[identity profile] amylan.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] redpenwriters
Title: Greyscale
Author: [livejournal.com profile] amylan
Beta: N/A
Rating: K+
Genre: Shoujo, Fantasy
Notes/Warnings: None
Summary: There's a reason why Magical Girls are rarely grown up.
Length: 6719



You don’t look very good,” Ami noted when she walked into Selphi’s room.

“I’m fine,” the other girl muttered. She seemed to be trying to melt into the pillows beneath her. “Anything important going?”

“Depends on what you think is important – you really don’t look good,” Ami changed subjects, frowning. She walked over to Selphi and pressed her own hand against Selphi’s forehead. “Yer not burnin’ up, but….” She wrinkled her nose. “Yer all slimy.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sick. It’s not a big deal,” Selphi replied, trying to pull away from the other girl. “Will you answer the damn question already?”

“Look, if yer sick, then there’s no reason fer me to tell ya somethin’ that’s gonna piss you off and make ya take a longer time to get well,” Ami replied. “So what’s wrong?”

Selphi shot the other girl a glare, though the effect was greatly weakened by her pale face and apparent lack of skeleton. “I have an infection, all right? Probably thanks to that needle that you used on me – thanks a lot, pal.”

“I’m not yer pal, and I’m pretty sure that my needle didn’t have a thing to do with this,” Ami retorted. “I made it out of some metal chopsticks, and unless yer gonna start sayin’ that my family can’t clean silverware properly, I think that’d be pretty clean.”

Selphi lifted her head to stare at the other girl with bleary eyes. “…Remind me to have my cousin just send you some hypodermic needles the next time you stick me with something,” she mumbled, letting her head drop back down.

Ami sighed. “Look, I’m not sayin’ that I didn’t cause it – it probably didn’t help that I poked another hole into ya while yer in the hospital – I’m jus’ sayin’ I don’t think there’s enough proof that it’s all my fault.”

“You all seem to have a real problem with accepting blame, you know that?”

The onmyouji flushed with anger. “Well, I honestly don’-“ Then she paused and stared at Selphi, tilting her head to the side as though she were listening to something.

“…You know, I really hate it when you just read my mind like that without my permission,” the other girl sighed out.

“Yer the one that insists on lyin’ all the time,” Ami pointed out.

“Point taken, and I don’t lie. I just… don’t tell the whole truth,” Selphi reminded. “Anyway, I was… just screwing with you. Don’t… take it so seriously.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Would you tell… me what’s going on already?”

Ami rolled her eyes. “It’s not like yer gonna quit askin’ any time soon…” she muttered to herself. She glanced at the other girl and noted with some alarm that she seemed to have completely missed her words. “Waters?”

“Huh?” Selphi jolted out of whatever trance she was in and winced a little at the pain. “Sorry, what?”

Ami shook her head. “Just… Never mind. Anyway, Arashi seems to be gettin’ pretty close to the new girl - a lot closer than you ever did, an’ a lot faster than you did, too.”

“Result of being a suck-up. Just… keep watchin’ over her…” Selphi gasped out the last few words before her head lolled back.

“…Waters? Waters!” When Selphi failed to respond, Ami ran to the bedside and pressed the ‘Call Nurse’ button, then ran out into the hallway. “Help!”

***

“Aya, have you been to visit your friend lately?” Himeko asked.

The blonde shook her head. “No, not really. Some of her other… associates have been visiting her lately, and I would rather not be forced to speak with them or anything.”

Himeko raised her eyebrows. “That’s rather cold. If I was sick and in the hospital, I would want all of my friends to visit me regularly, at least. I’d feel like I was abandoned, otherwise.”

“I thought that you wanted me to focus on my studies. Now you want me to make my friend a priority?”

“I never said that I didn’t think that your friend was important,” Himeko protested. “I just said that you needed to make sure that your studies didn’t slip just because you had stress in your life. I told you, I’ve had someone in the hospital before. Believe me when I say that I know how important it is to the person in the hospital that they know there are people who care about them.”

“Yes, and that would be what her family is for,” Aya replied tartly. “It’s not necessary for me to soothe her nerves.”

“Aya…” Himeko looked at her friend with hurt eyes. “I can’t believe that you’re going to be so cruel to this girl…”

“She would deserve it,” was the quick reply. Aya looked at Himeko and sighed. “I will visit her today, though. All right?”

