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The Avalon bioroid factory (London time: Two hours before lunch; Berlin time: An hour before lunch)…

"Mizuho?"

Hearing no response from their classmate and friend, the two young women exchanged a look before ascending the stairs to the domed chamber that served as the living quarters of the mistress of the Staff of Gihan. Once there, they noted that Inada Mizuho was asleep in her bed, a gentle snore fluttering from her lips. The Staff was standing vertical on a special holder Mizuho synthesized for it right beside the bed, its focusing crystal softly pulsing. Seeing that tranquil scene, both Etō Megumi and Minami Kaori breathed out with a mixture of relief and exasperation. "I really wish she wouldn't do these things," the former quietly mused to her friend; even if the would-be warrior-priestess was normally dead to the world when she slept, it was only being polite. "What in the name of the gods has she been doing…?"

"Dearest…oh, you naughty boy…stop being so forward…!"

Both girls' cheeks reddened on hearing that passionate moan from their friend before they exchanged another look. "Ataru," Kaori whispered, a knowing smile crossing her freckled face. "Not that I don't blame her for dreaming of him…"

"You believe her, don't you?" the blue-eyed girl with the wavy black hair that went down to the level of her shoulder blades asked.

The bespectacled girl with the braided black hair and deep blue eyes nodded. "Hai. Even if she still scares me at times, she's never lied about anyth-…"

Controller, awaken.

Both girls jerked on hearing the Staff's powerful male voice echo through the room. A groan escaped Mizuho as her hazed mind seemed to teeter between wakefulness and the wonderful dream she was now having concerning her would-be bond-mate. The latter choice won out as another snore escaped her, which made her fellow "daydreamers" sigh. "She's tired, Bō-san," Megumi whispered as she put her fingertip to her lips to indicate that the Staff shouldn't push its current controller. "What's wrong?"

Gretchen Streit and Elle Andreas, two of the magical gynoids you encountered 33.2 days ago at the Therme Bad Wörishofen complex in the Free State of Bavaria, are attempting to communicate to the Controller, Etō Megumi, the Staff replied; even if Mizuho was the proper controller of the ancient Sagussan super-weapon, it had been made to allow her classmates — within reason — to assume temporary control whenever she was sleeping.

Both girls blinked before they blushed as they tried not to giggle. It had been a normal weekend away from the factory for the Shiroiwa girls. Having acquired a lot of euros to spend thanks to Mizuho hunting down some lost magical treasures for a friend of Mundungus Fletcher's, Krätzen Schnabel, the twenty-one middle school students from another dimension and ten years back in time had decided they wanted to visit a real European spa. Therme Bad Wörishofen was chosen because it was in Germany — the country that was always seen as the "bad" place in the eyes of the Greater East Asia Republic thanks to what the Nazis had done to the Imperial Family, to say anything of thousands of people in both Tōkyō and Kyōto, at the end of World War Two which saw the modern dictatorship finally rise in 1946 — and that it was relatively close to the magical district of Ratisbon in modern-day Regensburg near the Czech border; there, they could purchase normal clothing and not make use of the school uniforms they had got into the habit of wearing since their awakening in this dimension the day of the Liberation.

At the spa, they encountered a group of eight very beautiful women who had also elected to take a weekend off and enjoy soothing mineral waters. Soon enough, the Shiroiwa girls discovered that these "women" were actually magical golems created during the European magical side of the Greater East Asia War as part of a special research project meant to support German partisan efforts against the Allies in the wake of a final defeat. Led by a sexy green-eyed redhead named Cathrin Vogt — who saw their overall creator as her father — they had been living in a magical enclave on the slopes of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain; that location had been the site of a satellite camp of Dachau. There, they had been accepted as welcome guests by a coven of nightwalker vampires who were attracted to the place years ago by the sinkhole of death-magic that the slaughter of hundreds of Jewish and Roma partisans who had hunted civilians mercilessly in reprisal over the Holocaust unleashed; allying with the vampires ensured the magical gynoids would not have to deal with a party of wizards and witches seeking to destroy them.

However, due to the incredible complexity of their programming which made them totally human in every aspect imaginable — not to mention the urge they often felt to be intimate with a lover; they had all been designed as living sex dolls despite later proposals to upgrade them to "war golem" status for use in the field — Cathrin and her sisters frequently went out to spend time intermingling with normal people, usually in places were no magical save the odd normal-born might go. Luck just brought them to the Roman-style spa near Bad Wörishofen the same day the Shiroiwa girls came down from the factory. And while Mizuho and her classmates had been as cautious as ever when it came to shielding their identities, being with Cathrin and her sisters — even for just a couple of days — had been as close to normalcy for the twenty-one victims of The Program as they had enjoyed since they first woke up in Gestation Tower #98.

"What do they want?" Kaori asked.

It appears that Gretchen Streit and Elle Andreas are part of the overall situation concerning the daywalker vampires under the command of Adam Sewell who have been moving recently to attack magicals, Minami Kaori. They have intelligence they wish to pass on to the Controller concerning what Adam Sewell and his allies plan to do to those people currently incarcerated within Her Majesty's Prison Azkaban in 17.5 hours time.

Mizuho's friends exchanged another look, then Megumi sighed. Mizuho had kept her friends appraised of what had been happening down on Earth over the last couple days, especially when it came to the Schwarze Mädchen and how they had been saved from death thanks to an immortal Prussian warlord who had always been sympathetic to normal-born wizards and witches in the face of magical traditionalists; without a doubt, Josef von Taserich had learned of the presence of Niphentaxian observers — with their Avalonian slaves — before the start of World War Two and made use of non-templated bioroids to ensure Gellert Grindelwald's coven of hit-witches would survive the war. While their friend had been circumspect when it came to yesterday's incident in Diagon Alley — as if something else had happened at that time; the would-be warrior-priestess had acted quite giddy for a while after she returned from Gringotts with spending money for this weekend's trip to Japan — the other Shiroiwa girls knew what the vampires had been planning to do. As to the "why," Mizuho had no idea…but given that those creeps had planned to attack a light brigade's worth of witches trapped and totally helpless in cryogenic suspension in a cave at Nurmengard, it definitely wasn't good.

"Let's get changed," Megumi bade.

Kaori nodded…


Abertawe Alley overlooking the east bank of the River Tawe off Foxhole Road in Swansea (forty-five kilometres northeast of Lundy), ten minutes later…

"Are ye lasses sure the Friend of Dragons heard ye?"

"We believe so," Elle Andreas said with a polite smile as she gazed on the elderly owner of the Tawe Tea Room, Llywelyn Belyn. Even if she could speak the Queen's English with no foreign accent whatsoever, the raven-haired golem with the dark brown eyes and the olive-brown skin decided to act "natural" and allow herself to be recognized right away as a native of Germany. "We encountered her and her friends at a spa not far from München a month ago. We overheard something concerning those vampires who've attacked people in Britain yesterday and wanted to pass it on to her."

That made the balding near-squib blink; he had barely been able to pass his OWLs at Hogwarts back in the mid-1940s and had never gone on to NEWT study. "Then why don't ye speak to them Black Maidens? They've got a Royal Warrant backing them up to flush them monsters out of the country. They'd want to know what's going on."

"I'm sure die Freundin von Drachen will do that," Gretchen Streit mused as she gave him a smile, which made him blush; he was a sucker for a pretty face and the diminutive blonde with the brown eyes was that. "Besides, aren't you curious as to who she is?"

He considered that for a moment, then nodded. "Aye, that's true!" He shrugged as he turned to head back behind the bar. "Well, if anyone can figure it out, it'll be ol' Xeno Lovegood or his daughter Luna at the Quibbler. Far better reporters than that mudrackin' lot that run the Prophet these days." With a snort, he headed off.

Once they were relatively alone — they had chosen a back corner booth in the small tea shop so they wouldn't attract attention; also, at this time of day, the place was empty save for the owner — both women relaxed. "«She normally responds to requests for her to come meet people promptly,»" Elle mused in German. "«What's the delay?»"

Gretchen shrugged. "«She's a normal woman underneath all that power, Elle,»" she replied. "«She needs to sleep. Given what happened yesterday…»"

Elle nodded. Given that they had lived with vampires for the better part of sixty-five years ever since they hid themselves after the Trischen Academy was occupied by forces of the American Magical Corps under Mollie Bean's command a week before the Battle of the Gates, the golems created by Johannes Vogt had forged deep connections with many covens of the undead across the Continent. The incident yesterday at Oświęcim — even if they were German spiritually, neither Elle nor Gretchen addressed that awful place as "Auschwitz" — had sent shock waves across Europe, making many vampires cringe as they wondered what the hell had brought the Avatar of the Master of Entropy himself across from Japan to confront two daywalker vampires inside the magical section of the Birkenau extermination camp. While the official statement from the Polish Ministry of Magic had confirmed that one of the daywalkers had been slain by Moroboshi Ataru and the other taken off to be transformed into an Avalonian, there had been no details.

Elle and Gretchen had been quick to understand what happened and why. Wilhelm Mandel and Janina Neumann were unrepentant Nazis that had been drafted into the SS when they, for some odd reason, avoided being called to serve in the Magische Reichsarmee. Both had been members of the SS detachment at the extermination camp set up near Oświęcim and had been involved in the torture and murder of hundreds of magical partisans who raped and killed thousands of normal Germans in retaliation for the Final Solution. They had been turned by Adam Sewell and his sister Vadoma — then possessing a pair of normal vampires — sometime after the end of World War Two, becoming drifters as they dreamt of the day the Nazi banner would be raised again over the Fatherland…yet doing nothing to promote the rise of a "Fourth Reich," which proved what cowards they really were deep down in the golems' eyes. After Adam had made his alliance with Theodore Nott to deal with the Avalonians, both Wilhelm and Janina had been sent to Oświęcim to tap into the huge sinkhole of death magic haunting the extermination camp there in hopes of allowing Adam's friends to finally reacquire corporeal forms after they had been destroyed at the hands of the Rail-Splitter and his allies during the Civil War and the Score and Four.

Somehow, both Elle and Gretchen now suspected, the spirits of those who had been killed at Birkenau during World War Two called out to Ataru in Japan…bringing the man who had been the last host of the Earth Angel and the Xiàolíng Emperor of Hàn across Eurasia to confront Wilhelm and Janina. Given that the man had been touched directly by the ancient Sagussan god of death himself — as many Avalonians now believed — such an encounter would have seen Ataru assume his "Cyborg" form even if he was genetically an Avalonian himself, thus safe from being turned; in that Terminator-like form, it was believed Ataru could easily survive a direct attack from the Protector of All Life herself. Wilhelm was killed, Janina captured and forced through a body-swap…

…and Ataru had gained the chance to meet Inada Mizuho for the first time.

Thinking of that, Gretchen smirked. While most of the other Shiroiwa girls were normal teenagers despite the living hell they had endured thanks to The Program, the mistress of the Staff of Gihan was the epitome of uniqueness. The role playing gamer who had suffered from schizophrenia — according to the Battle Royale manga; such had never been stated in the novel…though it had been quite obvious given her behaviour — who had won control of one of the most deadly weapons ever forged had overcome her illnesses to become an international and interplanetary magical heroine with a stature equal to Harry Potter's and Nagi Springfield's. And while she always spoke with the haughty tones of a magical knight from the high Middle Ages, Mizuho could back up her words with prompt, violent action as magical poachers of all types had learned to their cost since the day she rescued a young girl from dying in Hogwarts in March…

"Gretchen-san! Elle-san!"

