[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: 6717



“…In other news, the search of Aya Arashi is still ongoing. The young woman has been missing since this Sunday and police have still found no evidence of when she was taken or who might have taken her. Last night, Miss Arashi’s mother recorded a heartfelt request for the kidnap—“

Ami flicked the television off. “Figures that they’d treat this as a kidnapping case,” she snorted.

“Well, they don’t exactly have a reason not to, do they?” Selphi asked from where she was lazily sprawled on the floor of Ami’s bedroom. “As far as they know, she’s just some rich kid that got kidnapped for ransoming, or was in the wrong place at the wrong time and got picked up by who knows for a joyride or what have you.”

“I don’t like havin’ all these police tryin’ to look inta this,” Ami said, crossing the room to take a seat on her bed. “If they start lookin’ too hard and questionin’ that girl’s servants too much, it could end up leadin’ to us.”

“Because they probably know that she’s going in and out at all hours of the day and night, and when they start asking questions about where she was during those times – and who she was with.” Selphi said. “Wonderful. What do we do?”

Ami tapped her foot against the floor. “Might be able to call in a favor,” she said, thinking as she spoke. “I’ll see what I can do. Yamino, what about you?”

Hitomi looked up from where she was seated against the wall, making wicker dolls. “I’m not sure how much help I can be. I might be able to lay a curse on the police department…”

“Nothin’ serious,” Ami said, using a warning tone. “We don’t wanna cripple them, we just wanna delay the case until we can solve this whole thing with Arashi.”

“That could take a while, though,” Selphi pointed out. “We don’t know where Arashi and Himeko have gotten to, or how to find them.”

“Point taken, but we need to do somethin’ before we end up havin’ to deal with a witch hunt,” Ami replied. “Besides, I think I know a way for us to find them before things start gettin’ too serious.” She shot a significant glance at Selphi.

Selphi caught it. “Right, whatever. Can I get some snacks or something? It’s boring just sitting around not doing anything.”

“No; wait ‘til we’re done, would you?” Ami kicked at Selphi’s head a bit, and the American pouted. Ami ignored it. “Speakin’ of – Yamino, you got a doll of Arashi?”

“Yep.” Hitomi began rummaging through her tote bag and pulled out a wicker doll with the characters for Aya’s name painted on it. There were several holes in the wicker, though it seemed like the holes had been closing up. “Looks like whatever Selphi-chan did to Miss Arashi, she’s getting over it – quickly.”

Selphi pushed herself up. “That’s troublesome. I thought for sure that I killed her… Oh, well. I’ll just have to be a bit more thorough next time, I guess.”

“I guess,” Ami echoed dryly.

“Hey, Hitomi-chan, is that the doll from back when Arashi and I went after you?” Selphi asked
curiously.

Hitomi nodded. “Yep. I take good care of all my dolls. If I didn’t, then there would be a lot more sick and injured people in Kyoto, believe me.”

“…You know, Hitomi-chan, maybe you should consider getting rid of some of your dolls,” Selphi suggested. “You know, some old dolls… Dolls that you haven’t used for a long time… Dolls that it would be creepy for you to keep for so long…”

The red-eyed girl looked shocked at the suggestions. “How could I do that? These dolls are my life! Each one is a masterpiece of magic… and who knows when I’ll need to use them again! I mean, think about it – if I hadn’t kept the doll that I made of Miss Arashi, we wouldn’t have a clue on what her condition was where she is.”

“Point taken, but still… maybe downsize it to just the bare essentials and make more when you need them?”

Hitomi still looked reluctant and Ami sighed. “C’mon, Yamino. It’s no big deal. If ya need to make a doll that badly, you can always sic yer dolls on whoever yer target is, right?”

“That’s true.” She still didn’t look happy about the idea, but she nodded. “Okay, I’ll go and start sorting through the dolls now, I guess. You guys call me if anything comes up, okay?”

“Okay. Have fun, Hitomi-chan!”

“Fun. Right.”

Selphi laughed as Hitomi made her exit from the room. As soon as she heard Hitomi’s footsteps leave earshot, she sobered up. “So, what about this plan of yours?”