“Yay!” Himeko gave her friend a quick hug. “You’re the best, Aya-chan~ I knew that there was a heart of gold beneath that stony exterior of yours.”

“All right, all right, that is enough.” Aya pushed the other girl away lightly, a smile spread across her face. “May I suggest that you accompany me? I am sure that she would like to meet you.”

“You think so?” Himeko smiled and hugged the girl again. “Thank you, thank you! I always like meeting new people!”

“That is what I thought.” Pushing Himeko away once more, she nodded her head in the direction of the hospital. “Shall we go, then?”

***

Aya and Himeko stepped off the elevator to find a rush of activity. “What’s going on?” Himeko wondered.

“It looks as though something is happening to one of the patients,” Aya replied, squinting as she looked down the hallway toward the room that everyone seemed to be headed for. “…Wait, that’s Miss Waters’ room!” She nearly ran down the hallway with the doctors and nurses, but a hand caught her arm in a firm grip and prevented her from moving ahead. Aya spun around. “Who—“

“Yer not allowed t’ go over there right now,” Ami stated, removing her hand to fold her arms across her chest. “She got an infection from bein’ in this hospital. I was talking with her an’ she passed out, so now the doctors are workin’ on her and tryin’ to wake her up again.”

“You let this happen,” Aya hissed. “You…”

Before Aya could finish her sentence, Ami had uncrossed her arms and sharply slapped the other girl across the face hard enough to send her to the ground. “I didn’ let anythin’ happen, ya damned hypocrite,” she growled. “It ain’t my fault if the doctors at this hospital have crappy hygienic practices or whatever it was that led t’ th’ infection, and if you try to blame me for somethin’ like that again, I’ll be quite happy t’ argue my point verbally or physically, whichever ya prefer.”

Himeko helped Aya up from the ground, moving to stand between the two girls in case Ami tried to hit Aya again. “Don’t you dare try to blame this on Aya-chan,” she hissed. “It’s not her fault if an accident like this happened.”

“I didn’t say that it was her fault, little girl,” Ami pointed out, raising an eyebrow as she spoke. “She never visits Waters. I don’t see how she’d be able to get her sick without even bein’ around her. Ya wanna explain how you jumped to that particular conclusion?”

Himeko simply glowered at the other girl, but Aya spoke up. “It is only natural that she would think that that was what you were about to accuse me of, Ami-chan,” she spat out. “After all, you are trying to defend yourself; it is only natural that you would point the fingers at someone else in an effort to rid yourself of the blame.”

Ami shot a glare at Aya, still effective though half of it came from behind her bangs. “Don’ confuse me with you, Arashi,” she snapped. “I take blame when it’s my fault and I don’t when it’s not. I don’ just push it onta other people so I look better.”

“How dare you-“

“Oh, save it for someone who cares,” Ami interrupted. “In any case, ya oughta be more careful about who ya choose to spend time with – it might come back to bite ya in the ass later on.” She looked at Himeko pointedly. “Chances are that yer not gonna be able to talk ta Waters fer the rest of th’ day, so ya might as well go home.”

“We will,” Aya replied coldly. “And I will expect a full report on Miss Waters’ condition in the morning.”

“I don’t take orders from you.” Ami hit the elevator button with her elbow, leaving against the wall beside the doors. “I’m not some dog that you can command, Arashi. I won’ roll over or fetch jus’ because ya tell me to.”

Aya and Ami exchanged glares until the elevator doors opened. There was a rush of footsteps off of it.

“Please, I’m looking for Selphi Waters,” Kyung-soon pleaded at the nurses’ station. “Someone called to say that her condition had gotten worse and I need information.”

“Ah, yes. Of course. It seems that your daughter’s condition has taken a turn for the worse…”
Selphi’s family listened with solemn and horrified expressions, but Aya took no notice. She simply seized Himeko by her arm and pulled her into the elevator. Then she hit the button for the ground floor and watched the scene stoically, her arms crossed over her chest and her back ramrod straight.

Ami glanced at the girl out of the corner of her eye, only looking away once the doors of the elevator closed. Arashi, ya have no idea what th’ hell yer getting’ yerself into, she thought to herself, shaking her head. When she saw that the family seemed to have received all the current information on Selphi’s current condition, she pushed herself away from the wall she was leaning against and approached.

