<it was when Takagi-sensei kissed Momo-chan and then she passed out.>"

The short-haired girl groaned silently, then said: ""

Asako seemed a bit more confused. "<So... what *did* he do to Yuki-chan?>"

"<I'm not sure. We'll have to find out. But he couldn't have 'taken advantage' of her, okay?>"

"<'kay>", Asako nodded, and they both resumed glaring at the hapless blond clerk.

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

Sabyr found he had a very captive audience in the stranger. He was very glad for the rare occasion to present one of his Sermons in full. As he spun out his musings about the nature of Ping, however, he became aware that his new friend seemed to be trying to steer the conversation into one particular direction - that of Ping's feelings.

"But surely, brother", he said suddenly, stopping in front of a rock garden of sorts, where iron bars and pieces of concrete from some destoyed building were arranged in neat circuitry-like patterns, "surely you do not doubt that the Bodhisattva Ping's feelings are real, despite being set in code?"

"Oh, no, not at all", the stranger said hurriedly. "Of course Ping-sama is a real person, and her feelings are true feelings." Of course, expressing a different view in the circumstances would have been somewhat risky, as alcolytes of Ping were listening closely to their conversation, and they did not take lightly to anyone claiming their favourite Main Character was anything less than a real person.

Sabyr realised this, so he suggested gently: "Perhaps you would like to sit down someplace quiet to continue our talk?"

"Um, actually I'm a bit hungry", the stranger asked. "How 'bout we go get some pie or something?"

The Pilgrim's face lit up in a joyous smile. "That, my brother, is one suggestion that never needs be said twice in this Temple."

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

The short break had allowed Piro to gather enough of his wits to identify them - or their uniforms, at least. *Shiritsu daitou - that's the middle school attached to the high school that Ping-chan and the creepy girl go to!* Working from that, his brain managed to dig up memories of "the girl that wanted art lessons" and her two friends. "Anou...", he ventured, "<Did something happen to Yuki-chan?>"

If looks could kill, Piro... well, he'd be severely wounded, that much is certain. "<Don't play innocent>", Mami told him cooly. "<You walked up to the gate of our school at break-time and lured Yuki-chan out. When we found her, she was unconcious.>"

"<What?! Me?! But I... I didn't...>"

"<When did this happen?>", a calm but stern female voice came from behind Piro, and Erika emerged from the back room, glaring at the girls. Asako gave a small 'meep' and ducked behind Mami - she was reminded of several teachers that she really didn't like.

"<Just this afternoon, about three hours ago>", Mami explained, though her own bavardo was quickly fading.

""

Mami nodded. "<We took her to the school nurse, of course, but she still hasn't woken up...>" She trailed off, then held up a battered bookbag. "<Um... but... we found this next to Yuki-chan. Isn't it his...?>"

"My bag!", Piro cried happily. Snatching it from the startled schoolgirl, he examined the contents quickly. "Yes, everything's still there. Wow, of all the lousy luck, losing my bag twice in such a short time..."

"", Erika said calmly. "<Someone stole his bag to lay the blame on him. Makes sense?>"

"<Uh, I guess>", Mami nodded. Ignoring Asako's tugging at her sleeve, and insistent questions as to what was going on, she looked from Piro back to Erika. "<But... what *happened* to Yuki-chan? The nurse said Yuki-chan was just asleep... She didn't seem too worried, she said there's a girl in another class who also passes out a lot. But... Yuki-chan has never...>"

"", Erika said sternly. "<You'd better stop playing junior detectives before you make a bigger mess than you can handle.>"

"H-hai", the girls chorused.

""

"<No m'am>", came another chorus, and the two beat a hasty retreat.

Piro breathed out. "Thank y-", he began, but cut off when he noticed she wasn't listening. "Um... Hayasaka-san?"

"<I'm going out>", she said. "<Watch the store.>"
Sabyr eyed the stranger carefully over his cup of tea as they waited for their food. There was something very odd about the situation, and the Pingfan realised he had to choose his words very carefully.

He smiled internally, and concentrated.

Sure, "dating sim" games were simplified, and gave the player an advantage. Just by choosing the right options, they could win the heart of any two-dimentional girl.

