A woman in a black dress ran from him. Her face was streaked with tears, her heart pounding in her chest and ears, while the train of her dress and ashen hair flailed behind her like ghosts clawing at her heels and head. An almost endless path of cobblestone trapped her in front of his path. But she knew how this ended: she reached a dead end and saw the familiar sea that stretched below her. Again, the full moon barely illuminated the cliff and ocean below as mist choked its way up to the parapet.

The remnants of an ancient lighthouse stuck out of the water like a jagged, broken tooth of a long-deceased creature of the deep. All around it, the carcasses of decaying ships were buffeted by fearsome waves, pushing them further into the hidden rocks that had claimed them. Trophies for an ill-tempered sea god.

She hurled herself over the walls, turning to face the pursuing beast behind her as she plummeted. The familiar sensation of falling soon overtook her. All she beheld was the familiar sad and tortured expression on his face. A lie, she knew. It had one emerald eye and another made of a glimmering star, dishevelled hair like raven-feathers and bleeding scars covering its body that were just in the process of closing.

As the mist swallowed her whole both woke up.

17th April, 2013. Tokyo, Japan.

After the weekend Harry, Akitsu and Kazehana were finally on the way to recruit Seo Kaoru, currently being driving on Harry's 1959 Triumph Bonneville – the motorcycle he had inherited from Sirius – towards Seo's most likely location. Akitsu sat in the sidecar, while Kazehana hugged him from behind. From Nora's and Matsu's intelligence his current place of employment was at a construction site. The man's Sekirei were a little harder to track down, due to not existing in official records. However, Harry had Matsu on his side. Apparently they worked part-time at a Maid Café, according to her snooping.

'Too bad Matsu was too busy to come with us.' Harry mused. 'Either that or her Hikikomori tendencies are worse than I thought.'

The roar of the engine was much louder than its surroundings during after-work hours, easily drowning out the noise of the other traffic participants on the road. No wonder, really, with it being able to transport a half-giant of Hagrid's weight and stature. As such it had the horsepower more fitting for a truck than a motorcycle. Luckily it magically resized itself to fit the rider, making it so that Harry didn't look ridiculous riding a monstrously large vehicle.

He barely resisted the impulse to make the machine fly, knowing doing so would invite immense trouble in such a crowd. Besides, they were just about to arrive at their destination.

Kazehana meanwhile enjoyed the wind whipping in her hair, snuggling against the powerful back of her Ashikabi. Her arms were twined around his torso and gripped his chest sensually. A big smile etched onto her face, still giddy and euphoric that she found him. She also felt lucky that it happened while she was blackout drunk, otherwise she probably would've chickened out or gotten insecure.

'I did get the masculine Ashikabi I wanted.' the Sekirei mused, remembering the recent time he pleasured them. 'Yet also vulnerable and reluctant to receive love.'

One part of her overjoyed that he could please her so well, and another displeased about not going all the way. She knew why that was through the bond; he feared and yearned for intimacy in equal measure. While normally sex was no issue for him, doing so with Sekirei was bound to be an extremely intimate experience, one way or another. A behaviour that made sense once she got some details out of her fellow Sekirei. He'd been horribly burned multiple times by rejection and betrayal, something she had experience in and could sympathize with.

'Not that I'm opposed to a challenge.' Kazehana thought, having wanted a strongly masculine but vulnerable Ashikabi to love. Some might question why she reacted to Minaka then, but masculinity could take as many forms as feminity. Her musing briefly turned to her fellow Sekirei and their preference that most likely led them to Harry. Matsu – being the shameless pervert she was – obviously wanted to have an Ashikabi that was experienced in all manner of sexual acts. Something Harry had plenty of experience in due to his circumstances. Akitsu on the other hand valued loyalty above all, in herself or her Ashikabi.

After all, the better the compatibility, the stronger the reaction and the resulting bond.

Something they thankfully had because it seemed the earnest and sometimes clumsy efforts of Akitsu and the perverted ones of Matsu were already paying off quite well. The method with which he could shut them out – Occlumency she thought it was called – was decreasing in frequency, as if he was forgetting to employ it more and more. Or he simply grew to trust them and was becoming comfortable with their presence, be it physical or mental. Helped by the fact that one had to consciously reach out through the bond to send emotions, it not being constantly active. Otherwise one would get overloaded by information. The times he himself peeked through the bond reminded her of a shy and cute boy hiding behind an object to curiously and longingly observe something he desired. Not that any of them said anything about it to him, lest they scare him off.

The way in which his accommodation to them grew told her his default was emotional openness, only shutting himself off out of necessity and hurt, not desire. However, while it was true that he wanted to believe in their love, the three Sekirei also clearly felt his doubt and struggle to accept it as true. Clearly not truly convinced he was worthy of being loved after so much heartbreak and breaches of trust. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

A normal woman would've felt jilted or angry that he doubted her love for him. However, all three of the Sekirei knew the truth of the matter and just a quick peek through the bond confirmed it for her. There was an ocean of love beneath a steadily thinning sheet of ice made of pain and more pain still. It was making her legs go weak and core heat up as she felt his power and aura as an Ashikabi. Suffusing and intoxicating her better than Sake ever did.