***

“I can’t believe that Miss Arashi is being this big an idiot about the whole thing,” Hitomi remarked once Ami told her the whole story. It was late afternoon and the two sat on the floor of the one of the outdoor hallways of the temple, legs dangling off the edge.

“I can,” Ami retorted. “But ya’d think that just fer once, she’d pull her head outta her ass long enough to figure out that the new girl’s gonna be trouble fer her.”

“It’s not like she can see the future like you can, Ami,” Hitomi pointed out. “And anyway, maybe she’s just desperate for a friend. I’d do the same thing if I was alone like she was.”

“Yeah, but it’s a completely different situation,” Ami argued. “Arashi’s alone because that’s how she wants it. You’re off by yourself most of the time because everyone else made the choice fer ya.”

“Aya didn’t really make her choice either, though, did she?” Hitomi questioned. “I mean, after all that stuff that happened when she was a kid… Even I used ta pity her before I hit my own string of bad luck.”

“I’m not sayin’ that everyone else is completely blameless about her whole attitude,” Ami replied. “I’m just sayin’ that she didn’t need to blame everyone for somethin’ that wasn’t everyone’s fault.”

“That’s debatable,” Hitomi muttered.

Ami shot the girl a pointed look before speaking again. “Anyway, I think it’s pretty clear that the new girl is gonna end up causin’ trouble… and I know that whatever trouble she’s gonna start, it’s gonna happen sometime pretty soon.”

“You sure?” Hitomi frowned. “It hasn’t been a long time since Aya met this girl… She’s not exactly the type to trust people so easily.”

“Maybe, but this girl is kissin’ Arashi’s ass so much I’m surprised her lips aren’t permanently glued on,” Ami groused. “Damned idiot. Her ego’s so big she can’t even tell when she’s gettin’ played.”

“So what are we going to do? We can’t exactly stalk her until the princess makes a move,” Hitomi pointed out.

“We may not be able t’ stalk her, but we can at least keep an eye on her,” Ami replied. She pulled out a small hand mirror from the waistband of her robes.

“You still use that thing?” Hitomi smiled a little. “I haven’t seen it in ages.”

“Everyone once in a while I’ll pull it out,” Ami confessed. “Just to make sure it’s workin’. It was a lot of trouble to get this thing, after all.”

“No point in not using something once you have it,” Hitomi agreed. She looked over the girl’s shoulder at the mirror, though all that she saw and ever would see was her own reflection. “See anythin’ interestin’ going on?”

“…Somethin’ very interestin’,” Ami said, her eyebrows rising as she watched the events in her mirror. There was Himeko, of course, and someone else that was very familiar to Ami… and would definitely be familiar to Hitomi as well.

“What is it?”

“You remember that Mizushima guy, don’t you?” Ami asked in lieu of answering Hitomi’s question. She didn’t look up from her mirror, but she could feel the other girl tense up next to her. “That’s what I thought.”

“What does he have to do with anythin’?” Hitomi demanded. Then, as comprehension dawned, “Is he… With that new girl…”

“Looks like the two of them are quite th’ pair,” Ami remarked lightly. “This Himeko girl seems to be willing to share her bed with him at any rate.”

Hitomi shot Ami a weird look. “Ami, you really are a pervert sometimes…”

“I am not!” the other girl returned quickly, finally looking up from the glass, which she tucked back into her waistband. “That’s just what I ended up seein’! It’s not my fault if they picked a weird time and place to be doin’ stuff like that!”

“Right…” Hitomi yelped as the other girl swatted her in the head.

***

The next day was a school day, so Ami had to wait until after school to visit Selphi. However, when she arrived at the nurses’ station to sign in for visitation, she was told that Selphi wasn’t receiving any visitors other than family at that time and was turned away.

Ami glanced down the corridor toward Selphi’s room before looking down the other way to look for a waiting room. If I can’t talk to her the conventional way, I’ll just have ta be creative about it, she thought to herself as she strolled down to the waiting room and took a seat. She glanced around carefully to make sure that no one was paying attention, then rested her head in her hand, propping herself on her elbow.

She began to concentrate. Waters… Waters, answer me, dammit…

It’s too much…

Waters?

It’s too much… They think too much, they want to be released from all this pain…

Waters!