But those conversations were, after all, modelled after conversations in the real world. And when you got down to it, talking to someone always involved making certain choices and hoping they'd react favorably. Sure, the number of conversation options was much bigger, but to an adept of the Way of Ping, it all boiled down to choices... and numbers.

"Ping's emotions...", the stranger was saying, half to himself. "Miho believes they are real. They seem very strong indeed. But... what is the key?"

"The key?", Sabyr echoed.

The stranger nodded, still looking a bit absent-minded. "People always keep their emotion in check. But everyone has a weak point... something that breaks down their barriers and lets their emotions run free. A key to their souls, if you will..." He blinked, then focused on Sabyr. "What do you think is the key to Ping's soul?"

"That is a very interesting question," Sabyr replied slowly, gently sipping his tea. "Much as with any person, there is no simple answer to that question. It is not like a door that is either open or shut. A person's emotional barriers can be wide open to one person, yet locked and barred to another.

"And of course, the situation is also important. Perception is everything. Trust, compassion, love. These are elements.

"But you speak as if you want something." Sabyr took a large bite of pie and chewed thoughtfully. "Yes, I see desire in your heart. You seek something more that knowledge for its own sake."

The stranger nodded a little. "Yes... we are seeking something. We all have a common goal. That is what brought us together - along with our love for the Master."

"Then what you seek holds within it the key. What is it you seek with the Bodhisatva? Tell me." Sabyr's eyes burned into the man, willing an answer to this simple question. He had given part of what the stranger desired, but in giving, had been able to penetrate enough into the strangers own emotions to exert influence on him.

There were few in Megatokyo that could successfully resist Sabyr's questioning when he had them alone in a quiet place. Whether it was gentle persuasion or insistent coercion, Sabyr was a master of the art.

"We seek... the power. The power of emotions that Ping and the other Main characters hold." The stranger didn't flinch, he merely answered the question as if it was plain for all to see.

Sabyr laughed aloud when he heard this. "You seek that?" he asked, still laughing. "And you think you could control it? Very well, I will tell you what you want to know.

"The Bodhisattva Ping, in her journey through life, has taught us the Four Roads to Enlightenment. One of these, the Road of Devotion, is relevant to what you seek. The Blessed One showed selfless devotion to her companions and thus walked her own path.

"For remember, she aided the Buddha Largo on his Path of Enlightenment with the holy lamppost... and she was the selfless companion to Piro the Great One, though in his ignorance and cluelessness he did treat her as a household appliance."

"So... you're saying that... they key to Ping's emotions is helping others?", the stranger interjected.

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

A bright beam of light shone out of an Ethernet port in the Shirtsou Daitou computer room. The beam widened and the figure of Iain Caduceus appeared. A couple of the students looked up from a Quake deathmatch and waved at him. With a nod in their direction, he stepped outside and headed for the nurse's office.

An ID declaring him to be a doctor, coupled with his distinguished appearance and his white labcoat, got him past nurse Sugawara with no fuss. Iain felt bad about presenting flase credentials, but he had direct orders from Erika-sama to investigate Yuki Sonoda.

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

"Yes, mark that lesson well", Sabyr was in full 'sermon' mode now, and there was little his companion could do but listen. "Even to the face of emptiness we can show love. Can not the slave love his master? Or the animal his keeper?

"Yet the Bodhisatva shows it greater than any mortal creature. For yes, she feels the hurt of others more strongly than her own hurt. And the pain and angst of the Great One she feels above all. Though we cannot fathom the true meaning of this, short of our own Enlightenment, we can know this... That Piro the Great One is of great importance to Ping, the Blessed One. Does that answer your question, stranger?"

Sabyr swayed a little in his chair. The exertion of his persuasion, the power of his words, and the rum in the pie were combining to make him feel lightheaded and weak.

"Piro. It always gets back to Piro, doesn't it?", the man mused. He was silent for a while, then said: "Yes. It does. Thank you. You may not know this, but you have just helped bring about a new age for Megatokyo."

Sabyr struggled to keep coherent. "New age? You cannot know what you are dealing with ... interference with ... Main Characters..." With some effort, Sabyr focussed again on the man. "What is it you want?" he demanded.

The man leaned forward on the table suddenly, eyes shining with a fanatic light. "What we want? I'll *tell* you what we want!"