“Oh, don’t freak out. It’s not some big deal,” Ami said. “But ya said that the night that Arashi attacked ya, you teleported?”

“I wouldn’t say that I teleported,” Selphi replied.

“Ya disappeared from one place in th’ room and reappeared in another without actually movin’ between th’ two points. That’s called ‘teleportin’’, Waters.”

“Yeah, yeah, what’s it got to do with anything?” She shifted positions so that she was reclining on her side and able to look at the other girl’s face without having to bend her neck so much.

“That Himeko girl can teleport, right?” Ami began. “And as far as we know, teleportin’ is how she got to wherever it was that she took Aya that day. If you can teleport-“

“No,” Selphi cut her off. “No, I’m not going to start teleporting just so we can find Arashi. How do we know that I can even teleport all that way, anyway?”

“We don’t,” Ami replied, “But there’s an easy way to see.”

“Oh, then please enlighten me, o mighty Ami-chan,” Selphi said dryly. “Just how are we going to test it?”

The onmyouji rubbed her chin. “The first thing we need to do is get you control over this teleportin’ thing, and I know just the person to teach ya.”

Selphi stared at the other girl. “What are you talking about now?”

Ami rolled her eyes. “C’mon, Waters. Yer not the only one that got mentored by their predecessor, ya know!”

“That sounds so much like something that I’d say to Arashi…”

“Right. Well, I’ve already asked my dad to start teachin’ ya as soon as possible.”

The American looked amused. “You don’t waste any time, do you?”

“This is a time-sensitive matter, Waters,” Ami reminded. “We can’t afford to waste any more waitin’ for ya to master this new skill of yers.”

“I get it, I get it.” Selphi sighed. “By the way, I don’t suppose you’ve got any idea of what happened that night, do you?”

“Which part? The part where ya fell out a window and down eight stories or that part where ya miraculously got up afterwards?” was the sarcastic reply. “That’s not something a person forgets easily, Waters.”

“Yeah, no kidding. I’d probably be havin’ nightmares about the whole thing if I had dreams.”

“I have nightmares about it. Lucky.”

“Either way…” Selphi laid down flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling. “What do you think? That’s definitely not something normal – I know how much my body can heal, and it definitely can’t heal from falling that high up. There’s got to be something else going on here.”

“Maybe it has something to do with your trip to the hospital,” Ami suggested. “No one could have survived what you did then, either – ‘specially not the part where ya healed up completely almost immediately after.”

“Maybe.” Selphi looked uncomfortable about the topic. “I still don’t remember anything from back then, though. I didn’t think that it was important… I mean, if I forgot about it, then it can’t have been important, right? …But then that person said something that made me think.”

“’That person’?” Ami questioned, earning her an ‘are you stupid? You ought to know who I’m talking about’ look from Selphi. “Oh, her. What’s she talkin’ about now?”

Selphi squirmed a little. “She said that I had forgotten something – that there was something important that I had forgotten about, and she wouldn’t tell me what it was. She didn’t give me any hints about what it might have been – it was just taunting about not remembering whatever it was that happened. If she’s not even trying to trigger any memories about this, then it has to be something big.”

“Yeah… She’s not exactly the kindest of people. There’s no way that she’s tryin’ to do this for yer own good.” Ami stared at the floor, her foot beginning to tap again. “Don’t suppose it’s possible that she’s takin’ orders from someone else?”

“If she was, then it’d have to be someone pretty damn powerful,” Selphi replied. “She doesn’t have a reason to be afraid of most people, don’t forget. There’s no reason that she’d follow orders from another person unless she knew that their powers trumped her, and that there’d be no chance that she could ever catch up.”

Ami shook her head. “That’s not good. All of this is really startin’ to worry me… This isn’t exactly pointin’ to anythin’ good.”

Selphi laughed. “Get used to it, Ami-chan. Nothing good ever happens to me or around me – sorry about that.”

“Yer just another bead in the string of bad luck that is my life. I wouldn’t bother feelin’ too bad about it.”

Selphi looked over at the other girl in surprise. “Are you actually trying to comfort me, Ami-chan?”