'All we have to do is be patient and love him.' she concluded her thoughts as they arrived at their destination. It was a rather seedy looking construction site for another skyscraper; as if Tokyo needed another one of those crowding up the place. Stacks of pipes, planks, steel beams, concrete blocks stood around with mounds of cement bags and all kinds of equipment.

Once properly parked Harry killed the engine, whereupon they could hear the, for now, low din of excavators, mixers, trucks and various other machinery present.

Harry yawned as he helped Kazehana dismount, while Akitsu jumped over the seat instead of going around the bike to take the shortest route towards him. He had not gotten too much sleep last night. Mostly due to his demanding Sekirei occupying his time, and the strange dream that had repeated itself the last two days didn't help. It wasn't a nightmare per se, but felt more like he vaguely knew that woman despite never meeting her.

"We didn't keep you up too late, did we?" Kazehana purred mischievously into his ear from her place to Harry's right as they approached the entrance to the construction site.

The wizard chuckled in reply, keeping her steady by wrapping an arm around her waist. "A bit, but its more so the weird dream I had the last three nights." due to long experience, Harry was used to surviving on little sleep. His gaze roamed over the Wind Sekirei's delightful and utterly buxom form. She once more wore her outrageous purple dress that revealed more than it concealed, evidently taking pride in his wandering eyes practically devouring her sinful body as she leaned in close.

"Weird, how so?" Akitsu inquired, walking attentively on his left side and mirroring Kazehana by snuggling close to his chest, his hand sitting just above her bum. Completely ignoring the stares from workers and pedestrians he earned by being accompanied by two bombshells, wearing such revealing outfits no less. Not that they could be inconspicuous even with normal clothes, their beauty made sure of that much. Hopefully the people simply thought the Sekirei were cosplayers and not whores, but considering his own presence that was doubtful. He probably should've ordered them to wear different clothes, – they did possess different casual wear in their wardrobe – but did not want to take their choice from them. If that was what they preferred, then who was he to disagree?

'I wonder what public opinion is gonna be like in a few days.' he mused, despite already seeing the obvious headline before his mind's eye. 'I probably should tell Yusuke to publish an article explaining my Sekirei, somewhat at least.' his mind briefly conjuring ideas and excuses to use in regards them before returning to the matter at hand. While he had little to no interest in the press in regards to his own image, slandering those he held dear was another matter entirely.

He quickly told them of his dream in detail, glad that it weren't his usual nightmares. Thankfully those had been decreasing swiftly over time, now even enabling him to truly relax while sleeping if his Sekirei were present. As if they were acting as some kind of dream catcher or a filter.

"A Sekirei?" came Kazehana's guess, her head leaning on his shoulder as she drew lazy circles with a finger on his abs, pressing her huge and soft tits against him. "Sometimes, if the reaction or distance is big enough, that can happen." it did happen to her, unfortunately. That first year was pure torture for her, knowing her first choice of an Ashikabi didn't want her, but calling out to him nonetheless subconsciously.

Harry frowned, unsure what to make of that possibility. "Could be, but I'm not looking for someone that's running away from me." that was an endeavour doomed to fail. If someone didn't want you near them, then it was foolish to look for them. More so in the case of not even knowing them.

With the sounds of machines growing ever louder the group of three grew silent. Soon entering the site and approaching the foreman, – a middle-aged man with a slight belly wearing a safety vest, hard-hat and thick steel-toed boots – who seemed to be annoyed until he recognized just who was walking towards him. Annoyance soon giving way to fear and apprehension.

"Can I help you with something?!" he inquired with a rough and loud shout, looking at his clipboard to appear busy.

The Wizard shrugged, – at least as much as he was able with two gorgeous women hanging off his arms – used to such reactions by most people around him. As such he returned the same courtesy shown to him, bellowing over the noise of construction "We're looking for a Kaoru Seo, do you know where I can find him?!"

That caused a scowl to erupt on the man's face. "If he owes you money then get back in line!" here he snorted derisively. "Not that he'll be able to pay anyone, I fired him last Friday! Damn lazy slob couldn't be arsed to come to work on time!" missing once or twice was acceptable, even three times with appropriate reasons. But what Seo pulled was beyond the pale.

Harry frowned as these revelations combined with his Sekirei's unflattering words in regards to the man. A debt-ridden, irresponsible, freeloader wasn't anyone's idea of a good employee.

With that unsatisfying conclusion to their search, the trio went to the second possible location; the place of work of Seo's Sekirei.

17th April, 2013. Tokyo, Akihabara, Japan.

Luckily it didn't take them long to find the Lightning Twins place of work in Akihabara; the Otaku haven as it was also known by locals and foreigners alike.

The front of the building alone could give one cavities with is overly sweet advertisement and mostly pink, white and blue colours. Inside it got surprisingly much better in terms of décor, being more on the subdued side. Not in the least bit even half as embarrassing as Madame Puddifoot's Tea shop. With its cramped space full of gaudy tables and chairs decorated with frills, bows and more. The main draw here were obviously the cute girls. Harry had hated Madam Puddifoot's and as such didn't care much for this too much either, being extremely out of his element. It didn't even seem like this was the kind of crowd he was looking for. The majority were men, regulars from the looks of it. Some of them seemed normal, just infatuated with a particular waitress. While most of the people here were sketchy looking Otaku, which he dearly hoped did not include this Seo character.