Hearing that voice, both girls' heads snapped over to gaze upon two teenagers in normal clothing walking into the tea room, one holding the Staff of Gihan. As Llywelyn blinked in confusion on noting that neither of them was the Friend of Dragons, Elle and Gretchen waved back, beckoning Etō Megumi and Minami Kaori — as they had long concluded given how close these two girls were to Inada Mizuho; surmising who was which had been easy given Kaori's freckles, an echo of the acne scars that she had endured back in her first life — over. "«It's been a long time, hasn't it?»" Elle asked in Japanese.

"«It has,»" Megumi answered as she gently placed the Staff on the floor nearby before they sat down. "Master!" she then called out in accented English towards the bar. "Two breakfast teas, please," she asked as she held up a galleon coin.

He nodded. "Aye, lass, right away." He then stopped. "Um…?"

"She's sleeping right now," Kaori answered as she nudged close to Gretchen, reaching down with a hand to grasp the golem's. "Just because she's willing to do things that your magical police don't bother with doesn't mean she's Ultraman."

Llywelyn blinked before nodding in understanding. "Aye, that's true," he said as he moved to make tea. "Harry Potter and his friends across Europe have been fighting to boost up the number of aurors ever since that Riddle wanker was put down in '97. But do the bloody tightwads in the Wizengamot and elsewhere want to pay for it? No! Of course not! Then they start complaining whenever them poachers your friend's been going after try to steal dragons! Dragon handlers can't handle people trying to steal from their reservations. They shouldn't bloody hell have to, anyway!" He shook his head before coming over with the tea, then made change for Megumi's galleon.

Once he headed back to the bar, Megumi mentally commanded the Staff to throw up a notice-me-not field around them; Llywelyn wouldn't be affected, but he wouldn't overhear their words unless they called out to him directly. Given the stupid attitudes magicals had towards golems — especially sentient ones — it was just being kind to a pair of wonderful friends. "What's wrong, Elle-san?" she asked, keeping to English even if she used the Japanese honorifics; it was good practice and she had expanded her knowledge of that language in recent months far beyond what the teachers at Shiroiwa Junior High School had done for her back in more innocent days.

"How much has your friend told you about what's been going on in Europe these last couple of days?" Elle asked as she reached over to grasp Megumi's hand.

A sigh answered from the younger woman, though she didn't try to use her new powers to probe into the golem's head. Elle's spirit was anchored to a ruby meson crystal inside her skull — which did wonders for her behavioural programming — and it would keep her thoughts shielded from anything save something with the equivalent energy output of the Power Jewel…which the Staff did have, though only Mizuho could make it do such things. Besides, probing into the mind of another person really made Megumi cringe; it was a gross invasion of that person's privacy. "Some vampires — not from the coven close to where you live — decided to steal magic. They went after the Schwarze Mädchen first before our friend found out about them and brought them to the bioroid factory to be let out of their chambers. Now they're going after the people in Azkaban. The attack should be sometime before dawn tomorrow morning. Since our friend can't detect people hiding behind meson shields, it's hard to track them down with the Staff."

"Do you know where they are?" Kaori asked as she felt Gretchen — whom she had spent a lot of intimate time with a month ago — allow her hand to rest on the golem's leg.

"No," Gretchen replied with a light smile as Kaori's hand began to gently rub her leg. "Even if the disembodied ones are grateful to be using corporeal forms that didn't come already equipped with a living soul, it still strikes them as 'unnatural' to be in the bodies of golems." She tried not to scowl on saying that as the younger girls blinked in surprise on hearing that the vampires they were talking about were possessing golem bodies in lieu of having their own. "Atop that, those bodies weren't — as far as we know — built with tracing mechanisms that would allow us to track them." She sighed before sipping her tea; her body possessed special mechanisms that could break down food and allow it to repair any damaged components in the same manner a normal person's body would via one's digestive system. "Like it or not, we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see them eliminated," she added. "Are you aware of who leads them now?"

"Hai. He was one of the idiots who goaded the start of the American Civil War back in 1861. Our friend didn't know about those guys 'borrowing' bodies like that," Megumi breathed out as she sipped her own tea…and tried not to blush too much as Elle allowed the younger girl's free hand to gently fall on her leg. Much that she often enjoyed sex with many of her classmates, it still struck her as odd to do this with another woman…even if Elle HAD been built as a living sex toy! "Really shocked us all when we found out that Lincoln-daitōryō was still alive after being shot in the back of the head by that Booth creep just after Lee-taishō surrendered."

"Herr Sewell was magical before he was turned," Elle stated as she wrapped an arm around Megumi's waist, which made her blush as she found herself leaning against the taller woman. "And after living for five thousand years, he's picked up a lot of magical knowledge. Including how to create horcruxes." At the younger girls' curious looks, she moved to explain about what was often seen as the blackest of magics.

Both Kaori and Megumi made faces at the idea of literally ripping one's very soul apart to remain on the mortal plane even if the body was killed; even if they had been saved from final death thanks ultimately to a sweet boy who only wanted to have a replica of his favourite manga character created, they knew all things were mortal and would die, even those who called themselves "Immortals." The former then blinked. "Wasn't that what that Riddle creep used to stay alive after Harry-san's mother killed him?"

"Same idea. The souls are anchored in necklaces they wear," Elle affirmed, nodding.

"So all our friend has to do is destroy those necklaces, right?" Megumi asked.

"It would be smarter to destroy the bodies as well," Gretchen stated. "Unlike us — and unlike the prototypes that Linn Heinrich developed with our creator's assistance, I think — they were built primarily for combat. While we would be seen as acceptable since we are designed as intimate gynoids, they…" She shook her head.

"Are you guys safe?" Kaori asked.

The golems blinked before breathing out. "We should be," Elle affirmed. "Our current host, Theodore Nott, doesn't realize we're not human. The meson in our bodies allows us all to simulate wandless magical powers with great ease, right up to using what are known as the 'unforgivable curses'; our creator privately managed to forge some diamond and ruby meson on his own to get around the restrictions imposed by the government concerning the use of that material. Since it's only just a little over a half-day away from the attack on Azkaban, we could easily escape and make our way back home."

"Though you could…" Gretchen playfully added with a wink.

That made Mizuho's best friends titter in embarrassment at such a blatant offer to become Gretchen's and Elle's mistresses. A month ago when they had all been together at the spa, Cathrin and her seven sisters had been willing to demonstrate ALL their sexual capabilities to the Shiroiwa girls, even the ability to transform into a hermaphrodite of sorts and act as a male lover. While the more sexually promiscuous of the Shiroiwa girls — Sōma Mitsuko, Shimizu Hirono, Yahagi Yoshimi and Tendō Mayumi — were tempted to do just that so that the golems would have a REAL home to call their own after sixty-five years of hiding from magical humans, Noda Satomi had slammed down hard on it. As always, the smartest of the Shiroiwa girls was driven by her steadfast belief that come next February, all of them would be forced back into the dimension of their birth…and where would that leave poor Cathrin and her sisters then? While an argument ensued, it was stopped by Nakagawa Noriko immediately. While stating that she herself was quite curious about being intimate with such perfect lovers — that had made the golems madly blush on hearing such a complement from the Elder Mother of the Shiroiwa girls — Noriko said that since they were Avalonians even if they were Terran-turned, it just wouldn't be right and proper to enslave Cathrin and her sisters.

"We want to be like you," Elle stated.

Kaori and Minami perked on hearing that before they exchanged looks. "It's just like those mechanical gynoids Ataru had to make love to a week ago," the former noted.

"Could you do a body-swap as you are now?" the latter asked.

The golems considered that before nodding. "We could," Gretchen stated. "We read about that incident in The News of the Magical World; the coven in Spitzeberg has a subscription." The non-human magical publication has its monthly issues sent out a week after the Quibbler's issues went out to human subscribers; while Luna Lovegood couldn't get the story concerning Haida's new crew members out in the latest issue of the latter publication, she did with the former. "Still, we are comfortable bonding with organic humanoids; that's how we were built in the first pl-…"

She and Elle then jerked slightly as they felt something wash over them from the east-northeast. Kaori and Minami were quick to sense it. "What's wrong?" the latter gasped as she moved to gently comfort Elle. "You look sick. Are you alright, Elle-san?"

Elle blinked before she gazed in confusion at the younger girl. "I don't know…"


Northwest of the M1/M5 interchange near Swinford (seventeen kilometres east of Coventry) in Leicestershire, fifteen minutes before…

"Mistress! Mistress! Mistress, you must get up…"

A groan escaped from under the pile of blankets atop the bed in the master bedroom of the Preceptory, the traditional home of the Noble and Ancient Magical House of Vance of Swinford; its last known living member had been Tobias Vance, who had been killed by the Curse of Maha since he had been the future Vanessa Zabini's husband and he had been "stealing" her from Melvin Kneen. Despite the fact that no one had lived in this place outside the house elves for well over thirty-three years, the Preceptory had been well maintained; it was named such because of a monastery that had been located at this very site which had been used by the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of Saint John until 1540 at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries as King Henry VIII launched the English Reformation. Regardless of the rumours that had circulated over the years because of Vanessa becoming the richest magical woman in the country thanks to the large monetary bequeaths her seven husbands had left her in their wills, she had loved those men with a fierce devotion and wanted to ensure that their ancestral homes were kept intact in case a potential distant relative came along to claim the property.

Which Linn Heinrich had done when she was confirmed to be the heiress to the Earldom of Swinford via her mother, descent of a squib of the Vance family who married an officer of the King's German Legion in the latter years of the Napoleonic Wars.

"I'm up…!" an accented voice muttered from under the covers as a slender hand moved to shift away the blankets to reveal the tired face of the new Countess of Swinford. "What time is it…?" she groaned before hissing, "Tempus!"

A ghostly clock appeared before her, showing the time to be 10:12 AM. "Oh, damn…!" Linn grunted as she moved to get up. "Chassi, has breakfast been made?!"

A grinning Chassi, the head elf of the Vance household, nodded. "Yes, Mistress! Miss Ursula made a big breakfast for Mistress! Mistress should eat!"

Linn blinked before she sighed. "Ach, forgot…!" she muttered before tromping off to the bathroom to relieve herself and wash up before dressing.

A few minutes later — experience out in the field had taught the native of Northeim how to be quick when it came to morning ablutions before starting her work day — she walked into the kitchen to see a nude woman standing in front of the stove as she monitored some rice bubbling in a pot. Well, this lovely woman was almost nude; this replica of Linn's childhood friend had draped her front with an apron that didn't come close to disguising the incredible curves of her body, not to mention the smooth skin of her backside. As if she was doing everything to tease her creator into taking her and ravaging her every way imaginable, this living memorial to Ursula Wagner seemed not to care one bit that she was distracting Linn from more important things.

Then again, that was what she had been built to do in the first place.