I can’t do it, I can’t do it, there’s just too much to hold back and they all want everything to disappear, they want the pain to go away but it never will and they want it to go away so bad—

Waters! Snap out of whatever funk ya’ve put yerself into and answer me!

Just kill me!

Waters, yer partner’s in danger. We need yer help! Wake up!

I can’t do anything, I can’t do anything, just like that time… I can never do anything, can’t everyone just leave me alone so I can disappear oh god I wish I was dead I just want to disappear and leave nothing behind—

WATERS!
Concentrating, Ami sent a mental jolt into the other girl’s mind, trying to shock her back into sanity. Waters, pay attention to what’s goin’ on, dammit!

…Ami-chan?

Oh, good, yer awake—
Ami began to respond, but Selphi cut her off.

Ami-chan, please kill me. Please… I can’t take it anymore.

Waters –

It’s like I’m suffocating, like there’s a weight that pressing on me from all sides and everything hurts and god, just let me die so it can all go away…

I can’t kill ya, Water. You know that.

Please!

Stop whinin’ for a minute. There’s something important that you need ta know, got it?


There was a long mental silence and just as Ami began to wonder if Selphi had fallen asleep or completely lost conscious, there was a weak is it?

There’s a problem with Arashi. She’s gettin’ herself into more trouble that she can handle and she refuses to see it.

That’s Aya-chan for you,
was Selphi’s tired reply. I don’t know what you want me to do.

You can hear everythin’, can’t you? Every thought, every wish from every people in this hospital—

Not just this hospital. I can hear everything from everywhere… It’s too big…

Selphi,
Ami called mentally, using the other girl’s given name for the first time. Selphi, listen to me. I need ya to try and pinpoint that Himeko girl’s mind.

I can’t…
Selphi trailed off. Well… Give me a moment. Ami waited patiently for the other girl to make the attempt. …I think I can sort of make out of her thoughts. They’re flowing into me…

Focus, Selphi. Do they say anythin’ about what she wants from Arashi?

I… There’s something about a human sacrifice, but she’s not being very clear about the whole thing.

Dig deeper,
Ami ordered.

I don’t know how. This isn’t second nature to me…

Just do it like how you focus your hearin’, okay? Whatever it is that you do to listen to people’s hearts like a creepy person, just apply that to the thoughts.

Okay…
Selphi responded doubtfully. Ami settled in to wait for the other girl to put her words into effect.

…I can’t do it… it’s like there’s a thick wall between my mind and hers…

Ami sighed a little. All right, I’ll have ta do it myself. Can ya see if you can get some idea of when she’s gonna pull this trick o’ hers off?

You already know that, don’t you? You, child of the norns… Selphi was slipping back into her delirium. You see everything at all time, don’t you? That’s the curse you were born with.

Ami sent another jolt into Selphi’s mind, this one a bit stronger. Stay focused, damn you. We need to get this information!

…Change of plans… Happening earlier… Selphi’s telepathic voice was weak.

Ami felt a little guilt. That’s enough, I guess. Rest, Selphi. You need to rest if you wanna get better.

I’m not going to get better. There was a weak mental laugh, and both girls knew that Selphi’s words were true. Then… Ami?

Yes?

Please… Stay with me ‘til the end?

…Of course.
And Ami sat there in the waiting room, now just listening to the girl’s weakening mental voice as she ranted and railed until she finally fell silent and the alarms went off.

***

Now to business, Ami thought to herself as she exited the hospital. She leaned against the wall and stared into space, concentrating. Soon, the visions that plagued her constantly began to come into focus, and she fished around in her pockets to find her hand mirror without breaking her gaze forward. As soon as her fingers wrapped around the cool metal, she began to sharpen her focus, concentrating on Himeko and Aya.

She found what she was looking for soon after. Himeko talking with Aya, convincing Aya to join her in her mission… Aya joining her, Aya… becoming a god? Aya slaughtering the world…

With a jolt, Ami removed her hand from the mirror and broke her concentration. She leaned against the wall heavily, ignoring the strange looks she received as she just stayed there for a moment, panting. Rubbing her forehead, she pulled her hand away and noticed that it was covered in sweat.

…That was a lot more intense than I thought it would be, she noted to herself, rubbing her fingers together as though to prove to herself that the sweat was real. She glanced quickly into the future once more, this time focusing on the end, and pursed her lips in irritation. The odds were shifting quickly, and not into her favor.