As soon as the bell over the door announced their arrival heads turned, people nearby naturally perking up to look at the newcomers. While he was used to stares and even glares, something made him feel as if his entrance with Kazehana and Akitsu had shattered some kind of illusion around this establishment. It was like a physical wall of pure discomfort.

"Welcome back, goshujin-sama!~" a pair of voices sang slightly out of synch. Standing before them was a pair of twin girls, dressed in French maid outfits full of frills and laces while curtsying deeply in greeting. Once they lifted their heads and saw who they were addressing all colour fled from their faces.

Kazehana and Akitsu simply stared at them, with the latter Sekirei gripping his arm a bit tighter. Harry on the other hand grinned at the twins barely concealed discomfort, saying after a good ten seconds. "Aren't you gonna invite us in properly?"

The one with the larger bust growled from the back of her throat, only stopping once her twin lightly elbowed her in the side. At that a rictus of a grin formed on her face. "Err, right this way, goshujin-sama and friends!~ You table is just over there." with that the more collected one lead them to an unoccupied table, accompanied by a few glances thrown their way.

He shared a conspiratorial look with Kazehana, who grinned in reply, knowing his intention.

They were led to a bench able to accommodate all three of them, with Harry obviously sitting in the middle. Once seated they took a look at the 'Kawaii Menu' as it was called. "What can I bring you on this wonderful evening?~" the slightly less bustier one of the Lightning Twins chirped with false cheer that was nearly real. She had a much better facade than her sister.

"I suppose you two aren't very hungry, are you?" the wizard inquired from his Sekirei, all of them having just eaten dinner a few hours before. Both shook their head, but Kazehana grinned and lazily tapped at something on the menu with a perfectly manicured nail that made Akitsu look hopeful. Harry's eyebrow rose at the name, but simply nodded and ordered for them. "We'll take the Senpai-Notice-Me Spider." judging by the picture it was a humongous Cappuccino intended to be shared, with straws sticking out of it and bending like spider legs.

"...Three straws." Akitsu murmured, her blush now married to a smile. Normally she would've preferred something cooked by her Ashikabi, which was much better than any of the slop given to Sekirei by MBI or found in dumpsters. Sadly that also included her own miserable efforts at cooking something edible for him.

With their order issued, one of their targets made to leave. Only for Kazehana to call out with a mischievous grin. "Oh, please return quickly. I'd be a shame if another serves us and I'd have to complain about laziness to your employer." the giggle she let lose was utterly false in its sweetness, knowing that the Sekirei were evidently short on money and couldn't afford to lose this job.

"Indeed, a true shame that would be." Harry supplied with helpful sarcasm.

"Of course, I'll return as quickly as possible!~" came the near strangled reply.

Not a thing was said during their wait, simply enjoying each others company and closeness. A bit later their order arrived, carried by the bustier twin. It came in one of the least functional and biggest cups he had ever seen in his life, topped off with three ridiculously gaudy bendy-straw of all things. "Okay, goshujin-sama~! Your drink is here!" the young woman said with enthusiasm so false it stank to heaven, placing their order down before them.

Just as she went to get away, Kazehana stopped her. "Wait, you forgot something." she claimed, a wicked gleam in her eyes as she winked at Akitsu. All while leaning forward, elbows set on the table with her head resting on one hand.

"What's that?" one could hear the snarl in her voice.

"The special spell to make our drink more delicious." she pointed to the other waitresses performing said thing to other patrons, their voices as sweet as Kazehana's grin was devious.

Hikari suppressed a scowl threatening to twist her stony smile. "Of course! How silly of me to forget!" she took a deep breath and very reluctantly said. "Moe Moe kyun kyun~!" She said with a wink of her eye, which twitched all the while. A few of the guests nearby turned to look at the spectacle, no doubt expecting to see something like this regularly in the establishment. The raven-haired girl faltered a bit, suddenly feeling the hefty weight of people's focused attention and gazes, but soldiered on bravely.

"Moe Moe kyun kyun~!"

Akitsu's lips twitched a little into the shadow of a smile, indicating her amusement at the petty revenge enacted for her benefit.

"Moe Moe kyun kyun!" She twirled in place and held out her hands in a heart-shape towards the drink, as if to try and imbue it with more flavour. "There all done." she grunted the last part out, any pretence of bubbly energy gone.

"Well, thank you." Harry told them, a little perplexed by the show but satisfied with the outcome. Deciding to be gracious in victory, he told them. "We'll be sure to give you a big tip."

With just a bow the waitress Sekirei left them to enjoy their surprisingly delicious drink in a rather awkward position. With three heads close together in an effort to each reach a straw.

A bit later.

They were one of the last to leave in an effort to catch the twins, who weren't nearly as accosted by male admires as their co-workers. The regular clientele having obviously learned to steer clear of these particularly volatile waitresses. Harry's group managing to catch them just as the café was about to close.

"What do you want?" Hibiki asked once outside, arms crossed and suspicion in her expression. "Or should we finish what we started?" the words had more than a bit bravado in them.

Her twin mirrored her actions beside her, but here sparks were recklessly dancing between her fingers. "We should teach them a lesson for humiliating us, Hibiki!" her golden eyes turned to Kazehana and sneered. "Especially that skank!"