"Guten Morgen, meine Herrin," Ursula teased as she winked at Linn, gently shifting her vibrant red hair — tied in a high ponytail — in a seductive manner as her hazel eyes sparkled with the passion that had been programmed into her from the start.

A groan responded. "Ursula! Who made me sleep so long?!" Linn snarled as she sat at the table, picking up a cup of coffee. "I should have been up hours ago."

"Elisa called over the floo and ordered me to let you sleep, Linn," Ursula said as she turned the heat down on the rice, then moved to pick up her own cup of coffee before walking over to sit beside her creator/mistress. "Everyone in the brigade have managed to get all the loose gynoids under control. The meeting of the Wizengamot won't be until this afternoon at two o'clock so you could take your oath as head of your house. Since Herr Sewell and his friends are no doubt wanting to NOT keep losing numbers to the brigade, they've probably gone to ground to conserve their energy and prepare for tomorrow's raid on Azkaban." She then smirked. "Since you DID stay up so late…"

Linn shook her head. "Couldn't be really avoided, especially with what Frau Bulstrode discovered," she noted before sipping her coffee. "How are you feeling?"

"Aroused and wanting you to make love to me for hours on end, Liebste," Ursula flatly stated, which made the other woman snort in amusement. "But then again, you made me this way, Linn…and then you wound up inside a storage tank for sixty-five years, which meant that I was practically dead to the world for the same amount of time! The bond's still there, but because your magic is so different now…"

"Soon, Geliebte," Linn vowed as she reached over to gently stroke the nexus between the golem's legs, which made Ursula gasp in delight as she leaned into that grope and allowed a certain little part of her to grow out so her creator could play with it. "Not now. The Vengeance of Blood is still in effect until we run Herr Sewell and his friends into the ground. Once that's done, we'll spend a wonderful night exploring all we did after you first awoke back at Trischen, then we'll go on from there."

A delighted sigh escaped the golem. "I can't wait!" Ursula mewed as she licked her tongue in anticipation, winking at her creator before turning back to her coffee.

Linn smirked as she turned back to her own meal. Ursula Wagner had been her first — and for a long time, only — true friend. Having moved to Northeim after her family had been run out of old West Prussia when she was a baby — that part which would later be incorporated into a newly-independent Poland to give that nation access to the Baltic Sea — Ursula had been bombarded constantly with the outpouring of anger which would come to benefit the Nazis as they finally moved to seize power and overthrow the Weimar Republic in the early 1930s. One of the founding members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel when it was still known as the Schwesternschaften der Hitler-Jugend, Ursula persuaded Linn to join just before the latter received her invitation to go to Trischen in 1928. There — especially during their summer vacations, where Linn could return from her "special gymnasium" to be with Ursula — they made friends with others of their mädchengruppe, all of whom were also refugees from those parts of Germany which were stripped from the Reich in the wake of the Treaty of Versailles. While Linn herself understood the injustice that treaty and its clauses had unleashed on the German people, she didn't buy fully into the Nazi propaganda…especially after she began magical training and learned how truly vast and complex God's Creation really was.

After they finally left the BDM on reaching their eighteenth birthdays the year Linn graduated from Trischen, Ursula and the other members of their mädchengruppe joined the Party full-time to work under Trude Mohr and later Dr. Jutta Rüdiger to expand the League into every faucet of the lives of adolescent German women. They all stayed in touch with Linn as she became one of the founding members of the Schwarze Mädchen. Despite the pressures to adhere to the Statute of Secrecy, Linn knew Ursula and her friends wouldn't find magic really so odd as they had been deep admirers of Germany's many Steel Angels, the special guardians of the Fatherland when the Reichswehr had been nearly adulterated thanks to Versailles; since there had been no magical counterpart to World War One, research into creating the magical combat gynoids had gone ahead full-force with help from the Americans. That would — with some prompting from Gellert Grindelwald — make Linn research special security spells that would allow normals beyond what was allowed in the Statute to learn of magic and keep the secret; it had been based on the Fidelius Charm mixed with a wide-area geas anchored to a ward-stone.

Remembering Ursula's reaction on seeing Linn demonstrate some transfiguration after she had cast the charm, the chief interrogator of the Black Maidens could only smirk as the redhead's shouted "Where can I learn that?!" echoed once more through her mind.

World War Two began four years after Linn and her friends left the BDM to pursue their adult lives. By then, Ursula and her friends had become local group leaders in the BDM in the old territory of the Kingdom of Hanover, with fashion-conscious Gisela Müller becoming the commander of their old troop in Northeim. While the business of waging a war on multiple fronts often prevented them from getting together for a night of reminiscing and exchanging gossip, they weren't strangers. Linn had served as Elsa Böhm's maid of honour when she married her childhood sweetheart Günter Friedrich on Christmas Day in 1940 after he — then a member of the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler — had come home for a couple weeks' from his unit, which was then in occupied France.

It was during those holidays that Linn made a proposal…


Northeim, the Heinrich home, Wednesday 1 January 1941, breakfast…

"You want us to do WHAT, Linn?!"

Linn smirked as she wandlessly placed cups of tea before her friends; seeing their magical friend perform such a feat always sent shivers of envy and awe through them. "We're doing a special experiment with a form of magical gynoid — not so different from the Steel Angels — to act as intimate companions for the members of the Magische Reichsarmee." She gazed on Elsa Böhm, who had a beautiful glow on her face; a quick check with mage sight unfortunately revealed that she was not yet with child. "Your husband probably knows this better than I do, Elsa. How many troops in France are sick with syphilis because they decided to go visit a brothel in Paris or some other place?"

Elsa scowled, which made her look even cuter. She seemed a lot younger than her actual twenty-three years of age, her face dotted with many freckles around a thin nose and dark blonde hair she once tied in side ponytails but now kept braided to mid-back. "My husband would never cheat on me, Linn!" she snapped. "You know that!"

"Oh, stop that!" the bespectacled chief interrogator of the Schwarze Mädchen scolded. She had shocked all her friends when she came to the wedding with the Iron Cross First Class — won for personal bravery while helping in the invasion of the Netherlands in May — on her black mess dress uniform with the ankle-length skirt and the standard SS badges on her jacket; a mixed confounding and notice-me-not charm fixed to her jacket ensured those who weren't in on the secret of magic wouldn't question what a WOMAN was doing in the uniform of the Party's elite guard. "I know Günter would never do that, Elsa! He's a puppy! All you have to do is yank his leash and he'll do tricks!"

The others all laughed as Elsa huffed and puffed, glaring at the taller woman. "She is right about that, Elsa," Ursula Wagner — who was no relation to the Führer's favourite composer, Linn knew — noted before sipping her tea. "Remember back when we were in the Bund and Günter's group always tried to launch 'attacks' on our camp when we were enjoying summer break from school?" She winked at Elsa, who was now blushing a bright red. "I always wondered where he always disappeared to when we were busy dropping water balloons on his mates. You did seem quite happy afterwards."

"Ursula!" Elsa cried out.

More laughter filled the kitchen as the others gazed enviously on the first of their group to get married. "Well, you'll never have to worry about divorce or anything like that, Elsa," Gisela Müller stated as she playfully patted her friend's leg. "All you really have to do is worry about his surviving the war." She then shook her head, her dark hazel eyes hooded with sorrow; her own father had killed during the invasion of France. "I just hope it ends soon," the black-haired woman added. "It's nice to put the stupid French down finally after what they did to us in '19, but if the British don't finally see reason and sue for peace, we can probably expect the Americans to jump into it sooner or later. Let alone the Soviets." She gazed on Linn. "Is it really that bad in Russia, Linn? You told us about this woman…"

"Svetlána Múromeca," Linn provided. "Currently the Deputy Commissar of Magical Affairs and the woman in charge of all internal security issues when it comes to the magical enclaves in the USSR. Ever since the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917 — especially after Stálin succeeded Lénin — she's been waging a campaign to liquidate whole villages in Russia to ensure there could be no resistance to the 'new order' there."

"'Liquidate?'" Ursula asked as a chill filled her heart.

"Exterminate," Linn coldly stated. "Every man and woman — even the children above the age where they would have been invited to commence formal instruction — are all shot dead, then buried in unmarked graves to ensure relatives trying to seek revenge have no place to find the remains. Younger children have their minds wiped and they're given over to loyalists to ensure they have the proper 'political education.'" She made a face on saying that. "Almost like what Herr Rölm ultimately wanted to see happen here."

The others scowled. The former leader of the Sturmabteilung had been a loyal member of the Party until he began showing signs that he wanted to challenge Adolf Hitler for the overall leadership of the Fatherland shortly after the 1933 elections finally saw the Nazis gain what they had sought for over a decade. Of course, such disunity at the top was something Germany simply couldn't afford as the nation moved to escape the ravages of the Great Depression, so Rölm and all of his allies were eliminated in Operation: Hummingbird, known more popularly these days as the "Night of the Long Knives."

In the eyes of Linn's friends, that had been a good thing. The SA were, for the most part, simple pigs in comparison to the dashing black knights of the SS from whom their host's own organization was modelled after. Yes, there were good people in the Brownshirts — the young native of Bielefeld west-northwest of Northeim murdered by Communist thugs three years before the Führer's election as Chancellor, Horst Wessel, being one such person — but the vast majority of them were brainless thugs that were best used to help keep the Jews suppressed and provide conscripts for the Wehrmacht.

"Does Minister Grindelwald intend to invade Russia?" Ursula asked.

"He's preparing for it," Linn warned as she gave her friends a knowing look, which made them all nod in understanding. The message their host was conveying was quite simple: NO speaking of this to other people since anything the Magische Reichsarmee did was always performed in concert with the Wehrmacht. "Not that we should have too much trouble. Thanks to Comrade Múromeca, all the classical knowledge the magicals of Russia had which could have helped them defend the country from outside invasion has either been wiped out by the Communists or lost when refugees fled the country to places like Finland." Since Finland was, in all effect, allied to Germany, that was alright in the eyes of the others. "We hit them smartly and hit them constantly the instant the Führer decides its time, we should knock the whole rotting works down soon enough before winter sets in and saves them like it saved them from Napoléon and his army in 1812." She nodded. "Which would be good, given how many people that monster Stálin's killed or allowed to starve to death over the last decade and more. They'd be crying to us to liberate them, especially the Ukrainians and the Baltics."

The others nodded. While the idea of getting into a war with a nation the size of the Soviet Union was a scary prospect — in terms of total population, the Soviets outnumbered the Germans at an over two-to-one scale — the superiority of the Aryan race over the Slavic subhumans would negate those advantages. Atop that, the Nazis encouraged creativity and industrial prowess while the Communists did all they could to stifle it. Heaven save the Fatherland if Lénin's little lapdogs in Germany — who had gladly and willingly helped stab the German Army in the back in 1918 that had ultimately cost so much as all of Linn's friends could attest — had actually won power…!