The blue-haired girl aimed a kick to the other girl’s ribs that resulted in a yelp and Selphi backing away fast enough that she hit the wall three feet behind her. “It’s not comfortin’. I’m just not gonna blame ya for somethin’ yer not responsible for and feed that complex of yers.”

“What complex?”

“How’re you doin’ with yer apartment, anyway?” Ami changed the subject.

Selphi raised an eyebrow, but responded, “Good enough, I guess. Mom’s paying for the damages to the wall and the furniture and everything – I have to pick out a whole new set of things for my bedroom and some of my clothes got torched, too. My stockings survived, though!” The American had a ridiculously large grin on, as though this news were spectacular and worth cracking open a bottle of champagne and toasting over.

“Uh-huh.”

“She’s still trying to figure out how she’s going to explain the whole thing, though,” Selphi continued. “So far she’s going with an accidental fire, but then there’s the question of how the fire started and what caused it and all that, and she can’t exactly say that Arashi dropped by and decided that lighting my room on fire would be a good send-off for leaving the group, you know?”

“Not to mention that it’d bring in too many questions from the cops,” Ami mused. “You and yer mom were the last people to see her, as far as we know.”

“I’m guessing not, since she disappeared from my room and I know she wasn’t in any condition to be moving around under her own power.” She seemed oddly pleased by this. “I’m not the kind of person that’d deliberately miss – I know I hit her in some vital spots.”

“Which means that that Himeko girl probably picked her up and took her – I know, Waters. We went over this already.” Ami sighed. “Look, we’ll take care of them whenever ya master teleportin’, all right?”

“Fine, fine… Anything else I need to do before I go?”

“My dad’s waitin’ for you out in the courtyard in the back.”

“…Now?”

Ami smirked. “I told you – we can’t be wastin’ time.”

***

Soft… It was soft and smooth all around her… And tight. Too tight. With a thought, the silk surrounding Aya was lit on fire and burned away, cracking and parting, falling away from her body.

“Oh, you’re awake!” Himeko was hurrying over to the girl’s side, looking pleased. “Good, good… I was starting to think that it’d be another few days before you woke up. You heal well on your own.” She smiled, petting the other girl’s face. “How do you feel?”

“Hurts,” Aya choked out. “My chest…”

“I expect it does,” Himeko replied. “That nasty girl did quite a number on you, after all…

The silk helped keep the blood in your body, so naturally some healing did occur, but the rest of it is going to have to be done magically.”

“I have a spell-“ Aya began to choke out, but Himeko shook her head.

“It’s not going to work, Aya-chan. Not for these wounds. They’re too serious for some small healing spells to cover completely. No,” and the girl’s eyes seemed to sparkle with anticipation, “No, there’s something else that I want to try.”

“But…”

“Don’t worry, Aya-chan.” Himeko’s smile softened as she began to pet the girl’s head again. “I promise that it won’t hurt a bit, and afterwards, you’ll feel as good as new.”

Aya still looked hesitant about the whole thing, but the soreness emanating from her injuries was very convincing and she nodded her head. “Good. Now, stand up.”

“…What?”

Himeko held her hand out. “Come on, Aya-chan, stand up. You’re too heavy for me to carry you over.”

The blonde extended a shaky hand to Himeko and the other girl took it. “That’s it,” Himeko cooed. “Nice and easy now – we don’t want you to reopen those wounds of yours, do we?” Slowly and carefully, Aya was pulled to her feet. Her breath began to come out in short gasps and, without looking, she knew that her shirt was becoming soaked with blood – or more blood, rather, considering that she hadn’t changed her clothes at all.

“Looks like we reopened them after all,” Aya heard Himeko murmur. “Oh, well; we’ll just have to move you over faster.” With that, the girl began to tug insistently at Aya’s hand, dragging her over with surprising strength.

“Himeko-chan,” Aya said, her voice coming out in short, quick spurts because of the pain. “Himeko-chan, it’s – too – fast…”

“Don’t think about the pain,” the other girl advised, not looking back at Aya. “Just take nice, deep breaths and focus on moving your legs, okay?”

“Himeko-chan…” But the girl didn’t seem to be paying any more attention to Aya, and so she did as Himeko had told her and tried not to be a burden. It was a long walk to wherever it was that Himeko was taking her and Aya’s legs were shaking badly by the time that they stopped, her skin paling from the blood that she was losing and which was now trickling down her legs.