Well. It wouldn’t take much to correct the problem. Hopefully not, anyway. They just needed to find Aya and keep Himeko from taking her away. That would be enough for the time being, until they could find away to talk sense into the blonde girl and stop her from being an idiot all of the time…

…Right. Ami made a mental note of the time and place of the visions she had seen, then headed off to Hitomi’s apartment. It was time to make plans.

***

“Are ya sure this is the right place, Ami?” Hitomi asked, looking around the street corner. “I don’t think that anyone would do anything like kidnap someone in broad daylight – not with magic, anyway.”

“Have I ever been wrong before?” Ami replied. “And early predictions don’t count; I was still tryin’ to get a hang of my powers,” she added quickly off of Hitomi’s look.

The red-eyed girl sighed. “I guess not… But I still think that this is all a long shot,” she said. “If yer right, there’s no tellin’ what kind of trouble is gonna happen once everyone starts seeing things happen.”

“No one’s gonna see any of it,” Ami corrected.

“What do you… oh.” Hitomi watched as the onmyouji began to trace out a cube with very slight motions of her hands.

“Cherry Blossom Illusion,” Ami whispered, holding the cube to her mouth as though to tell it a secret. In moments, the cube disappeared and a soft shower of cherry blossom petals began to rain over the two girls, disappearing as they hit the ground.

“I forgot you could do that,” Hitomi remarked. “Complete illusion?”

“Close enough t’ one,” Ami replied. “Everyone sees us, but they don’t see what we’re really doin’ or sayin’.”

“Wouldn’t it be better fer them to just not see us?” Hitomi asked, but answered her own question before Ami could say anything. “Wait, no, because then it would have brought up questions about how two girls just disappeared in the middle of the sidewalk, right?”

“Not really,” Ami said. “You’d be surprised how much people can miss when they wanna. Besides, we got some attention when I cast my spell.” The blue-haired girl hadn’t missed the strange looks sent her way when she had been waving her hands around, even though she had tried to be as inconspicuous as possible.

“Well, that’s not good. They might notice when we start havin’ a fight with the girl and… that guy.” Hitomi’s expression darkened at the mention of Arata.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Ami sighed with a sigh. “I hate runnin’ into situations like this without a plan, but until we have a better idea of what’s goin’ on and what these guys can do, there’s not much else we can do.”

“Let’s go over there and scout the place out,” HItomi suggested. There was a somewhat manic glint in her eyes that had Ami worried. “We can look fer a good place to hide and listen to whatever’s goin’ on. You know where they’re gonna be, right?” Without waiting for Ami to respond, Hitomi was already running across the street.

“Yamino! Dammit all…” Ami quickly ran after the girl, nearly getting hit by a car for her trouble. Luckily for her, she and the driver both had quick reflexes, though she ended up spending a few minutes in a shouting match over whether she had the right of way or not.

Eventually, though, Ami crossed the street and looked around to try and find out where the hell it was all taking place. She found Hitomi quickly enough, though.

“Yamino, next time wouldja mind waitin’ fer the damned—“ she began to rant, but Hitomi quickly cut her off with a quick, “Shh!” The manic glint in her eyes was even brighter than before, and Ami warily turned to look at what the other girl was staring at.

And of course, it turned out that Arata Mizushima was standing some distance away, leaning against a nearby wall and looking as though he were waiting for someone else to get there. Ami had a feeling she knew he was waiting for.

“He’s just standing there,” Hitomi hissed. “I could use my eye and just shoot him in the heart from here—“

“But yer not because that’s not what we’re here to do,” Ami interrupted quickly. “You already know what we’re tryin’ t’ do, Yamino. Wait until later fer yer revenge.”

“But he’s standing right there,” Hitomi yelled. Ami glanced nervously at Arata to see if he had noticed anything, but he seemed to be in another universe, staring up at the clouds.

“Just wait, all right?” Ami pleaded. “C’mon, Yamino. I can guarantee ya that you can go and attack him as much as ya want in a few minutes, okay? There’ll be plenty of time for it.”

Hitomi pouted a little. “You promise?”

“Yeah, I promise,” Ami confirmed with a nod, noting in the back of her mind that Hitomi’s pleas for violence were still as disturbing as ever. “Just wait a little bit longer, okay?”