Ursula shook her head. Much that she — like any other educated woman in Germany — often lamented what had happened over the last three decades, it wouldn't really help much since there was no way in heaven that women in Germany would be allowed to help make such critical strategic decisions anytime soon. Gazing on Linn, who had fallen silent as she gazed out the window at her family's small backyard, the native of Graudenz — which the Poles had renamed "Grudziądz" — felt a touch of envy at how far the gangling and once-friendless woman had come in the ranks of the Black Maidens. The commander of the brigade's intelligence company and the chief interrogator — in essence, a magical intelligence officer — and a gifted technomancer, holding the equivalent Army rank of major, winner of the first class Iron Cross for bravery in the field…

"What is it?"

She perked before a smirk crossed her face as she gazed on Linn, who had noted that Ursula had been staring at her. "So what's this about making gynoid replicas of all of us, Linn?" the redhead then playfully teased. "I know you magicals are a lot more accepting of that sort of thing than we normals, but why…?"

As the others laughed, Linn took a deep breath. "Oh, maybe because I want to help you people feel as if you're helping our side of the war out other than lending me your ears whenever I need to complain about something," she said as she gazed on her oldest friend. "Ultimately, Master Gellert hopes to bring down the Statute of Secrecy once and for all and restore things to the way they were before 1692." That the master of the Elder Wand ultimately desired to have magicals rule over normals was still an issue to be dealt with, but that could wait until it was over with and Europe free of pureblood tyranny. "I never understood it ever since I was invited to Trischen back in '28. We're all human in the end. I was born from a banker and a housewife, neither of which had any magic inside them even if Mutti was descent from the powerless daughter of some old British noble line during the days of the King's German Legion. Magicals and normals have intermarried for years, even after the Statute was made law. Given what happened when the Steel Angels were made, what's so wrong with getting rid of that agreement?"

The others nodded. Ever since Linn had devised that wonderful privacy charm to ensure they couldn't speak openly of magic willy nilly to everyone who passed by, they often had thought about the whole situation behind what had separated magical from normal at the end of the Seventeenth Century. Yes, there had been a lot of witch trials in the old Holy Roman Empire during the previous couple of centuries…but with the coming of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, that sort of idiotic paranoia would have gone away eventually, replaced by calm and rational acceptance of magicals as being simply gifted by the Creator to do things no normal person could. And since it was possible to allow the power of magic to be passed on to children, the whole stupid situation concerning the so-called "purebloods" inbreeding with each other — as the case of many elements of the European royal families before the Great War showed when it came to the transmission of hereditary illnesses and other deformities — would never have arisen in the first place. Since magicals were ultimately forced by their own laws to adhere to the dictates of one's head of state — in Germany's case, the Führer himself — any potential cases of "muggle baiting" could be slapped down hard. And with the rise of non-magical metahumans as this new Übermenschen Gruppe being created by the famous Rittmeister Josef Freiherr von Taserich — a man rumoured to have lived for over TWENTY THOUSAND years! — loudly demonstrated, magic really wasn't so odd.

"I would have loved to come attend your graduation ceremony," Elsa finally noted. "We all would have, especially since it was on a Saturday and there was no regular school for us." She then shrugged. "You can work to make it happen for our children, Linn. That's why you're fighting this war, isn't it? To free those who only desire to have the right to live their lives as they so choose without hurting anyone else."

"That I am. All of us are," Linn lamented before she sighed. "Did I ever tell you all about Danni Larssen? She's a jäger company commander in our First Battalion."

The others nodded. "Norwegian girl from outside Oslo," Ursula stated. "She's a really beautiful woman. I'd swear she was German. What about her, Linn?"

"Well, she got her Iron Cross in the same fight I got mine when we hit the magical quarter of Amsterdam," Linn reported. "After it was over and Doña Rosa checked us out, we crawled back into the barracks to get some sleep. Danni invited me over so we could have some lava schnapps to make the shakes go away." As Elsa's eyes instantly teared in horrified sympathy on hearing about her friend's suffering — as the devoted wife of a soldier, she understood all too well about the post-battle mental trauma people like her husband endured even well after it was all over with; ever since he had come home, Günter had nightmares about what he had seen and done out in the field — and the others grimaced, Linn sipped her tea. "Next thing we know, we were in Danni's bed going at each other like crazy!" She shook her head as the others all gaped in shock at her; since she was a very reserved woman at all times, they NEVER thought Linn Heinrich could ever do something like THAT! "Much that it's okay once in a while…"

"It's just not natural," Ursula noted.

Linn nodded. "And over half of the Magische Reichsarmee are men," she finished.

The others considered that for a moment, then Gisela breathed out. "Well, we've been doing everything we can for the war effort since it started. Why not this?"

People gazed on her, then Elsa breathed out, "Will they treat them nice?"

Linn smirked. "They'll have honour duels over yours, Elsa!"

That made the petite girl blush as the others laughed…


Linn walked into the living room to see the five other female gynoids she had created in her first batch of prototypes standing at parade rest in front of the coffee table. As Ursula came up to stand close to her creator — she had dressed herself in surplus fatigues with no rank insignia on her epaulettes — Linn tried not to weep on seeing those familiar faces even if their eyes were closed in simulated sleep. From little Elsa Böhm to sultry Gisela Müller, from the vivacious Irmgard Töpfer to the timid Monika Benz and the playful Marta Busch, they had been perfect in as many ways as Linn and her co-workers could make, using special crystals — not mesonium ones; Linn hoped to augment them with such as soon as possible — to copy the memories and souls of their templates to ensure these replicas could behave with the same level of humanity, even to the point where any non-magical would not notice the difference. That had been the same way with the male prototypes after they had been created; they had been mentally templated on male relatives of German members of the Schwarze Mädchen even if there had been liberties taken in the physical design. Currently, the male golems were currently in the main dining hall and under the charge of her company sergeant-major, Caroline Pierson, a flame-haired native of the Belgian town of Ghent in East Flanders.

Taking a deep breath, Linn set the coffee cup aside, then gestured with her hand. "Aufwachen Galatea!"

Five pairs of eyes snapped open as the golems seemed to stiffen for a moment before they relaxed and looked around. Their eyes all soon locked on their creator. "Linn!" Elsa yelped as she came over to warmly embrace the taller girl. "How are you?!"

Linn gently rubbed Elsa's hair, which made her blush at that show of tenderness. On seeing that, the chief interrogator tried not to smirk as she allowed the others to gather around her to give her hugs and kisses. When the real Elsa Böhm's memories were copied into her replica, the latter seemed to develop a childish side that was worlds different from the loyal soldier's wife the original became. Sure enough, Linn's prediction on how others of the Magische Reichsarmee seconded to the initial tests — even the few volunteers from the Schwarze Mädchen who came out to help with those trials — would react to the gynoid Elsa had come true. She had to break up a half-dozen brawls between her comrades who wanted to claim the pretty girl as their own permanent lover, threatening them with a spell at the detention barracks at Nurmengard if they didn't keep their heads straight and their minds on the task at hand. Of course, the female prototypes had been blood-bonded to their creator as a precaution…though, if Ursula's behaviour earlier was any indication, that would make things pretty intense for the new Countess of Swinford come tomorrow evening…!

"So where are we, anyway?" Irmgard asked as she looked around, her blue eyes taking in the richly-decorated and incredibly old stone-walled room they were now in.

"As I once told your other-self, Irma, my mother's family is descent from one of the British blue-blood magical families, the Vances of Swinford," Linn explained. "This is their home, the Preceptory; it's an old monastery outside Rugby in Leicestershire."

"We won the war?!" Monika exclaimed.

"Nein," Linn answered. "Like I told you before I made you go to sleep, the Wehrmacht surrendered finally a week after Herr Hitler killed himself and freed all of us from that verdammt oath that blinded us to what was going on in Poland thanks to the SS." As the golems scowled on hearing that — as they were magically bound to their creator, they had all sensed the wild mood-shift in Linn when she woke up to the true horror of what the Nazis had unleashed across Europe — the chief interrogator added, "You've been asleep a lot longer than what we originally planned. Let me explain…"


Afan Forest Park (twelve kilometres east of Swansea), that moment…

A flash of light and energy allowed four people in casual clothing — with one holding a rather tall staff possessing a large focusing crystal which glowed with power — to appear in a nice piece of forest overlooking the Afan Valley Road and the river of the same name not so far from the village of Cynonville. As soon as the teleportation sphere formed by the Staff of Gihan faded, Minami Kaori then moved to lay out a blanket on the ground so that she and her friends could relax themselves while Etō Megumi handed over the small basket that she had been carrying in her free hand to Elle Andreas and Gretchen Streit knelt down to help Kaori to set up a picnic. "Lucky thing Master was able to get hold of some food for us without getting too many people involved," Megumi noted as she placed the Staff down on the blanket before she slipped off her sneakers and stepped onto it. "Are you sure you're feeling okay now?"

"It went away almost as soon as it came," Elle admitted as she and the others did the same thing with their footwear before they sat down and relaxed. As Kaori moved to open the picnic basket to see what was there, the Italian-looking golem moved to lay her head in Megumi's lap. "I never felt something like that before."

"Neither did I," Gretchen noted. "Cathrin and the others didn't recognize it either; neither did Karl…and, save for the prototypes, he's the oldest one of us all." Before they had come out here to enjoy a pleasant lunch out in the forest far from any prying eyes, she had called over to Lundy Keep to check up on the others. Save for the odd disquiet that came over them the instant that wave of whatever-it-was had warped past them, nothing was wrong. Theodore Nott was still trying to trace down what little of his pureblood allies were left after last night's fun and the vampires themselves had gone off to meet up with their friends and review strategy for the raid on Azkaban tomorrow morning. While there WAS the chance of someone acting stupid between now and then, the losses of the last couple of days would make even the most idiotic of the blood-suckers now seeking to cause trouble in Britain realize that someone had just declared open hunting season on their kind with no bag limit.

Even if they were "undead," the drive to survive was always strong.

Kaori perked. "What about the prototypes, Gretchen-san?"

"There were thirty of them built between 1942 and 1944 as part of the original magical take-off of the Borghild Project," Elle explained. "Six females, twenty-four males. Like us, they were designed as intimate companions for members of the Magische Reichsarmee when they needed that and didn't want to risk getting venereal diseases or pregnancies…even WITH the existence of contraception charms. They first came on-line the same time Professor Vogt created Karl and Cathrin, then the rest of us." She then smiled as Megumi handed her a freshly-made sandwich. "They were very nice."

"Do all of the Schwarze Mädchen know about you?" Megumi asked.

"Would surprise me if they didn't. Linn Heinrich helped the professor create us when she could spare time from her own work." Elle then nibbled on the sandwich. "She was a very nice woman. Modelled the girls she created after friends of hers from Northeim who were her troop sisters in the Bund Deutscher Mädel's group based there." She then frowned. "Their templates were all killed by magical partisans in late 1942. It hurt Linn so much. After that, she started to treat those replicas she made as her friends literally brought back to life…which, in a way, they were deep down."

"That's horrible!" Kaori breathed out as she handed Gretchen a sandwich, then pulled out a take-out cup of tea. "Well, if they're no different than you, making them all Avalonians should be easy enough. Then Heinrich-shōsa could bond with one of them — or if she's really greedy about it, all of them! — and they can go on from there."

"But what about the boy dolls?" Megumi asked. "It'll be easy to make the girl dolls into Avalonians, but what about the boys like Karl-san?"