“Here you go, Aya-chan,” Himeko said cheerfully. She released Aya’s hand and pointed to the coffin standing in front of them with a flourish, as though she were showing off a new car to a potential customer. “Just get in here and it’ll solve all your problems.”

“But… it’s…”

“Now, I know that the outside is a bit scary,” Himeko continued, not paying the least bit of attention to Aya’s half-muttered comments, “But don’t judge a book by its cover, right?” She pushed the lid of the coffin away with surprising strength, exposing a dark, forbidding interior. In fact, the inside seemed to be made of darkness; a seething, tumultuous darkness without end…

The blonde was so distracted by the interior that she failed to notice her friend come up from behind her. “In you go!” Himeko chirped before shoving Aya into the coffin. With a short shriek, she stumbled and fell face first into the coffin. There didn’t seem to be a back, but there was definitely something in there; something alive. Aya could feel something sliding against her body and creeping along the back of her legs. She struggled against the force, but it pulled her deeper into the coffin, coiling around her body and tightening its grip.

“Don’t worry, Aya-chan, it’s not going to hurt you!” Himeko called into the coffin. “Just relax and it’ll be over before you know it, and then my lord will make you into a goddess with power beyond your imagination!”

“I will not submit to anything!” Aya snapped, continuing her struggle even though her body screamed in protest as the strain. “I will never let anyone else stand above me! I would rather die!”

“Well, if you did, you’d leave behind some unfinished business,” Himeko remarked, crossing her arms and leaning against the side of the coffin. “After all, Selphi already up and walking again. It’d be troublesome if you died and left her to undo all of your work, wouldn’t it?”

“How can she still be alive?” Aya demanded. “I know I killed her; you even confirmed it!”

“Oh, she was definitely dead before,” Himeko agreed. “But she’s alive now. If you really want to die so much, then I’ll be glad to slay her in your stead, Aya-chan.”

“Don’t you touch her! Don’t you dare touch her!” Aya raged. “She belongs to me, you understand that? She’s my prey.” She looked into the darkness surrounding her, spreading her arms out as wide as possible. “Come on, then. What are you waiting for? Heal me, feed on me, rebuild me – do whatever you must, just give me the strength to kill that girl once and for all!”

As the darkness fully enveloped the girl, Himeko smiled and slid the lid of the coffin in place. “Not long now, my lord,” she whispered softly.

Not long at all. This girl… she’s a veritable feast!

“Isn’t she perfect?” Himeko asked dreamily. “I just knew that you would love her, my lord.”

I wouldn’t say that she’s perfect, but… she’ll do for the time being, at least.

“I’ll leave you to your work then.” Humming a light tune, the girl wandered off, allowing Aya to be completely consumed by her demon god.

***

“Oh, geez…” Selphi stumbled into the bathroom, hardly having the energy to keep her eyes open. “Ami’s father is just as insane as she is,” she moaned. “What kind of person can keep up that kind of pace?”

Someone that isn’t as lazy as you, came the response in her mind.

Selphi rolled her eyes. “I’m not lazy. This sort of thing is completely new to me, remember?” The entire day had been spent meditating with Ami’s father. It wouldn’t have been a tiring activity, except that it turned out that Ami’s father believed in meditating in a life-or-death position. So Selphi had ended up balancing on one hand atop a column of rocks that shook with her body every time she made even the slightest movement. Not what Selphi considered to be the best situation to try and concentrate in, but what was done was done.

Opening a drawer, she pulled out what looked like a pair of small, white balls stuck together. Rummaging around in the drawer, she found a second pair and proceeded to stick the plugs in her ears. Then she undressed and stepped into the shower, turning it on and sighing in relief as the hot water began to wash away the sweat of the day.

Afterwards, she dried off and wrapped a towel around her hair. She pulled the plugs out and, after washing them off, filled a small plastic cup by the sink with alcohol and dumped them in for the night. Grabbing a large towel, she began to wrap it around herself, then stopped when she caught a glance of herself in the mirror.