"Careful, brat!" Kazehana warned with a glare, her pride unwilling to let that insult go. As a small whirlwind lazily began to form around them, Harry could see by her posture alone that she was an experienced fighter with blood on her hands. "Only my Ashikabi or Miya may call me that without punishment." It was accompanied by a drop in temperature by a good few degrees, their breath misting as Akitsu used her powers in reply to what she saw as a threat.

"We did not come here to fight." Harry interrupted things before they escalated needlessly, his hands raised in a placating gesture. "Only with an offer." he'd fight if he had to, but would prefer not to in the middle of the city. The twins relaxed at that, but held their suspicions close.

Kazehana in turn huffed and looked away, while Akitsu simply let go of her power over all things cold.

"What kind of offer?" Hikari asked, eyeing him warily. He did have winged Sekirei now, after all. And she also remembered that he somehow survived their attack just fine on his own before doing the impossible and wing Akitsu.

Hibiki said, hands on her hips. "Yeah, what would the Head of NswF want with us?" that had been all over the news for a few days. With more than a few networks questioning if a foreigner should be allowed to lead NswF. Furumizu had been a beloved media figure due to his philanthropic efforts for orphanages and the like. Not to mention having been old, which in Japanese culture meant being correct most of the time, due to said seniority. Harry was as such seen as too young and untested.

"A job, to be more precise." he elaborated. "I want to hire you as security for NswF. Though, I guess it largely depends on your Ashikabi as well."

The twins shared an apprehensive look between each other. "We don't have an Ashikabi yet." Hibiki began, followed by Hikari. "And we're not going with an Ashikabi we're not reacting to!"

"I was under the impression a Kaoru Seo was your Ashikabi." Harry told them, an eyebrow raised in surprise. "At least that's what my sources told me."

Akitsu chimed in at that, head tilted to the side. "Ah... Matsu said you met your Ashikabi while at MBI."

"Your adjustor had been Asame Takehito, a good friend of Seo." Kazehana mused out loud. The twins having been the last to be under his care. "There were even some rumours of Takehito doing some experiments on Seo beforehand for some kind of contingency." at least Minaka had said that once in a rant when she was near just to be close to him.

Hikari scowled at that, arms crossed with a huff. "That we're his Sekirei is just a rumour that perverted scumbag spread around." she dismissed with a growl.

Beside her Hibiki had her head bowed in what appeared to be sorrow, lips pursed tightly. Not quite sharing her twins sentiment. "Seo had been our Ashikabi." she admitted with a weary sigh. "We knew that much immediately upon meeting him. However, our adjustments hadn't been completed yet. Which delayed our winging a few weeks."

"Hibiki?!" her twin exclaimed, shocked at her sister admitting such a thing to others.

The more mellow twin ignored her, all while holding something forlorn in her tone and eyes. "Shortly after our procedures were finished, Takehito did indeed try something. What we don't know. However, whatever it was crippled Seo as an Ashikabi, making our reaction vanish completely."

Hikari tried to cheer her sister up in her own way, putting an arm around her twin's shoulders in support. "We were luckily, I say!" a hollow grin on her face. "Can you imagine being winged by that loser? Not to mention being the cause for us not getting a MBI card to cover our expenses."

"Oh, how so?" Kazehana asked, trying to steer the conversation away to more safe topics. Now notably more subdued after their tale. Clearly affected by the twins difficult admission to not having an Ashikabi any more. A – what they believed to be – permanent condition. It also explained to them why they attacked unwinged Sekirei, which wasn't against the rules of the Sekirei Plan. Without having emerged themselves they were much weaker than a Sekirei that had his or her wings. And with no Ashikabi of their own, they saw that as the only way to win. Without being forcibly winged, that is.

Hibiki answered that. "He sold company secrets of MBI and embezzled money to pay his gambling debts." a cloud of shame was hanging over her now, seeing their reactions that ranged from unimpressed to sympathy to pity. On one hand, their prospective Ashikabi had indeed been a bum. On the other he had still been their Ashikabi.

Hikari took over from there, squeezing her sister tightly and suppressing her own emotions as good as she was able. "As we were released everyone still thought he was to be our Ashikabi. That included Minaka, who found out about our Ashi..." she caught herself, taking a deep breath. "Seo's crimes. So, of course he didn't issue us a MBI card. As punishment."

Harry frowned at the tale, now no longer planning to hire Seo. Ashikabi or not. A slacker he could marginally tolerate, having been one himself in the past and his experience with Ron. The same was definitely not true for traitors, no matter if it was done to an enemy of his in form of MBI. "I see. I'm sorry for your loss." he said softly, knowing that it hurt to find out about treachery from loved ones.

"Thank you." both said simultaneously.

"But you can still find another Ashikabi." he told them, pointing his thumb towards Kazehana. "I wasn't her first choice as an Ashikabi either."

"Indeed." the Sekirei of Wind told them with an encouraging smile. "If Akitsu and I can find our Ashikabi despite everything, so can you."

That perked the twins up a little, a spark of hope in their eyes. "Really?!" now that they thought about it, that seemed plausible.

"Yes," Harry rummaged around for a MBI card, patting his pants in search. Only to remember that it was Akitsu's and she stored it on her person, in a questionable place. With a resigned sigh he put one hand down her cleavage, causing the woman to moan and Kazehana to giggle, pulling the object in question out. "Here, you can have this."