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

C-kun raises his glasses a bit and rubbed his eyes with the back of a hand. He had found enough to determine the situation was alarming, but not enough to decide what he should do next.

The energy signature on Yuki was identical to what Erika had allowed him to scan off herself. That meant someone with Technomancer powers, or similar tools, was out there, and they were draining the energy of the Main Characters.

But what could be done about it? Short of guarding the Main Characters 24/7, he really couldn't see any way. He quickly typed up a program on his Holotop that would alert him if the signature manifested again, just in case, then prepared a report for Erika.

He left Yuki Sonoda in the same deep sleep in which he had found her.

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

That evening, a Temple novice stumbled on the body of Sabyr, laying face-down across the dias in front of the statue of Ping.

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

[AN: Thanks to Sabyr for the help in writing this post.]
The small crowd of alcolytes around the statue of Ping parted respectfully before Option Chihiro. He could hardly believe it, but there it was: Sabyr was sprawled across the dedication plate, and he wasn't moving. Kneeling down next to him, Opt turned him over gently.

*Still breathing, at least*, he thought. *By the Made Princess, what happened to him?!*

Suddenly his nose caught a faint scent. He siffed slightly, examined the prone body more closely, then took one of Sabyr's hands and sniffed at his fingers. He sighed heavily as his suspicion was confirmed.

"Sabyr, you idiot...", he said in a half-tone, more to himself than anyone else, "...you know you shouldn't eat rum pie." The Pilgrim's tolerance to alcohol was extremely low. To say it was zero would be overestimating it. He was known to get tipsy when a bottle of wine was opened in the next room.

Opt ordered two alcolytes to carry Sabyr to the infirmary, and told the nurses to keep watch. There was no telling how long it would be before the charismatic Pingfan woke up... or how hung over he'd be when he did.

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

Somewhere else, preparations were already brewing. The data gathered by the scout was analysed. The target's daily routines were mapped out. The blonde wig was being combed and dried after washing.

This would be a difficult operation mainly because of the risk of bodily damaged involved.

Meanwhile, another operative was reporting.

"...it's a good thing I don't actually want to work here, because if I did, I'd be quitting already. No support, no equipment, not even baisic training... I was just told, 'get out there and make a difference'. I-"

"That's enough, agent", his supervisor said. "You know what you're supposed to do. Go and do it." He grinned. "And they were right - you'll be making a difference."

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

At the same time, rumor was spreading. Yuki Sonoda had been attacked. She was hurt. She was dying. Wild theories raged, questions brought no answers and not even more questions, and through it all ran a deep current of fear.

Because if Yuki was hurt, it could mean only one thing: Draegos was going on a rampage.

Sooner or later, most of the rumors reached the pointy ears of the Right Hand of Miho. Shadowdancer curled up in the tall chair, definitely not rested enough, but refusing to leave her post.

"Draegos is going to blame this on us, isn't he...?", she asked Hoturi softly. "Whenever something happens to Yuki, he says it's the fault of the 'deadies'..."

"Shadow-sama...", Hoturi said, not sure what to say.

The drow sighed, and curled up tighter. "We can't stop him this time. We gave all our power to Miho-sama..."

After a longer pause, she added dreamily: "Oh Kami, I'm so tired..."

Hoturi exchanged a worried glance with the nearby Manta. They were both thinking the same thing: Draegos is probably swearing bloody revenge at this very moment...

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

Draegos put down his fork, settled back in his chair and let out a long yawn. Even microwave-reheated, Meagen's food was still tasty. He took the nearby remote for his galactic videocom, and set it to Animal Planet. The current feature was about a man who discovered a dove's nest on the balcony of his appartment.

Draegos' silvery eyes lit up at the sight. "Aaaw, so cute..."

He turned his chair slightly to have a better view of the hatchlings in the nest, and opened a can of Coke.
Iain Caduceus, head of R&D for Erika Multinational, paused in his typing for a moment, and let his glance wander to the window as he collected his thoughts. He was surprised to see the faint light of dawn creeping across the night sky, but not very much so. The nights were much shorter this time of year, and besides, he had been up for quite a while.

He chuckled slightly as he remebered the old geek joke, "Dawn is Nature's way of telling you to go to bed". He had gotten a few hours of sleep earlier, at the insistance of Renee Evangel, the magical girl of unclear origins who had become something of a daughter for him.