As a general rule, Selphi tried not to look into mirrors – not when she was undressed, anyway. Her eyes looked over her body, a battleground of various scars from attacks and claws and magic from whatever she had been hunting at the time. There were teeth marks on one of her wrists, needle marks in the crook of her elbow – the only evidence of her blood-draining sessions the days before a full moon. There were also a series of slashes along one of her shoulders, a number of gunshots wounds in her torso – either superficial or missing her vital organs, otherwise she would have been killed – and numerous other marks going down her body.

She wanted to tear her eyes away, but there were two marks that particularly concerned her, one along the top of the curve of her breast. It was a set of teeth marks, a lasting souvenir from Arata - here was a nearly identical set on the inside of her thigh. Without thinking, her fingers had begun to trace the mark, then dig her nails into it.

Don’t you want to just rip it out? came the voice, now speaking in a low growl. He violated us, Selphi, or at least he tried. And he nearly succeeded, too.

“It doesn’t matter,” Selphi muttered, then repeated in a louder voice, “It doesn’t matter. He’s dead now; I killed him myself.”

But that cute girlfriend of his is still alive, isn’t she? The voice pressed. How do you know that she didn’t tell him to do all that to you? That she didn’t tell him to try and break you so that it would be easier for her to get to Aya-chan?

“I don’t see how that’d make it easier for her,” Selphi replied, finally looking away from the mirror. She wrapped herself in a towel and gathered up her dirty clothes, leaving the bathroom for her own room and dumping the clothes in the hamper outside the door. “Arashi was freaked out for a while after that incident.”

Right. She would have been emotionally vulnerable and ripe for the picking. But it didn’t work out and you were still stuck to her like glue.

“…You’re not saying that…”

Well, if they wanted the opportunity to get her, hitting you with a car seems a little excessive, but… Well, if they had any idea about your healing abilities…

“…Son of a bitch. They’ve been watching us, haven’t they?”

That’s what I’d place my bet on.

Pulling her pajama top on, Selphi sat on the floor, there being a serious lack of any real furniture in her room. The char marks had cleaned off the walls well enough using magic, but there was still fire damage to the bedroom floor and everything that had been torched at one point had been removed. All that was in the room at the moment was a lamp and a bed roll, both on the floor. Most of Selphi’s personal effects had been safe in the closet or were now occupying bookshelves around the house until the furniture was replaced. “I ought to tell Ami-chan about this.”

Do it in the morning. She’s not as dense as you are; I wouldn’t be surprised if she already knew what was going on.

“Oh, shove it,” the American muttered. The voice did have a point, though – Ami seemed to know everything that was going on, whether it was reasonable for her to or not. And it was late, anyway, so there was no point in calling. That decided, Selphi crawled into bed and turned out the light, quickly slipping into a deep sleep beyond the land of dreams.

***

It was dark. It was dark and wet and cold and, dammit all to hell, she couldn’t breathe, wherever she was. Kicking her legs, she felt herself propelled forward and just kept kicking, feeling the pressure lighten as she continued on her way. With a gasp, she reached the surface of the body of water she was in and suddenly there was ground beneath her feet. For a while she just stayed there, kneeling on all fours and gasping for breath.

Pain. She remembered that she had been in pain… But it was gone now, all of it. She felt fine and healthy and very cold and wet, which motivated her to crawl out of what she now saw was a slow-moving river of water.

Frowning, she scooped some of the water up in her hands. There was a distinct purple tint to the water – what could have caused that? Where was she, anyway?

She pushed herself to her feet and began walking – aimlessly at first, but then with more purpose when she saw a large building in the distance. Where there were buildings, there had to be people, especially with a building as well-maintained as the one she saw.

As she approached the building, she soon found herself running in a garden and stopped for a moment, confused. The land had been barren and lifeless only a few steps ago – she could see that just by turning around. Why was it so lush here, then?

A sound soon caught her attention – the sound of someone humming absently. Along with it, she could hear something digging into the ground. She followed the sounds, wandering around pomegranate trees and rose bushes to find the source.

It was a young woman with long, wavy green hair. She was kneeling on the ground, tending to some chrysanthemums planted in rows in front of her. Her face couldn’t be seen, as her hair curtained it off from the rest of the world.