“Okay~” Humming a light tune, she opened up her satchel and pulled out one of her fifteen-inch nails, examining the point with a thoughtful eye. Ami took one look at the sharp tool and gave a small shudder, turning away just as quickly.

A few minutes later, Arata seemed to spot whoever it was that he was looking for. He walked around the corner of the wall as though to duck out of sight, though he poked his head out. Ami elbowed Hitomi and, when the other girl looked up, nodded toward the spectacle. Hitomi simply smiled and pulled out a prepared straw doll, which set on the ground. “Go, my dear,” she whispered. “Go and feed on that man’s blood.” As she spoke the words, the fairly benign smile on her face twisted into something far more malicious.

“You really are a creepy kid, you know that,” Ami remarked. Hitomi shrugged a little, and the two girls walked closer to the corner, Ami muttering incantations under her breath and altering the spell so that their targets would be unable to see them – for the time being, anyway.

As Ami and Hitomi reached the area, the targets approached as well. Himeko was walking Aya over, holding her hand and petting it a little as she spoke to the other girl.

“Geez, read Carmilla much?” Ami muttered under her breath as she caught a few of the words that Himeko spoke – things like “you are my best friend” and “I never want to be separated from you.”

“What now?”

“Never mind.” The two girls stood around for a while longer, exchanging comments about the cheesy things that Himeko was saying – with many remarks from Ami about how self-deluded or desperate Aya had to be to believe the things that the other girl was saying – until Himeko finally made to disappear with Aya. Then they stepped up and into their targets’ visions.

“Sorry, but I’m afraid there’s gonna be a slight change in plans,” Ami drawled, her hands in her pockets as she watched Himeko’s reaction.

She wasn’t disappointed. “Who are you?” the girl demanded, holding Aya’s hand so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. Aya let out a soft whimper of pain, but neither girl really seemed to be paying attention. “Where did you come from?”

“Around,” Ami replied with a shrug, watching the other girl calmly.

Suddenly, there was the sound of a male’s voice crying in pain, and Arata jumped out from behind the wall. “Somethin’ just bit me!” he yelled, hopping up and down on one leg as he rubbed at the injured one.

“Good boy!” Hitomi cheered her doll. She knelt down to pick it up and cuddled it a little, rubbing her cheek against it. “That’s a good boy! Yes, you are~” she baby-talked.

Ami rolled her eyes. “Ignore her. Anyway, we know that yer plannin’ on makin’ Arashi into a sacrifice an’ we’re here to stop ya.”

“You are going to what?” The blonde’s brown eyes widened. “Is that true, Himeko-chan?” she asked the girl at her side.

Himeko smiled charmingly at the other girl, beginning to pet her hand again, and Ami made a noise of disgust when she saw that the other girl was beginning to fall for it all over again. “I’m only going to turn you into the goddess I think you really are, Aya-chan,” she replied sweetly. “You know that I’d never hurt you, don’t you?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Ami growled. She concentrated on the illusion she was casting and, looking around, spotted a hydrant. Suddenly, the people around the group began to yell and run around, trying to get away from what they believed what a malfunctioning fire hydrant. “There. Now there won’t be anyone to bother us,” Ami said with some satisfaction.

“Time to play, Arata-kun,” Hitomi giggled, petting the doll in her arms. “And I know just want I’m gonna do with you, too…”

“Focus on the girl first, Yamino,” Ami ordered. “Then you can do whatever ya want with Mizushima.”

“Yes, partner,” Hitomi replied immediately, turning her attention to Himeko. With a flourish, she pulled out another wicker doll and sent it after the other girl.

“Aya-chan, help!” she cried out, cowering away from the wicker doll. Aya sent a jet of flames at the wicker doll, incinerating it.

“I won’t let you hurt Himeko-chan!” she bellowed, beginning to charge up a burst of flame between her hands.

“Oh, no, ya don’t.” A long time ago it would have been hard for Ami to attack and maintain an illusion at the same time, but that was then and this was now. She focused on the sidewalk beneath her and, raising her arms straight out in front of her, flicked her hands upward. On her command, the concrete rose up as Aya released the built-up fire energy. Ami allowed the fire witch to send as much energy as she liked into the barrier, making sure to move the heated concrete out of the way once she felt that it had become too hot.

While Aya was occupied with trying to melt the concrete, Hitomi snuck up behind Himeko and stuck a wicker doll in her face. “She wants to kiss you!”