Presented with a solution to their problems in the form of the little black piece of plastic, Hibiki hesitated. "Are you sure?" she asked, stomping on Hikari's foot as she snatched it from him with glee.

"Ouch, hey!" she complained with a pout. "He said we could take it!"

Harry waved Hibiki off. "It's fine. We have more than enough money."

"Yes, and I have my own card as well." Kazehana pushed her own massive, but still gravity-defying breasts up to emphasize where she stored it. A smirk of pure sex playing on her kissable lips that told him he could borrow it anytime, for a price.

He sighed at that and shook his head in amusement before nodding a farewell to the twins. "Well, it was nice meeting you two. I hope you find your Ashikabi soon." Harry waved goodbye to them, wondering how he'd solve his security problems now. For the moment Akitsu and Kazehana could take care of that.

19th April, 2013. Teito Tower, Tokyo, Japan.

As she awoke, her senses were overwhelmed at the oppressive wrongness of the room. At being alone in it. Her hearing diminished to the insistent pounding of her yearning heart, and waves of vertigo assailing her – her stomach somersaulted as gravity fluctuated both in intensity and direction. Tiny beads of sweat formed on her skin while smells from her dreams, both sweet and rotten, aggravated her nose. It lasted but a moment. As the feelings subsided she was finally able to take in her surroundings properly.

"Just that... nightmare... again." the woman gasped out, chest heaving from exertion as fingers of fire wrapped around her lungs and heart. That damn reaction was growing out of control. The bed below her was soaked through with sweat and more from the nightly ordeal. The light of dawn, weak and anaemic, spilled into the room through the blinds.

Ever since five days ago the realm of dreams had turned hostile towards her. Not that it was ever truly welcoming to one such as her; memories of the past and Kamikura Island made sure of that much.

"My Ashikabi is dead. Miya killed him. I avenged him!" she repeated the mantra a dozen times, staring at the ceiling and slowly wrestling her rapidly beating heart under control. A strong echo insisted still that her Ashikabi – another, an imposter and not her true one – was out there, pulling with such a ferocity that it was nearly painful. However, the Sekirei knew what awaited her at the end of that road.

She stood up on wobbly legs. With heavy footsteps lacking her usual grace she stumbled through the spartan bedroom and towards the adjacent bath. Once at the sink she opened the spigot and proceeded to splash her face with water. The coldness serving its purpose to make her skin feel numb – numbness was better than pain and apathy better than love – and snap her awake quickly.

Without truly wanting to she looked into the mirror. Naked as the day she came out of that tank, she saw a pale-skinned hourglass figure. A vicious scar went from her right collarbone cut down though a modest bosom and ending at her left hip. She was one of the tallest Sekirei, owing much of this to her long legs. Long ashen hair that flowed down to her arse was out of her usual messy ponytail, with a lengthy single strand on top of her head extending forward and downwards. Her face was one of sharp angles and aristocratic features, with high cheekbones and slightly pointed chin. Heavy bags were under her narrow and stormy grey eyes, giving her a haggard and exhausted look.

All she saw was weakness. A mess that stared back at her, made worse by the water streaking down her face reminiscent of tears.

With a low growl she punched the mirror with considerable force, letting pieces fly away and causing a spiderweb-like crack that barely held together. The satisfied grin threatening to be born upon her lips was stifled upon conception at what she saw. The shards of the mirror sparkled in morning's light, dancing fey creatures seemed to flutter over the gilded frame, grinning at her malevolently as she took a hesitant step backwards. She darted her head around to look into the shards, trying to see whether the horrific image she saw earlier was still there. She froze. Instead of two soulless grey eyes, each shard reflected its own pair right back at her. Each one distorted to sneer mockingly.

She instinctively flinched away, and hated herself immediately for it.

Karasuba hated much in this world, but nothing more so than weakness. She hated her weak and dead Ashikabi for dying at Miya's blade during the invasion, and for being on the wrong side. She hated that she had found him so quickly, only to lose him not a minute later – unable to truly process finding and losing him at once – and love him still. However, most of all Karasuba hated herself for being too weak to kill Miya and having to resort to trickery to get revenge. Only to be cut down immediately after, unable to do anything then either. As well as being too weak to dismiss it all in the first place.

"Always too weak, aren't you!" she howled, punching the mirror to smithereens until her hands were both a bloody mess.

It didn't matter if this new Ashikabi was real or not. He was a squishy human and would leave her too. Rage was better than love, because love was pain. Better to be a bully than the one getting bullied.

"If this continues I should just emerge with the first pathetic idiot I find. Wouldn't make much of a difference, I reckon." Karasuba panted out, having reduced the glass to splinters, haunted eyes staring at nothing from behind the curtain of dishevelled hair. 'That gay boy Natsuo could serve well.' she mused, not feeling an ounce of anything for the empty shell of a man. Her heart refused to obey her mind on the matter, clenching in distress at the thought alone. Bile was immediately rising in her throat at that, rebelling against it with every fibre of her being.

Yet Karasuba was not deterred. After all, it was safe if there was no love involved.


21th April, 2013. NswF Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan.