Chrysanthemums…. That’s when it finally hit Selphi. “I’m dead, aren’t I?”

With a small shriek, the woman spun around, holding a gardening trowel out like a weapon. “Who are you?” she demanded, eyeing the water witch suspiciously.

A small part of Selphi’s mind noted that the woman had a classically beautiful face, but she was more concerned about her revelation. “So, I’m dead… Well, the afterlife isn’t what I thought it’d be,” she noted, looking around. “I thought there were going to be fire and brimstone and little red guys waving pitchforks.” She frowned and turned to the woman. “Am I in the right place?”

The woman continued to watch her with a wary eye. “Perhaps… Who are you?”

“Name’s Selphi Waters,” she introduced herself, giving her usual theatrical bow. Ridiculous-looking, given that she was standing bare foot in a garden wearing nothing but a soaking wet hospital gown, but it wasn’t as though she could do anything about that, and so she made do with what she had.

“I am Persephone, queen of the underworld,” the woman said, using a rather regal-sounding voice and drawing herself up to her full height. It completely failed to impress Selphi in any way, shape, or form, but oh well.

“’Queen’, huh? Shouldn’t you have bodyguards around here or something, then?” Selphi looked around the garden, but it didn’t seem as though there were another living soul in sight – or soul in general in sight, Selphi corrected herself mentally.

“There are few who would dare to attack the queen of the underworld and risk the wrath of its lord and master,” Persephone replied, looking thrown at Selphi’s flippancy. “Tell me, Selphi, how have you come to this world? You look… wet.”

“I don’t really know, your ladyship,” Selphi answered, scratching her head. “One minute I’m dying and the next minute, I’m in some river over in that direction-“ She pointed in the direction of the river she had found herself in – “And drowning. Somehow. As it were.”

“I see…” Persephone looked thoughtful. “Tell me, Selphi, did you notice anything about this river you were in?”

“Well… It was kind of purplish? That was about it, really,” Selphi said, shrugging. “Why, is that important?” she asked, noticing how the woman’s eyebrows shot up at that information.

“I... I’m not sure. My husband would be better equipped to answer this…”

“Well, then let’s go ask him. He’s in that big building, right?” Without waiting for a response, Selphi resumed her march to the building she had been headed for earlier.

“How dare you show your back – oohh…” Frowning to herself at the insolence and apparent inattentiveness of the girl, Persephone disappeared in a whirlwind of white chrysanthemum petals, leaving her gardening tools and equipment where they lay.

It wasn’t long before Selphi found herself standing in front of the building. Craning her neck to look all the way up at the top of the building, she couldn’t help but more than a little intimidated. It strongly resembling the temples that she had seen in her history books, though obviously not dilapidated. Instead, it was made of smooth grey that seemed to have a shine all of its own. It gave the effect of the building glowing in what seemed like the eternal grey dawn of the underworld.

Slowly, she made her way up the steps and down the hallway, her bare feet slapping softly against the marble floor. Yes, the size of the building was definitely intimidating; it seemed like, in contrast to the outside, the inside of the building absorbed most of the light. Not only that, but Selphi could feel the ceiling vaulting above her head – feel it, but not see it. It was far too high up for eyes to make it out.

Yes, clearly Hades or Pluto or whoever it was that was the ‘lord and master of the underworld’ had a very sadistic sense of humor, or else he just liked making people squirm. Either of which Selphi could understand entirely, though that did bring up the question of why in the hell a kind and benevolent god would allow such a person to rule over the underworld.

Of course, this was assuming that God was kind and benevolent, and Selphi had long since gotten over that idea. So, right. Sadistic god of the dead. Yay.

“Somehow… I’m not sure how, but somehow it seems like my luck’s gotten worse and I’m not sure how that works out seeing as how I’m dead,” she muttered to herself, glancing into rooms and hallways off to the sides of the main hall.

It’s not like it’s impossible, the voice in her head pointed out. Your luck has always sucked, hasn’t it? Why would that change now?

“Well, there’s the small matter of me being dead now,” Selphi pointed out. “Why should I have any luck as all? What use would I get from it?”