“Argh!” Himeko jumped back, but the doll had already lunged out of Hitomi’s hands and latched onto Himeko’s nose. The girl began to scream in pain, shaking her head violently to try and get the doll to release. When that failed, she began to pull at it and, due to its shallow grip, the doll was quickly removed, along with some of the skin on Himeko’s nose. The girl threw the doll to the ground and it quickly scurried back to its mistress.

“My face…” Himeko whined. “You ruined my face!”

“Yer like a poor man’s version o’ Selphi-chan, you know that?” Hitomi said conversationally, cuddling the doll to her body. With her usual ‘I’m in a fight’ smile, Hitomi pulled out one of her long nails. “So where do you want me to stick this first?”

“Aya-chan!”

“Oh, I have one for her, but I’m hopin’ I won’t have to use it. And that’s not an answer, anyway.” With a manic grin, she raised the nail and moved to jab it into the doll’s stomach.

“No!”

“Goddammit!” And now Hitomi had to struggle away from Arata, who moved to try and wrestle the doll away from Hitomi. “Don’t touch—Actually, touch me as much as ya like, Arata-kun!”

“Just give me that doll, ya—“ Arata growled, but suddenly his grip slackened and Hitomi was able to pull free.

“That’s what happens when you touch someone with a curse, Arata-kun,” Hitomi said, maintaining her grin. “Looks like I won’t hafta use yer doll against ya after all. Pity – you would have made a great target fer bad luck.”

Arata stared at the girl in horror. “I… you…” he croaked out. Raising his hands up, he watched as his flesh began to bubble away and dissolve before his eyes. “No, no…” he moaned as the dissolution moved down his arms and along his body. He fell to his knees, beginning to jerk and twitch in pain as his body was eaten away.

“Arata!” Himeko screamed, moving to his side. “Arata! What did you do to him?” she demanded of Hitomi.

“Just a little curse,” Hitomi replied. “He shoulda paid more attention to all the rumors around me. He’d’ve been a little more prepared, I think.”

“You monster!” Himeko roared, lunging toward the other girl, hands outstretched as though to strangle her. Hitomi looked excited, but pouted as Himeko was tripped and fell to the floor.

“What… Arata?” Himeko looked back at Arata. One hand was wrapped around her foot, preventing her from moving away.

“Don’t,” he whispered huskily. “Don’t touch her or she’ll curse you, too.”

“Arata… My love…” Himeko whimpered.

“Oh, quit with the television drama routine,” Hitomi snapped. Once more, she raised the nail and tried to impale the doll, but this time she was stopped by a burst of flame.

“I will not let you,” Aya grunted out. Her pale skin looked even paler and she was slumped over, looking exhausted. Ami looked exceptionally pleased with herself as the concrete in front of her, thoroughly charred, lowered and smoothed itself back into the ground.

“You look tired, Miss Arashi,” Hitomi said kindly. “Why don’t you just give up and let us take care of this?”

“I will not let you hurt her,” Aya gritted out, raising her hands up, weak fireballs forming above her palms. “She is the only person that matters to me, and I will kill you to keep her safe.”

Hitomi gave a small shrug. “Try whatever you like,” she replied, glancing behind her to look at Ami. Ami gave her a curt nod and began to make a very slight beckoning motion with her hand, drawing concrete toward her. “Right, then.” Hitomi watched Aya as she began to jab the nail into the doll once more.

Aya began to fling fire at Hitomi, but was caught in the back of the head with a small ball of concrete. She dropped to the ground like a stone.

“And that’s why ya need to learn to focus on more than one person at once,” Ami muttered, walking over and carefully stepping over the body. “Yamino? Wouldja…”

Hitomi returned her attention to the doll, but then it was ripped away. “Hey!”

Himeko pulled the doll close. “I’m nowhere near finished with all of you,” she snarled. “Just wait. I’ll be back!” With a ripple of air, she disappeared.

“Dammit!”

“We’ll get ‘er next time,” Ami soothed. “Now, is that guy still alive?” She eyed the twitching body of Arata.

“Yeah, probably.” Hitomi looked over him. “Probably not very alive, though. I guess I ought to put him out of his misery.”

“That’d be mercy-killin’, wouldn’t it?” Ami pointed out.

“Yer right. I’ll let him squirm around for a little longer.” Any further debate was cut off by an icicle burying itself into Arata’s head. What was left of his body twitched a little, then relaxed.

