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.>"

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