“Well, for starters, it might save you from the wrath of the lord of the Underworld,” an unfamiliar male voice called out from behind her. Selphi turned to see a man with shaggy black hair and a well-groomed beard stride out of the room with Persephone following after.

“…And you would be Lord Hades?” the American asked hesitantly.

“Yes, and you would be the insolent mortal that chose to ignore an order from my wife,” Hades replied.

“I didn’t ignore her, I just didn’t think that she was saying anything that was important,” Selphi said.

“…That’s called ignoring.”

“Do what you like to punish me, then; it’s not like I can die again. Can I?”

He smiled grimly. “Oh, there are ways of getting around your body’s physical death. This is the underworld after all. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that you will not be staying here for very long – not right now, at least.”

Selphi looked confused. “What’s going on?”

Hades made a gesture to someone off to the side and a few seconds later, a shrouded figure can forward and handed something to Hades. Hades held it up for Selphi to see: it was a piece of string that seemed to have been snapped in half. “This is your soul, mortal,” he began to explain. “The thread that ties you to life.”

“It looks like it got pulled too tight,” Selphi noted. “Is there something wrong with that?”

“Normally, no,” Hades replied. “And don’t speak until someone asks you a question. That your string has snapped means that you died before you were meant to but, generally, that isn’t a problem.”

“Well, what is the problem, then?” Selphi snapped, putting her hands on her hips. She didn’t care about how ridiculous she looked in the condition she was in or how insane she had to be to be disobeying the word of the lord of the dead when she was currently one of the denizens of his world.

As if to prove her right, Selphi could suddenly feel pressure building in her head, as though her head were caught in a vice. “Aaaaaaargh…” She gripped her head tightly in her hands.

“Stop talking without someone asking you a question,” Hades reminded. “The problem is that you’re still involved in the fate of the world.”

This time the girl only shot Hades a questioning look. “Better. I mean that your actions are still tied into what end the world will eventually arrive at. So it would seem that you need to be revived, which I will be happy to do… Under one condition. You can talk now,” he added as an afterthought.

“And what would this condition be, milord?” she asked, watching him warily, as though he were about to give her another headache and end up blowing her head off in the process.

“After you’ve truly died, you will serve me,” the god stated, gesturing to the shrouded figure at his side. For the first time, Selphi noticed the glinting scythe-like blade sticking out of the figure’s sleeve. “You will sign a contract with me and will be obliged to fulfill the terms of your contract before you are released into your next life.”

“And what if I don’t want to sign a contract?” Selphi asked. “What if I just want to be reborn and get it over with?”

“You are free to make your choice, of course,” he replied calmly. “However, given what your punishment in the underworld will be while you’re awaiting your next life, you may want to reconsider.”

Well, that just figured. Selphi shrugged a little. “Just thought I’d ask is all. I agree to your terms, milord. After all, there’s someone up top that I need to keep an eye on.” The girl grinned wide enough that Persephone moved to stand behind her husband, though Hades himself seemed to be unmoved.

“Well, then, I suppose we have a deal. And now for the contract…”


With that, Selphi awoke in a sweat, gasping for air. “What… what…”

Well, I did tell you that you forgot something important, the voice pointed out to her.

“Oh, shut up,” Selphi muttered in reply, flopping back into the damp bedding and wondering if she should try to get some more sleep.

***

“-And at the end, I figured that Waters was the most insane person that I’ve ever met,” Ami stated flatly as she walked Hitomi home from school.

“Well, I’m glad that she did what she did,” Hitomi said firmly. “After all, it’d be kind of boring without her around, don’t you think?”

“Maybe, but a lot of this ‘interesting’ stuff is putting our lives in danger,” Ami replied. “Like this whole thing with Arashi. If she had stayed dead, then maybe Arashi would have snapped outta her craziness. On the other hand, maybe not and then we’d be down a player.” She shrugged a little. “It’s a little hard to judge the situation, ya know?” Suddenly, the girl’s eyes widened and she stopped walking.

Hitomi stopped as well. “Ami? What’s wrong?”

“There’s somethin’… Get down!” With no further warning, Ami tackled her former partner to the ground, just barely avoiding a blue-black jet of flame. The two girls pulled themselves up and looked around to see Aya standing on the wall above them, with what looked like a black baton in her hands. Standing beside her was Himeko, who watched the two of them gleefully.