But his present job was an important one. It was not a new weapon design, and it wasn't even research that could lead to a new weapon design. It was a mission, plain and simple, given to him by none other than his boss and idolised Megatokyo character, Erika Hayasaka.

"I want you to forget all of your other projects, Iain", Erika had said. "I'm giving you special authorisation to request any equipment or data that the company has. You *have* to find out what's behind these attacks. I'm counting on you."

Iain couldn't tell what drove him more strongly to search for answers - the fact his boss considered the matter so important that she had given him special access priveledges, or her simple assertion that she was counting on him.

He was not normally prone to musing on such topics, but his current research was fast coming to a dead end. Exploring various digressions stopped him from feeling frustrated and helped his subconcious work over the problem even as his computer was processing large amounts of sensor data, comparing various energy signatures.

C-kun could only hope that it would all amount to something in the end.

[AN: For those keeping track, this is the start of Day 3. Much excitement still awaits.]
Meagen crawled out of bed around nine AM, with much grumbling and yawning. She had spent all the previous day following Kimiko around, reasonning that the attackers would need to get to her before her powerful and violent fanboys - the werewolf McFinnigan, the hockey player Hatcheter, the mercenary DietWaterCzar - decided to keep close watch over her. It seemed like Meagen's sense of plot had failed, though. She had seen no attackers, and had found out nothing new about Sasayaki. She did have a lot of inside information about the plot of the upcoming Sight game, for what it was worth.

Meagen took a nice long shower to wake herself up, then dressed in jeans and a blue shirt with "SWEET CRAZY GIRL" printed on it with white letters. Still grumbling a bit, she went downstairs to the kitchen, where she was greeted with a breakfast of fresh milk and chocolate chip cookies. This made her grumble much less.

She spent quite a while cuddling with her boyfriend and watching parts of some old episode of Mystery Science Theatre.

At lenght she reclutantly untagled herself from his arms, stood up from the large, comfortable couch, and stretched. "I gotta go save the world", she told him. "If I'm not back by two, order some pizza."

"'kay", Draegos said, then duly recieved his see-you-later-be-good-now kiss.

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

Sir Leto, Grand Paladin of the Temple of Ping, looked up from a book he was reading and almost yelped in surprise. Meagen was right in front of his desk, looking through some of the Temple's paperwork. "Good morning, miss Meagen", he ventured.

Meagen dropped the paper back into the in-tray, and smiled. "Heya. What's with all the security? Ping units in defend mode, extra cameras, and the two armed bodyguards at the door to your office, with instructions not to let anyone in... Something happened?"

"Ah... those..." it seemed worrying to Leto that Meagen was able to name of all the security she had completely bypassed. It would be much more... normal, in a way, if she had seemed unaware of it all. "The armed bodyguards were there since last week. The rest is mostly for show, really... Sabyr was found passed out last evening and rumors have been going around that he was attacked or something. So I had some visible security installed to make the alcolytes feel better."

Meagen nodded thoughtfully. "Sabyr...? Is that the sermons guy? The one who's always going on about Ping's nature?"

"We're *all* here to study the nature of Ping", Leto pointed out patiently. "Sabyr is just... more outspoken about it. He serves as the Temple's voice, in a way. In fact that's what he was doing yesterday. I overheard him talking to some man who was interested in Ping's emotions."

"You didn't recognise the man?", Meagen asked.

The Paladin was a bit surprised at her urgent tone of voice. "He was a fanboy, that much I can tell you", he said with a shrug. "Though of what character, I have no idea. I've never seen him before. He did seem very interested in Ping."

"So... a strange man talks to Sabyr about Ping. Sabyr is later found passed out. And you don't think it's, well, suspicious?"

"Not at all. Sabyr and the other fanboy went to parttake of pie, and apparently he had some with rum filling. Probably got wrapped up in his talking and made a wrong order." The Temple leader's face brightened. "We could be looking at a conversion, you know. Sabyr has always had a gift for talking to people..."

Meagen politely thanked him, and made her way back outside. She frowned thoughtfully. "Asking about Ping's feelings...", she whispered to herself.

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

A few minutes later, Sir Leto's phone rang. He picked up and listened to a frantic voice at the other end. "What-?! Yuki? Who- But- Is she- I see. Of course. Goodbye."