“Aren’tcha supposed to be in th’ hospital?” Ami asked without looking in the direction of the attacker. “Yer gonna send a bunch of technicians into a panic.”

“Oh, chill out, Ami-chan,” the familiar voice of a certain American came. “It’s not like there’s going to be a police report sent out because I’m missing.”

Ami finally looked over. “Don’t underestimate the security of a hospital. Or how much yer mom’s gonna be worried about ya, hm?”

Selphi shrugged from her position on the ground, leaning heavily against the wall behind her. “I’ll give her a call. Can one of you take me home?”

“Selphi-chan!” Hitomi ran over to the other girl and knelt down. “Are ya feelin’ okay?”

“I’m really tired, but that’s about it,” Selphi assured her friend. “Everything turn out all right?”

“It turned out okay, I guess,” Ami replied. She nodded over to Arata and Aya as she spoke. “Nailed the girl’s partner and kept your partner from goin’ over to the dark side, but we didn’t manage ta get the girl herself.”

Selphi sighed. “Well, better luck next time. And there’s going to be a next time, from what I heard when I got here,” she added with a smile.

Ami rolled her eyes. “Overdramatic kid. It’s like she’s tryin’ to be a villain from a James Bond movie or somethin’.”

“Or a parody of one.” With a sigh, she began to push herself onto her feet, her legs trembling beneath her.

“Okay, yer goin’ back to th’ hospital,” Ami said firmly, coming up from behind the girl to help support her weight. “We don’ need to give yer mom a heart attack after all that trouble you put her through.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

“Hitomi,” Ami called over her shoulder. “Wouldja mind callin’ Waters’s mom so that she doesn’t end up dying from a stroke or somethin’ while we’re on our way over?”

“Sure,” Hitomi replied. “You two gonna be all right on yer own? I mean… Well, Selphi is just wearing a hospital gown.”

Selphi looked down at her clothes. “Yeah… I probably should have planned that out a little more,” she said with a sheepish laugh.

Ami tugged her down the street. “Come on, you.”

“Bye-bye!” Selphi waved to Hitomi over her shoulder as Ami began to bodily haul her down the street. “Ow! Geez, Ami-chan, you’re being really rough on a sickie,” she pouted.

“Yer not sick,” Ami said flatly.

“Oh, so I was just in the hospital for shits and giggles?” Selphi asked.

Ami snorted. “I don’t know what th’ hell ya did, Waters, but it wasn’t good. You were dead, and people don’t just raise themselves back up randomly.”

“What, you can’t just call it a medical miracle?” The American shrugged – a bit difficult, obviously, because of her positioning. “The doctors said that I was just on the edge of death when they managed to revive me. Three full minutes – anymore and there would have been brain damage.”

“Cracks about you already havin’ brain damage aside,” Ami replied, “What happened to ya is impossible, Waters. It just is. I went to visit ya yesterday, Waters, and you were so sick that you weren’t allowed visitors. Ya weren’t even conscious. And now all of a sudden you’re perfectly healthy? Look!” She stopped and pulled Selphi’s arm in front of her. “There’s not even any broken bones, and we both know that a bunch of them were broken!”

Selphi bit her lip. “Look, Ami-chan… I don’t know what happened, okay? All I know is that you visited me yesterday, and then everything after that is a blank until the doctors woke me up. And after that, my body healed overnight. I don’t have a scar from the surgery, a fever from the infection – nothing. And I’m not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, so just drop the subject.”

“All right,” Ami allowed reluctantly, “But only because ya look like yer about two feet from dropping over dead. Again.”

“Thank you.” The two girls began to move along once more. “By the way… Did you ever tell Aya-chan that I died?”

“Not in so many words,” Ami replied. “We’re not really on speakin’ terms. Besides, now that yer alive, dontcha think you oughta tell ‘er yerself?”

“And what, risk having my bones re-broken when she tells me I’m a liar and starts yelling at me for the loss of her new friend?” Selphi shuddered. “No, thank you. You do it; at least you can dodge when she attacks.”

“Eh, fair enough,” Ami replied. “But I doubt that she’s goin’ t’ really listen to me or Hitomi about the whole thing.”

“Well, it might take a while, but I’m sure she’ll come to her senses eventually,” Selphi replied. “I have faith in her.”

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