“Turnabout is fair play, girls~” she sang out, while Aya’s cold expression seemed to harden. Within in another moment, she sent another jet of flame after the two of them.

“Move!” Ami snapped, grabbing Hitomi by the sleeve of her jacket and dragging her along the sidewalk. The red-eyed girl stumbled a bit, but quickly got her pace and began to easy run alongside of Ami.

“Oh, you’re not getting away that easily,” Himeko murmured, taking Aya’s free hand and teleporting the two of them away. There were numerous people beginning to panic and call the police, telling them that they had seen the missing girl and she had used some kind of flamethrower on two innocent schoolgirls.

Meanwhile, Ami and Hitomi were running down the street as fast as possible. ‘Waters!’ Ami telepathed, seeking the other girl’s mind out. ‘Waters, where are you?’

‘Where the hell do you think I am?’ came the lazy-sounding response. ‘I’m at home, watching TV. Why, what’s up?’

‘Arashi’s actin’ up and she has that Himeko girl with her,’ Ami snapped back. ‘Get your ass over here, wouldja?’

‘Mind telling me where ‘here’ is?’

‘Empty lot over by the school where you and Arashi fought Yamino. Move it!’ With that, Ami cut off her telepathic connection and allowed her hands to begin moving around in the air before her, quietly chanting the words of the spell under her breathe. Once again, cherry blossom petals were raining down on the two girls as they were covered by an illusion.

“You’ve gotten a lot better at casting these spells over yours since we worked together,” Hitomi remarked.

“I had a lot of time on my hands.” Soon the two girls were darting down alleyways and after that, they arrived at the empty lot. They slipped through the fence, then took positions, Hitomi dropping her bag at her feet and taking out one of her dolls while Ami just took a defensive stance. The two girls waited, panting from all the running, and watched out for the two enemies after them.

A moment later, Ami quickly dropped to the ground and rolled out of the way, avoiding yet another blast of fire. “Usin’ the same tricks over an’ other again isn’t gonna fool anyone, Arashi,” she scolded as she stood back up, brushing herself off. “Haven’t ya learned anything since last time?”

Meanwhile, Himeko landed in front of Hitomi, smiling cruelly. “I fully intend to get you back for what you did to my lover.”

“What I did to Arata-kun, he deserved a hundred time over,” Hitomi replied loudly. Growling, she grabbed one of the arms of the doll she had in her hand and began to twist it. Himeko’s arm began to twist in the same way.

“What are you doing?” Himeko demanded, beginning to allow small cries of pain emit from her mouth as her arm twisted more and more. “What are you doing to me?”

“Oh, didn’t you know?” Hitomi asked the other girl cheerfully. “I can cast curses on you with these dolls… Good thing I got your blood the last time we met!” She giggled sweetly as Himeko desperately tried to think of a way to get herself out of the girl’s grip.

At the same time, Ami was creating small boulders out of the worn asphalt of the lot and tossing them at Aya. “You remember how it turned out last time, don’t ya, Arashi?” she called out. “Are ya gonna make it easy for me to knock ya out again?”

“I should think not!” the blonde finally snapped out, extending her staff and swinging it at Ami in such a way that the tip would smack the ground hard and crack the concrete. Still, the onmyouji found it to dodge out of the way of every attack.

“Oh, did the party get started without me?”

“Waters, yer late!” Ami yelled without looking at the new arrival.

“Sorry, sorry,” Selphi apologized. “I had to convince my mom that I wasn’t going to end up getting myself killed this time and it took a while. I’ll get started making a barrier, then?”

“Do it and hurry up!” Ami roared.

“Moving, moving… Hi, Aya-chan. Having a nice time, you worthless traitor?” She grinned at the blonde. “I’ll get my time with you eventually, kiddo, don’t worry about that.”

The two pairs of girls jumped away from each other, Himeko finally being released from Hitomi’s grip – for the time being, anyway. Selphi wove her magic around the lot, preventing anyone outside from hearing anything and the girls inside from destroying anything on the outside.

With that, the four girls began to battle anew.

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