The sound of fists and feet hitting a sandbag echoed throughout the gym, specially designed for Neogenes. Maria was currently in the process of dismantling the equipment with a calm fury. The only signs of her roiling emotions being narrowed amber eyes and pursed lips as she rained blow after blow onto the equipment.

Maria had washed the three artificial colours of red, blue and yellow from her hair and forgone the pigtails. Now sporting the same black hair and style as her mother, notable exception being the ever present ahoge atop her head.


Finally – after a ferocious round-house kick – the bag could take no more punishment and spilled its sandy guts all over the floor, the bottom half of it hanging by a few threads.

"Splendid kick, Maria!" Aoi praised, clapping her hands animatedly in joy and a beaming smile on her face. Nora's daughter was a little smaller than Maria, at around 5'6 with strawberry-blonde hair, hanging down her back in two very tight braids. Like her mother she had baby-blue eyes, but her face still possessed some roundness to it courtesy of some remaining baby-fat. Both of them wore the usual leotards for exercise.

Maria only stared at the ruined sandbag dispassionately before turning to Aoi. "So you mean to tell me the rest of my performance wasn't?" she asked, a weird undertone in her voice.

"Of course not!" Aoi insisted vehemently, a little confused by the reaction. Unable to tell if Maria was joking or not. Though, Maria tolerated being addressed without suffixes by her. So Aoi assumed she couldn't be on her bad side just yet.

The little girl in the body of a teenager simply grunted and made to leave the small gym for the showers, ignoring the platitudes of her Neogene sister. After cooling off they quickly changed into their everyday clothes. Aoi's being a short pink skirt that was nearly entirely covered by an orange jacket and some dark red boots. Maria on the other hand wore a short black skirt, stockings and shoes with small heels together with a long-sleeved red shirt.

"Do you plan to join father at dinner?" Aoi asked, trying to make small talk and hopefully distract her friend. It didn't work.

"That man is not my father, or yours!" Maria told her coldly, giving her a sidelong glare scary in its scathing intensity. "How could he be? He hates us, denies us our birthright!"

Aoi meekly shrank back at once, gnawing on her index-finger insecurely and looking away. "I apologise, force of habit." Furumizu Tatsuoki had always insisted they call him that and Rie encouraged them to do the same to their current leader. It was easy to just continue to do so with the new Head of NswF. "It's just fath..., Potter-sama told me we're free to join him anytime or come to him with problems. Your mother and sister will be there too." while all Neogenes were sisters to a degree, there was no mistaking who Aoi meant.

That stopped Maria cold, both hands curling into fists and shaking with rage. A conflicted set of emotions battling it out inside of her mind and hear. A battlefield mirrored on her face. "Fine!"

The way up through the staircase – Maria really didn't want to meet anyone – was spent in silence. Once on the highest level they unfortunately arrived just as Reina did.

Reina looked suspiciously towards Maria while stepping out of the elevator, her posture defensive and clearly on guard. "Maria, I didn't expect you to take Potter-sama up on his offer."

"I could say the same about you." Maria spat back petulantly with the quickly kindled hate of a spoiled child.

Aoi simply looked unsure and awkward at what was happening before her. Feeling something was amiss, but not knowing what.

"Let us delay no longer then." Reina said softly, motioning for the two younger Neogenes to enter first.

What greeted them on the other side was strange, weird, fantastical and beautiful. All three were standing there, mouths open in shock and confusion.

Will-o'-wisps made of blue flames floated around the room with no discernable explanation to how they floated, or showing the source of what fed the fire. Stranger still were the creatures flittering across the ground, or at least trying to. They did not move very fast. One type resembled a lizard, but had six legs and was bright red in colour. Another were grey-skinned snakes slithering on the ground, leaving trails of ash behind them.

Maria knew Potter claimed to be a wizard, but had dismissed that out of hand. Now she was forced to revise her opinion.

Things didn't start to make more sense as a sound of childish triumph could be heard from somewhere nearby. A beaming and celebrating Rihoko came clambering out behind the couch shortly after, having evidently crawled under it and revealing the source of the noise. She was equipped with oven mitts, a small but thick leather apron more appropriate for a forge than a kitchen and carrying a rattling cooking pot with her. She was covered in smudges of soot all over, hands and clothes blackened with it.

"Rihoko, what're you doing?" Reina asked as perplexed as she was able to show, the extend of which were raised eyebrows.

"Mom!" the child perked up with a big grin. Rihoko also noticed her 'sisters' and brightened immediately, waving to Maria. "Big sister!" a beaming smile on her face as she made to sprint towards them. Only to be intercepted by her mother, who carefully scooped the child up in her arms.

"Careful!" the older Neogene admonished calmly. "Now, please answer my question." she asked now that the attention of Rihoko was on her, pointing to the odd attire.

The sight of the care Reina showed Rihoko ignited a deep hatred within Maria's chest; a furnace of wrath burning as bright as the floating flames surrounding them. An emotion she barely kept under control at the moment. Outside a fierce scowl was the only indication to her displeasure.

"I'm helping cook!" Rihoko exclaimed excitedly, practically vibrating with it as she kicked her legs. A strange thing for Reina to witness, who had only ever rarely seen her behave like that. Usually reserved for the times after a separation. "See!" The little girl held up the pot that had a glass lid, allowing one to look inside. It contained a few of the six-legged lizards scurrying about looking for an escape and very bright orange eggs that glowed strongly.