"Well, if Geran-kun would finally get a move on and find the Genesis Wand, it should be easy enough to make boy bioroids," Kaori noted. "Once we do that, Karl-san and the boys Heinrich-shōsa made could become bioroids themselves."

"'Geran?'" the two golems asked together.

Silence fell for a moment, then Megumi sighed. "You know who we are."

The older women blinked before they sighed. "We didn't want to scare you, Megumi-san," Elle stated. "You treated us like normal people when we met a month ago. From what we've heard, all those you've met when you came down from the factory with Mizuho-san have always been treated the same way, regardless of who or what they were." She smirked. "It was pretty easy to figure it out, especially when you had such a pair of unique personalities like Mizuho-san and Mitsuko-san among your group."

"Especially Mizuho!" Kaori said with a smirk.

Megumi giggled. "Once people took into account how Niphentaxians always loved to make Avalonian replicas of popular fictional characters, it was easy to realize that you had been 'made' in the very same way," Gretchen added. "With all of you being Terran-turned in lieu of Terran-form, that threw people off. But given the power of your staff there — with the knowledge magicals gained back in the old days about how things that are fact in one dimension are fictional in another — the possibility of your being brought from a place where the events of Battle Royale happened grows very high."

"My question is this: Book, movie or manga?" Elle asked.

That made Mizuho's friends laugh. "Manga. Actually, the English translation of it by Keith Giffen-sensei published in America gets it almost right," Kaori admitted. "The only difference is the amount of times The Program is run." As the golems tensed, the bespectacled teenager sighed. "It's fifty times a year, not once a year."

Silence.

"And you all survived THAT?!" Gretchen gasped.

"Well, technically, we didn't 'survive.' Except Noriko and Shūya-kun, of course," Kaori admitted as she tried to keep an upbeat smile on her face. "Still, it really doesn't matter in the end. We're alive, in a place where The Program never happened and we're as free as we could realistically be. All we have to do is agree as a group that here's where we're going to stay, then we can go down and be with Ataru."

"Mizuho's already met him," Elle noted.

More silence.

"WHAT?!" Kaori and Megumi shrieked out.

"Sorry!" Elle laughed as she and Gretchen moved to calm them. "Didn't she tell you?"

"Does it LOOK like it?!" Megumi snarled, though she didn't mind it when Elle drew her into her arms. "Damn it all, Inada! How can you NOT tell us you met Ataru?!"

"Satomi," Kaori cautioned as she wrapped an arm around Gretchen.

Still more silence.

"Right…!" Megumi drawled out.

"What about Satomi-san?" Elle asked as they relaxed.

"She's been the one who's argued all along that we shouldn't do anything to reveal ourselves to anyone," Kaori explained before sipping her tea. "I mean, we'd all hate it if we were forced back to where we came from — especially with our being 'dead' and all that — but Mizuho's always said that since our bodies were made here, here's where we stay." She shook her head. "Satomi doesn't agree with that at all. She feels that because our souls came from the dimension of the Republic, we have to go home within one solar year after we were brought here…or we get sent back automatically."

Which is incorrect, Minami Kaori, the Staff immediately cut in. The Te'a is the one constant within all of Creation. Per Sagussan mythological beliefs — to which you are all subjected to now that you are Avalonians — since your souls arose from the Te'a, it matters not which actual dimension or timeline you reside in. Since your bodies now anchor your souls to this dimension and timeline, here is where you will remain. I cannot understand why Noda Satomi refuses to consider otherwise.

"Maybe because of the incident at the lighthouse on Oki-shima?" Gretchen proposed; as soon as the golems had determined who the Friend of Dragons and her companions actually were, they had all read the Battle Royale novel and manga series and seen the movies.

Most likely, Gretchen Streit. Given that particular analysis, Noda Satomi's conflicting feelings concerning Moroboshi Ataru seem far more comprehensible.

"What mixed feelings?" Elle asked.

Noda Satomi wishes to not initiate contact with Moroboshi Ataru, Elle Andreas…even if her bonding programming — like the Controller's — has activated concerning him.

Jaws dropped. "Satomi and Ataru?!" Kaori exclaimed…before her eyes went wide as the second part of the Staff's message clicked in. "Wait! Mizuho and Ataru?!"

"That is SO unfair!" Megumi wailed. "I want to be with him, too!"

Both golems blinked on hearing that before they exchanged a smile, then moved to comfort their companions. "You'll always have us, Goshujin-sama!" Elle teased.

That made Mizuho's friends immediately blush…


Nearby…

"What are Miss Elle and Miss Gretchen doing?!"

"I dunno! But them two girls are definitely crystal-bloods!"

"Are they crazy?! What are they doing with them crystal-bloods?!"

"They might have been captured, Captain!"

On hearing that, the twenty-three other people in homespun butternut uniforms that had not been seen on the field of battle for well over a century all blinked.

"We'll rescue them and bring them back to Mister Karl and Miss Cathrin!"

The others all nodded as they braced themselves…


Etō Megumi, Minami Kaori…there is a problem.

Megumi and Kaori — as well as Elle and Gretchen — perked on hearing the Staff speak out. "What is it, Bō-san?" the former then asked.

I would advise you not to look so as to alert them that you are now aware of their presence, but there is a group of twenty-four female war golems possessed now by the spirits of daywalker vampires moving to attack you from a position 16.3 metres to your south. When they were still normal human beings and not vampires, all were natives of the State of South Carolina at the time of the American Civil War. They formed a volunteer company of "sidesaddle cavalry" who assisted in communications and morale support duties until they were turned on the evening of 15 December 1862. By becoming vampires, they were literally frozen in time at your emotional age until their original bodies were destroyed on 11 May 1864, though their souls were preserved via horcruxes.

As Mizuho's best friends both gasped in horror on hearing that, Elle blinked. "Don't kill them!" she then hissed. "They're not bad girls! They're…"

Her voice failed her as her eyes teared. "What?" Kaori whispered.

"They're almost as emotionally damaged as Mitsuko-san is," the tall golem stated.

The younger women blinked before they exchanged looks. "If we let Mizuho go at them, she'll leave them as nothing but ashes!" Megumi hissed out.

«Dearest Megumi! Do you honestly believe I would do something like that?!» a familiar voice then echoed in all four women's heads, making Elle and Gretchen gape in shock.

"What if it was during a fight?" Kaori wondered.

A tired sigh answered her. «Aye, beloved Kaori, 'tis true,» Inada Mizuho answered from high in space. «Be patient and allow me to rescue our soon-to-be-sisters from their current state between life and death within bodies forged of clay in lieu of proper flesh-and-bone. To me, my friend! 'Tis the Wise Lord's work to be done this day!»

And in a flash of energy, the Staff of Gihan vanished…


"Wait!"

The others paused as they gazed on the leader of the Anderson County Amazons, Rachel Thornbridge. The group was massed in two ranks of eight with the company sergeants and officers at their proper places ahead and behind the main body of troops. "What is it, Captain?" the company's first sergeant, Eleanor Reese, asked. "What's wrong?!"

"Something glowed close to where Miss Elle and Miss Gretchen are!" Rachel said as she pointed in the direction of where the older golems and their "captors" were. Like her friends, she now looked as if she was a man despite the fact that her voice still had the high-pitched lilt of an adolescent. "It must be some evil thing the crystal-bloods did!"

"We charge?!" first lieutenant Annabelle Maxwell then asked.

Everyone then jolted on feeling a gentle wave of energy surge past them from behind. Before they could swing their cavalry sabres around to bear on whoever was trying to cowardly attack them from behind, the twenty-four daywalkers all cried out in shock as something seemed to literally pick them off the ground and elevate them into the air. As the vampires tried to force themselves free, gentle footfalls on the undergrowth made them pause as they turned and looked down to see a silver-haired girl their physical age walk into view to place herself near where Rachel had been standing, carrying a long metal staff with a crescent moon-shaped frame holding a glowing ball of crystal at one end, that topped with a small pike. The stranger stopped and turned to gaze upon them, revealing an Oriental face pierced by sky blue eyes that seemed older than time even from a distance. She was dressed in a light blue uniform with a top similar to what a sailor would wear on the high seas — complete with crimson tie hanging from her collars — and a pleaded skirt that went to just above her knees, calf-length socks and slip-on shoes finishing the ensemble.

On seeing those well-formed legs and the hint of cleavage under her blouse, the Amazons all blinked as part of their minds railed at such a scandalous display of flesh — influenced as they were by mid-Nineteenth Century thinking when it came to how proper ladies should dress — before something in their bodies seemed to clicked as programs that were placed into them despite their not being intended as their prototypes were fully keyed in. As groans that were a mixture of agony and delight escaped them, their captor seemed to blink for a moment before she shook her head in mute sympathy. "Lady Elle! Lady Gretchen!" she called out in accented English to where the two German-speaking golems were. "Methinks that when you meet with Noble Mistress Linn in the near future, you will have to advise her to be more careful in creating replacement bodies that certainly were not properly suited for such loyal and devoted natives of the beautiful Palmetto State!"

"Don't kill them, Mizuho-san!" Elle cried back, which made the Amazons seem to blink for a moment on recognizing that familiar voice. "They're all your age!"

"I can perceive that, my friend!"

With that, the platoon-sized "company" of daywalker vampires were tenderly lowered to the ground. Once they were on solid earth again, they seemed to blink for a moment…though none of them could find it within themselves to charge this alien woman — that she was a crystal-blood was obvious thanks to the mineral scent emanating from her, to say anything of her staff — and do what they had intended to do when they chanced upon the scene of their friends having a picnic with two crystal-bloods. The woman with the staff casually approached Rachel, which made the young South Carolinian with the rusty red hair and the dark brown eyes tense, though she didn't try to flee or attack; none of the Amazons had tapped into their vampire powers before they had been captured by this stranger. Which made the stranger smile…before she leaned in to gently kiss her on the lips!

The other Amazons gasped at the sight of such a provocative display of intimacy — and to another WOMAN at that! — while their leader seemed ready to collapse to her knees in shock. That…that was my first ever kiss! a small part of Rachel squealed with a mixture of embarrassment and delight as she reached up with her free hand to feel her lips. I never thought my first kiss would be so soft! So…tender…! While other parts of her railed to attack and kill this impudent alien woman — especially her vampire side, which had made her run wild for nearly seventeen months as she moved to prey on both Yankee soldiers and escaping slaves until hit-wizards and hit-witches assigned to support the Military Division of the Mississippi under William Tecumseh Sherman caught her and her friends near Rocky Face Ridge in northwest Georgia after the Atlanta Campaign began, then destroyed them even if their souls had been saved by one of Adam Sewell's friends — the young girl she still was deep in her heart just swooned in delight that this very nice and pretty girl had treated her so kindly.

Before she could ask the stranger what her name was, the woman with the staff walked over place herself before the company first lieutenant to Rachel's right rear. As Annabelle blinked in surprise — though she, like the other Amazons, was just as taken aback at what they witnessed — the girl in the sailor suit-like uniform leaned up to kiss her, which made the bespectacled girl with the chocolate hair and the dark eyes nearly faint into Eleanor's arms. As Rachel's mind became a mad maelstrom of thoughts, the stranger gazed back towards the picnic site. "Kaori! Megumi! Come! Our new sisters have been deprived so much of tenderness, even a kiss leaves them simply and totally speechless! A little warmth shall do much to heal their long-wounded spirits!"