He hung up. *Blast. If only Meagen were still here. I could implore her to keep an eye on the man. Well, what's done is done. I wonder why Yuki...?*

He never followed up on that thought, because he was busy calling the Temple's leadership together for an urgent discussion. A Draegos rampage was looming, and all the fanboys were in imminent danger.

Maybe if Leto had known about the attacks on Erika and Miho, he'd have realised who else was in danger...

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

Ping sat in class, looking worried. "Miho-chan never came to pick me up today. Is she sick again? Aren't we friends anymore? She promised she wouldn't let me leave her all alone again..."

The elderly teacher coughed slightly, and began his monologue. "I remeber the First Fanboy War well..." Ping's listening subroutine processed the first three sentences and a quick check determined that the content was identical to the previous history class on record. Her automatic mode selection kicked in.

Laying her head on the desk in front of her, she went into standby mode.
[AN: I'm gonna keep posting this stuff here. It's not like it gets in the way or anything.]

Ping was walking down the street in the direction of Megagamers, humming slightly. Suddenly, her audio sensors picked up a barely-audible noise that set off her medical subroutines: short, raspy breathing, punctuated by small coughs.

She stopped and scanned her surroundings. There was a narrow alley branching off from the street just behind her. Taking two steps back, she took a look around the corner and immediately saw the person in trouble: A young man, sitting on an overturned crate next to a dumpster, hunched over so his face wasn't immediately visible.

But his blonde hair and manner of dress were quite familiar, and after a moment's confusion, it triggered her Main User Protection protocol.

"Piro-onisaan?", Ping cried, rushing to his side and taking him by the shoulders. The young man coughed again, then in a weak, barely recogniseable voice, asked: "ping chan?"

"Onisaan", the robor girl pleaded, "What's wrong?"

"ping chan... help me."

"Of course. I'll do anything for you, Piro-onisaan", Ping assured him, as she frantically searched her memory trying to find anything that could be useful in this situation. "What can I do to help you?"

"ping chan... please... Remember."

"Huh?" Ping froze for a second, trying to process this unusual request, but then a small object in the man's hand shone a bright light into her eyes and all else was swept away...

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

A small window popped up on C-kun's screen, framed in red. He frowned at first, taking it for a program error, but then his eyes went wide as he realised its true significance.

"Gotcha", he muttered as his hands flew over the phantom keyboard, instructing the computer to pin down the precise point of the occurence and plot the quickest course to it through the city's various data nets.

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

The light died down and the man in the blonde wig was left holding a sphere of white light in one hand and a deactivated robot girl in the other.

"A-HA!"

Surprised at the sudden outburst, he almost dropped both the things he was holding. After a few seconds of fumbling, he managed to regain his grip on the sphere, letting Ping drop to the ground with a loud metallic ring.

In the silence that followed, Meagen glared at the fake Piro, who was clutching the orb of white light with both hands. "All right then", she said. "You're going to tell me why you people keep attacking Main Characters like that, and you're gonna start righ-HEY COME BACK HERE!!"

She sighed a bit, muttered "That was just rude", and ran after the escaping attacker.

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

Almost as soon as she was out of sight, a young couple passed by the alley. The girl's cell phone rang, and she giggled slightly as she mock-pushed her boyfriend away before answering it. "Moshi moshi?"

The phone's screen flashed and suddenly, a gaijin in a lab coat was standing between the two of them. He adjusted his glasses, bowed to her politely while muttering a quick apology, and turned away, vanishing down the alley.

The girl stood gaping for a few seconds before her boyfriend got her attention with a small peck on the cheek. After that they both lost interest in the occurence and walked away, soon vanishing entirely from this story.

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

Iain sighed in frustration, seeing the deactivated Ping and no sign of the attacker. He called up his computer and began running a few scans when he noticed a small metallic object next to Ping. At first he took it for a part of her earblade, as it was laying near her head, but he quickly noticed that it was something else.

Something that was giving away a distinct technomagical aura.
C-kun pocketed the odd device, then looked at Ping again and scratched his head. He took a hold of one of her arms and with some trouble, pulled her upright. Propping up her deceptively small but heavy body against himself, he wondered where he should go.

"I will take her", said a quiet voice right behind him. Startled, he barely managed to turn around while keeping Ping standing.