That didn't clear things up for them either. It must've shown on their faces, because a second later the girl said. "I'll show you!" she squirmed out of her mother's hold, who let go a moment later, and scampered over to the kitchen, bellowing gleefully. "I've got them!"

"Great work." Maria heard a male voice say; that soothing masculine rumble making it easy to identify as the Head of NswF. Once she entered the kitchen things got weirder still. Ingredients floated about, peeling and cutting themselves in mid-air before being put to use. The man cooked over an open flame as blue as the rest, having created the means to do so magically. Black iron skewers stuffed full with meat roasted above it, dripping with fat and something else judging by the spicy smell. A huge chunk of meat could be seen floating inside the flames as well.

The three floozies of his sat at the table, watching the spectacle unfold and enraptured by how he treated Rihoko. Nora, Shiori and even Rie were also there. The latter nailing a lizard onto the table with all the care of a neighbourhood bully drowning kittens. Easily cutting the wiggling thing open without a care in the world, curiously poking and prodding it with her scalpel. Fascinated that the beings didn't die, not unless the fire that spawned them died, according to Harry.

"You sure I can't help? I'm a good cook." Rihoko told him earnestly, pouting a little. The times her mother had left her alone without a babysitter had made her rather adept at it. Of course she had no point of reference and therefore no idea that such was abnormal.

Something flickered in Harry's expression, some painful recognition, before he gave the girl a strained smile. "I'm sure." the man then levitated the pot onto the counter. Only then seeing the three newest additions to the room. "Ah, you come just in time."

"Do we?" Reina asked, still utterly nonplussed. As she spoke the origin of the creatures was revealed when a lizard fell out of a floating flame and onto the table; apparently created or summoned by the fire. The fall clearly hurt it, incapacitating the creature and making it easy to capture. Though, it seemed to rapidly and swiftly recuperate.

The man grinned crookedly. "Indeed." able to see their confusion, he waved towards the women sitting at the table. "They wanted to have a magical cooking experience and I decided to oblige them." he then patted Rihoko's head. "And Rihoko was a big help as well." the little girl beamed up at him with sparkling brown eyes. Next, with a wave of his stick all the floating flames were extinguished, followed by the ash and nearly all the leftover creatures flying towards him before vanishing as well. Only the sapphire flame cooking their meal was left intact, as well as the creatures it spawned.

"Hey!" Rie complained once her specimen died as the being's mother-flame was snuffed out. "I wasn't finished experimenting on it!" seeing that the Sekirei did have a few nearby she made to grab one, only for them to scramble towards Kazehana and Matsu.

Harry snorted at that. "Sorry for taking away your toy." sounding not sorry at all. Sure he too had killed many of the beings, but what Rie did rubbed him the wrong way still.

"Is that because I told you that you couldn't fire all those people?" Rie questioned, she crossed her arms and legs in annoyance. Unlike other countries, companies in Japan couldn't simply fire people for poor performance. Instead they basically bullied them out of the company by shunning, shaming and other more unsavoury methods in extreme cases.

"Why would you need to summon those endearing creatures though?" Kazehana questioned, ignoring Rie and blinking cutely at the last of the creatures before her on the table. A few of them – Salamanders, Harry called them – ate a few pepper corns out of the palm of her hand. Matsu was doing the same thing, with moderate success. They avoided Akitsu like the plague though, making her a bit depressed at being unable to coax them towards herself and seeing it as a personal failure.

'Maybe it's all the booze I drank that makes them like me?' the Wind Sekirei mused absent-mindedly.

Grin never wavering, he said. "A force of habit, I suppose. After all, I was rather poor before coming here." seeing their confusion remaining the wizard explained. "They're easy to summon with magical flames, as well as being excellent aids and ingredients in cooking." not to mention the Salamander Blood and Ashwinder Eggs being useful in potions. Sadly, the ease of procuring also made them cheap and therefore not much help in getting out of his debt. "Anyway, I'm nearly finished with the food. Akitsu, can you freeze a few of these eggs for me?"

"Ah... Of course, Harry-sama!" The woman immediately set upon the task single-mindedly.

He then took a few of the brightly orange eggs with his artificial hand – evidently done to prevent burns – and prepared an egg-and-flour batter mixed with cabbage, pork belly and some kimchi. He didn't even need to heat the oiled pan the pancakes were in, the batter apparently frying itself perfectly. Next he pulled a steaming rolls of sourdough out of the oven, their crust crackling and smelling delicious.

Unexpectedly, he turned to Maria next. "Do you want to help, Maria?" Harry asked, both his eyes holding something in them she could liken to something akin to compassion.

Maria took it as pity. She loathed pity.


Rihoko took the moment to protest. "But it's fun!" not comprehending why she didn't want to help. "I'll show you." the little girl insisted, making to grab Maria's hand and hoping to spend time with her.

The teenager simply huffed, scowling at the approaching girl and object of her ire. 'If she didn't exist mother would love me!' she thought with ironclad certainty. As such Maria took the only appropriate action for a person of her maturity. "I said no!" she snarled, shoving the small girl roughly to the ground with as much force as she could muster. Which was a lot, considering her genetically engineered strength surpassed most of humanity.