As she moved on to Eleanor while the company second lieutenant, Jane Gilmer, moved to help support the still-dazed Annabelle, the two younger women who had been with Elle and Gretchen ran over to join the Amazons and their friend. Coming up to stand to either side of Rachel — who was starting to sway — the girl with the freckles and glasses then leaned up to whisper, "Taii-san, may we kiss your friends?"

That made Rachel gasp in shocked surprise at such a polite request (even if she didn't understand the honorific that woman used) before she shakily nodded. On seeing that, the newcomers giggled as they kissed her on the cheeks before they moved over to start on her subordinates, nearly making Rachel faint as Elle and Gretchen came over to join them…


Schloss Greifswald, that moment (local time: A half-hour before lunch)…

"If it is anything, Josef, I'm sorry that those you saved had to suffer like that."

Hearing those words — which, coming from the Kentucky-born lawyer who now resided at the Greasy Grass Settlement, always came from the heart — from a man he considered one of his most successful experiments before the brutal lessons of World War Two finally made him wake up to the amount of pain he had unleashed over the millennia, Josef von Taserich lightly smiled before sipping his coffee. "You are kind as always, Abraham," the immortal Prussian nobleman stated. "You are sure they are all well?"

"Those I met yesterday in Diagon appeared quite well," Abraham Lincoln stated with a nod as he gazed out the sitting room windows at the back lawn of the property, a cup of tea in hand. "Before I came here to meet you, I asked Mollie Bean to go to England to liaise with Elizabeth Gibbon and learn the full state of her command." He scowled as he added, "I also decided it was high time to correct that little mistake concerning her proper rank. I sent a missive to Barack in Washington to see if he would be so kind as to release a magical executive order concerning that for her and others."

Taserich nodded. For the longest time, it had been the policy of all members of both the old ICW and the modern ICMC to demand that there be no full-time magical military forces; the raising of such — as demonstrated by the mobilization of the Magische Reichsarmee just before Germany invaded Poland in 1939 — was usually seen as grounds for war. In concurrence with that, it was the practice of those member-states of the International Confederation to have those officers who had won battlefield promotions to the flag ranks reduced to field grades as a way of diminishing their importance in the post-war order of things; the theory behind that was that doing such would ensure no permanent peacetime magical army could be raised before outside powers clued into what was going on, thus preventing a magical "arms race" and another war.

In Mollie Bean's case, she had ultimately been given the theatre rank of brigadier general as deputy commander — and in the last few months of the war, acting commander — of the 7th Cavalry Division (Magical), the main fighting formation of the United States Army Magical Corps in the European theatre. When the war was over, she lost her theatre rank and was mustered out of active service as a captain into the Magical Corps Reserve, which is where she remained until she formally resigned her commission on the same day she fully retired from the United States Marshal Service in 1948. The only country that hadn't done that sort of thing to its senior magical leaders after Grindelwald's War was the Soviet Union, as witness the case of Svetlána Múromeca; the Bloody She-bear of Siberia was still seen as a general of the army in the Reserve Special Magical Troops of the Russian Federation even if she had been confined in "strategic reserve" at the Spemát since 1954. Despite howls of protest from the ICMC in Geneva about adhering to proper international law, the leaders in Moscow — not to mention the leaders in other former Soviet republics who had personnel that obtained general's stars during Grindelwald's War — refused to see their nation's most prominent magical heroes "disgraced" in such a fashion.

"What will you do about Mister Grindelwald?" Lincoln then asked.

Taserich smirked. "I will make Gellert realize that I do not care to have my gifts abused in such a manner," he coldly stated as his eyes seemed to glow with the dark power that had kept him alive for twenty-five millennia, since the days when the Earth was still gripped in an ice age and the Old Ones were running rampant over those small bands of Cro-Magnon hunter-gatherers and the last survivors of the Neanderthals then alive on the planet. "I told him well before the end of the war that I would see to it that Elizabeth and her friends would survive to know peace. Why he didn't come here to read the notes I left about what I learned of the Niphentaxians and the Avalonians — or send someone here after he was captured at Nurmengard — I don't understand."

"He probably obliviated himself of that sort of information to protect them."

Both turned as Harry Potter came up to join them. Gazing on the young wizard who had dealt with the latest dark lord to have ravaged parts of Europe in recent memory, Taserich blinked before he turned to look outside. "There were other ways for Gellert to protect Elizabeth and her friends from prosecution than that, young man."

The Man-Who-Won nodded. While he was unnerved to be standing in the very presence of the Undying Lord — a man whose total power had defied all attempts at understanding it by magical researchers for centuries — he didn't allow that to control his emotions. Besides, World War Two had been over for decades and Taserich had — according to Meagan Schwartz — long ago made his peace with the only two people who equalled him in overall power and who opposed him during that war, Dean Raeburn and Vladímir Tayčéško. "Yes, that's true," he breathed out. "And given how much the Black Maidens all still look up to him as the man who inspired their own quest for equality, it'll break their hearts to know that Master Gellert could have seen them released from their gestation chambers anytime after the ICMC cleared the slate in 1950. All it would have needed was a quick call to General Raeburn; her Power Jewel could have freed them unharmed once she saw what David Wisden's Quickening did to the gestation tubes. We could have even kept it secret from the Niphentaxians to avoid problems from that quarter; all the observers who were in Europe and the surrounding territories when the war started were dealt with by you, so there were no witnesses that could have reported back to their superiors that 'escaped slaves' were running loose on Earth."

"You accept it with ease."

"Sir, we've dealt with thousand year-old vampires, Immortals, yourself, Lord Rjazán', General Raeburn, the Steel Angels, metahumans of many types…let alone long-lived wizards like Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel. I honestly don't understand why is it more magicals just can't accept these sorts of things. As my sister is so fond of saying all the time, to people like us, 'weird is normal.'" Harry shook his head.

The older men chuckled. "You magicals have always seen a need to keep things — to borrow the German phrase — in Ordnung when it comes to your surroundings and all you deal with, Mister Potter," Lincoln stated. "Yes, your command over that power gives you the ability to do amazing things. But because your ancestors could pass on those gifts to their children and grandchildren, they had the ability to create their own indigenous culture long before the Statute of Secrecy was even conceived and ensured such cultures could develop independently of any overt normal influence. Creating one's own culture implies a sense of order that must be maintained. Anything that assaults that sense of order cannot be tolerated. That is very much true in the case of normal society. There has been conflict of all types since the day the first societies were formed when our gracious host was still a very young man. That is the nature of being human…and it doesn't matter what type of 'human' you are."

"Indeed, it might have helped humanity if the ability to pass on such power to one's children could not be transmitted that way," Taserich added. "Similar to the way the Yizibajohei view their lives even now, two thousand years after their Dawn of Power." He smirked. "Then again, the mesonium influence on their lives has come to guarantee it. Since one's 'gift' arises from the remnants of the Seeker's Forge, one cannot be born a metahuman and must present oneself before the Forge to receive one's gift even when it is possible to pass on the influence of such gifts to one's children. Yes, the various line-names and the memories of previous lives are preserved, but there is no genetic passing on of such powers to one's children." A shrug rolled his shoulders. "The Avalonians who were moved to that planet recently might change things, but I doubt it."

"Could that happen here?"

People turned to see Buffy Summers standing nearby, a calm and relaxed look on the vampire slayer's face. "I believe so, Buffy," Taserich answered as he gave the American woman a pitying look. 'Buffy?!' What on Earth was her mother thinking of when she named her child THAT?! he mused before gazing out the window. "Not as violent or as sudden as the Dawn of Power, but it will happen. Human evolution demands it."

That made both Harry and Buffy nod. While it was not commonly known even in their circles, the events that had rocked Yiziba two millennia ago known under the overall title "The Dawn of Power" were nothing short of a planet-wide apocalypse on a scale that made what was predicted in the Book of Revelations and other such "end of humanity" legends like Ragnarok look like garden tea parties in comparison. In the space of a decade, the Yizibajohei — then numbering two billion people — had taken a massive leap forward on the evolutionary scale from being a normal race of humanoids into a race of true metahumans with powers that spanned from what was normal staple in North American superhero comics to the truly cosmic to the mega-magical to the psionic and everything else in between. That had been in response to the existence of violent dictatorships ruling a large sector of the planet matching the evil of Nazi Germany under Hitler and Soviet Russia under Stálin, which drove the oppressed to delve into the ancient legends of their people and try to discovery a way to free themselves.

They found it in the very core of their own planet.

The remnants of the Seeker's Forge.

To the Yizibajohei, the Great Crystal of Power.

On touching it and obtaining their Gifts, the first generation of Yizibajohei metahumans — usually driven by dark fantasies that were often the only escape from dreary and painful lives — went on a titanic blitz that ripped apart their home nations in an orgy of sheer chaos that couldn't be stopped no matter what. Even those nations which were democratic soon succumbed to the metahuman revolution as governments tried to form defensive forces to halt the oncoming tide…only to see those forces overwhelmed by the attackers or simply subverted from within. Eventually, a mass famine resulted as society totally broke down and everyone was forced to fend for themselves. All the things that had mattered before the Dawn of Power — Yiziba then was at the equivalent stage of early 1940s technology on a Terran scale — had become worthless. Money was valueless when one could simply break into a bank to seize it. State secrets couldn't be kept secret with the presence of powerful telepaths who could learn them with but a thought. Travel restrictions couldn't be imposed against people strong enough to break down walls, to say anything of those who could simply teleport past them. And loyalty to one's birth nation was made ultimately meaningless thanks to beings who could now perceive the whole vastness of the Multiverse with the ease one might read a book.

Worst of all, metahuman powers simply did nothing to stop human aggression.

Finally, three very wise people — the first incarnations of the Circle of Thought, later known by the battle-names "Academician", "Philosopher" and "Sage" — came together to create a framework for which a society that had plunged into total anarchy could continue to survive. The production of all the basic necessities of life were automated to ensure no one would starve. A planet-wide construction engineering network, also robotized, was put into place to repair the damage fighting between metahumans always provoked. Vast nature preserves that would have made Theodore Roosevelt weep at their size and beauty were set up to help rehabilitate those parts of Yiziba ravaged for centuries by industrialization. And to help channel the urge to engage in "fight scenes" that overcame the metahumans, a worldwide reality television program simply called The Show was launched that would help those who needed to drain off some adrenaline could learn of battles so they could join in.

It wasn't a perfect system by any stretch of the imagination…but given the total and complete transformation that had overcome Yiziba and its inhabitants in such a short time, it was by far the best solution that could be devised at the time.