Miho Tohya smiled at him enigmatically. "It's all right", she said. "Put her down."

She helped him lower the robot girl to a sitting position on top of the crate, then knelt down next to her and looked up at C-kun. "You may go now. I will take care of her."

He hesitated, but it was obvious that whatever was about to happen wasn't meant for him to see. With a small bow, he stepped out of the alley and made his way back to his office.

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

Commander Arram of the YLF took a look around. The communication consoles all around the Beta Site on Na Pali were swamped. All the fanboy clans in Megatokyo were trying to contact them, through all known means ranging from subether radio to crystal balls. The messages fell into three categories: "We're sorry Yuki was attacked", "We are in no way connected with the attack on Yuki", and "Draegos isn't going on a rampage, right? *Right*?"

No-one seemed to be concerned about *him* going on a rampage. He didn't know if he should feel relieved, or ashamed.

He had made a short statement, to the tune of "As soon as we find the one responsible for this we will punish them most painfully. But, uh, we'll try to keep the property damage to a minimum." It was being relayed to all interested by the YLF forces.

Arram sighed, causing the tall, green, lizard-like creature next to him to stir slightly.

"WHAT IS IT?", Bob growled in what, to him, was a hushed tone.

"I can't help but feel... that this is somehow my fault", the YLF leader admitted. "When Draegos left me in charge, I thought that making the YLF less destructive was the right thing to do."

"PEOPLE LIKE US MORE NOW", the Skaarj pointed out.

"Yes, we've made alliances and gathered lots of good PR and saved many more sad girls. But now... this happened to Yuki-chan. She was hurt not by Piro, but by someone from the fanboy side. Someone who knows about us. Maybe if I'd kept up Draegos' policy of attacking everyone who as much as looked at her funny, this wouldn't have happened..."

Bob remained silent, though his tail twitched slightly from side to side.

At the nearest station, a Necris was listening to an image of Manta on his monitor. "...and if Draegos goes on a rampage over this, the Church will blame *you*."

Slightly further off, an apparent human was talking to an image of Hoturi. "As you should know, Draegos has retired."

"That makes no difference!", the white-haired Mihoist sneered. "He has close ties with you, as the most known fan of Yuki Sonoda. You have a measure of influence over him, and we ask that you use it to prevent a disater."

"We will do the best we can", the Necris assured Manta. "We know the destructive power of our former leader all too well."

Manta gave him a long glare through the video link and then sighed. "Fine. Oh yeah, and one more thing..."

"...please do not make mention of this communication", Hoturi said. "Certain individuals may taunt me for acting in a diplomatic fashion."

"...don't let anyone know I called, okay? Hoturi would never let me live it down."
Meagen chased Ping's attacker through about a quarter of Megatokyo, and several of the usual distractions in the way of fruit carts, old ladies, cars appearing out of side streets unexpectedly, and two men carrying a large sheet of glass. She attuned herself to the Plot to sense where her quarry would go next, and that was her undoing.

After another bout of jumping across rooftops, she landed in a crouch on the sidewalk, quickly glanced left and right, and then... stopped.

The trail ended short at that point. Obviously she was not meant to pursue the man any further.

She stood up and turned around slowly, wondering if Sasayaki was going to show up. After a minute or so, she concluded there was no help coming from that direction, either. However, she still had one more thread she could follow up.

Meagen jumped up onto the roofs again, and made her way towards the Temple of Ping.

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

Still hyperventilating, the agent handed over the orb of light he had collected from Ping.

"And you are *certain* she did not follow you?", his superior asked.

"No but- it was a- close thing- there", the agent reported inbetween gasps.

The leader frowned. "Meagen can twist the reality of Megatokyo in unexpected ways", he said. "She could be the undoing of our plans if we don't find a way to stop her... or at least hold her off."

"BGMaster could do that", a henchling mused.

"Yes, but he's dead now, and in any case would never work with us." The leader thought aloud. "We need someone who has considerable power, who would be willing to turn against Meagen, and who could stand to benefit from joining us..."

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

Lightsider dripped sweat onto the tatami mats as he dropped his weapons. He watched the droplets pass through the silvery vapor of his dissipating swords before they hit the floor. Slowly, the doctor knelt with his back to the door and closed his eyes, willing his breathing to return to normal.