In a blind rage Maria advanced menacingly onto the downed girl, murder on her mind. "Maria!" she heard Potter's warning bark, but ignored it in favour of removing the obstacle to her mother's love and affection.

All of that was lifted and the world came back into focus when she felt a stinging slap on her cheek. Before her stood Reina, blocking her path towards Rihoko with her own body. Her amber eyes were narrowed, hard and flinty, chest heaving as adrenalin surged through her body in protection of her child.

The room was shocked into utter silence now. All eyes trained on the accidental spectacle.

"What do you think you're doing?!" Reina snarled out, uncharacteristically emotional.

Maria looked around frantically, a sinking feeling developed in her gut. Seeing that all the people here hated her she fled the room in tears without a word. Even Aoi didn't follow her, too shocked to do so immediately and afterwards not wanting to be rude to her host.

"Well, that just happened." Harry sighed out in frustration, getting various noises and nods of agreement from the other occupants of the room. One part of him wanting to follow the mess of a girl, but another knew that it wouldn't accomplish anything right now. Better to let her cool off before trying anything. Though, he resolved to be more proactive in his dealings with Maria in the future.

No one spoke for a while. Luckily, in a few more minutes everything was prepared, the table was set and the dishes spread out across it. Some looked Japanese while others were wholly foreign. Either in their make or from the ingredients. There were things resembling Okonomiyaki, Yakitori and even some Unagi. Then there were things all of them didn't recognize.

One dish was potatoes and a huge chunks of meat with a nice char to it, served on a bed of seeds glowing like coals and emitting wisps of smoke like burning wood. The meat was covered in a sauce as red as blood, making it look freshly killed.

"What's that, Harry-tan?" Matsu asked curiously before she could contain herself, basically blurting the words out.

Her question was promptly answered. "That are roast potatoes made with troll fat and dragon steak served with fireseeds and a spicy smoulder-berry and salamander blood sauce." the blood helped to alleviate some of the burn with its regenerative properties.

"Dragon, really?" it could be a lie, but considering what she had just seen that seemed to be unlikely. Beside her, Rihoko made noises of wonder, eyes sparkling in delight.

"Isn't that horribly expensive?" Aoi asked, correctly assuming the meat to be rather rare.

Harry shook his head in the negative. "While many parts of a dragon are used in potion making or other products, and therefore quite sought after, Dragon meat is the exception. While just as rare, it is not expensive." he continued to explain. "The reason for that is that it's difficult to prepare – being a notoriously difficult meat – and most people not having the patience or experience for it. Not helped by its rarity. While it is basically unable to be overcooked, that also means it takes a long time to be done due to its inherent resistance to heat and fire." he then pointed towards the dish once more. "Though, I'm more proud of the fireseeds and smoulder-berry sauce giving it a smoky flavour."

Normally smoulder-berries weren't sought after for cooking, due to their ashy flavour and uncommon growing conditions. However, being poor and necessity being the mother of invention, he had taken the time to make the exotic flavour shine. Even troll fat was seen as reprehensible by most magicals despite being a rather good substitute, due to the stigma attached to the disgusting creatures.

He then pointed to the other things on the table. "I've also prepared some Crème Brûlée and Yorkshire Pudding as dessert." due to the Ashwinder eggs the dough for the latter even cooked itself perfectly; perfectly flaky and crisp. Much like the Okonomiyaki pancakes.

Lastly he pointed towards the Yakitori skewers. "That's Manticore impaled on the creatures own iron spikes."

"Aren't Manticores supposed to be extremely venomous?" Kazehana looked at the meat apprehensively, as if the beast could come back alive and devour her.

Harry nodded as he sat down. "Yeah, but its only dangerous if prepared incorrectly. Much like Fugu in that regard. Done correctly the toxicity in the spikes is dissolved and adds to the spice. Now then, tuck in."

Maria seethed as she stalked through Headquarters. Her tears still fell freely from her face, feeding the kindling hatred in her like gasoline. "H... How dare... they?!" she fumed, or at least tried to. The words instead came out with hiccups. The girl trying and failing to compose herself. Instead her whole being shook and vibrated with a mix of nervousness, sorrow and rage.

She had known that everyone hated her, but this just took the cake. Some small part of her had hoped that her moth... Reina would accept her in time. That hope was now dashed, its brains spilling out onto the pavement of her mind. Her thoughts then abandoned the idea of a mother, now too painful to linger on or contemplate.

She wiped the tears away angrily, growling. "If I had power nobody could hurt me! I could just take what I wanted." the idea appealed to her immensely, to never be vulnerable again.

"Why don't you just take it then?" a voice asked behind her.

Maria whirled around in shock, eyes wide in surprise at having been overheard. In front of her was one of the scientists working on the Cloneblades. The woman had also worked closely with Maria in the past to test her compatibility with the device, which was the highest out of any Neogene.

"What do you mean?" the girl asked suspiciously, not trusting the woman any more than any other person right now.

The female scientist clade in a lab coat shrugged. "If you want power then you take it for yourself and don't wait for someone to give it to you." she explained, a small grin forming on her barely existent lips. "It'd be a shame if your potential went to waste."

A shameless Plug.

Please go visit at P atreon .com (slash) Paperpusher101 if you're interested in supporting my writing.