And ever since that time…

Buffy shook her head as she and Harry exchanged a knowing look. Over the years since the Dawn of Power, all those who had encountered the Yizibajohei had always come away quaking in their boots and praying to whatever deities they worshipped that those horrible nasty beings would never darken their lives again. Not even those of the Old Ones who tried to exert their influence over that world — the ancestors of the modern Yizibajohei had actually been transplanted there from Earth over twenty thousand years ago by some unknown party; many now suspected Fourth Republic Sagussan involvement — had survived such an encounter unscathed. Given that Yizibajohei metahuman power was based on mesonium — which was poison to any of the Old Ones — any hope of subverting the natives of that world was bound to fail. And given that one reported Yizibajohei line — known by the battle-name "Weaver" — could CREATE and DESTROY dimensions and timelines with the ease of turning the pages of the book, pressing it would risk the Old Ones being literally TRAPPED in their native dimension for all Eternity!

If what had happened to the Urusians 250 years ago didn't teach people things…!

"I can see where Adam and his supporters are coming from," Taserich then mused.

"What do you mean?" Buffy asked.

"Evolution, my dear," the immortal Prussian nobleman stated. "For one who has lived for so long — and yes, it is 'living' in my eyes even if you don't agree with me — Adam has seen how much humanity has evolved since the days of the First Dynasty in Egypt where he and his sister were born. The existence of Yiziba has been known in certain circles here on Earth since well before the Urusians popularized the phrases 'They Who Must Never Be Named' and the 'Unspeakable Place' — or variations of same — when it comes to referring to that planet and its people." As Lincoln and Harry laughed and Buffy snickered, Taserich smirked as he added, "When she and her siblings led the attack on Phentax Twelve to liberate the Avalonians, Negako effectively forced people like Adam to face what the leaders of Yiziba confronted two millennia ago when they found themselves dealing with a situation they couldn't hope to control. That would naturally scare anyone who is used to living their lives in a certain way."

"Like the way the magical blue-bloods in Europe hated to deal with 'mudbloods' because they were bringing in thoughts and ideas that didn't compute," Buffy noted as she made finger-quotes on saying that despised and hated term for normal-borns.

"Yes," her host affirmed with a nod. "But, as I said before, human evolution is an ongoing thing. Deannette's school at her family home in Canada demonstrates that. Those normal-borns being invited to places like Hogwarts demonstrate that. The amount of people who are allowing themselves to become Avalonians by either the exchange of bodies or the exchange of blood also demonstrate that. It's far too little, far too late. Adam may cause damage…but he will ultimately fail even if he escapes tomorrow's raid on Azkaban. I'm sure Abraham will make sure he doesn't do that."

"That I will do, Josef," Lincoln vowed.

"You won't be alone, Uncle Abe."

The former president smiled as he gazed on Buffy, whom he had met sometime after the fall of Sunnydale in 2003 and the Scooby Gang had relocated themselves to Cleveland to help keep the Hellmouth located there from opening up wide. When some minor demons had tried to contact some daywalker vampires to forge an alliance in a way of dealing with the massive army of Slayers that Willow Rosenburg effectively created, that attracted the attention of the Rail-Splitter. Lincoln — whose existence had been known to the Watcher's Council since the last time meson-powered vampire hunter and demon-powered vampire slayer had collided in Ohio's largest city in 1874…though the specifics had been kept top secret due to the former president's affiliation with the Undying Lord; Rupert Giles had only heard the nickname of the being who had scared even Angelus — immediately swept in to make sure those he had once chased off the continent over six score years earlier didn't get "uppity." There, he encountered Buffy, not to mention three of her chief lieutenants, Faith Lehane, Violet Day and Ng Chìuhngōn.

Put simply, Cleveland became a VERY quiet place when it concerned the undead after the Slayers were given the chance to learn some of the Rail-Splitter's tricks.

And — in a nod to how freed slaves came to call the Great Emancipator during the Civil War — the Slayers as a whole began to playfully call Abraham Lincoln "Uncle Abe."

Except for Chìuhngōn, who — in a proper show of respect to such a wise and experienced man as he — came to address the former president as "Yàhngūng Daaihyè."

"No, I don't expect to be, Buffy. Especially if the Vinur Drekar has something to say about it," Lincoln mused as he gave the younger woman a kind smile.

She nodded before sighing as she gazed towards the entrance of the sitting room. "Just hope Willow doesn't get lost in that library of yours, Mister Taserich," she mused.

That made the others in the room chuckle. After Taserich received his guests in the wake of his killing the demons and vampires who came to the Schloss to kill Meagan Schwartz, he allowed the others who had come with the Man-Who-Won and the Elder Slayer the opportunity to take a tour of his home and visit his personal library with Meagan as the guide. Naturally, Willow Rosenburg and Thérèse Peverell jumped at the chance to get at the scrolls and books there…much to the despair of Xander Harris, who bemoaned the fact that the Scooby Gang's resident witch would be utterly insufferable for months to come. These days, Willow carried a dataPADD with her that had massive memory storage capacity and was fitted with visual scanning functions — a special gift from Harry's old housemate Mun Aesup — to ensure she could get what she wanted without the need to spend a mountain's worth of change at a library's photocopying machine.

At the time the tour began, Abraham Lincoln was brought to Rügen by Dean Raeburn before the latter headed back to Canada so she could put in a day's work at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa getting the Royal Canadian Corps of Air Cavalry restored as an active and functional combat arm of the Canadian Army. Much to everyone's surprise when Harry had asked Lincoln where he had been the previous night, the near-immortal former president confessed to having stayed at the Raven, a nightclub in Paris owned by a French nightwalker vampire named Janette DuCharme which also served as the base of operations for Lucien LaCroix, a native of ancient Rome who had been turned around the time of the Pompeii disaster in 79 C.E. by his own daughter and — outside the famous Vlad Ṭepeṣ himself — was seen as one of the most respected hunters of the night still "alive" today. When asked why he would associate with such a man, Lincoln replied, "I do not and will never care for a vampire's eating habits, my friends…but unlike Mister Sewell and those like him, Monsieur LaCroix knows when not to push things."

Which made a world of sense in the end. Vampires needed blood to live; that was a simple fact of their undead "lives." Because they had been humans before being turned — either magical or non-magical — vampires were attracted to human blood most of all since it was rich with the earth magic a sentient being could always tap into, even subconsciously. While many of the undead had tried over the years to foster the habit of consuming animal blood instead as a way of not risking seeing yet another human turned into one of them if it got out of control — save for those demon-possessed vampires whose souls were buried far deep in their subconscious minds — the drive to take the blood of "living" humans was still there. However, even if the population of normal humans seemed nearly unending, having vampires go crazy in seeking human blood would ultimately be counter-productive; the rise of hunters like Abraham Lincoln always resulted from such.

People like Lucien LaCroix and Vlad Ṭepeṣ understood that and ensured those who looked up to them for leadership in the worldwide vampire community always acknowledged that.

Adam Sewell had never accepted that…and had paid dearly for it.

Though not to the full extent that Abraham Lincoln had hoped for back in 1863.

"So he made a horcrux, did he?" Buffy then asked.

Taserich nodded. "He helped invent that particular process. Shortly after he was turned and had turned his sister, Adam was approached by magical servants of one of the early pharaohs of the First Dynasty to see if there was a way to allow their souls to be anchored to the mortal plain to ensure those who didn't care for magicals couldn't prevent their enjoying their proper rewards in the afterlife." At Harry's surprised look, the Undying Lord smirked. "Yes, Harry, rhabdophobia was alive and well back then. And given the strength and influence of the native religion at the time, the very idea of being denied the chance to enjoy immortality in the afterlife was a frightening thought to such people. Since Adam was effectively a corporeal immortal due to his being one of the first daywalkers as well as possessing knowledge of magic, they felt he was the best person to ask. He researched it by observing people like his sister and other vampires. In doing that, he noted that their souls always fractured whenever they killed someone without turning them." He shrugged. "After that, it was quite easy to conclude. Find a way to make the soul fracture as clean a 'break' as possible while still maintaining a link to the core soul, then discover a way to remove the fragment from the body and store it in a containing vessel that could be hid away somewhere so that the core soul would remain anchored to this plane. Given the studies in soul magic being done at the time, it was quite easy."

"Thus, when I 'destroyed' him, Mister Sewell still remained among the 'living,' so to speak. As did his sister and whomever of their friends he performed this ritual for." A tired sigh escaped Lincoln. "I would suspect a fair number of people who we believed were destroyed during the Civil War were saved in that matter." As Harry shook his head and Buffy scowled, the former president added, "Hence, the reason they needed to go to Russia to learn of the location of those war golems General Gibbon's people made from General Múromeca. Golems are magical, thus able to bond with a vampire's soul. It gives them a physical body of sorts they could manipulate without the necessity of fighting the dominance of a living person's soul. Still, such a process would have disadvantages. Golems of the type Major Heinrich's team created during the Second World War are physically based on silicon and silicate-derived molecules. That's not a natural material for living creatures here on Earth as it is on some other planets I'm sure Dean has encountered over the years. Since the core power that makes a vampire what it is must be anchored to natural flesh, being in something like that…"

"It'll be like having a permanent case of the hives," Buffy concluded as she crossed her arms. "They must be going totally nuts right about now, especially if they got those golem bodies shortly after the marshal died in that Spemát place."

"If she's dead."

Eyes locked on Harry. "You seem confidant of that, Harry," Taserich noted.

He smirked. "The marshal's a survivor, sir. One couldn't live in Russia of all places after the October Revolution and not be a real survivor. ESPECIALLY after Stálin came into power given what a paranoid git he was! If the marshal went to Hogwarts, she'd be a Slytherin for sure." Harry shrugged. "Yeah, I really came to like her in the month she helped Tsukiko-sensei boost my magical levels after Sirius died. Sure, she was one scary lady deep down, but once you got to know and understand her, she was alright." He then chuckled. "Besides, anyone who could toss Vernon Dursley around like she did was okay in my books back then, even if Sensei did help get me emancipated."

"Oh! Okay, Harry! Make with the 'splainy!" Buffy urged.

Lincoln visibly winced. "Buffy! Must you continue to mangle the language like that?! That hurts my ears every time I hear you say something like that!" he protested.

Harry laughed as Buffy pouted and Taserich shook his head…

To be continued…


WRITER'S NOTES

1) Battle Royale character and situation notes:

Etō Megumi and Minami Kaori are, as indicated above, Inada Mizuho's best friends. As a group, all three girls are known by the collective term "Daydreamers." Megumi hails from a normal family with an older sister who was rumoured to be very promiscuous (which wasn't true); she was also pretty much a sheltered girl as she had never before travelled away from home overnight before the "school trip" that ended on Oki-shima. Kaori is a girl who suffered from acne scars; in the manga, she got nicknamed "Pizza Face" as a result. She is also a fan of pop music; her favourite band is Flip Side and she admires the group's lead singer Kenzaki Jun'ya. During their run through The Program, both girls were killed quite early; Megumi fell in "Sōma Mitsuko" (manga episode #8), while Kaori was killed in "Persuasion" (manga episode #30).