The images returned... his village destroyed, the Daimyo laughing at him, the gods cursing him with immortality, then, more recently, the faces of Shadowdancer and Tohru as they gave up on him. Memories upon memories upon memories.

"How would you like to change your life?"

Lightsider sighed. He'd sensed the stranger a long time ago, and had been hoping he was just some curiosity seeker who didn't want to talk.

"You sound", Lightsider said with a quiet edge, "like an infomercial."

The man chuckled softly, and Lightsider felt the stranger's dark intentions streaming off him like waves of heat.

"I'm not selling anything", the man said in a friendly tone. "What I'm here for is your help."

Lightsider half turned his head and looked at the man out of the corner of his eye for a long moment. The man slouched easily against the doorjamb, his dark suit bunching up on his shoulder a bit.

Lightsider turned away from the man again. "I don't help."

"You help yourself, don't you?"

Lightsider just shrugged. "Who doesn't?"

The man smiled. "I'm part of a group who's... unhappy about the way things are around here. But we've found a way to change it."

The doctor sighed irritably. "I don't do politics."

"Oh, this isn't politics. This is something that will actually work."

"Then work."

"Oh, we will. But, we could use some help, you know? A bit of muscle, even."

Lightsider waved his hand in a gesture that encompassed Megatokyo in general. "There's plenty to be had."

The man sighed in some frustration. "Look", he said, "if you help us, you'll have the chance to remake your life into anything you want. Anything. If you don't, you can either go on much as you have before, or just cease to be."

Lightsider chuckled. "That's a new one", he said. "You can go."

The man stared at the doctor's back for an incredulous second. "Don't you get it? You can change your life! It's your ticket out of your curse! You can have it all back! Even her."

Lightsider didn't answer, and the man made a disgusted sound and left.

The doctor sat for a long time in the UFL dojo. Before he got up, he whispered only one word.

"Change."

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

Meagen sat in the Temple's infirmary, watching the bedridden Sabyr thoughtfully. She was reminded of her many years of nursing incapacitated fanboys, which brought a tiny smile to her lips.

But her tone was quiet and serious as she spoke. "Sabyr, I'd like to know everything you can tell me about the man you met yesterday."

The Pingfan stirred, and cracked a small smile back at her. "i'd love to help", he croaked, "but i feel as if the blessed one hath tossed a turtle at my head."

"Please? This is important. Main Characters are being drained of their energy. So far Erika, Miho, Yuki and Ping have-"

"Ping?!" Sabyr jumped up, then immediately lay back again, making small "ow" sounds. "the bodhisattva was... drained?"

Meagen nodded. "I think the man who spoke to you has something to do with this. Possibly he ordered rum pie in order to make you drunk so you wouldn't be able to report his interest until it was too late."

Sabyr lay silent for a while. Just as Meagen was starting to wonder if he had gone unconcious, he whispered: "key to her heart."

"What?"

"he wanted to know. the key to ping's heart. i think he meant... some way of making her deepest emotions come forth."

Meagen nodded. "Go on."

"i told him that... piro was what he needed. that got him talking and... he told me a lot."

"About himself?"

"about his organisation. they... serve some Master. they found some way of changing megatokyo and... somehow, main characters are the key."

Meagen nodded again, thoughtfully.

"he said they want... to change the balance. put themselves where the church of miho is. re-make the whole reality. i'm not sure how."

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

Iain was typing at top speed, causing text to scroll up his Holotop's screen so fast as to be near-unreadable. He had analysed the energy signature of the device he found next to Ping, and was putting the finishing touches on a program that would scan all of Megatokyo looking for fields of similar energy.

One last keystroke finished the program, a few more were required to compile and set it in motion. He sat back and waited for the results, scarfing down some sandwitches and tea.

A few minutes later, the results began pouring in. C-kun sipped his tea, then choked and sprayed it out of his nose as he noticed one particular result.

After coughing a bit and wiping his desk, he began typing again, the food completely forgotten.

Two hours later, he sat back looking at the final results, and tried to find some way to express what he was feeling.

"Fuck", he said.

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

[AN: And so ends day 3! Man, it's been a while. I hope I can finish this 'fic before 2005 ends. Hopefully.

Lightsider sequence written by Lightsider. Give him a big hand, folks.]

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