Sōma Mitsuko, Shimizu Hirono and Yahagi Yoshimi formed the "bad girl" gang in the Shiroiwa class; they frequently engaged in petty larceny and prostitution. Mitsuko is ultimately a victim of child-rape, having been systematically assaulted by her stepfather and mother from when she was nine until she arranged for their deaths at the hands of the Yakuza some years later…but by then, it was too late; her core personality had fractured horribly and she had come to believe that sex was the solution to everything. In effect, the prey became the predator; while she was quite street-smart, Mitsuko had next to NO trust towards men of any sort save her long-absent father, who left her life when she was a child. Hirono is a remarkably mature and perceptive girl who had engaged in — atop what she did for Mitsuko — recreational drug use…though she would NEVER go to the wild extremes Mitsuko did when it came to dealing with potential victims; the concept of killing for the sake of killing repulses her. Yoshimi is a girl with VERY low self-esteem that fell into Mitsuko's orbit because she was being picked on by other people. During The Program, Mitsuko elected to go all out to win; she would eventually kill six people on Oki-shima. Megumi was her first victim while Yoshimi was her third; the latter would die in "Forfeiture" (manga episode #21). Mitsuko herself would fall in "Where The Gun Points" (manga episode #99). Hirono would die in "Existence" (manga episode #37).

Tendō Mayumi was one of the first victims of the Shiroiwa class' run through The Program; she would be found dead in "Other Side of the Door" (manga episode #5). Not much was revealed about her in the manga save for her having once helped organize a school dance. In the novel, Mayumi was believed to have engaged in "telephone dating" (known more properly as Enjo-kōsai ["compensated dating"]), which caused some to regard her as a slut. Hirono knew this was true, though Mayumi always behaved properly while with others in class.

Noda Satomi is the smartest girl of the class; she took pride in schoolwork and helped other people out in the class when needed, though she didn't participate in many group activities as she was a loner despite her being friends with many of the girls in the class. She was the one who provoked the "Lighthouse Massacre," which was depicted in "Doubt," "Crevice" and "Collapse" (manga episodes #69-71); Satomi herself would be killed at the end of "Collapse." My depiction of her also acknowledges that she is something of an insomniac; that was a trait shown in the novel and movie.

Nakagawa Noriko was one of the two survivors of the Shiroiwa class' run through The Program and the female star of BR. A very optimistic girl, she never gave up hope that her classmates and friends would survive the horrors of Oki-shima. She also was the only person who refused to take up a weapon until nearly the end, when she used a pistol to defend her co-survivor, Nanahara Shūya, from the class' most proficient "player," Kiriyama Kazuo. In the manga, she and Shūya eventually would escape to America after hiding out in Japan for some weeks after the events on Oki-shima; in the universe of this story, she was whisked out of the country immediately, but would "die" en route to freedom thanks to the Staff of Gihan. Because of her survival, her peers elected her as Elder Mother of their group of Terran-turned-Avalonians.

The background story concerning how the Greater East Asia Republic (Dai-tōa Kyōwakoku) came into being at the end of World War Two is my creation. That was never explained in either the BR novel or manga; in the movies, the setting was in a modern Japan that had fallen into hard economic times.

The number of times The Program is said to be run here is my invention. When I first read the BR manga, I confused facts concerning the operation. In the manga, fifty separate middle school classes were nominated every year to participate in The Program, with one class being selected to perform their "grave civic duty" for the nation. I changed that to have The Program be run fifty times a year, done once every weekend save the weekends before and after New Year's Day. The reason behind this will be explained in future stories.

2) Translations: Bō-san — Mister Staff; Therme — Literally "Thermal Spring" (using this as part of a place name is similar to the Japanese use of the term Onsen before the place name of a hot spring resort); Daitōryō — President (of a nation-state); Taishō — Navy admiral/Army general/Air force air chief marshal (NATO rank code OF-9); Guten Morgen — Good Morning; Liebste — Dearest One; Geliebte — Beloved; Schwesternschaften der Hitler-Jugend — Literally "Sisterhood of the Hitler Youth," the pre-1930 name of the League of German Girls; Mädchengruppe — Group of Maidens; Reichswehr — Literally "Defence of the Reich," this was the name of the German armed forces from 1919-35 when it was replaced by the Wehrmacht; Sturmabteilung — Literally "Storm Detachment" (short-form SA), these were the infamous "Brownshirts" who served as the Nazi Party's primary paramilitary force until they were effectively superseded by the SS during the Knight of the Long Knives (30 June-2 July 1934), though the SA remained active until the end of World War Two; Mutti — Mom/Mommy; Shōsa — Navy lieutenant commander/Army major/Air Force squadron leader (NATO rank code OF-3); Goshujin-sama — Master; Taii — Navy lieutenant/Army captain/Air Force flight lieutenant (NATO rank code OF-2); In Ordnung — In order/Alright/Okay; Yàhngūng Daaihyè — A mixed honorific in Cantonese combining the terms for (in order) "kind lord" (what one uses to address a person who is older than the speaker) and "father's elder brother."

3) The Swinford Preceptory was a real monastery. It was first established by the Knights Hospitaller (also known as the Order of Saint John), a sovereign Christian military order in service to the Pope during the Middle Ages which would eventually evolve into separate orders thanks to the Protestant Reformation and the eventual weakening of the Pope's position as a sovereign head of state in comparison to other European leaders. The actual date of establishment of the Swinford Preceptory is not known, but it occurred prior to 1199. It would eventually — as noted above — be removed from the control of the Knights in 1540 during the time when King Henry VIII (1491-1547, ruled 1509 to death) launched the Dissolution of the Monasteries to remove all influence from Rome on England by closing down those sorts of establishments to appropriate their income, dispose of their physical assets and provide for their former members and functions.

4) The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (literally "Adolf Hitler's Protection Squad Bodyguard Regiment") (short-form LSSAH) was the personal bodyguard for the Führer from 1923 until the surrender of Germany in 1945. Originally a brigade in size, it would eventually earn place of primacy among the forces of the Waffen-SS ("Armed SS") as the 1st SS Panzer Division. This formation was involved in the battles for Poland in 1939, the invasion of France and the Low Countries in 1940 and the invasions of Greece and Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941 before it participated in the attack on the Soviet Union. It was pulled off the Eastern Front after the Battle of Kursk (5 July-23 August 1943), then sent to Italy to stabilize the situation after the fall of Benito Mussolini. That fall, it was sent back to help deal with the Soviets; by that time, it was a full armoured division. However, by then, the oncoming storm from Russia was just too much for the Germans; by the time the LSSAH was withdrawn to Belgium in the spring of 1944, it was a hollow wreck. By the time it was reformed, the invasion of Normandy had begun; the division would remain active on the Western Front until after the Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944-25 January 1945). Once more sent east to help with the Soviets, the division would finish the war trying to surrender to the Americans at Steyr near Vienna; those who didn't make it across the border between Upper and Lower Austria at the town of Enns would eventually be marched off to Siberia. Like other elements of the Waffen-SS, members of the LSSAH were involved in war crimes, especially against the Jews of Eastern Europe.

5) Horst Wessel (1907-30) was a Nazi "martyr." A native of Bielefeld in Westphalia, he was a pastor's son who joined the SA in 1926 after his political views became too radical for even mainstream right-wing parties to tolerate. His claim to fame — other than his murder when he was a Sturmführer ("storm leader") in SA Troop 34 based in Berlin — was to author the words to the poem Die Fahne hoch ("The Flag on High"), which was later adopted to an old folk song or an Imperial German naval tune; the lyrics spoke of the continued need to resist all those who would oppose the Nazi rise to power, especially the Communists. After 1933, the song — renamed Horst-Wessel-Lied ("Horst Wessel's Song") — was made the co-national anthem of Germany, played alongside the first stanza of the Deutschlandlied ("Song of Germany"). When World War Two ended, the song was banned across Germany and Wessel's memorial and grave in Berlin — which fell in the Soviet sector of the city — would be destroyed; it is believed Wessel's remains were also destroyed to ensure that the grave would never become a neo-Nazi shrine.

6) Lava Schnapps are the German version of firewhiskey.

7) The Anderson County Amazons are based on an interesting little side-story to the American Civil War I recently discovered. In Tennessee's Rhea County (located fifty kilometres northeast of Chattanooga), there was established a volunteer "company" of "cavalry" manned totally by young women! This group, the Rhea County Spartans, were formed in 1862 as a way of allowing relatives of those actually serving on the front lines — usually young women in their teens and twenties — to help with the war effort without going to the need of actually disguising themselves as men to fight as Mollie Bean did in North Carolina. The Spartans — which was actually a platoon in size — normally engaged in morale-boosting exercises, delivering care packages to the troops to the front from civilians well beyond the lines. When the war finally came to the area of Chattanooga, the Spartans may have engaged in some spying for Confederate forces…which saw them arrested by Union forces in April of 1865 at the orders of a local Unionist officer. However, the commanding general of the garrison in Chattanooga let the Spartans go after extracting an oath to the Union from them; he would later demand that the unit that the captain who arrested the girls was a part of — all manned by Tennessee loyalists — be removed from the area because of their lack of proper discipline, especially with the war coming to a close and the efforts to reunite the shattered nation had to begin in earnest. The Spartans returned home and moved on with their lives; unlike proper units of the Confederacy, they never had reunions.

As an aside, Anderson County in South Carolina lies on the Savannah River that forms the border between the Palmetto State and Georgia, 110 kilometres west-northwest from Columbia and 150 kilometres east-northeast of Atlanta.

Also, Rocky Face Ridge was the scene of a battle between the forces of the Union Military Department of the Mississippi under Major General William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-91) and the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Joseph E. Johnston (1807-91) between 7-13 May 1864 in Georgia thirty kilometres southeast of Chattanooga. This was the opening battle of the Atlanta Campaign which would eventually see Sherman and his troops march through Georgia to the Atlantic by year's end, thus helping ensure Abraham Lincoln was re-elected as President of the United States, guaranteeing a final Union victory.

8) In both my fanfic story The Saga of Coyote and the Tempest and The Doctor Is In storyline at the Anime Add-venture, I had Suzumiya Haruhi (of the light novel series written by Tanigawa Nagaru) be the Weaver, the Mistress of Time and Space. Unlike Infinity, the Weaver — who is also a reality warper — can ONLY create, modify and/or destroy actually timelines that are based on events that actually happened in the "base" reality this particular metahuman operates in; s/he cannot create something simply out of nothing as Infinity could. In those stories, I also had Elizabeth Wakefield from Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley High young adult novel series be the Academician, the Great Sage of the Circle of Thought; she would be a hyper-genius with the ability to analyze, invent and augment any scientific object. I never took the time to develop her counterparts in the Circle of Thought (the Philosopher and the Sage), though I intended that the former would be a Russian by birth while the latter would be Chinese, Korean or Japanese.

9) Ng Chìuhngōn is the Cantonese way (using Yale Romanization) of writing a name rendered in Mandarin as Wú Cháo'ān (using Hànyǔ Pīnyīn Romanization). She is the character played by Kristy Wu known to Buffy the Vampire Slayers fans by the spelling "Chao-ahn." This character first appeared in the seventh season episode "First Date." As she only speaks Cantonese, I rendered her name using the local pronunciation.

10) Finally, a note about Buffy Summers' comment at the end of this part: The term "Make With the 'Splainy" is a popular phrase used in BTVS fan fiction stories. However, the phrase as is never appeared on television…though the word 'Splainy (as a slang version of "Explain") by itself DID show up in a conversation between Buffy and Angel in the series finale, "Chosen."